El Infierno by Carlos Martinez Moreno

El Infierno
by Carlos Martinez Moreno

readers international, 1981

El Infierno is a chapter by chapter descent into the hell that Uruguay was during the military dictatorship in the seventies. Carlos Martinez Moreno, along with Eduardo Galeano is one the important Uruguayan writers of the 20th century.

The novel is an account of the ‘operations’ of the government as well as the leftist gurrillas. It is in the nature of a fictionalized documentary, and black and dark besides. Martinez Moreno was a defense lawyer and, as the blurb says, created his Dantesque vision from the evidence available to him as part of the many legal cases that he handled.

The theme of political upheavals, military dictatorships and Left- wing and millenarian opposition to the establishment in Latin America has been explored elsewhere in the more well known works of Garcia Marquez (the brilliant ‘Autumn of the Patriarch’ and ‘The General in his Labyrinth’), Mario Vargas Llosa (‘The Feast of the Goat’, ‘The Real Life of Aljandro Mayta’, the epic novel ‘The War of the End of the World’), Ariel Dorfman (‘The Last Song of Manuel Sendora’) and Carlos Fuentes, and of course by Eduardo Galeano himself. While extremely readable (and quite short at 266 pages), I would not place El Infierno in the same class though.

A banker kidnapped by leftist guerillas recollects in the novel:

Once they (the kidnappers) tested my sense of humour by quoting from Bertold Brecht’s phrase about which was worse crime: robbing a bank or founding one. ‘Well, you may well be doing something to close it right now.’ They laughed. They were amazed that a banker had heard of Brecht. They liked the story about the German who remained indifferent when they came for the Communists because he was not one, and when they came for the Jews because he was not one, and saw it was too late when the Nazis came for him. We are often astonished by what others, incredibly know…

This conversation during the Cold War era could have been held anywhere in the world, when the Left had a shared folklore and iconic heroes like Che, Salvador Allende and Ho Chi Minh. During the last 15 years, the advocates of a more just world no longer have such heroes while world- capitalism has its ‘universal’ icons. I think it was Manuel Castells in ‘The Rise of the Networked Society’, who referred to the fact that while capital is increasingly centralized, the forces in opposition to it are increasingly fragmented.

Incidentally, this day while the world rightly remembers 11 September 2001, a few also remember another tragedy that lasted 17 years following the coup in Chile on 11 September 1973.

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