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EL ESPECTADOR

In Latin America, Politics Of Fear Makes A Comeback

Countries like Colombia, traumatized by decades of violence, have yet to shake off the tyrant's favored arm of fear. Now it also spreads on social networks.

In Latin America, Politics Of Fear Makes A Comeback
Reinaldo Spitaletta

-Essay-

BOGOTÁ — While working at the Crisis magazine in Buenos Aires in the 1970s, the writer Eduardo Galeano received a phone call from someone in the Argentine Anti-Communist Alliance (Alianza Anticomunista Argentina), a paramilitary gang also known as Triple A. The caller told him: "We'll kill all you, you sons of bitches." Galeano replied without missing a beat: "The hours for threats, sir, are six till eight," and hung up. In Latin America, fear and threats are both a part of its history and a tool of power used (by all sides) to thwart opposition.

With the weapon of fear, people's lands have been stolen, human rights trampled, and the essential principles of democracy pilloried. "Run, run, run, run or they'll kill you," goes the song by the Chilean folk singer Víctor Jara, himself put to death in 1973. In Colombia, we have grown up surrounded by fears, including those that fear change, differences and anything not inscribed in existing, systemic canons.

This was the setting for the rise of the various gangs of political murderers throughout the country's tumultuous 20th century, with sinister names like the Birds (most notably the Condor, León María Lozano) or "head rippers' and gruesome practices and exotic methods for cutting people to pieces. These home-bred savages consolidated the reign of fear, and even sang its praises to encourage themselves as they rampaged and murdered their way through districts.

The institutionalization of terror and threats has created forced displacements and disappearances that have undermined the will to protest and exercise civil resistance. People were warned: anyone behaving like a local black sheep could expect to end up in the slaughterhouse.

Elsewhere the Chilean poet Pablo Neruda evokes fear's presence in his General Song or Canto General: "Loud knocking on the quiet door/the abyss or the flash that swallowed the assassin/when dogs bark and the violent police/arrive among people asleep/to fiercely twist the threads of tears/and pull them from terrified eyelashes."

A means of fear that goes beyond the physical.

Fear and threats (subtle at times, but more often brutal and crass) have replaced political argument. It is one of the tricks of repression, used by torturers to prevent opposition to the reign of atrocities. It becomes a strategy to dissuade anyone from denouncing or acting on a design to formulate criticisms. That is how "fear of losing" imposes itself: Best to keep quiet, people think, while you are being trampled on.

In an oppressive environment, reality is no longer an objective category. The reigning subjectivity contain the ingredients that lead you to conclude it is better to leave things as they are, to avoid danger (or worse). Today, the media as a whole, fueled with social networks, have become the vehicles to further spread such fears.

Writer Eduardo Galeano — Photo: ENicolas Celaya/ZUMA

Our current culture of fear is also wont to use the psychology of guilt: If they killed, sacked or mocked that person "s/he must have owed something." Within this rationale, victims become perverse beings, and crime, persecution and repressive tactics become natural way of things. The regular reincarnations of McCarthyism seems to triumph wherever political culture falters and fears abound.

It has been said that if fighting for liberty entails great risks, oppression needs fear of physical death or the threat of violence. We shall kill you, in other words, if you insist on drawing cartoons mocking a regime or or its leaders. If you keep singing against the torturers, we shall cut your head off. Fear of death provides tyrants with a means of gagging that goes beyond the physical.

Call it the imagination of terror whose forms include fear of all dissent, differentiation and singularity. Which is why we need to sing along with Violeta Parra: "Bullets and the barking pack of hounds don't frighten us."

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