SSC Seminar Series: George Lovell

Mac-Corry Room D-411 (Sociology Lounge)
12:30 - 2:00 pm

George Lovell (Professor, Department of Geography, Queen's University)

The Archive That Never Was: State Terror and Historical Memory in Guatemala

Between 1961 and 1996, armed conflict in Guatemala, according to the findings of a United Nations Truth Commission, claimed the lives of over 200,000 people, many of them the targets of state-orchestrated acts of terror denied still by members of the security forces responsible for perpetrating them. While conducting its investigations, the Truth Commission was repeatedly obstructed by army and police personnel from gaining access to official records, being told that no documentation of the type requested ever existed. Bureaucracies don’t work that way, even ones with good reason to destroy or conceal evidence of an incriminating nature. It was nonetheless of startling import when, on July 5, 2005, during a routine inspection to verify that explosive devices had been removed from a police compound located in a densely settled neighborhood of Guatemala City, a delegation sent by the country’s Human Rights Prosecutor came across what in effect is an archive containing records of the deeds of the National Police. Known now to contain an estimated 80 million documents, the Archivo Histórico de la Policía Nacional is a cabinet of atrocities that reveal, especially for the 1980s but dating back to earlier times, conspiracy and complicity on the part of police officers in a ghoulish network of surveillance, intimidation, abduction, torture, and murder, a veritable paper trail of disappearance and death. A visit to the police archive in August 2010, arranged so as to afford some first-hand familiarity of how its contents are being safeguarded and drawn upon for criminal proceedings, forms the basis of discussion.

Everyone welcome!