History Makes Literature



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Works Discussed


Man on a String
, Michael Wolfe, Houghton Mifflin, 1973
The Alleys of Eden, Robert Olen Butler, Henry Holt 1981
The Sympathizer, Viet Thanh Nguyen, Grove Atlantic, 2015

Thirty-five years after a haphazard evacuation from Saigon, In August, 2010, the United States declared the Iraq war over and moved its troops south to a friendlier Kuwait, still grateful for its rescue from Saddam years earlier. Vietnam, if not an ally, was now a friend. The war called the "American War" in Vietnam was but a distant memory. The United States had lost battles, but until Vietnam it had never lost a war. 

It is said that only generals can make peace. Nixon's path to an "honorable" peace detoured past the Watergate. After the Paris Peace Accords were signed in January, June 1973 was the last month anyone was drafted. The war was now in the hands of the ARVN, the Army of the Republic of Viet Nam. Between the North Vietnamese Army and Saigon were Richard Nixon, Henry Kissinger and their willingness to use B-52's. Then Nixon was out and Gerald Ford his timid replacement who asked Congress for authority to backstop the ARVN. Congress said no. 

In case of an evacuation, Bing Cosby's "White Christmas" would be played over and over on the Armed Forces Radio and Television Network. In April, the ARVN crumbled, the NVA headed to Saigon and after nearly twenty years Bing sang. 

History makes literature. Published in 1973, Michael Wolfe's Man on a String sets his story in the interregnum between the U.S. drawdown and the full pull-out in 1975. He tells the story of Michael Keefe, a military cameraman from the Midwest who decided to stay in Vietnam as a stringer for a news network. The network had fallen on hard times--no one wanted to hear about Vietnam anymore--and Keefe is forced to resort to black market dealings in order to stay alive. When these fail, he is made an offer by Colonel Xe, a Vietnamese officer who had once fought the French but now was allied himself with the South and more importantly, greed. Keefe's mission takes us through the terrain of a decaying war into a Papillon-like journey into hinterlands that, due to their isolation, have become a refuge from the war. But there is no refuge for Keefe--he must go back. Wolfe's writing brings the end of war to life. 

Robert Olen Butler's first, almost forgotten but Pulitzer Prize winning novel is about an American deserter who stayed in Vietnam after the collapse of the ARVN. The deserter speaks Vietnamese, has a Vietnamese girlfriend and lives on the economy, far from the paradise of the military commissary and PX. He somehow escapes, makes it to California and hooks up with an antiwar group who, in those days when driver's licenses bore no photographs, provide him with false papers. While the deserter is back in what the GI's called "the world" it is clear that Vietnam has never left him. Deserter or not, even for those who returned from Vietnam it was a one-way trip. 

Fast forward forty years. The children of the Vietnamese exile, educated in the United States, Australia and elsewhere, speak and write English perfectly. Mindful that concentrating refugees in one area creates political instability, as had happened in Florida, the U.S. had resettled Southeast Asian refugees throughout the United States. Cambodians are assigned to Minnesota and Chicago. 

The U.S. military recovers its honor in the operation against Grenada; a small war put together to make sure that our soldiers still had the mettle shown by both sides during the Battle of Gettysburg. The Grenada success led to the invasion of Panama, an action that violated our Treaty of Neutrality with that country but so what? George Bush 43 needed a war. Even though we invaded Panama we were already there: the 193rd Infantry Brigade was stationed at Ft. Clayton, across from the Miraflores locks, the first set of locks on the Pacific side of the Panama Canal. 

After those two "wins" Vietnam was increasingly seen as an aberration. Not every team can be the 1972 Miami Dolphins. Every now and then you take a loss; hell, even the Russian hockey pro's lost to a U.S. collegiate pick-up hockey team. We were back on. 

Gulf War I came in 1990. Paying close attention to Deng Xiao Ping's opening to capitalism with a Chinese face and the benefits it brought the northern People's Republic, the Vietnamese government turned slowly towards freer markets.

America has once again become a warlike place. Peter Jennings worshipped at the feet of the war god Mars with a paen to the launch of an armed cruise missle towards a country that was one of the few that accepted refugees from our war in Iraq, echoing Maykovsky's "a racing motorcar is more beautiful than the Winged Victory." Of Thrace, that is. 

Wolfe writes that "whenever a convoy stopped the earth opened up and fruit vendors and others selling goods appeared." Wolfe presciently noted also that in the Vietnamese highlands, all sorts of produce grows. Wolfe was not the only one. The Vietnamese planted coffee and if they could not beat Colombia on quality they could on price.

Soon businessmen of all sorts were traipsing back and forth to the renamed Ho Chi Minh City, led in the main by the sons and daughters of those who fled in 1975 but who preserved their five tone language. Business travel became so common that the front-page of the Wall Street Journal noted the disquiet of Vietnamese-American wives who did not accompany their husbands on these business trips. 

There is an American experience of the Vietnam war, and there is a shared Vietnamese-American experience of the postwar period in America. The Vietnamese struggled, as do all immigrants, with the language, with becoming successful, with earning a living without the contacts that smoothed day to day life in the homes they could not return to. 

There has been no great novel of the Cuban diaspora. I am not sure why this is the case. There are certainly many talented writers, in English and Spanish, who could have produced such a work. Unlike the Vietnam diaspora, the Cuban diaspora never lost hope that next year there would be a return to Havana.

There may be potholes in the streets of Miami, but who cares? The future lies in Havana, in Camaguey, in Cardenas, in Santiago, in the municipios that Florida lawmakers strangely kept alive. There was euphoria when Fidel died, as if the community knew collectively that "ya viene llegando" and that return was just around the corner. 

The Vietnamese refugees of 1975 knew that there would be no return. Though they could not take a minor southern city like Miami in the 1950's, they started coalescing in neighborhoods in places like Los Angeles; their neighborhood came to be known as Little Saigon. There are more than a million and a half people of Vietnamese descent living in the United States.

Forty years after the fall of Saigon, the Pulitzer Prize winning The Sympathizer, was published. The novel is really three books, not one. New York publishing's prejudice against the novella shines through. Let's be generous and call the book a triptych.

In the first panel, the war is ending and a Vietnamese general much like Wolfe's Colonel Xe gets out and decides to settle scores in Los Angeles. The war is over, Americans don't want to hear about any of it, but the general held the power of life and death over his men and dreams of leading an army back to liberate Vietnam.

The second panel is about the making of a Hollywood film (think:
Apocalypse Now) about the war and stands independently, as does the third panel which documents a man's effort to go back to Viet Nam on a rescue mission only to be captured and imprisoned by the VC who were never the VC at all, but who are now the country's masters. 

The first panel of the triptych is the most interesting, for except in a few rare instances, such as the discrimination against Vietnamese-refugee fishermen in such places as Texas and Alabama, the stories of the postwar Vietnamese have been decidedly under the American radar. The Sympathizer resurrects the memories of the escape of Saigon and those early years building lives in a new country.

Not to read Wolfe, Butler and Nguyen is to forget that time when war brought nothing but shame. 

It is a lesson forgotten today. Don't overlook these books. 

A few notes: (1) the mention of the 193 Inf.Bde. at Ft. Clayton is called, "going off on a tangent." According to the Treaty of Neutrality Concerning the Panama Canal, the United States pledged not to interfere in Panama's internal affairs. If a full scale invasion designed to remove that country's leader doesn't constitute interference, then what does? (2) Vietnamese as spoken in the north has six tones; the southern variety has five. Since reunification, linguists have noted a certain amount of blending. Vietnamese spoken in the United States for the most part retains five tones. The paragraph concerning the lack of similar work from the Cuban diaspora doesn't really fit in, but in this case I decided not to take Warhol's advice and let this "darling" live.

Lawyers: AI is Coming for You

AI is sneaking in the back door. Lawyers are unaware.



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The business of tax return preparation was cruelly decimated by the development of software programs that a taxpayer could run. The legal profession hasn't been subject to similar successful attacks. Familiarity with software that assists lawyers to organize and sift through documentation is increasingly a requirement for trial lawyers today. I doubt, though, that the ABA requires law schools to teach this software in order to maintain their accreditation. They should.
Travel agents, journalism and other fields have fallen to disintermediation. So far, the legal system considers itself immune. There doesn't seem a way to disintermediate lawyers and clients. This is naive. AI can already do a halfway decent job in automatically writing news stories. Can automatic writing of say, a motion for summary judgment be far behind? Or Requests to Admit? Or interrogatories? Right now, "AI" is a paralegal farm in the Philippines (Baker & McKenzie) or online back offices in India (Office Tiger). But it's coming to the Cloud, if not the desktop, with mobile versions too.
The practice of law can be divided into two categories, processing and performance. In the United Kingdom and some common law countries, the distinction is institutionalized by dividing the profession into solicitors and barristers. For now, those lawyers engaged in performance are safe. Trials are theater. Human actors will be necessary for the foreseeable future. But don't think that trial lawyers are safe: AI will move aggressively into every area but the trial. Trials themselves are now rare. First the number of jurors was reduced from twelve to six. Arbitrations are happily and efficiently decided by only three arbitrators. How long will it be before juries consist of only three members? The way you could make it happen would be to offer a defendant an incentive to waive his right to a full panel. Say, a cap on sentencing. It's just a question of time. And if you think this is impossible, remember that the rest of the world does without it.
So much of the law can be reduced to a set of formulae. Let's take bond hearings. Despite the supposed availability of bail, pretrial detention (an Orwellian euphemism that means "no bail") will be granted where a person is a flight risk and poses a danger to the community.
The question of whether an individual poses a danger to the community has been taken out of the judge's hands. The nature of the charge determines danger. If a defendant is charged with drug trafficking, he cannot argue that he is not a danger to the community because "drug trafficking isn't so bad." So, the presumption can only theoretically be rebutted. The next question is whether the accused is a flight risk. This is easily answered by recourse to statistics without any need for legal intervention. The average American homeowner, prior to 2009, owned his home for only seven years. Pull the accused's credit report. Has he moved more often than once in seven years? If so, by definition he lacks community ties (unless his moves have been within the neighborhood, the algorithm can take care of that by comparing postal codes). Hearings can be dispensed with; a magistrate will receive a report mandating detention. We can keep the illusion of procedural due process: the accused's lawyer will be given the opportunity to challenge the report for errors. Sometimes computers divide by zero.
If you think this can't happen, think again. Even though the Supreme Court, after twenty years of uniformity, made the Federal Sentencing Guidelines advisory instead of mandatory, for that twenty year period federal sentencing was a tax return. Even though human lives are measured in years, the program took the extraordinary step of using the month as the unit of measure to make the system appear more like a tax return: Conviction? Check. Amount defrauded? Enter here. Criminal history? Choose the appropriate column. Sentence: (whrrr-whrrr): the judge was presented with a range of often no more than six months to sentence a defendant. The program could have split the difference and there would be no need for the judge.
Processing is not protected. In the United States, the business of law is primarily the injury business. Some estimate that a full 40% of the cases in state and federal court relate to efforts to compensate the injured. But take a look at workmen's compensation, another area of the law that seeks to compensate the injured. How much is the claimant earning? What is his age? Calculate his injury in terms of percentage of impairment of bodily function? A number comes out. No lawyers needed, thank you very much.
In a Chapter 7 bankruptcy, once you know the amount of the bankrupt estate, distribution is made according to a formula. If you think that lawyers are essential to the implementation of this formula, you are wrong. Probate law, like tax law, is already mostly a matter of specialized programs.
Who is pressing for this disintermediation? Certainly not the lawyers. We are happy to let things stay as they are. The push will be made by the clients, in areas they control. Lawyers think that their bubble is safe from this intrusion. They are wrong.
If you are a lawyer, you probably haven't heard of Procon. Procon is a risk assessment and minimization program for project managers. Lawyers don't use it. It's not taught in ABA-accredited law schools. But here's what one company spokesman said about the program:

Before using ProCon, a claim management used to involve 10 people, usually highly paid lawyers, working 24 hours a day for 7 days. Now we can run a report from ProCon in response to a claim in minutes.
On the last two claims we realised a cost avoidance benefit of approximately 1680 lawyer hours and avoided claims of $22M.
--Head of Contracts, Major Oil Operator, Australia

Programs like Procon will drive disintermediation. Lawyers can either plan for the future or get hit by the bus of progress while crossing the road.
Notes:
1. In Bolivia, there are two "citizen judges" and one "professional judge" for each case.
2. I don't own shares in Procon. Indeed, I don't even know if it is a public company and don't really care one way or another.
3. I am unaware of a single federal criminal case in which an appellate court overturned a district judge's pretrial detention order. Appellate courts have ordered release in cases where they have had doubts about the ultimate conviction, or there was an intervening appellate decision that undercut a conviction, but that is different.
4. You may claim that people move more often, or less often, than once per seven years. No problem. The algorithm can be modified. We trust Fair-Isaac with our financial affairs, why not trust them with our freedom? After all, you can challenge your credit report and many people do.
5. This article contains solely the views of the author and of no other person.

ISIS and the Lizard People

ISIS and the Lizard People





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Manufactured crime wastes law enforcement resources




They did it again. In the Liberty City 7 case, an FBI's freelance troublemaker tried to convince a group of poor blacks in Miami to blow up the Willis Tower in Chicago. The building was never at risk. The FBI and the troublemaker provided money, logistics and fake bombs.
In another useless sting, Ikaika Kange, a U.S. Army soldier who served in Iraq and Afghanistan was charged with assisting Da'esh, the Islamic State. Why provide PTSD counseling to troubled servicemen when you can accuse them of crime?
In a more outrageous case, seventeen year old Adel Daoud wrote a term paper about Osama bin Laden. His online research set off the NSA's bells and whistles. The FBI unleashed an informant on Daoud on a "no arrest, no pay" basis. Realizing that there would be no paycheck without a crime, the informant convinced Daoud to join ISIS (this was all pretend) and to bomb a saloon near Wrigley Field (more pretend). The informant provided Daoud with fake bombs as a courtesy since Daoud was unable to carry out the contrived plot himself.
During the informant's performance, assisted by the stooge Daoud, the FBI swooped in, declared victory and arrested the teenager. Court appointed psychiatrists found Daoud to be susceptible to suggestion, borderline retarded and unfit to stand trial. A federal district judge found Daoud incompetent to stand trial, in part because of his belief in "lizard people." It is not clear whether Daoud believes that ISIS and the lizard people are one and the same, or whether he was free to ignore the commands of the lizard people's emissary. No matter: with Daoud's arrest the informant got his payday. The informant bin the Liberty City case had an $80,000 payday; the amount of cash wasted on Daoud has not yet been made public.
Unleashing informants to evangelize for ISIS is dangerous. Daoud was easy prey. An evangelizing informant may be successful in winning someone over to ISIS only to find that the new convert doesn't want to perform in a scripted play. You see, he's found this thing called the Internet, and he's contacted the real bad guys who tell him, "no, we don't know this evangelist, stay away from him. Conduct martyrdom operations yourself." And then while time is wasted chasing the retarded, those who pose a real threat are ignored, freed to engage. A teenager who writes a term paper on Osama bin Laden should not be targeted by the government. Daoud was unstable and needed counseling. What happened to him is unforgivable.
Are the people of Chicago more safe because of these shenanigans? Here's a thought: why not divert some of this law enforcement attention away from manufactured crime and towards real counter-terrorist activities, instead of make believe ones?

References: nbcnews com/news/us-news/chicago-bomb-plot-suspect-ruled-incompetent-belief-lizard-people-n638066 theintercept com/2017/04/20/more-than-400-people-convicted-of-terrorism-in-the-u-s-have-been-released-since-911/
Thanks to the USA network for this pretty single frame image taken from a popular television show.
The NSA claims they only track foreigners. U.S. citizens are unmolested, protected by a Constitution that bans searches into their papers and records without a warrant. The Daoud case proves that the term "foreigner" includes Chicago-area high school teenagers and the Constitutional ban is only illusory.

Steve Bannon, General Noriega and the Perils of Perusing Classified Information


Steve Bannon, General Noriega and the Perils of Perusing Classified Information





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Before the invasion of Panama in 1989, I had already been involved in the Noriega case for almost a year. Ricard Gregorie, who was the initial prosecutor in the case, told me that if the case were dismissed against the General for political reasons that the case would be dismissed against my client as well. So there was really nothing for me to do. An invasion seemed unlikely: the United States had, after all, pledged not to invade Panama in the "other" Panama Canal Treaty, the Treaty Concerning the Neutrality of the Panama Canal. U.S. and Panamanian military conducted joint patrols. There were areas under each country's joint jurisdiction. The Panama Canal itself was operated by an agency that was bi-national in structure. 

The United States invaded anyway. The law was pushed to the side. In war the laws are silent, Cicero said, "Silent enim leges inter arma." On the evening of December 19, U.S. Forces seized Torrijos Airport, the country's main international airport as well as the domestic airport at Punta Paitilla. General Noriega kept a small jet there. Fifty-caliber bullet holes, fired during the invasion, made the jet inoperable. The only other nearby airport was at Howard Air Force Base, a twenty minute ride from Balboa Heights, the headquarters of the Panama Canal.  
An Israeli intelligence colonel had been sent to Panama to organize the Panamanian Defense forces along the lines of the IDF, the Israeli Defense Forces. His name was Michael Harari; he was responsible for organizing the death of Black September's "Red Prince," Ali Hassan Salameh. Salameh was blown up by car bomb in Beirut that killed eight people, including four innocent bystanders. The use of a car bomb by Israeli intelligence to murder a political opponent in the heart of Beirut then permits Hezbollah today to claim that Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri was murdered the same way. Ironically, this type of "same acts" evidence was used against Noriega at trial. 
On the night of December 19th and on the following day, there were no commercial flights out of Panama. There were no general aviation flights either. The airport at David remained open, but it was hours away and closed. Two days later Colonel Harari appeared in Jerusalem. Somehow he had gotten out. 
There was no longer any possibility of the case being dismissed, so I prepared for trial. Two officials from the Department of Justice, claiming to be "security officers" invited me to apply for a classified clearance so that I could receive classified information that would be released to the defense. If I didn't get a clearance I wouldn't get to see that evidence. I wouldn't be able to participate in the meetings with the other attorneys. "Everyone else has agreed," they told me. There were a few strings, of course. My use of classified information would be limited and subject to the government's control. If I didn't follow their rules I could go to jail. I couldn't discuss this information with anyone who did not have a clearance, not even my client.
I was the only lawyer who declined. The others rushed to get their clearance, to receive the imprimatur of the prosecuting authorities proving they were worthy to be entrusted with the government's holy secrets. 
"I don't need it," I told them.
Douglas Vaughn was working for and with me as an investigator on the case. Doug is also a journalist. While copying documents in Panama at my request, he came across a secret inventory of seized Panamanian documents that the government had claimed did not exist. The revelation of the "secret inventory" went viral.
Vaughn's discovery spooked the government into thinking that I had access to a vast cache of classified material. Because I had not accepted the government's clearance, I must be out of control. Then I revealed the existence of a secret NSA facility dug out of mountain in Panama. The facility, known as the "Tunnel," was inside the Quarry Heights military base, the U.S. Southern Command's headquarters in Panama. I included a diagram of the Tunnel's location as a good faith demonstration that the facility did in fact exist.
The Justice Department Security Officers were not happy. They went to the district judge seeking an order for my arrest. Fortunately, Judge Hoeveler knew me. Moreover, he was a very reasoned, calm judge. He asked his courtroom deputy to get me on the phone instead, but I would have to come to the courthouse, immediately. 
Judge Hoeveler convened a classified improptu hearing where I was asked to reveal how I knew about the Tunnel, why I had given the information to the press, was I a traitor or what and how much more classified information did I have?
Federal court questioning of this type can unnerve anyone. I explained to the judge and the assembled lawyers--all the others had come for the show--that the diagram had come from the Canal Zone phone book. When I lived in Panama, I used to pass the facility every week on my way to the Quarry Heights Officer's Club to meet my friend, the crime novelist Michael Wolfe, who had been a DoD civilian in Vietnam. "The bartender's name is Gus," I told Judge Hoeveler. "He makes a mean mojito."
The Department of Justice Security Officers were unfamiliar with the Canal Zone phone book and Gus's mojitos. They probably didn't really know Michael either, since he wrote under a pseudonym. His books, including Man on a String, an Edgar Award winner, are enjoying somewhat of a resurgence in these days of Nam-stalgia.
Judge Hoeveler chastized the Department of Justice Security Officers and pointed out that classified information is rarely published in the phone book. 
It would have been worse for me had I accepted a clearance. Because Noriega's lawyers had accepted classified clearances, they consented to the government's control. The penalties for violation of the rules relating to classified information are severe, as Edward Snowden found out. The next time wouldn't be a friendly call from a courtroom deputy summoning a hearing at the courthouse at 301 N. Miami Avenue; it would be an arrest order and indictments. The press criticized me anyway.
I did not understand why Noriega's lawyers accepted government constraints and control. My guess is that the lure of acceptance into the classified information club was just too strong. Noriega didn't need access to U.S. government classified information. He had been the source of that information for many, many years. 
Before he became head of the Panamanian Defense Forces, Noriega was head of G-2, the intelligence section of the chiefs of staff. He held this position since 1968, when General Omar Torrijos led a coup against Arnulfo Arias, the duly elected president of the country. Noriega held the position under Torrijos and continued to hold the intelligence portfolio for the rest of his military career. 
In this position he liaised with American intelligence while Central America was burning. The CIA did not sit back and do nothing when the Sandinistas fought Somoza for power in 1979. In that year the Shah of Iran was overthrown and came to Panama; Panamanian intelligence was privy to discussions among the United States, the Shah and Anwar Sadat. In Panama, the Shah and his wife dabbled in the occult. This information was held by General Noriega, but never reached Khomeini in Tehran. 
El Salvador was a battlefield in those years, and Honduras had to be kept happy lest it withdraw its consent to the Air Force C-130's from Panama that overflew Contra bases in its territory, engaging with Sandinista regulars and burning out barrels on .50 caliber machine guns mounted on those planes. Panama was a key player in the U.S.-backed Contra mission. 
Noriega knew about the secret deal that Jimmy Carter had made with Panama to get the Shah out of the United States in hopes the American hostages in Tehran could be freed. Carter claimed that there was no quid pro quo. Sure. Everyone knows that Panama has long been a haven for ousted Persian princes.
Before the invasion of Panama, one of Noriega's lawyers, Raymond Takiff, traveled to Panama City to meet with him. On his return, he held a briefcase up and loudly told the press that it was full of secrets that would be revealed if the United States were to try to invade, that Noriega "had the goods" on the United States. 
The problem was the government had already infiltrated Noriega's defense team. The only way the government could silence him was to get to his lawyers. 
Though Noriega didn't know it at the time, Takiff was working as a government informant. Whatever secrets were in the briefcase fell into the possession of the government as Takiff desperately tried to stay out of jail by pleasing his control agents by revealing what his client told him. When the truth of his betrayal became public, Takiff claimed that he had kept his work as a government informant separate from his work as Noriega's counsel. No one believed him or the government's denials. Dismissing the case against the general would have been a profile in courage, but Judge Hoeveler accepted the government's claim that one thing had nothing to do with the other.
Steve Bannon was, up until a few days ago, Donald Trump's strategic advisor at the White House. Trump had even named him to a permanent seat on the National Security Council, the curia of American spies. To hold these positions, Bannon had to accept a classified information clearance. 
So when Bannon was forced out, claiming that now it's "war" against his enemies, I yawned. Like Noriega's lawyers, Bannon held a clearance. His writings are subject to lifetime vetting by the intelligence community. If they don't like something he plans to publish, he can be thrown in jail. If he publishes anyway, they can take as much of his money as they can grab, as they did to Frank Snepp, John Stockwell, Victor Marchetti and Valerie Plame.
So it's not likely you'll hear much from Steve Bannon in the future. The intelligence czars will see to that. Just as they curbed Noriega's lawyers. The trial of the General was but another episode in that Orwellian justice theater starring the public enemy du jour, whether it be General Noriega, Pablo Escobar, Osama bin Laden, El Chapo or Vladimir Putin. 
Bannon will be muted. He should have learned. 
And if you are ever asked to handle a case involving classified information and are offered a clearance:
Just. Say. No. Because if I had accepted a clearance, I wouldn't have been able to write all of this, would I? Last time I checked there is still a copy of the Canal Zone phone book in the Dade County public library, but they left a lot out. Like the Beirut part, for instance. Or how to fly out of a country in the middle of a U.S. invasion. 
Views stated above are my own and not those of any company or national intelligence agency.

A War in the Family

Sendero Luminoso in Peru in Literature and Film





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Works Discussed:

Kamikaze Taxi, Matsuto Harada, Director, 1995
The Dancer Upstairs, John Malkovich, Director Nicholas Shakespeare, screenplay (2002)
La cuarta espada: la historia de Abimael Guzman y Sendero Luminoso, Santiago Roncagliolo (2007)
De puño y letra (In his own hand), Abimael Guzman, 2009
Tempestad en los Andes, Mikael Wilström, Director, 2015

A few weeks ago I watched Kamikaze Taxi, a 1995 Japanese yakuza film with a twist--a Japanese Peruvian whose family was destroyed by Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path) guerrillas plays a prominent role. This week Maritza Garrido Lecca, the famous "dancer upstairs" was released from prison in Peru. Perhaps this is just evidence of Baader-Meinhof syndrome--the condition where you tend to notice discrete facts and imagine that coincidences are connections. Carl Jung called these coincidences synchronicity and didn't believe they were coincidences at all. These subjects need revisiting.
Santiago Roncagliolo's La cuarta espada: la historia de Abimael Guzman y Sendero Luminoso (The Fourth Sword: The Story of Abimael Guzman and the Shining Path) has unfortunately not been translated into English. His history of the war begins and ends with Guzman: his humble beginnings in Arequipa, a love affair with an upper class girl that ended in humiliation when her father discovered the pretensions of a young man who did not belong in upper class Peruvian society. No matter: Guzman became a philosophy professor and went to war against that society. High society sons and daughters abandoned their class in numbers and joined him. He even married one, Augusta de la Torre, who left her family to join him underground when he went to war. 
The Peru he imagined was the China of the Cultural Revolution or North Korea; perhaps Romania under Ceaucescu. Guzman started Shining Path's war in 1980. In the previous five years the Vietnamese had won what they call the American War, Laos was controlled by the Pathet Lao; Cambodia's Khmer Rouge had renamed the country the Democratic People's Republic of Kampuchea. China was still Red, the Warsaw Pact often conducted maneuvers in East Germany in sight of the Wall. Even Panama had wrested its Canal from the United States. 
Peru was ripe for change. In 1989, while Guzman was waging Shining Path's war, I was told a story by a contact who was well-connected in Peru. He had offered asylum to one of the judge's accused in the FBI's investigation of the Miami judiciary, an operation called Court Broom. Raymond Takiff had been one of General Noriega's lawyers while simultaneously working as a government informant. The contact told me that only seventeen families control Peru. When Alan García became president, these seventeen families were concerned that Garcia might try to limit their influence. They needed to co-opt him. So they found a former Miss Chile and somehow arranged for the two of them to be together. Garcia soon neglected affairs of state so that he could pay attention to his new 19 year-old girlfriend. If I knew this, so did Guzman. 
But Shining Path lost the war. Guzman suffered from psoriasis and the police tracked down his safe house by examining garbage. No urban guerrilla is safe if his trash is monitored. At least, that is the story. It is also possible that he was betrayed. His followers displayed a fanatical and uncommon loyalty, an allegiance that persists even after his two-decade long imprisonment with no hope of release.
Guzman's capture meant the end of the Shining Path. Arrested with him were other member's of the movement's military general staff. The guerrilla army that was Shining Path collapsed. 
He almost won. Looking back at the history of the war, a war that today is almost forgotten, it is all too easy to overlook this fact. He lost because he paid too much attention to the status of Communist leaders after they had gained power and not enough to their status before achieving victory. Lenin was never alone; he had a Beria, a Trotsky and finally a Stalin. Mao Zedong had Chou En-Lai, Lin Biao and others. Ho Chi Minh had Nguyen Giap. In Russia, China and Vietnam, many prominent leaders were lost along the way. But Abimael Guzman had only himself, the cult of personality was just too strong, and when Guzmán was captured--by pure luck and shoe-leather police work--without its heady the body he had built just died. 
John Malkovich took Nicholas Shakespeare's novel about the capture of Guzman and made a film about it, titled, The Dancer Upstairs. The title is misleading. The dancer was downstairs. Maritza Garrido Lecca's ballet school was on the first floor of the safe house. Guzman hid on the second story. In the film he is only seen for a few minutes, as if both Malkovich and Shakespeare despaired of capturing the essence of the man. Both the film and the novel take liberties with the truth: the Lecca character becomes the love interest of the detective hunting Guzman. 
Ironically, those who chased Guzman ended up in prison themselves: the Japanese-Peruvian president, Alberto Fujimori, who vaingloriously took credit for Guzman's capture and for ending the war, Vladimir Montesinos, the shady Intelligence Chief who advised on the counter-insurgency, and even Benedicto Gimenez, the detective truly responsible for Guzman's capture.  
Roncagliolo may have been on to something: Guzman's story may well have been a love story, but a love story that is not well-known. Guzman took his upper class wife, Augusta de la Torre, into Sendero and underground. While living clandestinely, she died. The circumstances of her death are unknown. Guzman has never given an account of her death. He has not been silent about it, though. In 2009 Guzman published a curious book titled De puño y letra (In His Own Hand) which was neither an autobiography nor much of a defense. The book is dedicated to Comrade Miriam, nom de guerre of Elena Iparaguirre, who was also the compiler of the text. Iparaguirre later married Guzman and perhaps was Augusta's rival for his attentions. ]The book contains a chapter entitled "El amor en tiempos dificiles." In view of Guzman's silence regarding Augusta's death, I thought there might be clues. 
Guzmán writes,
Desde las sombras la muerte mordió tu corazón apagando su latido y el de tu pensamiento y voluntad que latieron siempre por la clase, el pueblo y los demás; catorce de noviembre, nueve de la mañana, mil novecientos ochentaocho, Lima. (From the shadows death bit your heart, halting its beating and your thought and the will that will always beat for the workers, the people and all the others; on the 14th of November, nine o'clock in the morning, 1988, Lima.)
In the next paragraph he mentions that he thought of the Marienbad Elegy. The Marienbad Elegy is a curious poem for one to remember a spouse with: a much younger woman rejected Goethe, and he was devastated. Augusta did not reject Abimael; she married him. Or was he asking her for something else? The reference is certainly curious if not wholly inappropriate.
He goes on to write, 
Imagenes incompletamente imprecisas cual producto de lente interferida o de insuficiente impresión, pero registro de hechos contundentes e irreversibles. (Images incomplete imprecise a product of an obstructed lens or an inadequate impression, but a record of overwhelming and irreversible acts.)
Which is to say, the facts are not clear. But then he turns away from poetry and is again the political leader:
Como usual y necesario, cuando fallece un dirigente, una Comisión dio su veredicto y llamó a convertir el dolor en fuerza, proceder a las exequias y honrar la memoria de la gran camarada. (As is customary and necessary, following the death of a leader, a Commission gave its verdict and a call to transform pain into force, followed by funeral services to honor the memory of the great comrade.)
It is not usual or necessary for an inquiry when a leader or anyone else dies of natural causes. How that death will be portrayed is another matter. The initial German pronouncements of Hitler’s suicide in 1945 had him killed while defending the Reich. This was, of course, pure propaganda. Sendero Luminoso--i.e., Abimael himself, might well have pondered how to make political capital out of Augusta's death, or at least limit the damage. But Abimael writes of none of that. His language speaks of an inquest, unless I am reading it completely wrong. Why was there a need for an inquest? As maximum leader, why did he not stop such an inquest?
We seek to hide what shames us. Abimael Guzman's silence about the death of Augusta is eloquent evidence against him and a strong suggestion of irregularity. The important point, if there was an inquest, even just a Shining Path inquest, is this: someone else knows about these matters. But thirty-five years on, they have remained silent. 
The following chapters degenerate into a collection of letters written to Iparaguirre and useless legal briefs arguing his case before the Peruvian courts. I have read dozens of letters and pleadings written by prisoners seeking their freedom. Abimael’s pleas are cut from the same cloth. For someone who went to war to change society, he now tries to play by that society's rules in a futile effort to gain his freedom. 
Ultimately Guzman's book is a terrible disappointment. I was looking for a spark, anything that would explain what caused thousands of people to follow him into war. There was no spark. Were he truly were a great person he would not be citing irrelevant legal precedent but would sit as a prisoner of war, someone to whom the regular criminal laws do not apply. Did you know that General Noriega was afforded all the comforts of a military general while incarcerated in the United States? The Red Cross insisted on it. But in Abimael’s texts I see none of this; no greatness. Today if you think of him at all you think of a cartoon character, a fat man in a silly striped prisoner's uniform shouting in a cage. 
Solitary confinement for prolonged periods is considered torture by the United Nations. For years Guzman was held in isolation. Perhaps affected his mind. 
In 2015 Mikael Wiström, a Swedish filmmaker, made a film called Tempestad en los Andes (Storm in the Andes). The film chronicles the return of Augusta's niece to Peru against the wishes of her family after years of living in exile in Sweden. The film is a poignant examination of the war and its devastation. Josefin visited the victims of Abimael's war and the film explores why the war took place. But far from being a dispassionate journal of historical events and their affects, Wiström's film personalizes the story and makes it what the history of Sendero perhaps always was: a family story.