09 October 2008

The Amazon Journal of Roger Casement review by Denis Minev

The Amazon Journal of Roger Casement
by Angus Mitchell
Edition: Paperback
Availability: Out of Print--Limited Availability

Roger Casement, while consul in Rio de Janeiro for Britain, was asked to investigate human rights abuses by a British based company in the Putumayo river region of Peru. Casement was already by then a celebrated figure, having investigated human right abuse claims in the Congo under king Leopold of Belgium. Ultimately he would meet his fate at the hands of the British government, as an Irish revolutionary in WWI. He remains a famous and controversial figure in history. 

While in the Amazon, Roger Casement wrote a detailed diaryof everything he saw, even before approaching the regio in question. He had a very inquisitive mind, as is clear by his descriptions of the people and places he saw. In the Putumayo region, he tirelessly interviewed a large number of people, which did indeed reveal a pattern of maltreatment beyond imagination. Indian rubbertappers were often killed or maimed for not reaching quotas, they were often whipped and imprisoned for the most minor offenses. There were attempts to hide the truth by locals, but he was quite insistent in his questioning, enough to outdo any attempts against his finding out the truth. 

As a result, the Peruvian Amazon Company, as the COmpany was known, was prosecuted in England, along with its diretors, some of which were major figures in high society England at the time, as well as the infamous Julio Cesar Arana, the leader and mastermind of the company, who at the time was living in Manaus. 

The book is very long and at times boring, as the author did not aim it at a leisure audience, but as an investigation. There are most certainly better descriptions of the Putumayo case, such as by Hardenburg, the first person to uncover to the outside world such abuses. If you are doing in depth research on this case, then the dairy is a must. Otherwise, stick to a better storyteller than this one.

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