As new incidents of violence against women continue to make headlines in the United States, most recently dealing with fraternities in the University of Virginia and the past of famous comedianBill Cosby, the situation in land-locked Bolivia is just as grim.
President Evo Morales has supported new initiatives that will protect and empower women, but how successful they will be is debatable given an ongoing wave of horrific crimes.
Today, November 25, is the International Day of Violence Against Women, and neither the United States nor Bolivia can brag about meaningful achievements in terms of gender equality.
Numbers and Responses
The Bolivian head of state is not blind to the hardships Bolivian women face, and wants to not only protect them via legal means but also change the country’s machista culture. His goal is to “enforce family rights and help eliminate the patriarchal model.”
Initiatives to counter violence against women in Bolivia are, sadly, very necessary.
Bolivia’sCentro de Informacion y Desarrollo de la Mujer(CIDEM) reported that 169 women were murdered between January and September of this year. Out of that number, 103 cases fall under Law 348, passed last year and which carries a 30-year prison sentence for individuals found guilty of femicide.
One of the most appalling of these crimes occurred in early November when the body of a four-year old was found in Santa Ana de Moseten, a town located in the La Paz department. She had been raped and then asphyxiated to death. A 16-year-old young man was arrested – he declared himself guilty of not only murdering the girl but also of the murder of an eight-year-old girl in October.
It seems that even the possibility of a 30-year prison sentence has not deterred criminals and psychopaths from carrying out violent attacks against women in the Andean country.
Meanwhile, the Oruro department, which borders Chile, also has some tragically high numbers. Between January and October of this year, there were 1,592 reported cases of violence against women. Some 70 percent of them were threats and insults while the rest were physical aggressions.
In spite of generally pro-gender equality initiatives, I would be remiss to not acknowledge that the Bolivian head of state has sometimes linked some bizarre facts together regarding the situation ofBolivian women.
Most memorably, the president declared that soap operas have a negative effect on gender equality as they, according to Morales, promote teenage pregnancy, infidelity and that acts of violence in TV (i.e. men against women) are imitated by the youth. He is also known for occasionally making sexist comments in his speeches and meet-and-greet ceremonies.
In 2011, he called for his male supporters to “flirt with” indigenous Amazonian women in order to convince them to support an unpopular government project. The head of state has apologized for his remarks, saying that he says them because of the “trust and familiarity” he has with his nation’s population.
Certainly, while it is good that a head of state is friendly towards his people, rather than behaving like a despot, Morales’ “jokes” are unacceptable given the violence his female citizens have to endure.
In my research, I tried to find some positive news about the situation of Bolivian women. For example, it is an encouraging development thatfemicidenow carries a 30-year prison sentence.
Moreover, gender equality in the country’s government and armed forces have achieved some important milestones: in 2013, for the first time the Bolivian Army promoted a woman to the rank of General. Meanwhile, out of 37 Senators in Bolivia’s congress (it has a two-chamber system), 19 of them are women (14 belong to the ruling MAS party while 5 are members of the opposition).
Those are the good news as they represent encouraging numbers and barrier-breaking developments. The bad news is that a high number of female Senators and harsher prison sentences have not halted the wave of violence against women.
Renowned actorBenicio del Toro will produce, and maybe star in, an upcoming HBO series about the life of Hernan Cortes, the (in)famous Spanish conquistador. While details aboutCortesare still scarce, there will be considerable discussion in the coming months regarding how Cortes, and the Aztec Empire that he conquered, will be portrayed.
Del Toro is an accomplished actor, but playing a real-life historical figure who had a critical role in the shape of an entire nation and region may be his most challenging role yet.
Hollywood and history
Corteswill be produced and directed by Martin Scorsese, known for his films cinematic masterpieces such asRaging Bull, Taxi DriverandThe Wolf of Wall Street. As for del Toro, he will be an executive producer but according toDeadline he “is interested in starring as the [conqueror of the Aztecs].” No word yet on who will play the other major roles of Moctezuma, the leader of the Aztec Empire, or Malinche, a local woman who became Cortes’ interpreter and aide.
Hollywood has always had an interest in pre-Columbine cultures, as prominently displayed by recent depictions of the region’s rich past. For example, the controversial Mel Gibson directedApocalyptico, and Harrison Ford’s iconic Indiana Jones traveled to the Peruvian Andes and Amazon inIndiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Additionally, the Starz seriesDa Vinci’s Demonsdepicts Leonardo da Vinci voyaging to South America to meet the Incas.
In other words, it was only a matter of time before a series focused on a Latin American empire, especially one as emblematic as the Aztecs.
Walking a fine line
The upcoming HBO series already has a star-studded production team, but a question remains as to how the series will be structured, including the portrayal of Cortes’ complicated life, including the eventual the conquest of the Aztec Empire.
I asked a literature teacher from Jalisco about her thoughts regardingCortesand she summarized her concerns well, “I just hope that the shows does not portray Cortes as a hero, nor the Aztecs as dumb.”
Indeed, one constant concern about series that portray historical events is that the producers may take too many artistic freedoms in order to increase viewership. Historical inaccuracies or exaggerations are obvious worries. For example, one major criticism ofApocalypticowas that it conjured “pedigreed, but insidious stereotypes: the romantic savage – proud, primitive for most intents and purposes manly, and above all timeless and unchanging.”
Hence, the upcoming HBO series will have to walk a fine line regarding how it portrays both the Spanish conquistadors as well as the Aztec empire. The conquest of the Aztecs is a turning point in the history of the region; hence it must be approached with historical and cultural sensitivity.
There were plenty of major incidents throughout the war between the conquistadors and their local allies against Moctezuma’s forces, and it will be interesting how they will be depicted. Moctezuma originally welcomed Cortes as a friend when the Spanish arrived in 1519, but the conquistador eventually turned against him.
Another notable event was La Noche Triste, when the conquistadors fled Tenochtitlan, the Aztec capital. Finally, one example of a bloody incident is the massacre of Cholula, with Cortez and his forces killing some five to six thousand (mostly) civilians that were still loyal to the Aztecs. HBO programs have no problem exposing gore and violence, but real-life massacres, even though they occurred five centuries ago, are still a sensitive issue.
As for casting, del Toro will likely make a fine Cortes. It is worth noting that this is not the first time that he has portrayed a historical figure. He recently played the notorious Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar inParadise Lost, and he was the Cold War revolutionary Ernesto “Che” Guevara inChe.
There is no word yet whether Mexican (or Central America) actors and actresses will be selected to play major roles such as Moctezuma, Malinche, or other prominent figures like Moctezuma’s wives Tlapalizquixochtzin and Teotlalco. InApocalyptico, Mel Gibson utilized a combination of locals (the movie was filmed in Mexico and Guatemala), though the actor who had the main role was notably not Mayan, but rather a “Native American of Cree, Comanche, and Yaqui descent.”
Given the transcendental importance of Cortes’ arrival to the Mexican Empire, hopefully del Toro and Scorsese will give Mexican and Central American actors an opportunity to have prominent roles in this major production.
HBO has enjoyed vast success with shows such asOz,VEEPandGame of Thrones. Nevertheless, a series based on real life events is a different type of beast, and while the series will probably be a masterpiece given the quality of the individuals involved, HBO must also be aware of not hurting sensibilities. The conquest of an empire is not something to address lightly.