During the age of dictatorships, Latin American prisons became a symbol for the vanquishing of political opponents, many of whom were never seen again. In the post dictatorship era of the 1990s, a number of these prisons were repurposed into shopping malls, museums and memorials. Associate Professor of Comparative Literature Susana Draper uses the phenomenon of the “opening” of prisons and detention centers to begin a dialogue on conceptualizations of democracy and freedom in post-dictatorship Latin America. Focusing on the nations of Uruguay, Chile and Argentina, Draper examines key works in architecture, film and literature to peel away the veiled continuity of dictatorial power structures in ensuing consumer cultures.
The afterlife of prisons became an important tool in the “forgetting” of past politics, while also serving as a reminder to citizens of the liberties they now enjoyed. In Draper’s analysis, these symbols led the populace to believe they had attained freedom, although they had only witnessed the veneer of democracy — in the ability to vote and consume.
Draper’s study of the manipulation of culture and consumerism under the guise of democracy will have powerful implications not only for Latin Americanists but also for those studying neoliberal transformations globally.
Publisher: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2012 (Cover image and text courtesy of the publisher.)