Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

November 24, 2019

The Wild District

Filed under: Colombia,television — louisproyect @ 9:23 pm

Two seasons of “Wild District” (Distrito Salvaje) are now available on Netflix. This is an outstanding Colombian TV drama about a former FARC member who is coerced into becoming an undercover agent. It is both the lead character Jhon Jeiver’s (Juan Pablo Raba) story as well as pointed social commentary about the country’s failure to resolve long-standing problems of crime, corruption and the elite domination of the state.

“Wild District” depicts a government and police department that turns a blind eye to criminality. Season one, which premiered on Netflix last year, is set during the period that opened up after the Colombia government and the FARC came to an agreement that would allow the long-time revolutionary movement to become a legal, electoral-oriented party. By now, that agreement has largely become undone as the government resorts to the murderous policies that have been in force for the past fifty years at least.

Jhon Jeiver (Juan Pablo Raba) is a legendary FARC guerrilla who moves to Bogotá after the peace treaty is signed. Hoping to live a normal civilian life, a hope deepened by his disillusionment with the FARC, he is a fearsome fighter who has killed many soldiers and rightwing military members. As such, he is subject to arrest for war crimes but the military intelligence officer who recognized him from an old photo decides to force him to go undercover and penetrate the country’s gangs that are staffed with both ex-FARC and paramilitary fighters. His prowess qualifies him for membership in a leading gang that has deep ties with Bogotá’s bourgeoisie that makes the men around Trump look like boy scouts by comparison.

Jhon Jeiver seeks only to fulfill his obligations as an undercover cop and return to normal life as a father to his teenage son who is beginning to adopt the grubby values of the rich kids he goes to school with. His story is a combination of family and police drama that is told exceedingly well. As for its ability to tell the story of Colombia’s social and political fault lines, it leaves a lot to be desired but it is likely that it never would have been funded if it cut the FARC some slack.

The other major character is Daniela León (Cristina Umaña), the country’s Attorney General, who hopes to prosecute construction company magnates who have been getting overpaid for underperforming projects. They are willing to kill people who interfere with their criminal enterprise, including Jhon. He has his hands full trying to penetrate criminal gangs at the lower levels of society and at the same time trying to help the Attorney General extirpate the rot at the top. None of this comes easy since he has big problems raising a troubled teen-aged son as a single father. His guerrilla mother was killed by a FARC combatant who had her pegged as a spy. All in all, both the FARC and the big bourgeoisie come off as bad guys. Jhon is an existential hero who has no illusions about a better world. If you’ve seen Humphrey Bogart in “Key Largo”, you’ll be familiar with his character.

In season two, Daniel León has a much larger role. In every episode, the scene alternates between her efforts to become Colombia’s first female president and Jhon’s to track down missiles that have been smuggled into the country from Venezuela. In almost every aspect of story-telling, character development, and social commentary on Colombia’s intractable capitalist ills, season two is even better than the first. My enthusiasm was only dimmed by the extravagantly distorted portrayal of Venezuelan society.

Jhon is dispatched into Venezuela as an undercover agent seeking to buy missiles on the black market. He is arrested by Venezuelan cops who are depicted as sadistic monsters who would make the actual Colombia police force look genteel by comparison. In prison, he meets an idealistic politician who has been falsely arrested for subversion. He is so bent on making Venezuela a virtuous state once again, he refuses to take advantage of a release from prison offered by the government in order to keep the democratic movement alive. The words socialism and imperialism are not mentioned once.

Once he escapes from prison, Jhon returns to Colombia to track down the stolen missiles. In the course of his search, he runs into a hitman nicknamed Monsanto (a brilliant touch) who is attempting to destroy León’s campaign through murderous attacks on her ex-husband and a friendly reporter.

What is even more of a threat to her campaign is the persistent efforts of her campaign manager to turn it into a tool of oligarchic interests. In the climactic final episodes of season two, the missiles, her campaign, the oligarchy, Monsanto and Jhon all collide to highly dramatic effect.

Despite her efforts to redirect her campaign to its original idealistic goals, León discovers that it is much harder to take the reins of the state to eliminate capitalist abuse under conditions of capitalist rule. She faces the prospects of being the nominal head of a reformist government whose “deep state” ties to the ruling class make reform impossible. Was she being used to placate the masses with false hopes? As an oligarch puts it to her in the final episode, “Everything must change in order for it to remain the same.” Do those words ring a bell? They come from Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa’s “The Leopard”. They were spoken by an aristocrat who throws his support for a revolutionary movement during the Risorgimento that failed to root out the feudal privileges that held Italy back from entering the 20th century. Despite the obvious willingness of the creative team to lie about Venezuela, they are capable of telling the truth about their own country.

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