Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Argentina’s Stolen Orphans: 114 Now Found, But Still 400 To Go...

After more than 35 years of searching, the head of Argentina’s Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo will finally be reunited with her missing grandchild, who was taken from her disappeared daughter by the military in 1978. The news, while positive, also shows there's still work to be done to identify Argentina’s disappeared and their children.

Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo President Estela de Carlotto reacted to the discovery yesterday with emotion, announcing to reporters that she was overjoyed, because she “didn't want to die without embracing him, and soon [she] will be able to.” Pagina 12 reports that de Carlotto said her grandson, apparently out of uncertainty over his parentage, had volunteered to take a genetic test last month that matched him to her DNA. The 36-year-old man, who was born as Guido Carlotto, has since been identified as Ignacio Hurban (see La NacionClarin), a jazz pianist and head of a music school in Olavarria, southwest of Buenos Aires.

Hurban is the 114th individual to be identified as a child of a Dirty War victim. The fact that he was driven to take a DNA test himself, rather than being approached by potential relatives, is a testament to the success of the Grandmothers’ awareness campaigns.

Still, this figure pales against the number of those who have not yet been identified. From 1976 to 1983, an estimated 500 children were taken from captured dissidents and placed with other families by the military government after their parents were executed. Even though Argentina has approved a law allowing courts to order compulsory genetic testing for those suspected of being children of the disappeared, less than a quarter of the total have been found.

By comparison, the percentage of disappeared whose remains have subsequently been identified is even lower. Of the roughly 20,000 people believed to have gone missing under the military junta, the bodies of less than 600 have been identified by the Argentine Forensic Anthropology Team (EAAF).

News Briefs
  • Reuters (see Estadão for Portuguese) has a special report on the preliminary findings of an investigation into the relationship between foreign companies and the Brazilian dictatorship, currently being carried out by Brazil’s National Truth Commission. While the Commission report isn’t due until December, Reuters claims to have access to its findings that foreign automakers like Volkswagen, Mercedes, Toyota and Ford all worked with the military government to “identify suspected ‘subversives’ and union activists on their payrolls.” Such evidence includes a “blacklist” of some 460 workers in São Paulo, as well as police records that specifically note they obtained detailed information from companies like Volkswagen.
  • The Guardian and The Texas Observer have published the first of a four-part joint series on those most affected by the humanitarian crisis at the U.S. southern border. In it, the author looks at the case of Salvadoran migrant Exelina Hernandez to illustrate the dangers posed by the arid ranchlands of rural Brooks County, Texas. Each year hundreds of migrants die there from heat stroke or exposure in their efforts to evade immigration patrols and checkpoints.
  • On Monday, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services officials announced the closure of three emergency migrant shelters along the Mexican border. As the New York Times  and L.A. Times report, officials say that the move comes amid a perceived decrease in the number of child migrants crossing the southwest border, though they admit it is unclear if this trend will hold.
  • The negotiating teams of the Colombian government and FARC rebels in Havana yesterday gave further details about a joint truth commission that will study responsibility for civilian deaths and abuses during the course of the country’s armed conflict. As El Espectador and El Tiempo report, the “Historic Commission of the Conflict and its Victims” will consist of 12 experts and two “rapporteurs”, with rebels and officials naming each naming half of the body. The commission will be responsible for drafting a final report on the violence in four months, beginning on August 21.
  • The Miami Herald reports that Cuban President Fidel Castro’s estranged daughter Alina Fernandez, who has long been an outspoken critic of the Cuban government, has returned to the island for the first time since leaving in 1993, in order to be with her ailing mother.
  • The AP’s Frank Bajak takes a closer look at the USAID-funded operation in which Latin American youths traveled to Cuba to recruit young dissidents. Specifically, Bajak reports on the Peruvian participants in the program, which apparently had a difficult time recruiting on college campuses, as their potential converts feared getting kicked out of university. Documents obtained by the AP also suggest that the Peruvian team, which was overseen by a current advisor to the Peruvian Minister of Education, lost track of money meant for opposition activists and failed to provide them with exit visas.
  • The U.S.-based Newmont Mining Co. won a victory in a Peruvian court yesterday against a family living on a parcel of land at the site of the world’s biggest gold mine, the controversial Conga mining project. The judge ruled against the family’s claims to the land, though defense attorneys say they will appeal the decision. La Republica reports that four of the family were convicted of trespassing  and given commuted sentences of two years and eight months each, in addition to being required to pay the company some $1,900 each for its legal costs.
  • The Wall Street Journal reports on a new survey ahead of Bolivia’s October presidential election by pollster Equipos Mori, published in El Deber yesterday. Like previous polls, this one gives President Evo Morales a strong lead over his main rival Samuel Doria Medina. However, Equipos Mori's poll suggests he could win after a first round vote, with 52 percent support.
  • The Catholic priest accused by Salvadoran officials of colluding with imprisoned gang members, Antonio Rodriguez, was released on bail on Monday only to be re-arrested hours later. According to La Prensa Grafica, prosecutors accuse Rodriguez of conspiring with a gang leader to convince authorities to move him to a lower-security prison facility, where the priest allegedly introduced contraband items like cell phones. The AP also cites public prosecutor Elsy Amaya as saying that Rodriguez convinced prison officials to lift cellphone jamming technology to allow inmates to extort individuals on the outside.
  • On Monday, the Vatican announced that Pope Francis had agreed to reinstate defrocked Nicaraguan priest Miguel D'Escoto Brockmann, who served as the Sandinista foreign minister from 1979 to 1990. D’Escoto had been suspended from the Church by John Paul II in 1985, ostensibly for defying a church ban on priests holding government jobs, though The Guardian points out that this occurred in the context of a broader crackdown on proponents of liberation theology in the Church at the time.