Friday, January 18, 2013

Remember Luneta Hill

My 14-year old son just finished reading A Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez yesterday, and it was the main topic of conversation during the drive from their school to our house. He had so many questions, and was particularly disturbed by the scene where the striking banana plantation workers, protesting unfair and inhumane working conditions, were all killed.

In that scene, one Jose Arcadio Segundo survived, and returned home to Macondo to tell the story.

The scene was based on a true story. In 1928, the Colombian government sent the army to Santa Marta to quell the ongoing strike against the American-owned United Fruit Company. The United States was said to have threatened to invade the South American country if the government did not protect the interests of the capitalist. The workers weren’t asking for heaven and earth, their demands were simple: written contracts for each of the workers, 8-hour working days, 6-day work weeks. After closing off access to the streets and surrounding the striking workers with machine guns, at the end of the day, fathers, mothers and children lay dead on the streets.

The government placed the death toll at a maximum of 47, another official even went as far as saying that there were only 9. But survivors of the massacre say there were at least 2,000 who were killed. They did not refer to them as workers, they were subversives, troublemakers.

In the Marquez novel, Jose Arcadio Segundo lived the rest of his life as a pariah, his voice and with it his story was discredited and drowned out by the lies of the powers-that-be. The story that the authorities forced on the people was that it never happened. And it rained in Macondo for five straight years erasing any memory of the dark, chilling episode.

A year ago, thousands marched down Session Road to express their opposition to the removal of 182 trees on Luneta Hill for a parking building. There must have been at least 5,000 people that day, but the powerful capitalists placed the number at merely hundreds, at most a thousand.

That’s what the headlines of the powerful and credible media said, so it must be true.

In court, during the hearing of the case that was filed against the proponents of the massacre of trees, their expensive lawyers in their expensive business suits and toting expensive leather bags with wheels, denied that there’s opposition to their expansion project from the community. They successfully prevented the presentation of proof belying their claim – videos and photos of the numerous rallies held against SM in Baguio and in different parts of the country. In the verdict handed down by the court dismissing the case, there was hardly any mention of the opposition, the tens of thousands of petition signatures, the numerous protest actions held, etc.

That’s what the honorable court said, so it must be so.

Today, the protesters are referred to by self-proclaimed pundits not as concerned citizens - they are called subversives, troublemakers, hippies and good-for-nothing gigolos.

But the Jose Arcadio Segundos of Baguio still stand, and they were there when 49 of the 182 trees were violently removed and condemned to die a slow painful death. They were there when SM tried to cover the truth with entertaining high-definition audio-visual presentations on LCD screens. They were there when the government said that the removal of those trees will not cause irreparable damage on the environment. And if it does, they were there too when the local government said that it cannot do anything about it. They were there every time the police lined up to protect the interests of the greedy capitalist with anti-riot shields, truncheons and guns from fathers, mothers, children who want nothing more than for the lives of the trees to be spared.

And we will continue to be there to tell the story of the massacre on Luneta Hill.

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