In an about-face, Peruvian President Alan García has asked his National Congress to repeal a controversial decree he issued two weeks ago which gives what Reuters calls “virtual amnesty” to hundreds of human rights violators. Here’s the chronology of what seems to be a pretty remarkable example of successful human rights community mobilization.
First, the decree under question. A statement from nearly 30 regional human rights groups, released late last week maintains that Decree 1097 seeks to guarantee that human rights violations which occurred in Peru during the 1990s are not considered “crimes against humanity” but rather common crimes. Moreover, rights defenders maintain the measure sets a “temporal limit” on those trials already in progress and requires those cases which have extended beyond that limit to be ended. In the words of WOLA, the decree amounts to “state-sanctioned impunity.”
As reported here yesterday, Alan García, seemed to be feeling the heat from the rights community over the weekend, going so far as to tell the press Sunday that if the Peruvian Congress disapproves of the decree, he would not stand in the way of their overturning it. Then Monday, the bombshell. In a letter to the President, one of the country’s most well-known public intellectuals, author Mario Vargas Llosa, added his voice to the growing opposition. Vargas Llosa:
“The measure shows contempt for all the democratic sectors of this country as well as international public opinion, as displayed in statements by the UN, the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights, the Episcopal Conference, the Defensoria del Pueblo and representatives of numerous other social and political organizations, among them some APRA congressmen. I am in total agreement with these protests.”
But Vargas Llosa – the president of the country’s Comisión del Lugar de la Memoria -- went one step further, resigning from the post to which President García had appointed him. “The reason for my resignation,” said Vargas Llosa Monday, “is the recent Legislative Decree 1097, which undeniably constitutes a disguised amnesty intended to benefit a significant number of individuals connected to the dictatorship.” The Peruvian author continued: “There is an essential incompatibility between sponsoring the construction of a museum to remember the victims of violence unleashed by the Shining Path terrorists and giving liberty to those who, in the course of repressing fanatics, also committed horrendous crimes.”
Upon receiving the letter, IDL-Reporteros says Mr. Garcia immediately telephoned Vargas Llosa, currently in Paris, and indicated that 1) Rafael Rey, the country’s defense minister and one of the principal authors of the decree, was going to be relieved of his position and 2) a bill would be sent to the Congress to overturn decree 1097. Vargas Llosa thanked the president for the change in direction but said he had no intention of revoking his resignation. Just hours later came the public announcement, in just 19 words, released via Twitter. “Ejecutivo presenta Proyecto de Ley para derogar Decreto Legislativo 1097 y pide a Congreso tramitarlo con carácter de urgencia.” For his part, the aforementioned Rey had this to say late Monday: “If Congress annuls [DL 1097], that’s their right, but I will fight until the end.”
To other stories:
· The Lat Am headline in the US press this morning comes from Cuba where the Cuban Worker’s Central announced yesterday that the government would be laying off some 500,000 from the public sector – what the AP says will amount to “one-tenth of the island's 5.1 million-strong work force looking for jobs in the private sector by April 2011.” The New York Times this morning quotes the younger Castro, who in a speech before the National Assembly last month, argued the country had to “erase forever the notion that Cuba is the only country in the world where one can live without working.” Since taking over from his brother Fidel, the Times notes that Raul’s government has “handed tens of thousands of acres of state-held farmland to private farmers and begun freeing up a market for agricultural supplies. It has loosened restrictions on cell phones and other electronics, and created a few areas for private business, allowing barbers’ shops to become cooperatives and giving more licenses to private taxi drivers.” But Monday’s announcement may be the most dramatic economic reform “since the early 1990s,” according to the Wall Street Journal. Meanwhile, the Council on Foreign Relations’ Julia Sweig, recently back from meeting with Fidel Castro in Havana, says the Cuban government is “in the process of massively reducing the size and participation of the state in Cuban life” -- adding that the government may be preparing to open up a vast range of private activities, including light manufacturing like furniture making and garment production. Coming after mixed messages from Fidel on the economy last week, here’s Sweig with today’s quote of the day. “When global capitalism takes over the world, Fidel's going to be the last man standing, but he's also not going to get in his brother's way.” More good analysis from Phil Peters at the Cuban Triangle.
· From Colombia, a Pro Publica report (also featured in the Washington Post over the weekend) looks at the cases of more than a dozen Colombian paramilitaries extradited to the United States to face drug trafficking charges. “The extraditions stunned Colombians, who had hoped that testimony from the men, given as part of a national amnesty program, would help expose the truth about two decades of vicious murders, assaults and kidnappings,” says the piece, and that outrage reached its “boiling point” earlier in the year when a US District Judge “blocked public access to seven of the paramilitary leaders' cases, erasing virtually every trace of their existence.” According to the report, the cases are “are drawing new attention to the practice of sealing entire court files, triggering a broader controversy over judicial secrecy.”
· Also from Colombia, President Juan Manuel Santos has announced the intensification of military operations against the FARC after a “string of deadly attacks” launched by the rebel group in recent weeks. And if you have 45 minutes today, I highly recommend Al-Jazeera’s new feature video report on Colombia. Entitled “Heirs,” Latin American correspondent Teresa Bo takes viewers through the complex history of Colombian violence.
· Seeking ways to put a halt to growing citizen insecurity in Guatemala, President Alvaro Colom suggested this week that his country should consider supporting an anti-gang law, together with neighbors Honduras and El Salvador. Colom said the matter would be on his agenda the next time he sits down with Salvadoran leader Mauricio Funes, whose country implemented similar legislation last week.
· Also on Guatemala, historian Greg Grandin has a new piece on meaning of Rigoberta Menchú and Latin America’s cold war, in The Nation. The essay is adapted from the introduction to the forthcoming book, “Who Is Rigoberta Menchú? (Verso, 2011).
· AQ with a brief look at the Chilean national deputies who joined 34 Mapuche activists-turned prisoners on a hunger strike, protesting the use of Pinochet-era anti-terrorism laws to charge indigenous civilians for their role in land disputes with the government.
· Adrienne Pine at Quotha says the FNRP has exceeded its goal of collecting 1,250,000 signatures calling for a national constituent assembly, and “for the return of Presidente Manuel Zelaya Rosales, Father Andrés Tamayo and the rest of those Hondurans who have been expatriated and are in political exile.”
· More on national efforts to end cold war era impunity in the Southern Cone, from IPS.
· Politico’s Laura Rozen reports that the UN will announce today that former Chilean President Michelle Bachelet will head the UN Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women.
· And finally, there’s an interesting debate on the Venezuelan economy at Setty’s Notebook. The comments follow the release of a recent CEPR paper, co-authored by Mark Weisbrot and Rebecca Ray, which argues the Venezuelan economy may be coming out of recession. Weisbrot, Ray, and others offer replies in the comments section of Setty’s post. With the anti-chavista talking points, the executive director of the George W. Bush Institute in Dallas, writes a piece on Venezuela for Commentary.