Term Paper: Politics of Memory

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[. . .] What is the connection between the domestic and international dimensions of the politics of memory? In terms of Chile, the situation regarding Pinochet has huge international repercussions, with the CIA releasing documents showing that they had some part in the 1973 military coup, and in supporting the military regime of Pinochet, with Colin Powell admitting 'This is not a part of our country's history that we are proud of' (Kornbluh, 2003), and in light of the fact that Pinochet was arrested, on Octobr 16th 1998, and was extradited by the Spanish judiciary (Kornbluh, 2003; Angell, 2000).

As the events in Chile have such international repercussions, and as they affect other countries, the international dimension of the politics of memory comes into play in this case. As has been shown through the 'Chile Archive' i.e., the documents released by the CIA, the U.S. had a huge involvement in the military coup, and in supporting the Pinochet regime, such that the politics of memory of this period of Chile's history have been voluntarily internationalized through this act, and the memories of the people involved in this internationalization are now politicized and open to debate and scrutiny, just as the memories of the victims and perpetrators are politicized and scrutinized within Chile. The same argument holds true for the arrest of Pinochet, which was an international effort, and through this international effort, transformed the politicization of the societal memory of events, to an international, societal, memory of events.

Through this internationalization of the politicization of memory, the domestic and international dimensions of the politics of memory are linked, with the domestic politics of memory becoming even more important, viewed as they are now, on an international arena. People's memories are thus given more validity on this international stage, as monuments of history, such as the Chile Archive, are uncovered, and as calls for an international criminal court become heard more frequently and more urgently (Angell, 2000).

In what ways are the politics of memory connected to the politics of human rights? In Chile, the two facets, political memory and the politics of human rights, are linked inextricably, precisely because it is the fact that human rights abuses are the basis of collective memory in Chile: of the collective memory of the left, because they suffered these abuses, and of the collective memory of the right, because they dealt out these abuses. The human rights groups use the politics of memory, as it stands in Chile, to politicize their cause, and to gain acceptance that the issues surrounding the human rights abuses, and the collective memories of such abuses, need to be brought to justice.

What are the connections between history, memory, and symbols? In times of trouble, and desperation, people seek symbols, and through symbols, people come to give form to their memories and to give meaning to these memories. For many in Chile, Pinochet stands as a symbol of evil, and when they think of, or see, this symbol, their memories are fired up again, so that the injustices again become clear and, through this, remain politicized.

Hite has done a nice study of the case of Allende's statue, which shows the value of symbols, and symbolic steps, in the process of recognizing and accepting painful memories. A statue of Allende was erected in Santiago de Chile, and was unveiled on June 26th 2000, and the unveiling was met with tension and dissent, which reflected the confusion of people with regards to their memories of the events, and their refusal to deal with their memories of these events (Hite, 2003a). The statue stands, many argue, as a reminder for everyone of the events of 1973 and post-1973, and as such, stands as a monument to the collective memory of those events: a symbol, which, through its presence, allows the issues to be constantly reflected upon, and for the memories to evolve and mature, in relation to the symbol, and people's opinion of the statue, it's worth, its value as a symbol, its necessity. As such, it is like a beacon of national consciousness of the problems still facing Chile, with regard to the events of the past.

As we have seen, memories are contested, with different sectors of society championing different memories: can there, then, be a 'national' memory, a memory of the nation as a whole? I would argue that, in Chile, a society where, still, memories are very painful for all concerned, and where memory, and the suppression of memory are themselves politicized so deeply, it is almost impossible for there to be 'one' national memory. This, perhaps, also reflects the politics of Chile, and of Latin America as a whole, where politics is traditionally divided between 'left' and 'right' (Brook, 2000), and where people are either supporters of the 'left' or the 'right', with people willing to die for their beliefs (look at Colombia nowadays), such that the current situation in Chile is no more than a reflection of this national trait towards polarization of politics. Under this situation, and with the many painful memories that are held by everyone regarding Chile's recent past, and with these memories being as politicized as they are, with the 'pact of silence', it is extremely difficult to see how Chile can ever have one national memory. The history of human rights abuses is there, it will not go away, and this will be devisive for Chilean society as long as it goes unsolved. The country has a great deal of collective healing to do, and even following this, it would be difficult to see how one collective memory could evolve.

Why do we need to talk about memory in such cases: why can we not just let it all be forgotten? It is for the good of humankind as a whole that such human rights abuses are exposed: if such cases were not exposed to international attention, and condemned, it would be an even greater abuse to ignore people's memories of events, and to carry on as if nothing had happened. For human society as a whole, such events need to be analyzed, in order that their origins be understood, so that similar situations are not allowed to happen again. Recent events in Rwanda, in Iraq, and in Yugoslavia, however, show that we still have a great deal of learning to do before we can judge any country on their human rights records, and on their modes of dealing with the politics of memory.

Bibliography

Paul Brook, Non-Democratic Regimes: Theory, Government and Politics (new York: St. Martin's Press, 2000) Chapter 1: Theories of Non-Democratic Government.

Pamela Constable and Arturo Valenzuela, A Nation of Enemies: Chile Under Pinochet. (New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 1991). Chapter 1: The War, Chapter 6: The Culture of Fear.

Patricio Silva, "Collective Memories, Fears, and Consensus: the Political Psychology of the Chilean Democratic Transition," in Kees Koonings and Dirk Kruijt, eds. Societies of Fear: The Legacy of Civil War, Violence and Terror in Latina America. London. Zed Books, 1999.

Felipe Aguero, "Chile: Unfinished Transition and Increased Political Competition" in Jorge Dominguez and Michael Shifter, Eds. Constructing Democratic Governance in Latin America. Second edition. Baltimore. The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2003. (only pp.292-303)

Alexander Wilde, "Irruptions of Memory: Expressive Politics in Chile's Transition to Democracy" Journal of Latin American Studies 31, 1999, 473-500

Thomas Miller Klubock, "History and memory in meoliberal chile: Patrcio Guzman's Obstinate Memory and the battle of Chile," Radical History Review 85, Winter 2003, 272-281

Teresa A. Meade, "Holding the Junta Accountable: Chile's "Sitios de memoria" and the History of Tortures, Disappearance and Death," Radical History Review 79, Winter 2001, 123-139

Katherine Hite, "Resurrecting Allende," NACLA Report on the Americas 37, 1, July/August 2003(a).

Katherine Hite, "Breaking the Pacto de Silencio: Memories of Defeat, Contemporary Politics, and the Chilean Political Class in the 1990s," retrieved at http://www.sas.ac.uk/ilas/sem_memory_Hite.doc, on 6th October 2003(b).

Peter Kornbluh, "… [END OF PREVIEW]

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