Thursday, July 19, 2018

The Tailor of Panama

"The Tailor of Panama" (2001) is a British movie directed by John Boorman. Based on a spy novel written by John le Carre and filmed almost in its majority in Panama, this movie satirizes the secret intelligence operations set by England and the United States to protect their unilateral interest in controlling the Panama Canal. Boorman's movie portrays some of the motivations and consequences of surveillance and military intervention in developing countries such as Panama by the Great Powers. Ironically, both England and the United States are victims of their own anxieties which make them create and also believe in conspiracy theories when in reality there is no reason for such, rather ridiculous fears.

The movie starts with a long shot that shows the huge bridge crossing over the Panama Canal with written descriptions about its importance, especially its security and economic value for the United States. The bridge is the only connection by land between North and South America, and since its control was handed over to the Panamanian government, the United States has kept an eye out for any possible threat that would shift its jurisdiction back to their hands to control South to North mobility, and the commerce in the area with all the world. In these circumstances, a British spy, Osnar (Pierce Brosnan) is sent to Panama to investigate the government's future plans and negotiations over the Canal. Once in Panama, Osnar contacts an ex-convict British, Harry (Geoffrey Rush), that has hidden his shameful past from his wife and became a well-known tailor (a talent that learned in prison) who is not only famous for dressing high-rank officials like the President, but also for knowing their secrets.

Convinced that the tailor knows important information about the Canal, Osnar blackmails him to become a spy in exchange for money and keeping his dark past in secret. The tailor has a huge debt to pay for which he accepts the deal. However, he discovers that there is nothing threatening the Canal's security. But Osnar insists in finding at least a little piece of information. It is then that Harry creates a whole conspiracy story in which supposedly Panama is in negotiations to sell the Canal control to China, Japan and Russia, and the United States secret intelligence wants to interfere. Harry gets his money without presenting any other proof than his own word. Osnar communicates this to the United Kingdom who decide to also fight for the Canal's control, but first, they need official documents to back up this senseless (but expected) rivalry. Boorman's portrayal of the tensions about controlling the Canal resembles the anxieties of the Cold War of the previous decade.

Once Osnar is totally aware that Harry's statements are just lies, he continues pushing the United Kingdom to intervene, but once the United States discovers what the UK has been working on, it gets impossible to keep lying. A fictional "silent opposition" (another of Harry's lies) against the United States is the perfect excuse Osnar needed to finally convince the government to act. Funding them to destroy the little influence the US has over the Canal will give them the advantage over the other countries interested. Of course, this "threat to American security" (though everything nothing takes place in the US) increases the anxieties to its peak. Suddenly, we see a large part of the US airforce, marine corps and politicians go to Panama to regain the missing star from the flag.

By the end of the movie, Harry and his wife who is the secretary for the office of the Canal affairs talk to the Panamanian president and England's ambassador to explain everything and.

Boorman shows as a Latin America that is really important for developed countries, not because of its beauty, its people, or the social problems that need to be addressed, but instead, it becomes the centre of attention only when the politics of its countries signify a threat for national security (in the case of the United States), or to take advantage of its strategic geography/resources. Ironically, we see that in the movie those "threats" are originated from uncertainty, fear and lies that confirm the initial suspicions. But on top of all, there is ambition. Even after knowing that the Canal is totally secure, they will make up stories taking them up to levels that could result in armed conflicts just to calm their thirst for power. We also see the contrast between the local people and foreign visitors or settlers. While an overwhelming number of poor Panamanians have become street-sellers, or work to entertain the tourist, all the characters are British or American and for them, Panama is the place of huge banks, nightclubs, resorts and good music.

"The Tailor of Panama" might be also a left-wing criticism to the international military campaign led by the US and its allies in which the US national security rhetoric is used to justify attacks in developing countries, while at the same time taking control of their resources, and influencing their politics. In this movie, Latin America becomes the perfect scenario for one more of these campaigns. Though the poverty is shown in the film, any country that takes control there, whether it is militarily, politically, or economically (or all) would increase its power and become a threat for others looking. Boorman ridiculizes the secret intelligence agencies of the United Kingdom and of the United States. What intelligence is there in looking for biased information that confirms what you want to believe and disregards whatever contradicts it?

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