Mourning Remains
State Atrocity, Exhumations, and Governing the Disappeared in Peru's Postwar Andes
Isaias Rojas-Perez


Contents and Abstracts
chapter abstract

This introduction offers an overview of the book's themes. It starts by situating the discursive context in which the Peruvian post-conflict of reckoning with past violence came into being. The chapter then introduces the concept of necro-governmentality—a form of power that by means of governing dead bodies seeks to structure the field of action and speech of survivors and society at large to prevent the repetition of violence. The book describes how this form of power emerges in response to Necropower, or power's capacity to create "death worlds" (Mbembe). This framework is central to understand the ways the survivors' response to atrocity stands in its own right at the intersection of these two forms of power. This framework shows that the unique contribution of the book is its focus on how death is actually managed, experienced, negotiated and mourned in post-conflict settings—a theme barely treated in the literature on transitional justice.

1 Death in Transition: Reclaiming the Unknown Dead in Post-conflict Peru
chapter abstract

This chapter offers a partial history of how the question of recovering the remains of victims of the internal war for proper burial came to occupy center stage in Peru's post-conflict project of nation making. It traces how a legal project that started with the with the specific goal of shedding light on the whereabouts of the disappeared by the state ended up in a humanitarian project of exhumation and reburial of forgotten victims of both the Shining Path and the army. It situates this shift within the unfolding of a broad project of reckoning with past violence, including a truth commission, exhumations and prosecutions, under of the human rights notion of "right to truth." The chapter conceptualizes this development as "necro-governmentality of post-conflict" and shows how it was initially implemented and how Quechua-speaking survivors received, accommodated, and contested this project to put forward their own projects of reckoning.

2 Malamuerte: Governing Tragic Death in the Andes
chapter abstract

This chapter examines the question of why Quechua-speaking survivors and relatives buried hastily the bodies of their slaughtered relatives in the places where they had fallen and did not attempt to move those bodies to consecrated ground. It focuses on a case of suicide in the rural community of Accomarca to offer an ethnographic account of how Andean villagers cope with tragic death (or "bad death") in ordinary contexts. It traces the relations of specificity and continuity between state and cultural practices to properly dispose of the dead body and address suffering in cases of transgressive death. The chapter explores the gendered division of labor in mourning and highlight the central role of women in ordinary mortuary rituals. Finally, it shows how, by contrast, the 1985 massacre at the hands of the state cannot be absorbed through these ordinary practices until such killing is first legally, politically, and historically prosecuted.

3 Excavating State Atrocity
chapter abstract

This chapter explores the question of what kind of forensic object state atrocity is. In doing so, it follows the work of forensic archaeologists during the exhumation of clandestine mass graves at Los Cabitos—the former regional headquarters of the counterinsurgency in Peru's central southern Andes. It shows how archaeologists working as legal experts in contexts of mass killing and atrocity are trapped in power relations, while their practice is not independent of power and politics. It offers an ethnographic account of how the forensic findings that proved practices of state atrocity at Los Cabitos were first made possible by the unexpected intrusion at the site of a drunken man who was not part of the legal procedures. Following Latour, the chapter shows that through laymen who have witnessed the past, or through its material remains, the past objects to how it is produced and spoken of by the experts.

4 The Cry: Memories of the Present
chapter abstract

This chapter begins an account of the ways the Quechua mothers of the disappeared engage the forensic exhumation at Los Cabitos. In particular, it focuses on the stories of suffering they retell at the former site of mass killing to reflect on the nature of the disappearance as an ongoing event. These stories speak of the disappearance in terms of both the specific act of abduction of the body as well as the different languages, performance of authority and practices of denial through which state authorities sanctioned the disappearance in the past and continue to subtly sanction it in the present. In this sense, the chapter shows the inadequacy of trauma theories that typically tend to situate the event of violence in the past. Instead, the chapter suggests that any rendering of this kind of violence should look at the double political temporality of past/present in which it unfolds as an ongoing event.

5 Caprichakuspa: Witnessing Before Terror
chapter abstract

This chapter explores the gendered dimensions of the response to state atrocity. In particular, it interrogates the age-old wisdom that women engage politics in contexts of violence motivated only by their desire to protect the sacred rights of their families as opposed to the rights of the sovereign. This view confines women's agency to the realm of the "pre-political" as opposed to the "political sphere." This chapter shows how, by contrast, the mothers started their search out of their love for their missing relatives, but in this search they end up engaging questions concerning the possibility of political community itself in the face of sate atrocity. It shows how the mothers relate to the sovereign's power to kill in terms of escape and movement, and how this gesture of disobedience as a form of political action evokes the figure of the people walking away from the sovereign's binding and shepherding powers.

6 Talking Soul: Reclaiming Death as Human Experience
chapter abstract

This chapter offers an ethnographic account of the ways the mothers reinvent death as human experience in response to practices of state atrocity akin to what Arendt called "fabrication of corpses." Because the forensic technologies are unable to produce the individual missing bodies, the mothers mobilize ordinary practices of mourning to both imagine the presence of those bodies at the site of mass killing and mourn them in the subjunctive mood of the "might be." It is a gesture that envisions the figure of the mother moving between two deaths—death as biological termination of life and death as human experience—attempting to bring the disappeared back into some form of social being. Central to this gesture are the agency Andean people assign to dead bodies and how they see the relationship between body, soul, and the Earth. The chapter conceptualizes this imperfect form of mourning as "subjunctive mourning."

7 The Magic of Justice: Or How to Ensoul the Work of Law
chapter abstract

This chapter looks at the assemblage of everyday practices of the self and technologies of truth (dreams, apparitions, and rites of propitiation) that the mothers bring to the site of mass killing, to animate the work of justice in response to atrocity. Modern politics see these practices and technologies as premodern relics and vestiges of "magical" practices. The chapter examines the ways these "magical" practices enter into a relationship of adjacency with the rational practices of the law and forensic science, to together confront, in their own distinct terms, the longstanding legacies of state terror. While the work of the former depend for their efficacy on the work of the latter, the former go beyond the rational limits of the latter to create conditions of possibility for truth and justice in the face of forms of violence that have gone beyond the thresholds within which Andean peoples test what a human form of life is.

8 "The Glory of the Disappeared": Or the Figure of the People
chapter abstract

This chapter looks at the ceremony of inauguration of "La Cruz de la Hoyada" at the former site of mass killing of Los Cabitos. It examines the historical and political saliency of this symbol and the ways it embodies a claim on political community in the aftermath of state atrocity. The chapter shows how, in reclaiming the site as a space for justice and mourning, the mothers at once level a radical critique of the sovereign power to kill and respond to the inability of the law and forensic sciences to reconstitute the weave of life torn by state terror. The chapter argues that insofar as it stands in its own right at the intersection between the trajectories of necropower and necro-governmentality, the makes a claim on political community. It thus evokes the figure of the people emerging as a necessary response to keep at bay the state's ever-present capacity for "fabrication of corpses."