n All the Names, José Saramago conjures the labyrinthine archives of an un-
named city, its grim Central Registry of Births, Marriages, and Deaths. The
musty depths are populated only by an archon—the all- powerful
Registrar—and the beleaguered clerks at his service. Such was the abiding
disorder and dereliction there that from time to time a bumbling researcher
would fall victim to the archives; one lost soul, a genealogist unable to find his
way back to the main desk, was only discovered, “almost miraculously, after
a week, starving, thirsty, exhausted, delirious, having survived thanks to the
desperate measure of ingesting enormous quantities of old documents.” In
response, the Registrar, who had written the wayward genealogist off as dead,
did what bureaucrats do best: he issued an internal order. Thereafter, to avoid
other such unsavory incidents, it would be “obligatory, at the risk of incurring
a fine and a suspension of salary, for everyone going into the archive of the
dead to make use of Ariadne’s thread.”1
The notion of Ariadne’s thread ties this work together in several ways. As
a methodology intended precisely for solving problems that suggest multiple
manners of proceeding, it pushed me to embrace inter- and multidisciplinary
approaches in tackling the National Police archives as a site of analysis. As a
metaphor, it could not be better suited to thinking about a sprawling warren
of records whose rescuers call its decaying storage facility el laberinto (while
the facility’s former occupants, who used the space as a torture and detention
center, termed it la isla). Above all, though, the idea of Ariadne’s thread serves
me best as a way of visualizing the lifeline—constituted by a dense network
of relationships, love, and solidarity—that has enabled me to navigate the ar-
chives of the dead.
First, I thank the archivists, who too often are left for last and upon whose
perspectives and labor this project relied. Chief among them were Thelma
Porres and her staff at the Centro de Investigaciones Regionales de Meso-
américa; Thelma Mayen de Pérez and her staff at the archives of the Tipografía
Nacional; Anna Carla Ericastilla, the director of the Archivo General de Cen-
troamérica, a voice of reason and a friend; and, at the National Police archives,
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