Research Notes · 09/16/2016

The Revolutionaries Try Again

Our Research Notes series invites authors to describe their process for a recent book, with “research” defined as broadly as they like. This week, Mauro Javier Cardenas writes about The Revolutionaries Try Again from Coffee House Press.

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The Brothers Restrepo and The Revolutionaries Try Again

If someone would have asked me what type of research I was doing for The Revolutionaries Try Again, my first novel set in Ecuador during the 80s and 90s, I would have said, from the highest pedestal I could afford, none, dear, for I grew up in Ecuador during the 80s and early 90s. And yet because I had decided The Revolutionaries Try Again would be set in Ecuador instead of in an unnamed South American country, and because I knew terrible events had taken place during the presidency of Leon Febres Cordero during the 80s, I did come down from my pedestal in the clouds and purchased a one year membership to the UC Berkeley library, which has an impressive Latin American collection, in search of events outside of my direct experience.

At the Main (Gardner) Stacks, most of the materials on Ecuador were shelved together a few floors below earth, so although at first I was after any books about Leon Febres Cordero and El Loco Bucaram, the most prominent political figures in Ecuador when I was growing up, I ended up browsing through most of the Ecuador section, encountering two books that would have a significant impact on The Revolutionaries Try Again: Caso Restrepo: Crimen de Estado, by Mariana Neira Lopez, and El Testigo by Hugo Efrain España. The subject of both is the Restrepo brothers, who, during the administration of Leon Febres Cordero, were murdered by the SIC10, a so-called antiterrorist unit that was eliminated by the next administration, citing an institutional culture of torture and arbitrary detentions.

Neira Lopez’s book chronicles the horrendous journey of the Restrepo brother’s parents in their search for their sons. Many of the facts in her book became part of the images that course through Eva, one of the main characters in The Revolutionaries Try Again, whose own brother has been murdered by SIC10, although these are submerged images, which only come to the surface in fragments, in a state of semi-consciousness, after she has been casually beaten up on the street: Luz Elena, the mother of the brothers Restrepo, and how in her desperation to find her sons she had consulted soothsayers; don’t make a nuisance of yourself, President Sixto Duran Ballen says to the young Restrepo sister after she asked him about her brothers; President Sixto Duran Ballen’s daughter saying to Luz Elena that instead of protesting at the Plaza Mayor they should play the classical music her father likes; Luz Elena visiting the hut of an indigenous clairvoyant who filled a pearl shell with aguardiente; a secret meeting between the police chief and the minister of the interior to decide what to do with the Restrepo brother who hadn’t died due to torture (shoot him); Agent Moran, the policewoman in charge of investigating the brothers Restrepo’s disappearance, inventing an informant who knew where the brothers Restrepo were; Agent Moran asking the Restrepo family for money to take more than sixty trips across the country to track invented leads.

El Testigo by Hugo Efrain España is a firsthand account of what happened to the brothers Restrepo. España had been on duty when the brothers Restrepo were jailed, and he was later implicated by others in SIC10 by including him in the operation to throw the bodies of the Restrepo brothers into the Yambo lagoon. In The Revolutionaries Try Again, Eva remembers how, on the day El Testigo comes out, she rushes to buy a copy of it, searching for any potential reference to her brother. Some of the facts she reads and rereads: that on the night the brothers Restrepo had been brought in by the police España had been on duty; that Sergeant Llerena had asked him to hand over the taller Restrepo brother; that approximately forty five minutes later Llerena returned with the prisoner who was unconscious and in such bad condition that Sergeant Llerena and Agent Chocolate had to carry him on each side; that he told the sergeant that he couldn’t receive the boy in those conditions because if he died in his cell he would be stuck with a legal proceeding; that in the poorer neighborhoods that had been designated as dangerous zones the SIC10 ambulatory squadrons would detain innocent young men just because they were standing outside their houses; that on his first assignment they hauled us in a van without windows and drove us to what we later found out was Cuenca; that among the targeted were syndicate leader Fausto Dutan who was wrongly included as a subversive and for whom a direct order was issued by Mayor Paco Urrutia chief of the sic10 in Cuenca to assassinate him along with his wife and daughters. While reading El Testigo, Eva berates España for spending so much time talking about his volunteer work at Garcia Moreno Prison, where he’d been imprisoned, instead of mentioning the names of the other people he claims he didn’t disappear. She also likes to believe she would be able to joke about silly things like the dedication in El Testigo: for her noble and pure gestures, Rosa Porteros, wherever you are.

In retrospect, I can see how my research about the brothers Restrepo and SIC-10 splits The Revolutionaries Try Again in two: those impacted and not impacted by them.

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Mauro Javier Cardenas grew up in Guayaquil, Ecuador, and graduated with a degree in Economics from Stanford University. Excerpts from his first novel, The Revolutionaries Try Again, have appeared in Conjunctions, The Antioch Review, Guernica, Witness, and BOMB. His interviews and essays on/with Laszlo Krasznahorkai, Javier Marias, Horacio Castellanos Moya, Juan Villoro, and Antonio Lobo Antunes have appeared in Music & Literature, San Francisco Chronicle, BOMB, and The Quarterly Conversation.