Sites of Memory (Argentina)

In the last decade and a half, in several of the main cities of Argentina a vast movement of occupation and re-functionalization of former Clandestine Centers of Detention, Torture and Extermination (CCDTyE) that existed during the last military dictatorship, in many cases, in dependencies of different security forces, has been gestated. In these spaces, “recovered” and converted into “places of memory”, numerous social, cultural and political activities are deployed. These are initiatives that must be understood in the light of a context in which the activism of human rights bodies intersect with the cycle of protest and associative creativity unleashed after the 2001 crisis.

As part of this general process, this study proposes an in-depth analysis of one of these cases: that of the former CCDTyE Olimpo, located in the Floresta neighborhood of Buenos Aires.

As for the land, after the military dictatorship and after it was left in the hands of the Federal Police, as a result of the mobilization of neighbors, neighborhood organizations and human rights organizations, the security forces were evicted, giving rise to a complex process of institutionalization as a “place of memory. In principle, the land was transferred from the Nation to the City of Buenos Aires; later, the mobilized actors created the “Program for the Recovery of Historical Memory of the former CCDTyE Olimpo,” as well as a “Working Group and Consensus,” with the aim of problematizing the memory of what happened and promoting human rights and community participation in the present. Currently, the undertaking has taken on an unusual scope, deploying a vast variety of free activities open to the community: job training workshops; non-formal education courses; guided tours of schools; cultural and recreational activities; community radio, among others.

The case (typical of the field of “social, civic and political participation” in the framework of this project) is especially interesting because it is an associative space where a plurality of actors converge with heterogeneous logics, with all the tensions that this entails: neighbors of the neighborhood self-convoked, survivors of the center, human rights organizations, political organizations, experts committed to the cause (sociologists, psychologists, lawyers) and state agencies. Moreover, there, the elaboration of memories of the repressive past seeks to configure an “exemplary memory” capable of combating the violence of the present with a democratizing horizon. At the same time, new social links are constituted where the dictatorship had sought to break all ties of solidarity; renewed memories and neighborhood identities are configured and practices of collaborative action of an open, horizontal and participative nature are deployed that conjugate the intensive use of social networks with a strong territorial anchorage, all within the framework of interaction structures of a deliberative and assembly type.

The objective of the research is to analyze the trajectory, characteristics and impact generated by the re-functionalization of this former CCDTyE. More specifically, we propose:

  • Reconstruct the trajectory of constitution of this former CCDTyE as a “site of memory”, taking into account the history of its conformation and institutionalization and identifying the actors involved, their diverse logics of action and the senses at stake.
  • Analyze their current characteristics, paying attention to the meanings attributed and the debates generated about the content, functions and activities to be developed in the site; the type of practices, organizational forms and decision-making mechanisms deployed (by consensus and not by vote) and the complexities of their relationship with the State.
  • To investigate the social impact of this initiative, distinguishing effects at different levels, particularly in terms of the trajectory and subjectivity of activists and neighbours, the configuration of memories and neighbourhood identities, the consolidation of new links in the territory, the intergenerational transmission/construction of memory and, at a legal level, in relation to the use and social appropriation of the property in question.

To this end, we follow a qualitative methodological strategy that combines documentary analysis (website, networks, photos, activity reports and other site documents), in-depth interviews and participant observation. In this sense, having an extremely valuable background on the trajectory of the case from an anthropological perspective linked to memory studies (Messina, 2010), in this study we will replenish the basics of that first objective through bibliography and documentary analysis, focusing the interviews and participant observation on the current characteristics and social impact of the activities deployed by the site from the perspective of the collaborative collective action that guides the present project.

Researchers: Mauricio Sergio Chama y Mora González Canosa.