Posts Tagged ‘ Gabriel García Márquez ’

Rodoreda’s last novel: A haunting portrayal of a disordered world

We read certain novelists, like Dostoevsky and especially Dickens, relatively quickly, anticipating something astonishing around the corner. There are others, like Mercè Rodoreda, that one reads slowly, anticipating something astonishing in every paragraph.

Mural of Mercè Rodoreda at 163 Numancia Street during Barcelona's 2014 exhibition Discover 10. (Photo by diveuniversefest under CC licennse at Flickr.

Mural of Mercè Rodoreda at 163 Numancia Street during Barcelona’s 2014 exhibition Discover 10. (Photo by diveuniversefest under CC license at Flickr).

Rodoreda is widely regarded as the greatest writer in the Catalan language. Her modernist novel La Plaça del Diamant (“Diamond Square” after a place in Barcelona), first published in English as The Time of the Doves (New York: Taplinger, ©1981), a woman’s growing understanding of love and life over two decades, has been acclaimed as the best fictional treatment of the Spanish Civil War in any language. All of her mature works, both novels and stories, are characterized by simple yet meticulously concise expression, making her one of the greatest stylists of any language.

It is therefore a major event that Open Letter, the press of the University of Rochester dedicated to new translations of literary works, publishes this month War, So Much War, a translation by Maruxa Relaño and Martha Tennant of Rodoreda’s Quanta, quanta guerra… the last novel published during Rodoreda’s lifetime (Barcelona: Club Editor, 1980). (Open Book first published in 2009 Death in Spring, a translation of the posthumously published and unfinished La mort i la primavera (Barcelona: Fundació Mercè Rodoreda: Institut d’Estudis Catalans, 1997). In September, Open Letter came out with a paperback edition.) As for the newly translated novel, unlike many major events, this one does not disappoint expectations.

Her Life, in Brief

Rodoreda with her grandfather, Pere Gurguí, and bouquet of flowers. Photo from the collection of Carme Arnau.

Merc¡e Rodoreda i Gurguí was born in the Sarrià-Sant Gervasi section of Barcelona (where the Diamond Plaza was located) at a time (October 1908) when modernity and tradition were vying for supremacy. This conflict took place in the fields of culture and politics. In culture Modernisme was temporarily defeated by Noucentisme but the dialectics of these opposites produced a synthesis which led to a modern Catalan nationalism. In politics, Barcelona (the largest center of industry in Spain) found both its bourgeois and working class interests unrepresented in parliament, where both the Conservatives and Liberals were captives of the land-holding classes. Not willing to admit other groups the two parliamentary parties managed elections and agreed to a rotation in office (el turno) and left it to the Army to manage dissent without interference by the civil authorities. In Barcelona anti-militarism, on the rise among the workers and the intelligentsia, especially after the loss of the empire in the war with the United States in 1898,  was met with open hostility on the part of the local barracks. The climax came a year after Rodoreda was born with the demonstrations against the Army’s call up for the Moroccan. The Army responded during the Tragic Week, la Setmana Tràgica in 1909, with an iron fist, and the civilian government supported the unauthorized repression by executing five protestors and sentencing 59 others to life for their opposition and supposedly participating in the violence that followed. This event proved the turning point for Catalonia, and the working class would now organize for serious confrontations, a pose that would last for nearly three decades until Franco’s forces permanently subdued the region and executed, imprisoned or expelled everyone associated with Catalan nationalism, socialism, anarchism and democracy.

Exiles in Roissy-en-Brie (l to r): Magin Muria, Armand Obiols, Rodoreda, Jordi Murià, Amalia Casals, Agusti Bartra, Muria Anna and Anna Romero at Villa Rosset in Roissy-en-Brie. October 16, 1939. (Source: Fundació Mercè Rodoreda.)

Exiles in Roissy-en-Brie (l to r): Director Magí Murià, writer Armand Obiols, Mercè Rodoreda, Jordi Murià, Amàlia Casals (wife of Enric Cluselles), poet Agustí Bartra, writer Anna Murià and Anna Romaní at the Muria house, Villa Rosset in Roissy-en-Brie. October 16, 1939. (Photo Source: La Fundació Mercè Rodoreda.)

According to Rodoreda’s elliptical memoirs, she was an unlikely participant (as activist or memorialist) in these struggles, growing impoverished and only receiving two years of formal education. But a recent examination of her childhood shows that it was less impoverished and disadvantaged than she suggested. In El paradís perdut de Mercè Rodoreda (Barcelona: Edicions 62, 2015) (available since last month on Amazon, but only for Kindle and only in Catalan) Carme Arnau Faidella reconstructed Rodoreda’s childhood from unpublished letters and other memorabilia. She concludes that Mercè had a happy, somewhat Bohemian life. Her parents were devoted to the theater (both had taken classes at l’ Escola d’Art Dramàtic) and books. Her mother was fond of music as well. But she was especially fond of her maternal grandfather, Pere Gurguí, in whose house they lived. Gurguí was a journalist who had once been editor for the short-lived L’Arc de Sant Martí (“Rainbow”) and La Renaixença (“the Renaissance”), both conservative Catalan newspapers, which promoted the cultural identity of Catalans. Gurguí was dedicated to Catalonian history and culture and imparted his love to his granddaughter. He had been a friend of Jacint Verdaguer, poet and member of  the generation of Restoration of 1874, which led to La Renaixença, the rebirth of Catalan language and culture. Mercè remembered her grandfather telling her that a guardian angel watched over her, and occasionally those angels appear in her writing. He also read to her the works of Català, Ruyra and other Catalan modernists. The most important to him was Verdaguer.  In 1910, eight years after the poet’s death and two years after Mercè’s birth, Gurguí built a monument to Verdaguer in his garden,

“a hill of big stones, with pans of dirt in between, where rosemary plants and other typical Mediterranean plants grew, surrounded by a strip of pink cement that wound around the rocks and had the titles of Verdaguer’s main works engraved in it, El Canigó, L’Atlàntida, etc.” (from Images of Childhood.)

Rodoreda in 1980. Photo by Tomi Socies for Revista Canigó. (Universitat d'Alacant.)

Rodoreda in 1980. Photo by Tomi Socies for Revista Canigó. (Universitat d’Alacant.)

The garden and its flowers became a recurring figure in her writing especially after her exile. Almost as if flowers represented the Catalan culture they were associated with in the garden, flowers would spring up everywhere in her stories and novels. They could be symbols of love as in “Blood”: “My husband would say the dahlias were our children.” Disinterest in flowers could signal a breach in a relationship as in “Engaged”: “‘ I don’t understand your obsession with flowers. All that …’ he made a gesture with his head as if shaking off something that suddenly vexed him.” Flowers are sometimes provide subtle symbolism, as the bougainvillea in Isabel i Maria, a plant whose bracts imitate flower petals and in the story reflects the duplicity between the characters. But mostly flowers represented home, especially in exile. As Rodoreda herself said (in the preface to Mirall trencat (Broken Mirror) Rodoreda explained why she made a gardener and his garden the center of her novel Jardí vora el mar (Garden by the Sea), the first novel after her exile: “Linked to flowers, without flowers for years, I felt the need to talk about flowers, and to make my main character a gardener.” Flowers therefore represented above all homesickness, which is probably why an idolized and innocent childhood is part of almost all her works. Arnau said that the nostalgia for a lost childhood is always contrasted with adult hypocrisy and corruption.

Her own childhood paradise came abrupt to an end when she was 20. After her grandfather’s death, evidently her uncle, her mother’s brother, who had been in the Americas to make his fortune, sent stipends to her family to keep it afloat. When he returned, he married Mercè. A year later she had a son. Her marriage and domestic life made her miserable. She chose to escape the life she seemed destined for by means of journalism and then through novels.By 1936 she had published her fourth novel. The the Civil War came. Barcelona, which had already been a center of great intellectual and artistic activity under the Second Republic, as well as one vastly more liberal when it came to the place of women in society, became one of the strongest centers of loyalist resistance to Franco. The eventual victory of fascism in Spain was a calamity of historic proportions, not only putting the resisters in physical danger but also bringing about a spiritual and cultural disaster much like the Saints experienced when Charles II was restored, or the proletariat in Paris in 1849 or the partisans in France only a few years after the defeat of the Spanish Republic.

When the civil war began the great liberal experiment of the Second Republic with its benefits for intellectual women, for Catalans and for many others came to an end with the victory of Franco’s fascist army. Catalonia, one of the centers of loyalist defense of the Republic (and more significantly from the rightist point of view, one of the most advance workers’ movements ever undertaken), felt the heel of repression. Though not technically banned, the local forces suppressed Catalan in many ways, including signs that said: “Don’t bark, speak Spanish!”

Rodoreda and Armand Obiols in 1939. (Photo Source: La Fundació Mercè Rodoreda.)

Rodoreda and Armand Obiols in 1939. (Photo Source: La Fundació Mercè Rodoreda.)

Rodoreda escaped repression and her family in well fell swoop. She left behind her son as well as her husband. She lived from 1939 to the Nazi occupation in Roissy-en-Brie, a small commune in the Île-de-France region east of Paris. She was doubly exiled: away from her country, but also because of the suppression of Catalan by the Falangists, exiled from her native tongue, and therefore from writing. In 1938 she had written Aloma, according to Pope dealt with “the violence of society, the degrading routine of marriage, the dangers of romantic delusions, the repression of the body, and the exploitation and abuse of women.” In France Rodoreda would meet writer Armand Obiols, with whom she would live until his death in 1971.

Obiols would offer extensive editorial advice to Rodoreda and her work thereafter became what made her internationally famous: objective, dispassionate, sparse and concrete. Pope showed, for example, how the influence of Obiols changed the narrative tone of Aloma between the time it was first published (before he knew her) and the 1969 edition. For years there were rumors that Obiols wrote her books, a charge that she told Castellet was “stupidity” (una bestiesa). As proof she said that most of her books were “women’s books” and men know nothing about women.

Untitled by Mercè Rodoreda. Watercolor on paper. ca. 1950? Institut s'Estudis de Catalan.

Untitled by Mercè Rodoreda. Watercolor on paper. ca. 1950? Institut d’Estudis Catalans.

In France Rodoreda did not complete any writing. She supported herself by sewing. When she fled the Nazi she moved to Switzerland. There she took up painting. Over 80 of her watercolors, gouaches and collages are held by the Institut d’Estudis Catalans, 30 of which were exhibited at Barcelona’s La Pedrera in 2008 during the centenary of her birth. They were stark portraits of women (mostly) with expressions of wonderment and silence.This would become a characteristic of her narrators when she took up writing in earnest again in 1958.

Her Writing, Briefly

Rodoreda’s writing spanned the styles of the twentieth century beginning with psychological realism, to modernist interior explorations to a unique form of fantastic realism. But in all these styles the narrative approach was much the same. The protagonist/narrator was usually a women of lower socio-economic status. José Ortega says that this helps contribute to her ingenuísmo. The nature of the narrative voice is unique, and the effect at first is hard to pinpoint. Scarlett points out that unlike most first person narrators the narration is almost exclusively testimonial and not confessional. Moreover, Restina says that by shutting off the “intellectual function” the narration achieves a descriptive power making the things observed more “real” and “concrete.”

Because there is no “intellectual filter” between the narrator and the reader the narration gives the effect of the kind of writing André Breton described as “pure psychic automatism.” The surrealist techniques of Rodoreda are anything but subliminal. Her “disorientation, random association and misogyny” in The Time of the Doves (as Everly points out) have specific and quite precise narrative functions. But beyond the surrealistic technique, the oddities that permeate her stories (especially the later ones) create what Garcia Marquez called an  “atmosphere”  from which her revelations take place. And the last novel, War, So Much War is the culmination of her experiments in this regard.

In 1973, with Franco turning over his role as head of government to Carrero Blanco, Rodereda returned to Catalonia where she would live until her death in 1983. Franco was in ill health for much of the time after her return, and he died in 1975.  Perhaps his death made partisanship reside in her last novel, published in 1980, because no sides are expressly identified. (It is possible to surmise, however, that the narrator belongs to the loyalist militia, given how the enemy has airplanes and repeatedly bombs civilians.) The novel is not so much about a war, as it is that the war is the thing that makes everything else the way it is.

War, So Much War

war, so much warRodoreda’s last novel is a story told (or experienced for the most part) by Adrià Guinart, a young man who goes to war to escape his mother and see the world. But he soon regrets his decision to fight and he runs away when he can. Although unlike almost all other works by Rodoreda the narrator is male, his youth (he is barely past puberty) and his conduct make his gender ambiguous. When he was young and taken to school for the first time, Father Sebastià told his mother that they did not admit girls. The priest soon found him to be a “veritable archangel” and had his desk placed next to his own.

We know very little about his childhood but what we are told is told lyrically and so we seem to get a full sense of him. He evidently loved his father dearly, and his time with him is described tenderly: “On the Sundays when my father wasn’t of a mind to visit his cousins, he would take me for a walk. We spent hours sitting by the side of the road, and sometimes the air winnowed threads from the hearts of stunted flowers, and some would catch in my clothes.” His father, a railroad engineer, was haunted by a ghost—a man who would walk on the tracks, causing his father to screech the train to a halt, but in the examination later, no trace of the man would be found, and he received criticism. On the third time, he closed his eyes when the man refused to leave the tracks, and he felt bones being crushed when the train passed over him. The father died shortly after that experience, when Adrià was 11.

Adrià had a birthmark on his forehead, and when angry his mother told him it he reminded her of Cain. She raised carnations for sale near the train line, where trains could be heard all night from the house. The house had a yellow rose bush growing up its side. He grew to find the house suffocating, and began escaping from night to dawn. Then when he was 15, the war gave him an excuse to leave, and he went with his friend Rossend to join the fighting.

Adrià was not meant to fight, and they put him to work in the kitchen. Still he deserts. He can’t defend himself even when forced to fight and suffers severe beatings as a result. Even when they attempt to teach him to first a rifle, he refuses to learn, purposely aiming wide, because he had no interest in killing. (In fact the only two people he strikes are women: the miller’s wife, when she tries to seduce him and the old woman in the woods, when she discloses her vile acts.) His escapes are often fortuitous, often by deus ex machina. But his story is not about war directly. In fact, Rodoreda says in the prologue that the novel is not an account of war in terms of weapons but rather an internalized ordeal of disruption displacement and dead bodies. And most of the takes place outside the war zone but still where the state of war has untethered all bonds of normal morality and traditional attachments. The people Adrià meets live solipsistically in a world that offers nothing beyond their self-interest.

It is unfortunate that the Open Letter edition does not contain Rodoreda’s prologue, because it gives a good perspective on what she was trying to achieve. She says that the story was inspired by the 1965 Polish movie The Saragossa Manuscript (Rekopis znaleziony w Saragossie), a movie directed by Wojciech Has and released in 1965. The film is based on a novel of the same title (and subtitled “A Collection of Weird Tales”) by Count Jon Potocki published a century and a half previously (and released by Orion Press in 1960 in an English translation by Elizabeth Abbot). Both the movie and book begin with a battle in Saragossa, Spain, where an invading soldier, entering an abandoned building discovers and becomes engrossed by a manuscript and while reading it is captured by Spanish soldiers. He gets his captures to translate the story and the film proceeds mis en abîme fashion with the captive and the soldiers playing out the scenes in the manuscript. The main character (the prisoner) becomes the captain of the Walloon guards under the King of Spain, and he sets off on various adventures to prove his courage and worthiness to during his travels through Spain. This 19th century Don Juan must pass numerous tests to prove his courage and worthiness. The witty and intricate interlocking of the stories influenced none other than Spanish director Luis Buñuel. The Polish novel it was based on may have had an equally distinguished literary influence. Rodoreda  says that her motivation was to create a story that experiences the world as poets do, “surprised at everything seen.” And while the novel and the film contain several symbolic images in common (eyes, hanged men, sleeping next to dead bodies) and while the protagonist in both is more a witness than actor, the novel is unlike the film. While the film is the unfolding of a gothic story, Rodoreda’s novel is a metaphysical exploration undertaken by one who has no experience in the world or in philosophy and therefore learns as he goes along.

The world Adrià wanders is fantastical, nightmarish and insubstantial, and his deep unconscious soul reverberates with what he sees. His experiences are sometimes no more than fleeting encounters, such as when, shortly after his first desertion he sees a boy in this distance about is age while artillery is being fired. The boy points to the direction of the cannon sound and shouts “Go home,” then disappears. Other encounters amount to complete episodes with conflict and resolution and then the need for Adria to move on. All of the encounters seem at first unrelated, except by subtly related symbols. For example a girl he falls in love with asks “out of the blue” whether he liked soap bubbles. She said: “The best thing about them was that, after one has waited so patiently to see them emerge from the tip of the reed and admire their iridescence, they burst while floating away as if they had been pricked.” He love her because she is unafraid, because she is independent, because it pained her to think of him dead and because she wants no one to follow her. Rather than have her reject him, he lets her go. Once gone, however, he decides he needs her and sets out to find her. Along the way the symbol returns. One night he fell asleep with uncommon peace and dreamed: “a boy who looked like me was blowing soap bubbles with a cane he periodically dipped in a tin can; the bubbles hovered over a drowned girl whose body was being swept in and out by the waves. … Many of the bubbles turned into human heads  that floated upward gazing at the sky. … Death, with green teeth, sat on the belly of a cloud. Seven women with feet of gold huddled together blowing seven long trumpets that spewed bubbles into the sea, while death’s scythe awaited th order to begin reaping the floating heads …” His encounter at last with the girl provides the climax of the novel, it follows with the most fantastical elaboration on the symbol.

Despite the disorder, the horror and the fantastic of an unrecognizable world Adrià is constantly befriended by strangers who offer him unsolicited charity at crucial moments. Perhaps it is because he is young, or has blond hair, or looks like a girl or, as old woman who feeds him says, “those helpless creature eyes of yours.” Or maybe they recognize as disoriented by the world being out of joint as they are. Even nature reflects the disorder of the times. When Adria sees a meteor shower for the first time, the old man watching with him says: “The stars are weeping because we are at war.”

Even when war is far distant, the people Adria meets seemed hollowed out, or maybe it is just that with everyone looking after himself those who would be hollowed out whether or not there was war are now understandable. In the longest episode in the book Adria lives with a man who has a house, income and books. Unlike most, he doesn’t need to scramble for food, or indeed to do anything but contemplate. He goes to the sea at night to think quietly.  His library is filled with mystical philosophy, which he practices by means of a mirror. When he dies Adri¡a reads his papers and learns of his discovery, one that involves a vision that haunts Adrià and a discovery that earns him nothing but hostility in the future.

The adventures that Adrià experiences are enough to earn the description “weird tales” but they are not gothic like Potocki’s are. In fact, their weirdness stems from their surreal nature in the literal sense of the term as above real or extra real. Everything that happens is strange only when we think of the world as normal and ordinary. But it is only ordinary when we stop examining the strangeness of it, the incompatibility of everyone’s selfish motives. Perhaps war is simply the metaphor for that incompatibility. And even those who want nothing more than to be ordinary (like the bricklayer whose house and wife are destroyed by the lone airplane on dropping a single bomb or the mother who amid all the corpses refuses to believe her baby is dead) can’t escape the immense incompatibility of others. Adrià’s travels, his quest, when he is forced to articulate it, is an expression of his need to see all the oddity in the world, to express his own selfish interests: “[T]he only thing I have is my own life. If I speak about it, it escapes, I lose it.” The generous man who wants him to quit his journeys, to stay and be his son, understands and pats him on his back: “… but the moment will come when you have a false life on your hands. You, what do you have inside? A garden or an inferno?” They discuss what it means to be Cain and the old man says: “… whenever you want to go, just go. Don’t say anything. I don’t like goodbyes.”

The novel races to its end. It is not a picaresque with a satisfying moral. Rather, like all great literature it ends with hard truth about the disparity between our desires and our possible attainments. It woud be almost unbearable but for the poetic telling, lyrical enough to soften the blow.

Sources

Carme Arnau, Introducció a la narrativa de Mercè Rodoreda: El mite de la infantesa (Barcelona: Edicions 62, 1976).

Emelie L. Bergmann, “Flowers at the North Pole: Mercè Rodoreda and the Female Imagination in Exile,” Catalan Review 2:83-99 (1987).

J.M. Castellet, “Mercè Rodoreda,” Êls escenaris de la memòria (Barcelona: Edicions 62, 1988).

Kathryn A. Everly, Catalan Women Writers and Artists: Revisionist Views from a Feminist Space (Lewisburg, [Pa.]: Bucknell University Press, ©2003).

Josefina Gonzalez, “Verbal Absences and Visual Silences in Quanta, quanta guerra …La mort i la primavera, and Isabel i Maria,” in Voices and Visions: The Words and Works of Mercè Rodoreda edited by Kathleen McNerney (Selinsgrove [Pa.]: Susquehanna University Press, 1999).

José Ortega, “Mujer, guerra, y neurosis in dos novelas de M. Rodoreda (La plaza de Diamante y La calle de las Camelias“) in Novelistas femeninas de la postguerra española, ed. Janet W. Perez (Madrid: Porrúa, 1983).

Randolph D. Pope, “Aloma‘s Two Faces and the Chacter of Her True Nature,’ in The Garden across the Border: Mercè Rodoreda’s Fiction ed. Kathleen McNerney & Mancy Vosburg (Selingsgrove [Pa.]: Susquehanna University Press, 1994).

Joan Ramon Resina, “The Link in Consciousness: Time and Community in Rodoreda’s La Plaça del Diamant,” Catalan Review 2:22-46 (1987).

Elizabeth A. Scarlett, Under Construction: The Body in Spanish Novels (Charlottesville [Va.]: University Press of Virginia, 1994).

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RIP Gabo

A towering figure in the literature of our day, probably the greatest novelist of the second half of the twentieth century, arguably the most important literary figure of our lifetime, Gabriel García Márquez died today in Mexico City, at the age of 87.

García Márquez taught us, among many other things, that we are all of a race that is condemned to one hundred years of solitude and that we get no chance again. Even when a prophet or a rouser or crusader is sent to us, the result will be the same as happened to Father Augusto Ángel:

before a year was out he too was conquered by the negligence that one breathed in with the air, by the dust that made everything old and clogged up, and by the drowsiness caused by the lunchtime meatballs in the unbearable heat of siesta time.

If there was any doubt of the importance of Garía Márquez, our own State Department removed it by placing him on a list of those who would be denied entry visas into the United States. A military-industrial complex led by an oligopoly of the world’s leading finance capitalists quaked that a journalist and fiction writer might pose a threat to its world dominance.

It will be a long time before there will be his equal.

Another disgrace by the State Department

In the “where’s the change we were promised?” category, the Obama State Department (or more precisely the Bush-Obama State Department) denied a visa to prominent independent Colombian journalist Hollman Morris Rincón who had been scheduled to travel to Cambridge, Massachusetts to participate in the pretigous Neiman fellowship program at Harvard. His offense? According to Frank Bajak’s AP report, it’s the same-ole-same-ole. He’s proscribed under the grossly autocratic “Terrorism Acitivites” section of the so-called Patriot Act. Here’s the bill of particulars:

“Hollman Morris, who produces an independent TV news program called ‘Contravia,’ has been highly critical of ties between illegal far-right militias and allies of outgoing President Alvaro Uribe, Washington’s closest ally in Latin America.”

Ah, so there we have it! It seems this administration for all its clamor of American values is no more sympathetic to having its policies questioned than any of the past imperial presidencies. Everyone in the Land of the Free knows that the press has to accommodate themselves to our Executive like the supine group of good-ole-boys that is the White House press corp or … well just ask Helen Thomas. (And before anyone starts clucking about her anti-Semitism, perhaps he could explain how Pat Buchanan is considered a serious commentator if that were a disqualification from employment by the “serious” news organizations.)

And if you’re not an American citizen you have to be even more obliging to the views of our semi-hereditary monarchy or else you are a terrorist. Ask Gabriel García Márquez. He discovered that Washington, D.C. is a modern Macondo, where its lack of connection with the outside world promotes its bizarre group-think, the ideology of which is supplied by the gigantic corporate banana plantation that employs all the “representatives” there. He was repeatedly denied visas because he was a “security threat” even before we passed the highly patriotic Patriot Act which gives our Executive the power to shield us from all bad-think from foreigners.

So Morris accused Uribe of connection with right wing militias? That surely shows his terroristic activities. After all, Macondo, D.C. has supported the right wingers that make life miserable for our “Southern brothers” for over a century now. And recently, Reagan, the Bushes and now apparently Obama have enjoyed dipping their handkerchiefs in the blood of death squad victims, evidently for the cure it provides to American imperial capitalism.

And what of this Mr Uribe who has fought the good fight for the American way? Well let’s see. The evidently terrorist inclined National Security Archive issues a release on August 2, 2004, which was headlined: “U.S. INTELLIGENCE LISTED COLOMBIAN PRESIDENT URIBE AMONG ‘IMPORTANT COLOMBIAN NARCO-TRAFFICKERS’ IN 1991: Then-Senator ‘Dedicated to Collaboration with the Medellín Cartel at High Government Levels.'” The first sentence of the release says: “Then-Senator and now President Álvaro Uribe Vélez of Colombia was a ‘close personal friend of Pablo Escobar’ who was ‘dedicated to collaboration with the Medellín [drug] cartel at high government levels,’ according to a 1991 intelligence report from U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) officials in Colombia.” That report, which is written by OUR intelligence experts is found here. I guess it will be found there until the Colonels that run this banana repubic decide to shut down George Washington University’s web site under the so-called Patriot Act.

But that was then. Things like that can be forgiven over time. Our president for example used to be mad at the former one for tapping phones, torturing people, kidnapping, hiding evidence of war crimes, and so on. But that was then. He doesn’t seem to have much of a problem with any of that now. In fact, there’s more of a problems with the people who keep harping on such things. And God forbid you show pictures of a war crime. Under the first half of this Bush-Obama administration leaked pictures of what the New York Times now calls “enhanced questioning” at Abu Ghraib resulted in swift court martials: the underlings were swiftly tried and punished and the superiors cleared. In the more enlightened second part of this administration, evidence of the cold-blooded killing of civilians results in more civilized action: the leaker is swiftly tried and soon to be punished (up to 52 years) and the low-level perpetrators (as well as the superiors) are cleared. The pictures of a non-crime are a military secret.

But there’s some nasty stuff that seems to be coming out recently about our Colombian friend. And it’s even in the Washington Post, that most inside of insiders to our majestic sovereign. The Post reports that Uribe is suspected of using his secret police for spying on, among other people, Supreme Court justices. This is perhaps not considered even a venal sin in our post-9/11, Patriot Act world. They were about to decide the constitutional question of whether Mr Uribe was permitted to run for a third term, so I guess they brought it on themselves. But the Post goes on:

“The latest revelations have come on top of an influence-peddling scandal involving the president’s two sons, Tomás and Geronimo, and a widening probe of the links between Uribe’s allies in Congress and right-wing paramilitary death squads. Though Uribe remains popular for having brought security and economic prosperity to a once-chaotic country, the scandals are hitting hard just as he weighs a run for a third term.”

So what do we care, right? They can sort it out, after all. But the Post suggests we might have some (maybe 6 billion) reasons to care:

“Latin America policymakers in Washington are also watching the controversy closely. The United States has funneled nearly $6 billion in mostly military and anti-drug aid to the Uribe administration for its fight against Marxist rebels and drug cartels. Myles Frechette, a former U.S. ambassador in Bogota who closely tracks Colombia policy, said one possible ramification of the scandal is that the Obama administration could curtail aid.”

Curtail aid! That’s a good one, Myles! Curtail reporting on the scandal, that’s more like it. This administration has friends abroad that it just doesn’t forsake. That’s an American Value! All these intangible “rights” that some radicals in the Age of Reason came up with cannot possibly be as American as loyalty. To foreign friends.

The Neiman fellowship program site (linked above) describes the officiousness of the notification. This you can expect from a department of government that used the money for “security” after 9/11 (and they were awash in “security money” then) to install bullet-proof glass at its passport offices all over the country — everywhere — and generally employ as many armed guards as bureaucrats at those facilities. Because radical terrorists are just dying to blow up a handful of people in a suburban passport office, who are waiting to be frisked by the Praetorian Guards of the State Department (employees of Blackwater?).

This is another glorious day for the values we hold dear.  It’s a lesson to all the world. When we speak of “freedom of the press” what we are talking about stories like these:  “100 Best Companies to Work For” (Fortune) or who Paul the Octopus is picking to win the World Cup (Chicago Tribune) or the controversy about whether it was a rat or a mole that ran across the White House steps (USA Today) or the weighty decisions that face Dwayne and LeBron (Washington Post). You know, real journalism. The kind that we can only hope the Neiman fellowship program is teaching. Freedom of the press was not designed to involve criticism of our friends abroad — even criticisms that we ourselves spend intelligence money to corroborate. Especially when those criticisms come from people in the same country as our foreign friends. It’s one thing for our leaders to know things, it’s quite another for people who have no use for the information to know.

Anything that those guys who wore wigs and breeches said to the contrary in such things as pamphlets, campaign slogans or bills of rights was mere talk, as the Alien and Sedition Acts clearly show. We are much better off not knowing what our rulers think is inappropriate for us. God knows how many lives were saved during those safer years when García Márquez wasn’t allowed in to set foot in our hallowed land. And of course we should be thankful when we just consider how much blood would have run down the streets of Cambridge, maybe down Massachusetts Avenue itself, or, God forbid, Beacon Street, if Hollman Morris were allowed to study there.

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