Golpe de Estado/Time Out
lnp3 at panix.com
Sat Sep 1 09:35:37 MDT 2001
Made in 1998, "Golpe de Estado" (Time Out) is an absurdist comedy
about the guerrilla war in Colombia that might remind you of "Mash"
or "Catch 22." When I saw the film yesterday afternoon (Aug. 31,
2001) at Lincoln Center's Latin American Film Festival, I assumed
that director Sergio Cabrera was part of the widespread, largely
urban-based "peace movement" that only wishes that the war, like a
nasty case of the flu, would somehow go away. To my surprise, I
learned today that he was formerly a Maoist ERP guerrilla and a
highly visible candidate in the 1998 elections. While his first-hand
familiarity with the guerrilla movement gave the film authenticity,
his more recent political evolution also explains its ostrich-like
unwillingness to get below comic surfaces to penetrate Colombia's
In the remote mountainous village of "New Texas," the guerrillas have
surrounded a tall antenna belonging to the American Cansas Petroleum
Corporation, which was erected to transmit data from the oil fields
under exploration to corporate headquarters. Their goal is to blow it
up. Local cops, who function essentially as a detachment of the
Colombian military, defend the antenna. The confrontation coincides
with a soccer game in progress, which pits Colombia against Peru. The
winner goes on to face Argentina in the 1994 World Cup playoffs.
Neither side can focus properly on the matter at hand as guerrillas
and cops huddle around portable radios to hear the play-by-play. When
a military helicopter is called in to launch a rocket against
guerrilla sappers advancing on the antenna, the pilots are so
preoccupied by the game themselves that they accidentally fire a
rocket at the tower, which comes crashing to the ground in a fiery
Local townspeople in "New Texas" are crushed by the destruction of
the tower since it has been serving also as a television receiver.
The only television in town no longer has reliable reception. If this
is not bad enough, this television and the television in the nearby
guerrilla camp are both destroyed in subsequent combat.
No matter how many admonitions the guerrilla and police commanders
make to their troops to defend the revolution or the nation
respectively, they can not get the game out of their minds.
Eventually a local priest works out a truce that allows both sides
and local townspeople to enjoy the game on a television made of parts
salvaged from the shattered remnants of each camp's television.
When Colombia routs the Argentine team 5-0, both sides celebrate in a
drunken feast that includes wet kisses between guerrillas and cops.
The only thing that seems to stand in the way of permanent
reconciliation between the two sides is the intrusive American oil
company, whose only interest is in sucking the mineral wealth out of
the country. Even the cops seem to understand this.
The conciliatory mood also affects the romance between a guerrilla
combatant (Emma Suárez) and her lover (Nicolás Montero), a police
captain who has infiltrated their ranks. In the course of
participating in their daily life, he has learned not to hate them.
When his lover discovers his true identity, she will have nothing to
do with him at first. But in the spirit of conciliation that infuses
the final scenes of the movie, love triumphs. Like Yossarian or Alan
Bates in "King of Hearts," the two take off their uniforms and kiss
passionately in a mountain stream far away from the fighting--a
fairy-tale conclusion that clearly would never happen in real world
Like the two characters, Sergio Cabrera gave up fighting in the early
1970s after spending four years in the mountains with the Maoist
guerrillas. Giving up his machine gun for the camera, he became
Colombia's most successful director. The fifty year old Cabrera
explains his artistic goals as follows:
"I try to make small reflections on the great problems of the
country. The first step toward peace is to dignify the enemy, and the
movie is about that. . . . When there is a common objective, peace is
possible." (Los Angeles Times, March 7, 1998)
While it is certainly true that the guerrillas in "Golpe de Estado"
are treated with sympathy, Cabrera fails to communicate what made
them guerrillas to start with. Local townspeople's main complaint
seems to revolve around the right to see a soccer game rather than
hunger or fear of being killed by paramilitaries. To make the point
that the fighting is not about ideology, one of the characters is
simultaneously in an affair with a local cop while being widely known
as a guerrilla collaborator. This strains credulity, to say the
Cabrera's disenchantment with the revolution stemmed from an
assignment in the early 1970s to persuade a group of Embara Indians
to join the insurgency. He had to persuade them into sabotaging a dam
project that was going to flood their lands. As he talked to them
over two years, he became convinced that the Indians were better off
accepting a relocation offer. He discreetly told the leaders his
conclusion and left. Shortly afterward, he quit the guerrillas.
He told the Los Angeles Times: "I saw that was not the solution. The
guerrilla is like the white corpuscles of a country that has an
infection. The guerrilla is a symptom of injustice."
While one can understand why Cabrera might have felt inadequate to
the task of recruiting indigenous peoples to a super-sectarian Maoist
guerrilla band, the struggle itself demanded a higher level of
engagement rather than withdrawal, based on this 1999 statement by
the Embara people:
A Colombian indigenous leader whose people and means of survival have
been irreparably damaged by a hydroelectric dam constructed with
credit assistance from Canada's Export Development Corporation (EDC)
will testify at parliamentary hearings into the crown corporation on
November 16 in Ottawa.
Kimy Pernia, a member of the Embera Katio nation of northern
Colombia, will testify before the Standing Committee on Foreign
Affairs and International Trade, which is conducting hearings into
the legislation governing the EDC. Pernia's testimony focuses on the
fact that Embera and non-indigenous fishing communities in the region
have already seen their food security, livelihood and health put at
serious risk by the Urra I dam, a multinational megaproject which
went ahead without any prior consultation with those living in the
area that would obviously be affected.
"We've identified more than 100 negative impacts on our people and on
the environment on which we depend since the dam went up and it will
only get worse when operations begin and our land is flooded to fill
the reservoir," states Pernia. "This project has already caused many
deaths, including the assassination of Embera leaders who have
challenged the dam."
Explaining his political evolution, Cabrera tells the LA Times, "I
did not believe in democracy. "I believed in socialism. So all these
years of reflection have led me to an authentic, sincere conviction,
like someone who finds God late in life. I firmly believe in
democracy." Of course, one might say that without economic equality,
true democracy is impossible.
It is difficult to say whether Colombia's social revolution will ever
be completed. But this much is true. In the course of an escalation
in fighting that draws in United States firepower and troops, it will
be essential to involve figures like Cabrera in the effort to keep
the US out. Whatever else one might say about "Golpe de Estado,"
there was a clear statement that the Colombian people themselves must
settle the problems of Colombia. If Colombia is in danger of becoming
another Vietnam, this sentiment, although short of presenting a clear
solution for the social and economic crisis, will certainly stand in
the way of a greater catastrophe.
Louis Proyect, lnp3 at panix.com on 09/01/2001
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