Posted by rogerhollander in Argentina, History, Human Rights, Latin America, Religion.
Tags: Argentina, catholic church, dirty war, disappeared, Jorge Bergoglio, Latin America, operation condor, pope francis, pope francis I, robert parry, roger hollander, roman catholic, videla
Roger’s note: This says it all:
In contrast to the super-upbeat tone of American TV coverage, the New York Times did publish a front-page analysis on the Pope’s conservatism, citing his “vigorous” opposition to abortion, gay marriage and the ordination of women. The Times article by Emily Schmall and Larry Rohter then added:
“He was less energetic, however, when it came to standing up to Argentina’s military dictatorship during the 1970s as the country was consumed by a conflict between right and left that became known as the Dirty War. He has been accused of knowing about abuses and failing to do enough to stop them while as many as 30,000 people were disappeared, tortured or killed by the dictatorship.”
Exclusive: The U.S. “news” networks bubbled with excitement over the selection of Argentine Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio to be Pope Francis I. But there was silence on the obvious question that should be asked about any senior cleric from Argentina: What was Bergoglio doing during the “dirty war,” writes Robert Parry.
By Robert Parry (Updated March 14, 2013, to delete incorrect reference to Bergoglio in Guardian article)
If one wonders if the U.S. press corps has learned anything in the decade since the Iraq War – i.e. the need to ask tough question and show honest skepticism – it would appear from the early coverage of the election of Pope Francis I that U.S. journalists haven’t changed at all, even at “liberal” outlets like MSNBC.
The first question that a real reporter should ask about an Argentine cleric who lived through the years of grotesque repression, known as the “dirty war,” is what did this person do, did he stand up to the murderers and torturers or did he go with the flow. If the likes of Chris Matthews and other commentators on MSNBC had done a simple Google search, they would have found out enough about Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio to slow their bubbling enthusiasm.
Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, now Pope Francis I, in 2008. (Photo credit: Aibdescalzo)
Bergoglio, now the new Pope Francis I, has been identified publicly as an ally of Argentine’s repressive leaders during the “dirty war” when some 30,000 people were “disappeared” or killed, many stripped naked, chained together, flown out over the River Plate or the Atlantic Ocean and pushed sausage-like out of planes to drown.
The “disappeared” included women who were pregnant at the time of their arrest. In some bizarre nod to Catholic theology, they were kept alive only long enough to give birth before they were murdered and their babies were farmed out to military families, including to people directly involved in the murder of the babies’ mothers.
Instead of happy talk about how Bergoglio seems so humble and how he seems so sympathetic to the poor, there might have been a question or two about what he did to stop the brutal repression of poor people and activists who represented the interests of the poor, including “liberation theology” priests and nuns, during the “dirty war.”
Here, for instance, is an easily retrievable story from Guardian columnist Hugh O’Shauhnessy from 2011, which states:
“To the judicious and fair-minded outsider it has been clear for years that the upper reaches of the Argentine church contained many ‘lost sheep in the wilderness’, men who had communed and supported the unspeakably brutal Western-supported military dictatorship which seized power in that country in 1976 and battened on it for years.
“Not only did the generals slaughter thousands unjustly, often dropping them out of aeroplanes over the River Plate and selling off their orphan children to the highest bidder, they also murdered at least two bishops and many priests. Yet even the execution of other men of the cloth did nothing to shake the support of senior clerics, including representatives of the Holy See, for the criminality of their leader General Jorge Rafael Videla and his minions.
“As it happens, in the week before Christmas  in the city of Córdoba Videla and some of his military and police cohorts were convicted by their country’s courts of the murder of 31 people between April and October 1976, a small fraction of the killings they were responsible for. The convictions brought life sentences for some of the military.
“These were not to be served, as has often been the case in Argentina and neighbouring Chile, in comfy armed forces retirement homes but in common prisons. Unsurprisingly there was dancing in the city’s streets when the judge announced the sentences.
“What one did not hear from any senior member of the Argentine hierarchy was any expression of regret for the church’s collaboration … in these crimes. The extent of the church’s complicity in the dark deeds was excellently set out by Horacio Verbitsky, one of Argentina’s most notable journalists, in his book El Silencio (Silence),” which alleges Bergoglio’s complicity in human right abuses.
The Guardian article stated: “The most shaming thing for the church is that in such circumstances Bergoglio’s name was allowed to go forward in the ballot to chose the successor of John Paul II. What scandal would not have ensued if the first pope ever to be elected from the continent of America had been revealed as an accessory to murder and false imprisonment.
“One would have thought that the Argentine bishops would have seized the opportunity to call for pardon for themselves and put on sackcloth and ashes as the sentences were announced in Córdoba but that has not so far happened. … Cardinal Bergoglio has plenty of time to be measured for a suit of sackcloth – perhaps tailored in a suitable clerical grey.”
Now, instead of just putting forward Bergoglio’s name as a candidate for Pope, the College of Cardinals has actually elected him. Perhaps the happy-talking correspondents from the U.S. news media will see no choice but to join in the cover-up of what Pope Francis did during the “dirty war.” Otherwise, they might offend some people in power and put their careers in jeopardy.
In contrast to the super-upbeat tone of American TV coverage, the New York Times did publish a front-page analysis on the Pope’s conservatism, citing his “vigorous” opposition to abortion, gay marriage and the ordination of women. The Times article by Emily Schmall and Larry Rohter then added:
“He was less energetic, however, when it came to standing up to Argentina’s military dictatorship during the 1970s as the country was consumed by a conflict between right and left that became known as the Dirty War. He has been accused of knowing about abuses and failing to do enough to stop them while as many as 30,000 people were disappeared, tortured or killed by the dictatorship.”
[For a limited time, you can purchase Robert Parry’s trilogy on the Bush family for only $34. For details, click here.]
Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his new book, America’s Stolen Narrative, either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and barnesandnoble.com).
Posted by rogerhollander in Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, History, Human Rights, Latin America, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay.
Tags: amy goodman, cia, dina, dirty war, ed koch, history, human rights, john dinges, juan gonzalez, kissinger, Latin America, letelier, operation condor, pinochet, roger hollander, ronni moffitt, U.S. imperialism
Roger’s note: The world media is focused on Argentina from where the worlds largest patriarchal, misogynist, authoritarian, homophobic institution has chosen its new leader. At the same time in Argentina, a trial is being held which reflects on the world’s most violent imperial nation. The two events are related with respect to the massive and systematic violation of human rights.
http://www.democracynow.org, March 2, 2013
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: An historic trial that began Tuesday in Argentina is set to reveal new details about how six Latin American countries coordinated with each other in the 1970s and 1980s to eliminate political dissidents. The campaign, known as Operation Condor, involved military dictatorships in Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay, Peru and Uruguay. They worked together to track down, kidnap and kill people they labeled as terrorists: leftist activists, labor organizers, students, priests, journalists, guerrilla fighters and their families.
The campaign was launched by the Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, and evidence shows the CIA and former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger were complicit from its outset. At least 25 military generals are facing charges, and more than 500 witnesses are expected to testify during the trial. Last August, an Argentine federal judge issued a formal request to the Obama administration’s Justice Department to make Kissinger himself available for questioning. The Obama administration did not respond.
AMY GOODMAN: This trial is taking place in Buenos Aires, the site of a former auto mechanic shop turned torture camp. Argentina is where the greatest number of killings of foreigners was carried out under Operation Condor. All of this comes just weeks after Uruguay’s Supreme Court struck down a law that had allowed similar prosecutions in that country.
Well, for more, we’re joined by John Dinges, author of The Condor Years: How Pinochet and His Allies Brought Terrorism to Three Continents. The book brings together interviews and declassified intelligence records to reconstruct the once-secret events. Before that, Dinges was with NPR and worked as a freelance reporter in Latin America. He is currently a professor at the Columbia School of Journalism.
John Dinges, welcome to Democracy Now!
JOHN DINGES: Yeah, nice to be here. Thanks.
AMY GOODMAN: Talk about the significance of this trial that’s now underway in Argentina.
JOHN DINGES: Well, there have been several trials, and this goes back to when Pinochet was arrested in London in 1998. That unleashed an avalanche of evidence that went across Europe and led to trials in many places—Rome, Paris, Argentina, Chile—but all of them much smaller than this one. This one has 25 people accused. Unfortunately—or fortunately, who knows?—many of the people who were involved in this have already died, they’re getting old, of the top leaders. But this is 25 Argentinians and one Uruguayan, all of whom were in military positions, all of whom were involved directly with the actions of Operation Condor.
This is historic in the sense that we’re going to hear from 500 witnesses. And really, in the Latin American legal system, it’s unusual. It’s really only coming to the fore now that you hear witnesses, as opposed to just seeing them give their testimony to judges in a closed room, and then later on people like me might go and read those testimonies, but really it doesn’t become public. This is all public. And apparently, a lot of it is being videotaped. So this is—this is the first time that the general public is going to hear the details of this horrible, horrible list of atrocities that killed so many people.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, John, for folks who have never heard of Operation Condor or know little about it, the origins of it, how it began, and the nations or the governments that spearheaded it, could you talk about that?
JOHN DINGES: Well, it is a Chilean invention. Augusto Pinochet had dominated his opposition by—the coup was in 1973; by 1974, there was no internal opposition to speak of. But many of the people who had been part of the previous government, that he had overthrown, had gone overseas. There was a very major, important general who was living in Argentina. Political leaders, for example, Orlando Letelier, the former foreign minister and former ambassador to the United States, somebody who would have lunch with Henry Kissinger, was living in Washington. People were spread around, in Europe and all over Latin America, and Pinochet wanted to go after them. And so he mounted Operation Condor.
And he convinced the other countries—Brazil, Uruguay, Argentina, Bolivia and Paraguay—to go along with him, with the argument that there are these guerrilla operations that are a threat to all of them. And there was indeed a guerrilla operation, called the Revolutionary Coordinating Junta, of people who were taking up arms against these governments. And the idea was that they would cooperate in tracking these people down. And they did.
Most of the—the biggest part of the exiles were in Argentina, because Argentina was the last country to give up its civilian government. It wasn’t a dictatorship until March of 1976. And this was created in late 1975. So they were all geared up. And when the coup happened in Argentina, they began killing hundreds of people, of these foreigners. And it’s interesting that you mentioned the Automotores Orletti. This is that auto repair shop that was used as a torture center, and that’s where they kept the international prisoners.
AMY GOODMAN: We, Democracy Now!, went there, visited this shop. I want to read from a declassified record of a CIA briefing that shows that American officials were aware that Latin intelligence services were casting their net wide in Operation Condor. It says, quote, “They are joining forces to eradicate ‘subversion’ … a word which increasingly translates into nonviolent dissent from the left and center left.”
It goes on to another document that you obtained, John Dinges, that’s from the Chilean secret police, known as the DINA. It details the number of dead and disappeared compiled by Argentine intelligence. The cable, sent by DINA’s attaché to Buenos Aires, says he’s, quote, “sending a list of all the dead,” which included the official and unofficial death toll. Between 1975 and mid-’78, he reported, quote, “they count 22,000 between the dead and the disappeared.” Talk about the the number of the dead and what the U.S. knew.
JOHN DINGES: Well, let’s do the U.S. first. The United States, in this period, the 1970s, was a major sponsor of the military dictatorships that had overthrown some democracies, some faltering civilian governments. Whatever it was, the result was governments, like Videla, like Pinochet, like Banzer in Bolivia, who were killing their citizens with impunity. The United States knew about the mass killing. We had this kind of schizophrenic, Machiavellian attitude toward it. We really don’t want these communists to be taking over governments, and we fear that democracy is leading to communist governments. Indeed, a leftist government led by Salvador Allende installed a democratically elected, civilian and revolutionary government in Chile, and that’s why—and Pinochet overthrew that government. The United States was deathly fearful that this would spread in Latin America, and so supported the coming of dictatorships.
When they began mass killings, the United States was aware of these mass killings. When they—they learned of Condor shortly after it was created. There’s no evidence that they knew about it the day it was created. The earliest evidence is a couple months after it began its operations. But they certainly knew these things were happening. And if you look at the meetings, the transcripts of the meetings between Henry Kissinger and these leaders, both in Argentina and in Chile, where we have the records, what do they say in private? You know, “We support what you are doing. We understand that you have to assert your authority. Try your best to release some prisoners, because I’m under a lot of pressure in Congress, because the Democrats are trying to make me, you know, defend human rights. Do the best you can, but I understand what you’re doing.”
And in one case, two weeks after Kissinger visited Santiago, there was a—the second major meeting of all the Condor countries to discuss Condor. And at that meeting, in June 1976, they approved operations for assassination outside of Latin America. The first assassination that occurred was in Washington, D.C. Orlando Letelier, the former foreign minister, was killed on the streets of Washington.
AMY GOODMAN: This is an astounding story. You wrote a book about it, in fact.
JOHN DINGES: And this is—I’ve written actually two books, one about the assassination, in which I, for the first time, wrote a chapter on the discovery of Operation Condor. I didn’t have a lot of detail. In fact, I was misled by the State Department, to a certain extent.
And then, years later, after Pinochet was arrested in London, a flood of documents, including many, many—60,000 pages of documents released by—ordered released by President Clinton, I was able to then, you know, really dig in and understand it from the point of view of the United States. But also, many, many documents were revealed in Latin America. And that is, I think, even more important, because if we just had U.S. documents, it’s always subject to: “Well, that’s the U.S. view of these things.” What was really going on in those Latin American governments—
AMY GOODMAN: But explain how Ron—how Orlando Letelier and his assistant, Ronni Moffitt, were killed in the streets of Washington, D.C., in the United States, in 1976.
JOHN DINGES: Pinochet began this operation shortly after that meeting with Kissinger. Within a month, he gave the order approving this. They sent an agent who had been working for DINA for several years named Michael Townley, an American. I don’t believe it was any accident that they made an American working for them the hit man on this, because, obviously, as soon as suspicion was cast on them, they said, “Oh, this guy was working for the CIA.” And a lot of people like to believe the CIA does all these things. In fact, both the extreme right and the extreme left were saying, “Oh, it was the CIA who did it.” There’s no evidence that Townley was working for the CIA, but he certainly was working for the Chileans.
He allied with some Cubans up in New Jersey, anti-Castro Cubans. They came down to Washington. They—Townley crawled under the car, installed a bomb that he had constructed himself. It was run by one of those old beeper devices. They followed the car down Massachusetts Avenue, and at Sheridan Circle, right outside near the Chilean embassy, they pushed the button, killed him. Ronni Moffitt was the wife of Michael Moffitt, who was actually Orlando’s assistant. She was sitting in the front seat, and that’s why she was killed. Michael survived, and Orlando of course was devastated, died immediately.
AMY GOODMAN: And Townley went to jail for a few years. And then—
JOHN DINGES: Townley—the Chileans turned him over. The story of how we solved this case is incredible. The presumption was that the United States is not going to investigate this very strongly. Everybody that thought that was wrong. The FBI did—made an enormous investigation, solved the case, got pictures of the people. And that’s the long story that I tell in the book. When they identified the people that had come up to the United States to carry this out, they went down to Chile, asked for the cooperation of the Pinochet government. And Pinochet eventually—they had two choices: Either they were going to kill Townley—and there’s evidence that that was one of their plans—or they had to turn him over. And they eventually turned him over. He was taken to the United States, and he began to give testimony. And another flood of information came from Michael Townley. Townley still lives in the United States. He served only five years in prison.
AMY GOODMAN: And then went into witness protection.
JOHN DINGES: And was in witness protection for a while. I understand he’s not anymore in witness protection. He lives in the Midwest. And he’s—he has cooperated. I don’t know whether there’s any remorse on his part, but he has cooperated with many investigations since his imprisonment.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: John, I’d like to ask you about an unusual figure that you talk about in the book and his role in trying to end Operation Condor: Ed Koch, the recently deceased mayor of New York, who was then a young liberal congressman and who began asking all kinds of questions about what was going on and angered our own government. Could you talk about that?
JOHN DINGES: Ed Koch, a beloved figure in this city, and certainly everybody that’s dealt with him has had the same experience. And I was reporting this story. He was very cooperative with me. And he came to my book party, so I love him, too.
Ed Koch was a congressman. He spearheaded a bill, an amendment to a bill, to cut off military aid to Uruguay. The Uruguayans were members—this was 1976. The Uruguayans were members of Operation Condor. And the CIA discovered—and I think the evidence is that they discovered because they were—they talked about it in front of them, that they said they were going to get the Chileans to go up to Washington to kill Koch. And whether that actually was put into action, we don’t know. But George Bush, who was head of the CIA at the time, called up Ed Koch and said, “Ed” — and it’s wonderful to hear Ed Koch tell this story — ”I’ve got to tell you something: There’s a plot to kill you.” And Ed Koch said, “Are you going to provide me protection?” They said, “No, no, no. That’s not our job. We’re the CIA. We’re just telling you, and it’s up to you to provide your own protection.” Ed Koch didn’t know this was Operation Condor. He just thought this was some crazy people from the dictatorship.
Later on, in my investigation, I was—I actually talked to one of the people who was involved in this, one of the Uruguayans, and who—it was a Condor operation. It was kind of a typical one, even though it didn’t actually kill anybody, luckily. But it was the modus operandi. In order to cover their tracks, one country would use another country’s nationals to do their dirty work in the operations that were planned outside of Latin America. Inside of Latin America, you had a much more systematic and effective way of operating, in which they would just track down each other’s dissidents in whatever country they happened to be—Peru, Brazil, Uruguay, mainly in Argentina. And then they would—the methodology was simple: capture them, kidnap them, torture them, kill them, make their bodies disappear. Very few victims have survived Operation Condor, almost none. It’s very difficult to find a survivor.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And yet, today in Latin America, many of the leaders of the new populist governments were folks who had emerged from some of the very groups that Condor was tracking. And Uruguay especially, a former Tupamaro. And throughout the region, those dissidents now are part of the governing apparatus of their countries.
JOHN DINGES: I was in Bolivia just two weeks ago, and I interviewed one of the—one of the people in the Ministry of Communications, and a man who’s among the many, many, many indigenous people who are in the Morales government. And he described how his father had been a prisoner, had been in Chile as an exile. When the military coup happened, he was imprisoned and kept prisoner for seven months and tortured. And I talked to, in that same office, another person who also had been involved in the Bolivian resistance in the 1980s, going back with the group that had fought together with Che Guevara in the 1960s. His father had been involved with them.
These are revolutionaries, but they are a different brand of revolutionaries. They are as dedicated, I think, but they’re not taking up arms. I really believe that they realize that that did not lead to successful revolutions, and so I’m much more optimistic about what’s going on with the—with this current group of governments.
AMY GOODMAN: Finally, a State Department cable, 1978, begins—the jacket of your book, says, “Kissinger explained his opinion [that] the Government of Argentina had done an outstanding job in wiping out terrorist forces.” The significance of the judge calling for Kissinger’s testimony and the Obama administration not responding?
JOHN DINGES: They have asked for Kissinger to give testimony many times. And in my book, I quote the one time where he actually responded to a petition from France, I believe it was. And he basically denied everything. This is very frustrating. I was able to—it was clear to me that, there’s no other word for it, these were lies. I mean, the documents say one thing; Kissinger said another thing. And he knew what those documents said. It’s not—the United States has never allowed any of its officials to face trial in other countries. We are not a member of the ICC. There’s never—
AMY GOODMAN: The International Criminal Court.
JOHN DINGES: The International Criminal Court. There’s never been any participate—there’s never been any trials that have brought Americans in the dock. There was an attempt in Italy; of course, all of those people were gone. The United States, for one reason or another, Democrats and Republicans, protect our own human rights criminals when it’s involving human rights crimes outside of the United States. It’s just the way it is.
AMY GOODMAN: Would you describe Henry Kissinger in that way, as a human rights criminal?
JOHN DINGES: Yes, absolutely.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And the relevance of this history of farming out the battle against terrorism, and so you could have no finger marks—no fingerprints of your own involvement to the current war against terrorism in the United States?
JOHN DINGES: Well, I wrote—I was writing chapter one, when 9/11 happened, in my house in Washington. And as I finished the book—and I actually end with a reference to 9/11—I said this is not something that we’re condemned to repeat. And I was making the comparison between the war on terror in the 1970s and the current war on terror that was launched by President Bush. I thought we were going to—we had learned the lesson, that you don’t imitate the methods of your enemies and—or those who had been shown to be human rights criminals. Unfortunately, we crossed that line, I think, many times.
The current discussion about drones, I think, is very frightening, because I’m having a hard time distinguishing between what they did with Operation Condor, low-tech, and what a drone does, because a drone is basically going into somebody else’s country, even with the permission of that country—of course, that’s what Operation Condor did, in most cases: You track somebody down, and you kill them. Now, the justification is: “Well, they were a criminal. They were a combatant.” Well, that may or may not be true, but nobody is determining that except the person that’s pulling the trigger.
I just think that this has to be something that we discuss. And maybe trials like this, going back to the ’70s, people say, “Well, that was the dictatorships of the 1970s.” But the tendency of a state to feel that they can move against their enemies in the most effective way possible is still there, and it is certainly not limited to dictatorships.
AMY GOODMAN: We want to thank you, John Dinges, for being with us. John Dinges is author of The Condor Years: How Pinochet and His Allies Brought Terrorism to Three Continents. Before that, he was with National Public Radio, NPR, worked as a freelance reporter in Latin America, is currently a professor at the Columbia School of Journalism.
This is Democracy Now! When we come back, we’ll be joined by filmmaker Dave Riker and actress Abbie Cornish about a new film about human smuggling on the border, called The Girl. Stay with us.
Posted by rogerhollander in Argentina, Foreign Policy, Latin America, Uncategorized.
Tags: Argentina, argentina dictatorship, argentine generals, baby thefts, counterinsurgency, dirty war, disappeared, elliot abrams, jorge videla, operation condor, plaza de mayo, reynaldo bignone, robert parry, roger hollander, ronald reagan, silvia quintela, the official story, torture
Roger’s note: The day before yesterday in Argentina former dictator Jorge Rafael Videla (and other Junta members and sympathizers) received a fifty-year sentence for stealing the infants of leftist opponents and then “giving” them to new families. A particularly ghoulish and, for those children and parents, heart-breaking episode in Argentinian history. The fine film THE OFFICIAL STORY dealt with this grisly issue back in 1985–a movie still worth seeing. Can’t imagine what it must be like for those people who’ve discovered that their biological parents are still “disappeared.” The BBC has run some pretty good interviews on this for anyone who’s interested: Baby thefts and convictions: The Guardian
This shameful story about “baby harvesting” in recent Latin American history is not widely known or reported, and it was perpetuated with full United States government knowkedge and support.
Former Argentine dictator Jorge Videla in 1979.
An Argentine court has convicted two of the nation’s former right-wing dictators, Jorge Rafael Videla and Reynaldo Bignone, in a scheme to murder leftist mothers and give their infants to military personnel often complicit in the killings, a shocking process known to the Reagan administration even as it worked closely with the bloody regime.Testimony at the trial
included a video conference from Washington with Elliott Abrams, then-Secretary of State for Latin American Affairs, who said he urged Bignone to reveal the babies’ identities as Argentina began a transition to democracy in 1983.Abrams said the Reagan administration “knew that it wasn’t just one or two children,” indicating that U.S. officials believed there was a high-level “plan because there were many people who were being murdered or jailed.” Estimates of the Argentines murdered in the so-called Dirty War range from 13,000 to about 30,000, with many victims “disappeared,” buried in mass graves or dumped from planes over the Atlantic.
A human rights group, Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo, says as many as 500 babies were stolen by the military during the repression from 1976 to 1983. Some of the pregnant mothers were kept alive long enough to give birth and then were chained together with other prisoners and pushed out of the planes into the ocean to drown.
Despite U.S. government awareness of the grisly actions of the Argentine junta, which had drawn public condemnation from the Carter administration in the 1970s, these Argentine neo-Nazis were warmly supported by Ronald Reagan, both as a political commentator in the late 1970s and as President once he took office in 1981.
When President Jimmy Carter’s human rights coordinator, Patricia Derian, berated the Argentine junta for its brutality, Reagan used his newspaper column to chide her, suggesting that Derian should “walk a mile in the moccasins” of the Argentine generals before criticizing them. [For details, see Martin Edwin Andersen's Dossier Secreto.]
Reagan understood that the Argentine generals played a central role in the anti-communist crusade that was turning Latin America into a nightmare of unspeakable repression. The leaders of the Argentine junta saw themselves as something of pioneers in the techniques of torture and psychological operations, sharing their lessons with other regional dictatorships.
Argentina also took the lead in devising ways to fund the anti-communist war through the drug trade. In 1980, the Argentine intelligence services helped organize the so-called Cocaine Coup in Bolivia, violently ousting a left-of-center government and replacing it with generals closely tied to the early cocaine trafficking networks.
Bolivia’s coup regime ensured a reliable flow of coca to Colombia’s Medellin cartel, which quickly grew into a sophisticated conglomerate for smuggling cocaine into the United States. Some of those drug profits then went to finance right-wing paramilitary operations across the region, according to other U.S. government investigations.
For instance, Bolivian cocaine kingpin Roberto Suarez invested more than $30 million in various right-wing paramilitary operations, including organizing the Nicaraguan Contra rebels in base camps in Honduras, according to U.S. Senate testimony in 1987 by an Argentine intelligence officer, Leonardo Sanchez-Reisse.
Sanchez-Reisse testified that the Suarez drug money was laundered through front companies in Miami before going to Central America. There, Argentine intelligence officers — including Sanchez-Reisse and other veterans of the Cocaine Coup — trained the fledgling Contra forces.
After becoming President in January 1981, Reagan entered into a covert alliance with the Argentine junta. He ordered the CIA to collaborate with Dirty War experts in training the Contras, who were soon rampaging through towns in northern Nicaragua, raping women and dragging local officials into public squares for executions. [See Robert Parry's Lost History.]
A Happy Face
Yet, Reagan kept up a happy face, hailing the Contras as the “moral equals of the Founding Fathers” and heaping gratitude on the Argentine junta.
The behind-the-scenes intelligence relationship apparently gave the Argentine generals confidence that they could not only continue repressing their own citizens but could settle an old score with Great Britain over control of the Falkland Islands, what the Argentines call the Malvinas.
Even as Argentina moved to invade the islands in 1982, Reagan’s U.N. Ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick joined the generals for an elegant state dinner in Washington. The Reagan administration itself was divided between America’s traditional alliance with Great Britain and its more recent collaboration with the Argentines in Latin America.
Finally, Reagan sided with British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher whose counterattack drove the Argentines from the islands and led to the eventual collapse of the dictatorship. It was in that time frame that Abrams apparently spoke with Bignone about identifying the children who had been taken from their mothers and farmed out to military personnel.
The idea of giving the babies to right-wing military officers apparently was part of the larger Argentine theory of how to eradicate leftist subversive thought. Gen. Videla, in particular, fancied himself a theorist in counterinsurgency warfare, advocating clever use of words as well as imaginative forms of torture and murder.
Known for his dapper style and his English-tailored suits, Videla rose to power amid Argentina’s political and economic unrest in the early-to-mid 1970s. “As many people as necessary must die in Argentina so that the country will again be secure,” he declared in 1975 in support of a “death squad” known as the Argentine Anti-Communist Alliance. [See A Lexicon of Terror by Marguerite Feitlowitz.]
On March 24, 1976, Videla led the military coup which ousted the ineffective president, Isabel Peron. Though armed leftist groups had been shattered by the time of the coup, the generals still organized a counterinsurgency campaign to wipe out any remnants of what they judged political subversion.
Videla called this “the process of national reorganization,” intended to reestablish order while inculcating a permanent animosity toward leftist thought. “The aim of the Process is the profound transformation of consciousness,” Videla announced.
Along with selective terror, Videla employed sophisticated public relations methods. He was fascinated with techniques for using language to manage popular perceptions of reality. The general hosted international conferences on P.R. and awarded a $1 million contract to the giant U.S. firm of Burson Marsteller. Following the Burson Marsteller blueprint, the Videla government put special emphasis on cultivating American reporters from elite publications.
“Terrorism is not the only news from Argentina, nor is it the major news,” went the optimistic P.R. message.
Since the jailings and executions of dissidents were rarely acknowledged, Videla felt he could deny government involvement, giving the world the chilling new phrase, “the disappeared.” He often suggested that the missing Argentines were not dead, but had slipped away to live comfortably in other countries.
“I emphatically deny that there are concentration camps in Argentina, or military establishments in which people are held longer than is absolutely necessary in this ” fight against subversion,” he told British journalists in 1977. [See A Lexicon of Terror.]
In a grander context, Videla and the other generals saw their mission as a crusade to defend Western Civilization against international communism. They worked closely with the Asian-based World Anti-Communist League and its Latin American affiliate, the Confederacion Anticomunista Latinoamericana [CAL].
Latin American militaries collaborated on projects such as the cross-border assassinations of political dissidents. Under one project, called Operation Condor, political leaders — centrist and leftist alike — were shot or bombed in Buenos Aires, Rome, Madrid, Santiago and Washington. Operation Condor sometimes employed CIA-trained Cuban exiles as assassins. [See Consortiumnews.com's "Hitler's Shadow Reaches toward Today," or Robert Parry's Secrecy & Privilege.]
The Baby Harvest
General Videla also was accused of permitting — and concealing — the scheme to harvest infants from pregnant women who were kept alive in military prisons only long enough to give birth. According to the charges, the babies were taken from the new mothers, sometimes after late-night Caesarean sections, and then distributed to military families or sent to orphanages.
After the babies were pulled away, the mothers were removed to another site for their executions. Some were put aboard death flights and pushed out of military planes over open water.
One of the most notorious cases involved Silvia Quintela, a leftist doctor who attended to the sick in shanty towns around Buenos Aires. On Jan. 17, 1977, Quintela was abducted off a Buenos Aires street by military authorities because of her political leanings. At the time, Quintela and her agronomist husband Abel Madariaga were expecting their first child.
According to witnesses who later testified before a government truth commission, Quintela was held at a military base called Campo de Mayo, where she gave birth to a baby boy. As in similar cases, the infant then was separated from the mother.
What happened to the boy is still not clear, but Quintela reportedly was transferred to a nearby airfield. There, victims were stripped naked, shackled in groups and dragged aboard military planes. The planes then flew out over the Rio de la Plata or the Atlantic Ocean, where soldiers pushed the victims out of the planes and into the water to drown.
After democracy was restored in 1983, Madariaga, who had fled into exile in Sweden, returned to Argentina and searched for his wife. He learned about her death and the birth of his son.
Madariaga came to suspect that a military doctor, Norberto Atilio Bianco, had kidnapped the boy. Bianco had overseen Caesarean sections performed on captured women, according to witnesses. He then allegedly drove the new mothers to the airport for their death flights.
In 1987, Madariaga demanded DNA testing of Bianco’s two children, a boy named Pablo and a girl named Carolina, both of whom were suspected children of disappeared women. Madariaga thought Pablo might be his son.
But Bianco and his wife, Susana Wehrli, fled Argentina to Paraguay, where they resettled with the two children. Argentine judge Roberto Marquevich sought the Biancos’ extradition, but Paraguay balked for 10 years.
Finally, faced with demands from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, Paraguay relented. Bianco and Wehrli were returned to face kidnapping charges. But the two children — now young adults with small children of their own — refused to return to Argentina or submit to DNA testing.
Though realizing they were adopted, Pablo and Carolina did not want to know about the fate of their real mothers and did not want to jeopardize the middle-class lives they had enjoyed in the Bianco household. [See Consortiumnews.com's "Argentina's Dapper State Terrorist" or "Baby-Snatching: Argentina's Dirty War Secret."]
Another Argentine judge, Alfredo Bagnasco, began investigating whether the baby-snatching was part of an organized operation and thus a premeditated crime of state. According to a report by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, the Argentine military viewed the kidnappings as part of a larger counterinsurgency strategy.
“The anguish generated in the rest of the surviving family because of the absence of the disappeared would develop, after a few years, into a new generation of subversive or potentially subversive elements, thereby not permitting an effective end to the Dirty War,” the commission said in describing the army’s reasoning for kidnapping the infants of murdered women. The kidnapping strategy conformed with the “science” of the Argentine counterinsurgency operations.
According to government investigations, the military’s intelligence officers also advanced Nazi-like methods of torture by testing the limits of how much pain a human being could endure before dying. The torture methods included experiments with electric shocks, drowning, asphyxiation and sexual perversions, such as forcing mice into a woman’s vagina. Some of the implicated military officers had trained at the U.S.-run School of the Americas.
The Argentine tactics were emulated throughout Latin America. According to a Guatemalan truth commission, the right-wing military there also adopted the practice of taking suspected subversives on death flights, although over the Pacific Ocean.
For their roles in the baby kidnappings, Videla, now 86 and already in prison for other crimes against humanity, was sentenced to 50 years; Bignone, 84 and also in prison, received 15 years.
Yet, as Americans continue to idolize Ronald Reagan — with scores of buildings named after him and his statue on display at Washington’s Reagan National Airport — a relevant question might be what did the 40th U.S. President know about these barbaric acts and when did he know it.
Posted by rogerhollander in Argentina, Barack Obama, Criminal Justice, Human Rights, Latin America, Torture.
Tags: Alberto Gonzales, Argentina, barry mccaffrey, bush adminsitration, cheney, chris hedges, cia prisons, Condoleezza Rice, david addington, detainees, dirty war, disappeared, drone missiles, george tenet, habeas corpus, human rights, Human Rights Watch, jay bybee, John Ashcroft, john rizzo, john yoo, pakistan, predator missiles, rendition, roger hollander, rumsfeld, torture, william j. haynes
Dr. Silvia Quintela was “disappeared” by the death squads in Argentina in 1977 when she was four months pregnant with her first child. She reportedly was kept alive at a military base until she gave birth to her son and then, like other victims of the military junta, most probably was drugged, stripped naked, chained to other unconscious victims and piled onto a cargo plane that was part of the “death flights” that disposed of the estimated 20,000 disappeared. The military planes with their inert human cargo would fly over the Atlantic at night and the chained bodies would be pushed out the door into the ocean. Quintela, who had worked as a doctor in the city’s slums, was 28 when she was murdered.(Illustration by Mr. Fish)
A military doctor, Maj. Norberto Atilio Bianco, who was extradited Friday from Paraguay to Argentina for baby trafficking, is alleged to have seized Quintela’s infant son along with dozens, perhaps hundreds, of other babies. The children were handed to military families for adoption. Bianco, who was the head of the clandestine maternity unit that functioned during the Dirty War in the military hospital of Campo de Mayo, was reported by eyewitnesses to have personally carried the babies out of the military hospital. He also kept one of the infants. Argentina on Thursday convicted retired Gen. Hector Gamen and former Col. Hugo Pascarelli of committing crimes against humanity at the “El Vesubio” prison, where 2,500 people were tortured in 1976-1978. They were sentenced to life in prison. Since revoking an amnesty law in 2005 designed to protect the military, Argentina has prosecuted 807 for crimes against humanity, although only 212 people have been sentenced. It has been, for those of us who lived in Argentina during the military dictatorship, a painfully slow march toward justice.
Most of the disappeared in Argentina were not armed radicals but labor leaders, community organizers, leftist intellectuals, student activists and those who happened to be in the wrong spot at the wrong time. Few had any connection with armed campaigns of resistance. Indeed, by the time of the 1976 Argentine coup, the armed guerrilla groups, such as the Montoneros, had largely been wiped out. These radical groups, like al-Qaida in its campaign against the United States, never posed an existential threat to the regime, but the national drive against terror in both Argentina and the United States became an excuse to subvert the legal system, instill fear and passivity in the populace, and form a vast underground prison system populated with torturers and interrogators, as well as government officials and lawyers who operated beyond the rule of law. Torture, prolonged detention without trial, sexual humiliation, rape, disappearance, extortion, looting, random murder and abuse have become, as in Argentina during the Dirty War, part of our own subterranean world of detention sites and torture centers.
We Americans have rewritten our laws, as the Argentines did, to make criminal behavior legal. John Rizzo, the former acting general counsel for the CIA, approved drone attacks that have killed hundreds of people, many of them civilians in Pakistan, although we are not at war with Pakistan. Rizzo has admitted that he signed off on so-called enhanced interrogation techniques. He told Newsweek that the CIA operated “a hit list.” He asked in the interview: “How many law professors have signed off on a death warrant?” Rizzo, in moral terms, is no different from the deported Argentine doctor Bianco, and this is why lawyers in Britain and Pakistan are calling for his extradition to Pakistan to face charges of murder. Let us hope they succeed.
We know of at least 100 detainees who died during interrogations at our “black sites,” many of them succumbing to the blows and mistreatment of our interrogators. There are probably many, many more whose fate has never been made public. Tens of thousands of Muslim men have passed through our clandestine detention centers without due process. “We tortured people unmercifully,” admitted retired Gen. Barry McCaffrey. “We probably murdered dozens of them …, both the armed forces and the C.I.A.”
Tens of thousands of Americans are being held in super-maximum-security prisons where they are deprived of contact and psychologically destroyed. Undocumented workers are rounded up and vanish from their families for weeks or months. Militarized police units break down the doors of some 40,000 Americans a year and haul them away in the dead of night as if they were enemy combatants. Habeas corpus no longer exists. American citizens can “legally” be assassinated. Illegal abductions, known euphemistically as “extraordinary rendition,” are a staple of the war on terror. Secret evidence makes it impossible for the accused and their lawyers to see the charges against them. All this was experienced by the Argentines. Domestic violence, whether in the form of social unrest, riots or another catastrophic terrorist attack on American soil, would, I fear, see the brutal tools of empire cemented into place in the homeland. At that point we would embark on our own version of the Dirty War.
Marguerite Feitlowitz writes in “The Lexicon of Terror” of the experiences of one Argentine prisoner, a physicist named Mario Villani. The collapse of the moral universe of the torturers is displayed when, between torture sessions, the guards take Villani and a few pregnant women prisoners to an amusement park. They make them ride the kiddie train and then take them to a cafe for a beer. A guard, whose nom de guerre is Blood, brings his 6- or 7-year-old daughter into the detention facility to meet Villani and other prisoners. A few years later, Villani runs into one of his principal torturers, a sadist known in the camps as Julian the Turk. Julian recommends that Villani go see another of his former prisoners to ask for a job. The way torture became routine, part of daily work, numbed the torturers to their own crimes. They saw it as a job. Years later they expected their victims to view it with the same twisted logic.
Human Rights Watch, in a new report, “Getting Away With Torture: The Bush Administration and Mistreatment of Detainees,” declared there is “overwhelming evidence of torture by the Bush administration.” President Barack Obama, the report went on, is obliged “to order a criminal investigation into allegations of detainee abuse authorized by former President George W. Bush and other senior officials.”
But Obama has no intention of restoring the rule of law. He not only refuses to prosecute flagrant war crimes, but has immunized those who orchestrated, led and carried out the torture. At the same time he has dramatically increased war crimes, including drone strikes in Pakistan. He continues to preside over hundreds of the offshore penal colonies, where abuse and torture remain common. He is complicit with the killers and the torturers.
The only way the rule of law will be restored, if it is restored, is piece by piece, extradition by extradition, trial by trial. Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, former CIA Director George Tenet, Condoleezza Rice and John Ashcroft will, if we return to the rule of law, face trial. The lawyers who made legal what under international and domestic law is illegal, including not only Rizzo but Alberto Gonzales, Jay Bybee, David Addington, William J. Haynes and John Yoo, will, if we are to dig our way out of this morass, be disbarred and prosecuted. Our senior military leaders, including Gen. David Petraeus, who oversaw death squads in Iraq and widespread torture in clandestine prisons, will be lined up in a courtroom, as were the generals in Argentina, and made to answer for these crimes. This is the only route back. If it happens it will happen because a few courageous souls such as the attorney and president of the Center for Constitutional Rights, Michael Ratner, are trying to make it happen. It will take time—a lot of time; the crimes committed by Bianco and the two former officers sent to prison this month are nearly four decades old. If it does not happen, then we will continue to descend into a terrifying, dystopian police state where our guards will, on a whim, haul us out of our cells to an amusement park and make us ride, numb and bewildered, on the kiddie train, before the next round of torture.
© 2011 TruthDig.com
Posted by rogerhollander in Argentina, Human Rights, Latin America.
Tags: alejandro garro, Argentina, argentina dictatorshipo, argentina military, cesar chelala, Chile, chilean dictatorship, cristina kirchner, disappeared, human rights, maurice hinchley, orlando letelier, pinochet, plaza de mayo, president obama, roger hollander, ronni moffitt, transparency
For a relatively slight margin, the US Congress rejected an amendment by Rep. Maurice Hinchey (D) to declassify files on Argentina’s 1976-1983 military dictatorship. The refusal to declassify files on Argentina is likely to have momentous consequences on the fate of hundreds of babies stolen or “disappeared” during those years. Many of those babies were born in clandestine torture centers, while others were adopted or given in adoption by the same members of the military or police personnel responsible for their parents’ disappearance.
It is not altogether clear whose interests are sought to be protected, but one can hardly imagine that national security, or the work of US spies fighting Al Qaeda, as suggested by House Intelligence Committee Chairman Rep. Mike Rogers (R), may be put in jeopardy by keeping these files in secret. It is not even clear whether President Cristina Kirchner’s administration is interested in having these files in the open. However, if an official request from the Argentine government were submitted, the U.S. government would be hard pressed, as a matter of international comity, not to reveal at least a redacted text of those files.
Aside from governmental interests and politicians’ desires to keep secrets, what is at stake are human lives, victims, and the administration of justice. In 1999, during the Clinton administration, Rep. Hinchey presented a similar amendment for declassifying documents related to General Augusto Pinochet’s administration. Declassification resulted in the publication of 24,000 documents that proved to be crucial in the prosecution of crimes committed during the Chilean dictatorship. It provided clear evidence of Pinochet’s connections to the 1976 assassination, in Washington, D.C., of Chilean foreign minister Orlando Letelier, along with his secretary Ronni Karpen Moffitt. Also disclosed was Pinochet secret police’s plans to assassinate former Chilean president Patricio Aylwin, the presidential candidate of the coalition that ultimately defeated General Pinochet in 1988.
In December of 2009, President Obama signed an executive order entitled “Classified National Security Information”, stating: “I expect that the order will produce measurable progress towards greater openness and transparency in the Government’s classification and declassification programs while protecting the Government’s legitimate interests, and I will closely monitor the results.” Failure to disclose information on Argentina’s brutal reign of terror cannot be in the interest of the U.S. Government and, to the extent that it may in the interest of some members of the Argentine Government, it is unlikely that those interests may qualify as “legitimate”.
Both the Mothers of Plaza de Mayo and the Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo have been searching for decades for their disappeared children and grandchildren. This decision by the U.S. Congress only adds to their difficulties in finding their loved ones. As Representative Hinchey stated, “The United States can play a vital role in lifting the veil of secrecy that has shrouded the terrible human rights abuses of the despotic military regime that ruled Argentina.” It is about time.
César Chelala, MD, PhD, is a co-winner of an Overseas Press Club of America award. He is also the foreign correspondent for Middle East Times International (Australia).
Alejandro M. Garro teaches Comparative Law at Columbia Law School and sits at advisory board of Human Rights Watch/Americas, the Center for Justice and International Law, and the Due Process of Law Foundation.
Posted by rogerhollander in Argentina, Human Rights, Latin America.
Tags: alfredo ignacio astiz, Argentina, argentina dictatorship, argentina missing, argentina politics, argentina torture, desaparecidos, dirty war, disappeared, human rights, latin america politcs, madres plaza de mayo, marie trigona, mothers plaza de mayo, plaza de mayo, roger hollander, torture
Argentina correspondent, Marie Trigona – Women News Network – WNN
October 21, 2010
One of the Mothers of Plaza de Mayo on the recent 34th anniversary of Argentina’s 1976 military coup. She holds images of her son and daughter-in-law who became part of ‘the disappeared’ on July 29, 1976. Image: Marie Trigona/WNN
Buenos Aires, Argentina: Buenos Aires city center, known as Plaza de Mayo, has been a site of protest for decades. It is here that the Mothers of Argentina’s ‘disappeared,’ begin their weekly march in the capital plaza every Thursday afternoon.
Known as the Mothers of Plaza de Mayo, they have passed down a legacy in defending human rights as they walk steadily together around the plaza to show the world that they still have not forgotten what happened to their loved ones during what has been called, ‘Argentina’s Dirty War.’
The Mothers of Plaza de Mayo have been integral to recent investigations and discoveries in what have been called ‘crimes against humanity’ in the more than 30,000 estimated missing sons and daughters who became part of ‘the disappeared’ during the reign of Argentina’s military juntas from 1975 to 1983.
“I keep on looking for my children and everybody else’s children, because to me your daughter is my daughter, she’s a little bit mine. My children are a little bit yours,” said Carmen Robles de Zurita, a woman who is the Mother of two missing children: Her son, Nestro Juan Agustín Zurita, abducted at the age of 25, August 1, 1975; and Carmen’s daughter, María Rosa Zurita, abducted at the age of 21, November 1, 1975.
Now after three decades, justice is finally possible in criminal courts. Thanks to the investigations carried out by victims’ families and human rights activists, Argentina’s government is now revisiting its dark past with landmark Supreme Court human rights tribunals, following the 2003 removal of amnesty laws that protected members of the military government from prosecution of human rights abuses.
The Motor of Society
“The disappearance of people created a paralysis in society,” says Dr. Rodolfo Mattarollo, international law and human rights expert.
“Today we still don’t have the complete truth or information as to what happened to our children.”
- Marta Ocampo de Vazquez,
President of the Mothers of Plaza de Mayo – Founding Line
On April 30, 1977, fourteen mothers gathered in the large plaza in front of the government building. The dictatorship prohibited people from gathering in public places, so they began walking around the pyramid in the center of the plaza. As more women joined the rounds, having visited police stations, prisons, judicial offices and churches, but finding no answers, the Mothers began to identify themselves by wearing white head scarves to symbolize the diapers of their lost and ‘disappeared’ children.
“Today we still don’t have the complete truth or information as to what happened to our children,” says Marta Ocampo de Vazquez, president of the Mothers of Plaza de Mayo – Founding Line. “Who gave the order? Who executed them? What was our children’s final destiny?” she asks.
Nothing could stop the Mothers protest, not even physical attacks or endless threats. In 1977, three of the founding Mothers and two French nuns, who supported the efforts of the Mothers, also became part of ‘the disappeared.’
“It surprises me when I see what I am today. Before I was a shy cry-baby. I had no political consciousness. I didn’t have any kind of consciousness. All that interested me was that my children were well. I was one of those mothers who went everywhere with their children. If they organized dances at the school to collect money, I was the one who was selling tickets. I was involved in everything my children did. You only become conscious when you lose something. When the Mothers first met we used to cry a lot and then we began to shout and demand, and nothing mattered anymore, except that we should find out children. Now I fight, I shout, I push if I have to, I kick but I still wonder to myself how I could have gone into those military buildings with all those guns pointed at my head,” said Mother, Margareta de Oro in an interview with author, Josephine Fisher, for the book, ‘Mothers of the Disappeared.’
The Pain of the Past
Alfredo Ignacio Astiz, a 22 year old Argentine Naval lieutenant and intelligence officer, infiltrated the Mothers of Plaza de Mayo posing as ‘Gustavo Niño,’ a brother of one of the disappeared. Astiz’s infiltration would haunt the Mothers and the nation for decades to come. The Mothers say today they still remember young “Gustavo,” who attended meetings of family members and marched with them.
“I keep on looking for my children and everybody else’s children.”
- Mother of Plaza de Mayo, Carmen Robles de Zurita
On December 8, 1977, the Mothers – Esther Ballestrino de Careaga and Maria Eugenia Ponce de Bianco – were forcefully taken, along with eight others, by military officials as they were attending a meeting at the Santa Cruz Church in Buenos Aires. Azucena Villaflor, another founding Mother, was also kidnapped outside her home just days later.
Two days later, on December 10, eight hundred and thirty-four Mothers signatures were printed on an almost full page petition advertisement in “La Nacion,” Argentina’s daily newspaper. The ad pleaded for justice asking Argentine officials to open up and investigate cases of their missing children.
Two weeks following the secret raid on the Santa Cruz Church, only one week after the December 15 afternoon march of the Mothers of Plaza de Mayo, five dead female bodies washed up on the shore of the Río de la Plata (the River Plate). The River Plate is a wide expansive river which borders both Argentina and Uruguay as it opens to the Atlantic Ocean.
“The Mothers had planned a major turnout, at their usual Thursday afternoon demonstration on Dec 15, but the abduction of members of the Mother’s group had a chilling effect on attendance,” said the American Embassy in Buenos Aires in a 1977 (then classified) report to the U.S. State Department. “An additional sheet of signatures for that petition, as well as $250 of funds collected to pay for the advertisement were taken during the abduction,” outlined the Embassy.
On the 30th anniversary (December 8, 2007) of the disappearance of the mothers from the Santa Cruz Church, Mother of Plaza de Mayo, Elia Espen, kneels at a memorial stone dedicated to the Mothers who lost their life. Image: Marie Trigona/WNN
In the early 1990s, on the edge of new breakthroughs in forensic science, it finally became possible to recover and identify DNA from skeletal remains. Genetic testing quickly became a critical tool in human rights investigations worldwide.
In 2005, through detailed forensic investigations of skeletal remains, the Argentine Forensic Anthropology Team (EAAF), was able to use DNA and forensic evidence to identify four of the washed-up bodies. It was decided without any doubt. The bodies belonged to three of the founding Mothers – Azucena Villaflor, Maria Eugenia Ponce and Esther Careaga, along with the French nun, Léonie Duquet.
“Everywhere we work we have seen the incredible pain and paralysis that a disappearance produces for a family.”
- Mercedes Doretti,
co-founder of the Argentine Forensic Anthropology Team (EAAF)
“The remains of the four women are thought to have been thrown into the ocean from Air Force planes. The bodies washed out on the shore in 1977 and were buried as “N.N.” (unknowns) in the General Lavalle municipal cemetery, province of Buenos Aires,” a 2006 Annual EAAF Report explained. “EAAF exhumed the four women from General Lavalle cemetery and identified them based on anthropological and genetic analysis.”
“Everywhere we work we have seen the incredible pain and paralysis that a disappearance produces for a family. Recovering the remains is not enough to erase the pain of the past but it is a huge part of healing and a crucial form of reparations. Families need it. In fact, we think that too often the recovery and identification of remains is not viewed enough as an integral part of the reparations process,” said Mercedes Doretti, co-founder of EAAF.
Twenty-eight years after the founding Mothers themselves ‘disappeared,’ on December 8, 2005, the remains of Azucena Villaflor, Maria Ponce de Bianco and Esther Ballestrino de Careaga were cremated and their ashes buried in honor at Buenos Aires, Plaza de Mayo.
Breaking Walls of Impunity
Since Argentina’s seven year bloody military dictatorship, the Mothers of Plaza de Mayo have endlessly searched for truth, transparency and accountability. Today the Mothers have succeeded to break the walls of impunity as a wide international symbol of non-violent action.
The 1986, Argentina Full Stop law and the 1987 Due Obedience law was “used to obstruct the investigation of thousands of cases of forced disappearance, torture and extrajudicial execution committed between 1976 and 1983 when the military governments were in power,” said the International Commission of Jurists and Amnesty International in a 2003 Legal Memorandum. These laws were a deep blow to the Mothers of Plaza de Mayo, who resisted the government’s attempt to use amnesty laws to pardon military actions and human rights abuses.
“As the youth today take up our banner, the 30,000 ‘disappeared’ will never be ‘disappeared.’ They will be present.”
- 2010 statement by the Mothers of Plaza de Mayo
Today, alternating between years of amnesty and arrest, Alfredo Ignacio Astiz is facing a stepped up Supreme Court battle. He is facing investigation along with seventeen other officers and officials. In addition to individual crimes, the Court is also investigating charges of ‘crimes against humanity’ committed between 1976 – 1983 at the ESMA Navy Mechanics School in Buenos Aires.
Known as the largest and most notorious torture center in Argentina during the nation’s ‘dark years,’ the ESMA Navy Mechanics School has been linked to more than 5,000 people, who’s fate has brought them to become part of ‘the disappeared.’
(Now) “The military are having the trials that our children never had,” said Mother of Plaza de Mayo Truth Commissioner, Nora Cortinas. Nora’s son, Carlos Gustavo Cortiñas, was an economy student who became part of ‘the disappeared’ on April 15, 1977.
Because many of the mothers are now in their 80s, some worry that they will not live to see the former Argentine military machine held responsible for its crimes.
“What we want is for the trials to speed up a little bit and not be tried on a case by case basis; and that the government takes responsibility to help end the threats against witnesses, judges, and lawyers, so that we can really say that there’s justice in this country,” added Mother Cortinas.
“I was one of those mothers who went everywhere with their children. If they organized dances at the school to collect money, I was the one who was selling tickets. I was involved in everything my children did. You only become conscious when you lose something.”
- Mother of Plaza de Mayo, Margareta de Oro
Mother, Ocampo de Vazquez, now 81, has gone through decades of struggle and frustration. But she knows her long campaign to find the truth must continue. “I don’t see an end in sight,” she exclaimed.
“We resist because there are crimes unpunished and questions about the disappearances left unanswered,” says Ines Ragni, a Mother from the southern province of Neuquén. The Mother’s slogan, “Never Again,” was adopted by the Mothers with the hope that Argentina and other countries in the region, including Brazil, Chile and Uruguay, who have also suffered from military dictatorship, would never repeat their own dark chapters in history.
“Our children wanted to live, but their lives were taken away. The youth in the street protesting today are part of the memory of our children,” echo the Mothers.
“As the youth today take up our banner, the 30,000 ‘disappeared’ will never be ‘disappeared.’ They will (always) be present.”
For more information on this topic go to:
- “Building Bridges of Memory: The Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo and the Cultural Politics of Maternal Memories,” History and Anthropology, Vol. 15, No.2, Margaret E. Burchianti, June 2004
- “Silhouettes of the Disappeared: Memory, Justice and Human Rights in Post- Authoritarian Argentina,” Vincent Druliolle, Department of Government at the University of Essex with Denver University, June 2009
- “Unearthing the Truth: an Interview with Mercedes Doretti, co-founder of the Argentine Forensic Anthropology Team (EAAF),” Veerle Opgenhaffen for the International Center for Transnational Justice, September 2007
Women News Network – WNN investigative journalist, filmmaker and radio producer, Marie Trigona, has focused on many human rights and social justice stories covering Argentina. Her work has appeared in The Buenos Aires Herald, Canadian Dimension, Dollars and Sense and many other publications. She is also a reporter for Free Speech Radio News, a daily syndicated radio news program, broadcast from the U.S.
Additional material for this article has been provided by Women News Network – WNN.
©2010 Women News Network – WNN
Posted by rogerhollander in Argentina, Labor, Latin America.
Tags: Argentina, argentina economic crisis, argentina expropriation, argentina factory, argentina factory takeovers, argentina labor, argentina occupied factories, argentina unemployment, argentina workers, argentina world bank, argentlina economy, cristina fernandez de kirchner., fasinpat, latin america labor, marie trigona, roger hollander, worker control, worker cooperatives, World Bank, zanon ceramics
|Written by Marie Trigona www.upsidedownworld.org
|Wednesday, 27 May 2009
Photo Courtesy of Prensa Obreros Zanon
While many workers around the world are worried about downsizing, lay-offs and how to protect their jobs, workers in Argentina have come up with their own solution to business closures – Occupy, Resist and Produce. Many factories, like the Zanon Ceramics plant, have been running without bosses for almost a decade. In response to a financial crisis in 2001 that wrecked Argentina’s economy, workers decided to occupy their workplaces and start up production without bosses in order to safe-guard their jobs.
Zanon Ceramics, now known as FASINPAT (Factory without a boss), has re-defined the basis of production: without workers, bosses are unable to run businesses; without bosses, workers can do it better. As the largest recuperated factory in Argentina, and occupied since 2001, the Zanon ceramics plant in the Patagonian province of Neuquén now employs 470 workers.
This month, the FASINPAT collective is a step closer in winning permanent control of the factory. The provincial government presented a bill in the provincial legislature for the expropriation of the factory. If this bill is passed, and it looks favorable, it would mean a solution to the workers’ long standing legal woes.
Since the plant began production under worker control in 2002, they have faced numerous eviction threats and other violent attacks. The government has tried to evict them five times using police operatives. On April 8, 2003, during the most recent eviction attempt, over 5,000 community members from Neuquén came out to defend the factory.
In a press release, the worker collective said that the legislature received the bill was a positive step. “The historic progress we made today was the result of a hard fight. The collective struggle and mobilization of Worker Self-management, along with the workers in this country, community support and international recognition has made this possible.”
In 2001, Zanon’s owners decided to close their doors and fire the workers without paying months of back pay or indemnity. Leading up to the massive layoffs and the plant’s closure, workers went on strike in 2000. The owner, Luis Zanon with over 75 million dollars in debt to public and private creditors, fired en masse most of the workers and closed the factory in 2001—a bosses’ lockout. In October 2001, workers declared the plant under worker control. The workers camped outside the factory for four months, pamphleting and partially blocking a highway leading to the capital city Neuquén. While the workers were camping outside the factory, a court ruled that the employees could sell off remaining stock. After the stock ran out, on March 2, 2002, the workers’ assembly voted to start up production without a boss. For more than eight years, FASINPAT has created jobs, supported community projects and shown the world that we don’t need bosses.
Luis Zanon´s debts of over $70 million are still outstanding, while many of the creditors want their money back, pushing for the eviction and foreclosure of the ceramics plant. The current bill presented in the legislature would mean that the state would pay off 22 million pesos (around $7 million) to the creditors. One of the main creditors is the World Bank – which gave a loan of 20 million dollars to Luis Zanon for the construction of the plant, which he never paid back. The other major creditor is the Italian company SACMY that produces state of the art ceramics manufacturing machinery and is owed over $5 million.
Omar Villablanca, a worker at Zanon said that the workers are most concerned about providing job continuity – safeguarding the 470 jobs that the factory without a boss have created and maintained since 2001. He stressed that FASINPAT needs a formal long-term legal solution in order to survive as a competitive business in a faltering economy.
“The state needs to make laws so that workers can work. In eight years we haven’t asked the state for anything other than an expropriation law,” said Jose Luis Paris, another worker from FASINPAT.
Economic Crisis Grips Argentina
Argentina is in a better position than other Latin American nations in the face of the deepening global crisis. From 2003 to 2007, Argentina enjoyed a high economic growth rate, between 8 and 9 percent. However, with the global economy in recession the nation’s growth has come to a halt, and it is expected that Argentina will see a drastic drop Gross Domestic Product in 2010.
Many independent analysts expect that the global recession will affect Argentina’s real economy, that’s to say industry and employment rates will suffer from the crisis, rather than the financial sector which already took a major blow in 2001. Those who benefited from Argentina’s economic recovery of course are now those who are using this crisis as an excuse to downsize and lay-off workers.
The current government of President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner has bolstered that unemployment has gone done from the staggering numbers post-2001 crisis. Many of those jobs are subcontracted and underpaid. Official unemployment statistics, which have been under fire for being conveniently inaccurate, report unemployment at 8 percent. However, many independent analysts say that the actual rate is much higher. Eduardo Lucita, economist from Economists of the Left said that analysts don’t have exact numbers because many of the firings are of workers without formal contracts and can’t be tracked. “Argentina has already had a crisis in the financial sector in 2001. The current crisis is directly affecting Argentina’s real economy. Since October, there are more than 50,000 people who are now unemployed. There have been mass firings, lay-offs and pay cuts.”
Workers Paying for the Crisis
In the failing economy, the jobs at FASINPAT are more important than ever. But the government seems to have all but forgotten that the recuperated enterprises and worker cooperatives provide nearly 20,000 jobs for Argentina, while the government has failed to provide a long-term legal solution to the workers without bosses or subsidies that standard businesses regularly have access to.
Another factor in the struggle at FASINPAT is the lack of subsidies for the cooperative. Sales have dropped by 40-50 percent since 2008 due to a radical slow-down in the construction industry nationally.
“Because of the drop in construction, we aren’t producing as much,” says Paris. In 2006, the plant produced 400,000 square meters of ceramics per month, today that number has gone down to 150,000 square meters per month. The cooperative has had to shut off some of the ovens and shorten production shifts. On top of this drop; the workers controlling the factory have had to face sky-rocketing energy prices. The workers pay over 300,000 dollars a month for electricity and gas. And for Paris, the workers should not have to pay more than other businesses do: “Many industry leaders get government energy subsidies up to 70 percent. We want to buy directly from the gas companies to lower our costs or receive subsidies that we are entitled to.”
Many of the 200 worker controlled businesses and factories in Argentina are being affected by the crisis. But unlike their capitalist counterparts, the worker cooperatives are taking any measure possible to avoid laying off workers, something which they are opposed to doing.
“We aren’t like the capitalists. You can’t throw workers out like they are lice,” said Candido Gonzalez, a veteran worker from Chilavert worker occupied print factory in Buenos Aires, one of the first occupied plants after the 2001 crisis.
During the Argentina’s financial crisis in 2001, he occupied his workplace and fought until he and his fellow workers won legal recognition. Now that business is slowing down, many assemblies at the worker occupied factories would rather accept collective pay cuts, than their fellow workers lose their jobs.
When Capitalism Fails – Occupy, Resist and Produce
Capitalism has taken a turn for the worse, spinning itself out of control into a downward spiral which many are characterizing as the second depression of the century. And during this crisis, there are going to be winners and losers. The winners? Most likely big business and banks receiving bailout plans. The losers? The millions who are facing unemployment, dropping wages and inflation.
“During a capitalist crisis, when the businessmen and governments are trying to unload all their responsibilities onto the workers of the world, Zanon under worker self-management, is a clear example of how workers can come out of this crisis,” say the workers at FASINPAT.
Since late 2008 there have been several new factory takeovers in Argentina. Many workers from the newly occupied factories say that their bosses saw the crisis as the perfect opportunity to clear their debts by closing up shop, fraudulently liquidating assets, firing workers and later re-start production under a new firm.
“[However] Many companies are still open because they are afraid of the recovered factory phenomenon; we have to keep them scared,” said Paris from Zanon. In almost all of the newly recuperated factories, the workers suggest that the owners had no real reason to close up shop – meaning that the businesses had production demand. I have heard workers on numerous occasions say that during the crisis, the bosses are taking advantage of the situation of a recession.
The worker controlled factories and businesses occupied after 2001 may not be by themselves a social revolution, but the example of worker self-management has helped many workers today facing the possibility of losing their jobs with the idea that they can occupy their workplace in order to defend their rights as laborers. Nearly 10 factories have been occupied since 2008. This may be a sign that workers are confronting the global financial crisis with lessons and tools from previous worker occupied factories. Strategically, the previous worker occupied factories have been fundamental in providing advice of all kinds, including legal, political, production and moral.
For many at the recuperated enterprises, the occupation of their workplace meant much more than safe-guarding their jobs, it also became part of a struggle for a world without exploitation.
“The recuperated enterprises are working to change society. We are changing the way of working, working without exploitation and show workers that we can function without bosses,” says Jorge Suarez from Hotel BAUEN, an operating worker occupied hotel in down town Buenos Aires.
Argentina’s worker factory takeovers reflect a strategy of workers defending their rights and taking hold of their own destiny. Hard times require desperate measures – and one measure may be for workers to occupy, resist and produce.
Marie Trigona is a writer, radio producer and filmmaker based in Argentina. She can be reached at email@example.com
Posted by rogerhollander in Argentina, Chile, El Salvador, Latin America, Torture, Uruguay.
Tags: argentina dictatorship, cesar chelala, chile dictatorship, chile torture, dan mitrione, dwight d.eisenhower, el salvador massacre, foreign policy, foreign policy torture, latin american military, migel angle estrella, office of public safety, pinochet, School of the Americas, torture, u.s. advisors, uruguay torture, uruguayan guerrillas, victor jara
“We are going to smash your hands to pulp like the Chileans did to Victor Jara.” Those were the words of the torturers in a Uruguayan prison spoken to my friend Miguel Angel Estrella, a pianist from Argentina. They were referring to the fate of the imprisoned Chilean singer and guitarist Victor Jara, whose hands were destroyed so that he would never play the guitar again. Jara, a fervent opponent of the Pinochet regime, was brutally tortured and later machine-gunned to death after the coup that brought Pinochet to power in 1973.
Estrella was being held in Uruguay’s Libertad prison, accused of being a guerrilla from Argentina fighting the Argentine military regime. Unable to prove the charges against him, and given the unprecedented international pressure, the Uruguayan government released him in 1978, having kidnapped him at the end of 1977.
Estrella was luckier than most of those imprisoned by the South American military. Although tortured and held for a long time in isolation, Estrella eventually recovered, leads a brilliant career as a musician, and is now Argentina’s Ambassador to UNESCO.
One of those training the Uruguayan torturers was an American operative, Daniel (Dan) Mitrione, who was later captured and killed by Uruguayan guerrillas. According to A.J. Langguth, a former New York Times bureau chief in Saigon, Mitrione was among the US advisers who taught torture to the Brazilian police.
Mitrione’s method for the application of torture was carefully orchestrated. Langguth reports that the method was described in detail in a book by Manuel Hevia Cosculluela, a Cuban double agent who worked for the C.I.A., “Passport 11333, Eight Years with the C.I.A.”
This is Mitrione’s voice: “When you receive a subject, the first thing to do is to determine his physical state, his degree of resistance, through a medical examination. A premature death means a failure by the technician. Another important thing to know is exactly how far you can go given the political situation and the personality of the prisoner. It is very important to know beforehand whether we have the luxury of letting the subject die….Before all else, you must be efficient. You must cause only the damage that is strictly necessary, not a bit more. We must control our tempers in any case. You have to act with the efficiency and cleanliness of a surgeon and with the perfection of an artist…”
In Uruguay, Mitrione was the head of the Office of Public Safety, a U.S. government agency established in 1957 by US President Dwight D. Eisenhower to train foreign police forces. At Mitrione’s funeral, Ron Ziegler, the Nixon administration’s spokesman, stated that Mitrione’s “devoted service to the cause of peaceful progress in an orderly world will remain as an example for free men everywhere.” Thanks to former Senator James Abourezk’s efforts, the policy advisory program was abolished in 1974.
Mitrione’s case was far from unique. Through the School of the Americas, thousands of military and police officers from Latin America were trained in repressive methods, including torture.
On November 16, 1989, six Jesuit priests, a co-worker and her teenage daughter were massacred in El Salvador. I knew one of those killed, Ignacio Martin-Baró, vice-rector of the Central American University. He was the closest I have ever been to a saint. A U.S. Congressional Task Force concluded that those responsible for their deaths were trained at the U.S. Army School of the Americas at Ft. Benning, Georgia.
Human beings make culture. And we also make torture, that bastard child of culture. It is up to us to change this situation. When running for president Barak Obama stated, referring to the Iraq war. “It is not enough to get out of Iraq; we have to get out of the mindset that led us into Iraq.” A similar assertion could be made about torture. It is not enough to say that torture will not be practiced any longer by the U.S. We need to get out of the mindset that made torture possible in the first place.
Posted by rogerhollander in Latin America, Argentina, Foreign Policy.
Tags: roger hollander, henry kissinger, U.S. imperialism, bay of pigs, benjamin dangl, president obama, latin america politics, latin america history, daniel ortega, summit of the americas, argentina dictatorship, mothers of the plaza de mayo, general videla, argentina torture, argentina missing, plaza de mayo, hebe bonafini, disappeared argentina, argentina military dictatorship, argentina history, argentina politics
Tuesday 21 April 2009
by: Benjamin Dangl, t r u t h o u t | Report
The weekend that the hemisphere’s presidents met in Trinidad at the Summit of the Americas marked the same weekend that Cuba defeated the US in the Bay of Pigs invasion 48 years ago. At the Summit, Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega recalled the invasion in a speech that rightly criticized US imperialism throughout the 20th century. President Barack Obama replied, “I’m grateful that President Ortega did not blame me for things that happened when I was three months old.”
However, as the US president, Obama inherits a bloody legacy that is still very much alive in today’s Latin America. Just weeks before the presidents met in Trinidad, thousands of Argentines marched once again to demand justice for 30,000 people disappeared in a US-backed military dictatorship.
On March 24, 1976 a military junta took power in Argentina, and, until 1981, General Jorge Rafael Videla presided over the country in a reign of terror, torture, surveillance and murder.
On March 24, 2009, in Mendoza, Argentina, colorful marches filled the central streets of the city in remembrance of the coup, and to demand justice. The various banners and placards waving above the crowd were a testament to Argentina’s healthy political diversity in activism and politics – from Maoists selling their newspapers to Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo giving teary hugs to supporters and friends.
Though the march was organized around one central theme – justice, truth and memory regarding the dictatorship – other themes arose in the crowd as well, including the negative impact of soy production, rising bus fares and political corruption.
The march was a time to remember when Henry Kissinger gave his blessing to the Argentine military junta in 1976, saying, “If there are things that have to be done, you should do them quickly” and reassuring the torturing, bloody leaders when he said, “I don’t want to give the sense that they’re harassed by the United States.”
Marches and protests in Buenos Aires on the same day were attended by the famous Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo, a powerful human rights movement that for decades has been demanding the truth regarding the whereabouts of their disappeared children. One document read by some of the Mothers explained that still, after all these years, “the slowness of justice generates impunity and impunity only creates more impunity.”
A column by one leading Mother of the Plaza de Mayo, Hebe Bonafini, explained that her movement is also doing more than just marching and lobbying for justice. Their reach has expanded into all kinds of media and walks of life. They have opened a literary café and publishing house, and hold seminars which 2,800 different students attend. Their “Shared Dreams” project provides housing in poor neighborhoods as well as soup kitchens and daycare centers. Their radio station reaches into neighboring Uruguay and as far away as Brazil.
During the Buenos Aires mobilizations, the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo spoke of the fact that “today there have still only been 44 sentences” for the authors of “a plan of systematic extermination” during the dictatorship. Therefore, the Mothers said, “we have to keep on fighting for truth and justice,” as there are still 526 criminals of the dictatorship that still need to be tried. They demanded an “opening of the all of the archives of the Armed Forces and security to know to the truth.” They also called for the appearance of Julio López, the main testifier in a case against Miguel Etchecolatz, a repressor under the dictatorship.
Julio López, a political prisoner during the dictatorship, was disappeared in 2006 a few hours before he was scheduled to testify against Etchecolatz. López was last seen on September 18, 2006. Journalist Marie Trigona reported that Nilda Eloy, another survivor of the dictatorship who testified with López to convict Etchecolatz, said, “Most of the evidence suggests that Julio López was kidnapped by the gangsters from the Greater Buenos Aires police force and rightwing fascists …”
Outside Buenos Aires, other cities remembered these harsh times that still cast shadows over generations upon generations. But this March 24 was also a time of hope and reconstruction. In Cordoba, Argentina, La Perla (The Pearl), a detention and torture center run by the military dictatorship was transformed into a “Space for Memory” and opened to the public. Emiliano Fessia, a member of the HIJOS human rights organization, said of the space, “This will now be a place of life, after being a place of death.”
Benjamin Dangl, based in Paraguay, is the author of “The Price of Fire: Resource Wars and Social Movements in Bolivia” (AK Press), and the editor of UpsideDownWorld.org, a web site on activism and politics in Latin America, and TowardFreedom.com, a progressive perspective on world events. Email: Bendangl@gmail.com.
Posted by rogerhollander in Latin America, Argentina, Labor, Venezuela.
Tags: labor, labour, unions, roger hollander, working class, workers, bank of america, benjamin dangl, republic window, plant occupation, worker run cooperative, mike meinster, united electrical workers, argentina workers, venezuela workers, landless brazil, canadian auto workers, caw, latin america labor, armando robles
Armando Robles, president of Local 1110 of the United Electrical Workers union, speaks about the action against Republic Windows and Doors. (Photo: Justin Goh / ChiTown Daily News)
www.truthout.org , January 16, 2009
Benjamin Dangl, t r u t h o u t | Interview
On December 5, 2008, over 200 recently fired workers at the Republic Window and Doors factory in Chicago occupied their plant, demanding they be paid their vacation and severance checks. The occupation ended victoriously six days later when the Bank of America and other lenders to Republic agreed to pay the workers the approximately $2 million owed to them.
But the workers didn’t stop there. They are now seeking ways to restart the factory and potentially operate it as a worker-run cooperative. The workers are also filing charges against their former employer for failing to give the workers sufficient notice of plans to shut the factory down; the workers were only given three days’ notice, and the management refused to negotiate with the workers’ union about the closure.
In this interview, Mark Meinster, the International Representative for the United Electrical Workers (UE) – the union the Republic workers belong to – talks about his role as the coordinator for the plant occupation, connections between the struggle of the Republic workers and workers’ struggles and tactics in South America, the fight to reopen the plant and what the Republic workers’ strategies say about social change in an economic downturn.
Benjamin Dangl: First, please briefly describe your role in the union, in the occupation of the Republic Windows and Doors factory, and the ongoing struggle of the Republic workers.
Mark Meinster: I’m an International Representative for the United Electrical Workers (UE). My primary responsibility is to oversee the union’s organizing work and staff in Chicago, Illinois, and Milwaukee, Wisconsin. I was the lead organizer on the effort to organize the Republic workers into UE in 2004 and led negotiations for a first contract in 2005. Since then, I and UE Field Organizer Leah Fried have worked with the local on leadership and steward training, grievance handling and contract negotiations. I coordinated the plant occupation at Republic Windows and Doors and participated in negotiations with the employer and the financial institutions involved and continue to work on efforts to reopen the plant.
BD: Could you please talk about some of the connections you see between the Republic workers’ struggle and actions and the strategies and experiences of similar workers’ groups in Argentina and Venezuela and the landless farmers in Brazil? How did you learn about these struggles and come to apply them in Chicago as a union organizer?
MM: Obviously there is a long history of workers taking actions of this type, both within the US and in other countries. Because there have been very few plant occupations in the US since the 1930s, we needed to look to workers’ struggles in other countries for recent guidance. For example, the Canadian Auto Workers, who have engaged in similar actions over the past 20 years to protest plant closings and win severance benefits, provided us with invaluable technical advice.
But in many respects, workers’ struggles in Latin America were the biggest inspiration for the Republic occupation. I had read about the land occupations carried out by the Movimento dos Trabalhadores Rurais Sem Terra in an interview with Joao Pedro Stedile in 2002. I was struck by the MST’s focus on popular education and leadership development, and especially the way they placed the occupation tactic within the context of the right to unused land enshrined in the Brazilian constitution. The occupation, although technically an illegal tactic, was used to enforce a legal right. This gives workers confidence and places the struggle on a moral plane, allowing for more significant community and political support. We drew on this concept in planning the Republic occupation.
Current UE Local 1110 President Armando Robles attended the World Social Forum in Caracas, Venezuela, in 2006. There, he heard from workers from Inveval, a “recovered” factory in Venezuela. They had inspired a movement of workers occupying and running factories, with the help of the government, that had been abandoned by bosses who had fled the country. Armando returned from that experience politicized and inspired. I visited Venezuela in 2007 and spent time visiting worker-run co-ops. I was struck by the workers’ investment in the revolutionary process and their ability to run production without management.
We drew on the Argentine factory occupations to the extent that they show that during an economic crisis, workers movements are afforded a wider array of tactical options. Militant action can win public support during a downturn in ways that would have been impossible before. In fact, the film “The Take” was screened in the factory during the occupation in a makeshift movie theater set up in the locker room.
BD: Is there a plan to transform the Republic factory into a worker-run cooperative? If so, how did the decision to do this come about? At this point, how is the process going of setting this up?
MM: At this point we are working to find a buyer for the factory, focusing on firms specializing in energy-efficient windows. Though, we are also exploring the idea of a cooperative enterprise; the fact that no real movement of worker-run enterprises exists in the US makes this option much more difficult at this point. The workers have set up an entity called the “Windows of Opportunity Fund,” to help provide technical assistance and study this and other possibilities for restarting production.
BD: Could you comment on the role the Republic workers’ struggle in inspiring workers across the US to take up similar tactics to confront unemployment and problems related to the current US economic downturn?
MM: I think the Republic struggle shows we can win support for bold tactics, especially when we think carefully about how we project the struggle to the public. Time will tell whether the Republic struggle will be viewed as a bell-weather event or a flash in the pan. On the one hand, the occupation led to a huge outpouring of support – from solidarity rallies all across the country to donations of money, food and essential supplies. That this support was on a scale unthinkable only a year ago is proof that this action spoke to the desire of working-class people to seek ways to resist the current economic onslaught. On the other hand, for this event to be a spark, others will have to pick up the baton. That means organized labor will have to take some measure of risk, embracing militant tactics when necessary and abandoning its reliance on political maneuvering as the primary means for the advancement of a working class agenda.
Benjamin Dangl is the author of “The Price of Fire: Resource Wars and Social Movements in Bolivia” (AK Press). He is the editor of TowardFreedom.com, a progressive perspective on world events, and UpsideDownWorld.org, a web site on activism and politics in Latin America.