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.