Speaking up against enforced public amnesia
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Speaking up against enforced public amnesia

“History is not mute. However much they burn it, however much they break it, however much they lie about it, human history refuses to shut its mouth. Time past continues pulsating, alive, within time present, although time present doesn’t wish it or doesn’t know it.”

Eduardo Galeano wrote these words in his well-known book Patas arriba. La escuela del mundo al revés (1998). Yet, autocrats and far-right politicians both past and present ignore this lesson and continually try to cover up or rewrite history.

After the fall of dictatorships in countries like Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Guatemala, Peru, and Uruguay, truth commissions examined forced disappearances and crimes against humanity. Nevertheless, governments – some of whose members had been closely connected to the dictatorships – dragged their feet and civil society was forced to protest and investigate on its own account.

In Argentina, the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo – founded in 1976 – began to protest against state terrorism and human rights violations. Many years later, in 2015, the ESMA Museum and Site of Memory was created on the site of a former clandestine centre for detention, torture, and killing.

Chile opened its Museum of Memory and Human Rights in 2010, commemorating the victims of violations under its military dictatorship, and Peru created the Place of Memory, Tolerance and Social Inclusion in 2015 in its capital city Lima.

Today, in a world where far-right politics are once again gaining ground, the pendulum is swinging back to misinformation and lies about “what really happened”. Russia under Vladimir Putin is leading the way, with his much emulated call to “Make Russia Great Again”. Peru is following suit.

Lima’s ultra-conservative mayor, Rafael López Aliaga, has forced the closure of the Place of Memory, Tolerance and Social Inclusion in a move that reflects a growing denial of the mass killings carried out between 1980 and 2000 when nearly 70,000 people were killed by both the Shining Path rebels and the armed forces – according to Peru’s truth and reconciliation commission.

In all societies, what is recorded (or not) in the public memory and the way it is represented happens according to preconceived, often prejudicial, policies. The politics of remembering or forgetting is ultimately a power struggle in which repressing or erasing public memory is used to justify domination.

Therefore, wherever enforced amnesia reigns, it is the duty of civil society organizations to be the spokespersons of history and public memory, even at the risk of reawakening deep trauma.

Closing Peru’s Place of Memory, Tolerance and Social Inclusion is a violation of the country’s human and communication rights and should be resisted by every peaceful means possible.


Photo above: Mural on display at Lugar de la Memoria, la Tolerancia y la Inclusión Social in Lima, Peru, Oct. 2019 Credit: Jon Kolbert/Wikimedia Commons

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