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The detention of Remedios Garcia

To kill a mockingbird : the detention of Remedios Garcia

by Alberto Cruz, Rebelión, August 4th 2008

(Translator's note : Peace activist Remedios García Albert was arrested by Spanish police on July accused of "membership of an armed group". The evidence against her appears to consist of e-mails from FARC members addressed to different people whom the Colombian authorities allege are one and the same, namely Remedios García. They allege these e-mails were found in the "magic computer" of Raul Reyes, the FARC's chief negotiator killed by the Colombian army during an illegal armed incursion into Ecuadoran territory. Garcia Albert's defence lawyers have dismissed the charges against her as fabrications in their initial appeal against her detention.)

The arrest of Remedios García Albert reminds me of the film "To Kill a Mockingbird". She is the black man in a society corrupt to the point of nausea - quit the reference to colour and in its place hang the label "terrorist" on the involuntary protagonist of this dramatic film. Here, hatred of the dissident has turned into the paradigm supposedly democratic behaviour makes its alienating objective. There is a Spanish saying that goes, "tell me what you're after and I'll tell you want you need". Something that can be applied indisputably as much to Colombian society as to Spain's. It is what gets people out protesting against the FARC while they keep quiet about the deaths of trades unionists, social activists, journalists or any other dissident against the capitalist system.

As in "To Kill a Mocking Bird", in Colombia and Spain, some public figures, protected by belonging, supposedly, to those different spheres of power that Montesquieu wrote about, act immorally and unscrupulously when it comes to choosing their victims. It makes no difference whether it is Remedios, a peace worker concerned with social justice, or a trades unionist like Guillermo Rivera the last but one to be killed in Colombia for defending workers rights. In the end, they are like the black people dealt with in that film, people whose word one cannot believe because their words are worthless compared to those of the public leaders defending law, order and religion. All that's needed is for the accuser to say "They did it, I just know they did it..." and the accusing witness of the magic computer turns the onlooking crowd into a victim of its own cruel poverty and ignorance.

Also as in "To Kill a Mocking Bird", here the judge who has indicted Remedios has a clean, untainted image since he was the person who tried Pinochet. That case served to clean up his reputation for being a censor, since he was the one who shut down the “Ergin” newspaper and who is regarded as being really quite poor at managing the cases he deals with. But he is, furthermore, the kind of judge who would never, ever, at all dare to open a case of any kind against any newspaper, Spanish or Colombian, of those that habitually argue for a coup in Venezuela or who promote racism in Bolivia. Clearly, that is “freedom of the press”. But there's more.

Like in "To Kill a Mocking Bird", the police appear to be simply complying with the law, although the evidence has been acquired outside the law they say they uphold, with dead bodies doubly finished off to make sure they stayed dead, applying the law of "they were getting away", as if their killers might even be telling the truth. That is why they are going after the women fighters and the Mexican student who survived. Because, as some old thinker said, “the truth is revolutionary". And, as is well know, revolution is bad for the system the politicians, judges and police of countries like Spain and Colombia defend with such passion and commitment.

As in "To Kill a Mocking Bird" Remedios has already been lynched in the media by people defending a supposedly objective and independent play of information. They have marked her with the brand slavers used to use to identify black people as their property before, as good lovers of law, order and religion, going off to religious service and giving alms to the poor. The Spanish who got rich selling slaves in countries like Cuba know a good deal about that, as do the criollo classes in Colombia who held onto power after Independence from the colonial centre.

In the traffic of slaves and the exploitation of workers lies the origin of the fortunes and the commercial businesses that claim indemnity for their properties in Cuba, waiting for the moment the Revolution ends. Likewise, in the case of those who control Colombia - in many cases the same ones indemnified by the independent State when slavery was abolished. They have always opposed any measure for peace that might include structural reforms to the country's political economy. That and nothing else was what the FARC demanded during the peace talks in Caguán.

Or is it necessary to recall that this was openly published and stated at the time by the FARC and their media outlets? Does one really need to be reminded that what the media representing Colombia's oligarchy, like “El Tiempo” or “Semana”, published day after day back then echoed and fed the rejection of the peace talks by the "Colombian business sector"? Remedios was there and many others. Perhaps naively we were banking on a peace with social justice.

The behaviour of the new slavers of bodies and minds is very similar to that of their forbears. They continue to base their fortunes on the traffic of slaves : longer working hours, increased retirement age, no effective unionization, but yes to sham bosses unions so like the sugar plant foremen or trusted plantation slaves, the loss of social rights acquired through struggle, blood and beatings. And they carry on salving their consciences with the alms and good works that are now done via non-profit foundations and Non-Governmental Organizations. They address the impoverished individual rather than the things that cause poverty, as if poverty and wretchedness were not generated by a material economic system.

That is why one has to be unceasingly critical of those who talk about peace in its negative sense, as if peace equals the absence of conflict. That is why one has to repeat endlessly that such a concept of peace is of no interest to us, but rather the positive concept of peace, peace that equals the resolution of the causes that generate conflict. Peace in Palestine is the recognition of the national rights of a people who have been denied them for 60 years. That is why there are armed organizations in Palestine.

Peace in India is to change an economic system that submerges 750 million people in misery while a minority watch Bollywood films, move to the West and negotiate nuclear agreements. That is why there are armed organizations in India. Peace in Colombia is to begin reformulating economic policy with its immediate corollary : better wealth redistribution and an end to social injustice. That is why there are armed organizations in Colombia. Peace in other parts of the world involves recognizing the rights of peoples to self-determination.

As in "To Kill a Mocking Bird", the media have assassinated Remedios (Guillermo Rivera they killed physically) in this film directed by Spanish judge Baltasar Garzón, with a screenplay sent to him from Colombia and which has been made into a paperback by the newspapers and into a serial by the radio and TV. Every single actor has worked to avoid people asking themselves questions like why a woman has to be arrested for the simple fact of exchanging messages with someone, whether they are a guerrilla or not, why the FARC are bad while the Colombian government, hiding behind its Spanish counterpart, is good, for killing, in real life, trades unionists, social activists, journalists and political leaders year in year out.

We are like the children in "To Kill a Mocking Bird". We have tried to look at the world differently and we have had our innocence knocked out of us. Like the little girl protagonist in "To Kill a Mockingbird" says, you don't really know someone until you have put on their shoes and tried walking in them. I have worn Remedios' shoes and walked in them along the same paths in Mexico, Iraq, Colombia, Cuba.....

And as in the film, killing a mocking bird is something not permitted because it is a good bird that harms no one: "all it does is sing (write) offering its gift to our ear (mind), it doesn't nibble our seedlings (steal) or go in the barn and eat wheat (despite being hungry); all it does is sing as hard as it can to make us happy (end injustice)."


Translation copyleft tortilla con sal

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