State Terrorism

OSPAAL Poster Art

The Organization of Solidarity with the People of Asia, Africa and Latin America (Organización de Solidaridad con los Pueblos de Asia, África y América Latina), abbreviated as OSPAAAL, is a Cuban political movement with the stated purpose of fighting globalisation, imperialism, neoliberalism and defending human rights. It publishes the magazine Tricontinental. The OSPAAAL was founded in Havana in January 1966, after the Tricontinental Conference, a meeting of leftist delegates fromGuinea, the Congo, South Africa, Angola, Vietnam, Syria, North Korea, the Palestine Liberation Organization, Cuba, Puerto Rico, Chile and the Dominican Republic. Mehdi Ben Barka, the Moroccan leader of the Tricontinental Conference, was murdered the year before, allegedly with complicity of the CIA.

One of the main purposes of the organisation is to promote the causes of socialism and communism in the Third World; for example, OSPAAAL strongly supported Hugo Chávez and demands that the Cuban Five be released. Social development, which the organization says is a human right, is a recurring theme in OSPAAAL publications.

From its foundation until the mid 1980s, OSPAAAL produced brightly coloured propaganda posters promoting their cause, however, financial difficulty and ink shortages forced the organization to stop producing these posters. However, in 2000, these posters began to be printed again.  These posters, as they intended to be internationalist, usually had their message written in Spanish, English, French, and Arabic. As opposed to being put up on walls around Cuba, these posters were instead folded up and stapled into copies ofTricontinental, so that they could be distributed internationally. This allowed OSPAAAL to send its message to its subscribers around the world.

All OSPAAAL-Posters from the beginning until 2003 are documented and indexed in the book The Tricontinental Solidarity Poster.

Comprehensive archive of OSPAAAL posters created by librarian/archivist Lincoln Cushing

These are some of my favorites:

Tropic of Chaos

Tropic of Chaos: Climate Change and the New Geography of Violence

By Christian Parenti 

Nation Books, 304 pages 

From Africa to Asia and Latin America, the era of climate wars has begun. Extreme weather is breeding banditry, humanitarian crisis, and state failure. In 

Tropic of Chaos

, investigative journalist Christian Parenti travels along the front lines of this gathering catastrophe--the belt of economically and politically battered postcolonial nations and war zones girding the planet's midlatitudes. Here he finds failed states amid climatic disasters. But he also reveals the unsettling presence of Western military forces and explains how they see an opportunity in the crisis to prepare for open-ended global counterinsurgency.  Parenti argues that this incipient "climate fascism"--a political hardening of wealthy states-- is bound to fail. The struggling states of the developing world cannot be allowed to collapse, as they will take other nations down as well. Instead, we must work to meet the challenge of climate-driven violence with a very different set of sustainable economic and development policies.

A Moment In The Sun

A Moment In The Sun

by John Sayles

McSweeney's, 935 pages

"Spanning five years and half a dozen countries, 

A Moment in the Sun

 takes the whole era in its sights—from the white-racist coup in Wilmington, North Carolina, to the first stirrings of the motion-picture industry, to the bloody dawn of U.S. interventionism in Cuba and the Philippines. The result of years of writing and research, the book is built on the voices of a breathtaking range of men and women—Hod Brackenridge, a gold-chaser turned Army recruit; Royal Scott, an African American infantryman whose life outside the military has been destroyed; Diosdado Concepcíon, a Filipino insurgent preparing to fight against his country’s new colonizers; and more than a dozen others, Mark Twain, Damon Runyon, and President William McKinley’s assassin among them. Shot through with a lyrical intensity and stunning detail that recall Doctorow and 


 both, this is a story as big as its subject: history rediscovered through the lives of the people who made it happen."

Steady On Your Aim With The Petrol Bomb

A famous little song from the early days of the "Troubles" in the six occupied counties of Ireland. It stems from the bitter "Battle of Bogside" in Derry city when the residents of the Bogside (the main "nationalist" area) for three days successfully fought off the attempts of the Police to enter the neighbourhoods in 1969.

The song is performed here by Caroline Quigley of Derry, age 7 at the time of recording in about 1971. Her mother was Helen Quigley, a very fine singer and a well known member of the Republican Movement in Derry. This is a live recording made at The Bogside Inn in Derry at a special concert organised by members of the Official Republican Movement.

Progress and Resistance in Central India, Part 3

Arundhati Roy has republished her essays on the Maoist struggle in central India (previously discussed




) in her new book of essays,

Broken Republic

.  Of course, like all of her work, these essays follow the logical and poetic implications of the injustices and struggles of indigenous people in India to global and metaphysical levels, providing novel possbilities of understanding and inspiration.  I can say without having read the new edition and the third essay it contains that this is a must-read for advocates of indigenous rights, environmentalists, and anti-capitalists of all stripes.

Here is a BBC interview with Arundhati Roy about the book:

Noam Chomsky: The Unipolar Moment and the Culture of Imperialism

I'm a year late, but I've finally found this and watched it — a few times.  In this lecture — one of a series held annually in honor of Edward Said — Chomsky clearly contextualizes the Obama administration's foreign policy within the recorded and verified history of Imperialism.  He lucidly displays the direct historical relationships between the Berlin Wall and the Wall of Annexation in Palestine, the genocide of Native Americans and all other genocides that have resulted from Western expansionism.  This is not new ground for Chomsky, but it is as succinct and yet far reaching as any single talk of his I've heard, seen or read. 

I cannot say that I find Chomsky's analysis entirely satisfying, but his scholarship and rhetorical precision are as always unreproachable.  I have never found his theoretical assumptions or conclusions to be entirely coherent or providing an understanding of how Imperialist, racist and genocidal worldviews emerge or how they cohere with the philosophical, economic or wider cultural systems and situations in which they flourish and take root.  Where I find a failure of imagination (empathy) arising from an automatic, inhuman conspiracy of intentional, human forces, he seems to only find a failure of a type of human being.  Whether his ultimatum—to be either an Imperialist or a Libertarian—is a genuine existential condition he experiences or a rhetorical strategy aimed at instigating a crisis of the Imperialist imagination, I cannot say, but the scholarly and analytical tools he virtuostically demonstrates are of value to any emancipatory movement.  I do not — I cannot — stomach the dismissal of his work by the Maoist and Sparticist intellectual left as lacking or even contradictory to dialectical materialist critique and revolution.  His dedication to emancipatory theory, and his involvement in the real struggles of colonized, oppressed and dispossessed, in any honest estimation, puts the radical academic left to shame. 

The dismissal or simple ignoring of his work in mass culture is not worth explaining — he himself has done it better than I or any one else could via the Propaganda Model.  There is more to say there in terms of the human mind and imagination — as David Edwards and others have attempted to do — but I suspect that in careful analysis of this and other works of his, such levels of interpretation will be possible and fruitful for the indefinite period of struggle ahead.  The ongoing dialogue between the ideas of Chomsky and Said is certainly one such avenue. 



Accidentally Sprayed

by Gonzalo Escobar (2008)

From Gonzalo Escobar's Vimeo page:

Winged performers in the streets, armed with water sprays bottles, become a metaphor to the relationship between a Colombian filmmaker living in the United States and the aerial fumigations of coca crops occurring in his native country. Different perspectives of the topic are explored through images and sounds, but especially, through his opportunity to travel to southern Colombia, where the fumigations have been taking place. Aspects of documentary filmmaking are mixed with elements of the film essay genre. Animation, news, and found footage also take part of this visual and sonic collage that thrives to represent the filmmaker’s position and to some extent, the position of any viewer.

Gonzalo is the lead performer in my film Oh My Soul, and a good friend.  This video taught me a lot about the issue of crop fumigation in Colombia as well as strategies for investigating the social and political through personal filmmaking.  I hope he makes more soon!

The Impossibilities of Environmental Justice

Greenpeace worker Lindsey Allen walks past a pool of oil as she collects samples of oil that washed up along the mouth of the Mississippi River south of Venice, La. Wednesday, May 19, 2010. Oil from last month's Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion in the Gulf of Mexico has started drifting ashore along the Louisiana coast. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)


What constitutes a "crime against humanity"?  When is an "ecological crime"? not a crime against humanity?  These are questions I ask myself when attempting to understand the gravity and consequences of the ongoing Deep Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, because I am stunned by the absence of discussion of criminal liability for the responsible parties.  I know that part of this silence is generated by a lack of established legal frameworks for determining criminal liability in such cases, let alone in actually holding trials and executing judgements. 

For those who are curious, like me, crimes against humanity, as defined by the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court Explanatory Memorandum,

are particularly odious offences in that they constitute a serious attack on human dignity or grave humiliation or a degradation of one or more human beings. They are not isolated or sporadic events, but are part either of a government policy (although the perpetrators need not identify themselves with this policy) or of a wide practice of atrocities tolerated or condoned by a government or a de facto authority. Murder; extermination; torture; rape and political, racial, or religious persecution and other inhumane acts reach the threshold of crimes against humanity only if they are part of a widespread or systematic practice. Isolated inhumane acts of this nature may constitute grave infringements of human rights, or depending on the circumstances, war crimes, but may fall short of falling into the category of crimes under discussion.

The Rome Statute has one paragraph that refers to environmental damages as war crimes: Article 8(2)(b)(iv):

Intentionally launching an attack in the knowledge that such attack will cause incidental loss of life or injury to civilians or damage to civilian objects or widespread, long-term and severe damage to the natural environment which would be clearly excessive in relation to the concrete and direct overall military advantage anticipated;

In a 2001 U.S Army Environmental Policy Report, the authors state that

There are three ways a case may come before the Court: referral by a State Party to the Statute; referral by the UN Security Council; or initiation of an investigation by the Prosecutor of the ICC.

For the court to have jurisdiction, several stringent conditions must be met.  The act must be:

  1. Among “the most serious crimes of concern to the international community as a whole” (Preamble, par. 4, Doc. UN/A/CONF.183/9, 17 July 1998;
  2. The result of an attack specifically intended to create that damage; “collateral” damage would not come under the Court’s jurisdiction (in the words of one of the interviewees, the Statute “is about war crimes, not mistakes”); 
  3. Launched with the knowledge that it would cause “long-term and severe damage to the natural environment” which would be “clearly excessive” to anticipated military gains; and 
  4. If the above three conditions were met, the principle of “complementarity” would come into play. The ICC will complement national procedures, not replace them. If a country has legal mechanisms to address the crime, and they are functioning properly, the ICC would not have jurisdiction. 
  5. All cases are filtered by a three-judge panel. If a series of frivolous cases flooded the court, they would not pass the panel.

Apparently, many suggestions have been made for the establishment of a specific statute and category for "Enviromental Crimes" to address those most aggregious actions which occurr outside of wartime and whose victims are not considered to be immediately "human".  For instance, Mary Clifford proposed a definition of environmental crime in her 1998 book Environmental Crime, as

  1. A broad philosophical definition: An environmental crime is an act committed with the intent to harm or with a potential to cause harm to ecological and/or biological systems and for the purpose of securing business or personal advantage.
  2. A practitioners’ definition for a legal framework: An environmental crime is any act that violates an environmental protection statute.

Here's the problem: the rigid distinction between crimes against humanity and environmental crimes (and the relative devaluation of the seriousness of the latter) is absurd.  Environments are — in a very tangible and real way — part of what constitutes "humanity" in an individual or group of individuals, and must be considered as such in the constitution of the legal subject.  There are established legal dialogues and formulations of the environmental component of cultures (they exist, although they too are still underdeveloped and underrecognized) and yet when it comes to the conception of the "humanity" which is a victim of "crimes against humanity", the undeniable connections of the well-being of human with non-human species, geological and weather conditions with human populations, are ignored — or rather, left out because of their extreme unpopularity with status quo financial and economic international bodies.  Is there anybody who lives anywhere near the gulf region who does not feel that the current Deep Horizon disaster constitutes "a serious attack on human dignity or grave humiliation or a degradation"? Is it not abundantly clear that vast numbers of people who live near coastlines that are being developed for off-shore drilling, oil refining and other potentially disastrous scenarios feel that their environmental rights are being degraded? 

Despite the fact that environmental protection laws are often put on the books because of their seriousness and the potential effects on humans as well as natural environments and animals — including death in many cases — and despite the fact that it is possible and not uncommon for companies and governments to be held criminally responsible for injuries and deaths of individuals through their infringement of environmental protection laws — there is a massive disconnect between the specific case to the general or systemic which prevents the recognition of the severity and international character of systemic instances of massive environmental damage.  

It is true that there are more complicated determinations to be made than others — the factors in determining the parties responsible in climate change and proving their criminality is a massive project (although by no means impossible).  But the oil spill in the Gulf is as black and white as they come, if only you actually hold to the letter of the law.  Officials within the Obama administration (previous administrations are not exempt, merely not of immediate concern), the EPA, the MMA British Petroleum, Halliburton, Transocean, Chevron, ExxonMobil and other institutions are — without a doubt — guilty of crimes against humanity. 

The president and his administration continue to tolerate and condone the systemic practices of massive environmental degradation which kills and injures humans and environments alike.  I agree that boycotting BP and other companies makes sense for concerned individuals looking for ways to make a posititve difference in the course of their daily lives.  I agree that voting against policies and politicians who support these practices makes sense in the short term.  Unfortunately, this is not enough.  According to the Institute for Southern Studies, the immediate-to-near term fluctuations in brand loyalty and party politics do not threaten entrenched off-shore oil enonomics: 

While the short-term picture for offshore drilling is cloudy, there are few signs that the energy industry intends to move away from offshore drilling -- including deepwater exploration, like that which the Deepwater Horizon rig was conducting before its fateful April 20 explosion.

That's because the offshore drilling industry operates on a different, longer-term cycle than politics. Due to the immense cost and scale of offshore drilling projects, the companies involved operate on multi-year plans and leases, which they have no intention of abandoning after one disaster, even if it is the biggest oil spill in history.

In the short-run, the energy industry is bracing for a series of setbacks: lawsuits, regulations, even temporary drilling bans. For example, on Monday, the Obama administration revealed the details of a six-month moratorium on deepwater drilling (defined as deeper than 500 feet), including some 30 exploratory wells.

But six months is a short time horizon for deepwater offshore drilling projects, which take years to get off the ground. With shallow water drilling showing diminishing returns, the major oil companies view deepwater drilling a fixed part of their future: Deepwater rigs capable of drilling 3,000 or more have increased 43% since 2006.

It is long past the time to consider the implications of not addressing the systemic practices that threaten, harm and kill humans and their environments — not only in protests, boycotts, direct action and democratic referendums — but in the theory and practice of international law.

Progress and Resistance in Central India, Part 2

For two months in 1999, I lived in a Gond village 11 km from the town of Dantewara in what was then Madhya Pradesh, India (the next year, in 2000, the Gond region was bifurcated by the creation of the new state of Chhattisgarh).  The Gond villagers had been struggling for fifty years to survive despite increasingly polluted water supplies, no schools, no hospitals.  Through an organization called Dakshinayan I worked on an ashram with villagers to build new irrigational structures, repair deep groundwater pumps, facilitate literacy and empowerment women's groups, teach English and bring medical supplies to remote villages. Despite the short time I spent there and the great amount of the history and politics I did not know, it was obvious to me that the tiny amount of "development" funding that was allocated for projects such as mine was completely insufficient, and that the official channels open to the tribal people of India to protest and take control of their own land and the resources within it were never going to be sufficient to make meaningful changes in the direction of increased hunger, poverty and dislocation they were heading.

Thinking further about Arundhati Roy's amazing article Walking With the Comrades, published earlier this month, concerning the tribal resistance movement in central India, has generated in me a flood of recollections of the two months in 1999 I spent as a volunteer on a watershed development and social justice project in the area that is now a Maoist stronghold.  In light of the continuing assaults on the people of this area by the Indian miltary and their  plans for escalated violence, I wanted to post some pictures from the time I spent there of the people I met and the landscape so rich in minerals as to attract the most focused and violent attention of capitalist forces worldwide.  The children I worked with and met would now be in their late teens and early twenties, and could very well be among the lists of rebels killed each day.

I have also posted a personal essay I wrote about my trip to central India in 1999, a few months after returning home to California.  I was eighteen years old, and did not know of much of the political activity that was surely going on around me in Dantewada.  This essay is essentially a distillation of the notes I took and sort of seismological recording of the personal impact that the project had on me. You can read the essay here.

Progress and Resistance in Central India

PLGA Militants (photo from

Having dispossessed them and pushed them into a downward spiral of indigence, in a cruel sleight of hand, the Government began to use their own penury against them. Each time it needed to displace a large population — for dams, irrigation projects, mines — it talked of "bringing tribals into the mainstream" or of giving them "the fruits of modern development". Of the tens of millions of internally displaced people (more than 30 million by big dams alone), refugees of India’s ‘progress’, the great majority are tribal people. When the Government begins to talk of tribal welfare, it’s time to worry. 

— Arundhati Roy, Walking with the Comrades. March 21, 2010.

Last month Arundhati Roy broke the taboo of reporting directly on the Naxalite (Maoist) rebels in Central India. In the resulting articles and media appearances she has made, she has been attenmpting to draw attention to this struggle which is largely invisible and unreported in mainstream Indian media, to expose the hypocrisy of the joint corporate/government "relief" and "development" projects in the tribal areas of India.  As the Isreali government announces that a re-occupation of Gaza is immanent, the  Israeli military is training Indian "counter-terrorism" forces and supplying them with hi-tech weopenry to hunt down and destroy anyone who resists the destruction of the tribal culture, livelihoods and environment of  central India.  Please read Arundhati Roy's extremely well-researched, beautifully written and deeply troubling article, Walking with the Comrades from earlier this month here.


A Primer on American Imperialism

"The fact is we are mixed in with each other in ways that most national systems of education have not dreamed of.  To match knowledge in the arts and sciences with these integrative realities is, I believe, the intellectual and cultural challenge of our time.  The steady critique of nationalism from the standpoint of real liberation should not be forgotten, for we must not condemn ourselves to repeat the imperial experience (although all around us it is being repeated).  How in the redefined and yet very close contemporary  relationship between culture and empire — a relationship that enables disquieting forms of domination — can we sustain the liberating energies released by the great decolonizing resistance movements and the mass uprisings of the 1980s?  Can these energizes elude the homogenizing processes of modern life? Can they hold in abeyance the interventions of the new imperial centrality?" 

Edward Said, 1993.

Fear in a Handful of Dust

Today I am sitting on my deck, reading, and thinking about the social philosophy implicit in the United States' use of radioactive elements in the bombardment of Fallujah — chemical warfare and environmental contamination as slight variations on Colonialism's eugenic aspirations.  This article from the BBC will be yet another reference in the ever expanding chapter on decorporation in the physical body as a horrifyingly acute and painful illustration.  Of course this is nothing new, as the issue of birth defects caused by the use of depleted uranium in US weapon systems has been debated and decried since the first Gulf War in 1991. 

"The Headless Woman" by Lucretia Martel

It has often been said by film critics and enthusiasts that the decision to not show something disturbing or violent on screen can be more powerful than showing it — a cinematic or cinematographic equivalent of formal limitations in prose — and this is most commonly said of horror films.  The ability of the limited frame, the minimal score, the inclusion of darkness and silence in the mise-en-scène to inspire the viewers imagination to generate genuine terror is limitless, as evidenced in the most disturbing moments of Hitchcock, Lynch, Bergman, and too many others to name.  There is a common purpose between such techniques and the famous technical limitations of Bresson and Ozu (and their acolytes) — Bresson’s insistence on a single focal length for an entire film, Ozu’s regimented camera placement to reflect the point of view of a child (or Kubrick’s in The Shining, for that matter) — and it can be described as an attempt at radical subjectivity.  In a period of film that is seemingly divided between the festival-adored self-reflexive spectacularism and shock of the Hanneke school (exemplified by the extraordinarily vapid Mexican film Los Bastardos of last year) on the one hand, and the Hollywood fetishism of the virtual, omnipotent and omnipresent camera, Lucrecia Martel’s exploration and development of the techniques of restraint and radical subjectivity are more than a breath of fresh air—they display the limitless psychological power of fundamentals of cinema: lights, camera, sound and action.

The Headless Woman is a sort of fever dream — the structure of the film creates a sensation of trauma and disorientation through a number of extraordinary means.  The film opens with an intriguing scene of some kids playing with their dog, midway on some small adventure through the canals and dusty hillsides on the outskirts of an Argentinian city.  There is tension in this very first scene as the kids climb rickety metal structures and cart-wheel into cement canals recklessly, yet as naturally as all pre-adolescents do.  We then get a brief glimpse of the small society of bourgeois women that is the filmmakers primary concern, wrangling their young children, airing their concerns about a new pool being built and discussing upcoming social plans.  In this scene, not five minutes into the film, we are already affronted with Martel’s full power as a filmmaker adept at evoking an immersive, natural atmosphere and keeping us fascinated with it while not being able to make any cohesive picture out of it.  She gives us tiny, fleeting details that we remember for the rest of the film by framing them in arresting moments — of afternoon light catching the oily fingerprints of a child on a car window, for instance.  In this overload of sensory information there is still a perfectly natural scene being depicted, but we are aware of the filmmaker crafting a thematic development through the edits and sound mix, always surprising us with frame after frame that we could not have expected but nonetheless develops the logic that permeates the entire film.

And thus, before we have been given any comfortable context or background to settle into, we are caught off-guard by the central event of the film: Vero, the character whose subjective experiences the film traces, is driving on the road along the canal and, in a moment of distraction caused by her cell phone, hits something.  As with all of the violence in the film, this occurs off screen, and we watch Vero’s face as she quietly makes the decision to continue driving.  We see, out of focus and far in the distance behind her car, the dog from the first scene lying in the road.  This event coincides with the beginning of a violent storm, one which washes away the traces of the accident, along with Vero’s identity.  Later, when Vero returns home, she is frightened by the entrance of her husband carrying the carcass of a deer he has killed while hunting.

Throughout the film, the frame is almost always placed in close, uncomfortable proximity to the main character Vero, and we watch her navigate a world she appears to be confused by and lost in — a world which is often shown only as an out-of-focus blur.  This type of close-up is contrasted with Martel’s other recurring technique of creating planes of action in the frame, separated by walls, windows, fabrics and other screens.  While the latter is reminiscent of some of Jean-Luc Godard or Chantal Akerman’s latest work (Detective or The Captive, especially), Martel has in these cinematagraphic forms developed a subjective means to explore control that is distinct from the famous static, presentational wides of Ackerman or late Bresson.  Nonetheless, Martel clearly evokes the tragic figure of Jeanne Dielman in the meticulous colors and style of her leading lady’s accoutrements — like Akerman, Martel is extremely interested in the lives of mothers, who have an especially significant presence in the recent history of Argentina.  Vero’s daughter, in her late teens or early twenties and suffering visibly from hepatitis, attempts to illicit genuine affection from her mother, who seems to treat all affection with a generic pleasantness and can give nothing other than her detached and vacant smile.

Of course, we cannot forget sound when talking about Martel’s films.  The Holy Girl is one of the only films in recent memory that utilizes the full potential of naturalistic sound recording and mixing (Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Tropical Malady being, for me, the other most noteworthy example of the last decade).  In The Holy Girl, as well as in The Headless Woman, Martel is able to use the creation of a layered, subtly shifting sonic atmosphere to construct a mode of subjectivity — a task for which most filmmakers rely solely upon lighting and camera placement.

The dialog and the character’s reactions never make clear to what extent Vero remembers who she is or knows what is going on around her.  When she runs into her husband’s cousin in a hotel restaurant after the accident, it is not clear if she recognizes him or is politely smiling and merely seeks the comfort of another human being.  As she sleeps with him, navigates her way to a hospital, and finally makes her way home, the editing recalls the familiar film grammar of a series of recalled events, a reconstruction, and the film feels like a puzzle.  The clues are in the tiniest gestures, and are often completely overshadowed by the overbearing hum of an electrical light, or startling city noises.  Like the victim of a stroke or seizure, the reality of the film which Vero is navigating has become unweighted, all details have become equally and overwhelmingly disturbing, and there are no clear signifiers.

This neutrality gives us and Vero the opportunity to look at the structure of her life with newly detatched eyes, and the rest of the film is concerned with her realization and confession that she may have hit a child on the road, and the way in which the men in her life react to this.  We follow Vero as she retraces the events of that day and her husband and his cousin have erased all traces of her stay at the hospital or the hotel, enacting a conspiracy to protect her from the world and herself.  There are clues that she may have in fact killed a child, as we learn that one of the boys who works at a landscaping shop in the poorer outskirts has gone missing.  We watch the back of Vero and her family’s heads as they slow in their car to watch the canal being excavated for whatever was washed in during the storm and has blocked the drain.  As the men in Vero’s life erase the traces of that day they erase the possible truth of what happened to the child, and Vero’s connection to reality.   This theme is given dominance and formal resonance in the film’s closing shot — Vero is greeted and hugged as she enters a large family gathering, only visible through tinted and distorting glass.

Vero’s complete disregard of her servants and the stark contrast between the lifestyles of Vero’s family with that of the impoverished neighborhoods on the outskirts of the town are important motifs that illustrate Martel’s implication of class structures in the types of social pressures that create “headless women”, and which condone the disappearance of children.  Leslie Helperin, in her Variety write-up, remarks:

Despite the guilt theme, thesp Onetto keeps Vero’s signs of anxiety so subtle she almost doesn’t seem all that bothered. Maybe she’s not, and maybe that’s the point, but if this is a work of social criticism, indicting the callousness of the rich, it’s pretty mild stuff.

Stephen Holden in The New York Times writes:

You could say “The Headless Woman” is a meditation on Argentina’s historical memory. It subtly compares Verónica’s silent disavowal of responsibility for any crime she might have committed with that country’s silence during its dictatorship, when suspected dissidents disappeared. In interviews Ms. Martel has suggested that “The Headless Woman” is about Argentina’s refusal to acknowledge a widening economic disparity between the middle and lower class. And the scenes of light-skinned Argentine bourgeoisie interacting with darker-skinned workers suggest that the two classes are mostly invisible to each other.

Both writers believe that the references to Argentina’s history and class politics is subtle, mild, or vague.  However, Martel manages to seamlessly incorporate political metaphors and realities into her films, and in The Headless Woman this is done partially through a deep psychological symmetry that echoes aspects of Argentina’s recent past — highlighting the deep impact of the violence and mass disappearances of the late seventies and early eighties.  It is no accident that the film’s art direction is evocative of this period and thus of the many Argentine films that depict that period.

Filmed, like her other films, on location in the region of Argentina in which the director was born and raised, the characters of Vero and her daughter are roughly the ages that Martel and her own mother would have been during this period.  The figure of the mother in relationship to Argentina’s history has been continually made important by the Mothers of the Plaza del Mayo, an association of Argentine mothers whose children were forcefully disappeared during the Dirty War the military dictatorship between 1976 and 1983, and who have demanded the official records be made public for over thirty years.  These issues remain vital and political, at the very least to Argentinian audiences.  While it is not by any stretch of the imagination a historical retelling or expository work of social realism, as a reflexive meditation on the difficulties of constructing an identity when recollection is distorted by trauma and prohibited by institutionalized power structures, this film could not be more direct, personal or powerful.