The impoverishment of language is yet another tactic used by those in power. It involves a progressive debasing of the content of words, reducing them to little more than a signifier without a signified. A piecemeal dissection. As a result, labels tend to stick more easily, just as they did in recent history through the macabre strategy of “McCarthying” one’s opponent – of course, that is if they were not eliminated by more physical means, perhaps with chainsaws or even by “vaporizing” them à la “1984” – for example, describing them as a “guerrilla fighter in civilian garb” or a “communist in disguise”. These are the methods of authoritarianism; seizing control of the language to then neutralise it.
Totalitarianism does not just deny freedoms, suppress rights or roll back historic victories achieved by workers. As it progresses, it is capable of changing the meanings of certain terms. This is the how the newspeak functions: it fragments language, depriving it of its ability to construct, reimagine, subvert and question, substituting it for a single purpose – the worship of and deference to power. Memories become a thing of the past. So too does the suggestion of methods that might lead to disobedience.
And yet, if the state of the language degenerated by the ruling class in Colombia does not amount to a dictatorship, it is at the very least antidemocratic. Let’s get straight to the point. In the current administration, one of the more or less prominent tactics has been to supress or corrupt the collective memory and to belittle the dispossessed by completely disregarding showings of discontent. Immediately springing to mind is the disgraced former defence minister, Guillermo Botero, and his assertion that most frequent crime committed in Vichada, a province of Colombia, was the “theft of clothes hung out to dry”. But that is not all. Also springing to mind is his stance on the “regulation” of protests and his Olympian courage to assert that the assassination of an ex-FARC member by the military was instead a death resulting from a “fight”.
This is without mentioning the cover-up of the children killed in an army raid in Caquetá. Trying to fit the successes of the ex-minister into a unified “top 10” is an unenviable task. Meanwhile, the capers of the vice-president are better left unexamined, such as a few days ago when she failed to properly review a recording in which her “superior”, after delivering an incoherent diatribe, proceeded to refer to the spokesperson of the opposition, Aída Avella, as “that old bat”.
Missus Marta Ramírez Blanco, the vice-President (regarding whom many women of an older generation continue to ponder the origins of the surname “Blanco”), who believes that Colombia has an excess of psychologists and sociologists, has contended, without the slightest hint of irony, that the poor in Colombia live a charmed life. Another government official who has also played their part in constructing the official newspeak, namely, the former minister of employment and current home secretary Alicia Arango, fixed her withering gaze on systems engineers; who, according to the minister, are only really needed for a couple of hours each day.
This trend within government circles of denying the true meanings of words, such as “social leader” for example, has been a long time in the making. In the eyes of one official, the murders of these public figures were as a result of “women trouble”; where for another of a slightly higher ranking, such crimes by no means corresponded to any kind of pattern. Ah, the famous “isolated cases”. This section would not be complete without once more ceding the floor to the previously mentioned Ms Arango, when in her typically condescending loudmouth style, she produced the word-vomit of “here, there are more deaths resulting from the theft of mobile phones than there are from being defenders of human rights”.
This represents the marginalisation of the popular, a disdain for and humiliation of the most vulnerable, the most persecuted, the most displaced. It is to deny history, just like when María Fernanda Cabal spouted that the banana massacre of 1928 was an invention of storytellers, a work of magic realism. It is like a conspiracy against the already disenfranchised, who in addition to abuse and repression must face the brutalities of Esmad (Colombian anti-riot police) or eviction from their homes; in other words, treatment as parasites. The long arm of the law relishes the chance to single-out those who protest as “undesirables”.
Iván Duque is one of the foremost proponents of this foul substance, this underdeveloped, Creole newspeak. This is the very same Duque who claimed that “the Venezuelan dictatorship is on borrowed time” and who presented “unquestionable proof” to the UN that this supposed “dictatorship” was sponsoring Colombian terrorists. Proof that, lest we forget, turned out to be false. Along with the “seven dwarves”, his discovery that there are seven notes in the musical scale, his general nonsense and ridiculous posturing, his economía naranja (“orange” economy) that rejects arts and reduces them to pure commercial interest and superficial spectacle, the head of state (another debased word) never fails to come across as an unfunny character in a puppet show.
In this now impoverished newspeak, inextricably linked to the vulgarity of a decadent lumpen-bourgeoisie, it is eminently feasible to enshroud oneself in words. “What on earth are you on about, old timer?”, was the “escape route” used by Duque when asked about the army raid that precipitated the no-confidence vote against the minister of defence, Guillermo Botero.
The newspeak does not only inhibit thought processes, reject grammar and is reductionist, it is also contemptuous of the opposition and the critique of power. Consequently, the words of the adversary become worthless, and even more so when they are pronounced by someone such as “that old bat”.