UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Testimonio, judgment and punishment : justice and the politics of history in contemporary Argentina Halaburda, Carlos Gustavo


This thesis explores how survivors of Argentine state terrorism (1974-1983) deploy the Latin American testimonial genre as part of a wider phenomenon of alternative means of seeking justice at the margins of customary legal venues in contemporary Argentina. It investigates the modes in which survivors perform judicial authority to challenge the legal impunity imposed by the amnesty laws (1986-1987) and presidential pardons (1989-1990) enacted by constitutional governments to pardon state criminals and their civil accomplices. Examining a select group of testimonies contained in the Archivo Testimonial sobre el Operativo Independencia y la dictadura militar en Famaillá, Tucumán (1975-1983) (Testimonial Archive on Operation Independence and the Military Dictatorship in Famaillá, Tucumán, 1975-1983), it analyzes how the testimonial genre functions as a mechanism of truthtelling that unsilences the past. Famaillá survivors’ truthtelling practices reclaim the faculty to judge, to punish, and seek justice, formulating a sentence based on politicized uses of history. I argue that if human rights activists’ escraches (public shaming) were aimed at making the country a symbolic prison for the amnestied or unpunished criminals, the testimonio seeks to make time their perpetual site of penance. In this way, testimonio’s own radical dictum is ‘may memory be their prison.’ For the testimonial community, achieving justice means to ensure that the offense against humanity persists in the unquantifiable dimension of collective memory. This analytical enterprise has a double aim. Firstly, to discuss the politics of pursuing justice through the lens of truthtelling practices by aggregating missing voices of Argentina’s years of state terror. And, secondly, to propose an understanding of a politics of time, one from the perspective of survivors and their use of history to attain justice.

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