Adam Isacson

Still trying to understand Latin America, my own country, and why so few consequences are intended. These views are not necessarily my employer’s.

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Argentina

WOLA Podcast: When your neighbor is a murderer: Sean Mattison on “escrache” in Argentina

I enjoyed this conversation about victims’ activism in Argentina with filmmaker Sean Mattison. The .mp3 file is here. The podcast feed is here. And here’s the text from WOLA’s podcast landing page:

The New York Times featured a short film by Sean Mattison about Argentina. Atención! Murderer Next Door, posted on November 10, 2020, tells the story of HIJOS, a group of children of victims of Argentina’s 1976-1983 military dictatorship, who started using a novel technique in the 1990s to pressure for an end to the amnesty that the armed forces’ torturers and killers enjoyed at the time.

Those responsible for the dictatorship’s campaign of tens of thousands of forced disappearances were living side-by-side with regular citizens. HIJOS and other activists started using direct action, gathering outside the perpetrators’ homes and workplaces and making clear to all that “a murderer lives here.”

They called this increasingly creative method “escrache,” which as Mattison explains here doesn’t translate well into English. Escrache worked: it helped build pressure for President Néstor Kirchner to end the post-dictatorship amnesty law in 2003. Argentina has now sentenced more military human rights abusers than has any other Latin American country.

As Mattison discusses, escrache has caught on elsewhere. Versions of escrache are already being aimed at Trump administration officials who led abuses like family separation. While it is not a perfect tool or an appropriate form of activism for all circumstances, it deserves a closer look, which is a future direction for Sean Mattison’s work.

Listen to WOLA’s Latin America Today podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, iHeartRadio, or wherever you subscribe to podcasts. The main feed is here.

I keep rereading this paragraph

“For many Argentines, then, the military represented not a subjugation to arbitrary rule, but a release from the frustrations, complexity, and compromises of representative government. A large part of society clasped with joy the extended hand of totalitarian certainty. Life was suddenly simplified by conformity to a single, uncontested power. For those who cherish democracy, it is necessary to comprehend the secret delight with which many greeted its passing. A quick fix to the insurgency seemed infinitely preferable to plodding investigations, piecemeal arrests, and case-by-case lawful trials. Whipped up by the irrational fear of a communist takeover, this impatience won the day. And once Argentina had accepted the necessity for a single, absolute solution, the killing could begin.”

From Argentine journalist Uki Goñi’s remarkable essay, “‘Silence Is Health’: How Totalitarianism Arrives,” from the current New York Review of Books.

Links From the Last Month About: Civil-Military Relations in Latin America

Marco Bello photo for Reuters. Caption: “Soldiers march during a military parade to celebrate the 206th anniversary of Venezuela’s independence in Caracas, Venezuela, July 5, 2017.”

Argentina

  • Outgoing Defense Minister Julio Martínez alleged that the previous governments of Néstor Kirchner and Cristina Fernández so neglected the country’s air force that “over a hundred [aircraft] went out of service or were decommissioned.”

Brazil

  • Brazilian Army soldiers, long tasked with guarding the country’s 10,400-mile land border, are increasingly being used as police. “During the past year, soldiers have spent nearly 100 days patrolling city streets—double the number from the previous nine years combined,” according to an Economist report with an interesting map.

Colombia

  • The chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court in The Hague has notified Colombia that she has her eye on 23 active and retired generals, and 6 colonels, who may bear responsibility for extrajudicial executions. The list, based on cases in five regions, includes the current chief of the armed forces, Gen. Juan Pablo Rodríguez.
  • The mayor of Antioquia, Colombia—the department (province) whose capital is Medellín—is moving forward with a proposal to install retired army colonels as “vice-mayors” of historically conflictive towns. Local human rights groups are opposing the idea.

Cuba

  • American University’s William Leogrande takes down the claim—repeated by proponents of the Trump administration’s tightening of commerce with Cuba—that the Cuban military controls 60 percent of the country’s economy. “Sectors in which the military has little or no participation easily comprise more than half of GDP, and in the other sectors, there are civilian as well as military-controlled firms.”

Ecuador

  • 3,000 members of Ecuador’s armed forces have been deployed to play an anti-crime role in the western provinces of Guayas, Manabí, and Los Ríos. They are mostly searching vehicles at road checkpoints, looking for weapons or other signs of organized crime activity.

Guatemala

  • At NACLA, David Unger summarizes a surprising book by an active-duty Guatemalan colonel. Col. Edgar Rubio Castañeda’s “Desde el Cuartel” (From the Barracks) is a blistering critique of the country’s inequality, the oligarchy that benefits from it, and the military’s role in propping it up.

Mexico

  • Top brass in Mexico’s armed forces have been issuing pointed messages about ethics in politics. Defense Minister Gen. Salvador Cienfuegos called for more effort against corruption and impunity, which he said have “damaged our society.” Navy Minister Adm. Vidal Soberón said that human rights violations are “contrary to every definition of our reason for being” and “will never be tolerated.” However, the investigative website Animal Político reported that prosecutors failed to act on at least five anonymous tips that a local Army captain was tied to the drug-trafficking group (Guerreros Unidos) that massacred 43 students in Iguala, Mexico in September 2014.

Venezuela

  • At least 123 members of all branches of Venezuela’s armed forces have been detained since daily anti-government protests began in April. According to Reuters, “nearly 30 members of the military have been detained for deserting or abandoning their post and almost 40 for rebellion, treason, or insubordination.” The majority are being held in the Ramo Verde military prison where opposition leader Leopoldo López was interned until this past weekend.
  • From his cell, López recorded a video urging military personnel to “rebel” against orders to repress protesters. Opposition leader and former presidential candidate Henrique Capriles said that “an air of change” can be felt within Venezuela’s armed forces, but not the National Guard. “A very important decision is coming from the components of our armed forces,” Capriles added.

Links from the last month about: civil-military relations in Latin America

Municipality of Jocotán photo at Southern Command’s Diálogo website. Caption: “Students from a rural school in the municipality of Jocotán, Chiquimula, thank the Guatemalan Army Corps of Engineers for the desks they donated to their school.”

Argentina

A pro-military group posted a list of journalists and others who have testified in human rights cases against leaders of Argentina’s 1976-1983 military dictatorship, calling them “subversive terrorists from the 1970s.”

Brazil

A brief and ill-advised use of soldiers against protestors “shocked a capital already shaken by the day’s violence” and brought back memories of the 1964-85 military government. See also: Eduardo Goncalves, Forcas Armadas Sao Usadas Contra Protestos Pela 2ª Vez (Veja (Brazil), May 25, 2017).

Colombia

Gen. Luis Felipe Montoya, an active-duty officer, has been training with foreign “friends of the process” to take a more active role in the Colombian government’s stalled peace talks with the ELN guerrilla group.

Guatemala

The Southern Command-run publication asks the chief of Guatemala’s joint staff, “When will the Armed Forces stop supporting the National Civil Police?” The answer: “In the coming year, if not sooner.”

Guatemala’s army is fulfilling a presidential order “to restore 8,000 kilometers of roads within the shortest possible time.”

An active-duty colonel wrote a book recognizing some of the Guatemalan military’s civil war-era crimes and alignment with the country’s small elite. The author speculates that this could be a step toward cracking open the armed forces’ “pact of silence.”

Mexico

Soldiers in the state of Tamaulipas, where Mexico’s Army and Navy are in frequent firefights with criminal groups, write a letter asking to be pulled off the streets because “we’ve had enough of killing hitmen.” It voices rage at human rights NGOs and the government because “nobody says anything” when their comrades are killed.

Mexico’s Defense Ministry (headed by an active-duty general) has begun freezing out La Jornada, a left-leaning Mexico City daily, leaving it off its mailing list for press releases and events.

Venezuela

A few glimpses into one of Venezuela’s main “black boxes”: attitudes in the military. “Soldiers’ families suffers along with protesters who skip meals while watching their money become worthless. Some are unsure whether to blame the government or the opposition for the crisis, and what soldiers decide in the coming months could decide the country’s fate.” See also: Venezuela’s Defense Chief Warns Guardsmen on Excessive Force (Associated Press, June 8, 2017) and Girish Gupta, Andrew Cawthorne, Venezuela Jailed 14 Army Officers for Dissent at Start of Protests: Documents (Reuters, June 6, 2017).

Human rights defenders are denouncing Venezuela’s new practice of trying civilians in military courts for their role in political protests.

Lo ocurrido en Palmarito no debe repetirse porque independientemente de la violación de derechos humanos y la urgente redefinición de la política de seguridad interna, polariza a nuestra sociedad

May 15, 2017

Mexico

El Ejército debe respetar el marco legal. Si no lo hace, si no respeta las leyes, si ignora la Constitución, se convierte en un Ejército asesino. Punto

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