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LASA2014 / Democracy & Memory
XXXII International Congress of the Latin American Studies Association

LASA President
Merilee Grindle
Harvard University

Program Co-Chairs
Raúl Madrid
University of Texas/Austin

Florencia Garramuño
Universidad de San Andrés

Congress Theme
September 11, 2013, marks the fortieth anniversary of the violent coup that toppled a long-existing democratic regime in Chile. This country was not alone in experiencing repressive military rule. Indeed, during the 1960s and 1970s, democracies in Argentina, Uruguay, and Brazil were replaced by military governments. Moreover, during the same period, and extending to the 1990s, authoritarian regimes held power in numerous other countries — Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, Panama, Peru, and Paraguay among them.

Many of these authoritarian regimes made systematic use of violence, repression, disappearances, and fear to suppress resistance, protest, and human rights. They targeted enemies of the state broadly and used exile, torture, and executions as instruments of state power. Resistance to state repression was also widespread.

Beginning in the 1980s, democratic processes of government were reestablished throughout Latin America and new constitutions were written and introduced against a backdrop of public memories of past political experiences of repression and injustice, many of them constructed under years of authoritarian rule. Sufficient time has now passed for scholars to assess the longer term consequences of collective memory and institutional development and to reflect on a number of major questions:
  • Does this past, shaped by collective memories that are themselves constructed of narratives, shared experiences, and interpretations of everyday life, as well as of violence, repression, and resistance, affect how new institutions are discussed, devised, and developed?
  • Does the collective experience of violence and oppression contribute significantly to collective commitment to “new rules of the game” that are expected to result in widespread political participation, peaceful conflict resolution, and the generation of consensus about broad lines of public policy?
  • What are the enduring tensions and conflicts that result from collective memories of political pasts?
  • How have conflicting views of the past shaped public recognition of historical events through art, museums, public spaces, and school curricula?
  • How do collective memories survive and how are they transmitted across generations?
  • What is the obligation of current and future generations to honor past struggles and to engage in conflicts and discussions about differing interpretations of the past?

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