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This book explores the power of words in post-Peace El Salvador and Guatemala—their violent and equally liberating power. The volume explores the entire post-Peace Accords era in both Central American countries. In “post-conflict” settings, denying or forgetting the repressive past and its many victims does violence to those victims, while remembering and giving testimony about the past can be cathartic for survivors, relatives, and even for perpetrators. This project will appeal to readers interested in development, societies in transition, global peace studies, and Central American studies.



Chapter 1. Introduction: On the Calle del Olvido

Salvadorans and Guatemalans continue to argue about the place of the past in the present and what role it might play in cementing peace and democracy. A common, though not uncontested, discursive scaffolding exists in Guatemala that celebrates the work memory does to prevent repetition and promote reconciliation. Those who want to forget the past (i.e., conservatives) must promote forgetting from within this framework. Public discourse in El Salvador is distinct. While the human rights community speaks of the work that truth does in much the same way their Guatemalan counterparts speak of memory, conservatives quite openly declare that what Salvadorans need to do is forget and look to the future. In both countries, contradictory versions of that past nevertheless exist.
Rachel Hatcher

Chapter 2. The Speakers, Writers, Painters, and Plasterers

This chapter introduces readers to the main figures and sectors involved in producing, reproducing, and pushing back against limits or attempts to limit how the past is discussed in public places. These groups are the human rights community and conservatives, whose relative strength or weakness, and connection to political parties, are explored in great depth. The chapter ends with an in-depth discussion about the state of print media in both countries. The news oligopoly makes it difficult to separate news from opinion, which allows readers to better understand the two countries’ respective discursive environments.
Rachel Hatcher

Chapter 3. Schizophrenic Memory in the Land of La Eterna Primavera

Chapter Two focuses on the period immediately following the 29 December 1996 signing of the Peace Accords and looks at how especially conservative politicians and former members of the military pushed for forgetting without actually saying the word, and then vocally denied that this was what they were doing. This chapter explores the struggle that exists in Guatemala between memory and forgetting, and the discursive tools conservatives who support forgetting use in an environment where memory dominates. These tools include speaking of amnesty, perdón (pardon or forgiveness), and reconciliation. The chapter also highlights the importance of the speaker’s ideology and past actions when trying to understand what they really mean when they say these words.
Rachel Hatcher

Chapter 4. Nunca Más in Guatemala

This chapter examines why it is that conservative Guatemalans speak of reconciliation, amnesty, and perdón when they want to forget. The reason lies in the existence of a discursive scaffolding, largely constructed by the human rights community, that insists that only memory will promote reconciliation and prevent repetition. There is no space for openly celebrating forgetting, so conservatives must choose their words carefully and use them creatively. Yet within a common discursive framework that insists on memory, distinct truths, as determined by distinct emblematic memories, exist. The human rights community’s truth of the past is largely identical to the narratives written in the two truth commission reports. Despite significant testimonial, documentary, and forensic evidence to the contrary, conservatives reject the reports as partial.
Rachel Hatcher

Chapter 5. Verdad or Olvido in El Pulgarcito de América

This chapter explores El Salvador’s two distinct discursive scaffoldings. Conservatives hail forgetting as the best way to achieve peace. This is El Salvador’s dominant discourse and it faces off against the human rights community’s truth-focused discourse. A crucial element in the development of how public discussions about the past are framed is the Salvadoran Truth Commission. Conservatives supported the Truth Commission’s work in preventing repetition until it became clear that the Commission would condemn the military for gross human rights violations. Conservatives then quickly passed an Amnesty Law and have promoted the work forgetting does ever since, and especially whenever the Amnesty Law, and so the forgetting it promotes, are challenged.
Rachel Hatcher

Chapter 6. The Past as Monument in El Salvador

This chapter explores conservatives’ monumentalization of the past. Yet rather than erect a physical monument, the way the right talks about the importance of remembering the past monumentalizes and petrifies it, making it irrelevant to the present and future. For the human rights community, on the other hand, the past is alive. It lives and breathes and is highly pertinent to the present for it explains and inspires. Within the human rights community’s whole hearted support of memory, and conservatives less than half-hearted mentions of memory, there is room to remember different truths of the past, and to forget them. Struggles between these distinct truths of the war dominate in post-Peace El Salvador.
Rachel Hatcher

Chapter 7. Contested Discourse in El Salvador and Guatemala

This chapter focuses on moments when the struggles over discourse are visible. In these moments, the complexities of group membership and the limits of discourse, as well as the process of narrative construction, emerge. In El Salvador, this rupture occurred when the FMLN’s Mauricio Funes was elected president in 2009, and even more so when he asked for perdón for the El Mozote massacre on the 20th anniversary of the Peace in 2012. In Guatemala, the 2013 genocide trial against Efraín Ríos Montt and Mauricio Rodríguez Sánchez represents a moment of rupture. These moments provide an opportunity to observe the struggle between truth and forgetting and about what is true.
Rachel Hatcher

Chapter 8. Conclusion: The Power of Words, and of Remembering

The Conclusion brings together the several themes of the book to remind readers of words’ power to dictate and limit ideas and understandings of the past, present, and future. In post-Peace Guatemala and El Salvador, words—and memory—are pivotal in the struggle to determine society’s public relationship with its past, and the direction that society will take in the years to come.
Rachel Hatcher


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