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)
The US responded this week to the Syria Kurds' declaration of autonomy, with State Department spokesman Mark Toner saying: "We've...made it clear to these Kurdish forces [in Syria] that they should not seek to create autonomous, semi-autonomous zones." He added that Kurdish forces in Syria "should not seek to retain the territory that they liberate, rather that they should make sure it's returned to whatever civilian authorities there are and able to—so that all displaced people can return there." This is a barely veiled reference to accusations that Syrian Kurdish forces are engaging in "ethnic cleansing" against Arabs and Turkmen in areas liberated from ISIS. But not only are these charges dubious, but Toner's statement ignores that often the only "civilian authorities" are in fact those of the Kurdish autonomous administration. More ominously, he warned that the US is in close dialogue with Turkey on the question and understands Ankara's "concerns regarding Kurdish forces in northern Syria." (This as Turkey is wagng a brutal counterinsurgency against Kurdish rebels within its own territory, to Washington's silence.) Ironically, he added that the Kurdish militias in Syria "are effective fighting forces and that they are willing to take on and dislodge Daesh," using the popular pejorative for ISIS in the Middle East.
Supposed antagonists Bashar Assad and Recep Tayyip Erdogan are both in the process of reducing cities to rubble: Aleppo in northern Syria and Cizre in eastern Turkey. The world is just starting to take note of the disaster in Cizre, which has been laregly invisilbe but won a flurry of coverage this week with the release a report by Turkish human rights group Mazlumder (PDF) finding that army campaigns turned the predominantly Kurdish city into a "war zone," with over 200 people killed and more than 10,000 homes destroyed over the past months. Officially, the troops were there to enforce a round-the-clock curfew in place between December and March, but it quickly became a counterinsurgency war to pacifiy (or destroy) neighborhoods under control of PKK youth organizations. "Cizre has witnessed unprecedented destruction following clashes which took place during a curfew lasting over 78 days, and unlike in curfews before, the curfew in Cizre saw mass killings," Mazlumder said. The worst single incident was the Feb. 19 massacre, in which some 150 Kurds sheltering in basements burned to death when the buildings were set on fire by military forces. Lawyers from the local bar association told Mazlumder that "following the deaths in the basements in Cizre, there was no crime scene investigation and no judicial authority was allowed to enter the basements." (BBC News, May 23; DW, May 18)
Presidential election results in the Philippines came in May 10, with bombastic anti-crime hardliner Rodrigo Duterte emerging the victor. Ruling-party candidate Mar Roxas quickly conceded defeat. Duterte is the mayor of Davao City in the conflicted southern island of Mindanao—which has been hit by a wave of death-squad terror in recent years. The paramilitaries are ostensibly a response to crime and narco networks on the island, but ecology activists and peasant leaders have also been targeted. Duterte has been named as a mastermind of the paramilitaries, and certainly makes no bones about his intolerant position on drug use. "All of you who are into drugs, you sons of bitches, I will really kill you," he Duterte told a huge cheering crowd in his final campaign rally in Manila. "I have no patience, I have no middle ground, either you kill me or I will kill you idiots."
Peru's President Ollanta Humala declared a 60-day state of emergency in the rainforest region of Madre de Dios in response to reports of mercury poisoning by outlaw gold-mining operations. According to country's Environment Ministry, as many as 50,000 people or 41% of the population of Madre de Dios, have been exposed to mercury contamination. The government plans to send hospital ships and loads of untainted fish to the area, where mercury has contaminated local waterways. Illegal gold production has increased five-fold in Peru since 2012, and it is estimated to provide 100,000 direct jobs in the country, 40% of which are in Madre de Dios. Peru is the world's sixth largest gold producer, but an estimated 20% of its annual output is of unknown origin. (Mining.com, La República, May 24)
Lima was treated to the spectacle of topless women being tear-gassed by police at a protest outside the Congress building against a new law to toughen strictures on abortion. Riot police broke up the semi-nude sit-in organized by feminist groups to oppose the pending legislation, which would impose penalties of 50 days community service on women who seek an abortion. Many of the women wrote "KEIKO NO VA" (Stop Keiko) on their torsos—a reference to right-wing presidential candidate Keiko Fujimori, who has recently taken a hard line on abortion, now opposing it even in cases of rape. Protesters also recalled her intransigent support for her father, imprisoned ex-dictator Alberto Fujimori, who carried out a campaign of forced sterilization of peasant women during his period in power in the 1990s. (Now This, StarMedia, May 20; El Comercio, May 19; La República, May 3)
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)