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

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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.

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DEMOCRACY DOES NOT EXIST...

without free and fair elections, a vigorous free press, and engaged citizens to reclaim power from those who abuse it.

In this election year unlike any other—against a backdrop of a pandemic, an economic crisis, racial reckoning, and so much daily crazy—Mother Jones' journalism is driven by one simple question: Will America move closer to, or further from, justice and equity in the years to come?

If you're able to, please join us in this mission with a donation today. Our reporting right now is focused on voting rights and election security, corruption, disinformation, racial and gender equity, and the climate crisis. We can’t do it without the support of readers like you, and we need to give it everything we've got between now and November. Thank you.

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