“Was I sleeping, while the others suffered? Am I sleeping now? Tomorrow, when I wake, or think I do, what shall I say of today?” — Samuel Beckett, Waiting for Godot
Arguably, the most haunting passage in Gabriel Garcia Marquez’ classic novel One Hundred Years of Solitude, describes the army arriving to quell striking banana workers in the mythical town of Macondo. When a crowd refuses to disperse, the soldiers fire on the men, women, and children gathered in the central plaza next to the train station. The sole survivor of the massacre, Jose Arcadio Segundo, awakens in a ghostly train filled with the corpses “who would be thrown into the sea like rejected bananas.” Jumping off the train, he finds his way back to Macondo, where everyone assures him “there haven’t been any dead here.” “The military denied it even to the relatives of the victims who crowded the commandants’ offices in search of news. ‘You must have been dreaming,’ the officers insisted. ‘Nothing has happened in Macnodo….'”
The novel was first published in Argentina in 1967, a year before the massacre of students in the Tlateloco Plaza in Mexico City, and a decade before the “death flights” in Argentina, where victims were indeed thrown into the sea — but alive and sedated, with weights on their feet. Real life in Argentina and Mexico quickly began to bear a startling resemblance to the hallucinatory scenario traced by Columbia’s Garcia Marquez. Officials denied any responsibility for the events or even (in the Argentine case) that anything had occurred. Fearful citizens professed that no one had actually been killed. Family members went from office to office, only to be told that no one knew anything about the whereabouts of their children.
Yet the people of Mexico and Argentina did create the “second opportunity on earth” denied to the citizens of Macondo in the last pages of novel. In one of the more surprising human rights events of the mid-1990s, former military officers in Argentina confessed to direct involvement in repression in the late 1970s. They gave details to journalists about their participation in the death flights. The commander-in-chief of the Argentina army, General Martin Balza, accepted responsibility for “errors” and “illegitimate methods” including executions, and offered condolences to the family members, and committed himself to a future which does not repeat the past.
Why was the ending so different in real life? A key part of the explanation could be found in the work of a network of domestic and international human rights activists who provided crucial information on events in Argentina and lobbied governments and international organizations to express concern, investigate, and bring pressure for change. Details of the nightmares emerged as a function of the dreams of activists who were the counterparts of Azmat Khan.
But whereas such dreams should be applauded and supported by one and all, there are other dreams which must be done away with, if we want to secure a proper count of bodies, or — better yet — a proper foreign policy and military stance respecting today’s counterparts to the victims in Argentina and Mexico cited above.
One negative dream I am speaking of is the fantasy too many folks still cling to in the U.S. with regard to our leaders being interested in doing the right thing in terms of human rights. Neither Countercurrents nor Dissident Voice, two alternative media outlets I respect, contribute positively on that score when they post pieces which urge us to “raise our glasses” to the likes of JFK. On Thanksgiving, of all occasions! Truth be told, for whatever “turn toward truth” JFK took (for whatever reason, if he indeed did), his positive sides have to be seen in the context that Noam Chomsky provides, part of which underscores his relationship to the abominations which took place in Mexico and Argentina long after his death. [If the reader wants me to elaborate on that last point, please write to me, but familiarity with the School of the Americas should suffice to understand why atrocities in Mexico, Argentina and throughout Central and South America proliferated incessantly following JFK’s assassination; all U.S. presidents have bloody hands on that count.]
The “dream” which must be done away with is the one that enables our collective nightmare to continue on an ongoing basis. And that is the “dream” which educational institutions, ill-informed parents (who are usually schooled at such institutions) and mainstream and alternative media outlets perpetuate. More than not, intertwined with undeserved respect for our past presidents.
I am all for riding on Don Quixote’s Rocinante, but the dreamy nonsense I’m addressing here amounts to ignorance compounding ignorance, and it must be stopped if we are to have a shot at ending the unprecedented abominations plaguing our world.
Richard Martin Oxman (Ricardo Bueyhombre) can be reached at email@example.com.