Planet excerpts

Rogelio Vallejo gives an insight into Paraguay, his little-known homeland, whose repressive state so often escapes scrutiny, and whose writers have braved much in exposing brutality.

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José Saramago, in his book A Jangada de Pedra (The Stone Raft), describes a country, a thinly disguised Portugal, in which saudade (a kind of hiraeth) and the overwhelming cultural dominance of nostalgia for lost times, causes such social dysfunction and isolation – physical and mental – from its time, that the country becomes detached from the mainland of Europe and drifts ever westward into a metaphorical dream. My country of birth, red-earthed Paraguay, has not drifted, at least not in the above sense, but is and has long been as isolated as has the population of the Stone Raft. Surrounded by land, difficult and expensive to access, it has done nothing to attract international attention, save the occasional eccentric draw against a famous team in an international football match, or a sexual scandal on an international scale, which leads to the temporary discomfort of an unwelcome spotlight. Serial repressive governments have rendered its population supine and for the most part compliant; this situation doesn’t make them happy but it certainly makes them feel safer.

Writing in June 2015 in the London Review of Books on the Armenian genocide, Edward Luttwak described the advantages to Turkey of being an ‘overlooked’ country. He said that, its size notwithstanding, its rulers had ‘the privilege of being ignored most of the time … because its language is remarkably little known’. Thus, he feels its rulers are able to deflect criticism with deliberate terminological obfuscation, e.g. dismissing what the current pope (rather hypocritically, given his own organisation’s bleak record) recently characterised as ‘genocide’ – the brutal suppression and attempted annihilation of the Armenians which began in 1915. The Turkish government’s riposte has been to minimise the importance of the slaughter, defining it as a mere ‘first world war event’. Accustomed as we in Britain now are to the post-Blair mauling of language and American managerial fog-speak, such political manipulation and shape-shifting has become all-pervasive. It has an underbelly which we discover as the cover is finally blown on euphemisms such as ‘rendering’ and ‘war on terror’. Linguistic nonsense is deliberately employed to reduce to acceptable suburban blandness everything from the machinations of Iain Duncan Smith and Michael Gove, to the horrendous things actually happening ‘on our behalf’ from Belmarsh to Guantanamo Bay. Such mealy-mouthed linguistic obfuscation benefits government, the powerful, the criminals (often the same people) but very rarely ordinary folk. Under its cover, you can get away with blue murder, as Orwell realised...