Elusive Justice, Changing Memories and the Recent Past of Dictatorship and Violence in Uruguay: An Analysis of the 2012 Public Act in the Gelman Case


  • Francesca Lessa Latin American Centre and St. Anne's College, University of Oxford




This article examines the Public Act of Acknowledgment of International Responsibility and Recovery of the Memory of María Claudia García de Gelman held in the Uruguayan parliament on 21 March 2012 through a theoretical framework of memory narratives. The Inter-American Court of Human Rights ordered Uruguay to hold the Public Act as part of its February 2011 ruling in the Gelman v. Uruguaycase, which condemned its failure to investigate and prosecute individuals responsible for disappearing María Claudia García de Gelman and illegally adopting her baby daughter Macarena, while denying her knowledge of her true identity for over two decades. The Public Act was a memorialising event intended as an act of reparation, which also triggered irruptions of memory in Uruguay, resurfacing memory debates and discussions about the recent past of dictatorship and violence. The Public Act exposed once again the continued antagonisms between memory narratives of violence and justice that have existed in the Uruguayan political and social landscape since 1985. While the Act was an expression of the “state terrorism” narrative, its unfolding resulted in the resurfacing of narratives of “war” and “two demons” in the social and political arenas and of new interpretations of these narratives in light of events and politics in 2012.

Author Biography

Francesca Lessa, Latin American Centre and St. Anne's College, University of Oxford

Postdoctoral researcher


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Focus: Violence, Justice, and the Work of Memory