BRIAN LAMB, HOST: Tina Rosenberg, author of the book "Children of Cain, what does that mean?
TINA ROSENBERG, AUTHOR, "CHILDREN OF CAIN: VIOLENCE AND THE VIOLENT IN LATIN AMERICA": The book is about people in Latin America who do violence. I chose the title in part because of its connotations of violence and in part because of the connotations of universality that comes with a biblical title.
LAMB: What is the biblical story?
ROSENBERG: Well, the stories of Cain and Abel. Cain, who took a rock and slew his brother.
LAMB: Was that a hard title to come by?
ROSENBERG: I'd always wanted some form of Cain in the title. I had played with different forms of it. It's not about children, and I think the title may somehow be misleading. The title is about Cain's spiritual children, which is people who do evil.
LAMB: Why did you write the book?
ROSENBERG: I wrote it because I was living in Latin America, and in my six years there you can't get away from violence. It really does a lot to shape how society is down there, and it's something that hits almost everyone in society personally. I wanted to try and explain it. I had been reading news stories about violence in Latin American, and they normally were about the victims -- about grieving widows and children who were orphaned -- and those stories, I thought, were touching but they didn't help to explain why that violence always exists in Latin America. This book is not about the victims. It's the perpetrators. It's about people who commit evil or people who learn to live with evil and why they do it.
LAMB: Before we get into some of the details, I want to quickly go through the six countries that you were in. The way to do that, I thought, might be to just read the title of the chapters. Let's start with "Quixote."
ROSENBERG: The titles are somewhat enigmatic. "Quixote" is about an honest judge in Medellin, a man who is assigned in 1984 a case that will require him to indict Pablo Escobar who is the head of the Medellin cartel and who has killed just about every previous judge who indicted him.
LAMB: And Medellin is where?
ROSENBERG: Medellin is the second largest city in Colombia and is the city where the drug mafia has its base. And Judge Medina decides to indict Pablo Escobar. So the story is really about a man in Colombia who takes very seriously his responsibilities as a citizen and believes in his country as a nation. The reason I chose him is because he's a rare bird in Colombia. The country has produced a few martyrs like him, but the real character in that chapter is the city of Medellin because what the story is about there is how Medellin, a very modern, wealthy, vibrant Latin American city that's famous for its organ transplants and skyscrapers, has really become a medieval city in terms of learning to live with violence and corruption.
LAMB: "The Good Sailor."
ROSENBERG: "The Good Sailor" is about an Argentine, a man named Alfredo Estes, who is from a wealthy, educated European family, very well traveled, very genteel and cultivated. He's a member of the Argentine navy which considers itself to be almost a diplomatic service -- the most civilized branch of the service in a country that considers itself an island of civilization marooned in a whole continent of barbarism. And yet this man was responsible for the deaths of hundreds of people.
ROSENBERG: "Dialectic" is about two people in Peru. Javier is a young Shining Path guerrilla, a very funny, sarcastic kid who lives with his mother and worries about getting his old girlfriend back and wants me to bring him Reeboks from Chile, and in his spare time blows up banks and works in a movement that slits policemen's throats and really is a member of one of the most vicious, sadistic, terrorist guerrilla groups in the world.
LAMB: "The Laboratory."
ROSENBERG: "The Laboratory" is about El Salvador. It's about the rich in El Salvador, members of the 14 families who -- a bit of an exaggeration -- but basically the 14 families who run the country. The title refers to the fact that, as their political hero says, the United States was doing an experiment on El Salvador. We were treating them like guinea pigs, putting money in and seeing if that could make the country change. In the end of the chapter I agree there was an experiment going on. But I think the experiment worked the other way around. We were seeing not how much money we would have to give to killers to stop killing, but the killers were running an experiment to see how much they could get away with before the United States would cut off their money -- and the answer was almost anything. I think in the end I conclude that the mouse also trains his scientist. When he rings the bell, the doctor brings him cheese.
LAMB: "The Triumph."
ROSENBERG: "The Triumph" is about the Sandinistas in Nicaragua. The main character is a man named Luis Carrion Carus who is a very wealthy, young Nicaraguan who went Exeter Academy here in the States and went to college here. Got into the Christian movement, became a Sandinista in the early '70s through the Christian movement. He believed in Marxism and worked in a Christian commune in Nicaragua and had these grand ideals. He was against the dictator Somoza because the dictator jailed political prisoners and censored newspapers and shut down strikers. Then after the revolution Carrion became one of the nine commandantes who was running Nicaragua, and he became vice minister of the interior. His job became repressing political dissidents, and then he supported the jailing of strikers. He supported the censorship of newspapers, and he had very valid reasons for wanting to do all those things from his point of view. But the point of the story is that he turned into his worst nightmare and how that happened.
LAMB: "The Pig's Tail."
ROSENBERG: "The Pig's Tail" is about the country where I lived for four years -- Chile. Chile is a country that for 150 years had been a democracy, a very strong civic culture, and prided itself on the fact that the coups and violence that occur in other countries in Latin America cannot happen here in Chile. Then General Pinochet staged his coup against President Allende in 1973. The main character of my story is a man named Perez who during the Allende regime was a college student and a very socialist Allende supporter. After Pinochet's coup, he went into hiding for a while but then came out of hiding and found that things were going pretty well. He went into his family's business, which was selling cheap imported clothing. He bought a new car every year. He bought himself a VCR a couple of times and a new TV set every year and fell asleep politically.
Then when the economy crashed in 1982 and he got hit in the pocketbook, he suddenly woke up and said, "My God, there's been murder and torture going on here." But he hadn't thought of that for nine years until it hit him in the purse. The fact that that happened in Chile to a large number of people is very sobering. The title comes from a Garcia Marquez fable, "100 Years of Solitude," where the women have a tendency to fall in love with their brothers and cousins, and the children that are produced by those unions are born with the tail of a pig. It's really a horrible little story about what the human body is capable of producing. I think that is a metaphor for what happened in Chile. This country of habeas corpus and afternoon tea that had always followed the rules was horrified to find what their own body politic was capable of producing.
LAMB: You dedicate the book to Diana Sandler and the memory of Phillip Sandler. Who is Diana Sandler?
ROSENBERG: They are my grandparents. Phillip Sandler, who died in 1979 was a journalist, and when he died was city editor of the Jewish Daily Forward, the remaining Yiddish newspaper in New York.
LAMB: Who are John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur?
ROSENBERG: People who I've never met who are very important in my life. I'm a MacArthur fellow. I won a MacArthur fellowship five years ago, which is one of those deals where they call you and say, "You don't know us, but we're going to give you some money and you can go do whatever you want." And that's what I wanted to do.
LAMB: Did you ever find out who those two are, or were? Are they still alive?
ROSENBERG: Well, John D. MacArthur is no longer alive, but he is the founder of the MacArthur Foundation. No, they're very famous people. That's not who called me.
LAMB: Is your money about up?
ROSENBERG: Yes, in April.
LAMB: How much money did you get a year?
ROSENBERG: It varied from year to year, but I think it started at $25,000 a year for five years. Not too bad.
LAMB: Looking back on it, was it a good deal to be picked out of the world of talent in this country?
ROSENBERG: Now, what do you think? Yes, of course, it was great. It was a wonderful thing, and it also gave me the credibility, I think, to be able to do this book.
LAMB: How did it work, by the way? Did somebody just call you one day and say, "You're a MacArthur fellow?"
ROSENBERG: Yes. And I didn't believe them.
LAMB: You didn't apply for it?
ROSENBERG: No, you don't apply. They just call you. But I had had a friend in graduate school who loved to play pranks on people and he would call and pretend he was Jimmy Carter or other people, so I assumed that that's what this was. It took some convincing on the part of the man who called me, that, no, in fact, this was real and I really had won this thing.
LAMB: What were you doing before this?
ROSENBERG: I was writing magazine articles from Latin America.
LAMB: And somebody picked it up in the MacArthur Foundation and that was the reason you got the five-year fellowship?
ROSENBERG: I understand they have a system of nominators who are secret people who choose people. There's a whole system. You're nominated and then they send your file around to people for comment. It's complicated.
LAMB: And once you get this? Are you supposed to do anything with the money?
ROSENBERG: You can do whatever you like.
LAMB: What is the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, which you also listed in your acknowledgements?
ROSENBERG: Right, yes. After coming back from Latin America last year, I have been writing the book at two Washington think tanks, and one of them is the Carnegie Endowment and now the Overseas Development Council.
LAMB: What are they?
ROSENBERG: They're think tanks. Carnegie Endowment is a collection of scholars who work on international relations issues, and the Overseas Development Council works on Third World issues.
LAMB: Do you have to be of a certain political bent to go to these places? Do you just walk in the door and they say, "Oh, you're a MacArthur fellow. Come on in."
ROSENBERG: That helps. Both places have Democrats and Republicans.
LAMB: Where did you grow up?
ROSENBERG: Holt, Michigan, a small town outside of Lansing.
LAMB: How long did you live there?
ROSENBERG: Until I went to college.
LAMB: Where did you go to college?
ROSENBERG: I went to Northwestern, in Chicago.
LAMB: What did you study?
ROSENBERG: I don't recall studying anything. I worked in political campaigns and did a lot of theater. But I think I did get a degree in political science and a master's in journalism.
LAMB: What political campaigns did you work in?
ROSENBERG: I worked for Abner Mikva, who was the congressman from that area and now a judge. Then I worked on a campaign for Mikva's replacement -- my candidate lost -- and I worked on a campaign for a man who was elected to the Illinois Supreme Court, Seymour Simon.
LAMB: What was the impetus to get into politics in the first place?
ROSENBERG: My family was very political. I was out ringing doorbells for McGovern when I was 12.
LAMB: After college where did you go?
ROSENBERG: Well, I got that master's degree, which took a year, and then I came to Washington. I lived in Washington until 1985 when I moved to Nicaragua.
LAMB: What was the reason to go to Nicaragua?
ROSENBERG: Coincidence. Before '85 I had no interest in Latin America. I would skip those stories when I read them in the paper. All the names sounded the same. I couldn't imagine why all those people did those terrible things to each other all the time. Then a friend of mine who was half Nicaraguan asked me if I wanted to go with a group of reporters he was bringing. I went, and it was like visiting the moon. It was fascinating, and I decided to stay. I stayed there for two years and then moved to Chile.
LAMB: Where did you live?
ROSENBERG: I lived in a group house in Managua, a house that I shared with three Nicaraguan women.
LAMB: What were the first things that caught your attention once you got there?
ROSENBERG: Well, I'd never been to a poor country before and I'd never been to a socialist country before, although it wasn't very socialist. The quantity of foreigners in Managua was interesting to me. The place had really been invaded by people from every country on earth. And the bizarre character of Managua as a city. It was destroyed in the earthquake and then destroyed also in the insurrection -- the war the Sandinistas won in the late '70s -- and it was never rebuilt, so it's a city that looks like a moonscape. There's a big hotel and then three blocks of field with horses grazing. There's, I think, three working elevators in the entire country.
LAMB: How many people in Nicaragua?
ROSENBERG: Three million.
LAMB: How many people in Managua?
ROSENBERG: I think about one-third of them live in Managua.
LAMB: During those two years there what did you do?
ROSENBERG: I learned Spanish quite well.
ROSENBERG: Absolutely fluently. I wrote, I walked around a lot, tried to fix my car, which took up about a quarter of my time. You can't find parts and this thing was held together with string and duct tape and jar lids. And just learned about life. Talked to people.
LAMB: Who was the president then?
ROSENBERG: Daniel Ortega.
LAMB: What do you think of him?
ROSENBERG: I never met him personally. I think that, from what I know of him, I would have a lot of respect for him. I think that someone who comes to power after being a guerrilla and being in jail for seven years, as he was, is not a person who's likely to be a democrat and is not a person who's likely to be prepared for governing. I don't think he was either of those things when he came in. I think he grew in office. He was definitely one of the most pragmatic of the Sandinistas. I think under the circumstances in which the Sandinistas were in power, he did a creditable job, and I think the most important thing he did was turn over power to Violeta Chamorro when she beat him in the last elections. I think that was a decision that was very hard for him to make, and I'm very glad he made it.
LAMB: What does it mean to be a Sandinista?
ROSENBERG: Well, I can tell you what I think it meant while I was there. It's a sad story. I think when the revolution came in 1979 -- the triumph of which the chapter speaks -- there was a tremendous sense of joy that finally the dictator was overthrown and now the poor would have power and everybody would be able to have beans and rice and the United States, which had virtually controlled the country, would not be able to. For a while, life there, I get the impression, was really a party. It was a celebration. Things didn't work very well, but nobody cared because now it was theirs. And gradually that sense of -- the Spanish word is mystica, which means this almost mystical passion and romance in life and dedication to something -- got worn away as the years passed and things didn't get better and people realized that the demands on them were more than ever. Life got harder and the economy got worse, and people got more and more cynical. The slogans that people had once used seriously, like "The Triumph" or "Nicaragua Libre" -- Free Nicaragua -- began to take on an ironic tinge. I think after a while people who had become Sandinistas because they really believed in the Sandinista type of Marxism or they really believed in the nationalism of being a Sandinista were fewer and fewer. Those who became Sandinistas because they believed in good jobs or they believed in access to imported products, I think those became greater and greater in number, and the revolution became somewhat cynical.
LAMB: You picked Luis Carrion Cruz as your main character the "The Triumph" chapter about Nicaragua. Why?
ROSENBERG: In part because he's someone who knows the United States and lived here. I think for that reason readers can identify with him a little more, but also in part because here is an intelligent, idealistic man who had a career that, I think, mirrors in part the decay of the revolution around him. He came in with very good intentions and ended up committing the sins he had been protesting against. He didn't want to, but he felt justified in what he did. Of course, he blames all of these things on the United States. If the United States hadn't sponsored the contra movement, then he wouldn't have had to do all those things. I don't think that's the case. I think the contras aggravated Nicaragua's problems, but I don't think they caused them. I think part of the problem with revolution is that a revolution carries the seeds of its own destruction because all the good things it brings have a corollary. The fact that the rich are no longer in power means that they tend to leave the country, and unfortunately they tend to take their money with them and they tend to be the educated classes. The fact that food is subsidized is good because it means that poor people can buy it, but it's bad because it means that farmers in Nicaragua could go to the store and buy corn and beans more cheaply than they could plant them, and therefore they didn't plant anything. And so the revolution began to starve to death.
LAMB: Is his last name Cruz or Carrion?
LAMB: How did you find Mr. Carrion?
ROSENBERG: I knocked on the door of the ministry, and there he was.
LAMB: What ministry again?
ROSENBERG: He started out as the vice foreign minister, and then he became minister of the economy, ironically just at the time when the Sandinistas had decided that their socialist policies weren't working and they adopted the kind of austerity measures that the International Monetary Fund is imposing on Latin America. The really strange thing about it is that most countries adopt these measures because they're forced to as the price of getting new loans, but the Sandinistas knew they weren't going to get any because the United States wasn't going to let them. So here is this group of socialists deciding that they wanted to adopt right-wing economic policies, not because they had to but because they thought, "This will work. This will save our economy."
So this poor guy who came in as a Marxist, protesting against capitalism, he becomes in charge of instituting the same types of economic policies he had been protesting against. He would call press conferences to announce that foreign investment was up and government spending had been cut. These are the kinds of things you expect to see Pinochet's ministers in Chile announcing, but they weren't what you expected to hear from a Sandinista. I found him to be quite serious. He looks like an accountant. He is quiet, almost shy. He's very timid and very reflective, with a very keen sense of irony about his career. He knows exactly what he was doing and also finds it somewhat ironic and is not entirely sure now that the revolution was worthwhile. He was saying that the United States was the cause of it, and Latin American revolutions would always be ruined by the United States. So I said, "Why bother, then? If you know this is going to happen, isn't it irresponsible to have a revolution in the first place?" In part I was just trying to provoke him, but he didn't take it that way. He said, "Well, maybe you have a point."
In some countries I think you have to exhaust the possibilities of what you can do through reform before you have a revolution, but in some countries it's just going to be inevitable. Anyway, the crowner in the story about Luis Carrion is that he's probably this month starting his studies at Harvard's J.F.K. School of Government and Economics.
LAMB: Where had he gone to school before in the United States?
ROSENBERG: He'd gone to Exeter for high school and then went to Rensselaer Polytechnic [Institute]. He dropped out to go back and become a revolutionary. I don't think he finished college, but he also studied at the National University in Managua.
LAMB: How many of the Sandinista leadership had gone to school here in the United States? Many?
ROSENBERG: No. He's the only one. I think having a few years of college made him the most educated Sandinista. Most of these people were guerrillas. They were not students.
LAMB: Did you change your feeling about what the problems were in Nicaragua from the time you showed up until the time you left?
ROSENBERG: Sure. I came into a Managua that was basically a movie set. It was filled with other people like me who were either the journalists -- for example, I'm thinking of one guy who, as a photographer, seemed to live on cigarettes. He would trek through the mountains with the army for a week and come out with a great tan and next week's cover for Newsweek or Time. Or Sandilistas, as they were called, the international visitors who came in to support the revolution by picking coffee or teaching soil management. Everybody was there starring in their own personal drama. I think I had fallen into that, and I was really a supporter of the Sandinistas when I got there. Gradually the revolution became real for me, and I started to understand some of the problems involved in a revolution, even one staffed by people who are pragmatic and serious like I think Luis Carrion is. I left thinking that it didn't work here, and that's partially the fault of the United States, but not entirely. I'm not sure it would work anywhere if it didn't work here.
LAMB: What's at the core of why there was a revolution in the first place? What was getting at the people?
ROSENBERG: Decades of Somoza dictatorship. A dynasty, really. The father, the brother , then Anastasio Somoza. He was not very violent, as dictators go, but he was very corrupt. Nicaraguans felt that their country didn't belong them. They felt it belonged to the United States.
LAMB: What do you think of Violeta Chamorro?
ROSENBERG: Well, what do I think of her -- she's a symbol. The person running the government is her son-in-law, who I think is a decent guy and very smart, but I will defer to the words of Enrique Bollanos. He is a Nicaraguan businessman and very, very anti-Sandinista. When Mrs. Chamorro was nominated, the Sandinista newspaper asked Bollanos if he thought she was qualified to be president. He said, "Of course she's qualified. She's Nicaraguan and she's over 25 years old." That's what I think of her, too.
LAMB: When was the last time you were there?
ROSENBERG: Right before the election.
LAMB: And what's the change between 1985 when you first went there and now?
ROSENBERG: Well, I haven't been there since Mrs. Chamorro took over so I can't speak to that, but from 1985 to when I left, or the last time I was there, just a tremendous weariness. Before, the rich were trying to get out. By the time I left, it was the poor who were trying to get out. People were getting poorer every week. The war was really terrible. The war just took a tremendous, tremendous toll on people.
LAMB: Will that country make it without another revolution or without another major change in government?
ROSENBERG: I don't know if it will make it with or without another revolution. One of the theses of the book is that the countries that had always done well in Latin America, the ones that had the good fortune to be poor at the time of the colonization, and, therefore, had nothing to offer the Spanish.
LAMB: Like Costa Rica.
ROSENBERG: Like Costa Rica, like Chile, which had basically no Indians and no good minerals, so the Spanish did not do their customary job of raping and pillaging. They didn't set up societies of master and slave. The conquerors went to Chile and saw nothing they were interested in and turned around and went back up to Peru. That is one big reason why Chile was always a successful country and Peru was never a successful country. Peru has really apartheid- like class differences. It's the countries like Chile and Costa Rica, which always did well, which I really think are always going to do well, and the countries that started out with this handicap like Peru and like Nicaragua are going to have tremendous trouble learning to overcome their past. I'm just not sure how it can be done. It can be done, because Europe did it. Europe in the 1600s -- you would never have thought that Europe would ever turn out to be a continent of democracies, but it did. I'm sure that can happen in Latin America.
LAMB: Have you spent much time in other parts of the world?
ROSENBERG: Practically none.
LAMB: Sitting in Washington thinking about Latin and South America, what comes to your head right now? Do you want to get on a plane and go down there?
ROSENBERG: Sure. I have a tremendous nostalgia. I really miss the place.
LAMB: Where would you do if you had one spot you had to pick out?
ROSENBERG: To live or to visit?
LAMB: Either one. Both, maybe.
ROSENBERG: I love Peru. Peru right now is suffering from all 10 biblical plagues at once -- terrorist, cholera, garbage in the streets, drought, tremendous economic collapse, cocaine. With all its problems, it's a fascinating country and there are wonderful people there. I find it very compelling. I also have a soft spot for Chile. I love Chile. I lived there for four years.
LAMB: Why did you leave Nicaragua?
ROSENBERG: I fell in love with Chile.
LAMB: What year did you leave?
ROSENBERG: In '87 I moved to Chile to live.
LAMB: What did you find there?
ROSENBERG: Chile is a very serious country. I belonged to a salsa club in Chile and people go to dance salsa wearing black tights and serious expressions on their faces.
LAMB: What's salsa?
ROSENBERG: Salsa is a Latin dance music that's usually done with bright colors and happy expressions, and in Chile it's very somber. Chile is a serious country, a country of habeas corpus and afternoon tea where people follow the rules. I can't explain the chemical attraction I feel for Chile. I just got off the plane and felt that this was my home.
LAMB: How big is it?
ROSENBERG: Twelve or 13 million people. Small, tiny.
LAMB: And where did you live -- what city?
ROSENBERG: I lived in Santiago, but the city I love is Valparaiso which is the port city. It looks like San Francisco might have looked 200 years ago. It's all hilly with wooden trains carrying people to their homes up the sides of the hills. Fishing boats, sea gulls -- it's beautiful.
LAMB: Biggest city in the country?
ROSENBERG: Is Santiago, not Valparaiso. The capital is the biggest city.
LAMB: And what about your story in the book? What did you find there that most intrigued you?
ROSENBERG: Well, as I said it was this process through which people who have had a democratic history learned to fall asleep under Pinochet. I'll tell you one story that I thought really was ...
LAMB: By the way, who was Pinochet?
ROSENBERG: General Pinochet was the Chilean army general who staged a coup in 1973 and overthrew Salvador Allende who was the elected president, a Marxist. It was the first time, I believe, a Marxist had ever been elected to office in the world. His administration ran for three years and was characterized at the end with tremendous chaos, helped in great measure by the United States which tried to economically sabotage Allende, but also just tremendous chaos in that its economic policies were not workable. Pinochet staged a very bloody coup in which probably 2,000 people were killed in the coup and in the years immediately afterwards. Most Chileans supported some sort of army intervention, in part ironically because of their democratic history. They felt, "It can't happen here. Our military isn't like the other militaries." It never had been. "Our military will come in and restore order and clean house for six months and then leave." Seventeen years later, the military left after carrying on one of the most brutal and repressive regimes in Latin America and becoming a symbol of state terrorism.
It intrigued me that a country learned to live with that. The story is the following. It was told to me by a man who was one of Pinochet's first economic ministers. He was a businessman and a big opponent of Allende -- came in, was working for Pinochet but quit the government in 1974 because he didn't like what Pinochet was doing with human rights violations. So, I met him in 1986 and he told me that a friend of his, who had been Pinochet's press attache at the United Nations, came back to Chile on vacation and saw an interview by this minister that had been given to an opposition magazine in which he criticized the human rights violations of the Pinochet government.
The woman said to him, "Orlando, I knew you were against this government, but you've been duped. These human rights violations didn't exist. They made them up. I certainly don't know anybody personally who was tortured or who was killed." And he says to her, "I know someone. When I was in the government, my girlfriend came to me and said, 'They've taken my sister-in-law away. Please help me find her,'" and he said to her, "I pulled all the strings I had and finally I located the sister-in-law and I arranged for my girlfriend to be able to visit. And it was a tremendously emotional experience for my girlfriend to see the sister-in-law who had been beaten and had been tortured."
He's telling the story to the woman and she starts to turn pale and starts to cry. He says to her, "And I'm surprised you don't remember," because it had been her. She had been his girlfriend and it had been her sister-in-law who was taken. She was crying and she said to him, "Would you believe me if I tell you that I forgot? These years have been very good to me and I'm a very appreciative person, and part of my appreciation is forgetting that this happened." I asked him if he believed her and he said yes, he thought he did, because this happened to many, many people in Chile.
ROSENBERG: Because things went well for them under Pinochet. The economy was growing, there was a boom. After the total politicization and the chaos of the Allende years, people wanted to not think about politics. They wanted to go back to working in their gardens and running their businesses and making money. They were exhausted. The government punished you if you were political. If you were just a good citizen and you didn't do anything political, then you could carry on in peace and you wouldn't have to worry about the government bothering you. If you did any sort of political or union activity, then you got it. So people retreated to their private lives, and they prospered. This guy Perez that I write about did quite well. He did better than he ever thought was possible. The stores were filled with imported products and whiskey and consumer goods, and people didn't see what they didn't want to see.
LAMB: Which of the countries -- and I focused on six -- would you not care to go back to for any great length of time?
ROSENBERG: Well, it's very difficult to live in Peru. I'd love to go back there and live, but I think life would be very hard. The levels of violence and poverty now have gotten to the point where people are very psychologically affected and they've become aggressive in their daily lives. I think it would be hard to live in Peru.
LAMB: How many people live in Peru?
ROSENBERG: Twenty-two million, and I think seven million of those are in Lima.
LAMB: How did a man of Japanese descent get elected as president?
ROSENBERG: He got elected because Peruvians are becoming more and more cynical about their traditional political leaders. It's gotten to the point where they don't just throw out the party in power, they throw out the whole system in power. Right before the elections it looked like Mario Vargas Llosa, who is a world-famous novelist, was going to win. Part of the reason that people liked him -- there were two main reasons. One was that he was a political outsider. He wasn't a politician and he wasn't from a traditional party. The second reason is they thought, "This guy's got good connections. He's European-looking, he's white, he has all these important friends. People will write checks. People will come to Peru's aid." Well, Vargas Llosa then began to associate with the traditional right-wing parties in Peru, and people started looking at him as just one other politician. Then they saw this Japanese guy and they figured, "Ah, he's Japanese. His connections are even better -- Japan, this prosperous, rich country." And Fujimori's campaign started circulating rumors that Japan would pay Peru's national debt, which the Japanese embassy denied but people believed anyway, and once Vargas Llosa became just another politician Fujimori then became this shining samurai on the white horse who would come in to save Peru. He won in a landslide.
LAMB: When you're living in Latin and Central America and you look at the United States, what do you see?
ROSENBERG: Well, that's an interesting question -- what do I see?
LAMB: Did you change your thinking about this place the longer you were down there?
ROSENBERG: Yes. One of the things that's interested me is after living in the Third World, one of the overwhelming qualities of the Third World is a division. There's one set of institutions such as schools and hospitals and neighborhoods for the rich, and one set for the rest. It's as if the two don't live in the same country. The United States looks more and more like that to me. I don't know whether it really changed while I was away or I just see it in a different way now.
LAMB: If somebody said, "Come to the State Department," before you went to Latin America in 1985, "and help us run our Latin American effort," and they said it to you now, how would you have changed your opinion over those year?
ROSENBERG: Well, I don't know what I would have said then because I didn't know anything back then.
LAMB: But you felt, though, didn't you?
ROSENBERG: Yes, but I hadn't thought about it and I hadn't heard of most of these countries. Now what I would say is, I think one important thing these countries need to be able to overcome their history is a sense that everybody there lives in the same country in the sense of everybody pulling up to the table and saying, "We share this country. Let's agree on some rules that we can all abide by," because what you have characterizing countries like El Salvador and Peru is the elites who refuse to give up even one millimeter of their privileges in exchange for social peace. The concept that one has to make compromises, that one shares a country with others, seems to be missing in a lot of these places.
You had up until recently -- actually in Peru you still do with the guerrillas -- a very hard, militant left that also did not want to make any compromises. These two groups were so polarized that there was really no way that they could share a country without resorting to violence. I think one role the United States can play -- and I don't want to overestimate the power the United States has; this is a problem that Latins will have to solve -- but I think the U.S. has a tremendous influence over the elites. With the fall of Leninism and increasing disbelief in Marxism, you now have a left that's more willing to compromise and poses less of a threat to the traditional elites.
I think one thing the United States could do would be to say to Latin militaries and Latin business elites, "Be good citizens. Make compromises. You have to share your society with others." We could say to the military, "We will no longer support a military that commits human rights violations." And right now in Peru and Colombia you have the two worst human rights violators on the continent -- very, very brutal militaries which have an ingrained culture of killing innocent civilians. We should tell them, "You will not get a penny from us in that case." We should tell the elites, "We will not support you unless you tolerate labor unions, unless you pay people what their work is worth, unless you pay your taxes and recognize that you have responsibility for your government." In other words, these countries are not countries of citizens. They're countries of inhabitants. What Latin America needs to do is learn that citizenship implies, "This is my government. I will abide by its rules and I am responsible, also, for what happens here." I think one thing the United States should do with its foreign policy is encourage that process.
LAMB: What did you think about writing a book? Was it interesting?
ROSENBERG: I loved doing it. The process of working it, of talking to people, of traveling, is a wonderful thing. You can go wherever you like and call on anyone you want and ask them any impeding question you want. I can't think of a better job than that.
LAMB: Why did you pick Morrow as your publisher?
ROSENBERG: I had the choice of two publishers who were very interested in me. One publisher sat down with me and said, "We're going to make you a star." And the other publisher, Morrow, sat down with me and said, "We're going to help you write the best book that you can write." I chose them.
LAMB: What did they mean by "making you a star," and what would you have had to have done differently?
ROSENBERG: This book is a book that is very intriguing to me and I believe is a serious book that explores why people commit violence, not just in Latin America. I feel that these people are violent not because they're Latin but because they're human, and the book has a lot of that in it. But it's not a glitzy book. It doesn't have a lot of famous people in it. I think had I gone with the other publisher and tried to write a more commercial book, it would not have been as interesting.
LAMB: Were there other countries you could have put in this book? You've got six in this one.
LAMB: Were there others, and which countries would they have been?
LAMB: Well, the problem in El Salvador is very similar to the problem in Guatemala -- the control of the country, the stranglehold that the oligarchy has. It's probably worse in Guatemala than it is in El Salvador. I could have written about Guatemala. I could have written about Mexico, which has tremendous repression and tremendous human rights violations and doesn't tend to get talked about in the United States.
LAMB: Why do we spent so little time -- and maybe I'm prejudicing your answer by even suggesting this -- on the South American-Latin American problem other than when we had the spotlight on Nicaragua and El Salvador? What is it about this country that we don't spend that much time on it?
ROSENBERG: Well, a friend of mine said in terms of the U.S. press there are no Latin stories, there's just U.S. stories in Latin settings. I think that's true for how the United States tends to think about Latin America. We're interested in the United States problems, which are drugs, which is why we want to know what's going on in Colombia. When we were fighting a war in Nicaragua we were eager for news. In El Salvador we're interested because we've put so much money into that country's war. But we don't tend to think about the rest, and I think one reason is because we don't tend to think that those are people like us. But they are.
One thing that I marveled at, for example -- I went to Medellin, which is the capital of the drug mafia and the most violent city in the world not involved in a war, and the single leading cause of death in Medellin is multiple gunshot wounds. People have learned to live with that level of violence. They've learned to think about it in the passive voice, as if it's a weather condition that just sort of arrives and doesn't have any perpetrator. I was thinking about how is it that people learn to think about violence that way, and on my 10th day in Medellin I met a man who was an ex-policeman and we were talking. He said to me, "Tina, tomorrow I'm meeting with a friend of mine, a man named Cesar who wants to kill his father. His father is a bad man and treats the family very badly, so he's hiring two hit men to kill his father and I'm setting up this deal. Do you want to come along?" I said, "Yes, I'd love to."
So they all came to my hotel, and we all went up on the rooftop restaurant and had a cup of coffee. It was me and this ex-cop and Cesar and these two teenaged hit men. I interviewed them about what their profession is and how they work and how much they get paid and how they think about it and how their family thinks about it. And then they interviewed Cesar. What time does your father come home from work, what is his usual route, is he armed, does he have bodyguards, does he have a godfather in the neighborhood? Then we said our goodbyes. The next day it occurred to me that I had witnessed a murder being planned. I hadn't thought about it. I hadn't made the connection in my mind between the fact that Cesar's father was going to die and these two young kids were going to kill him.
In 10 days in Medellin I learned to think like they do about violence. In Chile some of the people I met who were the most sophisticated, the most civilized, the closest to my approximation of sophisticated people in the United States -- fluent in English and French and people who love opera -- were Pinochet's biggest supporters, and they were people who justified and supported the violence of the Pinochet government more than anyone else. It is people like us who commit violence in Latin America, and Americans like me down there learn to think like those people in a very short period of time. I believe that if more Americans realize that about Latin America, we would be more interested in it because it is, in many ways, not a separate race of people. They're human beings and they think like human beings, and they think like we do in a lot of ways.
LAMB: Is it Judge Medina, who went after Mr. Escobar in Colombia, in Medellin? Am I on the right track here?
LAMB: I just want to ask you about one little incident. When the judge was killed, was it his 9-year-old son that saw the killer hiding behind the tree?
ROSENBERG: That's right.
LAMB: Tell that whole story. I jumped in the middle of it.
ROSENBERG: Well, my main character in Colombia is this judge who is an idealist, is a man who in 1984 was assigned the case that would require him to indict Pablo Escobar, the head of the Medellin traffickers. He could have done what most judges did before him, which is to throw the case out, and, therefore, he could have gotten rich and lived a very long life. Instead he chose to indict Pablo Escobar, knowing that that was bringing a death sentence on his head. For a solid year he got death threats, he got phone calls saying, "Judge Medina, we know your children's route home from school." They would recite to him passages of his legal opinions. He was finally killed a year later. His son, who was 9, witnessed the killing. It was done in his front yard as his wife was bringing him home from work one day. And now his wife, when I met her, is a lawyer who now wants to become a judge and is interested in taking up a similar line of work.
LAMB: By the way, what does "Quixote" mean?
ROSENBERG: "Quixote" refers to Don Quixote which is the famous Spanish character of the man tilting at windmills, the idealist -- the ultimate idealist -- which was Judge Medina's favorite book.
LAMB: Do you have another book in mind next?
ROSENBERG: I would like to do another book.
LAMB: Do you know about what?
ROSENBERG: I don't know yet.
LAMB: Are you through writing about Latin America?
ROSENBERG: I don't know. I am still very fascinated by Latin America. I still find it a country where the noises are louder and the colors are brighter and life is more vivid and intense and the stories are better and all the decisions in people's daily lives are much more life or death than up here. It's still a fascinating place.
LAMB: When you come back up here to the United States and Washington, do you find many people knowing much about that part of the world?
ROSENBERG: In D.C., yes. In general, not so much. In general, people's experience with it is like mine was before I went. They skip the stories in the newspaper, the names sound the same, you wonder why they're so violent down there.
LAMB: On the back of your jacket here you have congratulatory, positive statements written about your book from Gregg Easterbrook, contributing editor of Newsweek, James Fallows, author, Atlantic Monthly. You also have Human Rights Watch and also Robert Pasteur, former director of Latin affairs, National Security Council. How does that work?
ROSENBERG: The publishing house sends the manuscript to various readers beforehand and asks them for their comment.
LAMB: Does it sell books?
ROSENBERG: They are under the impression that it does.
LAMB: Why, because people pick it up and look at the names?
ROSENBERG: Sure. You know that somebody famous who you respect thinks this is a good book, so you're more inclined to buy it. Especially for an author like me where it's my first book. If you haven't heard of the author, it helps to have famous people plugging it on the back.
LAMB: Has it ever worked for you when you go buying books?
ROSENBERG: Probably it has, sure.
LAMB: El Salvador. How much money a year does the United States give in foreign aid to El Salvador?
ROSENBERG: I think at the end of the '80s we were making up more than half of their federal budget. We were putting in more money than they were to their federal coffers. I think over the 10 years we gave them a total of $4 billion, and that's for a country where there are only 5 million people, so that's a tremendous amount of money.
LAMB: Top five of countries that America gives foreign aid to -- why?
ROSENBERG: It was an experiment. We were trying to see if counterinsurgency could work in a country that was tiny and small and supposedly easy to maneuver in. We thought we were going to get in and get out and it was going to be simple, and it wasn't. After 10 years the war looks not very different than it did in 1980, except for the fact that 70,000 people have been killed and one-fifth of the country is in exile and another 10th live in refugee camps.
LAMB: How much time did you spend there?
ROSENBERG: I think I probably made about six or seven visits over the course of several years.
LAMB: Where did you go?
ROSENBERG: It's not a big place. It's the size of Massachusetts, so I think I probably covered most of the country.
LAMB: Who did you meet?
ROSENBERG: I was looking for rich people, so I spent my time going to aerobics classes. I hung out at Fitness World in San Salvador, which is very much like a fitness studio in the United States with Garfield posters on the wall. When one of the members had a birthday, we would sing "Happy Birthday" in English to them. We did our aerobics to Michael Jackson records. I went to pool parties. I went to discos. That's not the experience I had in most other countries, but I was deliberately trying to meet the rich in El Salvador, so I had quite a different experience there than I did most other places.
LAMB: How did you do that?
ROSENBERG: How did I meet them?
LAMB: Yes. Did you just show up and knock on their door and they accepted you?
ROSENBERG: No, that wouldn't have worked. The rich in El Salvador don't love American journalists. They really felt that American journalists were not writing the truth, and they used the word with almost a capital T in El Salvador. They felt we were supporting communist forces there and they were very reluctant to be interviewed. I met a group of people at a rally for Christiani, who is the president of El Salvador now. It was eight women, all of them in their 30s, I think all of them divorced, all of them blonde and very, very wealthy, and various of their male friends. They met every weekend. I met these people at a rally and they invited me to some of their parties, so I got to hang out with them and start to understand how they live and how they think.
LAMB: Did they know what you were doing?
ROSENBERG: They knew that I was writing about their country and that I was eager to talk to the wealthy. Yes, they knew what I was doing.
LAMB: Did you have any ground rules?
ROSENBERG: Yes. The main character that I ended up writing about did not want his name used, so I have changed his name as I indicate in the book.
LAMB: His name in the book is?
ROSENBERG: His name in the book is Roberto Cadder.
LAMB: And why did he want his name changed? For obvious reasons?
ROSENBERG: He wanted his name changed because he felt he wouldn't like what I was writing. That's not his name in the book -- what's his name in the book?
LAMB: I have it underlined here somewhere. I'll try to find it.
ROSENBERG: Roger Beltran, I think, is his name. Cadder is the name of a Peruvian, I think, that I interviewed.
LAMB: So when you got inside the group, what was the first thing you started to see?
ROSENBERG: Oh, how they lived. These palatial mansions filled with pre-Colombian art and multiple swimming pools. I will never forget a pool party I went to at a beach house of one of the members where we just sat in the pool, and their maid served us platter after platter of shrimp and crab and clams and different kinds of seafood -- the most luxurious spread -- and when our hands got dirty all we did was dip them in the pool. It's the most luxurious existence you can possibly imagine.
Another thing that I noticed was they live behind such incredibly high walls -- literally and figuratively. All their houses are rimmed with 15-foot high brick walls with then barbed wire and then electrical wire above them. In fact, in some cases when the power goes out in San Salvador, which is quite frequently, they can't leave their house because their doors are opened and shut through electric eyes, so literally they're prisoners in their own houses. But these people live their lives in a few neighborhoods, and they have no contact with the rest of their country. In no sense do they live in the rest of their country. Their own isolation makes them -- it is an intimate connection with the rest of El Salvador because it's the way they live that in part has caused the misery going on in the rest of the country.
LAMB: Where do they get their money if they're rich?
ROSENBERG: They get it largely from coffee or cotton.
LAMB: How much of the foreign aid money from the United States goes to the rich?
ROSENBERG: Well, back in the last days of the Reagan administration, AID, the Agency for International Development, had a policy of trying to work with the elite in El Salvador, to get them to open up, to think a little differently. So, we supported groups like the Chamber of Commerce or the National Association for Private Enterprise in the hopes of trying to change these people. In fact, we didn't change them. They changed us.
LAMB: What did you think of the American embassy in El Salvador?
ROSENBERG: I felt it was extraordinarily misguided. They were trying to run this laboratory experiment by which we would bribe these people into changing their views. Their job was to convince Salvador and convince the U.S. Congress and convince visiting reporters like me that this was working, when in fact what they were doing was seeing how much they could get away with before we would cut their money off. The answer is they could get away with almost anything before we would cut their money off.
LAMB: In a place like El Salvador, did you ever find yourself getting so attached to the individuals that you started to lose sight of what you were there for?
ROSENBERG: I didn't like the people in El Salvador much. It was really one of the few places where I had no sympathy whatsoever for the people I was hanging out with. That was true in most of the other places, but not there.
LAMB: And how long did you hang out with them?
ROSENBERG: Really, over repeated visits I couldn't put a time figure on it.
LAMB: Did they ever try to befriend you as a friend instead of as a reporter?
ROSENBERG: Not those people, no. In other countries that happened, but not there.
LAMB: You write about Mr. D'Aubuisson. Who is he?
ROSENBERG: Roberto D'Aubuisson is the founder of the ARENA party, the right-wing party, in El Salvador. He is a man who is really the ideological inspiration and, in some ways, the operational chief of many of the death squads in El Salvador. He is a very charismatic, intelligent, handsome man, and the country's most popular politician. He's ill now. I believe he's dying of cancer now. But he is a mesmerizing speaker, and a very evil man.
LAMB: Why didn't he get elected?
ROSENBERG: He did get elected. He probably won the elections in 1984. The U.S. government decided that Congress would not keep funding this war with a man like Dobisan in power.
LAMB: Why didn't he run again?
ROSENBERG: We pulled some strings and instead got Duarte in office. He didn't run again because I think he realized that the U.S. wouldn't tolerate it, so instead in ARENA party put up Christiani, who was educated at Georgetown University and a much more cultured, much calmer, much more moderate face for the party than D'Aubuisson.
LAMB: What's going to happen to El Salvador?
ROSENBERG: I don't know. It's possible that the war might end. I think the fall of communism in the world has cause the guerrillas to have second thoughts, although I don't know if that's going to change at all any of El Salvador's tremendous social problems that were behind the war in the first place. I don't think that rich people are going to be giving up any of their privileges in order to get social peace in that country.
LAMB: You write a lot about torture. Where did you see the worst?
ROSENBERG: I don't think anyone has ever raised it to an art form like the Argentines did during the Dirty War.
LAMB: What's the Dirty War?
ROSENBERG: The Dirty War in the 1970s was a war carried out by a military government that Argentines called "El Processo" -- the process -- which is also the Spanish word for Kafka's novel, The Trial, and very appropriately so. It was a regime that was fighting a guerrilla group called the Montaneros, which was a very small guerrilla group that had, by the time the military regime took over, not much support anymore. But the military government used it as an excuse to wipe out the entire left in Argentina. They disappeared. They are the people who are responsible for getting the word "disappeared" into the world's vocabulary. Now you can disappear someone. Before the Argentines, things disappeared, but there was nobody perpetrating the act. Now it's become a transitive verb. They disappeared, probably, 9,000 or 10,000 people -- before disappearing them subjecting them to unimaginable tortures. Then they would simply vanish.
LAMB: Give us an example of an unimaginable torture.
ROSENBERG: For example, the book that collected stories of these people after the military regime left office talked of a woman who bit off her own tongue from the pain, talked of people who were forced to sit on the ground in the same position for six months, never speaking.
LAMB: Never moving?
ROSENBERG: Never moving, never speaking, never lifting their eyes.
LAMB: Did they eat?
ROSENBERG: Yes, they were fed.
LAMB: Live in their own waste?
ROSENBERG: I think so. A lot of other physical tortures involving electricity or beatings or water that I don't we really want to get into here.
LAMB: This is what the book looks like. It's called "Children of Cain: Violence and the Violent in Latin America," and the author has been our guest. Tina Rosenberg, thank you very much for joining us.
ROSENBERG: Thank you. It was a pleasure.
Copyright National Cable Satellite Corporation 2004. Personal, noncommercial use of this transcript is permitted. No commercial, political or other use may be made of this transcript without the express permission of National Cable Satellite Corporation.