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Fragile Memory, Shifting Impunity

Commemoration and Contestation in Post-Dictatorship Argentina and Uruguay


Cara Levey

Fragile Memory, Shifting Impunity is an interdisciplinary study of commemorative sites related to human rights violations committed primarily during dictatorial rule in Argentina (1976–1983) and Uruguay (1973–1985). Taking as a departure point the ‘politics of memory’ – a term that acknowledges memory’s propensity for engagement beyond the cultural sphere – this study shifts the focus away from exclusively aesthetic and architectural readings of marches, memorials and monuments to instead analyse their emergence and transformation in post-dictatorship Argentina and Uruguay. This book incorporates the role of state and societal actors and conflicts underpinning commemorative processes into its analysis, reading the sites within shifting contexts of impunity to explore their relationship to memory, truth seeking and justice in the long aftermath of dictatorship.
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Chapter 4: Returning to the Scene of the Crime(s): Transformative Trajectories of Sites of State Terrorism


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Returning to the Scene of the Crime(s): Transformative Trajectories of Sites of State Terrorism

Cuando se dice Auschwitz, en realidad se está mencionando un lugar, un espacio. Un espacio donde existió un campo de concentración y de exterminio, que se volvió el paradigma de todos los campos. Acá el punto es que cuando se dice Auschwitz, se está expresando un pensamiento, una imagen de algo que ocurre y no del lugar.

[When we say ‘Auschwitz’, we are actually referring to a place, a space. A space where a concentration and death camp existed, that became a paradigm of all camps. The point here is that when we say ‘Auschwitz’ we are expressing a concept, an image of something that has happened and not the place itself.] —Héctor Schmucler1

In contrast to the construction of intentional memorials whereby meaning may be conferred to spaces and places that do not carry connotations of dictatorship-era repression, this chapter examines the ‘return’ to the ESMA, the former clandestine detention centre in Buenos Aires, and to the former Montevideo prison Punta Carretas, two contrasting ‘objetos con pasado’ [objects with a past].2 Indeed, to speak of these places, as the ← 149 | 150 → opening quotation implies, is not to refer to a tangible location or locale, but to use it as shorthand for the brutality and violence executed there.3 Punta Carretas and the ex-ESMA evoke a ‘sense of place’...

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