Mexican Science Fiction and Latin American Realities

“A great science fiction detective story” – Ian Watson, author of The Universal Machine
Luck and Death at the Edge of the World

Days since the election: 6

In December of last year I published the first in an ongoing series of posts on Mexican science fiction, a film review titled The Double Identity of the Movie 2033.

I wasn’t really won over by 2033 and the review looks at some of its weaknesses, but I also pointed out that watching  it while in Latin America gave it extra layers of meaning that might not have been apparent to me had I watched it in my native Canada.

One of those layers had to do with the fact that the protagonist, who has been raised by leading members of an oppressive ruling class in a futuristic Mexico, finds out that he is actually the son of a rebel leader. (Trailer below.)

A Future Mexico in 2033

A Future Mexico City in 2033

Today I want to update what I wrote about that detail of the film.  My original comments are below, in red.

Thing Three: Child of the Rebels

Finally, there is the fact that the main character is the child of a rebel who has been raised as a member of the ruling class. In the U.S. or Germany this might just seem like a plot device, and not a terribly credible or imaginative one. In Latin America, this aspect of the movie has a whole different meaning.

In Argentina, for instance, it is well known that children orphaned by political repression were then adopted by members of the ruling class. Laura Oren’s paper “Righting Child Custody Wrongs: the Children of the ‘Disappeared’ in Argentina” (14 Harvard Human Rights Journal 123-195 (2001)) documents the horrific facts in some detail. The abstract is below, but you can download the entire paper here: Righting Child Custody Wrongs, the Children of the Disappeared in Argentina [pdf].

Abstract: Between 1976 and 1983, the Argentine military dictatorship “disappeared” as many as 30,000 of their own people whom they perceived as subversive. At the same time, it is estimated that more than 450 young children of these disappeared were kidnapped by the regime and given or sold to childless military or police families, or otherwise wrongfully adopted by families whose knowledge of their origins ranged from innocence to willful ignorance, to guilt. An organization called Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo (Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo) organized to identify, locate, and demand the restoration of these children to their biological relatives. More than 20 years later, most of the children have never been located. But the clash of claims over the fate of these children in Argentine courts and politics has a lot to say to us about the difficulties inherent in righting child custody wrongs. In Argentina there were both legal and extra-legal resolutions of these “child custody wrongs.” Examination of particular cases that had contrasting outcomes illuminates the meaning of “the best interest of the child” within a full political context, with reference to substantive and procedural Argentine and international law, and by comparison to United States constitutional doctrine.

This phenomenon was also the subject of an Oscar-winning film, The Official Story, which won Best Foreign Language Film in 1985.

Nor is this an issue of merely historical interest. Even now, while families continue to look for the children of missing parents, the children of wealthy families are driven to DNA testing to establish whether their parents were among the disappeared (also see this excellent article in the International Journal of Epidemiology). By 2002, genetic tests proved the identities of 59 children who had been kidnapped and adopted during the military rule (and 31 of the children were returned to their biological families).

In one famous 2010 case, the parentage issue has become a political football between a current administration and one of its media detractors and the children are the subject of an application for a court order that would force them to be tested.

To return to 2033, what might seem to one viewer as a contrived plot twist that simply reverses the Darth Vader/Luke Skywalker “I am your father” plot point, may well carry real emotional heft for a viewer from the part of the world where I now live.

So 2033 has something of a double identity — it’s not a terribly good film, but it’s an interesting prism through which to look at the world.

And the update?

Just a few days ago, on July 5, 2012, this particular element of Latin American reality reached a new stage as former Argentinean dictator Jorge Rafael Videla was convicted (with others) and sentenced to 50 years in prison for executing a systematic program of stealing children from people his government “disappeared” during his time in power.

As The Guardian newspaper reported:

Argentina took a giant leap forward in its struggle to come to terms with its bloody past during the 1976-83 dictatorship by condemning former dictator Jorge Videla to 50 years in prison for masterminding a plan for stealing the newborn children of political opponents and handing the babies over to be raised by “good” military families after killing their mothers.

The verdict on Thursday evening capped a 16-year trial during which hundreds of hours of testimony were heard proving that the kidnappings were not just collateral damage in the “civil war” between the military and leftwing guerrillas, as supporters of the dictatorship have claimed, but rather a deliberate policy put in place by the top leaders of the regime.

“The kidnapping of newly born babies is the last crime that former members of the military regime are willing to admit,” says British journalist Robert Cox, who was one of the main witnesses at the trial last year. As editor of the small English-community daily Buenos Aires Herald in the late 1970s, Cox was one of the only journalists in Argentina who dared report on the crimes committed by the military as they happened, including their kidnapping of infants. “It’s like the Nazis, what they did was so terrible they could never admit it,” Cox said in Buenos Aires upon hearing the verdict that his testimony helped bring about.

The reading of the verdict was followed by a huge crowd outside the Buenos Aires court who viewed the proceedings on giant video screens set up on the street in a carnival-like atmosphere organised by human rights groups with some of Argentina’s top rock bands playing to the assembled crowd after the verdict was heard.

A television report on the conviction is embedded below.

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