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On the Calle del Olvido : memory and forgetting in post-Peace public discourse in Guatemala and El Salvador



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For many years, El Salvador and Guatemala were submerged in brutal and bloody conflicts that cost the lives of tens of thousands. United Nations-brokered Peace Accords officially brought the years of violence to an end in 1992 and 1996, respectively. As the two countries slowly emerged from their respective Cold War-inspired internal conflicts, the question of what place the past would have in the present came to the fore. This dissertation explores the way past violence is talked about in the public sphere. It analyzes post-Peace Accords public discourse in both countries, with a particular focus on the issues of memory, forgetting, truth, reconciliation, and related terms. It examines the different tasks memory and truth were assigned in the Peace Accords, especially in relation to the truth/truth-like commissions created out of those accords, and in the years since, and looks at the language those who reject memory and truth use to oppose them. This dissertation argues that a common discursive framework exists in Guatemala that dictates that all sectors must insist on the importance of remembering the violence to prevent repetition. This is the human rights community's discourse, but it is one which even conservatives who wish for forgetting must repeat. Conservatives can only promote forgetting within the limits of this discursive framework, and they do so by talking about amnesty, perdón (pardon/forgiveness), and reconciliation. The situation in El Salvador is different. There is no common discursive framework that demands memory to prevent repetition and promote reconciliation. Rather than this, conservatives openly insist on amnesty and amnesia, while the human rights community insists on truth and memory. The discursive battle between forgetting and truth is El Salvador's discursive framework. Yet talking about memory, truth, reconciliation, and related topics leaves space to promote different truths, memories, or narratives of the past. This, indeed, is precisely what happens in both countries as different sectors actively promote their own truth, memory, or narrative, especially at moments of rupture or when their truth or discourse is challenged, as in 2012 when Salvadoran president Mauricio Funes asked for perdón for the El Mozote massacre and during Guatemala's 2013 genocide trial. Running throughout the discussion about discourse and discursive frameworks is a critique of the insistence on the existence of one truth, memory, or narrative of the past. This is the foundation on which truth and truth-like commissions are built. Yet rather than focusing on the truth of the past, this dissertation argues that the process of openly talking about the past and sharing truths and experiences will do more to contribute to reconciliation and non-repetition than insisting that there is and can only be one truth and that everyone must embrace it.



Guatemala, El Salvador, Memory, Forgetting, Truth Commissions, Reconciliation, Genocide, Apologies



Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)






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