Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Disappeared, But Not Forgotten Part 3 Spirits Stored Away

And we who have toiled for freedom's law, have we sought for freedom's soul?Have we learned at last that human right is not a part but the whole?~John Boyle O'Reilly

When the dirty war began, all hell broke loose. Argentine military forces put forth the declaration:“ The characteristic of revolutionary war, created and imposed by Marxism, is the absence of a rearguard and the impossibility of neutral positions: everything is “front” and all will be treated as “combatants,” whether they want to participate in combat or not (Robben 198).” No one was seen as innocent. No one was exempt from torture. The military waged its clandestine battle by preying upon its own people like a hawk swooping unexpectedly from the sky and snatching its victim in a death like grip. Without notice, people disappeared, many never to been seen or heard from again. What happened to these individuals that were so suddenly swept away? The ugly details and the heart-wrenching stories are here related in this addition-- the dirty secrets of this infamous war.

The Dastardly Deeds

The repression was directed at four targets: major industries, educational institutions, the church, and the working class neighborhoods. Lieutenant-General Videla said: “There remain other dimensions of the subversion such as the possible infiltration in labor union, student organizations, political parties, and even in the public administration. This is the reason for a systematic cleansing operation (La Nacion 196). Therefore, the “disappeared” consisted of individuals who were neither guerrilla combatants nor weapon-carrying rebels. They were mostly unarmed civilians. “ Most were never charged with any particular offense. Some people were abducted because they had relatives or friends considered subversive. As one army manual explained: “One vulnerable spot of the guerrilla was terror or the threat of violence to them and their relatives and friends (Robben 205).” Such terrorist acts bred a culture of fear which fulfilled the military mission: those who tremble, obey. All rebellion would be eradicated because the people were torn asunder, they could not build solidarity amongst themselves, they were trapped like frightened rabbits in a hole, never knowing which member would be plucked from their cluster. This dirty war had a two-pronged pitchfork by which it stabbed the heart and soul of the people: house abductions and torture.

The Nest Destroyed
The above photos shows a man being abducted from his home--this picture shot before he forever vanished. This first prong was a standard procedure for the abductors. Most operations followed a raid plan known as “plan de allanameinto” that consisted of four parts: secrecy, objective, surprise, and speed.” The raid was always a surprise attack just in case they could catch suspects in an act of rebellion. The group of approximately eight men would be disguised, as in the case of the abduction of Iris Etelvina de Avelaneda in April 1976: “Except for the one who was called Commissioner, and who conducted the procedure, the rest were ostensibly disguised with wigs, beards, and stockings covering their faces (Robbens 207). These abductions deeply traumatized the Argentinean people as it struck at the core of their core value system and feeling of national security. Such break-ins rattled the ties of community, family, and home. Robbens states: “The abduction of Argentines from their homes and the humiliation of their relatives led to the violation of the physical, psychological, and symbolic safety of the home, trust among parents and children, and the disintegration of personal boundaries (209).”
The following account by Ruben Dario Martinez sums up the major elements of a typical house raid: “They detained me at home. A group of people, seven or eight persons, entered…I was asleep. They broke down the door, covered me with a hood, put me against the wall, and began to inspect the entire place. They asked me where the weapons were, turned the mattress over, broke everything, and forced me to the floor. After hitting me inside my house, they put a pistol to my head, and then took me downstairs (CONADEP 352).” Home sweet home? During the dirty war such a place was not to be trusted.

According To The Decree—Violation Judged:

Article 7(2) of the American Convention establishes that “[n]o one shall be deprived
of his physical liberty except for the reasons and under the conditions established beforehand by the Constitution of the State Party concerned or by a law established pursuant thereto.
No one shall be deprived of his physical liberty except for the reasons and under the conditions established beforehand by the Constitution of the State Party concerned or by a law established pursuant thereto.
3. No one shall be subject to arbitrary arrest or imprisonment.
4. Anyone who is detained shall be informed of the reasons for his detention and shall be promptly notified of the charge or charges against him.
5. Any person detained shall be brought promptly before a judge or other officer authorized by law to exercise judicial power and shall be entitled to trial within a reasonable time or to be released without prejudice to the continuation of the proceedings. His release may be subject to guarantees to assure his
appearance for trial.

Article 1(1) of the Convention stipulates that:
The States Parties to this Convention undertake to respect the rights and freedoms recognized herein and to ensure to all persons subject to their jurisdiction the free and full exercise of those rights and freedoms, without any discrimination for reasons of race, color, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, economic status, birth, or any other social condition.

Article 18 of the 1853 Argentine Constitution, (in force at the time of the facts),
established that no one can be “arrested unless it is by virtue of a written order of a
competent authority.
” (Argentine Constitution adopted by the General Constituent Congress on May 1, 1853, reformed and approved by the National Convention "ad hoc" on September 25, 1860, as reformed by the Conventions of 1866,
1898 and 1957)

Muffled: The Cries of Pain

Tortured humans experience a pain that penetrates the skin and inflicts a wound upon their heart, their identity, and their personhood. Torture creates wounds that can never truly heal. During the Dirty War the most common torture method consisted of tying a naked person by all fours to an iron bed frame, called a grill. “The hands, feet, armpits, temples, lips, gums, teeth, nipples, genitals and anus would be given shocks with and electric prod. Regularly the person would be drenched with water to intensify the electric shocks (Robbens, 217).” Many victims experienced near drowning, beatings, sexual torture, blindfolding for extended periods of time, and the torture of family members. Why such drastic measures for a covert war? General Osoris Villegas explains: “ This war is very fast, very agile, very changeable. It’s impossible. You seize an individual and you have to discover what he knows to avoid a greater damage somewhere else, he has to “sing” as they say here, and this has to be done very quickly because you won’t get anywhere if you take too much time (Robbens 219). In order to conquer the hearts and minds of the people, the authorities spared nothing in order to achieve their ends. They desired to demonstrate the state’s omnipotent power by the edge of the symbolic sword. A prime example of such a repressive plan of war is the torture of families. Marcelo Suarez-Orozco argued that it served “instrumental and symbolic purposes. The torture of children was an easy way to extract information from their parents. More important, torture served as a rite of separation intended to remove these children from their so-called subversive homes, sever the ties with their parents, and reintegrate them into the homes of upstanding childless military families (Edelman 189). Thus, nearly 250 boys and girls between the ages of thirteen and eighteen disappeared, and many of them were tortured (Robbens 230).

Listen to this following account of family destruction:

Maria Luisa Sanchez de Vargas was abducted with her five-year-old daughter Josefina and her eighteen-month-old daughter Soledad on 12 June 1976. Marie Lusia succeeded in briefly meeting her husband in prison. Her husband told her that Josefina had been forced to watch him being tortured. Several days later she was allowed to visit her parents. “They took me to a funeral. It was that of my eldest child, my Josefina.”
This five-year-old had taken her grandfather’s gun and killed herself. Josephine’s suicide made her mother lose her oldest daughter and her youngest daughter lose her sister, while the father still figures on the list of the disappeared. Family ties were forever obliterated in one week (CONADEP).”

The inspiration behind the photograph below called “Identidad”, are these children, some disapeared, some unjustly wounded and tortured. This photo is apart of a series opened in Buenos Aires in 1998. Marian Schlotterbeck from The Nation offers a description: The enlarged snapshots of couples and women detained and disappeared in Argentina between 1976 and 1983, who gave birth in prison or whose small children were disappeared along with them, line the winding corridors of the exhibition. A mirror is inserted between family pairs represented the missing child. Beneath the photographs a small text reports the details of the arrest and any available facts about the child's fate. When we as viewers draw closer to the iconic images of the disappeared--these young people with lives and dreams cut tragically short by violence--we stand before a clear and recognizable reflection. Each mirror is filled with a face. It is our own.”

According To The Decree—Violation Judged:

When we uphold the standard that the “Convention On the Rights Of The Child” put forth by the Unicef, we can clearly recognize how gross of a child rights violation the above described situation truly is:

Definition of the child (Article 1):

The Convention defines a “child” as a person below the age of 18, unless the laws of a particular country set the legal age for adulthood younger.

Detention and punishment (Article 37):

No one is allowed to punish children in a cruel or harmful way. Children who break the law should not be treated cruelly. They should not be put in prison with adults, should be able to keep in contact with their families, and should not be sentenced to death or life imprisonment without possibility of release.

Stay tuned for the next report: “Justice Served” –the emergence of the human rights movement and the establishment of human rights institutions--brought to you by Ava Munson, University of Washington

Works Cited:

Robben , Antonius . Political Violence and Trauma in Argentina. Philadelphia : University of Pennsylvania Press , 2005 .

"La Nacion ". 27 June 1977 : 196-197.

"El Diario del Juicio". CONADEP 1984: 352-353.

"American Convention on Human Rights ". Human and Constitutional Rights Resource . July 28 2010 .

Edelman , Murray . The Symbolic Use of Politics . Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1990.
Schlotterbeck , Marian . "Artists Pursue the Disappeared ". The Nation July 30 2007

"Ex-dictator admits 8000 disappeared in 'dirty war'". Fairfax Digital . July 28 2010 .

Battle of Rights


This cartoon illustrates the controversy of abortion policies, which is heavily debated by courts, religious leaders, and the public.

Right to life or right to choice?

Reproductive rights continue to be one of the most controversial and widely debated topics in the broad spectrum of human rights issues. Because of deviating governmental policies regarding abortions and contraceptives that are in place from country to country, there has been a strong need to address these issues as human rights rather than just laws. Religion, tradition, and public opinion seem to be the driving factors in determining the legality of birth control in different regions of the world. In much of Latin America, abortions remain illegal unless the mother's life is at risk (see world map below). Other forms of birth control including emergency contraceptives have their own policies in terms of legality and access. In Argentina, reproductive rights have shifted into focus for human rights activists, either in support for the right to life or the right to choice. Just as the opinions have differed, in the past few decades the Argentine policies have differed as well.

A world map showing the national abortion policies across the globe. Dark red shows countries that prohibit abortions altogether; lighter red signifies permission to abortion in order to protect life and health; lightest red shows countries that add mental health as a justification; light green countries allow abortions on socio-economic grounds as well; dark green signifies countries with minimal restrictions on obtaining an abortion. Note that, in general, Latin American countries hold very strict abortion policies.

In the past, Argentina has followed the Latin American trend of having zero tolerance for birth control. Daily birth control pills were unacceptable, emergency contraceptives were inaccessible, and abortions were inexcusable, not to mention highly illegal. Women did not have the right to choose and were often treated as an instrument of reproduction rather than a human being. In addition, even reproductive health care was seen as unnatural and immoral. Though advancements in reproductive rights have been stalled by religious activists and public health officials who oppose contraception, the Argentine government has made some steps in addressing these issues. In the last three decades, the growth of democracy in Argentina as well as an increase in women's political participation has provided an opportunity for the public to affect reproductive rights and national policies regarding contraceptives and abortion. Gradually, birth control has become more common and abortion is legal under certain circumstances. Though these reformed policies in Argentina may be more liberal than the policies of several other countries in Latin America, they are still very restrictive compared to many other regions in the world.

Even today, women in Argentina are oppressed by the law with regard to reproductive rights. For example, emergency contraceptive pills are very difficult to obtain. This restriction leaves a woman with very few options if a primary contraceptive, such as birth control pills or a condom, happens to fail. In many countries, mostly of Western culture, the woman has the right to consider and pursue a safe, legal abortion. However, with respect to many Latin American countries, even the thought of obtaining an abortion is immoral, and frankly irrational. Though the Argentine policies on reproductive rights have been undergoing reform, the changes are quite mild and negligible. Abortions are still strictly prohibited in Argentina unless the woman is a victim of rape, there's an obvious fetal defect, or the health of the mother is in question. This is a marginal improvement in reproductive rights since the strong majority of unplanned births do not fall within these circumstances. Even for those women who do "qualify" for an abortion and are protected by the law, there are still several obstacles that may cause problems in pursuing the abortion.

The new legal state of abortion does not necessarily replace the traditional ideology that is still very prevalent across Argentina. Religious or moral beliefs may cause some members of the Argentine community to publicly resent abortions or the use of other contraceptives. In extreme cases, a woman could be terminated from their employment, removed from a community group, or excommunicated from their church because of their practice of reproductive rights. Because of these factors, women that may be seeking an abortion in Argentina face an overwhelming barrage of social obstacles. Aside from these social factors, an Argentine woman that is seeking an abortion may also be hindered by reproductive health issues.

This chart shows the statistics of under-registration of maternal deaths in Argentina, which can indicate deaths caused by abortions that were performed either unprofessionally or incorrectly.SciELOPublicHealth

According to the Panamerican Health Organization, the leading cause of maternal death in Argentina is abortion, which is a trend shared by many Latin American countries. Social pressure can lead a woman to perform an abortion on herself, which creates obvious health threats. However, even women that seek an abortion at a medical facility in Argentina face many risks. The medical training in Argentina for physicians that perform abortions is scarce, unregulated, and sometimes outdated. It wasn't until 2007 that the procedural guidelines of international human rights standards and the World Health Organization were implemented by the federal Ministry of Health. Even after that, training was inconsistent since specific abortion policies vary between provinces. In 2009, the province of Santa Fe was the first to begin use of comprehensive guidelines for performing safe abortions. Though improvements in reproductive health are being made, these advancements are progressing at a painfully slow pace.

Not only are reproductive rights continuing to be violated, but maternity deaths due to unsafe abortions are still high as well. Human rights activists demand that the Argentine government review its prevention policies and consider alternative solutions. For example, instead of paying subsidies to large families, the government could sponsor and distribute free contraceptives to the many poor women who cannot afford these commodities in the first place. Another service that the government could provide is free information seminars for young women, which could help to educate these people so that they can make better decision regarding sexual relations. Advocates of reproductive rights argue that every woman has the right to accurate information as well as options for birth control. These essential rights could be provided in an economical manner if the government used a single organization for distributing the contraceptives and the information (similar to the organization in the United States, Planned Parenthood). As the Argentine government recently has made leaps in addressing human rights issues in general, it must continue to do so with regards to reproductive rights, which still trail far behind modern standards set in other regions of the world. In the eyes of reproductive rights supporters, it is an issue of prevention, access, and safety for the Argentine women. Without stronger support from the government, these women will continue to face social obstacles that violate their rights as well as health risks that threaten their lives.

Activists for reformed reproductive rights state their opinion.Human Rights Watch

*Note: This post does not necessarily reflect the opinions of the writer; rather, it expresses a human rights perspective and portrays the information that was gathered in research.*

Works Cited:
"Argentina Human Rights Watch." Home Human Rights Watch. Web. 28 July 2010. .

Center for Reproductive Rights. Web. 28 July 2010. .

"Decisions Denied Human Rights Watch." Home Human Rights Watch. 14 June 2005. Web. 29 July 2010. .

Karolinski, Ariel. "Bulletin of the World Health Organization - A Comprehensive Assessment of Maternal Deaths in Argentina: Translating Multicentre Collaborative Research into Action." SciELO - Health Public. 21 Nov. 2006. Web. 29 July 2010. .

"Who's to Blame for the Abortion Stalemate?" Polls Boutique. 18 Nov. 2008. Web. 29 July 2010. .

"Women in Argentina." Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. 28 May 2010. Web. 29 July 2010. .

The Indigenous Peoples of Argentina

By Anna Banchik

The Bosque Impenetrable, the Impenetrable Forest, in Argentina is criss-crossed with dirt roads and thick vegetation. The same conditions held centuries ago when Spanish settlers wrote about the native people of this inhospitable terrain: they were the fierce Toba.

Indigenous Presence in Argentina
Today the Toba are still found here, but their population of 18,000 has been ravaged by hunger, neglect, and exploitation. Their story is one of several indigenous peoples of Argentina, a country whose small percentage (3-5%) of native communities creates an even more difficult climate to vocalize their grievances and wishes, maintain their language and customs. In fact, although the indigenous population accounts for 17-25% of the population in some provinces, many Argentinians think that indigenous peoples have died out or assimilated, unaware of their existence in the country (IWGIA). At the same time, essentializing stereotypes still mar the “Indians/indigenous” as savage, ignorant, lazy, and idle everyday language. As Cleary bluntly points out in Mobilizing for Human Rights in Latin America, “Latin America was a deeply racist society.” The composition of indigenous peoples in the country is as follows:

Northeast Region: provinces of Chaco, Entre Ríos, Formosa, Misiones, Santa Fe, Santiago del Estero. Peoples: Charrúa, Lule, Mbya-Guaraní, Mocoví, Pilagá, Toba, Tonocoté, Vilela, Wichí.

Northwest Region: provinces of Catamarca, Jujuy, La Rioja, Salta, San Juan, Santiago del Estero, Tucumán. Peoples: Atacama, Avá-Guaraní, Chané, Chorote, Chulupí, Diaguita-Calchaquí, Kolla, Ocloya, Omaguaca, Tapiete, Toba, Tupí-Guaraní, Wichí.

Southern Region: provinces of Chubut, Neuquén, Santa Cruz, Tierra del Fuego. Peoples: Mapuche, Ona, Tehuelche, Yamana.

Central Region: Autonomous City of Buenos Aires and provinces of Buenos Aires, Córdoba, La Pampa, Mendoza. Peoples: Atacama, Avá Guaraní, Diaguita-Calchaquí, Huarpe, Kolla, Mapuche, Rankulche, Toba, Tupí Guaraní, Comechingon.
A survey in 2001 to count the number of households with at least one inhabitant who self-identifies as an indigenous person or a descendant of one was later challenged by indigenous people because they had not participated in its design. Consequently, a more participatory Complementary Indigenous Survey was undertaken three in 2004. The results, so far, are featured below:

Mapuche Chubut, Neuquén, Rio Negro and Tierra del Fuego 76,606
Kolla Jujuy and Salta 53,019
Toba Chaco, Formosa and Santa Fe 47,591
Wichí Chaco, Formosa and Salta 36,135
Ava Guarani; Guarani; Tupi Guarani Jujuy and Salta 29,703
Ava Guarani; Guarani; Tupi; Guarini Buenos Aires and the 24 administrative districts of Greater Buenos Aires 20,340
Toba; Buenos Aires and the 24 administrative districts of Greater Buenos Aires 14,456
Diaguita Calchaqui; Jujuy, Salta and Tucuman 13,773
Huarpe; Mendoza, San Juan and San Luis 12,704
Total: 383,132

Over the course of several decades, indigenous peoples were incorporated into Argentina as ‘subjugated peoples and insecure occupiers’ of their own lands and forced to leave behind their religions, cultures, and ways of life. The globalization of agriculture has compounded their plight, exhausted soils and placed more territory into the hands of large landowners.

Land theft, Neglect, Environmental destruction and contamination
Large-scale felling of native forest by external expropriators and logging companies in the central-west Chaco region, which has the highest percentage of indigenous peoples, has caused soil impoverishment, desertification, loss of biodiversity. Such disturbances affect flora, fauna, and many of the ecosystems which sustain life for these hunting and gathering communities. Furthermore, state lands are sold by local governments to businessmen who level them and establish farms. Even Greenpeace has warned of the massive deforestation occurring in the region. At the same time, soya production is replacing the traditional cultivation of cotton, which used to provide seasonal work for the Toba. Moreover, these hunter gatherers are beginning to roam the region for places to harvest.

Roland Nunez accuses local and national authorities of neglect and the manipulation of figures to underestimate the severity of the situation. Mr. Nunez runs the Nelson Mandela Centre, which distributes food to communities like the Toba who reside deep in the forest. Nunez says the authorities are committing nothing short of ‘gradual genocide.’

In the central-southern region, other communities are ravaged by ‘permanent invasion,’ land theft, and frequent, nightly ‘fence-moves.’ Similarly to the Chaco region, local governments sell state lands, occasionally even with indigenous peoples still living on them! The possibility of recovering this land is lessened still by multinational agroindustries in Patagonia putting pressure on small producers for their ranches and estates, a future that would unlikely provide much employment for these communities. Moreover, state development plans reform land usage of indigenous territories without the consultation of its inhabitants.
In addition to these changes in territorial holdings is the contamination of the areas themselves. A Canadian documentary on the city of Tambogrande emphasized the threat of the mining industry to local culture and health. The implications of these risks are tragically experienced in Argentina. The Pilcomayo River, a source of fish and a critical riparian ecosystem, is highly contaminated with metals, including mercury, from spills in neighboring countries (IWGIA). Oil contamination, and the introduction of hydrocarbons into the water table, is also a serious problem preventing water usage and exposing indigenous people to unacceptable blood levels of lead and mercury.

Loss of religion and language
As far as religious practices are concerned, indigenous people still maintain their ancestral beliefs despite pressures from historic and current evangelizing groups to convert to a foreign religion. Some communities like the Toba have adopted hybrid religions with other faiths and continue their practice today. Many indigenous peoples speak their own languages, which some degree of monolingualism. Of those that have migrated to cities, a large percentage has lost their mother tongue and has, thus, been unable to teach their children their native language. Intercultural and bilingual education is promised by the government though no real widespread efforts of this promotion have been successful. This colors a bleak future for indigenous children who will have great obstacles in their lifetime, if they can survive poverty, malnutrition, tuberculosis, and diseases like Chagas which are caused by parasitic insects. In the picture below, indigenous Guarani children of northeast Argentina perform “Welcome to our Village” for participants of an international studies abroad program sponsored by Luther College by the University of Belgrano, Buenos Aires, Argentina. Note the wooden hut in the background: many indigenous communities live in such structures built of natural materials like wood and mud which exacerbates their vulnerability to ecosystem disturbance.

Robbed of their lands, neglected by the government, and exploited by external investors, these children will need to struggle more than ever for their livelihoods. Despite these challenges, the indigenous people of Argentina are still finding ways to preserve their cultures and communities.

Indigenous Organization

Most Indigenous communities in Argentina employ sophisticated organizational leadership, each differing in their elections and obligations of authority figures. Aided by a commission or council, these competent leaders or ‘caciques’ in Spanish (but niyat, lonko, mburuvicha, etc. in their respective languages), like the woman pictured above, analyze important issues affecting their communities. Wider networks, like the Guaraní People’s Assembly in Jujuy province and the Lhaka Honat Association of Native Communities which includes 43 communities from the Salta Chaco, may be established through forming associations and assemblies composed of grassroots representatives (IWGIA). There are even urban and suburban associations for migrated populations, including the Toba People’s Council in Buenos Aires. Although Cleary’s chapter on the resurgence of Indigenous Rights highlights the efforts of faith groups and external sources, Argentina’s relatively small population of indigenous people does not make it a priority target for such aid groups.

Other organizations are created for one express purpose such as media representation and advocacy, the defense of rights, self help, etc. While other Latin American countries have one organization representing all indigenous interests, such an organization does not yet exist in Argentina despite some proposals to do so and the existence of some previously formed groups such as the Indigenous Association of the Argentine Republic (founded in 1965). Nevertheless, this absence does not seem to have been a challenge to mobilizing efforts to promote cultural, political, and economic interests. The 1990s saw many successes in the form of constitutional changes, but today they are still continuing their struggle for a long list of shared aspirations such as the titling of lands, legitimate recognition, and the preservation of their cultural identity.

In this
video, the Wichí community near Tartagal in the province of Salta (where my parents are from!) band together against invading companies, ready to fight literally to the death. The video, which draws many similarities to the Tambogrande film, paints their way of life and the unquestionable destruction brought on my these nameless forces. Their passion to preserve their lands, albeit heroic, reveals an alarming desperation to protect the injustices by on their people.

Works Cited:
Cleary, Edward L. Mobilizing for Human Rights in Latin America. Kumarian Press, 2007. 53. Print.
"Indigenous Peoples in Argentina." International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs. IWGIA, n.d. Web. 28 Jul 2010.
Schweimler, Daniel. "Argentina's Forest People Suffer Neglect." BBC News 27 Sep 2007: n. pag. Web. 28 Jul 2010.
Tambogrande: Mangoes, Murder, Mining

Monday, July 19, 2010

Disappeared, but Not Forgotten Part 2 The Tale of The Dirty War

The Soul of Argentina
Ava Munson

There was much in such a society that was primitive and insecure and it certainly could never measure up to the demands of the present epoch. But in such a society are contained the seeds of revolutionary democracy in which none will be held in slave. --Nelson Mandela

October 17, 1945 was a day that went down in history. It was a day when the indigenous people of Argentina made a cry that would echo through the corridors of time. A cry that would cause people to rejoice, to revolt, and to suffer. On this day the Argentinians collectively rose up and heralded a leader that emblematically stood for their highest dreams and aspirations: freedom and justice. He was the sounding trumpet for the rights of the people, the working class, the downtrodden and oppressed. This great leader, Juan Peron, their beloved president had returned from exile and with him arrived the dangerous flair of revolution. As he strode out upon the platform to greet his people, the audience went wild with joy. Saluting the crowd (as the picture below depicts) he declared: “The age we are entering will truly be the ‘age of the crowds.” The destiny of nations is not created through the the advice of princes but in the soul of crowds ( Robben 13).” His words rang with force and power, deeply reverberating with the people. The next day the Argentina newspaper stated: “The people of Buenos Aires experienced yesterday one of its greatest days. Lacking means of transportation, they mobilized organized, engaged, in and won a great battle for the cause of democracy (Robben,8).”

Peron’s appearance at the balcony of the presidential palace at the Plaza de Mayo on 17 October 1945 was one of the greatest moments in Argentine history. Why? Because it ushered in the new and powerful Peronist movement that was most radical in this regard: it gave voice to the people. Those words that Peron proclaimed on October 17 articulated his deepest belief that the people must hold the reigns to the might and power of the land. Robben in his scholarly work “Political Violence and Trauma in Argentina, states: “Peronism in its essence rested in the dialogue between Peron and the crowd. Peron voiced and personified the genuine will of the people (15).” As a caring and insightful leader, Peron was able to address the root of the problem, the greatest human violations his countrymen were enduring. According to Amnesty International Report: “the indigenous remain among the most marginalized and poorest communities, discriminated against and often exposed to grave abuses of their fundamental rights (Clearly 65). By mobilizing these underdogs, the indigenous people of the land, Peron was able to create a cohesive social structure that was effective because it was powered by the people as they coalesced as a movement with a vision for social change and a rally cry for justice. In Cleary’s article, “Indigenous Rights Resurgence,” we grasp the greater picture of this grassroots mobilization effort as the author has carefully traced “the trajectory of social and cultural policies towards indigenous peoples in Latin America” and summarizes these tactics as based on the indigenous: “an ideological movement that denounces the exploitation of aboriginal groups and strove for the cultural unity and the extension of citizenship through social integration and acculturation (58).” This rights-based movement had grand ideas and it also had a plan. Peron’s two stated goals were social justice and economic independence. He implemented his vision by instructing his economic advisors to develop a five-year plan aimed at increasing workers' pay, achieving full employment, stimulating industrial growth of over 40% while diversifying the sector (then dominated by food processing), and greatly improving transportation, communication, energy and social infrastructure in the private, as well as the public sectors (Rock, 1516). Thus, a revolution for change was sparked and fueled by a visionary leader and citizens that were ready to take on this new ideology of human rights for each and every individual.

The Soul In Captivity

Eager souls, mystics and revolutionaries, may propose to refashion the world in accordance with their dreams; but evil remains, and so long as it lurks in the secret places of the heart, utopia is only the shadow of a dream.” Nathaniel Hawthorne

Sadly, oftentimes blissful times linger for just a little while. Sweet, but all too short. Such is the tale of the Argentina people. On July 1, 1974, Peron suffered a heart attack and passed away. His death signaled the end of socially just rulership. His wife, Isabel Peron, succeeded her husband, yet she was incapable of properly ruling the land and her term ended on March 24, 1976 by a military coup d’etat. A military junta led by Jorge Rafael Videala took control of the country and established authority by an iron fist of command. He swiftly instated the infamous National Reorganization Process, a systematized persecution of the Argentina people. According to the tenets of what was termed “Operation Condor,” Decree 2772 stated: The Armed Forced, under the Supreme Command of the President of the Nation delegated to the Defense Council, will proceed to execute the military and security operation necessary to annihilate the actions of the subversive elements throughout the country’s territory. The Argentine military interpreted Decree 2772 as a blank check to kill, execute, or assassinate anyone who challenged the new governmental structure (Robben, 192).” Immediately the Peronist movement began organizing itself, the members empowering each other with their high ideals and vision of social justice. Yet their peaceful protests were shut down and members began to suddenly ‘disappear.” Guerrilla groups thus took action. The dirty war was in full swing. This war, however, was not simply waged upon those with hand grenades and tools of violent revenge, but upon those with the dangerous and insidious ideas of freedom for all. General Chasseing stated: “I am much more worried about about an ideologue than a combatant; the combatant is dangerous because he destroys, because his bomb may end many lives. But the ideologue is the one who poisons, who robs children, who destroys the family, who may create chaos ( Robben186).” Who were these dangerous ideologues? Jamie Swart, a Minister of the provincial government of Buenos Aires, denounced as ideologues “politicians, priests, journalists, professors on all levels of education. Everyone who was involved in any sort of political activism, everyone who called publicly for social justice could be branded as an ideologue. Sympathizers were all those feeling an affinity with the utopian ideals of the revolutionary left (Robben 187). This Process of National Reorganization, intended for Argentine society as a whole, was being enacted on the souls of the its captives. As the below photos reveals, those who did not submit to the new order, whose hearts resisted this utter subjugation of the citizen were shackled, dragged away, and never heard from again. They are called the disappeared. The revolutionists who will never be forgotten.

Stay tuned for the next report uncovering the dirty secrets of this brutal war-- brought to you by Ava Munson, University of Washington.

Works Cited:
Robben , Antonius . Political Violence and Trauma in Argentina. Philadelphia : University of Pennsylvania Press , 2005 .
Brysk , Alison . The Politics of Human Rights in Argentina . Stanford : Standford University Press , 1994 .
Rock, David. Argentina, 1516–1982. University of California Press, 1987.

Images from:
Bellum , "Dirty Wars: A Primer ". A Project of the Standford Review . 07/19/10 .
"Les éphémérides d'Alcide ". Retour . 07/19/10 < calendrier/sept/19.htm>.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Streetkids in Buenos Aires: There is a child in the street!

By Anna Banchik

A esta hora exactamente,
hay un niño en la calle...
¡Hay un niño en la calle!

At this exact hour,
There is a child in the street…
There is a child in the street!

--Mercedes Sosa, Canción para un niño en la calle, Song for a child of the streets

In her Song for a child of the streets, Mercedes Sosa addresses a familiar sight in Argentina, and in particular, the capital city of Buenos Aires. While the 1990s saw unemployment peak at 18%, the result of economic policy of privatization and trade liberalization, the economic collapse in 2001 far surpassed the preceding decade in its scope and its generation of widespread poverty. The meltdown, which left Argentina with the largest debt default in history, put half of all Argentines below the poverty line (Labanca). In 2001, it was estimated that there were 1,500 poor children on the streets begging, scrounging for trash, juggling plastic balls, stealing purses, cleaning shoes, washing car windows for some petty change. A report from 2006 estimated a doubling of that figure. According to other government papers, almost half of Argentine children are poor. In addition, authorities claim that one-third of the 700 streetkids of Buenos Aires fled home to escape hunger, whereas another 40% left to escape abuse and neglect (Labanca).

Family unification is a priority for Buenos Aires officials. Marisa Graham, the director of the Buenos Aires Department for Childhood and Family, says that they “don't favor orphanages or institutions” and instead “bend over backwards to take them back to their families.” This procedure is in line with UNICEF’s Convention on the Rights of the Child. Article 9 of that document states that “children have the right to live with their parent(s), unless it is bad for them.” Of course, if the environment of the “streetkid” home is an abusive one (compounded by the fact that government statistics show that 30% of fathers and 70% of mothers are out of work) the positive influence of the family on the child may be debatable. Nevertheless, Article 5 of the UNICEF Convention iterates that “governments should respect the rights and responsibilities of families to direct and guide their children.” It does not “place on governments the responsibility to protect and assist families in fulfilling their essential role as nurturers of children.”

However, the policy approach of the Argentine government, which argues against repression, is in fact now under attack for being too soft. While the government is making steps towards the protection of the rights of streetkids, exemplified recently as it struck down a law to take kids into custody even in the absence of a crime, it still struggles to protect a laundry list of rights detailed in the UNICEF Convention, including Article 24 (Health and Health Services) and Article 31 (Leisure Play and Culture). A critical failure of the Convention is seen by the cases of child labor—the National Committee for Child Labor Elimination estimates 22% of Argentine minors between the ages of 6 and 14 years of age work, a staggering 1.5 million.

As there is a vested interest by citizens and communities of faith to help, the city government can contribute by funding NGOs such as CAINA, the city's Center for the Children's Integral Assistance, which provides streetkids with showers, food, play, and some education. While not at home in the far-flung or nearby suburbs of Buenos Aires, streetkids are not alone in the cities. They form mostly harmless gangs, or ranchadas, and sometimes share panhandled or stolen money to buy food and drugs.

The picture reflects the temporary companionship afforded by these loose organizations whose leadership, says Laureano Gutiérrez, is not authoritarian but rather, charismatic. Gutiérrez is the deputy director of CAINA, the city’s Center for the Children’s Integral Assistance. Emilio Zadcovich, the head of CAINA, adds that “ranchadas work as physical and emotional support for these kids, who, under a facade of bravado, actually feel very vulnerable.” On its website, Felices Los Niños Foundation highlights some of the tragic, typical situation of a homeless, street child: violence, teenage pregnancy, family disintegration, unemployment and underemployment, lock of family containment, and physical and/or psychological abuse. Street children will also sleep in close proximity on cardboard or dirty mattresses, as depicted in the photo below of children waking up from slumber.

CAINA is just one of a growing number of organizations created to address the quality of life and needs of streetkids in Buenos Aires. Another, “La Casita,” is a network of four homes wherein streetkids between the ages of 8 and 21 can rest, play, cook, study, work, and learn. Roughly 35 children are housed within the network at any one time and most of the teens are capable of supporting themselves by the time they graduate (Belo). Public school instruction and training in a particular trade are provided and many skills are learned, including breadmaking, meal preparation, catering, and above all—self-acceptance. La Casita works with the Association for Assistance and Promotion of Street Children, a partner of Church World Service, to reunite children with their families.

Today there are more efforts to be made than ever before, as the number of streetkids in Argentina continues to escalate. The situation in other parts of the country is just as dire. The chart below, published in the newspaper La Nación in August 2003, depicts the results of a study on a population aged 15 to 24, broken down by percentage of young people who neither work nor study.

We must listen to the words of Mercedes Sosa, her call to action: to acknowledge that, at this exact hour, there is a child in the street! *Full lyrics are below with, again, my shoddy translation.

Canción para un niño en la calle / Song for a child of the streets

By Mercedes Sosa

A esta hora exactamente,
hay un niño en la calle...
¡Hay un niño en la calle!

At this exact hour,

There’s a child in the street…

There’s a child in the street!

Es honra de los hombres proteger lo que crece,
cuidar que no haya infancia dispersa por las calles,
evitar que naufrague su corazón de barco,
su increíble aventura de pan y chocolate
poniéndole una estrella en el sitio del hambre.

It is the glory of men to protect what grows,

Make sure that there’s no childhood lost in the streets,

To avoid the wreckage its heart of boat,

the incredible adventure of bread and chocolate

Putting a star on the place of hunger.

De otro modo es inútil, de otro modo es absurdo
ensayar en la tierra la alegría y el canto,
porque de nada vale si hay un niño en la calle.

Otherwise it is useless, otherwise it is absurd

to rehearse in earth happiness and song,

Because it’s useless if there’s a single child in the street.

Todo lo tóxico de mi país a mí me entra por la nariz.
Lavo auto, limpio zapato, huelo pega y también huelo paco
Robo billeteras pero soy buena gente, soy una sonrisa sin dientes
Lluvia sin techo, uña con tierra, soy lo que sobró de la guerra
Un estómago vacío, soy un golpe en la rodilla que se cura con el frío
El mejor guía turístico del arrabal por tres pesos te paseo por la capital
No necesito visa para volar por el redondel porque yo juego con aviones de papel
Arroz con piedra, mango con vino y lo que falta me lo imagino

Everything toxic in my country enters me through my nose.

I wash cars, clean shoes, sniff glue, and also smell authority figures

I rob wallets but I’m a good person, I’m a smile without teeth,

rain without roof, fingernail with dirt, I’m what got left over from the war,

an empty stomach, I’m a hit in the knee that gets cured with cold weather

the best tourist guide of the suburbs, for three pesos I’ll take you through the capital

I don’t need a visa to fly on the runabout, because I play with paper airplanes

Rice with stone, mango with wine and whatever is missing, I can imagine

No debe andar el mundo con el amor descalzo
enarbolando un diario como un ala en la mano
trepándose a los trenes, canjeándonos la risa,
golpeándonos el pecho con un ala cansada.

The world should not go with love barefoot

brandishing a newspaper like a wing in one’s hand

climbing on the trains, exchanging the laughter,

beating our chests with a tired wing.

No debe andar la vida, recién nacida, a precio,
la niñez arriesgada a una estrecha ganancia
porque entonces las manos son inútiles fardos
y el corazón, apenas, una mala palabra.

Life should not go, newly born, with a price,

childhood risked to paltry profit

because then, hands are useless bales

and the heart, hardly, a bad word.

Cuando cae la noche duermo despierto, un ojo cerrado y el otro abierto
Por si los tigres me escupen un balazo mi vida es como un circo pero sin payaso
Voy caminando por la zanja haciendo malabares con cinco naranjas
Pidiendo plata a todos los que pueda en una bicicleta en una sola rueda
Soy oxígeno para este continente, soy lo que descuidó el presidente
No te asustes si tengo mal aliento, si me ves sin camisa con las tetillas al viento
Yo soy un elemento más del paisaje los residuos de la calle son mi camuflaje
como algo que existe que parece de mentira, algo sin vida pero que respira

When night falls I sleep awake, one eye closed and the other open

in case the tigers shoot me, my life is like a circus but without a clown

I go walking through the ditch, juggling 5 oranges

asking money to everyone I can riding on a bicycle with only one wheel

I am oxygen for this continent, I am what the president neglected

Don’t be scared if I have bad breathe, if you see me without a shirt and with my nipples to the wind

I’m an element more in the landscape, the waste from the street is my camouflage

like something that exists that appears as a mirage, something lifeless but breathing

Pobre del que ha olvidado que hay un niño en la calle,
que hay millones de niños que viven en la calle
y multitud de niños que crecen en la calle.

Poor is he who forgets that there is a child in the street,

that there are millions of children who live in the street

and a multitude of children who grow up on the street.

Yo los veo apretando su corazón pequeño,
mirándonos a todas con fábula en los ojos.
Un relámpago trunco les cruza la mirada,
porque nadie protege esa vida que crece
y el amor se ha perdido, como un niño en la calle.

I see them pressing their small hearts,

watching us with a dreams in their eyes.

An interrupted lightning crossing of their gaze,

because nobody protects that growing life

and the love was lost, like a child in the street.

Oye: a esta hora exactamente hay un niño en la calle
Hay un niño en la calle

Listen: at this exact time there is a child in the street

There is a child in the street

Works Cited:

"Argentina's Social Situation." Felices Los Niños Foundation. Felices Los Niños Foundation, n.d. Web. 18 Jul 2010.

Belo, Roberto. "Argentina Streetkid News: Games help street teens learn." World Street Children News. BBC in Buenos Aires, 12 Oct 2004. Web. 17 Jul 2010.

Convention on the Rights of the Child. 1989. Print.

Labanca, Alejandra. "Nobody's children." | Children of the Americas. Miami Herald, 27 Nov 2006. Web. 17 Jul 2010.

"The Street Children of Buenos Aires." World Street Children News. CAINA and the Buenos Aires City Government, 27 Nov 2006. Web. 17 Jul 2010.