[Historical Note: The Red Tide was a revolutionary high school underground newspaper and youth organization that existed from 1971-1981. See: http://theredtide.wordpress.com/]
Red Tide, Vol. II, No. 6 (Issue #10)
Movie Review: State of Siege
[By Michael Letwin]
STATE OF SIEGE is the true story of one of the major actions of the Uruguay-based secret revolutionary organization — the “Tupamaros”.
The movie goes through the period when the Tups took hostage a major political representative of the U.S. in Latin America (whose real name Dan Mitrione was replaced in the film by “Michael Santore”), a man who was instrumental in the training and operation of many a dictatorship’s police forces in such countries as Brazil, Dominican Republic, etc. Because the film concerned this topic, its showing was canceled in Washington D.C., where it was scheduled to open at the JFK Center for the Performing Arts.
Although many of us do not realize it, U.S. involvement in Latin America is at an extremely high point, due to the hugh amount of natural resources, cheap labor and markets that exist there. Many of the more open and obvious methods of colonization of Latin America have been replaced by more subtle methods such as the use of AID, a U.S. organization which is supposed to be improving Latin American industry and the lives of the people. It is this organization that Santore is attached to.
However, far from building the country for its people, he is active in training the police in the latest torture methods to be used on leftists, militant trade unionists, students or anyone who dares to question the existing order. His interest in the situation is maintaining a government and system favorable to the U.S. businesses and concerns that the U.S. represents.
He is kidnapped because of his part in this torture and exploitation of Uruguay. The other reason being that the Tupamaros need a hostage to exchange for political prisoners in the regime’s jails.
Interestingly, Uruguay was once known as the “cradle of Latin American democracy”. It was called the Switzerland of Latin America — whatever that means. However, as soon as beef (the country’s leading export) prices started to soar, conditions deteriorated for Uruguayan workers and peasants, and the U.S. corporation puppets started using more openly brutal fascistic methods in an attempt to stifle the growing rebellion.
The movie, however, does not deal with the cop in a naive simple “bad guy” kind of way. Instead, it attempts to explain the mentality of a person who, on the pretext of defending democracy, is in fact a major obstacle to the achievement of that goal, using tactics that make the Gestapo look good.
Throughout the film, various Tupamaros interrogate Santore in their secret headquarters about his involvement in and with the governments that he worked for. The dialogue between the captive and his captors is quite revealing in understanding the politics, motives and goals of the two sides involved.
First Santore takes the old “I knew nothing” routine concerning his work with the police of the various dictatorships. Denying that he would know someone — until confronted with a picture of himself and the person in question together, arguing that his job did not concern politics, he was only doing his job, that order must be maintained under any and every kind of political and social system; all of this eventually leading down to the basic differences. Basic differences being, of course, over what kind of order and for which economic class that order exists.
Santore could not understand that in his job, being a policeman, he was most definitely choosing sides and considering politics. For since the U.S. and the regimes that it upholds and supports are run in the interests of a small capitalist class which is making profits by exploiting the labor of millions of workers all over the world, he must chose whether or not this mind of system is acceptable or not. He chooses that it is, and therefore serves that system.
Finally, he ceases to deny the things that happen as a result of his work, and begins to defend torture, murder and robbery in the name of “democracy”.
Also valuable, in addition to the ideological material of the film, was the understanding one got of the dedication that the Tupamaros have to building a decent society. Since raised for the opposite reason in this society, to make it as individuals, to preserve the status quo, it is hard for us to understand this kind of devotion to more than just ourselves.
And again as in one of Costa Gravos’ other major films, the BATTLE OF ALGIERS, the filming, acting and overall reality was quite well done, especially by Yves Montand, who played Michael Santore. It also seems that a film like this, which exposes so many U.S. ploys, would be more believable in the context of Watergate.
However, one can see the futility of a group such as the Tupamaros, which has only public sympathy instead of involved support. It is cut off from the working masses, and in such a situation it is impossible either to carry out a revolution or to survive.
Yet the film did not deal with this important fact. Instead, it appears that the Tupamaros are the only group attempting to make revolution in Uruguay, while in fact, it is the mass working class movement which will ultimately bring the downfall of U.S. imperialism and capitalism as an economic, social and political system.