Week 12: Speaking Truth to Power

As the course draws to a close, it has become evident that the Latin American reality, despite a lot of beauty, is one that has consistently been categorized by violence, repression and inequality. The last few weeks have felt particularly depressing, probably because we are looking at the not so distant past. Yet, although this weeks topic covers issues from only a few decades ago, it seems that its causes stem from the centuries of history that we have covered. This makes me wonder why? It seems that a lot of regions have learnt from their past; In europe large scale conflict has been missing since the end of world war 2. Or in North America we have been fairly peaceful(excluding internal oppression of minorities) since independence. Yet in Latin America, the patterns of history seem to repeat themselves. It seems to me that this is due to the entrenchment of a small political and economic elite, in a region that has come to accept violence as the norm( at least by the international community). There are so many examples of this, one of which was covered in the video Rita De Grandis.  


The military dictatorship of Argentina seems to have been one of the most brutal to have appeared throughout the region. The “Dirty War” saw the disappearance of approximately 30,000 people in a mere 7 years.


As Dawson notes, media outlets were compliant with the military which allowed them to frame the coup in a positive light. I think that it could be argued that this is due to the concentration of media ownership. The small elite who owned the means of communication were the ones who would gain from the dictatorial policies that were to come and thus were willing to support its establishment. Along these lines, elite complacency at its best, or downright collaboration at its worst allowed these ruthless regimes to remain in power. For, as has been exemplified time and time again throughout the course, Latin American elites have been ruthless in their search for power and wealth.  


On the other hand, resistance has also been commonplace in Latin American history. The Mothers of the Plaza De Mayo were the first group to oppose the military regime in Argentina. They sought  to search for  their missing children who had been disappeared by the government. Something that is  really interesting is that they have provided DNA to helped identify the missing. Again, we see how  technology has played a role in Latin Americans History.  Furthermore, one of the practices of the military regime was to take the children of the women they had disappeared and give them to military families, sometimes they were even taken out of the country to Europe. The video mentions that about 130 children have been found using DNA  technology. If anyone is interested in this, there’s a good film called “The Official Story,” check it out! It is definitely worth watching. Anyways, The Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo are still very active today, they march around the square every thursday.


After the fall of the dictatorship in argentina, a truth and reconciliation commission was established by the first elected president, Raul Alfonsin. However, world wide economic crisis struck Argentina and Alfonsin was forced to step down in the face of social protest caused by hyperinflation and other social issues. Yet, as Rita De Grandis notes, his successor Carlos Menem, seems to have continued the legacy of inequity in the country. During the 10 years that he was in power, Menem implemented an array of neoliberal policies that further concentrated wealth and power, and thus increased inequality and disenfranchisement. However, of critical importance in relation to the dictatorship and the TRC, Menem gave amnesty to military officials who perpetrated these crimes!  

This is something that I have always struggled to understand. And this is not specific to Argentina alone. In El Salvador for example, military men were also given amnesty, as is the case of Guatemala, Peru and Chile. Now, there is an obvious argument for amnesty, That the threat of retribution might push the perpetrators to continue their acts of violence as a means to stay and power and avoid persecution. However, I am not fully convinced by this. Is it not also true that this could harm the consolidation of peace? If the figures who had terrorized the people are still in power how can the society heal. In El Salvador, this seems to be the case. Many of the worst members of the military and the death squads remained in positions of power in the armed forces, government and police.


So this is my question for the week. What do you guys think; is amnesty a better way to assure peace? Or should the perpetrators of mass atrocities be brought to justice?


2 thoughts on “Week 12: Speaking Truth to Power

  1. Stephanie Steevie

    Your questions makes me think of ex President Fujimori from Peru. Between 1960-2000 over 70,000 Peruvians were killed because of the violence in the civil war. The government employed extremely violent measures because of conflicts with guerrilla groups and many innocent civilians died. Fujimori was convicted for human rights violations between his 1990-2000 and sentenced to 25 years in prison. I think this is an example where a mass atrocity was brought to justice and the conviction sets a precedent that crimes against humanity will not be tolerated.

  2. Christiana Tse

    Your questions remind me of the parallels as to what to do about those involved in the Holocaust, especially some whose involvement was never discovered until they were of old age – no longer a threat to anyone, and yet somehow it seems cruel to allow them to escape the consequences of their actions but also cruel to throw them into jail after all these years (often many of these people are regretful as well). To answer your question, I don’t think that there is a clear cut answer as to how we should deal with dilemmas such as these, other than to examine them on a case by case basis.


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