FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Latin America’s Archives of Terror

by LAURA CARLSEN

In 1974 Celestina Pérez de Almada died of a heart attack after spending day after day listening to the screams of her husband being tortured. This brutal soundtrack came to her courtesy of the torturers themselves–a “2 for the price of 1” form of torture favored by Alfredo Stroessner during his 35-year dictatorship.

Her husband, Martin Almada, was among the lucky few who escaped the horror with his life, and a dogged commitment to bring the criminals of Latin America’s dirty war to justice. In 1992 he brought to light massive archives that document Paraguay’s role in the U.S.-sponsored Operation Condor, a regional network of repression against opposition to the military dictatorships in the Southern Cone. The documents led to the recent embargo on $85,000 of Stroessner’s assets–estimated at $500 million–and were also used to build the international case against Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet. These reams of papers are not for the weak-stomached. Paraguayans call them “The Archives of Terror.”

Paraguay isn’t the only country to have Archives of Terror. Families of victims and human rights groups all over Latin America have been patiently reconstructing the buried histories of terror. Many are finally making some headway in discovering and even prosecuting crimes. In Guatemala, they have filed a genocide case against former dictators Romeo Lucas Garcia and Efraín Ríos Montt, stemming from massacres in over four hundred Mayan villages. In Argentina, President Kirchner cleared the way for a congressional annulment of impunity laws and has challenged them in the courts. New documents have been released on the student massacre in Tlatelolco in Mexico 1968, fueling demands to investigate and prosecute government officials involved. On a recent ill-advised training tour, the Chilean sailing vessel dubbed “the White Lady” that was used as a floating torture chamber under the Pinochet regime has been met with protests at ports throughout the world and renewed demands to investigate its sordid history.

While all this may seem like shadows from a darker era, it’s not as far behind us as one might suppose. The past acts of terror do not live on only in the tormented memories of the victims and their families. Many of the archives of terror contain open cases, with new cases entering almost daily. Human rights abuses abound in the hemisphere. Assassination of human rights workers in Mexico continues (the latest: Griselda Teresa Tirado, an indigenous Totonaco human rights worker) and in Guatemala and Colombia attacks on journalists and opposition leaders are on the rise. Moreover, many criminals not only operate with impunity but retain considerable economic and political power, overtly or covertly, within their countries. Guatemala’s genocidal dictator Ríos Montt is now president of the Congress and a presidential candidate.

Opposed to the Truth Commissions and investigations, there will always be those who argue to let bygones be bygones–in the name of unity, stability, or other thinly veiled defenses of impunity. This is a fatal position. Future justice can never be built on past impunity. Moreover, there is nothing “bygone” about Ríos Montt, Stroessner, and Pinochet, as long as they remain at large for their crimes. And with over 70 Bolivians killed in the streets last week, no-one can argue that violent repression has become a thing of the past in Latin America.

As Latin Americans seek to come to terms with the most painful and ugly parts of their nations’ past, the United States must do the same. Researchers combing through the horrors find that the names of U.S. officials keep cropping up in key places and moments. U.S. government archives contain important information that could put hated criminals behind bars and help close the open wounds of families of the disappeared. They should be released.

It will take a willingness to confront responsibilities. In Guatemala, the string of genocidal dictators began with the U.S.-abetted, cold war coup to overthrow democratically elected Jacobo Arbenz in 1954. U.S. congressional hearings have documented the U.S. government’s role in the Chilean coup d’etat that brought Pinochet to power. Operation Condor was funded and orchestrated in large part by the U.S. government and owes its intellectual underpinnings to Henry Kissinger, the epitome of cunning and heartless foreign policy.

While the past may seem a Pandora’s Box for those who defend the status quo, citizens groups throughout the hemisphere are seeking justice as the only foundation for building stronger, more democratic societies. U.S. citizens and government officials should support them. Ongoing trials of international murderers and torturers, investigations of the scorched earth campaigns against indigenous peoples, and prosecution of Stroessner and Pinochet, to say nothing of the Argentine government’s attempts to end impunity all have implications not only in their countries but throughout the hemisphere.

Sadly, history shows we’ve been on the side of the bad guys in Latin America time and time again. Isn’t it time we weighed in on the side of the good guys?

LAURA CARLSEN directs the Americas Program of the Interhemispheric Resource Center. She can be contacted at laura@irc-online.org.

 

Laura Carlsen is the director of the Americas Program in Mexico City and advisor to Just Associates (JASS) .

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

August 29, 2016
Eric Draitser
Hillary and the Clinton Foundation: Exemplars of America’s Political Rot
Patrick Timmons
Dildos on Campus, Gun in the Library: the New York Times and the Texas Gun War
Jack Rasmus
Bernie Sanders ‘OR’ Revolution: a Statement or a Question?
Richard Moser
Strategic Choreography and Inside/Outside Organizers
Nigel Clarke
President Obama’s “Now Watch This Drive” Moment
Robert Fisk
Iraq’s Willing Executioners
Wahid Azal
The Banality of Evil and the Ivory Tower Masterminds of the 1953 Coup d’Etat in Iran
Farzana Versey
Romancing the Activist
Frances Madeson
Meet the Geronimos: Apache Leader’s Descendants Talk About Living With the Legacy
Nauman Sadiq
The War on Terror and the Carter Doctrine
Lawrence Wittner
Does the Democratic Party Have a Progressive Platform–and Does It Matter?
Marjorie Cohn
Death to the Death Penalty in California
Winslow Myers
Asking the Right Questions
Rivera Sun
The Sane Candidate: Which Representatives Will End the Endless Wars?
Linn Washington Jr.
Philadelphia District Attorney Hammered for Hypocrisy
Binoy Kampmark
Banning Burkinis: the Politics of Beachwear
Weekend Edition
August 26, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Louisa Willcox
The Unbearable Killing of Yellowstone’s Grizzlies: 2015 Shatters Records for Bear Deaths
Paul Buhle
In the Shadow of the CIA: Liberalism’s Big Embarrassing Moment
Rob Urie
Crisis and Opportunity
Charles Pierson
Wedding Crashers Who Kill
Richard Moser
What is the Inside/Outside Strategy?
Dirk Bezemer – Michael Hudson
Finance is Not the Economy
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Bernie’s Used Cars
Margaret Kimberley
Hillary and Colin: the War Criminal Charade
Patrick Cockburn
Turkey’s Foray into Syria: a Gamble in a Very Dangerous Game
Ishmael Reed
Birther Tries to Flim Flam Blacks  
Brian Terrell
What Makes a Hate Group?
Andrew Levine
How Donald Trump Can Still be a Hero: Force the Guardians of the Duopoly to Open Up the Debates
Howard Lisnoff
Trouble in Political Paradise
Terry Tempest Williams
Will Our National Parks Survive the Next 100 Years?
Ben Debney
The Swimsuit that Overthrew the State
Ashley Smith
Anti-imperialism and the Syrian Revolution
Andrew Stewart
Did Gore Throw the 2000 Election?
Vincent Navarro
Is the Nation State and Its Welfare State Dead? a Critique of Varoufakis
John Wight
Syria’s Kurds and the Wages of Treachery
Lawrence Davidson
The New Anti-Semitism: the Case of Joy Karega
Mateo Pimentel
The Affordable Care Act: A Litmus Test for American Capitalism?
Roger Annis
In Northern Syria, Turkey Opens New Front in its War Against the Kurds
David Swanson
ABC Shifts Blame from US Wars to Doctors Without Borders
Norman Pollack
American Exceptionalism: A Pernicious Doctrine
Ralph Nader
Readers Think, Thinkers Read
Julia Morris
The Mythologies of the Nauruan Refugee Nation
George Wuerthner
Caving to Ranchers: the Misguided Decision to Kill the Profanity Wolf Pack
Ann Garrison
Unworthy Victims: Houthis and Hutus
Julian Vigo
Britain’s Slavery Legacy
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail