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Latin America Remembers the Disappeared

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 organized by the Association of Relatives of Detenidos-Desaparecidos (Disappeared Detainees). 2009, Santiago, Chile. Photo courtesy of antitezo on Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0).

This is the first part of a two-part article.

The Latin American Federation of Associations for Relatives of the Detained and Disappeared and the Organization for the United Nations declared August 30 as an international day of remembrance to commemorate the victims of forced disappearances and remind governments worldwide that the loved ones of those who have disappeared have not forgotten them.

During this time, many movements and organizations have utilized the Internet as a space to tell their stories and to reflect together about the state's use of terrorism that is common in times of dictatorships.

In accordance with a Wikipedia article:

El crimen de desaparición forzada, definido en textos internacionales y la legislación penal de varios países, está caracterizado por la privación de la libertad de una persona por parte de agentes del Estado o grupos o individuos que actúan con su apoyo, seguida de la negativa a reconocer dicha privación o su suerte, con el fin de sustraerla de la protección de la ley. El asesinato de la persona víctima de desaparición forzada, frecuentemente tras un cautiverio con torturas en un paradero oculto, pretende favorecer deliberadamente la impunidad de los responsables, que actúan con el fin de intimidar o aterrorizar a la comunidad o colectivo social al que pertenece la persona.

Forced disappearance as a crime, defined by international texts and penal legislation in various countries, is characterized by the imprisonment of people by agents of the state or groups or individuals acting with their support, following a refusal to recognize said imprisonment or their fate with the goal of removing any protection by the law. The murder of a victim of forced disappearance, frequently through captivity and torture in a hidden location, deliberately favors the impunity of those responsible, who operate with an objective to intimidate or terrorize the victim's community or society.

These disappearances have left a profound footprint on Latin American cities and towns, places where similar cases exist today. Collecting a representative number of demonstrations and activities that can be found on the Internet would be impossible in just one post. Furthermore, it is important to point out that cases of disappearances differ from country to country and region to region in accordance with the nature of their particular conflicts.

Hoping to bring ourselves closer to the various movements seen on the web and to understand what could be behind these crimes, we will share here what can only be a small sampling of the stories told online and the organizations that connect those who remember the disappeared through the Internet; and that seek to, at the same time, see that justice is done and keep memories alive.

The Villa Grimaldi Park and Museum [es] in Chile offers activities and provides an oral archive of stories from some of the relatives of victims of forced disappearances that took place during Augusto Pinochet's dictatorship. In the following video, some participants explain the importance of recollecting memories and testimonies:

In The Clinic, Héctor Salazar reflects [es] upon the importance of a continuous dialogue about the facts surrounding the disappearances and abrupt power shifts in the face of the anniversary of the coup d'état against Salvador Allende. For Salazar, certain elements should be highlighted:

Muchos se preguntan el por qué vamos recurrentemente a nuestro pasado reciente […] pareciera que existe en nosotros una tendencia inevitable por seguir escarbando en ese pasado como si en ello se nos fuera la vida. […] Las causas del golpe militar son materia de debate y nos cuesta mucho concordar los múltiples factores que incidieron en dicho desenlace en razón de que el camino recorrido para ir aceptando las responsabilidades propias ha sido escatimado buscando cargar las tintas en el adversario… [Así] la mentira se instaló oficialmente ese mismo once de septiembre en el país y los que la instalaron fueron las propias fuerzas armadas.

Todo ello corrompió el alma nacional hasta tal punto que hoy la incredulidad es el estado natural de nuestra sociedad.

Many ask themselves the reason why we keep looking back to our recent past [...] it would seem that we have an inevitable tendency to continue digging up that past as if it were life to us. [...] The causes of the military coup are material for debate and it is very trying for us to agree on the multiple factors that played a part in said outcome because the path taken to accepting responsibilities has been spared in exchange for piling the blame on the enemy… That's how the lie was officially installed that same September 11 and those that put it there were armed forces of that country.

All of that corrupted the national spirit to such a point that today incredulity is a natural state of our society.

On El Quinto Poder [es] during Mother's Day celebrations, Felipe Henríquez wrote about an approach to understanding the pain of the mothers of the disappeared and dedicated his words “to those mothers of this Chile without sons and daughters that are not celebrated today but rather commemorated.”:

A esas madres que se ven a sí mismas frente al espejo, sesenta años después de haberlos parido, pariéndolos una y otra vez todas las mañanas. Treinta y ocho años sin sus hij@s, en una vida eterna.

To those mothers that see themselves in the mirror, sixty years after giving birth to them, giving birth to them again and again every morning. Thirty-eight years without their sons and daughters, an eternal life.

In Colombia, the Medellín Municipal Counsel [es] publishes information concerning forced disappearances in Antioquia, which according to the blog is the Colombian department with the highest rate of forced disappearances:

Medellín presenta este año dos mil desaparecidos, de los cuales 199 casos son por desaparición forzada.

This year Medellín has reported two thousand disappeared persons, 199 of which are cases of forced disappearance.

Also in Colombia, where forced disappearances are tied to paramilitary groups, Pablo Romero collects one of the numerous testimonies that mothers of the disappeared may give:

From Argentina, Rubén Reveco [es] explains some of the characteristics of forced disappearances.

La desaparición forzada se ha usado a menudo como estrategia para infundir el terror en los ciudadanos. La sensación de inseguridad que esa práctica genera no se limita a los parientes próximos del desaparecido, sino que afecta a su comunidad y al conjunto de la sociedad.

Forced disappearance is often used as a strategy to inspire terror amongst citizens. The feeling of insecurity that this action generates is not limited to the close relatives of the disappeared. Rather, it affects the community and the society as a whole.

In the same way, Reveco notes the presence of these crimes on an international level and emphasizes that many victims may come from human rights defense groups and that they may also suffer from significant physical limitations that make the situation much more awful.

Las desapariciones forzadas, que en su día fueron principalmente el producto de las dictaduras militares, pueden perpetrarse hoy día en situaciones complejas de conflicto interno, especialmente como método de represión política de los oponentes.

Es motivo de especial preocupación:

-el acoso de los defensores de los derechos humanos, los parientes de las víctimas, los testigos y los abogados que se ocupan de los casos de desaparición forzada;

-el uso por los Estados de la lucha contra el terrorismo como excusa para el incumplimiento de sus obligaciones; y la todavía generalizada impunidad por la práctica de la desaparición forzada.

Debe prestarse también especial atención a los grupos de personas especialmente vulnerables, como los niños y las personas con discapacidad.

Forced disappearances, which in their day were primarily the product of military dictatorships, can be perpetrated today in complex situations during internal conflict, especially as a method of political repression of opponents.

Issues of special concern are:

-the abuse of human rights supporters, relatives of the victims, witnesses and lawyers that take on forced disappearance cases;

-the state's use of a battle against terrorism as an excuse to not fulfill their obligations; and the still generalized impunity for the practice of forced disappearance.

Special attention should also be paid to particularly vulnerable groups of people, such as children and people with disabilities.

On Tumblr, under the tag #detenidos-desaparecidos [es] (disappeared detainees), many tributes, photographs and notes are continuously posted. In particular, the page publishes quotes, photographs and slogans that aim to contribute to the fight to keep memory alive through this social medium.

Another demonstration of the fight to keep memory alive and a way to help us understand the sorrow of the loved ones of someone who has disappeared can be seen in the blog titled Daniel Acosta [es]. This blog serves as a space for Daniel Acosta's family members to post photographs, connect with institutions and write on key anniversaries in an attempt to stop time in the moment that Daniel was forced to disappear, September 14, 1979. The blog's introduction reads:

Pese a los años que han pasado de tu desaparición, tu ausencia se siente como si fuera ayer. Esos ojos azules como el cielo que aun vemos, ese corazón noble y luchador con que te recuerdan. No nos devolverán tu hermosa mirada, es cierto,ni ese gran corazón, pero tu lucha no fue en vano Dani…

Despite the years that have passed since your disappearance, your absence is felt as if it were yesterday. Those sky blue eyes that we still see, that noble, tenacious heart with which you are remembered. Your beautiful gaze will not be returned to us, that is certain, and neither will that heart, but your fight was not in vain Dani…

Various artists have also united in the recovery of memory. Among them, Rubén Blades wrote a song called “Desapariciones”, which was written and recorded in honor of victims of forced disappearances. Youtube user “daspork” shares a video of a musician performing the song on the metro.

Marcelo Bulgarelli used Maná's version of the song to create a video that combines images, video and bitter testimonies of some of the mothers of the disappeared.

Gathering these experiences is not only a difficult job but also a limited one. Virtual networks in the region overflow with photographs, songs, tributes, blogs and debates. In an effort to collect a bit more of what can be found on the internet concerning this subject, there will be a second part to this article in hopes of including more stories from other countries in the region.

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