The Devil and Mr Casement, By Jordan Goodman
Sunday 03 October 2010
Roger Casement is an intriguing figure. A diplomat in the British Foreign Office, he was knighted for his humanitarian work in 1911, but then stripped of his honours and hanged for treason just five years later, after becoming involved in the movement for Irish independence.
Subtitled "One Man's Struggle for Human Rights in South America's Heart of Darkness", Jordan Goodman's book documents a lesser-known episode in Casement's career: his role in bringing to light the horrors of the rubber industry in South America. In 1909, reports surfaced of human-rights abuses committed by the Peruvian Amazon Company, a rubber firm consolidated in London. Renowned for his earlier work in the Congo, where he exposed the brutality of King Leopold II's colonial regime, Casement was sent to Peru's Putumayo region to investigate.
He was appalled at what he discovered. The company's traders used indigenous Indians of all ages as slave labour, sending them into the jungle to collect wild rubber and torturing or murdering those who failed to meet their quotas. An astonishing 30,000 had died as a result.
The devil of the title – the rubber baron Julio César Arana – emerges as a rather one-dimensional villain, but Goodman offers a fuller, more nuanced portrait of Casement. We discover how his grim work began to take its toll ("I am full up with atrocities and horrors," he wrote in his diary) and how his anger at the treatment of the Peruvian Indians fostered a growing political militancy, driving him to support the anti-imperialist cause closer to home.
Goodman's account of Casement's expedition, and the outcry his findings prompted, is meticulously researched. The author marshals a wealth of material into a riveting, if harrowing, narrative which, in its treatment of corporate greed and exploitation, is full of contemporary resonance. A rich, moving, important book.
Arts & Ents blogs
Sherlock's Benedict Cumberbatch 'first sexy Holmes', says Mark Gatiss
Too upsetting? Academy members voted for Oscar-winning 12 Years A Slave 'without watching it'
Liam Neeson turned down James Bond role because late wife Natasha Richardson said she wouldn't marry him if he took it
Jessica Alba interview: From Hollywood superwoman to household product CEO
Captain Phillips actor Barkhad Abdi struggles financially despite Oscar nomination
Apple's Tim Cook: Business isn’t just about making profit
Thousands of young people forced to go without food after benefits wrongly stopped under 'draconian' new sanctions regime
Ukraine crisis: New navy chief 'defects' and surrenders Crimean HQ as Putin claims ultranationalists forced intervention
Britain's top vet sparks controversy with call for ban on slashing animals' throats in 'ritual' slaughters for halal and kosher meat products
Ukraine crisis: Russia dismisses '3am ultimatum' as 'total nonsense'
If you're horrified by a flame-roasted dog, you should be shocked at a hog roast
- 1 To those who can’t see the point of International Women’s Day: you are the very reason it exists
- 2 International Women's Day 2014: The shocking statistics that show why it is still so important
- 3 Saudi preacher who 'raped and tortured' his five -year-old daughter to death is released after paying 'blood money'
- 4 Orgasm machine to deliver climax at the push of a button
- 5 Liam Neeson turned down James Bond role because late wife Natasha Richardson said she wouldn't marry him if he took it