Author Archives: Mary Coker

Journalism in Latin America

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Colonia del Sacramento, Uruguay

COLONIA DEL SACRAMENTO, URUGUAY-When visiting a big city, it is easy to be overwhelmed by crowds, noise, and pollution. This can be the case in Buenos Aires, Argentina. However, there is a peaceful retreat that is only a boat ride away.

Colonia del Sacramento, Uruguay is a coastal city along the Rio de la Plata that offers a relaxing getaway from the stress of city life. According to gosouthamerica.about.com it was founded as a Portuguese settlement in 1680 and was the focus of struggle between the Portuguese and Spanish who founded Montevideo. For years Colonia del Sacramento operated as a contraband port, evading the strictures imposed on trade by the Spanish crown.

Today Colonia del Sacramento is a port and trade center, but is most known for being a resort city.

The easiest way to get to Colonia del Sacramento from Buenos Aires is by Buquebus (http://www.buquebus.com), a ferry service. There are two speeds of ferry to choose from.  A trip on the fast boat lasts about one hour while a trip on the slower boat lasts about three hours. The faster boat is more expensive. Depending on how much time you would like to spend in Colonia, the faster boat may be worth the extra money. Tickets start at around USD $48. Weekend ferries may be crowded and more expensive.

Once in Colonia del Sacramento there are many options for transportation. Scooters, bikes, golf carts and cars can all be rented hourly or daily. Rental offices can be found just outside the ferry terminal. Since prices vary, you should shop around to find the best deal on the vehicle you would like. Taxis are also available but are not as common as in larger cities.

For the visitor just looking to spend a day exploring Colonia, walking might be the best option. The main attractions are fairly close together and all within walking distance.

The number one rated attraction on Trip Advisor is the Colonia del Sacramento lighthouse. Built in 1857 from the ruins of Convento de San Francisco, this lighthouse offers the chance to climb to the top and look out over all of Colonia.

The lighthouse is located in Barrio Historico. This part of town offers a glimpse into 17th and 18th century Colonia. The district has several museums as well as Uruguay’s oldest church. In 1995, Barrio Historico was designated a UNESCO heritage site.

The Plaza Mayor is located in the Barrio Historico and is known for its museums. One is the Museo Portuguese, which offers a look at Portuguese architecture, furnishings, and military uniforms, standards and other items. The other is the Museo Municipal, which has both Spanish and Portuguese items and furnishings and other items illustrating colonial life.

When it comes time for a meal in Colonia del Sacramento, El Drugstore is highly recommended. This restaurant features bright colors and pictures covering the walls. It offers an outdoor seating area including a table inside an old car. El Drugstore offers a large selection of food with menus available in Spanish and English.

Colonia del Sacramento also offers a wide variety of local shops with items to please almost any visitor. Since this is a tourist town, the items available are mostly souvenir items. One store offered antiques as well as products made from local stones. Another store offered hand made utensils of bone and bowls made of wood.

Colonia del Sacramento is a place that cannot be completely summarized.  Its charm is best discovered by taking the time to explore the city and experience its small wonders.

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Uki Goñi Speaks With Journalism Students

BUENOS AIRES, ARGENTINA-Uki Goñi, a journalist known worldwide for his book “The Real Odessa,” has the credentials to be busy and self-important.

However, that is not the case. In fact, he was willing to take the time to meet with six journalism students from the University of Mississippi to give them personal interviews and advice.

The students met Goñi in an Italian restaurant in the Palermo SOHO neighborhood of Buenos Aires, Argentina. He encouraged them to have lunch while he told them of his life and work.

He began by giving his background as a man born in the United States whose family is Argentine. He moved to Buenos Aires at the age of 21 to work as a journalist at the Buenos Aires Herald, an English-language newspaper.

He was in Buenos Aires at the time of the Dirty War (when was that), when anyone who spoke against the government would disappear and never be heard from again.

Goñi said mothers of the missing people would come to the Herald looking for answers about their children. The Herald became an information center for what was really happening.

Goñi recalled coming home after his first day of work to see a plainclothes policeman outside his building. His landlord told him his phone had been bugged.

Goñi said it was a great introduction to journalism, but also a very scary time.

Some of Goñi’s colleagues asked him to accompany them to help the mothers in the search for the missing. Goñi always declined.

“I regret not getting more involved with the disappeared,” Goñi said. “But if I had, I probably wouldn’t be here today.”

Goñi talked about how he left journalism for a while to pursue music. He currently maintains a website with information about his books and music, ukinet.com. He came back to freelance journalism around 1994 and soon after began to work on “The Real Odessa.”

The book examines how Nazi war criminals fled to Argentina after World War II and were accepted into Argentine Society.

Goñi was most interested at how so many war criminals came and were accepted then the Dirty War happened. He asked himself, “Can it be a coincidence that so many war criminals came?” He wanted to understand how this could have happened. He drew the conclusion, “In Argentina we kind of had a slow adaptation to cohabitation with evil.”

Goñi said it was very difficult work to find information for the book. No one wanted to talk to him. At one point he had to pretend he wasn’t a journalist in order to have access to important records.

Since the book was published, Goñi has received criticism and attacks alleging his information in incorrect, even facing a lawsuit. He said he had expected this response and is lucky to have a publisher who stood by him through the lawsuit.

Goñi also spoke briefly of some of his regrets. He said he wishes he had been more involved with the people who went missing during the Dirty War. He also regrets not starting his book research sooner, since most of the people involved had died by the time he started. And finally, he wishes he had taken a video camera to the interviews he did for the book.

As the interview drew to a close, Goñi gave the students some advice. He said journalism is not only about writing stories that you find interesting. Sometimes you have to write stories you hate. Goñi said that is why it is so important to have something that is uniquely yours, such as a blog.

“It will keep you sane,” he said.

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Mothers of the Disappeared

by Mary Coker

BUENOS AIRES, ARGENTINA-Rain or shine, the scene is the same every Thursday at 3:30 p.m. at the Plaza de Mayo in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Elderly women in white headscarves gather to walk around the plaza. They are joined by family members: sons, daughters, grandchildren, and even great-grandchildren. Most hold signs with pictures on them. They gather to seek justice for their children.

These are the Mothers of the Disappeared.

From 1976 to 1983, a military government ruled Argentina. During this time, it was common practice for the military leaders to declare that the country needed to be purged of people deemed to be radicals or terrorists. The preferred method of dealing with these people was to simply kidnap them, never telling the families of their fates.  It is estimated that twenty to thirty thousand people disappeared during this period know as the Dirty War.

When the families tried to locate their missing loved ones, they were most often told by the military that there was no record of the missing person. Occasionally the families were told the missing person had been taken to a prison or concentration camp.

Mothers were the ones who most often went in search of answers.

Uki Goñi was a journalist in Buenos Aires during the Dirty War. He recalled the mothers coming to the paper where he worked to plead for help finding the children. He said it was most often the mothers who came, distraught with grief, while the fathers begged the women to remember the family’s other children, lest they be taken next.

In the search for their children, the mothers began to meet each other.

Out of desperation and an absence of answers, the mothers decided to go to the Plaza de Mayo. According to EasyBuenosAiresCity.Com, a travel website (http://www.easybuenosairescity.com/biografias/madres1.htm), they chose the plaza because it is across the street from the Casa Rosada, which is the Government House, and because the plaza is traditionally a place for demonstrations.

The first meeting was April 30, 1977 at 3:30 p.m.  This time was chosen because the plaza would be filled with people. The women began to march around the plaza because there was a law against people gathering in groups larger than three and moving helped them to avoid breaking the law.

The marches were a way to draw attention to the missing children and the government’s inaction and outright denial of the kidnappings. Even after the military government was removed from power, the mothers were not told what had happened to their children.

In order to be recognized, the mothers wear white headscarves. The scarves have the names of their children embroidered on them. This has turned into the symbol of the mothers and white scarves are painted around the plaza.

The mothers carry pictures of their children as they march, and the names of all the missing are called out. As each name is called, the mothers and supporters reply “presente,” signifying that their children are indeed present.

Thirty-three years after the marches began, the mothers have still not been given answers about their missing children. They continue to march every Thursday from 3:30 to 4 p.m. to raise awareness about the Dirty War and in hopes that the government will one day tell them the fate of their children.

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Public Affairs Office Works to Spread Knowledge

by Mary Coker

BUENOS AIRES, ARGENTINA-Seeing the inside of the United States Embassy in Argentina is a rare opportunity.

Meeting with the Public Affairs Office and learning about its purpose is something even fewer people get to do.

Robert Howes, Public Affairs Officer, said his section consists of three parts: a Press Office, a Cultural Office, and the Information Resource Center.

The Press Office works to inform Argentines of the true role of the United States in Argentine and world affairs. “There are two sides to it,” said Susanne C. Rose, Press Secretary. “We use offense, which is press releases and social media. . ., and we use defense for negative stories about the U.S. and we try to correct them.”

Rose gave an example of perceptions the embassy works to change by talking about the 2010 earthquake in Haiti. Rose said the Argentine newspapers were reporting that the U. S. military had invaded Haiti. The embassy worked to correct the information by setting up interviews with the U.S. Ambassador to Argentina. Within a few days the Argentine newspapers were printing the true story of the U.S. military offering aid to Haitians.

In comparison, the Cultural Office deals more with foreign affairs. According to John Finn, Cultural Affairs Officer, the embassy works to set up international visitor programs.

One such program is the Fullbright Scholarship. A committee chooses professionals that are up and coming in their fields. The students are sent on three-to four-week trips to visit Washington, D.C. The students then go to less known U.S. cities to meet average Americans and see what the U.S. is really like.

The Cultural Office also has programs aimed more toward youth. Finn said the Cultural Office works to promote sports, music, art and youth programs in order to bring interest to U.S. affairs.

Supporting these two sections is the Information Resource Center. According to the embassy website (http://argentina.usembassy.gov/index.html), the IRC serves the U.S. mission to Argentina by providing Argentines with timely, accurate information on U.S. law and government, and on U.S. policies affecting the bilateral relationship.

The IRC works by accessing its 2,500 books, a virtual reference collection, the Internet, and online databases. Argentines in the government, the press, and academia can make requests for information and the IRC uses its resources to answer the requests.

The IRC also maintains the embassy’s Facebook and Twitter accounts. The information posted to these sites differs from the information in the press releases. Since the users of these sites tend to be younger people, the information posted is directed toward that audience.

When it comes to the Twitter account, the primary followers are journalists. The journalists can then write articles based on the information they learned from the embassy.

Within the Public Affairs Office, the departments come together to promote the U.S. and serve the needs of Americans and Argentines alike.