Books: The Devil and Mr. Casement: One Man’s Battle for Human Rights in South America’s Heart of Darkness


In 1910, a British diplomat named Roger Casement traveled to a remote corner of the Peruvian Amazon to investigate reports that the local Indians were being enslaved as rubber tappers, and tortured and murdered if they resisted. The assignment was similar to one he’d carried out a few years earlier in the Congo, which, as readers of Adam Hochschild‘s King Leopold’s Ghost may recall, helped expose the atrocities inside the Belgian monarch’s private colony. In Peru, Casement found horrors that rivaled those in the heart of Africa (see “Blood and Treasure“), but this time, the crimes weren’t being carried out in the name of a foreign ruler, but a public company based in London.

The outlines of this story are all too familiar: A firm enriches itself with the sweat and blood of people half a world away, far from consumers’ consciences or the prying eyes of watchdogs. The Devil and Mr. Casement presents a fast-paced account of this groundbreaking effort to hold corporations accountable for their misdeeds, as well as a detailed portrait of Casement, a closet Irish revolutionary (and even more deeply closeted gay man) who becomes obsessed with beating “the devil” of the book’s title, a ruthless Peruvian rubber baron.

It’s not giving away the ending to say there’s no happy one to this story. However, author Jordan Goodman buries a fascinating, disturbing detail that establishes his drama’s continued relevance: The Putumayo Indians who were rubber slaves a century ago are the ancestors of the indigenous people in the recent documentary Crude, which follows their ongoing struggle to get American oil companies to take responsibility for polluting their rainforest home.

DOES IT FEEL LIKE POLITICS IS AT A BREAKING POINT?

Headshot of Editor in Chief of Mother Jones, Clara Jeffery

It sure feels that way to me, and here at Mother Jones, we’ve been thinking a lot about what journalism needs to do differently, and how we can have the biggest impact.

We kept coming back to one word: corruption. Democracy and the rule of law being undermined by those with wealth and power for their own gain. So we're launching an ambitious Mother Jones Corruption Project to do deep, time-intensive reporting on systemic corruption, and asking the MoJo community to help crowdfund it.

We aim to hire, build a team, and give them the time and space needed to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We want to dig into the forces and decisions that have allowed massive conflicts of interest, influence peddling, and win-at-all-costs politics to flourish.

It's unlike anything we've done, and we have seed funding to get started, but we're looking to raise $500,000 from readers by July when we'll be making key budgeting decisions—and the more resources we have by then, the deeper we can dig. If our plan sounds good to you, please help kickstart it with a tax-deductible donation today.

Thanks for reading—whether or not you can pitch in today, or ever, I'm glad you're with us.

Signed by Clara Jeffery

Clara Jeffery, Editor-in-Chief

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate