- The Reappeared: Argentine Former Political Prisoners by Rebekah Park
In The Reappeared: Argentine Former Political Prisoners, Rebekah Park sheds light on the implications and limitations of the transitional justice process for former political prisoners, or ex-presos politicos, of Argentina’s 1976–1983 military dictatorship. Part of The Center for the Study of Genocide, Conflict Resolution, and Human Rights’ series on Genocide, Political Violence, and Human Rights, the book convincingly demonstrates how, though human rights discourses position themselves as apolitical, they are in fact highly political projects that are situated within and advance broader moral agendas. The book illuminates the ways in which the dominant human rights discourses of the post-dictatorship period in Argentina produced idealized forms of victimhood. The disappeared were memorialized as innocent victims of a violent regime, accused of “subversive” political activity and killed without proof or trial for their alleged resistance to the dictatorship. Later discourses would emphasize this resistance and paint the disappeared as heroes. Park illustrates how these forms of victimhood excluded former political prisoners whose status as victims could not be understood as rooted in their innocence because of their confirmed political activity and whose survival raised suspicions about their complicity in the violence. By analyzing how these narratives came to be, as well as the alternative narratives of the ex-presos, Park shows how these survivors struggle to carve out a space for themselves in Argentina’s collective memory and reveals the necessary incompleteness of transitional justice processes.
The book, which consists of six short and remarkably readable chapters, focuses its lens on the first organization of ex-presos to be legally recognized by the Argentine government, the Asociación de Ex-Presos Políticos de Córdoba (AEPPC). In the first chapter, “‘The Battle of the [End Page 335] Panties,’” Park sets the foundation for the book by establishing the importance of maintaining an activist identity for the ex-presos, both in their own accounts of their imprisonment and in the post-dictatorship representations of them. As former political prisoners who acknowledge their roles as militants and activists at the time of their kidnappings, the survivors with whom Park works occupy a complicated social position in which they are neither innocent victims in the sense in which the disappeared have been memorialized, nor are they deserving of the abuses to which they were subjected. The choice, then, to identify themselves as ex-presos, as opposed to survivors or ex-disappeared, is a significant one that underscores their political engagement before, during, and after imprisonment. They feel that inhabiting the label of victim strips them of their sense of identity as activists, while attempts to reclaim their identities as activists, too, deprive them of their status as survivors and victims—socially, if not legally. Therefore, the ex-presos seek to craft a human rights discourse that preserves their agency as actors and activists, while also permitting them to benefit from state and public support offered to victims. Park argues that the legal status of the AEPPC is significant as it allows the ex-presos to maintain their activist identity while ensuring their visibility before the government.
A second key theme Park describes is the shifting of public opinions about the ex-presos throughout the transitional justice process. In Chapter 2, “‘They Disowned Us Twice,’” she traces the trajectory of transitional justice in Argentina, providing a concise and expedient summary of the stages of this process from the immediate return of democracy, through the Menem era, to the current period, characterized by the Kirchners’ renewed emphasis on human rights. She contends that one of the most detrimental effects of the transitional justice project was the so-called “Two Demons Theory,” which maintained that both the military and leftist militants were to blame for the violence and chaos that unfolded during the dictatorship. This narrative left former political prisoners in a precarious position, being seen as responsible for the deaths of innocent victims while also being victims of unspeakable violence themselves. As a result of this discourse, ex-presos were treated with...