Jean Franco: Well I sup­pose Foucault has to be cred­it­ed with talk­ing about dis­pos­able life. And it’s inter­est­ing to me that at the very moment when he was giv­ing the lec­tures on this top­ic, Henry Kissinger in the United States was admit­ting, or pub­lish­ing, the results of the com­mis­sion on ster­il­iza­tion. The idea was that ster­il­iza­tion should be encour­aged in Third World coun­tries in order to reg­u­late the pop­u­la­tion. It was almost exact­ly a blue­print of the kind of thing that Foucault was talk­ing about. In effect, ster­il­iza­tion was put into effect— It’d already been put into effect in Puerto Rico. It was put into effect in Brazil. And lat­er on in the regime of Fujimori in Peru, it would be prac­ticed in the high­lands, par­tic­u­lar­ly among indige­nous women. 

And I think this is one of the first points I want to make, that pop­u­la­tion con­trol very much was geared towards indige­nous pop­u­la­tions. As we know, the US was pro­found­ly inter­est­ed in Latin America dur­ing all this peri­od, and in fact were the iron hand behind a great many of the coups. I was in Guatemala when Árbenz was over­thrown by mer­ce­nar­ies paid for by the Americas. So I knew exact­ly what it meant. It meant the over­turn­ing of any kind of social pro­grams, social reform; the return of mil­i­tary regimes, which were to prove com­plete­ly deadly. 

In the 80s, what that meant was geno­cide. And it’s inter­est­ing that although this was sup­pos­ed­ly to con­trol or to put down insur­gent forces, which were quite small in Guatemala, the main brunt of the geno­cide was on the indige­nous peo­ples. And many many thou­sand of indige­nous peo­ples were killed, tor­tured, raped, dur­ing that par­tic­u­lar time. So this was the heavy hand of the US empire on Latin America. 

So this is what was meant, if you like, by dis­pos­able life. They put in, the Americans put in or tol­er­at­ed numer­ous dic­ta­tor­ships in the Southern Cone and in Central America. They sup­port­ed a regime in Colombia which was extreme­ly vio­lent. In fact, para­mil­i­tary forces in Colombia inau­gu­rat­ed the use of the elec­tric saw to saw off limbs of oppo­nents, the most ter­ri­ble case being that of Father [Tebusio? (poss. Father Tiberio Fernandez)], a lib­er­al Catholic priest who suf­fered that par­tic­u­lar death. His limbs were sawn off, his head was cut off and thrown into the riv­er. This was kind of a com­mon occur­rence in Colombia at this par­tic­u­lar peri­od. It was also a prac­tice that was tak­en up by the drug traf­fick­ers in Colombia, who were in league with the para­mil­i­tary. These drug traf­fick­ers then export­ed the sys­tem to Mexico, where of course behead­ings still go on, as well as at the Colombian prac­tice of putting mes­sages onto bod­ies to say why they were killed. So you know, they would put a sort of message—they would take some­body’s tongue out and put it down their throat, just to show to show he was an informer and so on. 

The atroc­i­ties were real­ly ter­ri­ble. And these have passed via the drug routes into Mexico and are prac­ticed now by the drug traf­fick­ers in Mexico. And this is one of the inter­est­ing things. I mean, one sees the reper­cus­sion of all these forces. First of all the sup­port of con­ser­v­a­tive regimes. The tol­er­ance of the para­mil­i­tary and the mil­i­tary, who were in Latin America dur­ing the 80s and ear­ly 90s respon­si­ble for the most hor­ren­dous tor­tures and the most hor­ren­dous killing. 

I think some­thing which has not real­ly ever been said enough is the respon­si­bil­i­ty of the US for this par­tic­u­lar sit­u­a­tion. Many, in fact I would say prob­a­bly near­ly all of the worst atroc­i­ties were com­mit­ted by peo­ple who were trained in the School of the Americas. The School of the Americas was run by the US. Partly in Georgia, it had a branch in Georgia and anoth­er in Panama. And if you can think of prob­a­bly the worst dic­ta­tors and the worst mil­i­tary lead­ers, they were trained in this par­tic­u­lar school. 

So this is some­thing which I feel ought to be fur­ther inves­ti­gat­ed. I don’t think it should be for­got­ten. Because where­as for instance if you think of Serbia, and Croatia, and Bosnia, there were war crime tri­bunals set up because of atroc­i­ties in those places. Those atroc­i­ties were absolute­ly no worse than the atroc­i­ties per­pe­trat­ed in Latin America. And the hand behind the per­pe­tra­tors was the US and the train­ing in the US at the School of the Americas. 

So this is one very seri­ous ques­tion, I think, when we’re talk­ing about dis­pos­able lives, the ease with which those Latin American lives were sac­ri­ficed in this par­tic­u­lar way, and with­out any kind of ret­ri­bu­tion or response. So that’s one par­tic­u­lar question.

The sec­ond ques­tion I want­ed to say is some­thing com­plete­ly dif­fer­ent. I’m talk­ing now about a dif­fer­ent Latin America. I mean, it’s a Latin America that’s come out from under dic­ta­tor­ships, which has for the most part fair­ly lib­er­al gov­ern­ments in Ecuador and Chile, in Argentina, Brazil. And who are attempt­ing reform, although under strict­ly lim­it­ed circumstances. 

Now, that is a sub­stan­tial change. But on the oth­er hand, oth­er prob­lems have tak­en over, for instance the prob­lem of the drug traf­fick­ing which I men­tioned. A sort of pri­va­ti­za­tion of atroc­i­ty that has been going on there. And what was very inter­est­ing to me about three or four months ago when I went to Mexico and gave a talk on zom­bies… This seems have noth­ing to do with the actu­al polit­i­cal sit­u­a­tion, but there’s a huge inter­est in zom­bies. And the zom­bies are seen as kind of sym­bols of our time, if you like. They’re the walk­ing dead. The walk­ing dead com­ing out to wreak hav­oc on the living. 

And in Mexico every year they have a zom­bie march which attracts absolute­ly thou­sands of young peo­ple who march through the cen­ter of Mexico dressed as zom­bies. And I kind of have a feel­ing there’s some sig­nif­i­cance in this. That where­as you know, we used to march against the atom­ic bomb or some­thing, or we would march against the Tory gov­ern­ment or what­ev­er, they’re march­ing as zom­bies. And you know, I sort of puz­zle, what does this mean in this par­tic­u­lar moment of civ­i­liza­tion? And it seems to me there’s a cer­tain apoc­a­lyp­tic moment that we’re approach­ing. That peo­ple do not have the same con­fi­dence in the future that oth­er gen­er­a­tions had. And that maybe this is some kind of prob­lem that we should be look­ing at, in par­tic­u­lar among young peo­ple. I mean, it seems to me a sort of ges­ture of hope­less­ness when you dress up as a zom­bie, adopt the zom­bie walk, and go through the main street of the city.