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About the conference

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Image, Memory and the Paradox of Peace: 15 Years After the El Salvador Peace Accords
A Conference to be Held at the University of Texas
April 17-18, 2008

Presentations will be in English and Spanish (simultaneous translation provided).

Co-sponsors:

UT Lozano Long Institute for Latin American Studies
UT College of Communication
The Harry Ransom Center
The Rothko Chapel (Houston, Texas)
UT Department of History

The Rapoport Center for Human Rights and Justice will center its Fourth Annual conference around the recent acquisition by the Harry Ransom Center of a historic collection of photojournalistic work documenting El Salvador’s 12-year civil war. In the spirit of the Rapoport Center, the conference will bring together a multidisciplinary group of academics, activists, artists and policy-makers to explore the relationship between the local and the global, as well as the economic and the political.

The Collection

The 1980s saw Salvadoran society torn apart by assassinations, kidnappings, disappearances, and a prolonged civil conflict that also divided US citizens and foreign policy makers over competing visions of democracy and human rights. Part of the way we remember the events of the Salvadoran civil war is through images captured by committed and sometimes even heroic photographers who covered massacre sites, popular protests, funerals, military maneuvers, and the general human grief (and, at moments, hope) that marked the era. These visual representations, many of which are included in the Harry Ransom Center’s recently obtained collection, “Inside El Salvador,” provided evidence of the human rights situation in the 1980s, and contributed to advocacy aimed at exposing human rights abuses. These photographs continue to be crucial to the way we remember El Salvador’s war, and to how it will be preserved in the collective memory of generations of Salvadorans to come. The exhibition, which includes more than 100 black-and-white images concerning El Salvador's civil war and its aftermath, will run from April 17 through August 3, 2008, at the Harry Ransom Center.

Background

On January 16, 1992, the Government of El Salvador and the Farabundo Martí Front for National Liberation (FMLN) signed Peace Accords in Chapultepec, México, ending a painful chapter in the country’s history in which more than 75,000 Salvadorans perished (a number proportionately equivalent to 3.2 million US citizens) and millions more were exiled across the continent, primarily settling in the United States. Since the 1980s, this Salvadoran diaspora has made Los Angeles, California, the second-largest Salvadoran city in the world (after only San Salvador), while deepening linkages between El Salvador and the U.S. that are undeniably asymmetrical.

While the Peace Accords ended El Salvador’s armed conflict and inaugurated an era of reforms and peaceful electoral politics, the war’s end did not rectify issues of inequitable developmental potential, and social and economic marginalization that precipitated internal conflict in the first place. “Modernization” and globalization along with the war’s legacy of violence also introduced a new troubling variable – the challenge posed by transnational gangs and widespread social divisions, both of which frustrate the possibilities for building an enduring culture of peace, justice, and human rights. At the same time, El Salvador’s economy has expanded in recent years, resulting in improvements in basic social indicators such as education, life expectancy, and the gross national product. It is this paradox of peace in El Salvador that will be the focus of this conference.

The Conference

“Image, Memory and the Paradox of Peace” will bring together key photojournalists, academics and activists past and present to discuss the Salvadoran civil war, not merely as an episode of history, but also as a legacy whose effects linger in the country to this day. The conference will include the opening of the exhibition at the Harry Ransom Center with some of the photographers highlighted in the exhibit and a closing on the reflections of the legacy of Oscar Romero led by representatives of The Rothko Chapel in Houston. In addition, a number of panels will offer perspective on the violence of El Salvador’s civil war, focusing particularly on the ways images have created a narrative on violence and human rights that informs our understanding of the country’s past, present, and future. Participants include those who documented the violence of the war or played a role in human rights issues 15 to 30 years ago, as well as a new generation of policy-makers, analysts, journalists and image-makers engaged with today’s Salvadoran society and its increasing connection to the United States, especially through the substantial Salvadoran diaspora in the US.

More Information

Harry Ransom Center Collection on “Inside El Salvador”:
www.hrc.utexas.edu/exhibitions/2008/elsalvador/

Rapoport Center for Human Rights and Justice:
www.rapoportcenter.org