Thirty-one years separate the civil-military dictatorship in Uruguay and the arrival of the film “Migas de Pan” (“Bread Crumbs”) in cinemas. The movie tells the story of Liliana, a Uruguayan woman who was arrested and tortured by the military and has to face her memories 30 years later. In the film, after returning home, Liliana becomes the center of a national debate about memory and justice.
Uruguay's military dictatorship lasted 12 years (from 1973 to 1985). The regime locked up more than 300 political prisoners, including 55 women, according to a report: Uruguay Nunca Más. The resistance movement that sprung up during this time also relied on many women leaders. When the history is told today, however, their roles are generally overlooked and downplayed, in favor of narratives about men.
Like the lead character in her movie, director Manane Rodríguez also fled the dictatorship in Uruguay in the 1970s, moving to Spain. She has completed several short feature films based on the works of the poet Mario Benedetti.
“Since the beginning, I wanted to see this movie helping to remove the silence covering our recent past and taking women out of the shadows,” Manane told Global Voices. Her movie is entering its fifth week in theaters, attracting large audiences of people who say they identify with the film's story.
Manane says the only thing that matters is the viewers leave the film sharing a single thought: “Nunca más.” (Never again.)
Global Voices: What has inspired you to make a movie about women and the dictatorship period? How do you think female experiences back then were different from male ones?
Manane Rodríguez: To me, what excited me was to make this movie a denounce. About a group of about 30 former political prisoners who accused a large group of military officers of sexually abusing them systematically. The case is still resting in some court’s drawer. This group of women, who had hardly over 20 years-old, besides being tortured through traditional methods were also raped by their executioners. After 30 years of silence, they decided to talk about it. Breaking the powerful taboo that precludes certain subjects and breaking this sickening silence that, somehow, blames them for being victims.
GV: What have you learned about the relationship between women in a situation of prison such as this one?
Manane: Ivonne Trías, who is an author and a journalist and who was also arrested for many years at the Punta de Rieles Penitentiary, wrote that with the wisdom of their 20s, they established a red line: from the grid to the inside – us; from the grid to outside – them. With those parameters, they resisted all together to the project of moral and physical destruction [the military] had planned for them. They protected each other. They studied, shared knowledge. They kept their minds active and resisted to many obligations that were being imposed to them. And so they’ve continued, without renouncing to their own convictions, most of them alive and with a will for life.
GV: Who was your actual inspiration behind Liliana?
Manane: The central character is based in the stories of many women, not only in one in a literal way. She is a fiction character that, somehow, concentrates many situations that many women who were imprisoned at the maximum security prison by the Uruguayan dictatorship had to face.
GV: A couple of years ago, a debate was launched in Uruguay, about whether the Tupamaros (the guerrilla group who fought the dictatorship, called MLN – National Liberation Movement) were sexist or not. But even inside the MLN, women were heading groups and they articulated many prison escapes, like the legendary Punta Carretas one. Why are there still so few stories about the dictatorship period – in movies or literature – told through a gender perspective?
Manane: I do not recognize MLN as the maximum freedom fighters in Uruguay. And, as of today, I think the sexism in Uruguay is as strong as in any other country of the world. Besides the spectacle behind some of the MLN’s actions, in Uruguay there were also other social organizations (unions, students and neighbouring ones) and political parties who fought the dictatorship when it arrived, but even before that, [they fought] against reactionary measures adopted by a right-wing government.
In Uruguay, not only the story through a female point of view is not told, but there is actually very little narrative about this period as a whole. The denounces are still sleeping in some courtroom’s drawer, judges who investigate crimes against humanity are frequently pushed aside. There is a certain kind of official silence – supported by well-known members of MLN, who are occupying governmental positions for the past 11 years – that makes really hard to have a true NUNCA MÁS (never again) with truth, memory and justice.
GV: Currently, you live in Spain, where you arrived while escaping the dictatorship in Uruguay. How was your personal experience with the military regime? Were you persecuted?
Manane: I was a student when the elected president and the military did the coup that cancelled all the constitutional guarantees. All political parties, unions, students organisations became illegal. A lot of people were arrested, a lot of people were victim of repression. But, I rather remember the resistance that we had since the first hours: the general strike called by the central of unions and the huge protest that took place 15 days later. The largest one that I have ever seen taking place in Uruguay. After that, it came the repression, the night and I was persecuted with my friends (…). I stayed in Argentina, before moving to Spain. There was also a coup d'état there, from what we know, even worse than the one that happened in Uruguay.
GV: This is not your first movie approaching the dictatorship theme. What is it that motivates you to talk about something that is still an open wound in Latin America?
Manane: My movies don’t talk about the dictatorships. Some of them have this context, but they are actually talking about the marks left by it in some characters. “Los Pasos Perdidos” (Missing Steps) is the story of a young woman who finds out, because of a court request, that the people she believed were her parents are not her parents, and that behind the hiding of this secret is the dictatorship and its crimes. “Memorias Rotas” (Broken Memories), a documentary, talks about a village that has preserved in a couplet, sang for many years from door to door, the story about a group of anarchists killed while they were trying to leave Asturias, taken by General Franco’s army. And “Migas de Pan” (Breadcrumbles) tells the story of a group of women that never surrender and that resists to the destruction plans the repressors have for them, while showing them today alive, resistant and happy, facing new battles.
GV: A poll from the NGO Latinobarómetro has revealed that the support to democratic governments in Latin America has decreased for the fourth year in a row. In Brazil, people protesting against Dilma Rousseff, frequently held posters asking for a military intervention. What do you think about this phenomenon that is taking the continent recently?
Manane: It’s a disaster. It’s a tragedy to the people, whether you’re conscious about it or not. The media has a huge power and they have led many people to believe that the situation where progressive governments have taken them is a status quo that cannot be changed. But that is not true. They are taking down all the social policies created by the governments they are succeeding, firing a lot of people…There will be even more poverty, insecurity, a greater external debt. This is a disaster that should make us to reflect on its meaning.