By Alfredo Fernandez
“It is even more difficult to foresee the future fate of the New World, to set down its political principles, or to prophesy what manner of government it will adopt. Every conjecture relative to America’s future is, I feel, pure speculation. When mankind was in its infancy, steeped in uncertainty, ignorance, and error, was it possible to foresee what system it would adopt for its preservation? (…) More than anyone, I desire to see America fashioned into the greatest nation in the world, greatest not so much by virtue of her area and wealth as by her freedom and glory.” –Simon Bolivar, First Letter from Jamaica (1815)
HAVANA TIMES – I found the above image on a local bus seat in Quito; its xenophobic eloquence, plus the wave of protests that has taken over the region, has led me to the present reflection, which I will begin with a question that is key in helping us to understand a little bit about what is happening on this side of the world.
What is left of Bolivar’s dream in Latin America? While the answer to this question is very easy: nothing; I find it impossible to respond without shedding a real sadness.
Looking at the above, let’s take a look at some of the events in the region’s recent past, so as to give some meaning to my pessimism.
Former Venezuelan army colonel Hugo Chavez Frias’ victory in December 1998, marked a milestone for Latin America, as nobody had reached power with ideas so close to Socialism in our countries (Nicaragua being the exception) since Salvador Allende took the presidential seat in Chile in 1970. While Chavez never openly declared himself a Marxist, but after a decade in power (on January 23, 2010), his conduct did from the very beginning.
Unlike all of the other Leftist presidents this region has seen, Mr. Chavez wouldn’t have the great limitation his colleagues did throughout his long term in office: money. It was not an obstacle for his objectives.
Chavez ruled over the richest nation in Latin America, planted above a sea of oil, which allowed him (along with high oil prices on the global market) to take on a system of State socialism that was only functional because a barrel of oil was selling for 100 USD.
And the inevitable happened when you have an economy that is run like this, money began to stop rolling in. Not only because of a drop in global oil prices, but also because of excessive obstacles imposed on business owners, who Chavez and his colleagues saw as the evil that prevented Venezuelan socialism from crystalizing.
Poverty ensued and it sparked the largest wave of migrants in South America, like never before in the region.
Up until the present day, over five million Venezuelan citizens have left the country and it is expected that this number will figure at eight million by the end of 2020.
In an extremely bold political act, Chavez converted the liberator Simon Bolivar into the patron of the social revolution he led and which he came to describe as “Bolivarian”. Before him, his mentor Fidel Castro did the same with the Cuban Revolution when he called it “Martiano”.
They did this and weren’t bothered by the fact that Bolivar and Marti were both liberals and, in the case of the former, even a fervent admirer of US democracy.
In fact, his “Gran Colombia” political project was based on creating another United States of America in South America, a project that was thwarted by the short-sightedness of the troops who fought, alongside Bolivar, for America’s independence from Spain.
While Santander and Paez were military men of undisputed valor, their political blindness distanced them from Bolivar’s dream, dragging them down the abyss of their own personal interests.
This is how Bolivar’s longing to create a great nation in these lands like the United States, or even larger, vanished over Time and these commanders got their own way, and Venezuela, Colombia and Ecuador – later Panama – separated into four countries forever, with questionable democracies and nearly always moving away from personal prosperity and freedom.
“If you want to have a brilliant political career, I recommend, among other things, that you forget about Latin America.” This is more or less what president Richard Nixon advised up-and-coming US politician Donald Rumsfeld.
Except for some specific circumstances, Nixon’s advice continues to ring true for any young politician in the USA, fifty years later.
Latin America isn’t making progress, or rather it is making very slow progress, which is essentially the same thing, and countries in the region are still insisting on electing populist leaders who contribute nothing towards democracy, with a range that sways from politicians like Chavez to Bolsonaro. Voters in this region are satisfied with their leaders just talking about what they want to hear, without caring whether they really need it.
On the other hand, Spain’s evils have taken firm root in our lands. As you know, we can’t see the Spanish. Thus, a Catalan person has serious problems when talking to someone from Castilla y Leon and other region of the country. The same thing happens with Basques, Valencians and the Aragonese, to the point that quite a few intellectuals have said that Spain doesn’t really exist, that it is just an invention.
It turns out that this statement could be applied in some way to Latin America today, as there is no unity between us, much less a mutual understanding of us being agents belonging to the same region, and (the best) that we have a very similar way of life and temperament, where unlike Spain (and with the exception of Brazil), we all speak the same language.
If that verse by Juan Gelman was true, “My Homeland is my language”, it might not have been so difficult for Bolivar to build his dream.
Just a few days ago, a teacher in Quito welcomed a Venezuelan student, who was just five years old, in her school with insults and a beating just because he was Venezuelan. That’s where we’re at, insisting on the fact that Nixon is still right for the indefinite future.
In this part of the world, far from encouraging and growing a culture of reading and high culture, emerging religions are growing that are gaining more and more followers, with leaders who are just as shaky as our politicians who, inevitably, see their flock as a source of income.
In 2018, Peru reached the not-at-all-negligible figure of a million Mormons.
Protests in public spaces in Ecuador, Chile and now in Colombia, where especially young people, are damaging a large part of social property with the intention of settling the score with a State they believe to be oppressive. This is how they prove the failure of ideologies that operate in the continent. Governments in Venezuela and Nicaragua are still objects of large social protests for almost similar reasons.
What is the ideology that is in keeping with our landa? What system of government will give us the prosperity and freedom that Bolivar longed for and which has been elusive up until now?
I suspect that any answer to these questions involves an inevitable introspection where we can identify what we must do to become a voter with an education in civic values. I suspect that it’s only from a deep individual responsibility that I will be able to stand up as a true citizen, and then, with other similar individuals, we can build a Latin America that is closer to the liberator’s dream.
 Defense Secretary of the governments of Gerald Ford (1975-1977 amd George W Bush 2001-2006.