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The Global Post has just launched ENCARCELACION an investigative series about the correctional systems of Latin America that “have gone horribly wrong.”

We’ve seen the headlines of jailbreaks in Mexico, riots in Venezuelan prisons, and fires in Honduran jails, but often these stories seems a world away. The politics underpinning the strife in Latin American prisons is not my area of expertise but the importance of the stories is undeniable. It is interesting that the Global Post has used photography as an anchor to the front page.

After digging down into ENCARCELACION‘s trove of info, you may want to follow links to Prison Photography‘s irregular coverage of various aspects of life in Latin American prisons:

Gary KnightJoao PinaJackie Dewe MatthewsValerio BispuriPedro LoboVance Jacobs and Columbian prisonerstourist photography in Bolivian prisonsprison tattoos (some from Central America)Kate Orlinksky’s portraits of Mexican female prisoners Fabio Cuttica at a Columbian prison beauty pageantPatricia Aridjis in Mexico – even Cornell Capa was in Latin American prisons at one time.

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Thanks to Theo Stroomer for the heads up.

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I was first aware of João de Carvalho Pina‘s work a couple of years ago when Jim pointed to Pina’s photographic homage to the political prisoners of Portugal (1926-1974). Two of Pina’s grandparents were imprisoned by the Portuguese regime.

Just as that terror ended in Europe, another began across six countries in South America. Pina’s project Operation Condor has just featured on the New York Times’ Lens blog, for which Daniel J. Wakin explains:

Operation Condor was a collusion among right-wing dictators in Latin America during the 1970s to eliminate their leftist opponents. The countries involved were Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Paraguay, Uruguay and Bolivia.”

More from the NY Times on the sites of detention:

Mr. Pina said he was struck by how ordinary the locations were — garages, a sports stadium, offices. “Most of them are places that can be in the corner of our houses,” he said. “They’re very normal places”

Very important work, not least the portraits of survivors. Pina’s goal is to create a visual memory of the era working against a relative dearth of historical documentation, “to show people that this actually happened. There are hundreds of thousands of people affected by it.”

The first four chapters of Naomi Klein’s Shock Doctrine deal with the military juntas and international interference in South America from the mid 50s until the 80s. Highly recommended.

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I have been working on a series of posts about the Desaparecidos in Argentina specifically, one group of nationals affected by the continental ideological wars of South America in the 70s and 80s. Expect follow up posts on this subject.

ELSEWHERES

Pina works on incredible breadth of issues, all related by their focus on the harshest of social violence. Most recently, his work on the gangs of Rio de Janeiro has garnered attention, here and here.

Below is an image from his Portuguese political prisoners project (source).


If I ever have kids I’ll read them Naomi Klein’s Shock Doctrine at bedtime. I’ll use Klein’s words as proxy for my own in imparting the necessary cautions of governments and guns in our f*#ked up world.

(Hold up, there’s reason enough why not to have kids.)

Chapters two and three deal with the growth of Chicago School economics and its pernicious experiments and infiltration into the ‘Southern Cone’.

Throughout the 60s and 70s, the US & the CIA facilitated right-wing opposition movements, juntas, military coups and consequent torture programs in Chile, Brazil, Uruguay and Argentina.

During this time between 100,000 and 150,000 people were killed or ‘disappeared’. Estimates are wide and varied because the murders were out of control, accountability suspended and the terror doled out faster than it could be monitored.

During the Dirty War in Argentina, the terror of each night repeated the previous; a seven-year state-sanctioned massacre that bled into every neighbourhood under the cover of darkness.

The inhumanity is incomprehensible, but Klein attempts to describe the various methods used at times by different forces in each of the countries. Uruguay had a particular penchant for isolation;

Prisoners in Uruguay’s Libertad Prison were sent to la isla, the island: tiny windowless cells in which one bare light bulb was illuminated at all times. High value prisoners were kept in absolute isolation for more than a decade.

“We were beginning to think we were dead, that our cells weren’t cells but rather graves, that the outside world didn’t exist, that the sun was a myth,” one of these prisoners, Mauricio Rosencof, recalled. He saw the sun for a total of eight hours over eleven and a half years. So deprived were his senses during this time that he “forgot colors – there were no colors.”

(Page 93)

In a foot-note Klein remarks:
‘The prison administration at Libertad worked closely with behavioral psychologists to design torture techniques tailored to each individual’s psychological profile – a method now used at Guantanamo Bay.’

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