The U.S. and Latin America
To the Editor:
I was surprised by the tone of Mark Falcoff’s review of Hidden Terrors, my book about torture in Latin America [Books in Review, November 1978], until he disclosed that he had published an essay two years ago that touched on the same subject. Looking up his earlier piece, I found that it had been written in much the same style, relying in that instance on considerable facetiousness. For example, in discussing a Uruguayan police officer who revealed U.S. involvement in torture in Uruguay, Mr. Falcoff wrote: “We have no way of knowing whether the good commissioner winked at the newsman when he said this, or whether the latter wrote up the matter tongue in cheek.”
From my book, Mr. Falcoff now has a way of knowing that the Uruguayan paid for his candor with his job and that Artur Aymoré, the Brazilian reporter from Jornal do Brasil to whom he spoke, was first interrogated at length by the Uruguayan police and then deported from Montevideo. Later, when Aymoré was back in Rio de Janeiro, an official from the U.S. Embassy tried to get him fired from his newspaper. Not everyone took the episode as lightly as Mr. Falcoff.
At another point, he noted parenthetically about the men who supply information concerning torture, “What a passion for anonymity these men have!” I, too, wish that conditions in Latin America were such that the men informed about torture and its practitioners could speak out publicly without reprisals. This is not the case.
Mr. Falcoff says that he found the descriptions of torture in my book “unsettling.” Good. Perhaps he is coming to understand that real pain has been inflicted in Latin America and real blood has been shed.
I believe my book posed two central questions. Did the United States government play a critical role in overthrowing democracy in Brazil in 1964? Has the United States government contributed substantially to the rise in torture throughout Latin America? I think the readers of COMMENTARY, not already committed as is Mr. Falcoff to deriding the latter proposition, will examine the evidence and conclude that the answer to both questions is yes.
A. J. Langguth
New York City
Mark Falcoff writes:
If he will carefully read my review once again, A. J. Langguth will see that I did not fail to grasp the two points he wished to make in his book. However, I found his claims unjustified by the evidence which he presented. Since I quoted a wealth of examples, chapter and verse, I see no point in repeating myself here. I should, however, like to make one additional comment.
Hidden Terrors contains a number of claims which are substantially correct, some of which might be true (but are difficult to prove), many others which probably are not true, still others which assuredly are false. Yet all are treated as if they possessed equal validity, regardless of the source (or, as I pointed out, lack of it, on occasion), as long as they seem to underpin the author’s thesis. Mr. Langguth has every right to disagree with my own views, but he should look to securing reliable evidence for his own, all the more so since his book is subtitled “The Truth about U.S. Police Operations in Latin America.”
I concede that Mr. Langguth’s response to my review is understandable. For ten years now, he and people like him have been able to anticipate uncritical acceptance of their fantasies on the part of a wider public because people with specialized knowledge of the areas about which they write have not bothered to respond. Unfortunately for them, that halcyon period is drawing to a close.