State of Siege Term Paper

Pages: 5 (1878 words)  ·  Style: MLA  ·  Bibliography Sources: 4  ·  File: .docx  ·  Topic: Literature - Latin-American

¶ … Siege is a 1972 film by Costa-Gavras, the famous Greek-French film-maker, about the interrogation and assassination of a CIA case officer by unnamed South American urban revolutionaries. Although it is not clearly acknowledged in the film, its story is based on the real-life events that actually took place in Uruguay when a U.S. Agency for International Development (AID) official, Dan Mitrione, was kidnapped on July 31, 1970 by the Tupamoros, a left-wing urban guerilla group, and eventually executed. This paper gives a summary of the movie and discusses how far it has depicted the real life events by researching who the Tupamoros and Dan Mitrione really were.

Summary of the Film starts with scenes of a tense Latin American city in which the police have set up barricades on the streets and highways. All vehicles and people are being searched to look for clues to the murder of an American official (named Philip Michael Santore in the film, played by the French actor-Yves Montand) whose body has been found in a stolen car.

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Costa-Gavras then uses his familiar technique of flashbacks, rapid cross-cutting from one location to another and aggressive background music (also used in Gavras' other notable films, "Z" and "The Confession") to create chilling suspense and to move the film forward at a relentless pace. We are shown a flashbacks of the kidnapping of Santore by the young guerillas; interspersed with scenes of the local (read Uruguay) Parliament arguing over the existence of a paralegal police death squad, back to the rebels' interrogation of Santore, evidence of America's interference in South American politics and so on and so forth until the film ends with a scene of another American AID official being received at the airport, watched by a defiant face (a member of the Tupamoros, perhaps?) -- signifying the continuance of the frustrating cycle despite what has just taken place.

Term Paper on State of Siege Assignment

Costa Gavras' screenplay, written in collaboration with Franco Solinas, is a clear indictment of American interference in South American internal affairs and portrays the American AID official (who was actually a CIA officer, training the local police in the sophisticated techniques of torture) as a villain and the Tupamaros in a favorable light. But more importantly, the film depicts the chilling encounter between men of totally divergent political philosophies -- each considering the other worthy of being tortured and/or killed due to nothing more than their differing viewpoints.

American Criticism of the Film When "State of Siege" was released in 1972, it was severely condemned in the United States for its "anti-Americanism" and its apparent condoning of a terrorist act. The left and liberal circles, of course, loved it as it showed the dark side of American involvement in Latin America and the dubious shenanigans of the CIA. When it was removed from its inaugural showing at Washington's Kennedy Center by the American Film Institute in April 1993, it became a cause celebre and provided the distributors of the film with plenty of free publicity (Cocks). Let us see if the criticism of the film was justified or were the events accurately depicted in the movie, by taking a brief look at the principle characters in the movie, [i.e., the Uruguayuan guerilla group (the Tupamaros) and the kidnapped American official (Dan Mitrione)] and find out who they really were.

The Tupamaros Also known as the MLN (or Movement for National Liberation), Tupamaros was an urban guerrilla movement that started in Uruguay in the 1960s. The organization was formed by a group young leftists in response to a collapsing economy, high inflation, widespread unemployment in the country (Weinstein, 39). The beginnings of the Tupamaros can be traced to a seemingly trivial event in July, 1963, when a group of burglars broke into the Swiss Club, a hunting lodge outside Montevideo, and stole 12 old rifles. Among the men involved in the robbery was reported to be one Raul Sendic, a law student who had a year earlier led a march of sugar cane peasants demanding agragarian reforms; (Rius, 6) the following Christmas, ten young people stole a food truck, drove it into poor quarter of Montevideo, and passed out turkeys and wine to the poor; it gradually became known that a gureilla group -- calling themselves "The Tupamaros" had emerged to challenge the government. They stole police uniforms and wore them to hold up banks around the city, always making sure that they did not antagonize the common people. For example, on one occasion they robbed a gambling casino. But the next day when the croupiers complained that the stolen money had included their tips, the Tupamaros mailed back them their share of the money (Langguth, 229). During 1965, the Tupamaros bombed a number of subsidiaries of U.S. corporations; again the bombings were aimed at gaining publicity rather than to maim or kill.

In August of 1968, the Tupamaros carried out another publicity coup. They kidnapped a close friend of President Pacheco Areco -- a man named Pereira Reverbel. Pereira was one of the most hated men in Uruguay as he had once killed a newsboy for selling a paper that attacked him. When Pereira was released after just four days, he was unharmed and even appeared a few pounds heavier; the poor in Montevideo joked: "Attention, Tupamaros! Kidnap me!" (Ibid.) the Uruguay government, in the meantime, had become more and more repressive; closing down dissenting newspapers and asking the Americans for help in police training for crushing the increasing activities of the Tupamaros. This brought into the scene, Dan Mitrione -- the main subject and leading character of "State of Siege."

Who was Dan Mitrione? Officially, he was just the head of the Office of Public Safety (OPS) in Montevideo -- a division of U.S. AID. In reality Mitrione was much more than that; he was the former police chief of Richmond, Indiana, who worked for CIA in its undercover operations abroad. Before being sent to Uruguay in 1969, he had worked as an adviser to the police in Brazil and the Dominican Republic in the early 1960s and earned his reputation. After he arrived in Uruguay, Mitrione immediately set about training the local police in counterinsurgency techniques with a single-minded purpose of crushing the rebels. He sent a number of Uruguayan policemen to the U.S. For special training, equipped the local police with modern equipment, and turned into a tougher, meaner force. Most disturbing, however, is the evidence that has since surfaced about his involvement with torture. (Langguth, 248) few months after his arrival as adviser to the Police, a respected Uruguayan weekly published a report by liberal members of the Uruguayan Senate that had found a marked rise in cases of torture by the police on suspected members of the Tupamaros and others, including gruesome torture techniques such as giving electric shocks to the genitals, placing electric needles under the fingernails, burning with cigarettes, the slow compression of the testicles, and use of psychological torture. Even pregnant women were purportedly not spared from such brutalities and inhuman treatment. (Extracts from Uruguayan Senate Report quoted by Blum, 48)

When the Uruguayan Chief of Police intelligence, Alejendro Otero, learned about Mitrione's introduction of torture as a routine interrogation procedure, he objected and was removed from his post and demoted -- presumably at Mitrione's recommendation. In an interview to a Brazilian newspaper in 1970 Otero disclosed that Mitrione had instituted torture in Uruguay as a routine measure and had added scientific refinement to it such as the use of a wire so thin that it could be fitted into the mouth between the teeth and could be pressed against the gum and the electrical charge applied directly to cause more pain (Langguth) a number of Uruguayan police officers were sent to CIA / OPS schools in the U.S. To acquire training in the design manufacture and employment of bombs. Such devices were used by the "Death Squads" composed mainly of police officers, who bombed and strafed the homes of suspected Tupamaro sympathizers and engaged in assassination and kidnapping. (Ibid, 240)

The most damning evidence of Mitrione's direct involvement in torture has been provided by Manuel Hevia, a Cuban double-agent who once worked for the CIA. According to Hevia, Mitrione once, "personally tortured four beggars to death with electric shocks" and also explained to him his philosophy of torture. (Blum) Mitrione was of the view that an interrogation should start with "a softening-up period" during which a prisoner is beaten up and insulted but not asked any questions; the object being to humiliate, to cut him off from reality, and make him realize his helplessness. The next torture session should consist of applying: "the precise pain, in the precise place, in the precise amount, for the desired effect" while always leaving the subject with some hope, otherwise it would to stubborn resistance. Mitrione also advised that even after you get the information; it may be good to prolong the session a little, not to extract information, "but… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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