Golpe de Estado/Time Out

Louis Proyect 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 
tragic impasse.

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."
--- (http://www.web.net/~icchrla/Colombia/PR-EmbaraLeader-Nov99.htm)

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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