Tag Archive | "dictatorship"

Uruguay: Thousands March Against Impunity

Silent march UruguayLike every 20th May for the last 19 years, thousands of people took part in the ‘Silent March’ in remembrance of the victims of the military dictatorship yesterday. This year’s slogan was: “Where are they? Why the silence?”.

Protesters walked down Avenida 18 de Julio in Montevideo last night, and were joined by president José Mujica and his wife, senator Lucía Topolansky. The march is conducted in total silence, which is only broken to read the names of the victims.

Óscar Urtasun, from the organisation Mothers and Families of the Disappeared of Uruguay, expressed his satisfaction over the response of the people that attended the march. “Our great concern is that all this will be forgotten and we need to fill up that space devoid of memory. And it’s still happening. People are moved and they participate.”

Despite the attendance of high government officials, including Mujica, Urtasun highlighted, referring to the march’s slogan, that “for us, the silences of the state are important, as it is not giving us answers and it’s not finding out the truth.” Though he admitted that under the Frente Amplio governments, since 2005, there has been some progress on the matter, he feels that what has been done is not enough.


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Operation ‘Para Ti’: Spinning the Dictatorship

This is an exclusive English translation of an article that originally appeared in Periódico Mu No.74.

Her son disappeared when he was 17 years old. And she was reborn as a mother, activist, and founder of the organisation ‘Familiares’. She was kidnapped and tortured at ESMA and forced to pose for a fake article published by women’s magazine ‘Para Ti’ as part of the dictatorship’s media campaign, designed by a multinational that today works for Monsanto.

Thelma Jara de Cabezas today, at 90, with a picture of her disappeared son (photo: Lina M. Etchesuri, courtesy of Mu)

Thelma Jara de Cabezas today, at 90, with a picture of her disappeared son (photo: Lina M. Etchesuri, courtesy of Mu)

The most degrading moment for Argentine journalism has a date: September 1979. That was when the dictatorship spread to the media, using the services of multinational agency Burson Marsteller. It paid US$1m for the agency to design a campaign to neutralise the first visit of an international commission prepared to investigate reports of human rights violations.

We know now that Burson Marsteller was behind the unforgettable slogan “Los argentinos somos derechos y humanos” (Argentines are upright and humane) that then interior minister, Albano Harguidenguy, ordered be printed on 250,000 stickers. What we don’t know is whether the story of Thelma Jara de Cabezas should be read as part of this campaign, as one of its most successful and long-lasting lies.

A Mother

I’m sat in the kitchen of Thelma’s modest home and timidly place the recorder on the table. It is no coincidence that in this moment she shows me the mobile phone given to her by the witness monitoring programme in the trials for crimes against humanity. “At 2.30pm they will call me as a control check,” she warns. I note the paradox: the phone and the recorder are the same size. And on this table, they become a weapon.

The story of every survivor [of the dictatorship] is like a gun loaded with memories. Thelma fires them off chaotically. There is no full account, only fragments – shards of such intensity that they shoot across the table. “My head is not that clear. There are some things I can’t remember, and some that I can’t forget. For those, I pray.”

Thelma is a Guaraní princess. Born in Corrientes, she married in Ushuaia, gave birth to two children in Buenos Aires, and returned to the end of the world until deciding that was enough moving. After that she stayed in Carapachay, where she raised her two boys alone. She worked as a dental assistant; she was active, modern, determined. In the ’70s she had little time for politics, but encouraged her children to pursue their dreams. The oldest, Daniel, went to Mexico to study cinema. Gustavo, the youngest, became involved with the Montoneros group. On the 10th May 1976 he was kidnapped in a street operative. He had been active for just six months. And he was 17.

Gustavo’s disappearance turned Thelma into one of the founders of Familiares, the first human rights organisation to be born during the dictatorship. “Familiares was just a desk in the apartment of the Argentine League of Human Rights, at Callao and Corrientes, just above the Odeón café,” remembers Thelma. “At that time I did not understand why they didn’t want me to go to Plaza de Mayo. I went anyway and stayed there a while, to speak to the other mothers. They had a lot of ideas, they were always thinking about what to do. In time, I realised that my colleagues didn’t want me to go for security reasons. But I only understood that much later, the danger.”

The Guaraní princess converted, anyway, into a Montonero cadre. In the middle of the dictatorship, her courage took her to the Mexican town of Puebla, where in February 1979 she met with the Latin American diocese and was able to personally hand Pope John Paul II the reports of disappearances in Argentina. From there, she travelled to Spain to interview the leadership of the Montoneros. She was escorted during the whole trip – they had followed her.

Daniel Jara, Thelma's other son, testified in the ESMA trial (photo: Lina M. Etchesuri)

Daniel Jara, Thelma’s other son, testified in the ESMA trial (photo: Lina M. Etchesuri)

The Kidnapping

Thelma was kidnapped on 30th April 1979 at the entrance of the Spanish Hospital, in the heart of the capital. She was there to look after her ex-husband. “They brought him in an air ambulance from Ushuaia. Terminal cancer, moribund. It’s 7am – I know because just then a doctor came in and was angry that I was there outside of visiting hours. I go out and see a row of cars, one after another. I feel someone behind me, walking quickly. There is something strange in the car lights. What do I do? I decide to head to the corner because there is a bus stop and see people waiting. That’s when the person behind me grabs me by the hair, puts his hand over my mouth, and pushes me into a car. They take me somewhere – the ESMA – where the torture begins.”

Daniel, Thelma’s oldest son, adds some context to this memory. “At that time, Familiares had gathered a group of strong, determined women. There was Cata Guagnini (Trotskyist leader, two disappeared children: Diego and the journalist Luis Guagini), Lita Boitano (mother of Miguel and Adriana, both disappeared), Graciela Lois (her husband, Ricardo, was 24 when he was kidnapped), and Lilia Orfanó (who also has two disappeared children: Daniel and Guillermo), all women who worked hard and with a lot of character. Someone told me, I don’t remember who, that the idea was to kidnap one of them and they chose my mother. We found out why later: Julia Sarmiento, who was a member of Familiares, had been kidnapped and started to collaborate with the military in the ESMA. She went [with Thelma] to Puebla, and probably knew that Thelma was the only one of the group that answered to the Montoneros leadership.”

Thelma shoots: “During the first three weeks they tortured me, one day a week. I don’t remember if I cried, if I screamed, if I felt pain. Nothing, nothing: I don’t remember now. I remember that they took off my clothes. And the shouting: “Talk you old bitch!”. How long did it last? It wasn’t a short time, I can tell you.”

Did you pray?
“No, not there.”
There is no God there…
“No, there is nobody and nothing. Just them, five or six of them. There is Marcelo: I see his face when he lifts up my blindfold and says ‘look’, and puts the electric prod on my hand. ‘It’s burnt out from using it on you so much, and you do nothing,’ he would complain, and I would be tortured for it. Afterwards, some other survivors told me that when I was in the torture chamber, they were in a room nearby and the lights would flicker, because when they turned up the machine it would lower the tension. They also told me that they saw Marcelo come out sweating, soaked through, complaining about how I was making him work so hard. Marcelo kidnapped me and tortured me. I later found out he was the one who followed me to Puebla and Spain. He was also the one who accompanied me to Uruguay to give an interview to a newspaper while he sat across the table – in the bar where I gave the interview to the magazine, Para Ti.”

Marcelo is Ricardo Miguel Cavallo, sentenced to life in prison on 26th October 2011, in the first trial for crimes committed at the ESMA. Another of Thelma’s torturers was the naval doctor Carlos Octavio Capdevilla and nurse Juan Barrionuevo, who at the time of his arrest was a provincial deputy in charge of the Health Commission in the Tierra del Fuego legislature.

Thelma shoots again: “After torturing me they would throw me down on a blanket on the floor. They would say ‘no food or water for this one for 72 hours’. My eyes are blindfolded. I hear the sound of a sweet wrapper. I remember that one of the guards, the youngest, eats sugary sweets called Media Hora. He doesn’t say anything. There is just the noise of the wrapper – close, as though he made the sound right next to my ear.”

Thelma Jara in her kitchen with a list of names she prays for every day. (photo: Lina M. Etchesuri)

Thelma Jara in her kitchen with a list of names she prays for every day. (photo: Lina M. Etchesuri)

The Agency

It was the unmentionable José Alfredo Martínez de Hoz who recommended the military junta hire international agency Burson Marsteller to counteract the reports that the Mothers [of Plaza de Mayo] and families of disappeared managed to publish in forums and the international media. His right-hand man, Walter Klein, then head of economic coordination and planning, travelled to New York to meet Victor Emmanuel, responsible for the Argentine ‘account’. Emmanuel admitted his role in the design of the campaign for the Argentine dictatorship in an interview with Marguerite Feitlowitz that was published in 1998 in her book ‘A Lexicon of Terror’, which cites Thelma’s case extensively. In the interview, Emmanuel justifies his actions: “The violence was necessary to open up the protectionist, statist economy. Nobody invests in a country embroiled in a civil war,” he says, also admitting that “many innocent people were probably murdered” and adding that “given the situation, it required a lot of effort.”

From that era, only the octogenarian founder, Harold Burson, remains at Burson Marsteller. In a recent interview, he explained his company’s area of expertise: “A PR agency buys spaces in the media to send a direct message. We are dedicated to creating areas of influence, be it through people or media. Our goal is to narrate our client’s story so as to rise above their critics and make them see things from our point of view.”

Burson Marsteller’s specialty is crime. Some examples:

1. The Nigerian government hired the firm in the late 1960s to refute accusations of genocide in Biafra.
2. During the rule of dictator Nicolae Causcescu, the company successfully assisted Romania’s efforts to become the preferred trade partner of the US. The campaign included a visit to Romania by television’s NBC Today, for a show that lasted a full week.
3. It represented Union Carbide Corporation, which makes Eveready batteries, as it faced its responsibility for the 1994 disaster in Bhopal, India, which caused the death of at least 2,000 employees and people living near the factory.
4. In the ’90s it specialised in training executives and managers of multinational oil companies in methods of communicating to the public after spills and explosions.

Harold Burson says he has a limit: his firm does not accept campaigns that favour the decriminalisation of abortion. When his interviewer reminds him of his past with Argentina’s dictatorship, Burson responds: “That’s correct, but we did not interfere in internal politics.”

The objective of the work Burson Marsteller did for the dictatorship was something else: to design a campaign to discredit the report that the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) of the OAS was going to release to the world after its visit to Argentina.

The IACHR was in Buenos Aires from 7th to 10th September 1979, in Córdoba for 10th-14th, in Tucuman for 14th-15th, and then passed through Rosario on its way back to the capital. It visited the clandestine detention centres that had already been dismantled – La Rivera and La Perla in Córdoba and El Atlético and El Olimpo, in Buenos Aires. The Commission also visited the ESMA, and for that reason the kidnapped prisoners were transferred.

Thelma fires: “They take us to Tigre. There is a large group of us in a bunker, underground. There, I find the husband of a niece of mine. I know because I cook for everybody – other girls also cook – but the second or third time I cook I hear a voice shouting from the bunker: ‘Thelma made this one as it has the smooth taste of her cooking’. It’s Eduardo, my niece’s husband.”

They were in El Silencio, the island in Tigre that Monseñor Emilio Graselli sold to the ESMA ‘gang’, according to the investigation published by Horacio Vertbitsky. “In that book,” says Daniel, Thelma’s son, “Vertbitsky writes three times that my mother gave an interview to ‘Para Ti’ magazine. She didn’t give it, they forced her to – that’s very different. I called him several times to clarify this, but he never answered me.”

Thelma was one of the last to arrive on the island. Cavallo and the ESMA gang had taken her with false documents to Uruguay to pose for a fake interview that was published on 22nd August 1979 in the false newspaper News World, part of the Unification Church cult. The article included the phrase: “I’ve been kidnapped by the Montoneros”.

The article was reproduced by the official state new agency, Télam, and several local newspapers that published it as fact. In this way, the dictatorship preempted the reports of Thelma’s disappearance that would be filed a few days later by Familiares in a meeting it had with the IACHR. Carlos Muñoz, another ESMA survivor transferred to the island, testified in the trial: “Orlando González, alias ‘Hormiga’, who was photographer for the Navy Club, took the photos of Thelma in Uruguay, which I developed, where she was shown in typical places in Montevideo, as though in some kind of exile.”

Thelma in the 'fake' article in Para Ti magazine in 1979 (photo courtesy of Mu)

Thelma in the ‘fake’ article in Para Ti magazine in 1979 (photo courtesy of Mu)

The Operation

The same day that the IACHR arrived in Buenos Aires, Para Ti magazine published on its cover a fake report with the headline ‘The Mother of a Dead Subversive Talks’. Five pages, several photos, and one argument: a mother discredits the accusations of the Mothers.

When Thelma gave an extensive testimony in the trial of the ex-commanders of the dictatorship, on 24th July 1985, she detailed that before that interview she was taken to a hairdresser on Av. Cabildo. Then they bought her clothes in Once. The interview was held in Cafe Selquet, in the Belgrano neighbourhood. The byline of the article belongs to Eduardo Scola and Tito La Penna was the photographer. Both testified as witnesses in the investigation into the crime committed with this fake report.

Thelma shoots: “They don’t give me any explanation. They tell me that Para Ti wants to know some things. They tidy me up a bit. The journalist puts a recorder on the table and asks me two or three questions that have nothing to do with anything. All very dry. The photographer is standing; he moves around, and looks nervous. It’s all very quick. Afterwards I see that in ESMA everyone has the magazine. They pass it around – ‘look’, they say. They don’t show me. But something happens after the article. They take me to an office where every day I have to copy out something – clips from newspapers, with some paragraphs highlighted. I have to copy out these paragraphs by hand. It’s crazy. I think it’s just a way to keep us there, obeying, like slaves. This goes on for a long time, quite a few months. In that office, with the door closed. One day the door flies opens suddenly and a young officer shouts at me: ‘You must hate us for what we have done to you’. I tell him: ‘I don’t think that. I don’t hate. I just feel a great pain, for you and for us.”

What did they do to you with that report?
“I didn’t know while I was kidnapped nor for a long time after coming out, because I had never read Para Ti.”


Thelma realised what they had done months after being released, on 7th December 1979. Her son, Daniel, who had returned to Argentina to form part of the so-called ‘counter offensive’ [by the Montoneros] was detained. Thelma heard the news from Cavallo, who travelled especially to Corrientes to tell her personally. Outside the jail, as she waited to see her son, she was rebuked by the relative of another political prisoner, who shouted “Traitor!”. He had read – and believed – the article in Para Ti.

This time, Thelma closes her eyes and shoots: “Sometimes they hold dances. The guards, they like to dance. They put the radio or some records on – tango and anything modern. The guards start to dance. The kidnapped girls – they are so young – are forced to dance. And the bosses come, the ones that give the orders, and dance too. Like in the hall of a club or living room, they dance. And we watch, without saying anything. We never know how anything will end. Never. So we look at each other, silent, like watching a dream, a bad dream.

“Seeing those faces, so evil and repugnant, making sure they don’t do anything bad to us, that we don’t hit the bottom. Those faces, right out of a horror film. Terrible, so terrible. The effort to guard even your expression, because it seems like any gesture we make could serve as an excuse to harm us further. It’s so strange what happened to us. Not to speak, to observe. Not do anything that might give them a reason to make things worse. Hold it in, so that they don’t kill or torture anyone. Holding on, and holding on… To think now that my sister-in-law is going to ESMA to dance. She is retired – they pick her up at 9am, take her to ESMA, they have breakfast, talks, conferences, lunch, everything. And they dance.”

You never went back?
Never again.

Daniel, Thelma’s son, asks me if I think it’s possible that a torturer, a monster like Cavallo, could have come up with a media strategy like the one they forced on his mother. He connects the dates, the coincidence of the campaign designed by Burson Marsteller and that article in Para Ti, in the context of all the support that [the magazine's publisher] Editorial Atlántida gave to the dictatorship. He is aiming at the heart of press operations that are now prestigious: Burson Marsteller has just been named Latin American Agency of the Year 2013 by the specialist marketing publication, The Holmes Report. In Argentina, its brand new client is Monsanto.

Thelma has an altar in her room with images of Christ, Sai Baba, the pyramid of Plaza de Mayo, and the photo of her son Gustavo. Every afternoon she recites a long list of prayers that she writes herself for an infinite list of names that she chooses herself. She has a bundle of little papers where she writes the prayers and names.

I ask her to write my name, and the photographer does too. Thelma writes them by hand, for her infinite list. And she fires: “My son Daniel asks me what I find in this spirituality. Peace, I tell him. That’s what I need. That’s what we all need.”

I understand: Thelma’s eternal prayer is against impunity. And for the truth.

Translated by Marc Rogers.
lavaca logolavaca.org is a communications co-operative founded in 2001, and produces a web page, monthly magazine MU, and radio programmes that can be reproduced freely. Our home is the cultural centre ‘MU Punto de Encuentro’, at Hipólito Yrigoyen 1440, Congreso, Buenos Aires.






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Army Chief Denies ‘Irregularities’ in Kidnapping Investigation

César Milani after being promoted by the president (Photo: Tito La Penna/Télam/dsl)

César Milani after being promoted by the president (Photo: Tito La Penna/Télam/dsl)

Army Chief César Milani has denied receiving any special treatment or immunity in the investigation into his alleged role in the kidnapping and torture of Ramón Olivera and his father, Alfredo, in 1977.

In an official press release issued yesterday, Milani rejected claims made by the Centre of Legal and Social Studies (CELS) that his testimony and defence was given more weight than those of the victims. “It is false that, for being the current army chief, I am afforded impunity or the possibility to be tried under a different standard of proof,” said Milani.

On Saturday, CELS reported that there were “serious irregularities” in the Milani case in La Rioja after the prosecutor Michel Horacio Salman called for the investigation into the army chief to be closed because the acts of which he is being accused are not considered crimes.

Milani, who in 1977 was a sub-lieutenant based in La Rioja, has been named by Ramón Olivera on several occasions as being the person that transferred him from a clandestine detention centre to the courts in La Rioja. In July 2013, Olivera also declared that he recognised Milani as leading the operation to kidnap his father, Alfredo.

However, Salman determined that the accusations of Milani’s involvement in the detention of Olivera were “unfounded”, and that participating in the transfer of prisoners as ordered by a federal judge was not a crime. In response, CELS said that this gave validity to anti-subversive legislation approved in the 1970s that has since been repealed.

“Salman is the third prosecutors to be involved in the case. He has not pushed the investigation forward, and only three months after taking the case he asks judge Daniel Herrera Piedrabuena to close it,” read the statement from CELS, which also published a detailed and critical analysis of Salman’s actions.

The organisation concluded that if the request to close the investigation was upheld by the judge, it would mark “the biggest setback since the reopening of trials for crimes against humanity in 2001.”



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Brazil: Dictatorship Trial to go Ahead

The incident took place during the regime of João Figueiredo, Brazil's last military leader (photo courtesy of Wikipedia)

The incident took place during the regime of João Figueiredo, Brazil’s last military leader (photo courtesy of Wikipedia)

For the first time, Brazil’s judiciary will open criminal proceedings against five military and one police officer for events that occurred during the country’s 1964-85 dictatorship.

The group are accused of a foiled bomb attack on a Rio de Janeiro convention centre on 30th April 1981, where 20,000 people were gathered for a Labour Day concert. However, the bomb exploded prematurely, inside the car of one of the agents, killing him and wounding another, Colonel Wilson Luiz Chaves Machado, one of the accused. At the time, the military junta blamed the attack on the radical left.

Judge Ana Paula Vieria de Carvalho has allowed the prosecution to move forward with the charges of manslaughter, criminal conspiracy, and transporting of explosives, among others.

She said: “The crimes of torture, murder, and forced disappearance committed by agents of the state as a form of politicla persecution during the dictatorship are crimes against humanity,” and as such don’t have a statute of limitations.

The Truth Commission, created in 2012 by President Dilma Rousseff, herself a victim of torture during the dictatorship, said that the decision was “a victory for those who fight for memory and truth in Brazil”.


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Argentina News Roundup: 16th April 2014

Minister Axel Kicillof announces inflation for March (photo: Florencia Downes/Telam/dsl)

Minister Axel Kicillof announces inflation for March (photo: Florencia Downes/Telam/dsl)

March Inflation Revealed: Inflation for March, as informed yesterday by Economy Minister Axel Kicillof, was of 2.6%. This number, measured by the new Consumer Price Index (IPC-Nu), brings the total for the year so far to 9.7%. Compared to January’s 3.7% and February’s 3.4%, Kicillof stated that March’s inflation “implies a considerable slowdown” in the inflation rate. The minister explained that “the slowdown can be seen in all items, except in Clothing and Education, where there’s a seasonal variation,” and that the increase in prices is mostly due to this year’s peso devaluation and its impact on the prices of machinery, imported supplies, and fuel and transport. The numbers, published by statistics office Indec, were lower than those estimated by private consulting firms, though the latter also reflected a declining inflation rate. The IPC for March published by the opposition in Congress showed a price increase of 3.3%, whilst others ranged from 3.2 to 3.8%. Kicillof doubted the reliability of these alternative indices, “because we don’t know absolutely anything about the methodology they use.”

New Bill to Regulate Street Protests: Pro-government deputies introduced a bill in Congress today which seeks to regulate street protests and pickets. The 34-article bill states that protests must be notified 48 hours in advance, and can only be cleared out after civilian mediation. However, security forces can dissolve demonstrations that are deemed to be “illegitimate”. It also states that police officers in direct contact with protesters cannot carry firearms, and that they must be wearing uniforms and badges at all times. With regards to other kinds of weapons, it says that “weapons that are not firearms can be used for the defence of authorities if they are in imminent danger, but never as a way to dissolve a protest.” The bill comes after president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner mentioned the need to regulate street protests in her State of the Nation address before Congress on 1st March. The authors of the bill said that “Against other solutions that seek to restrict [people's] rights, using the Criminal Code to increase penalties or creating new crimes, we propose to guarantee and to strengthen rights.”

Ex-Policeman Arrested Over Crimes Against Humanity: A former police officer accused of killing 19 people and kidnapping and torturing another 285 during the last military dictatorship was arrested on Monday. The man, Gerardo Jorge Arráez, had been a fugitive from justice for over two years and was using fake identification documents when caught. Witnesses have stated that Arráez, aka Nito, displayed an “excessive fondness” for Catholicism, placing a small chapel with an image of the Virgin within the Olimpo detention centre, and that he used to photograph victims after they were tortured. He is being prosecuted by judge Daniel Rafecas, who is investigating crimes against humanity committed in the ‘Banco’ and ‘Olimpo’ clandestine detention centres.

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Argentina News Roundup: 8th April 2014

Susana Trimarco (Photo: Natasha Ali)

Susana Trimarco (Photo: Natasha Ali)

Long Prison Sentences for Ten Convicted in Marita Verón Case: Judges in Tucumán today handed prison sentences for the ten people convicted of the kidnapping and sexual exploitation of Marita Verón. The harshest sentences of 22 years were given to brothers José and Gonzalo Gómez, considered the leaders of the organisation that captured Verón and forced her into prostitution. Daniela Milhein and Alejandro González, found guilty of holding Verón prisoner in their house, received 18 years each. Carlos Luna, Cynthia Gaitán, Domingo Andrada, María Márquez, Juan Derobertis and Mariana Bustos, all considered “necessary participants” in the crime, received sentences ranging from 10 to 17 years. “I was hoping for more, but we achieved some justice today,” said Susana Trimarco, Verón’s mother, after the verdict. “We are going to keep fighting until the day we know what they did with her.”

The tribunal was ordered with delivering the sentence by the Supreme Court of Tucumán, which in December partially overturned an original ruling to acquit all defendants. Verón disappeared on 3rd April 2002, when she was 23, in the provincial capital San Miguel de Tucumán. Sex workers in prostitution rings have spotted her in several locations in the country, including La Rioja, Tucumán and Córdoba, according to reports.

Proposal to Investigate ‘Economic Collaboration’ During Dictatorship: Legislator Héctor Recalde introduced yesterday an initiative to investigate civilian and business collaboration with the military during 1976-83 dictatorship. The bill, which is supported by the Centre for Legal and Social Studies (CELS) and the National Securities Commission, proposes establishing a bicameral commission to identify “those that collaborated with the dictatorship, and from which companies.” It calls for an in-depth report about the consequences of the economic, monetary, industrial and commercial policies of the dictatorship, and those who where complicit in their application. If approved, the report will be presented 180 days after the commission is created, and will pass any suspected illegal activity onto the judiciary to begin proceedings. Julián Domínguez, president of the Chamber of Deputies, said the bill would allow the country to discover “the civil face of the worst dictatorship in our country,” adding that over 600 companies were illegally appropriated by state terrorism during the period.

Heavy Rains Leave Flooding and 3,000 Evacuated Across Argentina: Days of heavy rains have caused flooding and damage across much of Argentina, with around 3,000 people evacuated. Neuquén remains the worst affected province, with up to 1,500 still evacuated as more rain last night added to damage caused over the weekend. The provinces of Río Negro, Entre Ríos, Catamarca, Santiago del Estero, Santa Fe, Chubut and Córdoba were also hit hard by recent storms, resulting in flooding and landslides. In the province of Buenos Aires, 100 people were evacuated after the Luján river burst its banks, while a collapsed road left a 40m crater in Ramos Mejía, west of the capital. In the city of Buenos Aires, which suffered mild flooding overnight, a lightning strike hit an empty LAN plane at the Jorge Newberry airport, injuring one maintenance worker. The bad weather has now moved on for much of the affected areas, though the National Meteorological Service maintains an alert for further rains in Río Negro, and parts of Neuquén and Chubut this afternoon.

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Argentina News Roundup: 17th February 2014

Martín Sabbatella, director of AFSCA, the organisation in charge of implementing the media law. (Photo - Wikimedia Commons)

Martín Sabbatella, director of AFSCA, the organisation in charge of implementing the media law. (Photo – Wikimedia Commons)

AFSCA Approves Clarín Compliance Plan: The Federal Administration of Audiovisual Communication (AFSCA) announced today the approval of the divestment plan presented by Grupo Clarín last November, a requirement to comply with the media law. According to the plan, the company will be divided into six independent business units which will keep the conglomerate’s existing TV, cable TV, and radio licences. The media group will now have 30 days to inform whether it will divide these units amongst its shareholders or sell some of them, and 180 days to fully execute the divestment plan. “We are pleased to have got this result: that all media groups, even the most powerful and dangerous for democracy, have to abide by the law,” said head of AFSCA Martín Sabbatella. Another large media group, Grupo Uno, and other smaller groups also had their proposals approved today and will have to carry them out under similar terms. AFSCA is yet to approve the plans presented by Telefé-Telefónica, Telecentro, and Prisa-Radio Continental.

Argentina to Lodge Final Appeal before US Supreme Court: With private negotiations still underway, the Argentine government will today file an appeal before the US Supreme Court on the case against the so-called ‘vulture funds’. This time, Argentina will be represented by former US Solicitor General Paul Clement, who will join the existing legal team. The country is appealing a sentence that orders the state to pay holdouts US$1.3bn, on the grounds that re-opening the debt swap -as the government has proposed- would satisfy the pari passu clause, according to which all bondholders must be treated equally, as demanded by the previous rulings. Whilst the government has expressed optimism regarding its chances, especially with the incorporation of Clement to the legal team, it continues to negotiate an out-of-court settlement with the holdouts. If the Supreme Court decides to review the case, it could take up to a year to reach a final verdict. If it rules against Argentina, the country would enter a ‘technical default’.

Judges to be Tried for Crimes Against Humanity: A landmark human rights trial began today in Mendoza, where four judges are facing charges for their alleged complicity with crimes against humanity committed during the last military dictatorship. A total of 38 people are being prosecuted by the federal court in Mendoza, including judges Luis Miret and Otilio Romano. This ‘mega-trial’ brings together a dozen cases involving 207 victims of human rights abuses and is being conducted via video conference, since many of the accused are in different parts of the country, such as Tucumán, Buenos Aires, and Rosario. The importance of this trial, highlighted prosecutor Dante Vega, lies on the fact that it is starting to try the civilian component of the last dictatorship. “And this is so because it’s impossible to think about state terrorism without [taking into account] the role that the judiciary played. The hypothesis of the prosecution is the complicity of the judicial structure with state terrorism, and we’re going to try and prove this during the trial.” It is expected that 660 witnesses will be called to testify, and that the trial will last at least 18 months.

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Latin America News Roundup: 12th February 2014

Mayor of Bogotá, Gustavo Petro (Photo: Wikipedia)

Mayor of Bogotá, Gustavo Petro (Photo: Wikipedia)

Colombia – Referendum on Bogotá Mayor Postponed: Colombia’s National Civil Registry announced yesterday that the recall referendum on Bogotá Mayor Gustavo Petro has been postponed due to “lack of resources.” The referendum, which will decide on the mayor’s fate after he was dismissed by Colombia’s Inspector General, was scheduled to take place on 2nd March. However, the Civil Registry informed in a statement posted on their website, that “without the resources it is not possible to move forward in purchasing the necessary goods and services” to carry it out. The Civil Registry has requested COL$38bn (US$17.8m) from the Economy Ministry, and is still awaiting for the funds to be confirmed. There has been no confirmation as to when the referendum will be held.

Regularisation Plan for Undocumented Haitians: The Haitian government has announced it will launch a survey of undocumented Haitian citizens living in other countries, including neighbouring Dominican Republic. Haiti’s National Identification Office (ONI) will deploy a number of mobile units around Dominican Republic in order to identify undocumented citizens living there and help them regularise their situation. The process will be carried out by Haitian civil servants and members of the Haitian diaspora in Dominican Republic, according to ONI’s director Jean Baptiste Saint-Cyr, though he did not specify whether the Dominican government will also be involved. The survey, which will start next month, will also include Suriname and the Turks and Caicos Islands. The announcement is the result of the dialogue established by the Haitian and Dominican governments after the decision by the Dominican Constitutional Tribunal to strip Haitians of the country’s citizenship. A bill by the Committee of Solidarity with Denationalised People, which proposed to grant citizenship to all people of foreign ascent born in Dominican territory between 1929 and 2010, was introduced in the Dominican parliament.

Uruguay – Human Remains Found in Police Station: Human bones thought to belong to two people disappeared during the last military dictatorship (1973-1985) were found yesterday in a police station in Montevideo. The human remains were found by workers doing excavation works in police station number 8 of the Uruguayan capital. Supreme Court spokesman, Raúl Oxandabarat, explained that “the first characteristics of the findings seem to indicate that there is the possibility that it could be a case of burial of people who were detained and disappeared.” The court will be in charge of conducting DNA tests which will be matched against a registry of disappeared prisoners. A report by anthropologist Horacio Solla found that the bones would have been buried around 30 years ago, or more, and would belong to a man and a woman.

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Argentina News Roundup: 6th February 2014

Estela de Carlotto, head of the Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo (Photo: Deutsche Welle)

Estela de Carlotto, head of the Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo (Photo: Deutsche Welle)

Abuelas Find Grandchild 110: Today the Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo announced they had ‘found’ grandchild number 110. Estela de Carlotto, head of the human rights organisation, revealed the woman was the child of Liliana Isabel Acuña and Oscar Rómulo Gutierrez, who were disappeared on 26th August 1976. Acuña was five months pregnant at the time of her kidnapping, and her daughter was born in a clandestine prison and then adopted. The woman’s identity has not been revealed. During the press conference, her uncle, Ricardo Gutiérrez, said: “This was a pregnancy that lasted for years and today she was born”. De Carlotto confirmed that the woman had come to the Abuelas on 31st October last year with doubts about her identity. The organisation then accompanied her to the National Commission for the Right to Identity (Conadi) where she left a blood sample, which was then run through the National Genetic Data Bank, where it was discovered that she was the daughter of the disappeared couple. The Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo are a human rights organisation, who work to find the missing children of couples who were disappeared during the 1976-83 dictatorship. An estimated 500 women were pregnant at the time of their disappearance, and many of their children were born in captivity and then adopted out to new families, after which their biological mothers were killed.

Large Protest in Support of Las Heras Oil Workers: Hundreds marched through the streets of Buenos Aires yesterday in support of three oil workers convicted of the murder of policeman Jorge Sayago. Hugo Gonzáles, Inocencio Cortés, and José Rosales were sentenced to life in prison in December for the death Sayago during a workers’ uprising in February 2006 in the Patagonian town of Las Heras. Six others were also sent to prison for their role in the uprising, in what human rights organisations are calling a miscarriage of justice. The march, which ended in Plaza de Mayo, saw Nobel Peace Prize winner Adolfo Pérez Esquivel, representatives of the Madres de Plaza de Mayo, Línea Fundadora, and national legislators address the crowd, calling for the men to be pardoned due to “irregularities” in the investigation. Nicolás del Caño, national deputy for the PTS, said: “The trial in which the men were convicted was completely staged with the objective of teaching a lesson to the workers and stopping them from organising and fighting for their rights.” He went on to say the trial was in accordance with the oil corporations and with government complicity. Acts of solidarity were also held in Paris, Madrid, Barcelona, Berlin, Mexico, and Chile.

Firefighters Laid to Rest; Investigation into Cause of Fire Opened: Buenos Aires residents were given the chance to pay their respects to those who died during yesterday’s fire as a funeral procession drove through the streets of the capital to a memorial service at Chacarita cemetery. Nine firefighters and first responders were killed when a wall collapsed during a fire at an Iron Mountain storage facility in Barracas. The cause of the fire is still unknown. Prosecutor Marcela Sánchez, who is taking charge of the investigation, will take statements from four Iron Mountain employees, including the security employee, who alerted the authorities to the fire, as well as the firefighters who were at the scene, including those who were injured. Sánchez visited the unit in Barracas yesterday.

It is not the first time the corporation’s facilities have set on fire, with fires have taken place on five previous occasions at deposits in North America and Europe, at least two of which are suspected to have been caused by arson. This is, however, the first time that such a fire has ended in tragedy.

Posted in Current Affairs, News From Argentina, Round Ups ArgentinaComments (0)

Beyond the Military: Investigating the Civilian Role in the Dictatorship

Last Friday, after 13 months and 400 witness testimonies, the mega-lawsuit in Federal Court of Tucumán found 37 of 41 defendants guilty of crimes against humanity during the 1976-83 dictatorship in Argentina. In the historic trial, known as Jefatura II-Arsenales II, four civilians were among the accused: two were pardoned and two were convicted for their involvement in the dictatorship.

María Elena Guerra, a civilian and ex-police officer, and Guillermo Francisco Lopez Guerrero, a civil intelligence agent, joined a select few civilians who have been found guilty of crimes committed during the brutal seven-year military regime, in which some 30,000 people were kidnapped and killed or ‘disappeared’.

Families of the disappeared await the verdict of the mega-lawsuit in Tucumán (photo: Julio Pantoja/Télam/)

Families of the disappeared await the verdict of the mega-lawsuit in Tucumán (photo: Julio Pantoja/Télam/)

Since the trials were reopened in 2006, hundreds of members of the military have been sentenced to prison for crimes committed during the dictatorship. However, it was only in December last year that James Smart, a former government minister of the Province of Buenos Aires, became the first civilian to be convicted of crimes against humanity committed during the dictatorship. He was sentenced to life in prison for crimes committed in six clandestine detention centres.

These landmark rulings demonstrate how, after 30 years of democratic rule, the way Argentines, politicians, and the legal system examine crimes from this period has evolved, with the focus turning more recently to the role of businesses and civilians in the human rights atrocities of that period.

Human rights groups have long used the term ‘civic-military dictatorship’ to acknowledge the complicity and support of some civilian sectors. But the title has become increasingly common in recent years under the Cristina Fernández de Kirchner administration, opening the door for a number of emblematic trials investigating the role of these civilians, with the aim of bringing the impunity of the powerful to an end.

Causes of the Coup: A New Economic Model

Human rights groups argue that economic motives were behind the 24th March 1976 coup, saying it can no longer be argued that the objective was only to combat “subversion”. They believe so-called “captains of industry” collaborated with military leaders to perpetrate crimes against humanity for economic gain.

Last week, Banco de la Nación Argentina officially recognised Roberto Hugo Barrera as the 31st employee still missing – disappeared – after being kidnapped during the dictatorship. The institution has been an important player in the drive to highlight the economic motives behind the so-called ‘National Reorganisation Process’ implemented by the military junta.

Graciela Navarro, President of the Commission of the Banco de la Nación Personnel for Memory, Truth and Justice told The Argentina Independent that when identifying what occurred in 1976, it is first important to understand that there was no “war”.

Banco de la nacion (Photo by Helena Andell)

Banco de la Nación (Photo by Helena Andell)

“There were operations of some armed groups, but these were isolated. There was never a war here. It was always state terrorism,” she said, alluding to the still oft-used term ‘Dirty War’ by foreign press.

According to Navarro, certain civilian sectors used the military to implement a neo-liberal economic model. “It was necessary to implement an economic model of exclusion to benefit economic groups that utilised the Armed Forces as a instrument of social discipline – for repression, for fear, to deal with any resistance movement.

“The true causes of the coup were economic, because of this we say civic-military dictatorship,” she added.

Marta Santos, a former Central Bank employee and friend of one of the five known desaparecidos (missing) who worked at the institution, echoes this view.

“This dictatorship, this military force, needed the support of civilians in key parts of the state and in the private economy… In this sense we say that dictatorship was civic-military because it pursued neo-liberal economic interests of private [business] and the state,” says Santos, who today is part of a team working with the Central Bank to investigate if there are more unknown desaparecidos who worked there.

Civilians in Government

Santos says it is important to denounce civilian collusion with the military junta in the defence of democracy, to ensure these institutions can never again prop up a dictatorship. She names José Alfredo Martínez de Hoz as the prime example of civilian involvement.

Former president of the steel company Acindar – which operated one of the country’s first clandestine torture and detention centres on its premises in 1975 – José Martínez de Hoz was economy minister from 1976 to 1981, in charge of ushering in a new economic paradigm based on the principles of free market capitalism. During this period, it was common for businessmen close to the economy minister to assume key government roles, helping to fuse civil society to the military junta. His policies sowed the seeds for financial collapse, providing a brief period of prosperity but leading to a deep recession in 1981 and saddling the nation with a burdensome external debt that would cause problems long after the return to democracy.

Martínez de Hoz was under house arrest when he died in March this year, being investigated for his alleged role in the kidnap of father and son, Federico and Miguel Gutheim. The family owned the cotton export company Sadeco, and were allegedly coerced into making business deals that favoured the dictatorship.

José Martínez de Hoz as economy minister (1976-81)

José Martínez de Hoz as economy minister (1976-81)

He was also linked to the kidnap of René Carlos Alberto Grassi, director de Industrias Siderúrgicas Grassi (a rival company of Acindar) and president of the Bank of Hurlingham, in September 1978. Grassi was held in Campo de Mayo for a year after his abduction, and eventually Industrias Siderúrgicas Grassi was absorbed by Acindar. One month before the abduction, Martínez de Hoz had asked to buy the Bank of Hurlingham and was declined.

From the early days of the dictatorship there was a strong repression of workers, but the kidnap of Grassi was significant; he did not pose a threat as an opposition force to the regime, his value was economic.

Martínez de Hoz was pardoned by Menem in 1990, though this was annulled 16 years later when the Gutheim case was reopened. Up until his death, he denied any involvement in the kidnappings and was a remorseless defender of the dictatorship-era economic policies.

The investigation of Martínez de Hoz is an early example of a civilian investigated for abuses committed during the rein of the military junta. In recent years, many more legal battles concerning civilian’s roles in the dictatorship have come to the surface.

Thirty Years of Reconstruction

Horacio Verbitsky, president of CELS and co-author of the 2013 book ‘Cuentas pendientes: los cómplices económicos de la dictadura’, which examines the links between economic powers and state repression, argues the economic influence of civilians who were complicit in the dictatorship continued throughout the first two decades of democracy. Verbitsky argues that economic powers could have endangered the stability of democracy, which limited the possibility of pursuing justice for their responsibility during the dictatorship.

Argentina’s first president after the return of democracy, Raúl Alfonsín, had the complex task of addressing human rights abuses in the face of a weak economy and massive external debt, which had ballooned from US$7.87bn in 1975 to US$43bn in 1982.

“It is not easy to build democracy in a setting where political culture and civic habits have been degraded by authoritarianism. Nor is it easy to build democracy in the midst of a deep economic crisis exacerbated by the need to repay a huge foreign debt that the old dictatorial regime had contracted and irresponsibly misspent,” Alfonsín said in 1992, after his term had ended prematurely in 1989.

Videla and other military chiefs are found guilty of crimes against humanity in 1985.

Videla and other military chiefs are found guilty of crimes against humanity in 1985.

The neo-liberal economic paradigm that dominated the nineties – a time that corresponded with the amnesty offered to those responsible in the dictatorship – deepened the economic model launched in 1976, taking it to the economic and political crisis of 2001.

Graciela Navarro believes that since Néstor Kirchner took office in 2003 there has been two distinct periods relating to the last civic-military dictatorship, the first being the recovery of the memory of those who had been tortured or disappeared, and the end of impunity for military leaders. “When Cristina was elected,” Navarro believes, “it was possible to begin to examine the true causes of the coup, which were economic, and charge those who are responsible.

“The military has been judged,” adds Navarro, “but many civilians, if not them then their children, are owners of the large economic groups… this is difficult. These are the interests that Cristina is dealing with.”

Pending Cases

After years of impunity, Argentina’s legal system has begun to investigate the role of officials, powerful businessmen, and mulitnationals who may have collaborated with the military in state terrorism. According to the Centre for Legal and Social Studies (CELS), as of September 2013 there were a total of 261 civilians accused of involvement in the human rights abuses of the era.

Several high profile and emblematic cases involving civilians, and their business interests, are currently making their way through the legal system.

Papel Prensa: On 2nd November, 1976, three newspapers – Clarín, La Nación, and La Razón – obtained the majority shares in Papel Prensa, the company which produces newsprint for the industry, soon after owner, businessman and banker David Graiver, died in a plane crash in Mexico in August 1976. Graiver’s widow, Lidia Papaleo testified in 2010 that at that time she was stripped of the factory after receiving death threats against her and her young daughter. In March 1977, Papaleo was abducted and tortured until she was released on July 24, 1982.

The case concerning the sale of Papel Prensa was opened in August 2010 after President Fernández presented a report in the Casa Rosada titled “Papel Prensa: The Truth” denouncing the “illegal appropriation” of the business. Most recently, the case has been in the headlines after the discovery of official minutes from the dictatorship that mention Papel Prensa 13 times between September 1976 and November 1977.

According to Defence Minister Agustín Rossi, the minutes make it “clear that for the Junta, Papel Prensa was a part of the same theme as the detention of [ex-owners] the Graiver family… this appears clearly in the minutes.” Copies of the documents are now in the hands of Federal Judge Julián Ercolini, who has jurisdiction over the case.

Ledesma: Also working its way through the legal system is a case involving president of sugar company Ledesma, one of Argentina’s most powerful businesses, for his involvement in kidnappings during the ‘blackout night’, when over 400 people were kidnapped in the province of Jujuy following an electricity outage on 20th July, 1976.

President of Ledesma Carlos Blaquier and former general manager Alberto Lemos are accused of providing the vehicles that were used for transporting the victims. This month, the Federal Court of Salta confirmed that there is sufficient evidence that the company Ledesma collaborated in the kidnapping of their workers to dismantle the labour union. As a result, Blaquier and Lemos will be put on trial, which is set to begin in April 2014. The court upheld that Blaquier will be prosecuted as a “necessary participant” in twenty cases of illegal deprivation of liberty and Lemos is accused of being a “secondary participant” to the kidnappings.

Ford: During the dictatorship, the Ford Falcon became known as a vehicle commonly used by kidnappers. But the company is also accused of more direct involvement in the human rights abuses of the time.

In May, charges were laid against three ex-directors of Ford Motors Argentina for their role in the disappearance of 24 workers from the plant. Former plant manager Pedro Müller, ex-leader of labour relations Guillermo Galarraga, and ex-security chief Héctor Sibilla are accused of having given to military commanders in the area “personal data, photographs, and addresses” of workers at the factory between 24th March and 20th August, 1976.

The three men are also accused of having allowed the military to use the factory as a detention centre where they carried out the interrogation of the workers. According to Judge Alicia Vence, the workers were “tied up with their faces covered and beaten.”

Although 24 workers survived the kidnapping and torture, only 12 are still alive today. The formal legal process began in 2001 but the first reports of the events date back to 1984.

Mercedes Benz: The families of 17 workers from the Mercedes Benz plant who were kidnapped and tortured have bought a civil case against the parent company of the carmaker, Daimler Chrysler, in the US. Mercedes-Benz Argentina is alleged to have identified workers who were kidnapped and sent to the clandestine torture centre, Campo de Mayo, during the dictatorship.

The investigation began in 2004 and has been rejected by US courts on previous occasions, with the US Supreme Court currently determining if the case falls under its jurisdiction. A decision is expected in the coming months on whether multinational corporations can be sued in US courts for alleged human rights abuses abroad.

In Argentina, the lawsuit for kidnapping and torture of the 17 workers, 14 of whom are still missing, was initiated by journalist Gabriela Weber in 2002 and in 2006 was transferred to Federal Court in San Martín under the charge of Judge Alicia Vence. So far noone has been formally charged or arrested.

The carmaker is also accused of the appropriation of three children, and the adoption and substitution of identity of Paula Logares, the first grandchildren reclaimed by the Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo in 1987.

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