EspañolSince antiquity, politicians have known there are two ways to keep people oppressed without them even knowing it. The first is manipulating language into a means of perverting rather than conveying the truth. The second is the control of information. This applies to all types of government, including those claiming to be democratic.
In Athens, the cradle of democracy, the Sophists taught the art of eristic — essentially instruction on how to win an argument by any means.
The goal is to be seen as someone who is correct, regardless of whether or not the truth is on your side. Consequently, the Sophists were very much in demand as instructors for all those who sought to excel in politics.
This “science” has only continued to improve. Knowing how to manipulate language to obscure reality is a highly valued skill among contemporary politicians. Their age-old struggle to contain human liberty has taken on wide-ranging proportions in recent decades with the expansion of press freedoms and Internet technology, the latter a tool that has expanded freedom immeasurably around the world. Politicians here, as with traditional print media, are seeking to restrict and control the message.
With regard to manipulating language, one of the greatest successes for unscrupulous leaders in recent centuries has been to replace the term “rulers” with the “state.” The idea of an impartial, bureaucratic government is a convenient, idealized pipe dream which makes rulers immune from any blame. Instead, when they fail, they can use the public outrage to call for still more “state” intervention.
A fundamental element of this logic of a disinterested state is the idea that it doesn’t seek profit. This is true only in one sense: it’s the rulers and public officials behind the state’s veneer that line their pockets, as evidenced by recent events in Uruguay.
In early January, the country was rocked by the news that the Republican Guard had discovered an object that looked like an explosive near the Israeli embassy in Montevideo. The device was located in a grocery bag and contained both explosives and detonation cord, but wasn’t armed to explode.
Several assumptions were made about who planted the device and why. Details remained a mystery until Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported that Ahmed Sabatgold, a senior official at the Iranian embassy, was involved in the incident, and was therefore “expelled” from Uruguay by national authorities.
Even President José Mujica, known for his loquaciousness, reacted by saying, “Who told you that? I won’t talk about this.”
When consulted, Foreign Minister Luis Almagro, refused to discuss the matter. The Foreign Ministry and the Interior Ministry described the alleged Iranian link and government reaction as “exaggerated.” Even President José Mujica, known for his loquaciousness, reacted by saying, “Who told you that? I won’t talk about this.” That night, the Foreign Ministry issued a statement which denied any diplomat being expelled.
But, beyond silence and eristic, the reality remains. Sabatgold was a political attaché at the Iranian Embassy, working to stir up hatred towards local Jewish populations. He clashed with local recent converts to Islam for their supposed heterodoxy. He even labelled a new young political movement, the Broad Front in favor of Popular Unity, as a military group. The government reacted by lodging an “informal” complaint against the Iranian authorities.
An official source in the Uruguayan government, and another close to the Jewish community, informed El Observador that Sabatgold was spotted in the area by operatives from Israeli intelligence service Mossad “just minutes before the explosive device without the detonator was discovered.”
After the warning from Mossad, the Israeli Embassy asked Chancellor Almagro to expel the diplomat. The Foreign Ministry accepted the request but made no formal demand. The Iranian Embassy in Montevideo was contacted and they agreed to remove him from the country. Although the government did not formally expel the Iranian, it is likely that his removal was the result of diplomatic pressure.
The bomb scare, along with other Iranian covert activities in Uruguayan territory, prompted the government to react “without making waves.” A similar incident took place on November 24 when a car with diplomatic plates was found parked outside the Israeli Embassy, with a suspicious looking briefcase left in plain sight, which later proved to be empty.
It later emerged that Sabatgold was traveling in the vehicle, and had been filming the Israeli Ambassador as he drove to the Foreign Ministry. The government’s reaction was to convey to the Iranian embassy that the incident was “unacceptable, and would force Uruguay to adopt more stringent measures if such circumstances occurred in the future.” Iran denied any intimidation, instead claiming that Sabatgold had just been visiting his doctor nearby.
When dealing with an issue of public and personal safety, is there a right to withhold important information?
In more recent events — following the death of Argentinean prosecutor Alberto Nisman – part of his complaint stated that part of the planning for the 1994 AMIA bombing in Buenos Aires took place in Uruguay. Nisman had sought the cooperation of Uruguayan authorities to clarify the matter.
Following these events becoming public knowledge, the Uruguayan executive office issued an order a month ago for internal and external security agencies to avoid alarming the general population. They prohibited diplomats and intelligence officials from making any statements concerning the Iranian presence in the country.
This situation raises serious questions: is it fair that citizens were not aware of these events? When dealing with an issue of public and personal safety, is there a right to withhold information that should be available to everyone, so they can judge the danger for themselves?
The apparent cover-up of these shady activities by Iranian officials is doubly unfair. The authorities were aware of the risk, and could take steps to protect themselves and their loved ones, but what about the average citizen? It’s yet another example of how the control of information causes grave injustices, dividing supposedly equal citizens into the privileged aware and the remainder kept in the dark.
Meanwhile, Mujica brokers an agreement with the United States, without an official explanation, to allow six former Guantanamo Bay prisoners to come to our country. What motivated him to do so? In whose interests was the deal struck? Knowing the simmering risk of terrorist violence in our country, was he justified to take in these individuals without consulting the public?
Finally, the issue of rulers seeking personal profit and influence beyond the shield of the state hoves into view here as well. The government’s desire to avoid rocking the boat on the Iran issue — and be honest with its people — may be understood in the context of the campaign of current Foreign Minister Luis Almagro to be elected as the next Secretary-General of the OAS, a move backed by Mujica from the start.
Translated by Michael Pelzer. Edited by Laurie Blair.