Monday, June 23, 2014

Thomas C. Field, Jr.'s "From Development to Dictatorship"

Thomas C. Field Jr. is Assistant Professor of Global Security and Intelligence Studies at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.

Here Field dreamcasts an adaptation of his new book, From Development to Dictatorship: Bolivia and the Alliance for Progress in the Kennedy Era:
Like many tales from Bolivia, From Development to Dictatorship lends itself to the big screen. Recent cinematic renditions of Bolivian history include Steven Soderbergh’s epic Che: Part Two: Guerrilla, the Spanish drama Even the Rain, and Rachel Boyton’s brilliant documentary Our Brand Is Crisis, which is soon to be readapted by George Clooney. That the latter won the Independent Spirit “Truer Than Fiction” Award owes as much to Bolivia’s fairy-tale qualities as to Boyton’s exceptional artistic skill.

As an homage to Bolivia’s historical surrealism, my film opens with an appearance by the founder of gonzo journalism, Hunter S. Thompson, played by Johnny Depp. Swigging bourbon whiskey with US Embassy officers as armed militias roamed the streets, Thompson (Depp) characterizes Bolivia as “A Never-Never Land High Above the Sea…a land of excesses, exaggerations, quirks, contradictions, and every manner of oddity and abuse.”

In order to fully capture the “manic atmosphere” Thompson (Depp) found in revolutionary Bolivia, the film should be directed by Robert Rodríguez, who can uniquely capture the film’s frequent bouts of violence. I especially look forward to seeing Rodríguez’s interpretation of a July 1963 battle in Irupata between a CIA-funded peasant militia and leftwing miners toting handmade grenades.

Structurally, the film begins with the Kennedy administration fretting in 1961 that Bolivia was “half way over the brink to chaos” and that it would “slide down and be the second Cuba.” These words are spoken by Kennedy’s handpicked ambassador, labor economist Ben Stephansky, a short, liberal worrywart of a Cold Warrior who will be played wittily by Woody Allen. The film then traces Stephansky’s (Allen’s) fervent scramble to shore up Bolivia’s revolutionary government, led by a brilliant, wiry technocrat, Víctor Paz, who will be interpreted flawlessly by Marc Anthony. The film’s irony lies in the fact that Paz’s (Anthony’s) government is beset by strikes against development programs Stephansky (Allen) is tasked with bringing to Bolivia. It ends with the US Embassy depressed that a good looking and highly popular air force general, René Barrientos (played here by John Leguizamo), overthrows Paz (Anthony) in a coup that represents the film’s climax.

Alongside Marc Anthony as President Paz, Danny Trejo will play Juan Lechín, the legendary mustachioed Bolivian labor leader who serves as Paz’s (Anthony’s) vice president until a US-backed decision to bust the unions. Serving as Lechín’s (Trejo’s) foil character, George López will play Guillermo Bedregal, the surly young president of Bolivia’s state-run mining corporation whose arrogant style sparks violent clashes with armed miners throughout the film.

The story takes place mostly on the ground, in the union halls and universities where resistance to US development programs is plotted and carried out. For that reason, one of the film’s main protagonists is union leader Federico Escóbar, a gritty miner who balances radical oratory with underlying stoicism. None other than Antonio Banderas can capture the drama of Bolivia’s toughest union leader being arrested (in another shoot-out) as a condition of Kennedy-era programs. In the aftermath of the arrest, Escóbar’s (Banderas's) strong-willed wife Alicia (played by the fiery Rosie Pérez) helps take four US development officials hostage in the union hall of Siglo XX mining camp. She is supported by her dynamite-toting colleagues, Jerónima Jaldín and Domitila Barrios (interpreted by Kate del Castillo and Michelle Rodríguez).

Smaller roles will be filled by Benecio del Toro, this time not as “Che” Guevera, but as Che’s nemesis, Communist Party chief Mario Monje. Gael Garcia Bernal will play José Luis Cueto, the small, babyfaced intellectual who edits the Party newspaper and survives a machine gunning by Paz’s (Anthony’s) secret police in the film’s penultimate scene. Finally, Demian Bichir will be cast as Irineo Pimentel, the humble leftwing union leader who is Escobar’s (Banderas's) main collaborator.
Learn more about From Development to Dictatorship at the Cornell University Press website.

The Page 99 Test: From Development to Dictatorship.

--Marshal Zeringue