Thursday, 28 July 2016

Remembering Casement's Colombian connection

It's fair to say that the name Roger Casement means very little, if nothing at all, for the vast majority of Colombians. There's no surprise in that really, especially considering that in his native Ireland, despite Casement being one of the most written about figures from the 1916 Rising period, his life isn’t the best known among the masses.
Indigenous from Colombia's Amazon go through a ritual at the 2012 event honouring the centenary of the publication of Casement's report into human rights abuses in the area.
From the 2012 event in La Chorrera, remembering Casement's report (photo from Fucai).
For those completely in the dark, before his more controversial involvement in the Irish republican movement which ended in his execution by the British in 1916, the Dublin-born diplomat carried out what could be described as pioneering work in the field of human rights, both in the Congo and South America.

This is where the Colombian connection comes into play. It was during his time as a British consul in Rio de Janeiro that he undertook an investigation into reports of maltreatment of indigenous tribes by a British-registered Peruvian rubber enterprise, Peruvian Amazon Company (PAC), deep in the Amazon jungle.

In 1910 Casement made the first of two lengthy visits to the Putumayo region on the Colombian-Peruvian border where the abuses were taking place. What he found happening there was truly shocking. Not only were indigenous forced into unpaid labour by PAC employees, but they were also subjected to severe physical abuse such as the use of pillories, branding and whipping. Thousands were murdered, many at the hands of PAC station chiefs, while indigenous women and girls were victims of rape.

Casement's report of these horrific crimes caused outrage in Britain when the details were made public. It also signalled, in some ways, the beginning of the end for the Peruvian Amazon Company (other, external factors in rubber production also played their part in PAC's eventual collapse). Such was the extent and significance of Casement's investigation, he received a knighthood from the king in 1911. Alas, it wasn't enough to save him from the hangman's noose five years later, when he was convicted of treason, sabotage and espionage against the same British Crown for his involvement in the Irish independence struggle.

That tragic end notwithstanding, Casement's heroic work on behalf of the Putumayo Indians is something that has been and continues to be celebrated and remembered. For example, in 2012 hundreds of indigenous peoples from the region attended a celebration for the 100th anniversary of Casement's report.

What’s more, Ruth Chaparro, director of Fundación Caminos de Identitad (Fucai), a Colombian NGO working with and for the country’s indigenous, continues to see the importance of Casement’s contribution to highlighting human rights violations. She believes the meticulous and dedicated nature of Casement's investigations and reports are a great example to all human rights activists in how to carry out analysis of such abuses and how to ensure reports are rigorous enough to help bring about change.

With that in mind, as this coming August 3rd marks the centenary of Casement’s execution, a commemorative event is being held in the village of La Chorrera, deep in the Colombian Amazon. It’s being organised by indigenous peoples there in collaboration with the Irish-born barrister, academic and indigenous activist, Brendan Tobin, who for the past ten years has been planning to visit the region.

For Tobin, it's a case of following in Casement's footsteps as he hopes to visit a number of the communities that suffered at the hands of PAC. Tobin sees the trip not just as an opportunity to celebrate Casement’s legacy but more importantly as a chance to highlight the continuing threat to the natives posed by trade and advancement towards ‘modernity’. The abuses of the rubber industry may be a thing of the past, but the Amazon's indigenous continue to face exploitation in other ways. (Quite pertinent at a time when Colombian officialdom finalises terms to sign a peace deal with the Farc leftist guerrillas.)
The Indigenous rubber tree workers were subject to appalling conditions by the Peruvian Amazon Company ...
Forced labour: Indigenous carrying rubber (photo courtesy of Fucai, Colombia).
To mark the event, Republic of Ireland president, Michael D Higgins, has been invited to send a letter to the indigenous to be read out at the August 3rd ceremony, which takes place in the environs of La Chorrera's Casa de Conocimiento, the indigenous school on the grounds of what was once the headquarters of the infamous PAC in the region.

Tobin himself hopes in the future to raise enough funds to have a bust erected in honour of Casement in the secluded Amazon outpost. For the moment, as part of the ceremony, he is going to present the locals with a personal copy of The Amazon Journal of Roger Casement, edited by Angus Mitchell, for inclusion in the local library.

Casement may be long gone, with his name tarnished for some due to subsequent actions after his human rights work, yet the good he did for the Amazon's indigenous cannot be merely swept aside. As Tobin puts it, Casement serves as something of a focal point around which the people of Putumayo can gather to discuss, share and collectively seek a way to heal from a horrid past that still resonates. The La Chorrera memorial on August 3rd allows another opportunity to do just that.
For a previous piece on Irish-Colombian links, see With O’Leary in Bogotá.

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Tuesday, 5 July 2016

Defenders of the unfaithful

While there are those who take a zero-tolerance approach to relationship cheating, there are others who give it something of a scale of seriousness. True enough, a willingness to give some leeway in the event of a breach of trust might reflect that you weren’t that serious about the relationship in the first place, and may even be inclined to do likewise yourself, but this isn't necessarily always so.

We're all pretty animal at heart, right ..?
Lost dog or top dog ..? (From Facebook.)
Whatever the case, at the lowest end of this cheating scale, for those prepared to use it, is 'the mistake with regret'. An example here would be a drunken kiss with somebody. The guilty party isn't fully 'with it' when the misdemeanour occurs, it isn't really actively pursued and it's something that gives rise to immediate shame for doing it. For the doves amongst us, this can be forgiven pretty quickly (although a far less tolerable attitude will come into play for repeat offenders).

Moving up the scale, we've got the vindictive cheat. This is actively sought, thus making it much worse than above, yet it's done because the person feels badly hurt by their partner, perhaps after a big argument. It's not to say that they have no feelings for the one they've cheated on, it's more an act of punishment to readdress 'the hurt'. The door to reconciliation is still ajar, if both sides are willing to go through it.

On from that, leading the way on the negative side of our scale is the couldn't-care-less cheating. It's pretty impossible to resurrect a relationship after this one. Basically, it's cheating done with blatant disregard for the 'other half', their feelings registering not a beat in the heart of the cheater.

Now yes, it could be a case where this type of 'offender' never felt in anything close to a relationship; unrequited love so to put it. If that's made clear from the get-go, then fair enough. But no, here we're referring to people who had said openly they were in a relationship and generally pretended to act as such. This is what makes it particularly severe, as it implies the 'romance' was nothing but a charade, just a little game at the very most; 'use and abuse' being the motto to follow.

Looking at it from the way things seem to play out here in Colombia — where unfaithfulness and cheating, it could be argued, are more common than in other parts (see Republic of Jealousy & for example) — a good approach is to try not to get too emotionally involved, don't take things seriously. That, of course, can be easier said than done.

Nonetheless, overcoming problems, be they of a cheating nature or otherwise, are part of a lasting relationship. Plus, we do have the old saying that 'it's better to have loved and lost than not to have loved at all.' On the flip side, there's the adage of 'not missing what you never had.' Perhaps there's a happy medium? It might just require a mindset change for some.
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