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The Confines of Memory: The Endurance of Denial Narratives in Peru

Jo-Marie Burt
George Mason University
Jo-Marie Burt
George Mason University
Open Panel

Abstract

On April 7, 2009, the Peruvian Supreme Court found former president Alberto Fujimori (1990-2000) guilty of grave violations of human rights. Arguing that these rose to the level of crimes against humanity, the justices applied the maximum sentence of 25 years. Fujimori has also been convicted in three separate trials of grave acts of corruption and abuse of authority. Despite these convictions, Fujimori remains stubbornly popular in Peru—according to some polls, even more so after his recent convictions—and his daughter Keiko remains the second most popular contender for presidential elections (April 2011). But more importantly, the narrative which posits Fujimori as the savior of the fatherland endures, despite efforts to unearth the truth about what happened during his government and to assign criminal responsibility for the crimes committed therein. This paper explores the limits, or confines, of memory. It analyzes the multiple transitional justice mechanisms that have been employed in Peru—a truth commission, criminal trials, reparations programs, memorials—to understand why narratives of the past based on denial of the grave violations of human rights that occurred have proved so enduring. It explores the role of the media and informal political networks in this process. It also analyzes popular understandings of human rights and security, a key nexus in the memory battles underway in many parts of the world today. Drawing on the Peruvian case, the paper reconsiders the way memory is used not in the service of progressive social change but to buttress authoritarian and exclusionary political projects. Denial narratives that reject the need to examine and account for the "politics of the past," in this sense, may be viewed as a central issue in democratic consolidation.