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Relatives of people disappeared by the dictatorship in Uruguay launch software to recover military files

Interview with Nilo Patiño, member of Mothers and Relatives of the Detained-Disappeared

“We want to have a basis of information about the recent past without intermediaries”, said Patiño about LUISA* (Spanish acronym for Reading Together to Interpret Files), a software that aims to voluntarily recover the illegible texts of the files created by the military intelligence during the Uruguayan civic-military dictatorship (1973-1985).

Any person, anywhere in the world, can participate in this task. The documents included in the software are military intelligence files, known as the Berruti Files (lastname of Defense Minister Azucena Berruti, whose administration found in 2006 1400 microfilm reels at the Intelligence School of the Army and the Defense Ministry).

LUISA [1] emerges as an initiative in response to the huge difficulties faced by human rights organizations to access and manage documents about the recent past coming from the National Directorate of Information and Intelligence (DNII), FUSNA (the Marine Corps) and the Berruti Files.

“The documents included in the Berruti Files have been in the hands of the State for over 10 years”, said Nilo. The documents were contributed by the Truth and Justice Working Group, a task force of the Executive Branch.

Back then they were scanned and it is difficult to work with this information because there are several parts that are “illegible”.

These files provide information about the operation of military structures, as well as over 400 thousand records of people followed by intelligence agents, in a country with no more than 3 million inhabitants.

LUISA in operation

“This is a file which is supposedly in chronological order, but it is currently out of order”. “It´s a task that should have been done by the State, but this work was never carried out”.

Now it will be possible to know the contents of these documents thanks to a project of the Engineering School, the Information and Communication School of the University of the Republic and students and citizens in general, who in a voluntary way, out of solidarity, will work with these files.

“It is not bad that this is something to be carried out by the University of the Republic because we are trying it to be a project independent from governments or political positions”, said Patiño.

When accessing LUISA, the software automatically offers a portion of the photo of a document with text, symbols or numbers. There could be something that cannot be understood, that is part of a drawing or a signature, stains, etc. The volunteer participates by transcribing what they see, whether numbers, letters or symbols. A screen shows the area where this text appears in the document, so as to resort to context in case of difficulties to interpret what is written.

When the volunteer is certain about what was transcribed, they send the text to the data base and immediately another part of the text appears in order to continue helping to build collective memory, in the search for truth and justice.

NEW AUTHORITIES, OLD DEMANDS

This collective work is even more valuable considering that Uruguayan President Tabaré Vázquez recently removed Defense Minister, Jorge Menéndez, Viceminister Daniel Montiel and three generals who were members of the military court, called Honor Tribunal: Chief Commander of the Army, José González -who had taken office a few days before, the Chief of Defense, Alfredo Erramún and General Gustavo Fajardo.

Hours before the launch of LUISA, José Bayardi took office as the new Defense Minister -who had been Minister after Berruti- and Claudio Feola as the new Chief Commander of the Army.

Asked by the press about the request of Mothers and Relatives of the Detained-Disappeared for the new Chief Commander to repudiate State terrorism events, Feola said: “I know the relatives are extremely hurt, we would all be extremely hurt if there are people missing, but I cannot give you that answer. I will not repudiate events in the past because I don´t know if they are confirmed or not”, concluded the new Commander.

In Uruguay, there are 192 people forcefully disappeared by State terrorism, according to the National Human Rights Secretariat.

(*) The name of the LUISA software was chosen as a tribute to Luisa Cuesta [2], an emblematic member of the Association of Mothers and Relatives of the Detained-Disappeared. Her only son, Nebio Ariel Melo Cuesta, was a member of Partido Comunista Revolucionario and on February 8th, 1976, while in exile in Buenos Aires (Argentina), he was detained by military and police officers, together with one of his friends. He´s been missing ever since.