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A riveting memoir of Mexico's "dirty wars"

Surviving Mexico's Dirty War

A Political Prisoner's Memoir

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Alberto Ulloa Bornemann, edited by Arthur Schmidt and Aurora Camacho de Schmidt

"Not merely a recounting of an interesting, tragic and hidden episode in Mexico's political development, Surviving Mexico's Dirty War is a thoughtful book."
Roderic Ai Camp, Claremont McKenna College

This is the first major, book-length memoir of a political prisoner from Mexico's "dirty war" of the 1970s. Written with the urgency of a first-person narrative, it is a unique work, providing an inside story of guerrilla activities and a gripping tale of imprisonment and torture at the hands of the Mexican government.

Alberto Ulloa Bornemann was a young idealist when he dedicated himself to clandestine resistance and to assisting Lucio Cabañas, the guerrilla leader of the "Party of the Poor." Here the author exposes readers to the day-to-day activities of revolutionary activists seeking to avoid discovery by government forces. After his capture, Ulloa Bornemann endured disappearance into a secret military jail and later abusive conditions in three civilian prisons.

Although testimonios of former political prisoners from other Latin American nations have recently come into print, there are very few books about Mexico's political wars—and none as vivid and disturbing as this.

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Excerpt

Read the Introduction (pdf).

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Reviews

"The book's particular strengths lie in the author's ability to recreate, often in great detail, the environment and lived experiences of a young, idealistic member of the left-wing guerrilla movement that exploded on the Mexican political scene in the early-to-mid 1970s. Ulloa Bornemann provides a unique 'insider' account of this movement...."
Eric Zolov, Franklin & Marshall College

"This translation of the Spanish-language Sendenero en tenieblas (2004) is a welcome addition to the near-empty shelf of contemporary studies of Mexico’s dirty war, and on modern Guerrero more specifically....The memoir will also serve as a valuable primary source for scholars examining this period of Guerrerense activism...[and it] provides an important personal component that contributes to humanizing and complicating often agonizing decisions and their ramifications."
The Americas

"An inside story of guerrilla activities and a gripping tale of imprisonment and torture at the hands of the Mexican government."
Hispanic Outlook in Higher Education

"Ulloa Bornemann’s accessible memoir is an intensely self-reflective, critical and sometimes even ironic account of the life of an engaged but naïve young man from the upper middle classes, who plunged into a world of armed resistance and ideological factionalism, and struggled his way through the dungeons of an authoritarian state….[T]his book [is] a revealing and horrifying document."
Bulletin of Latin American Research

"Alberto Ulloa Bornemann’s testimonial account of his disappearance, imprisonment and torture—the first significant memoir of a political prisoner from Mexico’s ‘dirty war’ of the 1970s—is so important, for it should remind us, and Mexicans themselves, not to forget a past that was both so sinister yet so recent….As the Schmidts point out in their introduction, this work is an important contribution to the genre of testimonial literature that has emerged in Latin America in the late 20th century that is distinguished, above all, by the moral force of the accounts related. Temple University Press must be praised for publishing this book: it makes an important contribution to our understanding of Mexico in the 1970s and gives us a unique insight into the activities and ideas prevalent within the guerrilla organizations of the period, and into the character of figures such as Cabañas."
Latin American Review of Books

"[T]he translation of Alberto Ulloa Bornemann’s highly personal testimony, originally published in Mexico as Sendero de tinieblas (2004), is quite timely. Reminiscent of Jacobo Timerman’s searing account of his detention by the Argentine military (Preso sin nombre, celda sin numero, 1981), Ulloa’s narrative chronicles in labyrinthine fashion the experiences that led to his arrest and imprisonment as a subversive.... Ulloa offers a critical insider’s view of the armed left, which was thoroughly balkanized and riven by divisions regarding ideology, strategy, and leadership… Ably translated, and enhanced by an excellent introduction and glossary, Ulloa’s candid memoir is obligatory reading for anyone interested in the dark history of the Cold War in Latin America."
The Hispanic American Historical Review

"Ulloa Bornemann has given us a gift in his memoir documenting how he survived Mexico's dirty war in the 1960s and 1970s. His gift is a sensitive, personal, profoundly moving account that opens the doors on brutality and violence of the Mexican state, the goals of left wing civil movements and the role that one man plays. Ulloa Bornemann's book follows the model of a testimonial or testimonio -- a rich traditional literary trope in Latin America -- but at the same time it is much more. The author has opened an important window to a painful period in Mexico's history.... There is a quality in Ulloa Bornemann's description[s]...that is profound. He is able to combine an absurd kind of humor with a sense of terror that truly communicates just how horrific the situation was.... For the student of Mexican history, those interested in civil unrest, state terror and testimonial literature, this is a critical addition. It is an important book and should find a large audience."
Estudios Interdisciplinarios de America Latina y el Caribe

"The reader gains an incredible insight into Ulloa’s experiences in the late 1960s and early 1970s, but also a good reading of those who were co-opted into the system after the Dirty War. Despite his rejection of his family in the late 1960s, they paved the way for the return of the prodigal son, who is in a fortunate enough position to recall his past in print. Thus his work invites interesting discussion, whether in a classroom setting or among scholars."
The Journal of Latin American Studies

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Contents

Introduction: Translating Fear: A Mexican Narrative of Militancy, Horror, and Redemption – Aurora Camacho de Schmidt and Arthur Schmidt
1. A Sad and Cruel Underground
2. The Long March
3. In the Kingdom of Necessity
4.The Roads of Freedom
Brief Biographical Note: Alberto Ulloa Bornemann
Notes
Glossary of Names and Terms
Index
Photo gallery

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About the Author(s)

Alberto Ulloa Bornemann lives with his wife in Mexico City where he works as a private media analyst. For over twenty-five years, he was responsible for news analysis and public communications in various branches of the federal government in Mexico. He is currently writing a novel about three young people from Mexico City whose lives intertwine over the events of the years between 1950 and 2000.

Arthur Schmidt is a Professor of History at Temple University.

Aurora Camacho de Schmidt is an Associate Professor of Latin American literature and Spanish at Swarthmore College where she has also directed Latin American Studies.

Subject Categories

Latin American/Caribbean Studies
Biography/Memoir/Autobiography
History


In the series

Voices of Latin American Life, edited by Arthur Schmidt.

Voices of Latin American Life, edited by Arthur Schmidt, aims to bring the texture and humanity of Latin American experiences to English-language readers through translations of works that impart direct voices. Through testimonial literature, interviews, and essays, the series will present important Latin American views from the famous and the anonymous that reflect the immense challenges of fundamental issues and of daily life in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries.

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