Archive for December 8th, 2009

Book Review: The Devil and Mr Casement by Jordan Goodman

8 December 2009

Contributed by Ciarán Wallace

Roger Casement’s life does not fit neatly into one book.  Biographers try to foresee his disputed disgrace and execution in his earlier exploits.  Goodman’s book is especially welcome as it focuses on a single episode in Casement’s career – the campaign to relieve the abuse and exploitation of the tribes in the Putumayo region between Peru and Columbia.

With its themes of international finance, the global commodities market and exploitation of powerless people on one hand, and lobbying by humanitarian activists, pressmen and NGOs on the other, the book feels surprisingly contemporary.  Certainly its main protagonists are men of the modern era.  Julio César Arana, the Devil, was a debonair Peruvian rubber magnate and international businessman. His manipulation of the economy and politics in Peru, and persuasive manner in deflecting Casement’s accusations, would fit him for a directorship in a multinational firm today.  Casement’s conflicted national identity, his struggles with his diplomatic ambitions, and his selfless commitment to human rights make him a sympathetic figure for modern readers.  The plot of this drama, however, was all too real.  Goodman’s choice of photographs illustrates the brutal treatment of the Huitoto Indians.  Whip marks on a child and the cowed faces of the population hint at the routine rape, maiming and murder of resistant or unproductive Indians.  But this book goes deeper than ‘atrocity porn’. Read More