After Decades, Latin American Nations Focus on Rights Abuses





After years of inertia, governments throughout Latin America have recently shown surprising vigor in prosecuting human rights violations that occurred, in some cases, 30 years ago or more. Chile, for instance, has offered reparations to torture victims and forced the army to apologize for its abuses, while the Supreme Court in Argentina in June declared unconstitutional a pair of amnesty laws from the 1980's.

Why this sudden activity? After all, reopening issues like forced disappearances, torture and state-sanctioned murder is painful for any society and hardly as popular with voters as, say, creating jobs or building roads or schools.

"What's happening now is not a coincidence, or like some kind of flower that has blossomed overnight," argues Víctor Abramovich of the Center for Legal and Social Studies here, one of Argentina's leading human rights group. "It's a regional process that has taken years to mature."

Indeed, even nations that for years did their utmost to forget the past have now been confronting incidents once thought safely buried. In Uruguay, a leftist government, led by Tabaré Vázquez, took power for the first time in March and a former president, Juan María Bordaberry, was indicted three months later for the 1976 murders of two political leaders.

Mexico charged one of its former presidents, Luis Echeverría, with genocide last year for his role in a "dirty war" against students and leftists in the late 1960's and early 1970's. And in Peru, military, intelligence and police officials involved in abuses during the authoritarian rule of Alberto K. Fujimori in the 1990's are also facing charges.

One factor is clearly generational. Men and women who came of age politically during the height of the abuses in the 1970's are now becoming presidents, judges, cabinet ministers and senators, like President Néstor Kirchner here and his wife, Senator Cristina Fernández.




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