The Olympics in China: Look on the Bright Side
by pomology, Sat Aug 09, 2008 at 11:02:15 AM EDT
This past year in school, I took a class on Spanish-language film. I didn't learn too much about cinematography, but what I learned about the history of many Latin American countries was invaluable.
One film we watched that was particularly excellent was Machuca. Machuca is about two boys living in Chile in 1973. One boy, Gonzalo, comes from a rich family of European origin who attends a private American-sponsored Catholic school. The other boy, Pedro Machuca, who is of indigenous origin, lives in a shantytown; he and several other similar boys are invited to attend the Catholic school by the priest, who believes that all children have the right to equal education. Despite their differences, the two boys become friends. However, the political climate between those who support socialist President Salvador Allende (mostly those who are poor and of indigenous origin) and those who don't (mostly the rich) threatens their relationship. After Augusto Pinochet's military coup the government kicks the poor boys out of the Catholic school. Gonzalo bikes over to the shantytown to see the government rounding up the inhabitants and shooting those who don't comply.
The final two images of the film are the most powerful. They are Gonzalo's mother's lover reading the state-propaganda newspaper El Mercurio with the headline "FIFA says everything is fine in Chile" and Gonzalo going to the shantytown and seeing that it has been transformed into a soccer field.
I immediately thought of China and the Olympics and how easy it must be to believe a sports organization that many hold in high esteem (Soccer is, of course, the world's most popular sport, and the Olympics are probably the world's most popular sporting event). If FIFA says everything in Chile is fine, it must be okay. If the Olympic Committee says everything in China is fine, it must be okay. That's far easier than listening to stories of brutal repression that human rights groups (What entertainment have they ever provided?) tell.
But after studying about the Guerra Sucia (Dirty War) in Chile, we learned about how it played out in its next door neighbor Argentina. Like Pinochet in Chile, Argentina's military junta kidnapped and tortured thousands of young people known as the desaparecidos. I spent last summer in Argentina and my host mother told me the story of how her friend was tortured into an oblivion that continues to this day for refusing to admit a dead and obviously tortured patient into a hospital, telling the policemen that brought the body in that they only admitted live patients.
In 1978 Argentina hosted the FIFA World Cup. Part of the government's rationale was that if they hosted the World Cup, the world would look at Argentina and assume that everything was normal and business and usual. But the plan backfired. With thousands of international people and reporters crowding into Buenos Aires, the people of Argentina, and especially the Madres de la Plaza de Mayo (an organization of mothers whose children had been disappeared) spoke out against their government and let the world know their plight. The World Cup in 1978 was very instrumental in the fall of the military junta and the return of democracy to Argentina (the Falklands/Malvinas War was the real downfall of the dictatorship, but the World Cup certainly helped weaken it.)
Beijing was chosen for the 2008 Olympics. We couldn't change it. Now they're happening so we really can't change it. At this point, merely boycotting it won't do much. We can't just let beloved international organizations tell us that everything's alright when it's clearly not. We need to take the lesson of the Madres de Plaza de Mayo and the people of Argentina. We need to use the Olympics to spread the message of the brutality of China's regime. Because by letting the Olympics occur in Beijing we have a unique chance to help China that we otherwise may never have had. Let's use it.