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Book Review: The Militant Song Movement in Latin America

militant song“Without an understanding of the emotional component of political involvement it is impossible to fully understand a movement for social change such as the one operating in Latin America at that time. Without an account of how music was pervasively used in the construction of these emotional components, the political and social explanation of what occurred in Latin America during that period will be always inexcusably partial.”

Pablo Vila’s introduction to ‘The Militant Song Movement in Latin America: Chile, Uruguay and Argentina’ (Lexington Books, 2014) succinctly defines the complexities of a movement whose narration differs across the three countries discussed in the book.

The militant song, which emerged as a powerful movement from the 1950s until the mid 1970s, swiftly became an expression of “el pueblo” – the people. The political mobilisation of the masses, constructed upon the validation of subaltern experience and memory, incorporated traditional folklore, as well as the ramifications of poverty and social injustice. The triumph of the Cuban Revolution in 1959 increased anti-colonial sentiment in Latin America and emphasised the importance of cultural dissemination which, in Cuba, was epitomised by its own variant of militant song known as “Nueva Trova Cubana”.

The book incorporates history and memory, as well as the processes that have constructed divergent forms of remembrance with regard to the militant song movement. While the militant song departed from common objectives – namely the repudiation of colonial and imperialist influences – the memory frameworks in Chile, Uruguay and Argentina differed following the brutal dictatorships and subsequent transitions towards a democratic framework.

Thus, while political mobilisation against oppression provided a common foundation in all three countries, the memory processes in the aftermath of their respective dictatorships reflected the variations in remembrance of the militant song. In Argentina, songs that nurtured the militant song yet lacked a militant element took precedence within the country’s collective memory. The de-politicisation of songs, aided by the emphasis upon aesthetics and poetry, became a characteristic of Uruguayan memory. On the other hand, militant song in Chile emerged as the strongest with regard to memory, owing to the dictatorship-imposed rupture on society.

La nueva canción chilena was the militant song movement that had a profound impact on Chilean society (Photo courtesy of Memoria Chilena)

La nueva canción chilena was the militant song movement that had a profound impact on Chilean society (Photo courtesy of Memoria Chilena)

Three phases characterise Uruguay’s militant song: the triumph and inspiration of the Cuban Revolution, cultural resistance to dictatorship, and the 1985 return to democracy. While the emphasis upon resistance to colonial influence and the incorporation of local traditions remained for a time, within a limited audience, exposure to the intellectual society and the international left by Daniel Viglietti aided dissemination. Viglietti, a radical Uruguayan singer who collaborated also with Chilean nueva canción musicians, stands out as the epitome of the militant song genre in Uruguay.

Uruguay’s militant song encouraged dialogue between the singer and the audience, placing value upon aesthetics and the literary quality of the songs as the primary means through which to combat dictatorship oppression. As the inspiration of “el pueblo” becomes a disseminated collective experience, political oppression is challenged through “simultaneous and complicit engagement”, according to Maria Figueredo. The prominence of aesthetics in Uruguay’s militant song, while failing to act as a deterrent for the exile of more radical singers such as Viglietti, enabled the manoeuvring and rewriting of songs in a manner that challenged authority within censorship restrictions. However, the shift in focus is also testimony to the later trend of depoliticisation, thus minimising remembrance of Uruguayan militant song and its fusion with politics.

Atahualpa Yupanqui, pioneer of the militant song movement in Argentina is considered to have vindicated previously inaccessible social commentary departing from the subaltern and the consciousness of the indigenous, marginalised for a long time by successive governments. A reflection also of the silence imposed upon the indigenous, Yupanqui’s militant song is immediately distanced from the “hegemonic collective imaginary”, particularly with regard to the song “El arriero va”, which is considered to be the first song endorsing critical commentary about social conditions in 1944.

As Carlos Molinero and Pablo Vila state in their chapter, the recognition of difference from within strikes the first challenge against the hegemony, thus bringing social inclusion of the masses to the fore. This also aided in the expansion and exploration of socio-political themes by other singers such as Mercedes Sosa, thus making the change from political representation to using song as a political weapon. With the singer as protagonist, the song is allowed the freedom to become the epitome of struggle – one particular reference and inspiration for the genre being Che Guevara’s utopian metaphor of the “new man”.

However, unlike the continuous experience of Chile, Argentine militant song was less widespread – a fact reflected in the remembrance of non-militant repertoire that nurtured the movement, rather than an affinity to militant song itself. For example, despite its lack of militant content, “Gracias a la Vida”, authored by Chilean nueva canción pioneer Violeta Parra but mostly associated with Mercedes Sosa, remains at the helm of Argentine remembrance of the genre.

A mural for Victor Jara in Santiago, Chile (photo: Wikipedia)

A mural for Victor Jara, one of the leading singers in Chile’s militant song movement, in Santiago. (photo: Wikipedia)

Chile, on the contrary, remains the embodiment of militant song. ‘La nueva canción Chilena’, incorporated within Salvador Allende’s Unidad Popular campaign, was an active movement of political mobilisation and consciousness that rendered the masses participants in political events. Vehemently shunning commercial snares, the nueva canción movement proved formidable in countering imperialist culture at a time when Chilean society was riddled with turbulence, military violence and the resonating clamour for social change. Nueva canción artists willingly pledged their support to Allende’s campaign, with groups and singers such as Inti Illimani and Victor Jara becoming deeply involved the process of rendering the song a viable political vehicle.

Perhaps the most poignant of all was the composition of ‘El Pueblo Unido Jamas Sera Vencido’ (The people united, will never be defeated’) in August 1973 by Sergio Ortega and Quilapayun, just a few weeks prior to the brutal US-backed military coup led by General Pinochet. The immense inspiration generated by the movement led to the detention and torture of several nueva canción singers such as Angel Parra and Victor Jara – the latter being brutally tortured and murdered in the aftermath of the coup. Other singers and groups, such as Patricio Manns and Inti Illimani, were forced into exile. Records pertaining to the nueva canción movement were destroyed along with other material that reflected the mobilisation of the subaltern, such as literature and indigenous instruments. The fusion of militant song with politics in Chile remains evident – particularly in the ongoing battle for memory and the challenging of dictatorship oblivion – a characteristic that is still enshrined in Chile despite the return to democracy.

Drawing upon valuable historical resources, interviews and a vast repertoire of songs, the book is a valuable reference that highlights not only the role of the singers in this enduring movement, but also the political dimension that is allowed to preserve its emotive aspect. A movement that “has outlived the historical conditions that engendered them,” as Nancy Morris states in her contribution, the relevance of the militant song, epitomised in particular by the Chilean experience of memory in relation to the epoch, needs a constant regeneration to avoid the pitfalls of the political periphery.

The Militant Song Movement in Latin America: Chile, Uruguay and Argentina‘ (Lexington Books, 2014)

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Uruguay Approves Bolivia’s Entry into Mercosur

Mercosur flagThe Uruguayan government sanctioned a law passed by Congress which approves the entry of Bolivia into the Mercosur trade bloc.

The process for Bolivia to join Mercosur began in December 2012 in Brazil, and it must be approved by the parliaments of all the member states. So far, the Uruguayan and Venezuelan have parliaments have passed bills in this sense.

The text of the law indicates that, within Bolivia’s joining process, they will establish instruments to reduce asymmetries within the member states, in order to favour “a balanced relative economic development within Mercosur.”

By entering the economic bloc, Bolivia agrees to abide by a number of treaties that regulate the resolution of disputes, among other issues. Once it has been formally allowed into Mercosur, the Andean country will have four years to gradually adopt the laws governing it.

Joining Mercosur would provide Bolivia with an exit to the Atlantic ocean via the Paraná and Paraguay rivers and a free trade area with its neighbours. Around 55% of Bolivian exports are sold to Mercosur countries.

The parliaments of Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay are yet to approve Bolivia’s membership. In the meantime, the country participates in Mercosur as an accessing member, without a right to vote.


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Uruguay: Parties Choose Presidential Candidates in Primaries

Ex-president Tabaré Vázquez casts his vote (photo: AFP PHOTO/Miguel Rojo/Télam/ddc)

Ex-president Tabaré Vázquez casts his vote (photo: AFP PHOTO/Miguel Rojo/Télam/ddc)

Uruguayans took to the polls yesterday to choose the candidates that will participate in October’s presidential elections. The three main parties will be represented by ex-president Tabaré Vázquez (Frente Amplio), Luis Lacalle (Partido Nacional), and Pedro Bordaberry (Partido Colorado).

Partido Nacional was the party which obtained the most votes, with 43% of the total, whilst Frente Amplio got 28% of the vote and Partido Colorado 14%. Vázquez and Bordaberry both beat their party rivals by a landslide (obtaining around 80% and 75% respectively), whilst Lacalle’s victory was tighter, beating rival Jorge Larrañaga by 54% to 46%.

Smaller parties such as Partido Independente and Asamblea Popular also participated in the primaries, though with only one candidate each.

The country’s electoral tribunal reported a very low participation rate, with only between 30 and 35% of the electorate casting their vote. Mónica Xavier, president of Frente Amplio, said politicians should “reflect about the reasons why people don’t feel compelled [to vote]” and to “think about the parties’ responsibility in the low levels of participation.”

President José Mugica, also of the Frente Amplio, was one of many analysts who considered that the high absenteeism was due to the predictability of the results.

Presidential and legislative elections will be held in Uruguay on 26th October. The latest polls show that Frente Amplio candidate Tabaré Vázquez is favourite to succeed Mugica.


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Five Dead After Private Plane Crashes in Río de la Plata

Authorities have confirmed five dead after a light aircraft crashed in the Río de la Plata this afternoon. Another four people remain in hospital, according to reports.

The private plane, travelling from San Fernando in Argentina with nine on board, crashed less than 10km southwest of its destination Carmelo, on the Uruguayan coast. The pilot had allegedly reported a technical problem before communication was lost.

Map of the crash site (via Infobae.com)

Map of the crash site (via Infobae.com)

Emergency services were alerted by passengers calling from on board as the plane fell soon after 2pm and rescue helicopters and boats were immediately dispatched from both countries.

Early reports suggested one fatality, though the increased figure of five was later confirmed by spokesperson for the Uruguayan navy Gastón Juansolo. Two of the survivors were taken to Buenos Aires, and the other two to Colonia, where they continue to receive treatment for injuries.

Argentine Security Secretary Sergio Berni said that the causes of the crash were still unknown, though noted that “experience tells us its was an engine failure,” according to Pagina 12. Berni added that there was extensive fog in the region of the crash.

The plane is owned by Federico Bonomi, of the clothes label Kosiuko, though he was not on board today.









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Chile: Six Condemned for Kidnapping Uruguayans After 1973 Coup

Enrique Pagardoy Saquieres, one of the disappeared Uruguayans

Enrique Pagardoy Saquieres, one of the disappeared Uruguayans

An appeals court in Santiago, Chile has condemned six retired military officers to six years in jail for their role in the disappearance of three Uruguayan citizens shortly after the 1973 coup.

Yesterday’s unanimous decision changed the first ruling from September 2012, which only sentenced one of the accused, Colonel Mateo Durruty. The other former military personnel now condemned are General Francisco Martínez, Brigadier Ander Uriarte, and subofficers Gabriel Montero, Moisés Retamal y Guillermo Vargas.

They will now be able to appeal this second ruling in front of the Supreme Court.

The three victims – Ariel Arcos Latorre (23), Juan Povaschuk Galeazzo (24), and Enrique Pagardoy Saquieres (21) – were detained on 29th September 1973, just two weeks after President Salvador Allende was ousted in a coup led by General Augusto Pinochet. They had come to Chile to escape the dictatorship in Uruguay, which was persecuting suspected members of the leftist guerrilla movement Tupumaros.

After the Pinochet coup, the three were captured, along with four other Uruguayan citizens, as they attempted to escape across the Andes to Argentina. According to the court, they were all taken to a military base in Puente Alto, where they were interrogated and tortured.

Later, all seven were being transferred to the National Stadium in Santiago, which was used by Pinochet as a prison, when a military officer ordered the three victims off the bus. Their whereabouts remain unknown today.

The verdict provides more evidence of the so-called Operation Condor, when military regimes in 1970s Latin America, backed by the US, shared intelligence and coordinated the assassinations of political opponents in the region.

According to Uruguayan newspaper La Diaria, in September 1973, the Uruguayan consulate in Chile gave local authorities a list of over 400 wanted people – including one of the three victims in this case, Galeazzo. Meanwhile, the official Uruguayan state investigation into the disappeared has a record of nine disappeared citizens in Chile.



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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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Latin America News Roundup: 6th May 2014

Yasuní National Park (photo: Joshua Bousel on Flickr)

Yasuní National Park (photo: Joshua Bousel on Flickr)

Ecuador: No Referendum Over Yasuní After Petition Invalidated: The National Electoral Council (CNE) has announced that it had invalidated almost 240,000 signatures gathered by campaigners against oil drilling in the Yasuní National Park. The decision puts the number of valid votes collected at 359,761, short of the 583,323 required to force a national referendum on the matter. “We found signatures repeated up to nine times,” said CNE President Domingo Paredes in a press conference today. “We asked them to read the regulations, and they have not done so.” The CNE also claimed that it had found fake names and false ID numbers. The ‘Yasunidos’ group behind the petition responded to the decision on Twitter, saying “The CNE talks about irregularities, we talk about fraud.” Last week, Yasunidos claimed that the CNE illegally opened the sealed box containing the identification documents for some of the 1,000 volunteers who collected the signatures. The group added that two thirds of the signatures collected had been rejected by the CNE, as it claims to have handed in over 750,000.

Bolivia – Military Protest Comes to an End: After two weeks of strikes and demonstrations over alleged discrimination in the armed forces, low-ranking military personnel in Bolivia have ended their protest. The decision comes as military chiefs confirmed that at least 660 of the 715 soldiers that we dismissed for taking part in the protests have been reinstated. Commander-in-chief of the armed forces, Víctor Baldivieso, said that 99% of those protesting have been re-incorporated into their units, adding that “now there is no motive, nor reason, to keep protesting”. Negotiations will continue over potential modifications to the Organic Armed Forces Law to eliminate discrimination throughout the military hierarchy and to promote equal treatment and professionalisation for non-commissioned officers. Low-ranking soldiers in the Bolivian Armed Forces are mostly of indigenous background, unlike the majority of officers.

Marijuana (Photo: Courtesy of Wikepedia)

Marijuana (Photo: Courtesy of Wikepedia)

Uruguay – New Details as Marijuana Law Comes Into Force: The legalisation of marijuana will come into force in Uruguay today as President José Mujica approves the detailed regulation for the law approved by Congress last year. The marijuana market will be regulated by the state, with only registered permanent residents of Uruguay over the age of 18 able to purchase a maximum of 10 grammes a week from pharmacies. The price of the drug will also be fixed by the state, with an initial cost of around US$1 per gram. Each household can cultivate up to six cannabis plants, to be used for personal consumption, while ‘cannabis clubs’ of up to 45 members can own 99 plants. However, consumers must register and choose only one method of accessing the drug (at pharmacies, at home, or at cannabis clubs). Police will have the authority to test drivers for marijuana use, as well as arrest those in possession of marijuana that does not have the genetic makeup of the state-approved varieties.The Institute of Regulation and Control of Cannabis (IRCCA) is expected to issue licenses in the next few weeks to companies bidding to produce an estimated 18-22 tonnes of cannabis. Plantations will be guarded by the military, and their exact location will not be revealed for security purposes. The first harvest is expected to be ready for sale by December this year.

“They’ll label us elderly reactionaries,” said Mujica in an interview with Associated Press last week. “But this isn’t a policy that seeks to expand marijuana consumption. What it aims to do is keep it all within reason, and not allow it to become an illness.” Mujica also told local reporters this weekend that the main aim of the bill is to “combat drug trafficking.”



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Latin America News Roundup: 8th April 2014

President Nicolás Maduro (photo courtesy of Venezuelan government)

President Nicolás Maduro (photo courtesy of Venezuelan government)

Venezuela – Government and Opposition in ‘Exploratory’ Meeting: Representatives of the opposition are meeting today with the government to discuss the protests and violence that have plagued the country since February. Under the mediation of the Union of South American Nations (Unasur), the main opposition coalition, the Mesa de Unidad Democrática (MUD) agreed to meet with President Nicolás Maduro to explore the possibility of engaging in dialogue going forward. Among the issues to be discussed in the search for a resolution to violence are the levels of insecurity in the country, the state of the economy, armed groups called ‘colectivos’, and an amnesty law for those arrested in recent weeks. Earlier on Twitter, Vice President Jorge Arreaza said the government was ready to listen to the demands of opposition governors and mayors from around the country, and prepared to approve two special requests from each of them.

Mexico – Surge in Violence in State of Tamaulipas: A spike in violence between organised criminal groups has left at least 19 dead since Sunday, according to official reports. Fourteen people were killed on Sunday alone after gun battles in the cities of Tampico and Maduro, on the border with the US. The region is home to the Gulf and Los Zetas cartels, and the spike in violence comes after a series of police and army raids to capture leading members of both. According to Governor Egidio Torre Cantú: “These acts of violence are the results of actions we are undertaking as part of our fight to restore peace to the region.” Meanwhile, in the southern state of Michoacán, the vigilante groups called ‘autodefensas‘, are protesting efforts by the government to disarm them. Spokesman for the vigilantes, José Manuel Mireles, said the group demanded the dismissal of the security commissioner Alfredo Castillo and the withdrawal of the army and navy forces. President Enrique Peña Nieto said the government would restore security to the state “whatever the cost”.

Uruguay – Teachers in 24-Hour Strike Over Hours and Wages: Secondary school teachers in Uruguay today held a 24-hour strike in a dispute over unassigned hours and unpaid wages. The National Federation of Secondary Teachers (Fenapes) and the Association of Secondary Teachers (Ades) led the measure today, which included a march and the occupation of the Secondary Board for several hours this afternoon. “There are 40,000 unassigned hours and 1,000 teachers without work,” said Fenapes secretary general José Olivera. “All of this is to do with management problems.” Education minister Ricardo Ehrlich, however, said he did not understand the “radical” measure, especially as dialogue was ongoing.

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Latin America News Roundup: 28th March 2014

Uruguayan president José 'Pepe' Mujica (photo by Roosewelt Pinheiro/ABr on Wikipedia)

Uruguayan president José ‘Pepe’ Mujica (photo by Roosewelt Pinheiro/ABr on Wikipedia)

Uruguay – Partial Withdrawal of Police from Football Stadiums After Violence: President José Mujica has ordered the withdrawal of state police from the stadiums of the two biggest clubs – Nacional and Peñarol – following a violent confrontation between fans and officers on Wednesday. However, fears that the weekend’s domestic league fixtures would be suspended were abated today after an agreement was reached with the Uruguayan Football Association (AUF) and clubs to send police to protect referees and stadium personnel, as well as patrol the areas surrounding the stadiums. The safety of the fans will be the responsibility of the AUF and the clubs. Speaking on Thursday, a day after 13 police officers were injured and 40 Nacional fans arrested after a Copa Libertadores game in Montevideo, Mujica said he was “prepared to stop football if necessary” to combat the violence in the sport.

Mexico – Armed Militias Spread in Michoacán State: Armed militia groups, known as ‘autodefensas‘, marched into the municipality of Tacámbaro yesterday to take control of security and combat organised crime. The militias were accompanied by members of the state and federal police forces, local press report. The move brings the total number of towns reportedly under the control of the autodefensas to 31, a little over a year after first forming, with 20,000 people now part of the militia groups. Also yesterday, the public prosecutor’s office reported that 11 armed civilians were arrested in the town of Zitácuaro after allegedly falsely claiming to be part of the militia. Meanwhile, the government in the neighbouring state of Guerrero said federal police and the army had “sealed” the border between the two areas to prevent the spread of the militias – or the criminal gangs they are targeting – into its territory.

Ecuador – President Blames International Far Right for Twitter Hack: President Rafael Correa has blamed “extreme right-wing foreign groups” and the “unscrupulous local opposition” for hacking into his Twitter account yesterday. Messages that appeared on Correa’s account included links to a site called ‘Anonynews’, which included accusations against the government based on alleged official intelligence. The Interior Ministry and the National Intelligence Service today released a statement condemning the act: “We will not tolerate any illegal action that attacks and manipulates the president’s privacy, lying and making false claims on one of the direct channels of communication with the public.” The authorities added that a full investigation into the incident is underway.

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Latin America News Roundup: 20th March 2014

Mayor of Bogotá, Gustavo Petro (Photo: Wikipedia)

Former Mayor of Bogotá, Gustavo Petro (Photo: Wikipedia)

Colombia – Santos Signs Off Petro’s Dismissal: Despite the ruling by the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights (CIDH) earlier this week, Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos signed off yesterday the dismissal of Bogotá mayor Gustavo Petro. At the same time, he appointed Labour Minister Rafael Pardo, as caretaker mayor. Santos’ signature was the final step needed to complete the process started last December by the country’s Inspector General, Alejandro Ordóñez, who removed the mayor and banned him from running for public office for 15 years. In explaining his decision, president Santos said that “the Colombian government understands the importance and has defended the Inter-American Human Rights System. It considers, however, that the role of that system is complementary and alternative, so it must only operate in case of failure of the internal system.” The FARC have criticised Santos’ decision, saying it affects the ongoing peace process, as “it seriously affects the trust and the certainty over what is being approved,” specifically referring to the possibility of political participation of the guerrilla group. Petro called his dismissal a “coup” and, speaking to his followers at a protest in Plaza Bolívar, said that “the fact that Juan Manuel Santos ignored the people’s vote, shows his inability to make peace.”

Uruguay to Take Guantanamo Detainees: President José ‘Pepe’ Mujica confirmed today that his country will take five Guantanamo detainees as refugees, on request by US president Barack Obama. Mujica explained his decision by saying: “There are 120 guys that have been locked up for the last 13 years. They haven’t seen a judge, they haven’t seen a prosecutor, and the president of the United States wants to get rid of that problem. The Senate is asking him 60 things so he asked a bunch of countries whether they could offer refuge to some of them and I said yes.” Mujica remembered the many years he spent in jail during the country’s military dictatorship, and said he agreed to the request “because I spent a lot of years in prison and I’m sick of what they talk about: this is human rights.” He also confirmed that the refugees will be able to bring their families along, work, and establish themselves in Uruguay. The US government informed that they are “in talks with various countries in the region” regarding the closure of Guantanamo.

Venezuela – Opposition Mayors Detained and Jailed: Daniel Ceballos, mayor of San Cristóbal, was arrested for “promoting violence”, whilst Vicencio Scarano, mayor of San Diego, was sentenced to ten months and 15 days in prison for contempt, both in relation to the recent protests that have rocked the country. The Minister of Internal Relations, Justice, and Peace, Miguel Rodríguez Torres, upon informing of Ceballos’ arrest, said that “this action by the court and the Public Ministry is going to contribute greatly to bringing peace to the city of San Cristóbal (…). It is an act of justice before a mayor that not only stopped following the rules imposed by the law and the constitution, but he also supported all the irrational violence that was unleashed on San Cristóbal.” Ceballos aides, in turn, denounced that the mayor had been arrested in Caracas “as he was having a meeting with his lawyers in a hotel in the east of Caracas when six men who claimed to be from Sebin (Bolivarian Intelligence Service) came in, beat him up, and took him away” without presenting an arrest warrant.

Scarano was sentenced after being accused of not following a decision by the country’s Supreme Court from 12th March, whereby mayors were responsible for “avoiding the placement of obstacles on public roads which may prevent, hinder, or alter the free circulation of people and vehicles” in their towns, and for removing those obstacles if they had been placed.

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On the 8th anniversary of the disappearance of Jorge Julio López, we revisit Patricia di Filippo's 2011 article on the case.

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