People fell victim to state crimes in many ways. Some were forcibly disappeared, some were imprisoned for political reasons. Their families, loved ones and comrades then dedicated their life’s energies to searching for them, to ask for justice, to create the possibilities for justice, to document the myriad of struggles that State’s tried to repress, that continued despite repression, and that emerged in opposition to repression. Collection H brings together documentation on enforced disappearance and political imprisonment in several Latin American countries, donated by families, individuals and organisations: The Díaz Mancilla family from Colombia, Nadin Reyes Maldonado from Mexico, the Balerini Casal family from Argentina, the family of the Paraguayan Federico Tatter, H.I.J.O.S. México and the Comité Cerezo from Mexico. All of them are family members of people who were forcibly disappeared, suffered imprisonment for political reasons, or were themselves imprisoned.
The collection was started by the donation of the family of Miguel Ángel Díaz Mancilla, who was forcibly disappeared in Colombia in 1984. His family managed to rescue the documentation of the case when they left the country for Spain, and initially gave it to the Archivo Gregorio and Marta Selser as caretakers. Once the material had been digitized, the originals were restored to the Díaz Mancilla family who is now still using them in their pursuit of justice for Miguel Ángel. Nadin Reyes Maldonado from Mexico then contributed the documentation she had acquired in the search for her father Edmundo, which includes communiqués that the guerrilla organization EPR released in connection with his enforced disappearance, and documents on the mediation commission between the Mexican government and the EPR. Gradually, other individuals and groups donated materials so that CAMeNA could make them accesible to people who are interested in studying state crimes in Latin America and the struggle against them.
The collection includes the documentation of individual cases, including the authorities’ responses to the family’s petitions and denunciations, several of which were carried out as part of the Operación Condor. Operación Condor was a co-operation between dictatorial and repressive regimes in Latin America during the mid-1970s, in which the CIA was also involved. Security apparatuses shared information about dissidents who were active in, and / or had fled to, other Latin American countries, tracked them down, arrested them, and assassinated them or returned them to their country of origin, where they were tortured and assassinated or forcibly disappeared. Fondo H includes a collection of press clippings on the Operación Condor . The cases documented in Fondo H include that of the Paraguayan citizen Federico Tatter, who was forcibly disappeared in Argentina, and of the Argentinian Leoncia Balerino, who was a supporter of a Salvadorean guerrilla group and was assassinated as part of Operación Condor in Honduras. A selection of documents on Operación Condor from the Archive of Terror in Paraguay is available on location at the CAMeNA as Fondo G.
In addition to these specific cases, the collection also contains less structured information on other cases of enforced disappearance, political assassination and political imprisonment. With regards to the perpetrators, there are documents relating to the role of the military, including documentation on a secret meeting of representatives of the military from all of Latin America in Mar del Plata in 1987, which is of interest to military historians. Other documents refer to militarization in Mexico in the 2000s, and to the intertwinement of organized crime and the army.
Within the scope of the theme fall collections on social and armed movements; for example, a collection of materials on the EZLN from 1995-2006 which combines materials donated by the Comité Cerezo and H.I.J.O.S. México. It includes declarations, stories, and press clippings covering this entire time period; this includes lesser known declarations such as a call for peace in Chiapas issued by the political party PRD. H.I.J.O.S. México also contributed material on specific incidents of state crimes, such as the Corpus Christi Massacre in June 1971, the activities of the APPO in Oaxaca and the repression in Atenco in 2006.
In the context of Mexico, Collection H is important for all those who are interested in, and are researching, the political history of the 1960s and 1970s, and the aftermath what is sometimes referred to as a ‘dirty war’ of the state against social and armed movements. It includes a documentation of the attempt to establish ‘enforced disappearance’ as a criminal offense, a campaign led by Rosario Ibarra de Piedra from the Comité Eureka during her time in the Mexican senate; and press clippings on the work of the FEMOSPP, a special prosecutor’s office set up by the Mexican government to bring to justice the perpetrators of state crimes committed during the 1960s and 1970s. The special prosecutor’s office is widely regarded as having failed its tasks. Of particular interest is the documentation from a gathering of former women guerrilla fighters in Mexico, which contains extensive documentation of the meeting itself, and individual case materials of guerrilleras who were forcibly disappeared.
Collection H has a broad range of materials, which are focussed in terms of its main theme. Its content is rich, illuminating, and politically insightful. The Mexican collections shed light on a systematic repression that, at the time, was mostly ignored outside the country. The documents on the cases related to Operación Condorare of great interest to those interested in this operative, and give evidence of the sinister collaboration among repressive forces. Finally, the documents in Collection H shed light on the long-term consequencs of this repression, and on the perseverance and the courage of those who went against its grain.
The research on which this post is based was funded by The Leverhulme Trust Fellowship on ‘Acquiescent Imaginaries: Snapshots from the Cultures of Low-Intensity Democracy ’. Cornelia Gräbner would like to thank the staff at the CAMeNA for their generous collaboration and support.