Tower, Like a Desolating Pestilence' Dictatorship and Community in 'The Autumn of the Patriarch' Alok Bhalla BEFORE I began working for this paper Latin America was for me, despite my knowledge of its past and concern for its present sorrows, a tropical paradise of "abundance in the mountains and beautiful ceremonies"; 1 it was both a mythic place and a place of hope. The Latin America of my imagination was a contradiction of the stories spread about it by its colonisers as well as of the accounts given of it by its modern historians. It was neither Robinson Crusoe's land of cannibals2 nor was it the present continent tormented by Somoza and other sanguinary creatures whose names it is bad luck to utter.3 The coloniser's Latin America I knew was a construction of the rhetoric of power;4 the modern Latin America I had hoped was an aberration which could be left forgotten in some shadow of my conscience. I had, of course, read the novels of B Traven chronicling the long history of servitude and revolt and the more ancient history of Las Casas of the annihilation of the Indians;6 I knew Juan Rulfo's stories about the loneliness of men left by hunger at the margins of society7 and I, of course, had learnt about the profits of the United Fruit CoH and Stroessner's Paraguay with its laws permitting the hunting of its native population for sport. Yet, I had longed to believe that the Latin American landscape was made up of an infinite accumulation of sacred songs and sun gods, a wild splendour of "jewels and stones, metals and feathers"4 and of secret men who knew how to give names to things and make fables. Now, even though all that has changed, even though I have to say slowly and reluctantly that there is withoui a doubt a place called Hell, I find it urgently necessary to affirm the myth I once had of Latin America. At the threshold of a world too atrocious to think of,10 I must reimagine the myth of Latin America as a place where the relationship between men, society and nature was complex and fabulous. I am convinced that such knowledge alone will, like Ariadne's thread, help us to find again a way out of Latin America's present "nightmare in which torture chambers are endlessly repeated",11 into a world of sanity and sanctity. Before beginning to consider the Latin America of Garcia Marquez or any of its other novelists, poets or artists, it is wise to recall that in Latin America it was once and is still possible to affirm elemental acts of daily and common decencies amongst men; such knowledge is essential "as a pledge/and as surety of our earthly life".12 II While totalitarian dictatorship in Latin America and other places of the world have become a part of our historical reality and their ruthlessness a part of our daily purgatory, there is still nothing which can make them rationally coherent to men of reason and conscience. Of course, political historians and cultural critics have told us logically enough and often that modern dictators are either the expected consequence of the ever deepening crisis of capitalism or the products of the inescapable dialectics of history. But such explanations do not bear anguished witness to the obscene fact that the dictators have acquired unrestrained powers to transform men into corpses and the world around them into a graveyard; in the face of the enormity of suffering they have caused, such explanations seem like so many banal myths and abstractions. For there is nothing in our ordinary human experiences or our 'normal' education which prepares us for the horrors dictators inflict upon individuals or the mercilessness with which they control their societies. We may have read countless accounts of the desolations they cause or heard repeatedly enough the stories of the sorrows sustained by their victims; we may have been told often enough of the pains inflicted by them or of the torment endured by the bodies of those they pray upon, yet every new account comes as a shock, a new violation of our decencies and our sense of a human community Every new dictator is like the monstrous carnevores who take over our dreams, surprising us when our reason sleeps and whose memory upon awakening startles us in the same way as any loathesomeness does. Like the monsters who are a part of the night-side of our soul, dictators are a part of the pollutions of our societies. They slouch in the midst of our days threatening us all with ceremonies of blood and cruelty, sterile eroticism and torment, brutal violation and surrender. Over the years they seem to have acquired so much power that they can flog the body to the very limits of endurance, lacerate it with every subtle instrument that the technology of torture has put into their hands, and then, after their lust is momentarily exhausted, they can dismember the body so that all traces of men disappear. Those who are inflicted by their fury live the life of the damned of this earth. They are snatched away from all human community and placed in concentration camps, tied to chairs with electrical wires, lashed upside down against walls, kept in dark boxes in which they can neither sit nor stand nor lie down; their wives are raped in front of them while they arc mocked, their children are burnt before them while they are forced to live. The modern hell they have created could not have been spoken of even by the inmates of Dante's Inferno. So great has been their frenzy for power that they have left homes empty of people, they have littered city streets with corpses gashed out of shape and rivers polluted with decomposing bodies.13 Those who still live under dictatorships do so only provisionally Their lives, however, are controlled entirely by the fear of the dictator and his administrators; he haunts their walk, shrouds their words, becomes an intimate part of their brain. While they live they can only hope and pray "Lord, not me. I cannot bear so much pain!' Their fear adds to the power of dictators. So horrible, indeed, so repulsive and ruthless have the dictators become that they often make us forget the very features of man and of human society.