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Latin America: “Where do the Disappeared go?”

Manifestación convocada por la Agrupación de Familiares de Detenidos Desaparecidos. 2009, Santiago, Chile. Foto de antitezo en Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Demonstration Convened by Agrupación de Familiares de Detenidos Desaparecidos [Families of Detained Missing Persons Group]. 2009, Santiago, Chile. Photo from antitezo on Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

This is the second part of a two-part article. To read the first part click here. We also invite you to visit the Office of High Commission for Human Rights page, which you can access with this link, for some more official information on the topic.

In the previous post we explored some of the stories and activity of families of missing people in Latin America. We got closer to testimonies, we opened up contexts, and we introduced popular songs which ask, “Where do the missing people go?”

After decades of questions with no answers and cases that continue to increase the list of victims, we could say that, thanks to their relatives, the missing people and their stories can be found, if only virtually, on Internet social networks.

We see, therefore, family and friends making an effort to fight so that memories are not another victim of the forced disappearances. In this way, the internet becomes a source of innumerable initiatives and stories that fight against impunity and the return to the past.

In this post we dedicate space to the topic in Peru, Guatemala, Uruguay and Mexico. Similarly, we also mention the contribution from arcoiris TV [es], which makes accessible a documentary [es] directed by Ángel Palacios about forced disappearances in Venezuela.

In Peru, the conflict between the Peruvian State, Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path) and the MRTA (Túpac Amaru Revolutionary Movement) has been the main source of the crimes that have resulted in victims of forced disappearances.

A decade after the delivery of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Report, Spacio Libre [es] publishes observations about the results that the Peruvian justice has presented regarding the victims of forced disappearances. In the editorial, the right of the victims to get answers is defended and the unfulfilled promises that are not allowed to advance to Peruvian justice are listed:

Muy poco se ha avanzado en materia de reparaciones y sobre todo en la búsqueda de la verdad y de un proceso sincero de reconciliación, luego de la violencia desatada por la insanía terrorista de Sendero Luminoso y el MRTA y la respuesta brutal de un Estado que no dirimió entre inocentes y culpables y mató tan igual que el enemigo que perseguía.

Y es que no se puede hablar de reconciliación, cuando un sector bastante influyente de la clase política ha pretendido silenciar y desprestigiar un trabajo realizado con ahínco, con compromiso y con un interés concreto de generar memoria y buscar un camino para recuperar la esperanza de miles de familias que perdieron a un ser querido y que en muchos casos (15 mil) no tienen ni idea de donde están.

Very little has progressed in terms of compensation and above all in the search for the truth and for a sincere process of reconciliation, after the violence unleashed by the terrorist insanity of Sendero Luminoso and the MRTA and the brutal response of a State that does not distinguish between the innocent and the guilty and kills just the same as the enemy it pursues.

And the thing is you can't talk about reconciliation, when such an influential sector of the political class has tried to silence and discredit an undertaking achieved with effort, with compromise and with a concrete interest in generating a memory and searching for a way to regain hope for thousands of families that lost a loved one that in many cases (15 thousand) have no idea where they are.

Also in Peru, the historian Renzo Salvador Aroni [es] gathers stories and analyses the circumstances of families that still hope for signs from their missing relatives. In his post “The Families of the Disappeared”, the blogger defends the importance of regaining the historical memory of the country and indicates that this also involves “regaining the memory of those who are absent”:

[…] La memoria de los familiares de los desaparecidos, siguen aguardando la posibilidad de que sus seres queridos aparezcan. […] Para los familiares es muy difícil aceptar un hecho aún no concluido.

[…] The memory of the family members of the missing people, they continue believing in the possibility that their loved ones will appear. […] For the families it is very difficult to accept an event that is unresolved.

The author also explains how pieces of memory carve themselves a space in people's daily lives. He explains that these are painful experiences and sometimes they express themselves in oral narratives, in artistic representations, in dreams, and in other forms of language, and cites part of the testimonial of the mother of a missing person.

- Si lo veo, me dice: “mamá no llores por mí”.

Así me habla. Ya no lo he vuelto a ver [a mi hijo: Segundino Flores Allcaco], sólo en mis sueños. Lo veo con la misma ropa que tenía puesta.

- If I see him, he tells me: “Mum don't cry for me”.

This is how he talks to me. I haven't seen him again [my son: Segundino Flores Allcaco], only in my dreams. I see him with the same clothes he had on.

In Guatemala, where the detained and disappeared are commemorated every 21st of June, the Comunidades de Población en Resistencia (Communities of Population In Resistance) [es] blog explains that forced disappearance in Guatemala is a current circumstance, that has expanded throughout the region and that counts on the silent collaboration of power:

La desaparición forzada en Guatemala no es un hecho del pasado. Es un crimen de lesa humanidad de carácter imprescriptible instaurado en América Latina, que también permanece vigente por su continua utilización como mecanismo de control social y dominio político; así como por la impunidad que persiste sobre los hechos cometidos y que hoy se expresa, entre otras cosas, en la reconfiguración de las estructuras de poder que articularon, financiaron y callaron estos crímenes.

Forced disappearances in Guatemala are not a fact of the past. It's a crime against humanity of an imprescriptible character established in Latin America, that also remains in force because of its continued use as a social control and political dominance mechanism; as well as because of the impunity that persists about the committed acts and that is expressed today, among other things, in the reconfiguration of the power structures that articulate, finance and conceal these crimes.

The blog Familiares de Desaparecidos [Families of the Disappeared] [es] also reunites the Uruguayan families of missing people that have not stopped searching and gathers together the efforts of people who live in Uruguay or are in exile:

Desde la apertura democrática caminamos juntos respetando la diversidad de pensamientos que nos caracteriza pero unidos en torno a nuestros principales objetivos: MEMORIA, VERDAD, JUSTICIA Y NUNCA MÁS

Since the democratic opening we have walked together respecting the diversity of thoughts that characterises us but united around our principal objectives: MEMORY, TRUTH, JUSTICE AND NEVER AGAIN

In Mexico the forced disappearances explode from the war against narcotics trafficking. The Mexican Comité Cerezo [es] made available a handbook called “What to do in case of forced disappearance [es]“, downloadable from its web page.

It's important to add that the topic of disappearances is not exclusive to Latin America and does not form a part just of the historical memory. Yet the number of people who vanish in dubious circumstances is great, and many more are those who are silenced and terrorised by these crimes.

So, to conclude, it's important to highlight that the families’ struggle continues outside the Internet. And also that these initiatives and movements see their reflections online before and after the international day of their commemoration. In this way social media helps to revive the memories and connect groups of victims outside their borders. Their meeting point: the search for answers and the collective fight for justice.

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