Beyond legal truths : impunity, memory, and Maya autonomous justice after the Acteal massacre




Chavez Arguelles, Claudia

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This dissertation analyzes the production of impunity in Mexico and its long-term, transgenerational effects for the victims of state violence. I study the creation and circulation of top-down narratives about the Acteal massacre (Chiapas, Mexico, 1997), juxtaposing them with the marginalized trajectories of survivors’ testimonies toward embodied practices of memory. Departing from the analysis of prosecutors’ legal construction of the massacre I examine the role of racism in the distortions, manipulations, and mediations of survivors’ testimonies. By tracing the routes of this and other representations of the massacre and its actors in the judiciary, media, academia, and across advocacy networks, this research historicizes the process through which the “legal truth” about the Acteal case has been constructed and theorizes the erasure mechanisms of this process through the concept of “judicial limpiezas.” I argue that various actors within these realms of knowledge/truth production have paradoxically laid the foundations for the operation of impunity while simultaneously attempting to protect indigenous rights. This paradox, I suggest, finds its origins in the insidious continuities between settler colonialism and the politics of humanitarianism. My research proposes to understand impunity, not as an absence or inaction, but as productivity that reinscribes colonial difference through the lines of race and gender, and the silences that impunity actively creates, as embodied, racializing discourses. For this purpose, I explore the multilayered encounter of the Supreme Court of Justice (SCJ) ministers’ positivist ideas about truth and justice with those of Maya survivors, and of their mestizo human rights lawyers. By analyzing the Acteal case’s itinerary through the SCJ as a process of judicialization of politics, my dissertation theorizes the ways the state has found in the judiciary an undemocratic but legitimized space to constrict—and sometimes erase—the rights of dissident indigenous peoples precisely at the moment when they are trying to invoke these very rights in the courts. I contend that this process has both actualized a new authoritarian dimension of neoliberal multiculturalism—in which humanitarian solidarity is complicit—and produced innovative, radical responses from Maya survivors struggling to devise an autonomous kind of justice based on memory.



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