Paper Cadavers: The Archives of Dictatorship in Guatemala

Paper Cadavers: The Archives of Dictatorship in Guatemala

by Kirsten Weld


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In Paper Cadavers, an inside account of the astonishing discovery and rescue of Guatemala's secret police archives, Kirsten Weld probes the politics of memory, the wages of the Cold War, and the stakes of historical knowledge production. After Guatemala's bloody thirty-six years of civil war (1960–1996), silence and impunity reigned. That is, until 2005, when human rights investigators stumbled on the archives of the country's National Police, which, at 75 million pages, proved to be the largest trove of secret state records ever found in Latin America.

The unearthing of the archives renewed fierce debates about history, memory, and justice. In Paper Cadavers, Weld explores Guatemala's struggles to manage this avalanche of evidence of past war crimes, providing a firsthand look at how postwar justice activists worked to reconfigure terror archives into implements of social change. Tracing the history of the police files as they were transformed from weapons of counterinsurgency into tools for post-conflict reckoning, Weld sheds light on the country's fraught transition from war to an uneasy peace, reflecting on how societies forget and remember political violence.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780822356028
Publisher: Duke University Press Books
Publication date: 03/21/2014
Series: American Encounters/Global Interactions Series
Pages: 352
Sales rank: 1,157,458
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.80(d)

About the Author

Kirsten Weld is Assistant Professor of History at Harvard University.

Table of Contents

List of Abbreviations ix

Acknowledgments xiii

Introduction: The Power of Archival Thinking 1

Part I Explosions at the Archives 27

Chapter 1 Excavating Babylon 29

Chapter 2 Archival Culture, State Secrets, and the Archive Wars 50

Chapter 3 How the Guerrillero Became an Archivist 69

Part II Archives and Counterinsurgency in Cold War Guatemala

Chapter 4 Building Counterinsurgency Archives 91

Chapter 5 Recycling the National Police in War, Peace, and Post-Peace 119

Part III Archives and Social Reconstruction in Postwar Guatemala

Chapter 6 Revolutionary Lives in the Archives 153

Chapter 7 Archives and the Next Generation(s) 183

Part IV Pasts Present and the Future Imperfect

Chapter 8 Changing the Law of What Can Be Said, and Done 213

Chapter 9 Conclusion: The Possibilities and Limitations of Archival Thinking 236

Notes 257

Bibliography 301

Index 323

What People are Saying About This

Kate Doyle

"Kirsten Weld's book is a tremendous achievement, chronicling the improbable, stunning, and heroic recovery of a lost archive of repression in Guatemala while recounting the story of a society trying to save itself. If the police files are the cold, bureaucratic residue of the counterinsurgent state, Weld's tale glows with the lives, loss, hopes, and fierce political commitment of the archivist-activists who dared to defy their country’s history of terror and dream of justice. Brilliant."

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