and legislative progress, but more access to information needed in
former Operation Condor countries
commission on the Dirty Wars a promising development
Reporters Without Borders
Many journalists were
among the victims of the military dictatorships in six South American
countries (Argentine, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay and Uruguay)
which formed a repressive alliance known as Operation Condor with US
backing in the 1970s.
While hailing the
judicial and legislative advances that have taken place in some of
these countries this week, Reporters Without Borders calls for more
access to information about this period. In this regard, the
announced creation of a joint commission of enquiry into the
Operation Condor years by the MERCOSUR countries (Argentina, Brazil,
Paraguay and Uruguay) is very promising.
A total of 112
journalists, columnists and writers lost their lives or "disappeared"
during Isabel Martínez de Perón's presidency (1974-76) and the
ensuing military dictatorship (1976-83).
Rodolfo Walsh, who
disappeared after being kidnapped March 25, 1977, was the best known
of the Argentine journalists who fell victim to state terror because
of their work or their political involvement. The list also includes
foreigners such as the Uruguayan politician and journalist Zelmar
Michelini, who was murdered in Buenos Aires in May 1976, and the
Italian-American Toni Agatina Motta, who disappeared in Buenos Aires
in October 1980.
"It is with very
great satisfaction that we welcome the long jail sentences that a
Buenos Aires court imposed on October 26 on 16 of the former military
and police officers who were tried for the worst human rights
violations every committed in this part of the world," Reporters
Without Borders secretary-general Jean-François Julliard said.
"The murderers of
Rodolfo Walsh and so many others, including the former naval captains
Alfredo Astiz and Jorge Acosta, who received life sentences, have
finally received the punishment that an entire people and families in
other countries had awaited for so long. A trial of this importance
would not have been possible without a long campaign by civil
society, which in return must be allowed access in the relevant
countries to all the information about a period that is still very
present in the minds of so many."
This demand also concerns
the US government, which began to open its archives during Bill
Clinton's presidency in June 1999.
The hope of justice in
Uruguay might have been dashed forever if its parliament had not
adopted a new law on October 27, which abolished time limits on the
punishment of crimes committed under the military-backed regime that
governed from 1973 to 1985. It was high time, as the time limit was
to have expired on November 1.
The law's adoption was in
line with President José Mújica's decision in July to authorize the
reopening of 80 investigations into crimes committed during the
dictatorship. This had been blocked by an amnesty known as the Expiry
Law, which was ratified twice by a referendum, in 1989 and 2009, and
was declared unconstitutional twice. Parliament voted to repeal by
one vote last May.
The law abolishing time
limits has sent a clear signal to the judicial system. But will it
make such a big difference for researchers, whose work is often
blocked by the military's silence and refusal to cooperate? This is
the key question, according to the journalist Roger Rodríguez, a
specialist in this area, who was recently the victim of a campaign
of online threats by former soldiers and their
"This law still has
to be promulgated and still has to escape being declared
unconstitutional by the supreme court of justice," Rodríguez
told Reporters Without Borders. "The state must declassify the
dictatorship's archives. A way must be found to break the military
pact of silence."
It seems that justice
will have to travel a much longer road in Brazil, where the 1979
amnesty law was upheld by the Federal Supreme Tribunal (STF) in 2010.
It renders the military officers who were responsible for crimes
under the 1964-85 dictatorship untouchable. Will those who murdered
journalists such as Vladimir
Herzog --- the TV Cultura editor in chief who
was kidnapped and tortured to death by the São Paulo military police
in October 1975 --- remain unpunished forever?
Whatever the answer to
that question, Reporters Without Borders welcomes the senate's
approval on October 25 of a law on access to information which, after
it is promulgated, could unlock secrets that have been jealously
guarded by various institutions including the armed forces since the
dictatorship. Under the new law, "top-secret" files will be
declassified after 25 years, "secret" files will be
declassified after 15 years and "restricted" files will be
declassified after five years.
"After the 'Revealed
Memories' project established during Lula's presidency, this access
to information law represents another encouraging step towards the
truth, in the absence of justice," Reporters Without Borders
said. "We nonetheless fear that one of the new law's provisions
could be used to reclassify many important 'top-secret' files for
another 25 years. This provision constitutes an obvious obstacle to
the publication of evidence and the possibility of using it in any
trial. We hope President Dilma Rousseff will veto it."
Reporters Without Borders
notes that, at the same time as it approved this law, the senate also
approved the proposed creation of a truth commission on human rights
violations under the military dictatorship.
Judicial progress is
still awaited in Chile, where seven former soldiers were formally
accused on October 26 of the murders of three Uruguayans during the
early stages of the 1973-90 military dictatorship.
"We take this
opportunity to point out that the still very present Pinochet
heritage is currently being seriously challenged from within Chilean
society, especially by its students," Reporters Without Borders
added. "This heritage continues to have a very negative
effect on the media, which lack diversity and
are poorly distributed. It is time for a process of renewal in
the 1954-89 dictatorship in Paraguay, Reporters Without Borders
recommends consulting the Virtual
Museum that was
opened this year by the Centre for Development Information and
Argentina, Bolivia has been a pioneer in access to information. It
the archives of
General García Meza's 1980-81 dictatorship in May 2010.