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November 2, 1999


Response to an arts brother

On Sunday, October 24 Mobile Register Fine Arts Editor Thomas B. Harrison told arts groups that they should not expect publicity for their events. In a bizarre column entitled ďA gentle reminder to my arts brethren'' Mr. Harrison wrote: ďAn arts editor is a journalist -- not a salesman, stenographer, cheerleader or mouthpiece.'' He concluded: ďPublicity is an inevitable byproduct of coverage, but it isn't the editorís raison díÍtre.''

The previous fine arts editor of the Mobile Register demoralized the city's smaller cultural organizations by ignoring their events, and instead promoting shows in other cities such as New Orleans and Pensacola. Her tone was patrician, and her writing was pretentious. By contrast Mr. Harrison has been more approachable -- until now. Last week's column seemed like a warning to Mobile's arts community not to ask for anything from him.

The majority of Mobile's arts organizations are small, all-volunteer and have very shallow pockets. Despite these burdens, they have given the city some of its best cultural events. How can these groups feel anything but resentment when news of their events is consistently omitted or buried in a calendar while out-of-town shows receive generous coverage? Last month, the start of a very busy arts season, 3 pages of the Sunday Arts and Leisure section were lavished on Birmingham's exhibit of William Wegman's dog photographs.

Ballet and chamber music presenters cannot compete for public attention with movie theaters and other commercial franchises. Nor should they. It is the serious responsibility of a fine arts editor to announce their seasons in a timely fashion and to review their performances and exhibits. It is his raison díÍtre.

-- Dan Silver

Life Forms by Dan Silver

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Letters to the Editor

Dear Editor,

A candlelight vigil is scheduled for Friday, November 12 from 4:30 to 5:30 p.m. at Cathedral Square in downtown Mobile for Mirtha Hidalgo. Jerry Darring, teacher of religion and social justice will speak and the UMS-Wright Chorus will provide music and song.

Who is Mirtha Ira Bueno Hidalgo and why should we care about her?

Mirtha is a twenty-nine year old Peruvian law student presently serving a twelve year term for terrorist-related crime. In September, 1990, Mirtha was arrested during an early morning raid in Lima, Peru. At that time, the police claimed that she had put up posters and banners in a working class neighborhood of Lima in support of the Shining Path guerrillas (the Sendero Luminoso). In addition to charging her with terrorism-related offenses, the police also alleged that they had found a "subversive" manuscript in her home that linked her to the Shining Path. The "subversive" manuscript in her home turned out to be notes Mirtha had made on the early twentieth century Spanish writer, Jose Ortega Gasset, whose work she was studying for a university course she was taking. In 1992, the High Court of Lima found her innocent of these crimes and she was released, after having been unjustly imprisoned for two years.

Between 1992 and 1995 Mirtha led a normal life. Upon her release in 1992, she returned to her hometown of Juaia in Junin to teach in a secondary school and a year later, she resumed her law studies at the Universidad Nacional Mayor de San Marcos in Lima. She was unaware that the Supreme Court of Justice had decided to annul the 1992 verdict of the High Court. So on November 12, 1995, while voting in local elections, Mirtha was re-detained and re-tried for the same crime of which she had been exonerated three years early. In March of 1996, she was sentenced to twelve years of imprisonment, a term she is now serving at the High Security Prison for Women in Chorrillos, Lima.

What happened between 1992 and 1995 that put Mirtha back in jail as well as for the unjustified arrest, conviction, and prolonged imprisonment of thousands of prisoners of conscience in Peru? They were caught in an overhauling of the judicial system that virtually eliminated due process as we know it in the United States. On April 5, 1992, President Alberto Fujimori closed Congress, abolished Peru's Constitution, and placed the judiciary under executive control, dismissing numerous judges and replacing them with people who directly answered to the executive and who maintained their posts on a provisional basis subject to recall by the executive at any time. During this same revamping of the judiciary, President Fujimori established a system of faceless courts which made secret the identities of judges and prosecutors and eliminated the possibility of any accountability of the judiciary before the public.

The same decrees that reorganized the judicial system granted police virtually unlimited pre-trial powers, accelerated trial procedures, significantly lengthened the terms of imprisonment for those convicted, and made it possible to try civilian defendants charged with treason before a military tribunal by a panel of active-duty military officers. At the same time, Fujimori's decrees broadened the definition of terrorism to include "apology for terrorism," meaning that the mere possession of a leaflet or book deemed "subversive" entitled detainees to a minimum sentence of twelve years. This is the term that Mirtha is now serving in the Chorrillos Prison of Lima.

Although in 1993 and thereafter, the Peruvian Congress ratified a series of positive amendments to the anti-terrorism laws issued in 1992 by President Fujimori and his Council of Ministers, human rights groups around the world do not believe that these reforms have gone far enough in bringing pre-trial and trial procedures in line with international fair trail standards to which Peru is a party.

Despite such reform measures, there are still abuses. For example, judges are still responsible directly to the executive branch, and cases have been documented recently of judges who have released suspects charged with terrorism only to become themselves the subject of police investigation. There have also been recently documented cases of harassment and persecution of lawyers who represent those charged with terrorism and treason. Attorneys must petition to have access to the government's case files, and in many incidences no response is ever made to these requests. Often when a response is made, lawyers are given just a few hours to review volumes of evidentiary files.

The most disturbing news is that numerous cases of torture continue emerging monthly from Peru. This torture is directed against those already behind bars as well as against those who have not yet been convicted of any crime but are suspected of subversive activities.

So what does Mirtha Ira Bueno Hidalgo do as Fujimori slowly submits to pressure from human rights activists around the world? She waits in the Chorrillos Prison of Lima where conditions are unsanitary, where she is malnourished, where she is rarely able to visit with her family, where she is mistreated by guards, and where hope lies on the other side of despair.

Amnesty International (AI) believes that Mirtha is a prisoner of conscience and has been lobbying the Peruvian government for her immediate and unconditional release. Mirtha's case has also been taken up by an independent human rights organization in Peru, FEDEPAZ, which only defends cases of people who have no links to armed opposition. The Mobile Chapter of AI has accepted Mirtha as its "Special Focus Case," which means that they will not abandon her until she is freed. The Mobile Chapter has sent dozens of letters to Peruvian officials on her behalf and has been working with both Congressman Sonny Callahan and the U.S. State Department for her release.

As Chairman of the Foreign Appropriations and Export Financing Committee, Rep. Callahan is uniquely poised to speak to Peruvian officials on behalf of Mirtha Hildalgo. Political power is where the purse strings are. In its last meeting with Rep. Callahan, the Mobile group got a firm promise of his support for Ms. Hidalgo's case. Yet because Congressman Callahan is reluctant to attach conditions to foreign aid packages, the Mobile AI group might have to wait for a natural disaster in Peru for him to call in a political favor. But we do not want to wait for an earthquake to free Mirtha.

I asked at the beginning of this letter why we should care about Mirtha, a total stranger caught in a seemingly hopeless predicament thousands of miles away.

To me the answer is self-evident. Mirtha could be any one of us, caught in an accident of geography or history. Human rights violations anywhere on the globe make us all less safe. More importantly, as free people we have the option, if not the obligation, to act. Political prisoners around the world have been freed as a result of pressure placed on foreign governments, and AI has been instrumental in freeing tens of thousands of people unjustly imprisoned.

To get involved in Mirtha's case or human rights in general, call the Mobile Chapter of Amnesty International at 653-1400.

Sondra Maniatis
Mobile, AL

Buchanan's got the facts, but not the judgment on World War II

Dear Editor,

Reform Party presidential hopeful Pat Buchanan is right. Alabama wasn't about to be overrun by any goose-stepping Nazis during the second half of World War II. But he is also dead wrong. Americans still had plenty of reasons -- long before they actually did -- to jump headfirst into the global brawl with Germany. Our very nature as Americans, and the then unwritten history of the world, hung in the balance of that decision. But as singular as his voice may be, Buchanan has alarmingly called that decision into question. Here's my answer.

I worked as a low-level aide on his 1996 presidential campaign in Washington, D.C., and while I cannot say I grew to know Buchanan well, I did regularly observe the man's matchless intellect in action. He could spontaneously rattle off dates, facts and names with astonishing speed and accuracy. Woe to the pundits who take on Pat without doing their homework. So, as usual, Buchanan has researched this issue. There's no doubting that. His facts and dates are in order. Itís his conclusions that trouble me. And there, in judgment -- the true test and key requirement of any great leader -- is where Buchanan has failed.

Many people now agree that Germany bit off more of the world than it could chew. As soon as Hitler pushed his troops into Russia the fat lady started warming-up backstage. With a little help from some red-blooded Americans, she would soon be singing and call the curtain down on that whole horrific mess of a war. But in the book, "A Republic, Not an Empire" (Regnery Publishing), Buchanan stretches that point a bit further. After the first German victories throughout Europe in 1939 and 1940, he writes, "Hitler made no overt move to threaten U.S. vital interests." Well, that was because the Nazis found themselves knee-deep in an empire that wasn't too fond of its conquerors. The last thing Hitler needed was the headaches of having to control a bunch of shotgun-toting good olí boys down in Alabama and Mississippi. It wasn't possible. But if he could, I'm sure Hitler would have happily bombed our entire country. We embody everything he despised. We're capitalists, and the Nazis were socialists, for one example. But, as Buchanan spelled out in his book, Germany had over-extended itself and was barely holding its ground much less seriously planning a trans-Atlantic invasion.

So, why did we throw in on a war that cost us tens of thousands of our finest citizens? Trade was an issue, as it is always. Our enduring sense of connection with Europe was another and so were the U-boat attacks on our civilian merchant ships. But I hope the answer is simply 'because it was the right thing to do.' Because it was, and here's why:

When I arrived in Washington, D.C., last summer to work for Congress, I set about visiting two places before any others. I first stopped by Arlington Cemetery, home of the great Gen. Robert E. Lee. Secondly, I visited the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. I was moved, to say the least. I, like most people, know the stories of the concentration camps and the ghettos. But that museum put them all in a package that felt like a ton of bricks thrown on my conscience. I left finding it hard to believe I belong to a race of creatures that can be so cruel.

But some historians, and statesmen of the time, have said that the Western World didn't know what the Nazi were really doing in those camps until after they were defeated. Therefor, it couldn't have been the chief reason the U.S. hurled so many troops at Germany. The "Final Solution," the actual official policy of exterminating Jews within occupied territory, didn't take effect until after we entered the war. Even so, if it wasn't the reason we decided to fight, then it damn sure serves as a righteous justification. Who knows, maybe God tricked us all into that war because we were ignorant of the whole bloody truth behind Nazism. If so, then good call.

But on a larger point, if Hitler's troops didn't cross the Atlantic, his ideas may have, and I mean far more than in the minds of a handful of misguided hairless youths with no sense of right and wrong. Hitler's theories on practically everything, from racism to economics, are a threat to our greater sense of justice. And as the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote in a letter from a jail cell in Birmingham, Ala., nearly two decades after the fall of Nazism, "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere." So, in the immortal words of that fine American, we find the true threat to our sovereignty that existed within the Third Riche. It wasn't bullets. It wasn't tanks. It was wholesale hate, pure and simple.

J. Pepper Bryars
Washington, D.C.

J. Pepper Bryars, a former reporter for the Mobile Register, is press secretary for U.S. Rep. Bob Riley, R-Alabama.

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