Wednesday, May 23, 2018

The Debt

The Debt (2015) is a drama that delivers a multi-narrative plot to explore how far (or over how many people) someone will go to obtain what they want, whether the reasons are satisfying an appetite for wealth and self-pride or ensuring the well-being of loved ones. The plot details the lives of two Peruvian families (one indigenous and one low-income) and a group of investors from a New York finance corporation.

In the beginning, we are introduced to each group individually. Oliver and Miguel both work for the American finance corporation buying huge proportions of Peruvian agrarian bonds (land debts) for a lot less than the actual price, then to obtain revenue from the actual amount of the debts by negotiating directly with the Peruvian government. Then we have Maria, a low-income nurse whose mother is suffering a treatable, but a painful medical condition. Maria’s economic condition does not allow her to help her mother, especially since treatment is given to those who can pay or to those who have great influence on the system. Finally (but probably the most important), we meet the indigenous farmer Florentino and his family. Florentino has been pressed to agree to sell his land to a Peruvian investor that has promised an agricultural project with stable jobs and possible healthcare to him and the rest of the agrarian community of the Peruvian highlands. Florentino, however, has rejected every single time since giving up his land will mean going back to a serfdom status of the colonial times under the rule of rich landowners.

This Barney Elliott drama movie is also a historical and political work about the agrarian bonds of the twentieth century in Peru which remain unpaid until today. Ancestral land ownership is currently a contested right in many Latin American countries for which agriculture and resource extraction as their main national income source. Historical facts like this one provide this production with a high sense of realism which denounces social injustices and the impact of neo-liberal politics in the lives of the indigenous and the poor, two of the most vulnerable groups in Peruvian/Latin American society. Indigenous people, like Florentino, remember vehemently the huasipungo period when they were slaves of the landowner and see any attempt to take their lands as an attempt to enslave them again. Nevertheless, the history of struggle and resistance of those groups to stop neo-liberal influence (that under their eyes is an imperialist project) is of little importance when American investors (in alliance with local elites) look to profit out of it, as portrayed in the movie. Indeed, Latin American politics, politics that look to decrease social inequality and injustice that come from a shared history of colonialism, are perceived by those US investors as “hearth bleeding politics”, too dramatic, too unrealistic for the free-market politics and interests of the neoliberal project.

Eventually, each of the three sides of this story the characters is challenged to choose a life or death decision that opposes their initial convictions. The farmer Florentino unwillingly gives up his land to Oliver (representing the private corporations) to save his little son's life. After long waiting hours and under the circumstances, the nurse Maria decides to put her mom's life before Florentino's son in her only chance to get medical attention (which will cost the kid his leg).  Finally, the only person left that has the actual power to change repetition of injust enforcements is Oliver. After he finds out that his Peruvian partner and friend died on the highlands looking for the real motivations for taking away the land from the agrarian indigenous community (exploiting the gold mines and not giving them stability and healthcare as promised), Oliver decides to break the chain that could result on a profitable scamming on land prices. "You think they want to help us? We are only cholos indios for them. Do you want to be slaves again?" said once Florentino in Quechua warning his community about selling their land.

Comparing Oliver's thinking at the beginning of the movie to how the plot developed at the end, this movie questions neoliberalism. Oliver talks about free-trade benefits and how the system and social problems of a country are the faults of its people and not the market, thus everyone should follow the project. Politics and economy for the US finance company are black and white, take it or leave it, but as the plot goes on Oliver starts to understand the difficulties of the process and the lives that are getting affected. Undoubtedly this movie has a critical socialist view on the neoliberal ideology. Latin America in that system does not benefit, only serves to the interests of those setting the rules, even though the proposals might seem more promising. Interestingly, however, the Peruvian government is portrayed as highly manipulable. American private corporations have more power and influence than government officials and, of course, the people. Neoliberalism for Latin America is not more than another form of social, political, and economic control, it is neoimperialism. In this case, the vicious change was stopped, but it required the involvement of someone within the power elite, otherwise, Latin America seems too weak to effectively block economic and social issues by itself.

Labels: , , ,