Here «We» go again. The Tiniest Place (El Lugar Más Pequeño) at MoMA

Interrupting Infinity Exclusive Commentary. © 2012 by David St.-Lascaux

: U.S. Engineers Overthrow of Paraguayan Government with $65 Million Investment, on 22 June 2012


Return on «Our» investment: Village wall, El Salvador, from El Lugar Más Pequeño. Permission pending.

Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) International Festival of Nonfiction Film and Media
February 16-28, 2012

But it is important to note why [the Church] has been persecuted. Not any and every priest has been persecuted, not any and every institution has been attacked. That part of the church has been attacked and persecuted that put itself on the side of the people and went to the people’s defense. Here again we find the same key to understanding the persecution of the church: the poor.
– Archbishop Óscar Romero, at the Université catholique de Louvain, Belgium, February 2, 1980

FOR TWELVE YEARS, FROM 1980 TO 1992, El Salvador was in a state of civil war. Government and allied forces, which murdered the majority of those killed (and, the truth commission concluded, were responsible for 85 percent of complaints regarding extrajudicial executions, disappearances and torture), were materially supplied by the United States. An estimated 80,000 Salvadorans were killed (cost to U.S. taxpayers per Salvadoran head, based on overt U.S. financing of El Salvador’s military [euphemistically termed "aid"] in 1981-2 of ~$131 million = ~$1,638; said aid continued into 1992) plus four American citizen mercy mission nuns (1/20,000th of the Salvadoran total) and a number of U.S. military personnel; others were tortured, raped and “disappeared.” By 1984, 500,000 Salvadorans were estimated to be “displaced.” After the war, belligerents on both sides received amnesty, while two Salvadoran generals were acquitted of liability for the nuns’ murders in 2002, their case upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2003, although they lost the related civil suit for $54 million.

Tatiana Huezo Sanchez directed The Tiniest Place (Mexico, 2011; I would’ve preferred the more poetic translation of The Smallest Place, recalling Czeslaw Milosz’s “still, small place where memory is healed”), inaugurating MoMA’s International Festival of Nonfiction Film and Media. The film’s narration is provided by the townspeople who returned to and re-established Cinquera, their village, which had been razed by the government in its campaign to eliminate “communists” and “subversives.” The unique technique Sanchez employs in Place is to film the villagers going about their lives in silence while their audible recollections flow from the soundtrack, as if we are reading their thoughts. The effects of their poetic recollections are brutal and eloquent. Place continues MoMA’s courageous, inexplicable screenings of anti-imperialist content, including Silvio Tendler’s Utopia and Barbarism (my review here), a review of Twentieth Century socialist movements in Latin America, in July 2011; Patricio Guzmán’s Nostalgia for the Light, about a Chilean concentration camp, in early 2011; and Maya Da-Rin’s Terras (Lands; 2009), about the decimation of the Brazilian rain forest, in July 2010. Eden lost, a rain forest inhabitant, on the subject of the First World’s economic system, said, “You made us addicted to money.”

Based on 1981-2 military aid alone, American taxpayers spent about $226 per head to finance the murder, torture and rape of 80,000 Salvadorans and “displace” (render homeless) an additional 500,000 Salvadorans – 57 cents per American citizen ($1.64 per American taxpayer), while inflicting maximum cruelty upon the people of El Salvador.

The drumbeat heartbreak in Place (which, at 104 minutes is much, much, much too short) is the sadness of the villagers, who have been shellshocked by the trauma of what they’ve seen, experienced and remember. A cowherd recalls waking at night swinging his machete at imaginary invaders, as the time he “went mad.” A mother lovingly memorializes her guerrilla daughter, despicably tortured and murdered, her mutilated body sadistically delivered home. When he says that, “Peasants don’t want war,” another man, a voracious reader, unwittingly recalls Hermann Göring’s conversation with his psychiatrist handler at Nuremberg, which always bears repeating:

Göring: Why, of course, the people don’t want war. Why would some poor slob on a farm want to risk his life in a war when the best that he can get out of it is to come back to his farm in one piece. Naturally, the common people don’t want war; neither in Russia nor in England nor in America, nor for that matter in Germany. That is understood. But, after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy or a fascist dictatorship or a Parliament or a Communist dictatorship.

Gilbert: There is one difference. In a democracy, the people have some say in the matter through their elected representatives, and in the United States only Congress can declare wars.

Göring: Oh, that is all well and good, but, voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country.

The Tiniest Place continues MoMA’s courageous, inexplicable screenings of anti-imperialist content, including Silvio Tendler’s Utopia and Barbarism, Patricio Guzmán’s Nostalgia for the Light and Maya Da-Rin’s Terras.

Another villager, as the movie nears its end, provides a closer: What is war, after all, he asks, but brother fighting brother; “the poor end up killing the poor, while the rich stand by, laughing.” One is reminded of Michael Moore, in Fahrenheit 9/11, chasing chickenhawk Congressmen – a total of three of whose children were stationed in Iraq – around the Capitol.

So things remain the same. The elephant in the room in Place is «Us». «We» the people of the United States are, as usual, responsible for supporting, training and provisioning the murderers and, literally, supervising the torturers of these “tiny” people. American imperialism and explicit, unapologetic support for repressive dictatorships in Latin America are only part of global American history – a history buried in disinformative footnotes – if at all – in every day’s news. In the case of El Salvador, it should come as no surprise that Jimmy Carter (“advisors,” “aid,” and inaction in the face of Archbishop Romero’s murder), Ronald Reagan, “there you go again” taunter of Iran-Contra infamy, and former CIA director George H.W. Bush were presidents during this period of American shame.

Milosz, who should’ve known better, speciously claimed in an interview in the New York Review of Books (“An Interview with Czeslaw Milosz,” Czeslaw Milosz and Nathan Garde, February 27, 1986, here) that American atrocities weren’t “morally equivalent” because communism is ideologically, not personality based, and thus theoretically ineradicable once instituted. He:

“When it comes to the misfortunes of nations,” [Milan] Kundera has written, “we must not forget the dimension of time. In a fascist dictatorial state, everyone knows that it will end one day. Everyone looks to the end of the tunnel. In the empire to the East, the tunnel is without end, at least from the point of view of a human life. This is why I don’t like it when people compare Poland with, say, Chile. Yes, the torture and the suffering are the same, but the tunnels are of very different lengths. And this changes everything.”

In fact, it’s the opposite: Josef Stalin and Mao Zedong died. Totalitarian capitalism, as practiced in America’s “fascist dictatorial state” tolerates no “free market” of opposing ideas, permits no serious debate, and, most important, as a systemic rather than charismatic ideology, intends to be permanently entrenched. It is today, indeed, mature gangster government, rigged through media saturation and psychological manipulation, enforced by willing police (paramilitary) and military forces, extending its power internationally through surrogate fascist dictatorial states. Internally, although many U.S. cities have poverty rates in excess of 20 percent, U.S. elections are said to be close. If, as Eduardo Galeano says in Open Veins of Latin America: Five Centuries of the Pillage of a Continent, his 1971 history of Spanish, U.S. and European colonialism/imperialism, “The human murder by poverty in Latin America is secret – every year, [the equivalent of] three Hiroshima bombs,” what is the rate in the United States?

The film ends on symbolic, hopeful notes. A baby chick hatches for the murdered young woman’s mother (”I’m grandmother now,” she quips), and the cowherd’s heifer births a calf just as the rain begins. A bust of Farabundo Martí, who was executed after La Matanza (“the Slaughter” of 30,000 Salvadoran peasants in 1932), under an earlier, literally fascist dictatorship, not forgotten, tops a pedestal beside a wall of handlettered names of the recent lost. Children smile and play, dogs’ tails wag… until, claro, «Vamos» otra vez, aquí.

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And Again

By making the minuscule investment of $65 million in paramilitary aid since 2006, the U.S. was able to engineer the overthrow of the Paraguayan government on 22 June 2012. The direct beneficiaries of the coup d’etat were Cargill, Monsanto and Syngenta, which sell and process GMO soybeans there. Two percent of the population own over 80 percent of the Paraguay’s arable land; 60 percent of the people live in poverty.

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