Politics

For shame! Newpaper in Argentina suggests it’s time to forget about the ‘Dirty War’

Employees of the newspaper La Nacion in Buenos Aires, Argentina, want everyone to know that they do not agree with an editorial printed on Monday, Nov. 23, 2015, that suggested it was time to stop prosecuting people who committed murder and other human rights abuses during Argentina's Dirty War, between 1976 and 1983. (La Nacion photo)

Employees of the newspaper La Nacion in Buenos Aires, Argentina, want everyone to know that they do not agree with an editorial printed on Monday, Nov. 23, 2015, that suggested it was time to stop prosecuting people who committed murder and other human rights abuses during Argentina’s Dirty War, between 1976 and 1983. (La Nacion photo)

Here in Canada, many people were outraged when the Postmedia newspaper chain forced all of its papers to run pre-election editorials in favour of the Conservative party, even when local employees did not agree with the stance.
Something infinitely worse has happened in Argentina. The Washington Post reports that, on Monday, Nov. 23, 2015, one day after the right-of-centre candidate Mauricio Macri was elected president, the newspaper La Nacion printed an editorial saying it’s time to forget about “vengeance” against the perpetrators of Argentina’s “Dirty War.” “One day after citizens voted for a new government, the desire for revenge should be buried once and for all.” Of course, the trials are about justice, not revenge. The unnamed writer seemed to think that the guilty should be able to escape punishment based on their advanced age alone.

Horrified journalists at the paper distanced themselves from the editorial; they posed in the newsroom with signs saying that they condemned it. La Nacion printed the photo and an article about the disagreement.
Between 1976 and 1983, up to 30,000 people were jailed, tortured and “disappeared” by the military junta in Argentina. The victims were men, women and children. Some were thrown from air force planes into the ocean while still alive.Sometimes pregnant women were allowed to give birth before being killed, as many as 500 children were given to military families, told nothing about their real parents or what had happened to them. Some only learned the truth as adults, thanks to the persistance of the grandmothers who kept looking for them. A New York Times article in 2011, about a woman who was raised by the man who killed her parents, said 105 children had been found so far. In September of this year, the BBC reported that another child of the disappeared had been indentified.

Investigations into the kidnappings and murders began in 1983 with the return to civilian rule; nine junta leaders were tried, convicted and sentenced in 1985. A law passed in 1986 was aimed at stopping further trials, when that didn’t work, a 1987 law gave immunity to all but the highest ranking military officers. Trials stopped in 1987, then, in 1989 and 1990, President Carlos Menem freed approximately 1,200 officers who had been imprisoned.

In 2001 the Federal Court in Buenos Aires found the amnesty laws invalid, and trials began again. Congress annulled the laws in 2003, and the Argentine Supreme Court declared them unconstitutional in 2005. In 2007 a judge ruled that the pardons were unconstitutional as well.

I was writing a review of the documentary Drone when I noticed the Washington Post story – maybe some day people will be prosecuted for using them, too. Chile had its own “Dirty War” though apparently it did not steal children. On Saturday, at the RIDM film festival, I watched the Chilean film Le bouton de nacre, which is partly about the disappeared of that country. The segment was horrific; I can’t imagine anyone feeling forgiving after watching it.

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FNC 2015 Review: Eco thriller La Tierra Roja looks at the evils of big business in Argentina

Ana (Eugenia Ram’rez Miori, in the orange skirt) and Pierre (Geert Van Rampelberg, in the black T-shirt) take part in a march against the use of toxic chemicals and the oppression of workers, in the film La Tierra Roja. It's a co-production between Belgium and Argentina that's being shown as part of the Festival du nouveau cinema.

Ana (Eugenia Ram’rez Miori, in the orange skirt) and Pierre (Geert Van Rampelberg, in the black T-shirt) take part in a march against the use of toxic chemicals and the oppression of workers, in the film La Tierra Roja. It’s a co-production between Belgium and Argentina that’s being shown as part of the Festival du nouveau cinema.

La Tierra Roja is a Belgium-Argentina co-production, shot in Argentina’s Misiones province. It’s fiction, but based on fact. Viewers in Argentina probably see it as a “ripped from the headlines” type of film.

Pierre works for a multinational company that cuts down trees and runs a sawmill and paper plant in northeast Argentina. In his spare time, he coaches a rugby team, and carries on an affair with Ana, a school teacher, who also works a small local medical centre. Pierre finds himself in an awkward position after Ana alerts him to the fact that his company’s use of herbicides is causing cancer, miscarriages, birth defects, learning disabilities and other problems among the workers and their families. The fish hauled from the river have strange bumps on their heads.

The government supports the company with subsidies; the governor will not even meet with Dr. Balza, who has been documenting all the health problems in the area.

When Dr. Balza presents the results of his research at an information meeting for the locals, Pierre’s superiors do what such people usually do – they claim that the man is lying, the chemicals are safe, and hey, what about all these wonderful jobs they are providing? (Even if they are dangerous and dirty.) Where have we heard this before? One worker points out that the company is employing 1,000 but poisoning one million. (Is that the price of progress?) After the doctor is murdered, Pierre realizes that he must take a stand.

While the good-guy/bad-guy situation is presented in a black-and-white manner (and quite justifiably so) the environemnt is quite colourful. The earth is indeed red in La Tierra Roja, in sharp contrast to the lush green forest. Ana’s house is a bright pink, and a local bar is purple. She wears an orange dress when she rides her horse to school.

La Tierra Roja is fiction, but I have seen my share of documentaries exploring similar situations in many countries of the world. We used to have a Human Rights Film Festival here in Montreal; we don’t have one any longer, but the Cinema Politica film series at Concordia University exposes problems like this on a regular basis.

La Tierra Roja has a Facebook page at   www.facebook.com/LaTierraRojaFilm/  It seems that the film was shown to residents of El Soberbio in Misiones just a few days ago. Read more about the film and other ecological problems in Argentina on that page.

La Tierra Roja
Argentina, Belgium | 104 minutes | 2015
Original version in Spanish, with English subtitles
Directed by Diego Martínez Vignatti, with Geert Van Rampelberg, Eugenia Ramírez Miori, Jorge Aranda, Alexandros Potamianos

Friday, Oct. 16, 2015, 17:00
Program #237
Cineplex Odeon Quartier Latin, Salle 10, 350 Emery St. (Berri-UQAM metro)
Visit the FNC web site for more info about La Tierra Roja

The Festival du nouveau cinéma runs from Oct. 7- Oct. 18, 2015.

FNC 2015: Film festival offers 8 films made in the two Koreas

 

A scene from the South Korean film The Shameless.

A scene from the South Korean film The Shameless.

The Korean peninsula is in the spotlight as the Festival du nouveau cinéma shows three films made by South Koreans, four made by North Koreans and one documentary shot (mostly) in North Korea by a British company with an American subject (Dennis Rodman) and an Irish narrator.

In alphabetical order, the three South Korean films are Coin Locker Girl, directed by Han Jun-He), The Shameless, directed by Oh Seung-Uk, and Right Now, Wrong Then, directed by Hong Sang Soo. You can read synopses of these South Korean films on the FNC web site.
The North Korean films are A Bellflower, The Flower Girl A Schoolgirl’s Diary, and The Tale Of Chun Hyang. Read synopses of the four North Korean films here.

Former basketball star Dennis Rodman was demonized by some people because he went to North Korea, several times, and met with dictator Kim Jong-un. Montreal's Festival du nouveau cinema will show the documentary, Dennis Rodman's Big Bang In Pyongyang, which takes us along for the ride.

Former basketball star Dennis Rodman was demonized by some people because he went to North Korea, several times, and met with dictator Kim Jong-un. Montreal’s Festival du nouveau cinema will show the documentary, Dennis Rodman’s Big Bang In Pyongyang, which takes us along for the ride.

Finally, the documentary, Dennis Rodman’s Big Bang In Pyongyang, gives us an inside view of the several visits the controversial former basketball made to North Korea. Read more about it here. 

The Festival du nouveau cinéma runs until Oct. 18, 2015 in several theatres in downtown Montreal. Consult the FNC web site for schedules, synopses and to buy tickets.

Cinema Politica Mondays: Discover Grace Lee Boggs, an exceptional American

Philosopher, writer and activist Grace Lee Boggs in her Detroit home.

Philosopher, writer and activist Grace Lee Boggs in her Detroit home.

 

There aren’t any dull moments in the documentary American Revolutionary: The Evolution of Grace Lee Boggs.

The philosopher, writer and activist Grace Lee Boggs will turn 100 in June, but in this film, which was released in 2013, she still has all her wits about her. Even more impressive, she still talks about revolution and social change, and does so in Detroit, her home since the 1950s. She has so many stories to share and hasn’t given up hope that people can work together to make a better world. She warns against placing too many expectations on political messiahs, though. She suggests that “We are the leaders we are looking for.”

Grace Lee’s father owned a big Chinese restaurant on Broadway in New York. She tells us that this gave her a comfortable home life, but she also reveals that her mother had never gone to school, and that she could not read or write. Grace Lee herself earned a BA from Barnard College and a PhD in philosophy from Bryn Mawr. Despite those qualifications, cracking the job market was not easy. In those days, she says, even department stores would not hire “Orientals.” She got a job at a library at the University of Chicago that paid $10 per week. She lived in a rat-infested basement and came into contact with the black community when she joined the struggle for better housing.

By the 1940s the Depression was over for whites but not for blacks. The U.S. was gearing up for war but the owners of defense plants would not hire black Americans. Activists began planning a July 1 protest march on Washington. An estimated 100,000 people would take part. To keep the march from happening, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed Executive Order 8802, banning discrimination in the defense industry. Grace Lee was very impressed by this example of people power in action. As she later told Bill Moyers: “When I saw what a movement could do I said, ‘Boy that’s what I wanna do with my life.’ ”

She went to Detroit because that’s “where the workers were.” She married James (Jimmy) Boggs, who was an auto worker, writer and activist. Until his death in 1993, they worked together in the labour movement and the Black Power movement; they knew Malcolm X and Martin Luther King. Their home was a meeting place for thinkers and organizers.

The film includes the derelict buildings we’re used to seeing in reports on present-day Detroit, along with scenes from the past – the prosperous past and the violent one, too. Some parts of the city look a bit like Montreal, with the same kind of buses we used to have; there’s a dark stone building with arches, kind of like The Bay department store on Ste. Catherine St. And then there’s the snow, Detroit seems to get quite a lot of snow, too.

There’s evidence that Detroit’s downhill spiral began much longer ago than one might think. Back in the 1930s as many as 95,000 people were working in one of the plants belonging to the Ford Motor Co., but by the late 1950s automation was already leading to layoffs.

The soundtrack includes “Run, Charlie, Run” a tune by The Temptations about white flight from the city to the ‘burbs. I count myself as a Motown fan, but I can’t remember ever hearing that one before. I wonder if it’s ever played on any “oldies” radio stations?

Philosopher, writer and activist Grace Lee Boggs, left, and filmmaker Grace Lee.

Philosopher, writer and activist Grace Lee Boggs, left, and filmmaker Grace Lee.

The film is directed by Grace Lee, who is no relation to Grace Lee Boggs. They have stayed in touch since 2000 when the filmmaker began work on The Grace Lee Project, a film about several Asian-American women who share the same name. (The Village Voice review of The Grace Lee Project says that Grace Lee Boggs is called Grace X by her neighbours.)

To learn more about Grace Lee Boggs, check out this book list; it includes books that she wrote and books that influenced her.

American Revolutionary: The Evolution of Grace Lee Boggs will be presented by Cinema Politica on Monday, April 13, 2015 at 7 p.m. in H 110 of the Hall Building at Concordia University, 1455 de Maisonneuve Blvd. W.
Admission is by voluntary donation.

For more information, visit the Facebook page about the screening.

Cinema Political will show films at various outdoor locations during the summer, but American Revolutionary: The Evolution of Grace Lee Boggs is the last presentation at the Hall Building for the 2014-2015 academic year.