Habeas Corpus vs. Poner el cuerpo
By appearance policy (politicas de apariciòn) here, I refer to the actions of all those movements and artistic and/or activist groups that do use a direct dialectic for overturning the status quo in their visual strategies. The Overturning Dialectic is used as a methodology of denuding the hidden mechanisms and contradictions of the status quo. Denuding happens by contrast and opposition – so for example the siluetazo make the crimes against Humanities of the Videla’s military regimes visible. In the majority of the cases it occurs in the form of actions or performance events in the public space. Thus, these actions produce a resistance as they show what should not be shown, shout what must be hushed and remember what must be forgotten. Using one’s own body, or better, borrowing one’s body, in an operation that resembles a syncretic ritual, the appearance of someone who has been made to disappear is simulated.
The enforced disappearance in Latin America has been developed and tested in order to establish a wild neo-liberal system (e.g. Operation Condor*9 *( 9 )), on a continent that has always had a strong anti-imperialist tendency advocating for “tercermundista socialism”. In enforced disappearance the person (in this case transformed into a “subversive”) is deprived of its legal status and placed outside every legal rule. Thus, as explicit consequence, the goal is to erase the person from history.
In order for it to happen, it is essential not only to establish a state of exception, the state of exception has to become the norm itself up until the point that it produces (or opens) the space of the camp, to follow Agamben’s argument (Agamben 1995: 188 (* 1 )).
During the last military dictatorships in Latin America, the camp has become the common paradigm of society. Designed as an “improvement” of the Nazi camp, the Latin American concentration camp is a continuous, diffused camp. Unlike the Nazi camp, which is located outside of the city, clearly defining a space for “civilization” and a space for “organized brutality”, the Latin American camp does not know this geographic frontier. The camp was everywhere. It could be the basement of a sequestered house, a garage or a military school, etc. Also torture methods and instruments are dematerialized: water and electricity are enough, that’s why the “picana”*10 *( 10 ) becomes the most widespread method of torture in Latin America.
Also when it comes to get rid of the bodies, they do not need to build a gas chamber, they simply exploit nature itself. The prisoners’ bodies are made to disappear in the Atacama desert (in the case of Chile), or great military aircrafts would throw them in the depths of the river. And little by little nature will erase every trace of those bodies. In short, the camp is dematerialized and fragmented. There is no evidence of a crime or of a victim. At least this is how disappearance was conceived as a technique. Of course, the history of the last military dictatorships in Latin America is extremely complex and articulated, mainly because it develops in the frame of the Condor Plan. What interests me and circumscribes this short article, is to look at disappearance from a bio-political perspective. At this point Agamben is of great help.
In the last section of his book, Agamben explains the evolution from the ancient conception of freedom, which is mainly focused on the figure of the subject, to the modern one, which instead focuses on the Homo Liber or citizen; until the current one, which is characterized by the transition from homo (or citizen) to pure corpus. He writes: “[…] the fact that the legal form of habeas corpus has been given such importance in law, might probably be a coincidence, but from that moment on it becomes inseparable from the history of Western democracy, which in so doing […] placed at the center of his struggle with absolutism, not bios – the qualified life of the citizen – but zoé bare life in its anonymity […].” (Agamben 1995: 137 (* 1 ))