A learning experience
Dana Frank (The Baffler) on the “Vocabulary Lessons” that one wishes one didn’t need to learn here in Latin America.
I learned the vocabulary of true evil, full of hissing sounds: amenazas de muerte (death threats), sicarios (hired assassins), asesinos (killers), and asesinatos (assassinations). In English, I had nuanced discussions with my various editors about which deaths of opposition activists qualified as “assassinations” and which were merely—merely—“killings,” as in “more than three hundred killings by state security forces.” Every day, reading the Honduran papers, I was assaulted by a long barrage of verbs—ultimar, matar, liquidar, tirotear (to shoot up), ametrallar (to machine gun)—all of which meant to kill, including ultimar a machetazos (to slice up with machete blows).
I got an op-ed into the New York Times criticizing U.S. support for the ongoing coup regime. In response, I got letters on behalf of Miguel Facussé, the biofuels magnate, threatening to sue me for difamación de carácter (character defamation). Letters to the Times from the Honduran Ambassador to the United States and from a former U.S. Ambassador to Honduras attacking me were reprinted in the derechista (right-wing) Honduran newspapers. I had to cancel my upcoming trip to Honduras, and thought I might never return. I learned No te aflijas (Don’t get upset) from a friend who wrote me that “When things calm down you can come back.” Another wrote, in English, “Now you know a new word, desterrado”—exiled. But what I felt was just a tiny inkling of what the real exiles, thousands of Hondurans, were going through.
Finally, there were the things for which there were no words in either English or Spanish. What did I say to my close, beloved friend when his daughter and son-in-law were shot and killed in one of those incidents of “random violence” that happen when there is no functioning judicial system, the police are largely corrupt, and you can kill anyone you want and nothing will happen to you? What did I say to another close friend, who’d been sheltering a young victim of domestic violence, when drug traffickers who were tight with the abuser showed up one day and told my friend she had twenty-four hours to leave the house and no one from her family could ever live there again, and she had to flee across the border to Mexico, with no money? What did I say to the sweet, loving young man who finally found a good job in his cousin’s new shop, and six months later the gangs showed up and demanded a tax, and she said no, and after five days they came back and killed her, and he lost his job in her shop, and the family lost all their investment? For every word I learned, there was a new horror, a new atrocity report to write.
(Sombrero tip to John Donaghy)