.La Caravana de los Misterios is a documentary play framed within a life-sized shadow box that reconstructs a history of American interventions during the drug war and traces its impact on the current situation at the U.S.-Mexico border. Transcripts of documents are interwoven with an array of monologues as we visit three instances of violence in Honduras, Guatemala, and Mexico, and attempt to find the links between them. I first wrote and performed a version of the piece at the 2019 Performance Studies International Conference (PSi#25: “Elasticity”). I staged and performed a second version as part of Emerging Artists Theatre’s New Works Series in New York. In both instances, the play was presented as a solo show, although one additional non-speaking character was included in the New York performance. La Caravana engages a dialogue with contemporary media depictions of the U.S Mexico-Border. What other histories can be drawn from narratives of displacement that are not currently at the center of cultural discourse? Through the notion of elasticity, La Caravana proposes a fluid framework to understand specific histories as situated within multiple narrative networks. This approach exposes patterns that the equally elastic tissue of hegemonic discourse has rendered opaque. By staging an archive, La Caravana hopes to highlight the performativity of historical narratives themselves, while finding cohesion in a fragmented historiography through a patchwork-style reconfiguration.
I consider elasticity, first, as a mechanism that underscores hegemonic paradigms and their adaptive functioning, and one that must be interrogated critically but also as a liberatory notion inscribed in modes of resistance and redefinition. In response to this, the shadow box itself operates from the principle of elasticity, as a collage-style frame that permits us to reimagine and redefine how elements of an archive might exist in relation to one another. It is important to note that the notion of archive has given way to myriad theories on the connections between power, politics, and historiography. An engagement with such theories is beyond the scope of this article. Yet, a brief explanation on the way I use the term archive in crafting La Caravana is in order. In its most general sense, the concept of the archive recalls the premise of keeping formal history in place. For Diana Taylor (2003), a characteristic trait of the archive is its provenance (the dwelling of official memory) and its function (an impulse to preserve stable and fixed records). Unlike the repertoire, which Taylor associates with “ephemeral, non reproducible knowledge” (20), archives are the repositories of enduring materials that, far from being unmediated, uphold the ability to be “selected, classified, and presented for analysis” (19).
La Caravana recognizes the “thing-like,” static nature of the archive and wishes to reanimate it through performance. Through its framing, the piece functions as a diorama that takes the still elements of this history and reimagines them in an enclosed universe. It does so by dealing with the seemingly fixed objects of narratives of power and putting them in motion. In this sense, it attempts to create life amid the ruins of official histories in order to foster the possibility for more critical perspectives. On the other hand, it wishes to bring that which is excluded from official channels of power—such as independent media reports, testimonies, and interviews with indigenous organizers and human rights lawyers—and place these elements within the same framework to understand how they are part of the same history.
In regard to the specific context of the drug war, La Caravana proposes to look at the archive as the elastic interconnection of systems within a neoliberal paradigm in order to trace the way that power operates within them. It offers to look at the drug war as a process that runs parallel to the gradual increase of neoliberalism in Latin America, an interrogation that, when tracing the threads of militarism and capitalism, leads us to inevitably interrogate the larger legacy of colonialism. In what follows, I offer a brief reflection on the research I conducted, and then present a multimedia dossier that conveys the theoretical and creative processes behind the play.
Reframing an Archive of the Drug War
When I began to develop La Caravana in early 2019, a media frenzy had broken out about the latest migrant caravan. What struck me about media coverage on this issue was its limited capacity to encapsulate the geopolitical situation that underpinned this mass movement of people, notably Central Americans, and in increasing numbers, women and young children, to the United States. Language on the caravans ranged from virulent, often fabricated critiques from the right, to shallow, often paternalistic analysis from the center and left. I became interested in viewing this rhetoric and subsequent policies not so much as an aberration that could only occur during an unprecedentedly cruel moment in American leadership but rather as the logical extension of a more deeply entrenched system or Weltpolitik. Moreover, I wanted to reframe the narrative of the caravan as an amalgamation of tangible resistance struggles and as an historically significant symbol, whose development could be used to trace a history of intervention and militarization. I shaped the piece around three case studies that, although sealed off from each other in terms of time and place, underscored the terror implicit in the functioning of the neoliberal nation state in its inextricable relationship to neocolonialism.
The first case I address is the massacre at Dos Erres, Guatemala in December 1982, perpetrated by the Kaibiles, a special operations wing of the Guatemalan Army, as part of the U.S.-backed dictator Efraín Ríos Montt’s genocidal scorched-earth policy. The massacre at Dos Erres lasted four days and resulted in the murders and rapes of an entire village of about 250 men, women, children and infants (Rotella). The second event is a massacre committed by the Zetas crime group in San Fernando, Tamaulipas in August 2010, which resulted in the deaths of seventy-two migrants (Evans and Franzblau, Guillermoprieto). Finally, I focus on the murder of indigenous Lenca activist Berta Cáceres in March 2016. Cáceres was a leading figure in the grassroots movement that sought to resist the construction of the unconstitutional, but internationally financed Agua Zarca Dam on the Gualcarque River, sacred to the Lenca. Acts of violence against the Lenca community before her murder were linked to executives from the Honduran company involved in the project Désarollos Energéticos (DESA), as well as members of Honduran police and government (GAIPE). A few months later it was revealed that Cáceres had most likely been on the hit list of U.S.-trained Honduran special forces. In December 2019, seven men were convicted for the crime, among them two former DESA employees and a U.S.-trained special forces major (Lakhani, Who Killed 271-278, 319-375). Members of Cacéres’s family, who were denied legal representation during the proceedings, have stated that the results only partially expose the true intellectual authors of a crime that, in the words of a civil rights lawyer who spoke to journalist Nina Lakhani, “bore the hallmarks of a military intelligence-backed special operation” (48-49). I contextualize her assassination in the aftermath of the 2009 military coup, which ousted democratically elected President Manuel Zelaya. Zelaya had angered many members of both parties through his modest social reforms and promise of land settlement agreements to the benefit of Honduras’s rural populations (Lakhani, “Did Hillary”). Although internationally denounced as fraudulent, the elections following the coup were covertly supported by the U.S. State Department (Lakhani, Who Killed 93-127).
What first led me to consider these disparate accounts as part of a larger, interrelated history was the surprising finding that Zetas had in the past recruited former Kaibiles to assist in training as well as to supply weapons (Evans and Franzblau). This link between a special forces unit and a criminal organization complicates the distinction between state-sanctioned violence and extrajudicial violence, and it establishes a larger historical continuity between two events separated by the span of decades. In order to interrogate these continuities in the context of the rapid neoliberalisation of Latin America, La Caravana proposes to understand the drug war through one of its most salient organizational principles: capital accumulation through land dispossession.
It is important to note that, as was the case in San Fernando, the victims of drug wars are overwhelmingly unarmed civilians and not cartel members (Paley 26). In order to understand how the destabilization caused by the drug war serves the interests of capital, we can look at how extrajudicial forces often terrorize populations that have a vested interest in resisting the privatization of land, notably rural and indigenous communities. In Drug War Capitalism, Dawn Paley elaborates on Naomi Klein’s notion of shock doctrine, proposing that the drug war in Mexico be understood as a permanent state of shock facilitated by an ongoing militarization. As land dispossession through extractivism and mass privatization fosters an expected sense of social unrest, the daily reality of terror becomes an increasingly necessary means of control. As neoliberalism decenters modes of governance in the name of private actors, a similar pattern accompanies modes of oppressive enforcement, which become sidelined to the margins of legality. In Honduras, a similar destabilization can be traced on a shorter timeline. Despite the increase in U.S. aid for the purpose of fighting organized crime, post-coup Honduras quickly became one of the deadliest countries for environmental activists (Lakhani, Who Killed 296). The Lenca struggle was at the center of this newly strengthened dynamic between private actors and terror. And although Cáceres’s murder did not involve drug traffickers, it exposes the reality of where the energy of state power and U.S. funding is focused.
It is this perpetual destabilization that often forces people to leave their homes in search of better conditions. In the neocolonial imagination, borders detain the ultimate conceptual elasticity. They are to be violated or violently upheld. While a democratically–elected president may be toppled with ease, a migrant seeking refuge from the ensuing political chaos faces the full apparatus of state violence. Through a complex network of military units, state actors, and private enterprise, impunity is granted for horrific acts of violence as long as they align with the interests of capital. Since terror does not fit into the framework of liberal democracy, a vast network of extra-judicial and mercenary forces is established to justify a state of exception, which in turn relies on an elastic media framework. The purpose of La Caravana is to engage with this media framework, which encompasses a post-Cold War conception of the national security state that bases itself on notions of development and growth; the staging of political plurality while the core mechanisms of the military-industrial complex remain outside of democratic processes; and finally, a perpetual sense of historical amnesia.
An underlying colonial paradigm should be understood as the meta-framework of these contexts. Time and time again, these disputes circle back to a question of resources and land. In Red Skin, White Masks, Glen Coulthard writes, referencing Marx: “In Capital, these formative acts of violent dispossession set the stage for the emergence of capitalist accumulation and the reproduction of capitalist relations of production by tearing Indigenous societies … from the source of their livelihood—the land” (7). We cannot view the destruction permitted by an imperialist military framework as separate from the legacy of colonialism that first cemented Western and non-Western relationships in these territories. As we draw together the threads of capitalism, militarism, and, finally, colonialism, we must always look to the communities that are at the forefront of these struggles as the guiding voices for what the path to justice should look like.
In order to stage this historiography, I turned to the idea of the Mexican shadow box, a craft-art diorama that blends symbolic elements, religious imagery, and fragments of pop culture. Mexican shadow boxes or nichos are a re-interpretation of the Roman Catholic retablo. They are syncretic objects that embody the lived history of colonialism. Like the great church of Santa María Tonantzintla, shadow boxes emerge out of a violent, longstanding history and represent a coming together of two distinct cultural traditions that, although sealed by blood and domination, breed an idiosyncratic aesthetic dialogue of resistance and reinvention. What is doubly remarkable about them, as is with other aspects of Mexican folk art, is the way in which they often absorb and reinvent mass media culture. Not only are they usually made of found, in their turn mass-produced, objects, such as cigar boxes, they also depict scenes throughout the full spectrum of human life, encompassing aspects of the profane, the sacred, the mundane, and the glamorous. Shadow boxes may host the Virgin Mary in the same way that they may host Frida Kahlo or Selena. They are the little homes in which the spirit of kitsch dwells and transforms itself.
Shadow boxes are distinctly Mexican in their humorous approach to everything that by Old World standards should be regarded with reverence: a subtle form of spiritual resistance that nonetheless apprehends the strangeness and trickery of life’s whims. Sometimes irreverent, but never nihilistic, they present death as the shape-shifting spirit of transformation. In this sense, they are part of the larger aesthetic repertoire of El día de los muertos. Shadow boxes also rely on a cast of archetypal characters much like the ones that can be found in la loteria. You may encounter the bride, the devil, the mariachi, or the Catrina herself. In this way, they evoke something of the universe of the tarot deck. In reference to this repertoire, La Caravana includes a cast of characters that emerge throughout the piece to tell the different stories of this drug war. Some are recurring, such as a Narrator and a Beauty Queen, while others appear only once, such as a Bride, a Businesswoman, and a Curator. A masked character, evocative of an alebrije, remains on stage the entire time.
In the way that shadow boxes bridge the relationship between their religious origin and their contemporary commodification, this box seeks to offer an elastic framework by which to mirror and re-process hegemonic narratives in order to discover their limits, cracks, and artifice. If we consider the shadow box as an ever-evolving shrine, we can look to it as an elastic tool for the re–consecration and redistribution of meaning. It is a space for symbolic and associative elements to play out within, in this way untangling real relationships between people, places, and events. As a collage object, it can hold elements of the broad Latin American narrative that the play engages with, revealing their interrelatedness within historical cycles of violence. The frame of the life-sized shadow box is referred to explicitly in the narrator’s opening monologue, laying bare its meta-reflexive nature.
You may have seen the Mexican shadow box before. Shadow boxes are stacked to infinity in marketplaces and airports. They are handled by artisans, merchants, and tourists. The box is made from fragments. The box is made as a shrine to death. The box subverts the anticipated attitude of fear and replaces it with deep irony, an unholy enjoyment, a sense of devotion to, and utter mockery of death. The figure of death is placed in all too familiar, sometimes even sexual, sometimes utterly mundane situations. Death as a pop icon, death as a dentist. We are reminded of the ubiquitousness of death, and in this, perhaps, how its adaptability, its pervasiveness, may signal conversely the elasticity of life.
And what is this particular box? It is The Incongruous Box: A funerary mechanism of ornamental purpose in memory of a certain continent’s woes and dreams. Imagine placing us on a shelf and imagine forgetting us altogether. Here, time is at a standstill. We find ourselves in, to borrow from the magic realist architects of Colombia’s literary — or should I say political landscape — el postconflicto. This is the box of post-conflict. The box is, of course, a fictional place, as such a time does not exist. “Post” is perhaps, if we really want to meddle with the messiness of semantic details, (and we DO) an inadequate prefix. There is no before or after in the box, because the box contains the whole narrative. It holds a self-regulating universe that affords us, however, only certain symbols as the totality of the data, of the reality of the Drug War would be impossible to fit, impossible to grasp, impossible for the artisan that crafted it out of trash, relics, mirrors, plaster, plastic foods, to represent, but you can trust me, it is really all there. The purpose of the box is to understand the dynamic. Here we may mourn (never count) our losses, and contemplate the ways things function or don’t. The box is a mirror to life, but in which its continuously mutating processes are held, clutched tightly, and displayed, and how we see things, and what we see, simply depends on which corner we are looking at.
Like its real-life counterpart, the set of La Caravana offers a conceptual process of miniaturization, which allows for the links between these cases to be traced in a more minute and precise manner. The shadow box takes on the function of a diorama in that, although it alludes to a series of events outside of itself, it is also an enclosed universe. Michael Chabon elaborates on the notion of using a fixed frame as an instrument of re-scaling in his essay “Wes Anderson’s Worlds” where he writes on Joseph Cornell:
The box, to Cornell, is a gesture—it draws a boundary around the things it contains, and forces them into a defined relationship, not merely with one another, but with everything outside the box. The box sets out the scale of a ratio; it mediates the halves of a metaphor. It makes explicit, in plain, handcrafted wood and glass, the yearning of a model-maker to analogize the world, and at the same time it frankly emphasizes the limitations, the confines, of his or her ability to do so.
The box encloses thus a micro-landscape of the drug war in order to understand certain underlying patterns. However, if we understand the concept of elasticity as something that refers to the greater adaptability of a given material, it also implies a breaking point. The box is an elastic framework in that it can hold a collage-like breadth of information while also understanding its own limits. It becomes in this way an ideal framework to in turn understand the boundaries of narratives of dominance, which, in order to perpetuate themselves, are elastic in their own right.
Beyond existing as a frame, the box embodies other functions throughout the course of the piece, operating at times like a photographic negative. In the case of the negative, everything that originally composes the image remains, but becomes inverted. This is the process I attempt to mimic in order to more directly engage with the way in which narratives of state-sanctioned violence or impunity are dealt with in an era of information. It is not difficult to find reporting on Berta Cáceres’s murder and the complicity of international institutions, as it is not difficult to find information about U.S. support to the openly genocidal Ríos-Montt regime. All this is plainly accessible to the public. What becomes essential within the discursive strategy of neocolonialism is pushing certain narratives to the forefront in order to render critical perspectives less visible. One of the things I aimed to do with the box was to look at what aspects of these events had been rendered opaque in order to question the narratives that are usually at the forefront.
At times, the box also acts as its own, idiosyncratic broadcasting device, evoking a television in its shape but also in the universe it contains. Through a selection of music, costumes, and acting styles, I allude to certain television tropes and archetypes of the past few decades. The Narrator recalls the warm and informative tone of a public access documentary. The Beauty Queen emerges into the box as if she were at once on Univision and merely a papier maché figurine. Through this dual image—part projection, part object—the box also moves beyond replicating the logic of TV as it eschews a sense of total dematerialization. Rather, it is a telecommunication device, contained within the material, bric-a-brac parameters of its own form. At the same time that the box deals with media, it is a relic of pre-mediatic times. It engages in a form of retro-futurism, in which we can apprehend an alternative and more accessible way of looking at technology, as something that, in its quaintness, can be plainly grasped and understood. The technological object becomes an artifact, benign and familiar to human hands that, although intersecting with the virtual and immaterial, can be plainly crafted out of the materials of the earth.
Shadow boxes in general reproduce something of this dual logic, in the way that as static, handcrafted objects, they present fragments of the ever-changing, incorporeal world of pop culture. They absorb histories through a process that is, to an extent, neutral. A salient example of this process is Frida Kahlo’s self-portraits that, commodified on a large scale, make frequent appearances in shadow boxes. Although these boxes mimic a much more immaterial process of commodification, they do so while retaining the auratic quality of the one object. In this sense they stage a contradiction, elastically defying the terms by which physical objects are rendered into signifiers. They are both quaint and avant-garde in their apprehending of a zeitgeist. They offer no judgment either way of the mass-commodification of Kahlo; they simply absorb and reformulate what is, through tangible, artisanal means. La Caravana seeks to highlight this aspect of the shadow box as an object that absorbs constantly without commenting explicitly, where found sources are displayed as found objects. The box hopes to reproduce the logic of mass culture without the mediation of one specific character or dominant narrative voice.
The appearance of each character is punctuated by an interlude of recorded audio. Logistically, the audio allows time for costume changes, but it also fulfills much of the function of documenting. For each case, the events are reconstructed through a selection of news clips. In addition, the recordings help to foster the critical perspective that becomes more prevalent throughout the course of the play. As many of the elements in the box derive from an already–mediated archive, the aim is then to remediate them in order to render this original mediatization visible. Through the sampling and juxtaposition of disparate sources, the information surrounding these narratives undergoes a process of decontextualization. This process unveils an authoritarian agenda within apparent neutrality or benevolence, allowing us to more plainly see the rhetoric that often lurks behind arguments around developmentalism when it is wielded by agents of neocolonial power.
In the first set of clips, I present sensationalized narratives surrounding the caravan.
As the piece goes on, I include interviews with journalists, human rights lawyers, and activists.
In addition, a selection of music from different eras and regions of Latin America accompanies the clips. In some instances, the music heightens the sense of spectacle, but in other instances it functions as an independent agent, reconstituting affective fragments of these geographies and highlighting the voices that this drug war concerns.
Finally, near the end of the piece, I begin to introduce some elements of my own writing in the audio in the form of a futuristic radio program, heightening the oneiric dimension of the box. The radio begins to more closely engage with spectators’ affects, while not obscuring the parameters of mediation. During the emissions, the host reads quotes from Dawn Paley’s Drug War Capitalism and samples excerpts from her lecture “Construction of Fear and Human Surplus.” The program evokes a post-historical dimension that is nonetheless reminiscent of the twilight-zone era of science-fiction. In adding a meta-temporal reality to the play, while still engaging with the circumstances of the drug war, it offers a sense of potentiality. Moreover, through the combination of two media, television and radio, I attempt to offer an elastic way to think about media in the first place. Radio represents a paradoxical sensorial experience as something that is at once nearby and remote, through the intimacy of the narrative voice, combined with the endless possibility of place. The television, on the other hand, imposes a circumstance. Through the synthesis of different media, we may begin to extrapolate on modes of futurity that move beyond binding structures.
During the audio segments, a masked character, evocative of the alebrije, performs mundane actions on stage. At times he is enigmatic, maybe even suspect, making the audience question what his stake is in these events. Because of the mask, he fosters a wide possibility of associations, mimicking the shroud of ambiguity that surrounds many of these narratives. He is inherent to the box in the way that figurines exist in nichos, but he is also dynamic, reacting to the information that he hears, giving the audience a sort of mirror through which they can, in turn, receive it. In some instances, he offers comedic relief, but in the larger narrative of tragedy, he embodies the function of the witness. Through the combination of the character’s actions, and the audio, we glean the function of the chorus in Greek tragedy in that it provides the ideal audience. It offers to the audience a way of seeing that is not only based on a factual understanding of events but rather on the felt reality, the creases of human sensibility that can only be reflected through the non-human, the non-singular, the non-subjective.
A recurring narrator guides us through the events, as if the audience were traveling with her through these different sites. For each case, the narrator offers a description of the location, and alludes to what transpired there. The way she speaks is reminiscent of travel documentaries, fostering a sense of detachment that aims to mirror, and not surpass, the inherent inaccuracy of the external eye even when it wishes to portray these conflicts objectively. At the same time, the narrator highlights the beauty of the natural world that surrounds these regions, heightening the sense that land is always at the forefront of these conflicts, and evoking the larger history of conquest.
Dos Erres is a small village located in the municipality of La Libertad in the Péten Department of Guatemala. Northwest lies the Sierra del Lacandon, a lush mountainous range that constitutes an important land bridge between South America and Mexico which numerous species, such as the scarlet macaw, traverse in their annual migrations. Known for its spectacular diversity, the area contains 10% of species known to man. The forests are speckled with ruins, poking above the canopy of the trees, with some still completely submerged by vegetation, offering the traveler but an enigmatic glimpse of a stone doorway or a half uncovered tunnel. To its south is the Usumacinta River, that winds its way through canyons and wetlands. Its velvet green waters, home to alligators and iguanas, once constituted important trade routes for the Mayan civilization. In the 1980s, the forests by its banks provided cover for the exiled Guatemalan Guerrilleros and Communities of Population in Resistance of the Sierra, formed of Ixil and Quiché Mayan people, fleeing the genocidal policies of its U.S.-backed government.
The Beauty Queen
The Beauty Queen is a recurring character who introduces herself as U.S. Senator Diane Feinstein. All of her monologues are verbatim excerpts from two reports by the Caucus on International Narcotics Control of which Feinstein is co-chairman. I was drawn to staging these reports verbatim because of how specifically and technically they deal with calls to militarization, citing weapons models and funding amounts, while employing the language of development, aid, and democratic ideals. These scenes juxtapose the hyper-generalized perspectives of social issues offered during the question-answering segment of a beauty pageant, with dense and specific policy information. I replicate the logic of sensationalized media with a dryer, more bureaucratic text that, although public, isn’t directly accessible to a mass audience. Through this juxtaposition, I hope to make official documents that detail U.S. imperialist strategies more performative and thus more visible for what they are. Lastly, the character also evokes the way in which Latin America is rendered exportable through mass media and kitsch, lightly alluding to Donald Trump and his feud with Univision.
A wandering, post-apocalyptic bride evokes a sense of civilizational and environmental collapse. The Bride is a recurring trope in the universe of shadow boxes: a celebratory figure that alludes to social convention, and through which we can express the deep juncture between how systems feign to operate and how they, in reality, do. Like the radio program, the Bride recalls science fiction tropes from the 1950s. On one hand, she evokes a fear of invasion latent in this genre, paradoxically during a time when the U.S. was most aggressively intervening in Latin America. On the other hand, she conveys a melancholic sense of the end of history while inspiring a sense of possibility within this liminality.
Today is frozen like a million other days. Today beckons, calls, forgets and swallows us. Today I’ve discovered something that isn’t as much hard to say, as it is to remember. Today, if only I had remembered more of that day, perhaps I could’ve known the past, and in this way unearthed the future. But everything went quiet one day. A day much like today but also very different than today. After that, the inevitable. Much like you’d expect, people dispersed into silence. Faded into the walls, or the trees or the dirt. Not a single, human sound. The Inevitable. A swift, thunderous instant was all it took. Or perhaps, like rocks splitting through an avalanche, a slow shattering of millennia. Life took a pause and everything was left hanging, for good. Things are certainly different around here on account of the recent quiet. Ever since everything was muted, it’s been harder to get around, mushrooms have sprouted in uncanny places and the underbrush has become unimaginably loud to the point that it is almost impossible to hear oneself think. The crickets are maddening, the locusts conspiratorial, the constant, endless murmur of unseeable civilizations is like some vague, all-encompassing labyrinthine threat that has sprouted in my mind where it is now growing soft, winding tendrils.
The Businesswoman character is based on a Honduran woman named Aline Flores. Speaking at a televised funeral for an unnamed group of people, she contextualizes the Gualcarque River struggle and represents the world view of many Latin American elites in their active complicity with imperialist structures and neocolonial oppression. The text is based on a 2013 press conference, in which she denounces Cáceres as a criminal, and on an extensive T.V. interview, where she describes her successes as a foremost businesswoman in Honduras.
(In bold is verbatim transcript)
Queridos compatriotas Hondureños, es un gran honor para mí estar aquí con ustedes aunque sea una ocasión de luto. La muerte, sí, sí, la muerte como la vida hay que honrarla. Como Presidenta del Consejo Hondureño de la Empresa Privada, como presidenta de cámaras de comercio, de una cúpula empresarial y de la federación de cámaras Centroamérica, como empresaria del año 2014, según la prestigiosa revista The Economist, y como según Forbes una de las mujeres más poderosas de Centroamérica en el 2015, le otorgo mi más sincero pésame a la familia del difunto… los difuntos? Obvio a la familia, las familias de los difuntos. ¿Qué es lo que estamos haciendo aquí? Creo que ya se me ha olvidado. Ah claro, perder no es fácil, por eso aquí en Honduras, nos proponemos siempre ganar, y hacer ganar. Para los hondureños esta cuestión de ganar ha sido imprescindible en estos últimos 10 años desde la llegada de la democracia, y del estado de derecho. Dejemos atrás esta actitud de querer perder, de sepulcrasre en la tierra y en el desgaste del tercer mundo, y continuemos hacia adelante. El que se queda en la ignorancia, el que se deja acarrear por los anhelos imprósperos del populismo, se hunde, o más bien, no gana. La iniciativa privada es lo que nos saca adelante. Sin ella regresamos a lo obscuro, lo salvaje, lo incomprensible. Sin ella la riqueza del mundo nos deja atrás. Se me hace tan triste que en nuestro país solo salga a la luz ese caos, ese desbordamiento de criminalidad en el río blanco, el río blanco que nos podría traer pero tanta riqueza. Los grupos que están boicoteando, mejor dicho, están eh invadiendo y sobre todo pues poniéndonos en mal a nivel internacional, son grupos liderados por la señora Berta Cáceres, ella ha estado, tiene una protección de parte de la comisión de derechos humanos y amnistía, está protegida por organizaciones internacionales con fondos e impuestos de europeos y americanos, que es lo más triste, que los americanos no saben para qué son utilizados sus impuestos. Muy triste, la verdad.
The final character is the Curator. Through this voice, I hope to become critical of not only myself but of the channels of information through which this piece has been presented, where the land struggles at the forefront of these issues are inevitably treated with a critical and academic distance. In a larger sense she represents the implicit gate-keeping of Western thought.
In addition to this, the Curator also brings us back to the theme of migration. She presents a smaller shadow box on stage that holds a glowing tent.
The tent alludes to the experience of the caravan as something that surpasses and subverts the contradictions of hegemonic narratives. Although imperial discursive strategies may shift and mutate to allow all kinds of atrocities under notions of development and democracy, the plight of the migrant emerges as an unavoidable reality. When we look at migration as the movement from one colonial state to another, the idea of movement itself becomes a form of resistance, encompassing an elastic potential for redefinition. In “Decolonizing the Anthropocene,” Zoe Todd and Heather Davis state: “[T]he resiliency of people across the world for collective continuance is dependent upon this freedom of movement which is systematically denied by the state forms of governance we currently have in place” (775). Laura Zúñiga Cáceres, daughter of Berta Cáceres also elaborates on this notion: “I believe that this is a crisis also caused by a model of dispossession and aggression towards the planet and towards our countries, which are destined to be areas that only extract our goods. Then we see that this system [. . .] creates the dispossession of the land, which is the place where many people manage to survive, manage to weave their life, their culture. And this is one of the first steps toward fleeing, towards migration” (“4 Years Seeking Justice”).
If we return to the notion of elasticity, understanding it as the ability to reshape and re–envision social formations under pressure, we can regard it as an intrinsic aspect of migration. If the colonial project is tied to the eradication of communities resisting non-capitalist relations of production, survival becomes in itself an act of defiance. In the face of perpetual destabilization, members of poor, rural, and indigenous communities throughout Latin America, continue to seek the conditions for life elsewhere. The capacity for elasticity becomes thus paradoxically a perduring quality, the capacity for endurance.
At the very end of the play, the Curator is drowned out by the last audio segment. I wanted to end the piece with the voices that are directly impacted by this violence and by highlighting the perpetual and active resistance waged by these communities in spite of the vast frameworks that wish to silence them. After a selection of segments of protests following the disappearance of the forty-three students of Ayotzinapa, I chose Berta Cáceres’ speech when receiving the Goldman Environmental Prize as the last words heard on stage. Not only do they unequivocally name the rapaciousness of predatory capitalist interests as the main enemy to the flourishing of our common humanity, but they also, despite the tragedy that would be her death, offer an ardent sense of hope.
“4 Years Seeking Justice: Daughter of Slain Indigenous Environmental Leader Berta Cáceres Speaks Out.” Democracy Now!, 17 January 2020. https://democracynow.org/2020/1/17/berta_caceres_laura_caceres_interview. Accessed 29 November 2020.
Chabon, Michael. “Wes Anderson’s Worlds.” The New York Review of Books, 13 January 2013. https://nybooks.com/daily/2013/01/31/wes-anderson-worlds/. Accessed 1 June 2020.
Coulthard, Glen Sean. Red Skin, White Masks: Rejecting the Colonial Politics of Recognition. University of Minnesota Press, 2014.
“Criminal Violence in Mexico.” Council on Foreign Relations, 29 May 2020. https://cfr.org/global-conflict-tracker/conflict/criminal-violence-mexico
Davis, Heather and Zoe Todd. “On the Importance of a Date, Or, Decolonizing the Anthropocene.” ACME: An International Journal for Critical Geographies, vol. 16, no. 4, 2017, pp. 761-80. https://acme-journal.org/index.php/acme/article/view/1539. Accessed 29 November 2020.
Evans, Michael and Jesse Franzblau, editors. “Mexico’s San Fernando Massacres: A Declassified History.” The National Security Archive, 6 November 2013. https://nsarchive2.gwu.edu/NSAEBB/NSAEBB445/. Accessed 1 June 2020.
GAIPE (Grupo Assesor Internacional de Personas Expertas). “Dam Violence: The Plan That Killed Berta Cáceres.” November 2017. https://gaipe.net/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/Exec-Summ-Dam-Violencia-EN-FINAL.pdf. Accessed 1 June 2020.
Guillermoprieto, Alma. “72 Migrantes.” Berkeley Review of Latin American Studies, Fall 2011-Winter 2012, pp. 2-4.
Lakhani, Nina. “Did Hillary Clinton Stand by as Honduras coup ushered in era of violence?” The Guardian, 31 August 2016. https://theguardian.com/world/2016/aug/31/hillary-clinton-honduras-violence-manuel-zelaya-berta-caceres. Accessed 1 June 2020.
___ . Who Killed Berta Caceres?: Dams, Death Squads, and an Indigenous Defender’s Battle for the Planet. Verso Books, 2020.
Levinger. Laurie E. What War?: Testimonies of Maya Survivors. Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2011.
Paley, Dawn. Drug War Capitalism. AK Press, 2014.
Rotella, Sebastian. “Finding Oscar: Massacre, Memory and Justice in Guatemala.” ProPublica, 25 May 2012. https://propublica.org/article/finding-oscar-massacre-memory-and-justice-in-guatemala. Accessed 1 June 2020.
Taylor, Diana. The Archive and the Repertoire: Performing Cultural Memory in the Americas. Duke University Press, 2003.
Character Transcript Sources
(Listed in order of appearance.)
“Aline Flores sentenció a Berta Cáceres.” YouTube, uploaded by cholusatsurcanal36, 3 March 2016. https://youtube.com/watch?v=iir2PBW-iJ0. Accessed 1 June 2020.
United States, Congress, Senate, Caucus on International Narcotics Control. Responding to Violence in Central America, September 2011. 112th Cong., 1st sess. US Government Publishing Office. https://drugcaucus.senate.gov/sites/default/files/FINAL%20Responding-to-Violence-in-Central-America-2011.pdf. Accessed 1 June 2020.
United States, Congress, Senate, Caucus on International Narcotics Control. U.S Mexican Responses to Mexican Drug Trafficking Organizations, May 2011. 112th Cong., 1st sess. US Government Publishing Office, 2020. https://www.drugcaucus.senate.gov/sites/default/files/FINAL%20Mexico%20Report%20w%20CORNYN%20w%20UPDATED%20NAMES%2012-21.pdf. Accessed 1 June 2020.
“TVC Banegas-Entrevista a Aline Flores.” YouTube, uploaded by Mit Tvc, 17 December 2015. https://youtube.com/watch?v=REOVBsG1Rds. Accessed 1 June 2020.
(Listed in order of appearance.)
Lavoe, Héctor. “Periódico de Ayer.” De Ti Depende, track 3, Fania Records, 1976.
“New Migrant Caravan Forming Could Be Largest Caravan Yet.” YouTube, uploaded by Fox News, 13 February 2019. https://youtube.com/watch?v=mi_a6MIR5ZU. Accessed 1 June 2020.
“Immigrant Crisis on the Mexico-Guatemala Border.” YouTube, uploaded by CBS News, 18 October 2018. https://youtube.com/watch?v=931o6HsBw60. Accessed 1 June 2020.
Vargas, Chavela. “Paloma Negra.” Homenaje a una grande, track 3, Sony Music Entertainment, 2012.
Vieja Trova Santiaguera. “Moliendo café.” El Balcon del Adios, track 4, Parlophone Music, 1998.
“Remembering Berta Cáceres, Assassinated Honduras Indigenous & Environmental Leader.” YouTube, uploaded by Democracy Now, 14 March 2016. https://youtube.com/watch?v=dQWywN6553Y. Accessed 1 June 2020.
“Obama Urged to Stop Funding Honduran Military as Questions Grow over US Role in Berta Caceres’ Death.” YouTube, uploaded by Democracy Now, 24 March 2016. https://youtube.com/watch?v=v6uxex4Uj8E. Accessed 1 June 2020.
“Berta Vive: Berta Cáceres and the Fight for Indigenous Water Rights.” YouTube, uploaded by Hammer Museum, 29 October 2018. https://youtube.com/watch?v=W7kbg3W_n9Y&t=2707s. Accessed 1 June 2020.
The Garifuna Collective. “Yündüya Weyu.” Umalali, track 3, Stonetree Records, 2008.
“ProPublica: Finding Oscar.” YouTube, uploaded by Open Road Media, 25 May 2012. https://youtube.com/watch?v=ZzbTITbqLy8. Accessed 1 June 2020.
“Guatemalan Soldiers Sentenced to 6,060 Years in Prison for Role in 1982 Massacre. 1 of 2.” YouTube, uploaded by Democracy Now, 4 August 2011. https://youtube.com/watch?v=qHsqA4wUO1Q. Accessed 1 June 2020.
“How the Media Got Guatemala’s Dos Erres Massacre Wrong.” YouTube, uploaded by The Real News Network, 2 August 2013. https://youtube.com/watch?v=I43de6_hNVE&t=98s. Accessed 1 June 2020.
Laserie, Rolando. “Hola Soledad.” Todo el Tiempo, Musart-Balboa, 1999.
Valdés, Vicentico. “Envidia.” Mi Diario Musical, track 1, Seeco, 1963.
Romero, Gabriel. “La Piragua.” Cumbia 1&2, track 8, World Circuit, 1963.
Parra, Violeta. “Run se fue pa’l norte.” Las últimas compocisiones, track 5, RCA Víctor, 1966.
Paley, Dawn, “Construction of Fear and ‘Human Surplus.’” YouTube, uploaded by Network for an Alternative Quest, 17 April 2017. https://youtube.com/watch?v=tkjh53GpeIs&t=37s. Accessed 1 June 2020.
Chancha Vía Circuito. “Pintar el sol.” Río Arriba, track 2, ZZK Records, 2010.
“Obama in Meeting Overshadowed by the Honduras Crisis.” YouTube, uploaded by AP Archive, 29 June 2019. https://youtube.com/watch?v=f4DXYwV41_I. Accessed 1 June 2020.
“Hear Hillary Clinton Defend Her Role in Honduras Coup When Questioned by Juan González.” YouTube, uploaded by Democracy Now, 13 April 2016. https://youtube.com/watch?v=bEcke5L7Lvg. Accessed 1 June 2020.
“General Assembly President ‘Deeply Outraged’ by Honduran Coup d’Etat.” YouTube, uploaded by United Nations, 29 June 2009. https://youtube.com/watch?v=z1RVegluYmQ. Accessed 1 June 2020.
“Before Her Assassination, Berta Cáceres Singled Out Hillary Clinton for Backing Honduran Coup.” YouTube, uploaded by Democracy Now, 11 March 2016. https://youtube.com/watch?v=1QiA8BA8WkM. Accessed 1 June 2020.
Tlen Huicani. “A unos ojos.” Latinoamericano, track 2, Universidad Veracruzana, 2003.
“Mexico Arrests Man Behind Migrants Massacre.” YouTube, uploaded by Al Jazeera English, 8 October 2012. https://youtube.com/watch?v=OMPZ9Jb9DvU. Accessed 1 June 2020.
Kaoma. “Lambamor.” Worldbeat, track 4, Epic Records, 1989.
Yepes, Lucho. “Rica la Miel.” Porros Originales y Inolvidables, track 3, vol 2, Discos el Dorado, 1999.
“Mexico Drug Gang Recruits Guatemalan Army Elite.” YouTube, uploaded by Al Jazeera English, 14 August 2011. https://youtube.com/watch?v=QjUJXgIMudA. Accessed 1 June 2020.
“Lone Survivor of Mexican Massacre Recovering.” YouTube, uploaded by Associated Press, 26 August 2010. https://youtube.com/watch?v=jVVYjrM56iw. Accessed 1 June 2020.
Banda Municipal de Santiago. “Les Passantes.” Brassens, Echos du Monde, track 2, Fanon Records, 2018.
Ochoa, Calixto. “Recordando el Pasado.” Homenaje a una Leyenda Viva, Discos Fuentes, 2012.
“A Body is Identified: Mexico’s Disappeared Students (Dispatch 1).” YouTube, uploaded by VICE News, 9 December 2014. https://youtube.com/watch?v=ZDg2L0SUPBI. Accessed 1 June 2020.
Cáceres, Berta. “Goldman Environmental Prize Acceptance Speech.” YouTube, uploaded by Goldman Environmental Prize, 22 April 2015. https://youtube.com/watch?v=AR1kwx8b0ms&t=52s. Accessed 1 June 2020.
One of the functions of the play is to bring clarity into narratives of the drug war rather than to abstract them. It was very important to me that audiences would come away with a historical understanding of certain aspects of the drug war and its colonial implications. This encompasses knowledge of certain specific dates, actors, and locations so that a course of interrelated events may be grasped. It is for this reason that I consider La Caravana to be a documentary piece. In terms of the article itself, my main purpose is to present a performance dossier of the piece so that it can be understood in a different format and not so much to offer a meta-reflection or theorization of the larger idea of the archive. Although I believe such a reflection is relevant and related to the themes explored in the piece, I address it somewhat briefly, as I believe that a more extensive theoretical reflection would be beyond the scope of the dossier and would come at the expense of the aforementioned documentary function. ↑
The list of articles, testimonials and interviews that went into making the piece was more extensive. For the purpose of this article, I am only listing the sources that I cite directly. ↑
This regime was a chapter in the longer Guatemalan Civil War from 1960-1996 in which an estimated 200,000 indigenous Maya people were killed (Levinger 24-25). ↑
The dam was part of a project by Desarrollos Energéticos (DESA) and Sinohydro. It was backed by international financial institutions such as the FMO, Finnfund and the World Bank (“GAIPE”; Lakhani 133). ↑
Both the trial and Lakhani’s account of it in Who Killed Berta Cáceres happened after I wrote and staged the original piece. For this dossier, I’ve taken these new developments into account. Part of my research for the original play was based on articles by this same author. ↑
Since 2006, more than 150,000 people have been murdered in Mexico, and mass terror in many forms, such as the abject display of bodies in public spaces, has become a more prevailing aspect of daily life (“Criminal Violence in Mexico”). The increase in funds for fighting the drug war through the Mérida initiative almost directly parallels the growing number of homicides (Paley 31). ↑
U. S Mexican Responses to Mexican Drug Trafficking Organizations (May 2011) and Responding to Violence in Central America (September 2011). ↑