José Rodríguez Elizondo: Zombie Terrorism

“If the motive of popular government in peace is virtue,

The motive of the popular government in revolution is, at the same time, virtue and terror”.

Robespierre, 1794.

You don’t have to be Lavoisier to discover that terrorism doesn’t die but is transformed. He is a zombie that is born from violence and generates recurrent chains of fear, in different stages and levels of intensity.

According to my memory, the Chilean sixties and Castroist MIR, who advocated the armed route during the government of Eduardo Freí Montalva, activated fundamentalist terrorists who began lethal actions after the election of Salvador Allende. Some assassinated the commander in chief of the Army, René Schneider, and the captain of the ship, Arturo Araya, the President’s naval aide-de-camp. Others assassinated Edmundo Pérez Zujovic, who was Frei’s Minister of the Interior.

That started a chain of terrifying draws that contaminated the State. During General Pinochet’s dictatorship, the terrorist National Intelligence Directorate (DINA) generated -it was inevitable- a dynamic of vindictive violence, with paramilitaries trained abroad that incubated antagonistic terrorists. They crossed the border of the democratic transition and, at the beginning of Patricio Aylwin’s government, they assassinated Senator Jaime Guzmán Errázuriz.

Three decades later, in 2019, terrorists zombies They added a new link to the chain. They went ahead to Halloween and they gave us a terrifying October 18. They made global news with the destruction of the Metro network, pitched battles with white weapons, burning of museums, hotels and churches and shortages through looting.

This is how we went from a State of Naive Exceptionalism -a regional “oasis”- to a State of Constitutional Exception.

essential complexity

Terrorism in a democracy displaces dialogue and raises the pendular demand for a “hard hand”. This troubles rulers who would like a “fair hand” but fear that an “equivalent hand” will result. They appear to distrust the professionalism of their legitimate force and/or believe that all terrorists are the same and “explainable”.

If it is assumed that only God is ontologically immutable, the middle truth is that those rulers do not prioritize the issue because they ignore Machiavelli’s great advice: “If dangers are foreseen they are quickly averted, but when they are ignored and allowed to grow, already they have no possible remedy”.

The cases are fresh. The day before yesterday, the Peruvian government of Fernando Belaunde defined the emblematic terrorists of Sendero Luminoso as “rustlers.” Yesterday, after 18-O, President Sebastián Piñera preferred to speak of “war against a powerful enemy.” Today, the government of his successor, Gabriel Boric, chooses to refer to “rural violence.”

They are tactical euphemisms that facilitate the strategic development of terrorism zombie. When the stubborn evidence forces them to come clean, it is already too late.

inadvertent warnings

If Machiavelli is ignored, the voice of contemporary intellectuals is less heard. Mario Fernández, academic and Interior Minister of Michelle Bachelet, said in 2017, in court, that there was terrorism in Chile. No one inflated it. The same year, the Peruvian academic Ricardo Escudero made a detailed analysis in an electronic medium. After stating that in La Araucanía people were burned in their own homes and every day there were violent actions against churches, forestry companies, transport units, roadblocks and armed confrontations… he concluded: “If up to now in Chile they do not realize , we tell you with great authority from Peru, that it is not about rural violence, but about terrorism”.

The questions are out of the box: Why do governments limit themselves to saying that they will present complaints “against those who are responsible”? Why do many professional politicians avoid reality? Why do they explain it from the left with “structural violence” and quotes from Marx?

My attempt to answer is that this is due to a mixture of inefficient moderation with a motley pragmatism, of the type “the enemy of my enemy can be my friend”. As for the escapes towards theory, they sound like alibis to me and remind me of Georges Sorel. In their Reflections on violence, of 1918, this French philosopher said that the rhetorical violence of the socialist parliamentarians bordered on real proletarian violence, “which could lead to the annihilation of the institutions from which they live”. That is to say, condemning violentists left them in a bad way with the ideology and supporting them meant losing the privileged seat.

What almost everyone ignores or wants to ignore is that terrorists zombies today they only represent themselves. In the era of empires they could be dreamed of as decolonizing patriots and in times of dictatorships, as forces of national liberation. But the current times, with the collapse of their ideological referents, the failure of the planned economy and the social appreciation of the legitimate force of the State -just read the polls- usually transform them into praetorians of drug trafficking, vanguard of anti-systemic identitarians, avengers of past victims… or all of those options.

In such a bad situation and making a virtue of their hardship, some proto-terrorists build a town to their measure and, in a rhetorical somersault, baptize it as “the street”. This is, thus, a mixture of an emblematic battering ram, to attack the institutional framework without offering alternatives and a kind of placebo, which allows them to get rid of the citizens who live in their homes and aspire to development in peace.

That is why, as terrorists zombies activated, they accommodate themselves to democracies without fine political motor skills. They know that in the face of rule of law overflows, economic crisis, expanding crime, ecumenical corruption and notorious inequalities, too many calm citizens can appreciate the wrath of the violent. Read, the “social outbreaks.”

Sandwiched between irrational violence, governments without a timely response, and unreliable parties, these citizens move away from alternative politics and underestimate the rights and freedoms that democracy guarantees them. Without meaning to, they open spaces to the catalyzing chaos of zombies and, later, to the dictatorships.

Paraphrasing the Peruvian hikers, they assume that “except for my safety, everything is an illusion”.

State anti-terrorist policy

What has been said brings us to the wise truism: Solid democracies are the main obstacle to prevent terrorists from zombies execute their Jacobin, Stalinist, fascist, Polpotian, anarchist, Castroguevarist and, lately, indigenist utopias. From their solidity, they can induce the necessary consensus to build a State anti-terrorist policy, with a clear strategy, functional tactics and executable in a timely manner. They also understand, as a matter of principle, that success benefits the nation as a whole, since there is no successful counterterrorism with self-absorbed governments or a complicit opposition.

The serious problem is that this kind of democracy is in short supply. Today its intrinsic balance falters, in the face of the arrogance of organizations and leaders who take care of their relationship with violentists and terrorists. Rebalance it eye! It does not require refounding the country – it would be like selling Don Otto’s sofa – but rather refounding the calamitous political parties and closing the gaps of trust between the government and the legitimate force of the State.

The latter is essential for three reasons of a strategic nature: One, that the violentists and terrorists do not understand only with good words. Another, that grudges from the past help them survive. Third, that the deficits in police intelligence prevent the available internal and external information from being processed, to produce reliable knowledge of the organizations that threaten, their contexts, internal conflicts, external allies and social contacts.

Only on these bases, the recovered democratic authority will be in a position to distinguish those who are functional to a dialogue, who are irreducible and what issues are negotiable. However, that is not enough either. Data in hand, you must also understand that terrorism will never be eliminated by police activity alone or by intervention in extremis of the Armed Forces. The reason is simple: it is not a gratuitous phenomenon, but the symptom that something is wrong in the institutions of the State, in the activity of politicians and, therefore, in democracy itself.

Ultimately, this means that a State anti-terrorist policy should not be an excuse to delay the profound changes that society demands and that the establishment politician takes pains to avoid.

*José Rodríguez Elizondo, journalist, writer and National Prize for Humanities 2021.

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