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Pedro and the Captain

November 24, 2010

Benedetti’s powerful drama of torture
and resistance now available in English

“A gripping dialogue between a torturer and his victim, Pedro and the Captain takes place in an interrogation room, where lives are deconstructed by the violent hand of the terrorist state. Torture, the awesome force that mediates the action, never appears directly on the scene; likewise, the repressive state is never named. Benedetti captures the essence of this dehumanizing practice without assigning it precise location or time, which speaks to the universality of the abomination, whether in Uruguay’s La Libertad or the USA’s Abu Ghraib.” 

Uruguayan journalist, novelist and poet Mario Benedetti, who died just over a year ago at the age of 88, was considered to be one of Latin America’s most important 20th-century writers, though he was relatively unknown to English-speaking readers. Benedetti’s play, Pedro y el Capitán, was written in the late 1970’s while the author was living in exile in Cuba after the Uruguayan military coup of 1973.
            More than thirty years later, this powerful drama of torture and resistance is at last available in an English translation by Adrianne Aron and – sadly – it’s as relevant and as moving as ever. In fact, Pedro and the Captain is arguably even more relevant to U.S. audiences today, since the Abu Ghraib photos began to peel back decades of U.S. government denial of involvement in torture. The play’s torturer specifically refers to Dan Mitrione, the U.S.’s “advanced counterinsurgency” expert who introduced Uruguay’s police and military to “modern” methods of interrogation. The Captain even quotes his maxim: “The precise pain, in the precise place, in the precise amount, for the desired effect.”

“The process only begins with the individual who is subjected to torture. It is not complete until the broken body and spirit of that individual are converted into an instrument to serve the powers which have put the process into motion; that is to say, until the damage done to this victim cascades into the larger community. The torture process is above all social-psychological in nature, using extravagant pain because only that will get victims to renounce their ideals and attachments – get them to feel that their God has failed them, their political commitments have brought them only grief, the values that gave meaning to their lives were all a mistake. 
            “…Anyone who has been tortured, though, will tell you, the physical pain is the least of it: one recovers from the physical wounds; what cannot be forgotten is the humiliation and the helplessness, the utter and complete powerlessness, the psychological suffering.”
                                      — Adrianne Aron, from her introduction
                                                       to Pedro and the Captain

Adrianne Aron is a psychologist and translator who works with survivors of torture. She aligns herself with the liberation psychology movement, and is the co-editor of Writings for a Liberation Psychology, a collection of essays by Ignacio Martín-Baró, a founder of the movement. She also translated many of the included essays.

NOTE: For many years, the organization, School of the Americas Watch, has organized massive demonstrations at at Fort Benning, Georgia, home of the Army’s School of the Americas (renamed the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation or WHINSEC.) For almost 60 years, the school has trained Latin American military personnel in counterinsurgency, psychological warfare, and interrogation.

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