The Death of a Generation

(C) 2011 by Metta Anderson – All Rights Reserved

At 11 o’clock last night, Pres. Juan Manuel Santos confirmed the death of “Alfonso Cano,” the most senior ranking member of the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia–the internationally know FARC. He was 63 years old.

Think about this–a 63 year old man, with graying hair, bifocals (or even trifocals) and the usual aches and pains that show up with age, is running for his life in a Colombian National Park, a genuine jungle in the middle of nowhere, while bullets zing and blast around him. He’s hit and falls. As he bleeds to death on the damp clay-streaked earth in the Cauca Valley, he’s so alone there’s no way to say good-bye. The Colombian Army and Air Force have trailed him, spotted him and run him to ground with precision. The soldiers are there, surrounding him, but he is acutely alone.

This is not an apology for the FARC, whose history is tangled up in Colombian contemporary history like roots in a mangrove swamp. Maybe more so. Cano dedicated almost all his adult life to revolutionary ideas and the stated overthrow of the Colombian government (regardless of who was in power). He was college-educated and articulate and one of the most hardline Communist-oriented rebels the country has produced. Also pragmatic–it takes a lot of money to maintain and arm a rebel group spread over a vast and mountainous area. How to get money? Simple–steal it, extort it or earn it through the sale of drugs and arms. Besides, it’s tax free, so the group won’t be burdened with seeing their income go to building roads and schools and hospitals and a better way of life for Colombians, the down-trodden folks the FARC always pretended to protect. That group is ending. Only two men are available to fill the newly-created vacancy, and they hate each other’s guts, according to political analysts quoted in El Espectador newspaper this morning.The FARC will not go quietly, but it is going away.

What caught my attention, however, and inspired this post, was the fact that I see the death of “enemies” in a different light, mostly because quite a few of them are my contemporaries. We are the ones born in the 1940s who grew up being told (endlessly) that the sun would always shine, one way or another–accessability to high school and university educations meant better jobs for more money; women would have more opportunities to work and therefore meet men who could provide for them and their future chlidren better than before; there would be no more war because we all lived in the shadow of a nuclear disaster (war); we would all be able to have our own homes and cars, the best foods, travel, etc. As the world progressed during the Sixties and Seventies, women were promised better pay and therefore more independence. Social attitudes changed, divorce laws were changed. Equality between the sexes was an absolute right, confirmed by federal and other laws.

Even though I have never believed that armed revolution is the way to social change (not even in Cuba, which suffered a massive “brain drain” after Fidel came to power), I do understand why and how Alfonso Cano in Colombia could fully embrace that philosophy. The traditional political parties here seemed so entrenched, and so hand-in-glove with the ubiquitous Catholic Church, all supported by a very socially-stratified military. This was not corruption, but simply a very strong desire to maintain the status quo. The corruption was small scale and pretty much built into the system. Erradicating corruption would mean erradicating entire social classes, particularly the ones who generated jobs and therefore income. Change–yes. Violent change? No.

But the FARC were founded by people whose points of view had been formed during battles out in the countryside, who did not have access to education and health care. The real revolution of the FARC was closer to an urban-suburban clash than a dispute between social classes.

So far, however, the leaders of the FARC are divided thus:  two died of natural causes and three have died in armed conflict. Another one is a guest of the Federal prison system in the US. If he ever gets out, he won’t recognize his own country. Trust me on this.

I think what gets to me is that our generation is in its sixties now. Life has changed. There has been evolution and Revolution. Poetically, Alfonso Cano died as he lived–in the jungle, following his beliefs, and borderline paranoid. I think that’s a terrible way to live. But I think it’s an awful way to die–chased through the jungle with people shooting at you, til you fall down and bleed to death in a country you love as much as the soldiers who are shooting at you. This was not what was promised to Alfonso Cano when he was growing up, and it wasn’t the happy ending the rest of us were promised either.

More and more women are reaching 62 or 65 and discovering they don’t have enough “points” in the Social Security system to receive benefits. The points accrued are not redeemable, either. And meanwhile, the Social Security Administration not only complains about lack of funding (caused mostly by the way American business has outsourced everything), but is routinely scammed by people who end up receiving disability benefits for long periods of time.  Apart from the scams, we’re looking at more and more women trying to find jobs that no longer exist. What is society going to do as they get older and poorer? Why is it that the feminist movement (“Women’s Liberation”) has only left us with the same patriarchal social system that assumes all women get married and do not work?

Even though the majority of the US and Colombian populations live in cities, I’m beginning to wonder if my generation is being treated like Alfonso Cano–pushed aside, “hunted” for whatever valuables the younger generations think we might have, and then left alone to die in a field in the middle of nowhere.

Careful, soldier, you might be shooting your own mother. 


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