State Terrorism and the Politics of Memory in Latin America: Transmissions Across The Generations of Post-Dictatorship Uruguay, 1984–2004

by Gabriela Fried Amilivia


Watch Dr. Fried discuss the book during the LASA Congress publication launch session.

This book examines the intergenerational transmission of traumatic memories of the dictatorship in the aftermath of the two first decades since the Uruguayan dictatorship of 1973–1984 in the broader context of public policies of denial and institutionalized impunity. Transitional justice studies have tended to focus on countries like Argentina or Chile in the Southern Cone of Latin America. However, not much research has been conducted on the “silent” cases of transitions as a result of negotiated pacts. The literature on memory trauma and impunity has much to offer to studies of transition and post-authoritarianism. This book situates the human and cultural experience of state terrorism from the perspective of the experiences of Uruguayan families, through an in-depth ethnographic, cultural, psycho-social, and political interdisciplinary study.

While there has been much discussion about memory and the politics of memory, little attention has been paid to the transmission of memory itself across generations and to the study of the intersection between memory, silencing, politics of oblivion, and impunity. This book helps to fill the gap by examining the transmission of memory across two generations of the dictatorship (adults and children who experienced the effects of state terrorism firsthand) against the background of the transitional politics of oblivion and the legacy of the harmful legacy of the dictatorship reinforced by a continued public politics of silencing and impunity. Problems of institutionalized impunity and oblivion are more common than is documented in the current available transitional justice literature.

The book looks at the private transmission of memories—through narrative and embodied “modes” of transmission across generations—against the backdrop of Uruguay’s public “paths” of remembering within the environment created by a transitional politics of public denial, silencing and “oblivion” (1984–2000) that led to institutionalized impunity and, over time, to the emergence of a new climate of public “waves of memory” towards truth seeking and accountability that have become increasingly stronger over the last decade (2004–2014).

This book brings to light the paradoxical problem of collective remembering and transmission of traumatic political experience in the political context of a consensus that is shrouded by secrecy and impunity. There is growing interest in post-transitional processes which, decades after the initial transition, have become a highly contested issue “reignited” both within and outside Latin America where when the there is a shift away from oblivion and impunity toward contestation. Uruguay is a classic example of this—after more than forty years since the dictatorship, families and civil society at large are seeking redress and accountability, in spite of the blanket amnesty and political and social amnesia.

While the interest in the fields of memory, oral transmission, and transitional justice studies continues to grow, there is dearth of recently published high-quality works in English on post-authoritarian Uruguay, generations, and memory transmissions. This study takes an innovative and unique approach of studying memory transmissions intersubjectively, in its intertwining of sociocultural, political and psycho-social dimensions as it draws from private experiences in families to illuminate the public and political processing of memory in this idiosyncratic case. The book also adds to the scarce collection of studies of Uruguay, a country which followed its own “sinous” path from denial and impunity towards truth, memory, and accountability.

State Terrorism and the Politics of Memory in Latin America will be a valuable resource to students, scholars, and practitioners who are interested in substantive questions of memory, democratization, and transitional justice, set in Uruguay’s scenario, as well as to human rights policy-makers, advocates and educators and social and political scientists, cultural analysts, politicians, social psychologists, psychotherapists, and activists. It will also appeal to the general public who are interested in the problem of how to transmit the stories and meaning of traumatic experiences as a result of gross human rights violations, the cultural and generational effects of state terror, and the politics of impunity. This book is essential for collections in Latin American studies, political science, and sociology.

See excerpts.


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