We need a World Cup for hypocrisy when it comes to human rights. The potential candidates for glory are many, principally among those who describe themselves as democrats and progressives. A rant by Luis Casado.
I cannot tell you who Walter was, or what he was like, because it would require two or three books. Walter rescued me from a crappy gig back in ‘86, and with a manoeuvre straight from the football transfer market playbook, he managed to get me out of the multinational where I was rotting away and open the doors for me to a new job: bubbling, incessant, planetary, creative, entertaining, reasonably well-paid and in which we had fistfuls of fun. Together or separately, but always in contact, we travelled the world many times over.
A Belgian, of the Flemish variant, and born in the city of Mechelen, which us francophones call “Malines” (go figure why on earth Den Haag is called “La Haya” in Spanish), Walter’s father had been a “collaborator”, which in that era meant he had been a henchman during the Nazi occupation, a horror which Walter spent his whole life condemning with an unwavering attitude of an enormous human quality.
Walter was the personification of optimism. Always smiling and ready to launch into a fit of laughter, at any given moment he seemed to be finalising the details of another long journey. He was a Belgian synthesis, in a single person, of Ferdinand Magellan and Juan Sebastián Elcano. On more than one occasion, he called me to ask me if I had a couple of minutes to spare, and a couple of hours later, I would find myself on board an intercontinental flight that would allow us to sip on a caipirinha in Recife, a French red in Singapore or in Bangkok, or failing that, a dry white in Ayers Rock, a place which is, as the Australians themselves say, “in the middle of nowhere”. As we all know, work is work, and your servant is an imitation across both distance and time of the celebrated Alexei Stakhanov.
Divorced, like any god, Walter lacked an anchor, a “hub”, as those boorish jet-setters say, some kind of root capable of offering a home and the necessary respite for a warrior returning from his interminable pilgrimages around the world. Then, he met Catherine, and they got married. Catherine is a beautiful Rwandan woman, Tutsi, to be precise, and in possession of the most innate characteristics of her ethnicity: finesse, elegance, beauty, presence and honour. From here, things started to go wrong…
It was in the mid ‘90s when we heard news of a terrible drama that was unfolding in Rwanda. That drama can be summarised as the genocide, that is, the extermination, of the Tutsi population by the hegemonic Hutu government. Between 7th April and 15th July 1994, they murdered approximately 70% of the Tutsis, the majority hacked to death with machetes, but not only. If you look at the available data, it is estimated that some 700,000 Tutsis were killed. Men, women and children.
Curiously, the French army was present in Rwanda under the cover of a “humanitarian mission”.
As you might imagine, rebuilding Rwanda presented extreme difficulties, and especially so the coexistence between the Hutus and the Tutsis, the two main ethnicities, in such a way as to preserve the country and its territorial integrity. Walter participated in the modernisation of the public transport system in Kigali, and he threw himself at haphazard investments intended to promote agricultural production.
During the same period, Walter angrily confronted me, accusing the French of being responsible for what happened. Your servant here, of a rainbow cultural background, can take on as his own whatever you may so wish, from the massacres in the Guerra de Pacificación (Pacification War) in Araucanía right up to the horrors of the Paris Commune and the industrial-scale torture perpetrated by the French army during the Battle of Algiers. Nevertheless, honestly, I had nothing whatsoever to do with the genocide in Rwanda; I never went to Kigali, and Catherine aside, I did not know a single citizen of that beautiful country.
This morning, I was listening to the radio, France Info, to be precise, a public sector broadcaster, which dedicated a long news item to a report requested by the French government on what happened in Rwanda in 1994.
A group of specialists, headed by the historian Vincent Duclert, a senior lecturer at the École nationale d’administration (the National School of Administration), analysed all the available data, including the diplomatic, military and intelligence archives, and concluded that France was partly responsible for the genocide. Specifically, those who gave the orders and made the decisions that were revealed to be criminal: François Mitterand, the president, and Hubert Védrine, his foreign minister*.
Duclert himself declared yesterday that “the failure of French policy in Rwanda essentially contributed to the conditions for the genocide”.
Guillaume Ancel, lieutenant colonel of the French army, who was in Rwanda during that period as part of the “humanitarian mission” and who was a witness of the massacres, declared in a live broadcast that “us members of the military are also responsible because we cannot hide behind the argument of having followed orders”. Among other things, the French army supplied the Hutus with weapons: they supplied them with the weapons necessary to commit the genocide; they protected them; they left the Tutsis defenceless.
I should declare, members of the jury, that I knew François Mitterrand personally, who received us on a couple of occasions in the Elysée Palace, and also, that Hubert Védrine is, in my eyes, the only French foreign minister of the last quarter of a century who has shown signs of intelligence. No one claims that either of them wanted to perpetrate a genocide. Similarly, the army official quoted above does not claim this; instead, he underscores the unavoidable responsibility of those who imposed their will and made the political decisions. César is responsible for what César does; and God is responsible for what God does.
Walter is no longer with us to know all this, or so that I, leaning on the solid Franco-Belgian friendship that we built together, could give him a Chilean apology: “I am sorry for the death of your child. It was a mistake; I did not know. Those responsible will be punished to the extent that it is possible; it is a question of waiting another 40 years…” Walter died in a flimsy taxi in Jakarta, the capital of Indonesia, devoured by a throat cancer that did not permit him the last journey of his life, one that was taking him to the hospital.
Being over there, he avoided the second news item of the day: “France strongly protests the prison conditions of Alexei Navalny”, a neo-Nazi swindler sentenced for diverse counts of trafficking and various other crimes but recruited by Western intelligence services as a “dissident” against the Russian regime.
“In the name of human rights”, then, “France raises its voice in outrage”, calling Vladimir Putin names.
If you did not already know what was meant by the phrase “there are some kicks in the ass that are missed out on”, then now you do.
*At the time of the genocide in Rwanda, Védrine was Secretary General of the Élysée. He was Minister of Foreign Affairs from 1997 to 2002.