Sincronía Winter 2005


SILENCE IS BROKEN

Frida A. Oswald

(Traslation by Pedro da Costa)

"The struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against oblivion." Milan Kundera

The word "art", in general, is associated with beauty, form, color, nature, love, kindness or subtlety - all positive terms. However, the opposite can also be part of the art of literature or the art of communication, and is often inspired by man’s social and human struggles. The type of writing that depicts anguish and pain, the grotesque and dark side of the executioner’s spirit, the evil and cruelty that destroy and humiliate the essence of man, is also made present as a form of art. This type of literature is converted into the mirror that reflects the life and social reality of a people. Furthermore, it is a testimonial of denunciation, where the word becomes the pointing finger that accuses torturers and perpetrators of genocide, who, without concern, stifle any voice of protest that comes their way, and murder citizens with impunity - simply for having different ideologies.

During the socio-historical and political period that was witnessed by Bolivia during the military dictatorship of General Hugo Banzer Suarez (1971-1978), many were captured, tortured, murdered, exiled or simply vanished. The year of 1976, in particular, was ocular witness to the physical torture of Victor Montoya, and this narrative documents the existence of an organized repressive system, where the violation of Human Rights and impunity existed as a socio-historical reality of that period. With this series of short stories, the moral duty to confess what was lived in the flesh is fulfilled, and at the same time, a bond is established with the reader as confidant, while the truth is revealed. Silence is broken and the memory paints torture in all its forms, as a bloodied watercolor that emerges as a reminder of a collective anguish, expropriating ideals and destroying spirits. The words of Montoya are his voice multiplied many times over against a government that utilized torture techniques, in order to survive and stay in power.

The author’s style is characterized by a descriptive language that is both: visual and direct, and whose fictionalized characters are based on real people, where the omnipresent physical violence is the common and repetitive theme around which other happenings occur. There is a sort of chain of ongoing events that associate with and complement themselves, in order to denounce the atrocities, while taking hold of the reader’s mind, through the description of visual and linguistically tangible images. It is as if each word already came loaded inside a photographic film, in form, color and size, recorded within a predefined time and space. Each description and each detail define a denunciation, as if the author’s fingerprints were engraved in his mind, impregnating his memories and taking over his voice, in order to transfer the oral-mental to the written-visual, much like an individual-collective confession to an attentive reader who listens and reads.

Through his writings, Montoya, consciously or unconsciously, searches for the therapy that will cleanse and restore him, approximating him and providing identity to his original interior-anterior "self", prior to the torture he suffered – in an attempt to reintegrate himself with his own personal history and to find himself. Moreover, this narrative fulfills the function of resisting and challenging the official repressive discourse. While being a literature of exile, the common theme of the short stories is inevitably intertwined with repression, centered in a universe where the multiple faces of torture, far away from the place of the happenings, live in the author's memories, impatient in the attempt to be heard. Consequently, this literature breathes and surfaces with the oxygen that the author lacked when he was caught in the midst of the events. His voice no longer suffers the threat of being silenced or censured and gone is the fear of being killed, making it genuine and free. Its importance within socio-historical parameters is immense because it represents the collective human pain, under the iron hand and domination of a dictator - hidden by the official story. With this information, the reader’s consciousness is raised, allowing him to unite in solidarity and make a better critical and comparative judgment - not only of Bolivia’s history - but also of other nations in the southernmost region of South America, under similar circumstances. The reader’s position is that of a listener, confidant and psychotherapist, because he reads the stories as if he was listening to what is being spoken, feels the anguish expressed, and observes the pictures that are so graphically described in the stories.

"Death’s chessboard" begins in an allegorical manner, relating the oppressor-oppressed relationship through a game where "checkmate" is ever present. It incorporates a historical background that reflects violence, death, betrayal, abuse, and violation of Human Rights.

"Enter the bloody letter" is a real story, where the stylistic talent of the author manages to use the Mother image metaphorically in a symbolic triad of the dictatorship: the biological mother, whom one loves and obeys, the second Mother, the teacher who disciplines with violence, control and power, and a third Mother, who has total power of action over every individual. The images of the first two mothers converge towards a permanent one that becomes a third Mother - the Motherland- where the three represent, almost in association, a unitarian form of authoritarianism, power and violence; it is a symbolic critique of the repressive dictatorial system of the time.

"The hooded one" is a small sample of the internal interrogation system’s action dynamics that was practiced in the regime's detention cells against the political prisoners. It depicts the torturer-tortured relationship, where the "hood’s function is to assure a dark world of anonymity for the torturers, quite characteristic of the collective silence and darkness of all dictatorships that existed in the southernmost region of South America, during that same period.

In "The death of Carmelo" we see the reflection of the commitment to the opposite of life, where a simple object, the revolver, has absolute power to define lives and deaths, presents and futures - entire lives that could be silenced in a moment. The author combines the referential with the symbolic when he describes the dramatic capture of Inti Peredo, right after the failed guerrilla movement of Che Guevara.

"The program" is a short story that serves as an introduction to the plight of the miners in the following story. It exposes, in a critical manner, the lack of a centralized goal and concomitant lack of an effective plan of action, which is well coordinated, and ultimately leads to the desired results.

"Miners’ massacre" exposes the massacre of the night of San Juan, an historical event that took place in the early morning of June 24th, 1967. The government sent its armed goons and wiped out, in a brutal and massive manner, the mine workers - killing innocent people whose only crime was to demand better conditions of life. The author goes back in his remembrances to the time when he was nine years old, to search for the early foundations of his experiences in the mining district during the twentieth century. He happened to be an ocular witness of the genocide, in which death - through massacres - was bonded to life, as an unstoppable hurricane.

It is important to establish that, with the publication of these short stories, Montoya demonstrates that history is cyclical and that the same events have been repeating themselves throughout the years as it happened in 1967, during the military government of René Barrientos Ortuño. It is