On A War Like No Other, The Constitution in a Time of Terror, by Owen Fiss - Núm. 48, Abril 2018 - Isonomía - Libros y Revistas - VLEX 729178373

On A War Like No Other, The Constitution in a Time of Terror, by Owen Fiss

Autor:Esteban Restrepo Saldarriaga - Marcelo Ferrante - Pau Luque Sánchez
ISONOMÍA No. 48, abril 2018, pp. 111-145
On A War Like No Other: The Constitution
in a Time of Terror, by Owen Fiss
On September 8, 2017, with the co-sponsorship of the Center of Consti-
tutional Studies of the Mexican Supreme Court (CEC-SCJN), the ITAM
Department of Law invited Owen M. Fiss, Sterling Professor Emeritus of
the Yale Law School. He was appointed Distinguished Visiting Professor
of ITAM —the highest academic award in the university— and a semi-
nar on some of his recent work was conducted both at ITAM and at the
CEC-SCJN. The program included the presentation and public discussion
of Fiss’ book on the erosion that the so-called “war on terror” exerted on
the most basic principles of the US Constitution. The book has been re-
cently translated into Spanish by Francisca Pou Giménez (Una guerra sin
igual. La constitución en los tiempos del terrorismo, Marcial Pons, 2017).
We are now happy to publish the comments of three of the participants
in the book panel —Esteban Restrepo Saldarriaga, Marcelo Ferrante and
Pau Luque Sánchez— in the order in which they were delivered that day.
El 8 de septiembre de 2017, con el copatrocinio del Centro de Estudios
Constitucionales de la Suprema Corte (CEC-SCJN), el Departamento de
Derecho del ITAM invitó a Owen M. Fiss, Profesor Sterling Emérito
de la Escuela de Derecho de Yale. El profesor Fiss fue nombrado Profesor
Visitante Distinguido del ITAM —la más alta distinción académica otor-
gada por la universidad— y se celebró un seminario sobre trabajo suyo
reciente en el ITAM y en el CEC-SCJN. El programa incluía la presen-
tación y debate público del libro de Fiss sobre la erosión que la llamada
“guerra contra el terrorismo” ha tenido sobre los principios más básicos
de la Constitución estadounidense. El libro ha sido recientemente traduci-
do al español por Francisca Pou Giménez (Una guerra sin igual. La con-
stitución en los tiempos del terrorismo, Marcial Pons, 2017). Tenemos el
gusto de publicar ahora los comentarios de tres de los participantes en la
presentacion —Esteban Restrepo Saldarriaga, Marcelo Ferrante y Pau
Luque Sánchez— en el orden en que se pronunciaron ese día.
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ISONOMÍA No. 48, abril 2018, pp. 111-145
Into the Light of Darkness
Esteban Restrepo Saldarriaga*
Su resuello de dragón multicéfalo impregnó de un vapor
pestilente la claridad del mediodía.
Gabriel García Márquez, Cien años de soledad
etween 16.000 and 32.000 workers of the banana plantations of
the United Fruit Company in the Province of Santa Marta were on
strike since November 12, 1928. Cultivation, harvesting, and export of
banana completely ceased. General Carlos Cortés Vargas was sent by the
Minister of War to preserve peace in the region (LeGrand, 1989, pp. 204
and 206-207).
In spite of the arrest of some workers that were quickly
released, the situation was relatively peaceful and negotiations between
the strikers, the Government and the United Fruit Company had been un-
derway (pp. 207-210). The conflict took on a violent turn when rumors
about a “revolutionary conspiracy” (entailing the destruction of the plan-
tations and the sabotage of communications) began to circulate (p. 210).
The Government decided to break the strike by asking the United Fruit
Company to hire strikebreakers who —protected by the army— would
resume the harvesting and transport of banana (p. 211). During several
days, the workers resisted by destroying the harvested fruit, blocking the
railways, and trying to convince the strikebreakers and the soldiers to join
them (p. 211). Finally, fearing defeat, the leaders of the strike sent mes-
sengers to the plantations calling the workers to gather in Ciénaga —one
of the main towns of the Province— where they would start a march to
Esteban Restrepo Saldarriaga, Universidad de los Andes. Correspondencia: Cra. 1 No. 18A- 12,
111711, Bogotá, Colombia. erestrep@uniandes.edu.co
* This is an essay written in honor of my teacher and friend Owen Fiss. Unless otherwise indica-
ted, all translations from Spanish into English are my own.
1 I closely follow Catherine LeGrand’s account of the 1928 strike of the workers of the United
Fruit Company and the masacre de las bananeras (LeGrand, 1989). Every number in this episode
of Colombian history —from the number of strikers murdered to the number of strikers murdered
by the Army— has been heatedly disputed. The conflict between the United Fruit Company and its
workers is part of a wider landscape of agrarian conflicts in Colombia at the beginning of the twen-
tieth century (see LeGrand, 2016, pp. 139-165).
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ISONOMÍA No. 48, abril 2018, pp. 111-145
Santa Marta to protest before the Governor’s office and demand that the
United Fruit Company be forced to reach an agreement with the unions
(p. 212). General Cortés Vargas and the manager of the United Fruit Com-
pany sent telegrams to Bogotá reporting that the situation was one of
“imminent violence, danger and destruction originated by uncontrollable
masses” (p. 212).
By midnight of December 5, General Cortés Vargas finally received
news that President Miguel Abadía Méndez had declared martial law in
the Province of Santa Marta and had appointed him as military and civilian
chief of the region (p. 214). In the early hours of December 6, he marched
with 300 soldiers to a square near Ciénaga’s railway station where about
2.000 to 4.000 strikers had gathered to wait for other comrades to arrive
and start the march to Santa Marta in the morning (p. 214). The soldiers
took position on the northern side of the square and a captain read to the
crowd the martial law decree: insofar as gatherings of more than three per-
sons had been prohibited, the workers had to immediately disperse or the
troops would shoot. After three minutes and three bugle calls, nobody had
moved. The unthinkable happened (p. 214).
How many workers of the United Fruit Company were murdered in the
masacre de las bananeras is still disputed. General Cortés Vargas reported
to his superiors that thirteen strikers died; people in the Province believe
that dozens or hundreds were killed; while one worker reported that six-
ty of his companions were murdered, another striker raised the death toll
to four hundred; others believed a great number of corpses were swiftly
carried to the trains and then thrown into the ocean (p. 215).
José Arca-
dio Segundo Buendía —the great grandson of José Arcadio Buendía and
Úrsula Iguarán, the couple of cousins who gave birth to the legendary lin-
eage of the Buendías of Macondo— was among the strikers in the square
on that fateful morning. He fainted in the stampede of workers trying to
save their lives and was thrown with dead bodies into a car of the “lon
gest [train] he had ever seen” (García Márquez 1971, p. 285). When he
recovered consciousness, he discovered he was amidst corpses that “had
As previously noted, the number of workers murdered in the masacre de las bananeras is a
matter of dispute and poses deep political and philosophical problems for the reconstruction of his-
torical memory in Colombia. For a philosophical account of these conundrums see Uribe Botero,
2010 and Acosta, forthcoming.
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