Truth, Justice, Memory, and Democratization in the Southern Cone

Alexandra Barahona de Brito

in The Politics of Memory and Democratization

Published in print April 2001 | ISBN: 9780199240906
Published online November 2003 | e-ISBN: 9780191598869 | DOI:

Series: Oxford Studies in Democratization

 Truth, Justice, Memory, and Democratization in the Southern Cone

Show Summary Details


This chapter examines how Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay and Chile fared with truth and justice policies after the transition from authoritarian rule, looking at the issue from an institutional and political angle, and at the social politics of memory. Efforts to deal with the past and their significance in the overall politics of transition to democracy are shaped by country-specific historical conditions and developments: the nature and legacies of repression and authoritarian rule; and the nature of the transition process and the various political, institutional and legal factors conditioning the post-transitional period, among which are the nature of repression, the presence and strength of a human rights movement, inherited legal or constitutional limitations, relations between political parties and Human Rights Organizations (HROs), the degree of executive or party commitment to policies of truth and justice, the unity of democratic parties, the ability of the military to mobilise against any policies of accountability as well as their relations with the democratic executive, the attitude of the judiciary to past violations, the presence of a strong legislative right, and the degree to which repression penetrated the social fabric. The way in which the first democratically elected authorities deal with the past, together with the relative strength of the human rights movement in the post-transitional period, sets the agenda for the subsequent evolution of the issue; more specifically, the past remains a source of open conflict if there are loopholes in official policies that preclude full closure or amnesty, and if transnational groups or regional and international human rights bodies challenge national policies favouring impunity. The past also remains a source of conflict if there are strong HROs that continue to contest official decisions on how to deal with the past, and have allies in the formal political arena or the courts. Official policies to deal with the past are not of themselves directly relevant to the process of democratisation, and what is more, during the first transitional period, truth and justice policies are unrelated to (or may even place obstacles in the way of) wider institutional reform; the reverse is also true, but whatever the case, the past becomes part of the dynamic of democratic politics. Indeed, although the continued pursuit of truth and justice and its links to wider reforms may be difficult to establish across the board, the politics of memory more widely conceived are important for a process of democratization in all four countries examined here, as it is about how a society interprets and appropriates its past, in an attempt to mould its future, and as such it is an integral part of any political process, including progress towards deeper democracy.

Keywords: accountability; amnesty; Argentina; Brazil; Chile; closure; constitutional limitations; democratization; human rights bodies; human rights movement; impunity; institutional reform; international human rights bodies; judiciary; justice; legacies of repression; military; politics of memory; regional human rights bodies; retroactive justice; transition from authoritarian rule; transitional democracy; transnational groups; truth and justice; Uruguay

Chapter.  18171 words. 

Subjects: Politics

Full text: subscription required

How to subscribe Recommend to my Librarian

Buy this work at Oxford University Press »

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content. Please, subscribe or login to access all content.