- Reckoning with Human Rights narratives and Memory Politics in the recent history of Argentina
Issues of memory and human rights violations remain under historical scrutiny in current Argentinean society; as most post-authoritarian societies, Argentina has been dealing with a certain generalized disappointment with the results of transitional justice and the hegemonic narratives of the legacies of the last dictatorship. Antonius Robben and James Brennan look into Argentina's recent history from a post-transitional context and revisit the 1976–1983 dictatorship. On the one hand, Robben undertakes the use of testimonies and anthropological interviews to analyze the ongoing dynamics of violence and social trauma that built the sense of social and historical betrayal in post-authoritarian Argentina. Brennan, on the other hand, focuses on the role and importance of Córdoba, and of the detention center of La Perla, in the construction of political violence and repression in Argentina and in Latin America in a Cold War context more generally. Both studies deal with failed expectations of justice and reparations within Argentinean society regarding the traumatic effects of the last military dictatorship. In doing so, Robben and Brennan open new paths for revisiting the premises and current interpretations of issues of memory, human rights, and reckoning with the recent past in Argentina.
Deploying an anthropological perspective based on an extensive and impressive field research, Robben analyzes the interplays between trust and betrayal at different social levels and national areas of contestation in Argentina. He studies the complexities that lay among the testimonies of victims of human rights violations, former and current activists, former guerrilla groups, and military officers. Robben aims to connect these actors with a historical analysis of decades of political violence and an ongoing construction and reproduction of "sociocultural trauma" (35) from the mid-1950s to the present. Robben takes his analysis beyond the established hypotheses on political violence by connecting the occurrence and emergence of violence with the construction of social trauma. According [End Page 458] to Robben, narratives of violence and trauma have created a latent feeling of mistrust and betrayal among different social actors in Argentinean society. Victims of state violence like Poema Akselman felt betrayed by the state when she searched for her daughter. In general, victims of state violence and relatives of the disappeared felt betrayed also by the armed forces who blamed the disappearances on the guerrilla violence and social chaos (p.234–235). On the other hand, General Díaz Bessone and other military officers interviewed felt betrayed by the narratives of victimization and innocence of the disappeared (p.236). This is an interesting point of Robben's work. He does not focus only on the victims' mistrust towards the state and the transitional justice system; he also focuses on the narratives of the past that built the mistrust and sense of betrayal from former military officers and perpetrators of acts of violence towards democratic governments and human rights organizations.
In this sense, there is a very complex ambiguity related to the representations of the victims. Relatives of the disappeared need to recover their political and historical agency. But, by rejecting Nunca Más Report representations of the disappeared as passive victims, they reinforce military justifications of political violence and massive human rights violations. Thus, there appears to be an impossible solution to this paradox, since both narratives of the disappeared (victims or heroes) seem to be unfair and limited to understand their historical agency. This contradiction reproduces the painful mourning of the disappeared in an on-going process of re-enactment of political violence and social trauma, framed in narratives of mistrust and betrayal.
Regarding this point, Robben engages with different books from Argentinean and Southern Cone historiographies on the politics of Truth Commissions and the role of civil society and human rights movements in the constructions of policies of memory and reparations. Nunca Más created a problem in...