Argentina’s last dictator, Reynaldo Bignone, and other former military officers were sentenced to prison on May 27 for their roles in Operation Condor in the 1970s. The criminal court in Buenos Aires handed Bignone a 20-year prison term on top of his previous sentences for crimes against humanity. The trial began with 22 defendants, but five died or were absolved. According to attorneys for advocacy groups, this was an important step in human rights because "it is the first time the existence of Operation Condor has been proved in court." Operation Condor was a multi-state campaign that created and sanctioned death squads from South American countries to kidnap, torture and kill political opponents from each others' countries who had fled their country of origin. Evidence was produced during the trials that showed the US was aware of Operation Condor and played a role.
On May 25, Argentina's Revolution Day, some 20 townspeople in Jáchal, San Juan province, held a "patriotic march" to oppose the local operations of Barrick Gold—only to be surrounded and arrested by the police. Organizers said the march was peaceful, but the town's mayor, Miguel Vega, said that he was illegally detained and assaulted by protesters. The town saw a recent controversy, when the municipal council, with Vega's support, voted down a measure to hold a popular consulta or referndum on the mine's operations. (InfoBae, Diario La Provincia, May 26; Diario de Cuyo, May 19) Meanwhile, operators of Argentina's biggest open-pit mine at Bajo de la Alumbrera, Catamarca province, also the site of repeated protest campaigns, announced that the facility will be closing next year, its lode of gold and copper nearly exhasuted. (La Nación, May 26)
A wave of student protests demanding education reform in Chile has been met with harsh repression, leading to charges of "torture" recalling the era of military rule. Clashes with police during President Michelle Bachelet's state-of-the-nation addres in Valparaiso made English-language headlines May 21. Demonstrators set up barricades and hurled fire-bombs, torching a pharmacy and supermarket, while police fired tear-gas and water cannon. A security guard reportedly died from smoke inhalation. Three days later, protesters actually invaded the presidential palace in Santiago, forcing their way past guards. Winning few headlines outside Chile is the controversy over abuse of arrested protesters. Most egregious is the case of Roberto Zambrano Freire, 18, who was arrested at a protest outside the National Institute, the country's most prestigious school, on May 17 and apparently beaten after being made to strip naked while in custody. The student's father, Roberto Zambrano Sepúlveda, says he is pressing for an investigation but is not optimistic, noting that "It is my boy's word against the Carabineros." He added: "The Carabineros of Chile continue operating with the same methods as the under the dictatorship." (TeleSur, BBC News, Diario UChile, BiobioChile, La Tendencia, RPP, Univision)
The UN Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf (CLCS) ruled on March 28 that Argentina's maritime territory includes the area surrounding the Falkland Islands. Argentina had previously submitted to the commission a report fixing the territory at 350 [nautical] miles from its coast instead of 200. The commission made clear that it was not in a position to consider and qualify parts of the submission that are subject to dispute. The commission's findings expand the maritime territory of Argentina by 35%. Susana Malcorra, Argentina's foreign minister, maintained that the findings reaffirm the country's sovereignty rights over the resources of its continental shelf. The findings have been dismissed by the UK as recommendations that are not legally binding.
President Obama's visit to Argentina this week coincided with the 40th anniversary of the 1976 military coup that opened the country's "Dirty War," in which thousands of leftist dissidents were killed or "disappeared" during a seven-year dictatorship. Obama made note of the occassion, joining with Argentine President Mauricio Macri to visit the Monument to the Victims of State Terrorism at Remembrance Park in Buenos Aires. But the visit was boycotted and protested by some advocates of justice for the "Dirty War" victims. "We will not allow the power that orchestrated dictatorships in Latin America and oppresses people across the world to cleanse itself and use the memory of our 30,000 murdered compatriots to strengthen its imperialist agenda," said a statement by Myriam Bregman of the Center for Human Rights Professionals and other advocates. Nora Cortiñas of the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo said: "I lament that Marci has accepted that the executive of the United States come during these days. It is inappropriate, a provocation."
In Brazil's biggest protests since the end of the military dictatorship in 1985, thousands have poured into the streets in cities cities across the country to denounce President Dilma Rousseff's appointment of her predecessor and political mentor, Luiz Inacio "Lula" da Silva, as chief of staff. Days of nationwide demonstrations reached a climax as Lula was sworn in on March 17. In Brasilia, riot police fired pepper spray to disperse protesters who massed outside the presidential palace, chanting "Dilma out!" Demonstrators say Rousseff transparently appointed Lula in order to give him immunity as he comes under investigation in a corruption scandal at the state oil company Petrobras.
Argentine lawyer and federal prosecutor Alberto Nisman was the victim of murder according to Criminal Appeals Court Prosecutor Ricardo Sáenz in a Feb. 25 decision. The declaration is the first time a judicial authority has suggested the death as a homicide since the mysterious tragedy in January 2015. Sáenz recommended that the case be handed to federal authorities and investigated as a murder. The prosecutor wrote that he agreed with the assassination theory that Nisman's family presented in a complaint to the appeals court in Buenos Aires and that all the evidence points to Nisman's death as a murder, not a suicide. Judge and Nisman's former wife, Sandra Arroyo Salgado, also maintains that the case be handed over to federal authorities in order to fulfill their role as the country's institution for investigating the suspicious death of a public servant. The court will evaluate Sáenz's findings on March 18.
Riot police fired rubber bullets and tear-gas at protesting public-sector workers recently laid off by budget cuts in Argentina's La Plata municipality on Jan. 8, with several left wounded. The workers were protesting a decision by local mayor Julio Garro that canceled 4,500 contracts on Dec. 31. The country's new right-wing President Mauricio Macri's administration has laid off 10,000 public-sector workers since the beginning of 2016. In his one month since taking office, he has signed 29 Necessity and Urgency Decrees (DNUs) intended to institute structural reform and reverse the legacy of his center-left predecssor Cristina Fernández de Kirchner. The mass lay offs have affected workers throughout Argentina and more are expected. (La Nación, TeleSur, Revolution News, Jan. 8; Perfil, Jan. 3)