Thursday, July 31, 2014

Notes on the life and writings of Maurice Halbwachs

Maurice Halbwachs (1877-1945) was a French sociologist and student of Émile Durkheim and Henri Bergson whose foundational works on social memory studies establish a relationship between individual memories and collective processes of memory.  His first work Social Frameworks of Memory (Les cadres sociaux de la mémoire) was published in 1925.  The Collective Memory was published posthumously and includes his essays from the 1930s and 1940s.  Lewis Coser’s volume On Collective Memory includes sections from Social Frameworks of Memory.  Halbwachs died in Buchenwald after being detained by the German Gestapo.  He died of dysentery on March 16th 1945 shortly before the camp was liberated on April 11th.

Buchenwald concentration camp, Germany c. April 1945
Lewis Coser’s edition of Hallbwachs’ On Collective Memory
Halbwachs' primary thesis in On Collective Memory is that human memory functions within collective social frameworks, particularly those of family, religion, and social class.  It follows then that different social groups adhere to different collective memory frameworks.  Furthermore Halbwachs asserts that collective memory is not merely a passive compilation of individual memories, but that personal recollection is socially determined: “Collective frameworks are, to the contrary, precisely the instruments used by the collective memory to reconstruct an image of the past which is in accord, in each epoch, with the predominant thoughts of the society” (40).  According to Halbwachs, memories, whether individual or collective, are not simply recollections, but rather reconstructions evoked by present day situations and contexts: “…we appeal to our memory only in order to answer questions asked of us, or that we suppose they could have asked us” (38).  For Halbwachs, collective memory functions to position private memories within a meaningful social framework.  As Halbwachs posits, “remembering” is part of a group identity (40).  In this light it becomes understandable that questioning the memory associated with a space can be perceived as a betrayal of one’s community. 
**Halbwachs, Maurice. On Collective Memory.  Chicago, University of Chicago Press,

The Collective Memory (essays)
Halbwachs ideas on the individual versus society foreshadows another French theorist, Guy Debord’s, thinking in Society of the Spectacle (1967).  Halbwachs questions an essential individual awareness, consciousness or memory.  When people think that they are identifying with something in the cultural production or spectacle, Halbwachs argues that they are actually projecting or echoing the hive mind.  He doesn’t call it the hive mind, but he does seem to suggest that there is a collective social consciousness or some kind of social spectacle.  Like Debord, Halbwachs doesn’t believe that individuals exercise absolute freedom.  Instead people always are obedient to external social influences (141).  Even memories that seem personal emerge only when the collective social context is ripe for them to emerge.  Individual variations come only from the individual recipe for mixing social frameworks.

Halbwachs considers memory more representative of society than history because it does not contain anything artificial.  Memory only exists because it is relevant today.  Social memory erodes at the edges as older members of the group become isolated and die (148).  It does not exceed the boundaries of the group.  

I wonder if this opposition between history and memory can be linked to Diana Taylor’s concepts of archive (history) and repertoire (collective memory).
**From The Collective Memory essays from the 1930’s and 40’s in Olick, Venitzzky-Seroussi, and Levy’s The Collective Memory Reader

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Challenging Communist Causality: Miguel Mármol and Reynaldo Galindo-Pohl’s Recuerdos de Sonsonate

Ernesto Cortez, Pintor de Sonsonate
Roque Dalton’s Miguel Marmol (1972), Jorge Schlesinger’s Revolución Comunista: ¿Guatemala en peligro? (1946) and Joaquín Méndez’ Los sucesos comunistas en El Salvador (1932)  are key texts that have formed the emblematic memories of the uprising in January of 1932 in El Salvador and have framed it as a communist uprising.  One relatively unknown primary source, Reynaldo Galindo-Pohl’s Recuerdos de Sonsonate: Crónica del 32’ (2001), is a memoir that responds to these emblematic narratives of 1932 with a perspective that is critical of interpretations that frame the uprising as communist.  His narrative reconstructs Sonsonate as it was in the early 30’s and brings to light a nuanced set of causes behind the uprising of 1932 that have been broadly forgotten such as the extinction of communally held ejidal lands, the impact of the global economy and increased government repression.  Galindo Pohl’s text is a counter-narrative that provides an alternative socio-historical perspective on 1932 from within one of the main municipalities impacted by the events of 1932. 

Dominant Accounts of 1932
Scholars of Salvadoran History have recently begun to question the dominant narrative frames that have shaped the collective memory of 1932.  Remembering a Massacre in El Salvador argues that communism is one of the main interpretations of 1932 among people from the left and the right (Lindo-Fuentes, Ching, Lara-Martínez 6).  Considering the hysteria of the first Red Scare, a result of the Russian Bolshevik Revolution of 1917, it is understandable that this popular uprising was immediately framed as communist.  In fact, uprisings had occurred already in El Salvador’s past (Aquino) and were thought of as class and ethnic issues before discussions of communism became commonplace after the Russian Revolution of 1917(Lindo-Fuentes, Ching, Lara-Martínez 47).
The threat of communism was real, as Lindo-Fuentes, Ching and Lara-Martínez point out, “just a few years earlier the 1917 Revolution had brought Russia, then one of the largest and potentially wealthiest countries in the world, under communist rule.  The new Russian leaders vowed to promote global revolution.”(6) At the same time, Lindo-Fuentes, Ching and Lara-Martínez argue that the Mexican Revolution (1910-1920) would seem like a more relevant comparison to make with El Salvador than faraway Russia.  “Indeed, conditions in western El Salvador resembled those in Mexico; the region had a history of ethnic conflict in which Ladinos (members of the dominant culture regardless of race) defined Indians as threats to progress, and Indians, in turn, identified Ladinos as repressive, elitist racists who were determined to eradicate Indians from society” (9).    
Lindo-Fuentes, Ching, and Lara-Martínez argue that communism became the main way to explain the uprising of 1932 in El Salvador because both the left and right found legitimacy in this narrative frame and were able to use it to garner political support:
The right accepted communist causality because it portrayed their forefathers as the historic defenders of the nation, who fought back the barbaric threat of communism and preserved El Salvador as a Catholic nation respectful of private property and ruled according to the values of the business community.  Furthermore the right used this argument to justify its hard-line stance against mass mobilization in the 1960s and 1970s, including the use of death squads to eliminate supposed “communist” insurgents.  The left accepted communist causality because it depicted communists as the historic leaders of the masses, the protectors of the downtrodden, and the vanguard in the fight against capitalism.  The left also used this argument to promote itself as the leader of the surge in mass militancy after 1960.  (Lindo-Fuentes, Ching, and Lara-Martínez  8)
One of the strongest pieces of evidence that Remembering a Massacre in El Salvador offers to question communist causality is the documents from the Russian archives that show that the PCS and the SRI did not instigate the revolt, but rather that they tried to take on leadership positions within the revolt once they saw that it would happen whether they were ready or not (48).  So, the PCS was involved, but it was not the primary organizational impetus behind 1932.  Instead the authors argue that the uprising originated in local interpretations of social conditions through the caciques and cofradías. (58, 73)  Also they cite Jeffrey Gould and Aldo Lauria Santiago’s work that shows that the local SRI chapters allowed a lot of local autonomy and in this way functioned as malleable entities adapted to local needs (61). 
Communist framing has shaped historical investigations of 1932.  Soon after the uprising the types of questions journalists were asking assumed that communism was the primary cause: “Where did communist agitation begin?” (Schlesinger 4)  What was the degree of devastation caused by the indigenous masses and their communist agitators?” (Méndez  7)  Two of these influential early accounts of 1932 were Joaquín Méndez’ Los sucesos comunistas en El Salvador  (1932) and Jorge Schlesinger’s Revolución comunista : Guatemala en peligro? (1946).  Both served as key references for subsequent accounts of 1932 such as Roque Dalton’s Miguel Mármol (Lindo-Fuentes, Ching, and Lara-Martínez 117; 124).
Joaquín Méndez’ Los sucesos comunistas en El Salvador was published immediately following the January uprising in 1932.  Méndez was a journalist who was commissioned by the government to tour the municipalities of Western El Salvador in February and March to interview eyewitnesses and photograph the damaged communities.  The title of his book, “The Communist Events of 1932,” clearly reveals his ideological interpretation of the insurrection.  In his prologue he blames the Communist Party for agitating the indigenous population to revolt: “Y tanto aquí, como en el extranjero, no podía apreciarse en su justa magnitud la obra devastadora que realizó la masa indígena excitada por los agitadores comunistas.”  His book is part ethnography, part catalogue of the damages incurred by the communities at the hands of the “reds.”  For example, several photographs show broken doors; one is captioned: “Pasando por las calles de Izalco, se nota que casi todas las puertas fueron destruídas a filo de machete y a golpes de hacha, por los rojos” (Méndez 26).
Roque Dalton relies heavily on Jorge Schlesinger’s Revolución comunista: Guatemala en peligro? (1946) in the writing of Miguel Mármol (Lindo-Fuentes, Ching, and Lara-Martínez 124).  Schlesinger writes his book as a warning for Central American countries and governments.  He explains that the communist agitation in El Salvador began in the capital of San Salvador where it was largely contained and relatively innocuous, but once propaganda filtered into the rural areas, where the working and living conditions were much more miserable, the demands sparked a popular insurrection amongst the “ignorant and gullible” masses. (Schlesinger 5)  “La Revolución Comunista de El Salvador, nos enseña hasta dónde pudo llegar un pueblo oprimido y hambriento, estimulado por promesas de inmediatas reinvindicaciones sociales; y, la historia se repite…” (Schlesinger 6)        
Almost twenty years later, Roque Dalton’s Miguél Mármol (1972) is published and contributes significantly to the dominant communist frame of the uprising of 1932.  Roque Dalton is one of the most prominent figures of the Salvadoran left and Lindo-Fuentes, Ching, and Lara-Martínez argue quite convincingly that Roque Dalton’s politics substantially shaped the narrative of Miguel Mármol’s life.  It is noteworthy that in prior works such as El Salvador and El Salvador: Monografía, Dalton makes an effort to revise traditional versions of history to emphasize the role of class conflict as a driving historical force (Lindo-Fuentes, Ching, and Lara-Martínez 134).  In 1966 Miguel Mármol, a communist eyewitness of the events of 1932 in El Salvador, unexpectedly met Roque Dalton in Prague and agreed to share his testimonial.  Roque Dalton openly admits in his introduction to Miguel Mármol that his motivation in collecting Mármol’s testimony is not to represent historical reality, but instead to transform historical reality through his work (Dalton 34).  The authors of Remembering a Massacre in El Salvador also point out that Roque Dalton had a few dozen pages of notes from his interviews with Miguel Mármol while the published testimony is more than 500 pages.  “He subjected Méarmol’s words (or, at least what he recorded of Mármol’s words) to narrative reconfiguration.  The process sometimes altered their meaning by adding to them, subtracting from them, and putting them at the service of a plot imbued with political significance” (180).  They also argue that the rebellion makes up only a small part of the life of Miguel Mármol, but Roque Dalton subtitles the book, “Los sucesos de 1932 en El Salvador.” 
Miguel Mármol is one of the founding members of the Salvadoran communist party (PCS) in 1930 and one of the main organizers of the rebellion of 1932.  Mármol was put to death before a firing squad after the revolt, but managed to survive underneath the bodies of his fallen comrades. In the text Mármol reflects on the social struggles in El Salvador between 1930-50 for the benefit of future generations committed to the working class struggle.  Miguel Mármol clearly sets out the communist nature of the insurrection, “En 1932 hicimos una insurrección communista para luchar por un programa democrático burgués” (Dalton 210).  Mármol himself was a labor activist and founding member of the Salvadoran Communist Party and the narrative naturally unfolds from this vantage point (Lindo-Fuentes, Ching, and Lara-Martínez 152).  In the text the Salvadoran Communist Party (PCS) emerges as key to the development of the insurrection.  His deep sense of regret and responsibility in the devastating defeat further suggest that he perceived the PCS as having a decisive role in the failure of the insurrection.  Mármol explains that the Communist Party in El Salvador lacked military experience and lacked the ability to coordinate the insurrection across all of the municipalities (359; 361).  He said that he would only be able to die in peace if his party and his country are able to learn from the fundamental mistakes of 1932 (363).
One fairly unknown primary source, Recuerdos de Sonsonate, is an eyewitness memoir that responds to these dominant narratives with an alternative interpretation of the causes of 1932.  It is important to contextualize Reynaldo Galindo Pohl within Salvadoran society in order to evaluate how his background influences his account.  Even though he is my Great Uncle, I do not have many of my own memories of Reynaldo Galindo Pohl.  His international career as a diplomat was at its most prolific during most of my childhood and through the 90’s.  By then, we had left El Salvador as part of the diaspora caused by the war in the 80’s.  I spent time with him in 2005 when family reunited in El Salvador for my Grandmother’s funeral and novena.  He was already in his late eighties and struggled with his hearing and eyesight, but when my toddler reached for his metal rimmed glasses and knocked them to the floor, his sense of humor was quick, “Ya me fregaste cipote” he concluded playfully making us all laugh. 

Recuerdos de Sonsonate: Motivations
In his introduction Reynaldo Galindo-Pohl explains that he was motivated to write Recuerdos de Sonsonate by a personal longing for the past, but also because he felt that it was critical for Sonsonate and for El Salvador to understand what had happened in 1932.  Reynaldo Galindo Pohl’s deep sense of nostalgia for Sonsonate was more pronounced when his work as a lawyer and an international diplomat took him to far away places; waiting out the noon break from UNESCO on the steps of the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, for example, or looking out over the Bahía de Guanabara from the balcony of the Hotel Gloria in Río de Janeiro.  His work in these and other international cities gave him a hopeful outlook about El Salvador despite Sonsonate’s own dark history: “…concluí que los pueblos antes de llegar a la culminación, sufren períodos de oscuridad, asociados a descalabros y angustias, que todo en la vida tiene un precio, a veces un precio muy alto, y que nada se obtiene súbitamante ni por arte de magia” (30). 
Galindo Pohl became fully immersed in the process of writing Recuerdos de Sonsonate in 1985, during the Salvadoran civil war.  He argues that 1932 had a decisive impact on El Salvador’s history and attributes the Salvadoran war of the 80’s to a continued lack of understanding about the problems that came to a head in 1932.  It is understandable that the Salvadoran Civil War of the 80’s brought back memories of 1932 for him and provided a framework for gauging the present: “Al cerrarse este capítulo, parecía que el nivel de la violencia de 1932 nunca jamás sería igualado y menos superado.  Sin embargo, la Guerra Civil superó en violencia al 32’ (36). 
In part, Recuerdos is also a response to other narratives that circulated about 1932.  According to Galindo Pohl, another reason for writing his account was to add to the completeness of the historical record: “Algunos hechos mencionados no aparecen en los libros que se han escrito sobre los sucesos de 1932, y es conveniente rescatarlos para entregar pistas que puedan conducir a su comprobación o rechazo” (32).  It is worth emphasizing that he would not have been able to make this claim without having read at least the main books about the uprising published through 1985, at least the primary Spanish language texts, including Joaquín Méndez’s Los sucesos comunistas en El Salvador (1932), Jorge Schlesinger’s Revolución comunista (1946) and Miguél Mármol: Los sucesos de 1932 (1972).
In Recuerdos, Galindo-Pohl is critical of  “wishful thinking” party line interpretations of the 1932 uprising, which he describes as too subjective: 
El tratamiento inteligente, efectivo y oportuno de problemas sociales, ecónomicos y politicos, ha de partir de la identificación objetiva de hechos, antecedentes y tendencias del pasado.  El peor enfoque en estas materias es lo que en inglés llaman wishful thinking.  Los respectivos antecendentes pueden ser identificados aplicando el método sociológico-histórico, dentro de criterios de máxima objetividad e imparcialidad.  (36)
He argues that some of the accounts of 1932 adjust historical events to the desires and realities of the present day context.  Here in particular it would seem that he is speaking directly to Roque Dalton who introduces Miguel Mármol declaring that his motives for writing Mármol’s account are eminently political and that he is not interested in reflecting reality, but rather in transforming it. CITE Galindo Pohl cautions against using history as a tool of present day politics:
Sin embargo, esa búsqueda se hace a veces de tipo delirante, al querer que los hechos se ajusten a la medida de los deseos y las conveniencias inmediatas.  De ese modo se rechazan, desde el principio y por principio, las razones de determinada posición.  Este modo de enjuiciar sucesos con razones de partido está bastante difundido, y equivale, mutatis mutandis, en cuanto a irrealidad, a la condición imposible de los juristas romanos, cuyos prototipos eran el alcanzar el cielo con la mano y el tapar el sol con un dedo. (36)
Certain methodological factors should be weighed when evaluating the reliability of Galindo Pohl’s account.  First of all, he describes his work as a “collection of memories” instead of as a product of investigative research (32).  While investigative research in itself does not ensure objectivity, the norms of research are principally concerned with fostering objective data and valid findings.  At the same time, Galindo Pohl refers to Recuerdos as his testimony.  Given his training in law and his experience working with international human rights, “ testimonial” should be taken strictly in its legal sense; the account of a witness who makes a solemn statement of fact. 
Lo que aquí se narra carece del propósito de distribuir culpas o de hacer proselitismo.  Refleja, dentro de la intención firme de objetividad e imparcialidad, lo visto y oído.  No es, pues, una novela ni un estudio de crítica histórica; es únicamente un testimonio (33).   
Recuerdos is, in fact, the eyewitness account of a young boy from Sonsonate who came up with various excuses to get permission to leave the house in order to attend the public meetings at Rafael Campos Park and the sessions held by the Regional de Trabajadores union.  Recuerdos is not an example of the testimonial literature genre that came out of Latin America in the 1970’s and 80s.  In comparison with the norms of the genre of testimonial literature, Galindo-Pohl was not a marginalized person excluded from public discourse; he had the privilege of an education and the resources to write and publish his Recuerdos.
Setting aside the extraordinary human quality of Galindo-Pohl, Recuerdos is fundamentally a personal account and, in this way, inescapably subjective.  Also, Galindo Pohl admits to a thick temporal and geographical filter; he wrote Recuerdos more than fifty years after the uprising of 1932 while abroad.  Galindo-Pohl also re-arranged the narrative in terms of events, people and commentary for the sake of the narrative composition and flow. 
The use of real names of people is also important methodological piece of information.  He explains that fictitious names would have detracted from the historical value of the text:
El uso generalizado de nombres ficticios hubiera podido lanzar la crónica por la vía de la inventiva, en la cual los sucesos imaginados podrían apoderarse del lugar que corresponde a los sucesos de efectiva ocurrencia.  Tal vez algunas personas que sobreviven se decidan a poner por escrito sus recuerdos, para contribuir a la más axacta y completa relación de hechos y al mejor entendimiento de la conmoción socio-política de 1932.
Recuerdos focuses on reconstructing the community for the sake of remembering the historical identity of Sonsonate (31).  For this reason, Recuerdos de Sonsonate focuses on representing what people thought and believed in the 30’s.  Galindo-Pohl explains that at the time people did not know the facts, so it was their beliefs that motivated their actions: “la gente reaccionó con base en lo que creyó, y nadie por entonces tenía tiempo ni voluntad para indagar por la veracidad de estas y aquellas afirmaciones o noticias.” (33)

The Socio-Historical Roots of 1932
In Recuerdos Galindo Pohl brings up a nuanced set of causes behind the uprising of 1932 such as agrarian conflicts, the impact of the Great Depression and heightened government repression.  These causes have been overshadowed by the dominant communist interpretation of 1932.  Galindo Pohl discusses the division of land as a key cause of 1932 that has its roots in the conquest:
La cuestión de la tierra venía como consecuencia de una cantidad de factores que se remontaba a la conquista española, pues esta conquista asentó dos estratos básicos de población, la de los vencedores y la de los vencidos.  (273)
The extinction of ejidos and commonly held lands in 1885 was a result of liberal politics and economic policies that depicted these types of protectionist land holdings as backward.  National progress was thought to only be possible through economic policies that freed land ownership from provincialism.  Galindo Pohl reveals some of the racial tones that were intertwined with the arguments for progress; these suggest that cooperative land holdings were wasted on indigenous peoples who were not capable of, or simply did not have the desire to, make productive use of the land (277).  Galindo Pohl describes how the privatization of the ejidos impacted indigenous communities: “Para ellos la desocupación era rotundamente trágica, pues comportaba la transformación de la pobreza en miseria” (266). 
According to Galindo Pohl, the economic crisis of 1929 that began in the United States was another factor in 1932.  Salvadoran exports, particularly coffee, tied the country to the global economy and the Great Depression caused the Salvadoran economy to spiral downward dramatically after 1930.  The economists of the day viewed the depression as a corrective measure that was part of a normal economic cycle.  According to Galindo-Pohl, the popular uprising of 1932 was a response to the extreme frustration caused by the global economic crisis (282). 
The government adopted severe measures to prevent workers from agitating and hoped that the global economy would improve given time.  On August 12, 1930 the government of Pío Romero Bosque passed the first decree prohibiting meetings of workers.  On October 30th of that year, a more general decree was passed that prohibited all types of public meetings or protests (282).  On May 17 of 1931 Galindo Pohl describes one such public meeting in the Rafael Campos Park in Sonsonate of several hundred unarmed peasants.  When the first speaker began, armed agents from the National Police approached the speaker and dispersed the meeting.  Galindo Pohl says that the demonstrators cooperated and retreated but when they had walked about two blocks, the National Police open fired anyway.  Galindo Pohl was thirteen years old at the time and he describes seeing a wounded and bleeding man of about 40 years of age walking with difficulty and grasping at balconies and walls to steady himself.  Galindo Pohl portrays the polarization of Salvadorans who lived in the city and those who worked in the countryside; his Mother did not offer to help the injured man and the man did not ask anyone for help, “Mamá, mamá, ahí va un hombre herido; ¿ por qué no le damos posada? -¿Lo ha pedido? -No. -Entonces no lo necesita” (338).
According to Galindo Pohl people who participated in demonstrations of any kind were commonly identified as communists even though there was no evidence that they had any knowledge of the theoretical background of Marxism.  Galindo Pohl portrays demonstrators as more concerned with immediate needs than with an ideological program.  In contrast with the centrality of communism in the accounts of Méndez, Schlesinger and Mármol-Dalton, Galindo Pohl says there was no mention of the Communist Party at any of the student and labor demonstrations in Sonsonate:
Si ese partido tuvo participación importante en la insurrección fue cosa que no se dijo, ni siquiera los sectores profesionales y estudiantiles.  El contenido de las arengas, examinado únicamente con base de recuerdos, permite, muchos años más tarde llegar a esta conclusión. (335)
Socorro Rojo Internacional (SRI) provided modest economic assistance and moral support to labor activists, but Galindo Pohl argues that it was a myth that the SRI had an organizational role in the insurrection (336).  In early January a flyer circulated in Sonsonate that included the instructions of the Socorro Rojo Internacional to go ahead with an insurrection and to only respect the lives of children under two years old.  According to Galindo Pohl, this could have been a document spread by anyone intent on heightening tensions because the authenticity of this document was never verified (342).  Fascinatingly he places the SRI flyer incident alongside several other examples of unexplained omens of catastrophe.  For example, in early January a large red hot air balloon passed slowly above Sonsonate about 200 meters above ground.  People interpreted it as a signal that the city would be invaded that same night (347).  A few days later, citizens of Sonsonate woke up to find their homes marked with red chalk and numbered 1 through 50.  Galindo Pohl’s house was marked as number 26.  People suspected that these were the fifty houses that would be taken over for the rebel leaders.  Finally, around the 18th of January a cloud of ash rained several inches of soot from a nearby volcano.  People interpreted this as a natural sign of that the insurrection was at hand.  While each of these anecdotes helps to reconstruct the atmosphere of panic and fear of Sonsonate in the early days of 1932, but does not serve as evidence that the uprising of 1932 had communist origins. 

          Recuerdos de Sonsonate: Crónica del 32’ is a memoir that pushes back against the master narrative of 1932 as a communist uprising.  Galindo Pohl suggests that key causes such as land, the global economy, and repression have been marginalized in the collective memory and imagination, but played a much more significant role in the early 30’s in Sonsonate than did communism.  Galindo Pohl’s memoir offers anecdotes rich in socio-historical details from a perspective that is both inside and outside of the events.  Recuerdos is not free from the “narrative reconfiguration” of Roque Dalton's Miguel Mármol, but rather is the product of a new historical context in which communism is no longer perceived as a formidable threat given its global decline as a socio-political movement.  In the similar case of Alessandro Portelli's The Death of Luigi Trastulli, Portelli finds that it is not the historical events that are relevant, but rather how people remember them.  Narrative configurations change with the passage of time.  For this reason, Recuerdos de Sonsonate is not a corrective of earlier accounts, but rather should be read as a product of the war of the 80s and of the negotiated peace and in dialogue with other accounts of 32’.   

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

1932: Rebelión en la oscuridad de Jeffrey L. Gould y Aldo Lauria-Santiago

Esta semana mis lecturas se relacionan con las representaciones de la memoria del 1932 en El Salvador y con las negociaciones de la memoria que se ven en textos académicos como el que aquí se reseña 1932: Rebelión en la oscuridad, en el documental Cicatrices de la memoria, en el testimonio de Miguel Mármol escrito por Roque Dalton y en el cuestionamiento de Miguel Mármol que presentan Erik Ching y Rafael Lara-Martínez en Remembering a Massacre in El Salvador.)   

1932: Rebelión en la oscuridad (2008) de Jeffrey L. Gould y Alda Lauria-Santiago [368pp] investiga la masacre por las fuerzas armadas de por lo menos diez mil personas de los sectores populares en enero y febrero de 1932.  Los autores consideran que los sucesos del 1932 se conocen sólo de una forma parcial y fragmentaria.  Hacen uso de fuentes documentales, de varios archivos, y realizan más de doscientas entrevistas con sobrevivientes.  La investigación es una colaboración entre los autores Jeffrey Gould y Aldo Lauria Santiago, Carlos Henríquez Consalvi (“Santiago”) que dirige Radio Venceremos durante la guerra y hoy dirige al Museo sobre la guerra de los 80’ MUPI, y Reynaldo Patriz, nativo de El Carrizal.  Los autores identifican cuatro interpretaciones predominantes del 1932: la crisis política, la crisis económica, la causalidad comunista, y la rebelión indígena y muestran cómo las cuatro maneras de entender el 32’ se entrelazan de una manera compleja.    

En los primeros dos capítulos Gould y Lauria-Santiago consideran las raíces económicas y políticas de la rebelión.  Las condiciones de trabajo para los colonos y el semi-proletariado y la crisis mundial de 1929 llevan a la radicalización del movimiento sindicalista y la desesperación general de los sectores populares.  En términos políticos, la década de los 20’s fue un período de transición de autoritarismo a la democracia.  La apertura del sistema electoral bajo Pío Romero Bosque y la Presidencia de Arturo Araujo desestabilizan al país. [1] 

La teoría de la causalidad comunista tiene coge fuerza con las manifestaciones públicas que enfrentan a campesinos con autoridades.  Hay un decreto que prohíbe las manifestaciones colectivas de descontento.  El 17 de mayo de 1931, un enorme grupo de campesinos organizados por Socorro Rojo Internacional entra a Sonsonate y se dirige al Parque Rafael Campo.  Los agentes de la Policía Nacional responden con la represión violenta.  El Presidente Araujo se pone del lado de los represores y por lo tanto el 17 de mayo marca una ruptura entre los campesinos y el partido laboralista de Araujo.  Una de las fuentes primarias más interesantes para este capitulo es Recuerdos de Sonsonate: Crónica del 32 de Reynaldo Galindo Pohl. 

Los autores también traen a colación el componente cultural y étnico de la rebelión.  Gould y Lauria-Santiago proponen que las tensiones culturales entre la población indígena, mestiza y ladina profundizan la lucha de clases y la lucha por derechos iguales.  El comunismo resuena en comunidades indígenas que ven su cultura amenazada por las conductas de los ladinos.

Los capítulos cinco, seis y siete narran los acontecimientos de los 4 meses desde diciembre de 1931 hasta marzo de 1932.  En diciembre el movimiento sindicalista lanza una serie de huelgas en los cafetales durante la cosecha de café.  Las autoridades responden con violencia y represión a las huelgas rurales.  Por sospecha de fraude en las elecciones municipales, el movimiento sindicalista duda de la vía electoral y optan por la vía armada.  El 16 de enero, el movimiento sufre la captura de los líderes del PCS (Farabundo Martí, Mario Zapata, y Alfonso Luna) pero deciden seguir adelante con la rebelión para no abandonar a las personas que ya han sido detenidos.  El 20 de enero hay una llamada general a tomar armas.  En pocos días las fuerzas armadas casi extinguen la insurrección. 

Gould y Santiago determinan que hay tres etapas de represión.  La primera etapa de las masacres ocurre cerca de los pueblos que vieron las insurrecciones.  La segunda etapa de las masacres son retaliaciones de los terratenientes, los hacendados y de otras autoridades.  La tercera etapa se basa en las listas de miembros de Socorro Rojo Internacional y del Partido Comunista Salvadoreño.  El discurso oficial coloca la responsabilidad de la masacre en el partido comunista que acusa de engañar y manipular a los indígenas para rebelar.  Mueren los “justos por los pecadores” (239).

La última parte del libro es interesante por la discusión de la memoria de 1932.  Los autores consideran cómo las comunidades indígenas interpretan la matanza del 32’.  Dan ejemplos de personas que perciben el ataque dentro de un marco religioso.  Mencionan la intervención de santos blancos y de santos en caballos blancos.  Aquí yo creo que estos recuerdos de santos en el 32’ retoma el motivo de Santiago Matamoros de la conquista que se ve en el Lienzo de Tlaxcala y en los escritos del Inca Garcilaso y de Guaman Poma.  Por otra parte, Gould y Lauria-Santiago arguyen que la memoria del 32’ se resucita en la guerra de los 80 con símbolos y con recuerdos colectivos e individuales.  Por fin, Gould y Lauria-Santiago mencionan que, tanto la izquierda como la derecha, por sus propios motivos, enfatizan la causalidad comunista del 32’.  Sin embargo hay que recordar también el aspecto étnico que del 32’. 
El documental Cicatrices de la memoria acompaña el libro y reúne algunas de las doscientas entrevistas de 1932: Rebelión en la oscuridad:

[1] La dinastía Meléndez-Quiñonez representa un período de relativa estabilidad entre 1913-1927.   Pío Romero Bosque asciende a la Presidencia con el apoyo de la familia gobernante, pero ya en poder, Romero Bosque democratiza el sistema electoral.  En 1931 Arturo Araujo gana la Presidencia con el Partido Laboralista y con una plataforma de reforma agraria.  La oligarquía se opone y el 2 de diciembre del mismo año hay un golpe de estado que permite subir al poder el General Maximiliano Hernández Martínez.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Antígona en El Salvador: Una alegoría de la "posguerra"

Antígona es la tragedia clásica de Sófocles basada en un mito griego.  La dramaturga argentina Griselda Gambaro, el colectivo peruano Yuyachkani,  y varios teatros latinoamericanos han retomado la obra clásica por su resonancia con el tema de la memoria y la ética de la “posguerra”.  Aquí considero el mito griego en dos adaptaciones latinoamericanas para poder imaginar Antígona en términos de la realidad salvadoreña de “posguerra”. 

La acción de Antígona comienza en el primer día de la paz después de una lucha fratricida por el trono tebano.  La guerra termina con la muerte de dos hermanos, Eteocles y Polinices, que se dan muerte mutuamente.  Creonte, el tío de los hermanos se convierte en el rey de Tebas y mientras que a Eteocles se le recuerda como héroe, a Polinices se le tilda de traidor.  Creonte prohíbe sepultar al cadáver de Polinices y tiran el cuerpo al campo para que lo devoren las alimañas y las aves rapiñas.  No se permite que los tebanos lamenten la muerte de Polinices.  Ismene, una de las hermanas de Polinices y de Eteocles se somete al edicto de Creonte, pero la otra hermana, Antígona, no; ella entierra a Polinices y recibe el castigo de ser emparedada viva en una cueva.

Antígona furiosa de Griselda Gambaro en Argentina
En Argentina, Griselda Gambaro escribe el texto de Antígona furiosa (1986) para conmemorar el trabajo de las Madres de la Plaza de Mayo (Werth, Theatre, Performance and Memory Politics, 35).  La expulsión de Antígona a la cueva se puede leer como una referencia a los desaparecidos de la última dictadura.  Antígona declara: “No estaré con los humanos ni con los que murieron, no se me contará entre los muertos ni entre los vivos.  Desapareceré del mundo, en vida” (210).  La lucha entre Antígona y Creonte evoca el tema del autoritarismo de la dictadura de Jorge Rafael Videla (1976-1981).  En la versión de Gambaro Corifeo y Antinoo son dos porteños típicos que reemplazan al coro en la versión clásica.  Por miedo de Creonte y por respeto a su autoridad, ellos se burlan del sufrimiento de Antígona y de sus reclamos por justicia. (Werth, Theatre, Performance and Memory Politics, 44).  Se puede argüir que Corifeo y Antinoo representan la sociedad argentina que, por temor a la dictadura, no protestó los abusos que presenciaron.

Antígona de Yuyachkani en Perú
En 2002 y 2003 el colectivo peruano Yuyachkani acompaña las audiencias públicas de la Comisión de la Verdad y Reconciliación realizando acciones escénicas en los mercados y las plazas.  En esta versión de Antígona se enfatiza que la paz engendra ciertos silencios sobre el pasado.  En la caverna, Antígona dice, por ejemplo: “…les recuerdo una ley de Olimpo que dice que nada grande entra en la vida de los hombres sin alguna maldición.  Si la paz es esa cosa grande, yo soy la maldición, la ola rara que se estrella y muere en el interior de esa cueva”.  Ismene, la hermana de Antígona, ha optado por guardar el silencio pero se da cuenta que el silencio también es un castigo: “En tu elevado reino pídele a Polinices que me perdone la tarea que no hice a tiempo porque me acobardó el ceño del poder, y dile que ya tengo castigo grande: el recordar cada día tu gesto que me tortura y me avergüenza”.  La representación de Antígona en las audiencias públicas comunica la necesidad de romper el silencio que guarda Ismene para enterrar al pasado como hizo la heroína trágica, Antígona.

Antígona en El Salvador
Sin duda ya se han realizado versiones de Antígona en los teatros y en las universidades de El Salvador.  Aquí simplemente propongo una Antígona más; una Antígona como alegoría de la “posguerra” salvadoreña.  La acción comienza el 17 de enero de 1992, el primer día después de la firma de la paz.  Con el fin de la guerra mueren las utopías de la izquierda y se acaba el monopolio de la derecha.  Y con respecto a la memoria, ¿Quiénes hacen el papel de Ismene que opta por el silencio y el olvido?  ¿Quiénes son las Antígonas expulsadas por querer enfrentarse con el pasado?

Friday, July 25, 2014

Imagining Human Rights in 21st Century Theater

Imagining Human Rights in Twenty-First-Century Theater (2013) [248pp] edited by Florian N. Becker, Paola S. Hernández, and Brenda Werth is divided into three thematic sections, “Transitional justice and Civil Society, “The War on Terror and the Global Economic Order”, and “Constructing Transnational Publics.”  The first part looks at the inherent theatricality of some of the processes of transition such as trials, truth commissions and the construction of museums.  The second section examines the human dimension of statelessness by shedding light on how states constitute individuals within zones of exception.  The third section examines theater as a tool for both bolstering and for posing challenges to the international human rights imaginary. 

The book’s Foreword opens with the performance of flo6x8, a collective that uses flamenco to mark out a “temporary space through embodied practice that both claims and enacts an alternative social economy.”  The performers temporarily transform a bank into a tablao and the customers into an audience.  The dance protests the situation of a man that the bank has thrown out of his home.  The dancers and the audience temporarily take over the space and suspend the existing norms and the prevailing social logic.  The purpose of the performance is to temporarily introduce an alternative social and political logic; to spark imagination.  Like the dancer at the bank, performance is able to pose challenges to prevailing norms by exposing the very theatricality of the prevailing system.  Through interventions such as the dancer in the bank, theatre documents and functions as an archive of knowledge, challenges existing public spheres and constitutes new ones.

In the introduction the editors argue that the emergence of a discourse of universal human rights is directly related to acts of imaginary identification in 18th century Europe.  One example of this is the boom of the epistolary novel and the identification across social lines proposed by scholar Lynn Hunt in Inventing Human Rights.  The book sets out to answer the following types of questions about the relationship between theater and human rights.  What does theater do for human rights?  How has theatre been used strategically in some cases of human rights abuses?  How does theater influence the imagination?  What types of knowledge (archives/repertoire) does theatre produce?

Anne Lambright’s chapter “Dead Body Politics: Grupo Yuyachkani at Peru’s Truth Commission” explores the role of the theater collective Yuyachkani in accompanying the Peruvian Truth Commission and the process of national mourning.  Lambright looks closely at how works like Rosa Cuchillo, Antígona and Adiós Ayacucho re-present dead bodies in a way that allows the audience to imagine “a dead to mourn.”

Luis Madureira’s “Where ‘God is Like a Longing’: Theater and Social Vulnerability in Mozambique” looks at theatre as a tool that unites divided publics.  He looks specifically at the example of Os Noivos ou Conferencia Dramática sobre o Lobolo; a play that contests the prevailing colonial cultural practice of bride-wealth by showing the impact of this tradition on families and couples.  At the same time the play also creates a sense of national identity by reflecting the cultural practices of Mozambique.

Paola Hernández’ “The ESMA: From Torture Chambers into New Sites of Memory” builds on the work of Diana Taylor to analyze how the Navy School of Mechanics (ESMA), a detention and torture center during the last dictatorship, has been transformed into a Memory Museum that also houses multiple Human Rights offices.  Hernández argues that the ESMA today is a performative space at the intersection of memory and history and what Diana Taylor conceptualizes as the archive and the repertoire.  In this piece Hernández goes beyond the binary of history and memory to examine what knowledge a place can stage and come to represent through commemorative acts.

Brenda Werth’s “Surprising Metaphors of Violence in Post-dictatorial Southern Cone Theater” takes up the metaphor of violence in Griselda Gambaro’s La persistencia (2007) and Gabriel Peveroni’s Sarajevo esquina Montevideo (2003).  Werth examines these plays as models of transnational violence that go beyond the dichotomies of North and South, First and Third Worlds, East and West (90).  Werth also examines also the role of spectatorship in the omnipresent figure in La persistencia and the photographer en Sarajevo esquina Montevideo.

Lindsey Mantoan’s “Place and Misplaced Rights in Guantánamo: Honor Bound to Defend Freedom” looks at Guantanamo, a documentary play that allows the audience to imagine the daily existence of five “enemy combatants” in Guantanamo detention center.  The play is critical of how the US has created a state of exception and has constituted people as “stateless persons” in order to legitimize it’s treatment of prisoners.  The play uses real people with personal stakes in the events and the script comes from historical documents and records. 

Christina Wilson looks at how the “War on Terror” creates a state of exception for masking racist treatment of Iraqi and Afghan refugees.  “Challenging the ‘Fetish of the Verbatim’: New Aesthetics and Familiar Abuses in Christine Evans’s Slow Falling Bird” analyzes the Australian play Slow Falling Bird.  Both Guantanamo and Slow Falling Bird complicate the representations of the detention centers offered through the mainstream media and inspire audiences to take action and to advocate for the prisoners as refugees.

In “Stages of Transit: Rascón Banda’s Hotel Juárez and Peveroni’s Berlin” Sarah Misemer analyzes two plays that take place in transitory transnational spaces; the first, in a hotel in the border town of Juárez, and the second, at an airport in Berlín.  Both plays make visible what is otherwise invisible.  Hotel Juárez allows the audience to imagine the devastating impact of neoliberal economic policies in Mexico and Peveroni’s Berlín highlights the impact of the culture of fear left in the wake of the “War on Terror.”  Together the plays contest and complicate representations of global economics and global security that are portrayed in the mainstream media.

Ana Puga’s chapter “Migrant Melodrama, Human Rights and Elvira Arellano” takes up theatricality in a broader sense.  Puga examines the media’s portrayal of undocumented migrant artist Elvira Arellano who received much media attention after seeking sanctuary at a Chicago church with her son.  Puga argues that people in positions of privilege cast immigrants in different roles that impact immigration policy and shape dominant views on immigration.  For example, immigrants are sometimes viewed as refugees and other times as economic migrants depending on how they are constructed by journalists, politicians, activists and scholars.  According to Puga, the viewing public, despite the fact that human rights apply universally to all people, receives immigrants as “good” victims or as “bad” economic opportunists.

In “Get up, Stand up, Stand up for your Rights”: Transnational Belonging and Rights of Citizenship in Dominican Theater” Camila Stevens examines the transnational identities of immigrants that move between countries.  For example, in Mondongo Scam, Casiano defends himself in immigration court and embodies one personality after another while explaining his strategy of using dead people’s identity documents.  Imitating others has had a profound impact on Casiano’s own identity and has changed him as a result.  Mondongo, a metaphor in the play that represents this transcultural identity, is the Dominican stew that “evokes a mixture of ingredients that compose a Dominican identity in a constant state of transculturation”(185).  The audience learns that contact with other cultures deeply changes the immigrant.  In this case theater also works to build bridges of empathy with immigrants.

Joi Barrios’ “Theaters of Vigil and Vigilance: A Playwright’s Notes on Theater and Human Rights in the Philippines” and Elizabeth Anker’s “The Spectacle of Our Suffering’: Staging the International Human Rights Imaginary in Tony Kushner’s Homebody/Kabul” shift the focus to transnational activism and explore theatrical representations of activists in human rights work and also push back against the limits of the international human rights imaginary.

In “Broadway without Borders: Eve Ensler, Lynn Nottage, and the Campaign to End Violence against Women in the Democratic Republic of Congo” Kerry Bystrom takes up theatre as a tool that humanizes human rights discourse.  In the instance of Congolese women’s portrayal as victims of traumatic fistula, for example, theatre is a tool that reminds the audience that these women’s’ lives extend beyond the experience of victimization (239).

In conclusion, Imagining Human Rights provides a global perspective on the relationship between performance and human rights.  Together the editors and authors argue that theater creates a temporary stage to document human rights abuse, to imagine abuse, to identify with others, and to inspire advocacy in the audience.  Theatre has been used strategically in some instances such as in the case of Yuyachkani, where performance was used to encourage people to give their testimonies to the Peruvian Truth Commission.  In the opening case of the dancer in the bank, performance becomes a way to suggest alternative logics and to help the audience imagine other possible ways of living.  Theater stores a repertoire of knowledge as we see in the case of the ESMA where knowledge is tied to the space of the ex-detention center and to commemorations and other performances in the space.

An interview with one of the Editors Paola Hernández published in UW Madison's Spanish & Portugese Magazine Tinta (2014) follows:

In her new book, Paola Hernández, co-editor (with Brenda Werth and Florian Becker), examines not just theatre, but theatricality and performativity: “There are chapters written by practitioners and playwrights and others that understand theatricality in the sense that a public can see theatre even when they are not seeing a ‘play.’ We wanted to look at different aspects of theatre and examine different understandings of theatricality.”

On how the discourse of human rights has changed in the 21st century:
 I don’t think it has changed; the word that I would use is “evolved.” The reason that we chose the twenty-first century is because we really wanted focus on what is go- ing on now in the post-Apartheid, post-dictatorship era. For example, one chapter looks at memory sites and museums because we have seen these explode in Latin America, in Africa, even in the United States and Europe. One of the evolving aspects of human rights is that we are talking about the right to memorials, memory museums, and memory sites.

On the importance of “imagining” human rights:
 One of the ideas that we worked with is imagining the audience; imagining the public and imagining spectators and their role. We also work with the idea of imagining the impact of theatrical work.

On what theatre can do for human rights:
 We hope that it calls attention to something that might be invisible to the eyes of society and make situations more evident. For example, the ESMA is not just a museum; it is a theatrical space that performs embodied memory and absence through tours, escraches, signs, plays and conferences. So theatre and performance call attention to human rights.

On reconciling the aesthetics of theatre with human rights activism:
 Theatre and performance are the most political of all the artistic and literary genres. The fact that you use a body and have a stage gives you power and a space that you wouldn’t have otherwise. Theatre
is ephemeral compared to poetry and the novel, but it has a presence and force, an aura in the Benjamin sense of experiencing something in the moment. So aesthetics is always a part, but it is not the main goal.

On new insights the book offers: I hope that our book goes beyond the highly theoretical and referential mode of many existing books on human rights. We give the voice to the experts in their fields in order to understand how theatrical practices on the local level speak to and with human rights discourses.

WJT Mitchell — Notes on Picture Theory

In analyzing the “pictorial turn” in his book Picture Theory, Mitchell begins by raising important questions about how images reference t...