HAVANA TIMES — People don’t always speak very well of Argentineans. They’re labeled smug for feeling like they’re Europeans. Even the Mexican poet Octavio Paz once said “Argentines are Italians who speak Spanish and feel themselves Frenchmen.”
Nevertheless it’s a bountiful land that has given grand figures to the history of humanity. The arts, science, politics and sports owe much to the “Rio de la Plata,” and it was once called by the Spanish conquistadors back in the 1500s.
Today Argentina is one of the largest economies of Latin America, after Brazil. According to the World Bank, its nominal GDP is the 30th largest in the world.
Wars of independence against colonialism, coups, instability and a cruel dictatorship were the various stages of the social and political landscape of this country. Now it has erected a new political model that I don’t dare to attempt to define (nor is that my goal).
For me, the curious thing about this country is that it has given children who have made their marks in distinct aspects of world history, though distant in time, ideologies and destinies.
For example, Argentina literature occupies a significant place within Spanish letters, with examples in the late 19th century as Jose Hernandez (author of Martin Fierro, translated into more than 70 languages). In the 20th century there was Julio Cortazar, Adolfo Bioy Casares, Ernesto Sabato and Juan Gelman.
And what can one say about the phenomenal Jorge Luis Borges, one of the most important writers of the Americas and the world (all of these except Cortazar won the Miguel de Cervantes Prize).
That nation’s music doesn’t lag too far behind, having given the world the tango, a style of music with international fame and that has dance schools in many parts of the planet.
Sports greats include soccer player Diego Armando Maradona, known as “el Pelusa” (“The Fuzz,” due to his frizzy hair) and “el Pibe de Oro” (the Golden Boy). He was chosen as the Best Player of the Century, was the star of Club Barcelona and was known for his great ball-handling skills. He was also the technical director of the Argentinean team in the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.
Now their soccer star is Lionel Messi, who also makes Argentina sparkle in the most universal of sports.
Ernesto “Che” Guevara — who was a revolutionary fighter, a statesman, writer and Argentine-Cuban doctor — become a paradigm of millions worldwide. With his historic journey that took him through Chile, Peru, Colombia and Venezuela, he began to dream of a unified Latin America.
He joined the struggle of Cuba revolutionaries in 1957, the guerrilla forces in the Congo in 1965 and finally in 1967 allied with the guerrilla movement in Bolivia, where he lost his life. Idolized by many, rejected by others, Che is the icon of revolution for millions around the world.
If all of this weren’t enough, His Holiness Francisco I (born Jorge Mario Bergoglio in Buenos Aires, Argentina) is the 266th Pope of the Catholic Church and the head of state of the Vatican City. He’s the first pontiff from the Americas, the first Hispanic since Alexander VI and the first non-European since 741. He’s also the first Jesuit.
This controversial character is praised by many for his humility and commitment to social justice, and people speak of his leading a simple lifestyle. He lived in a small apartment instead of residing in the Episcopal palace, he gave up his limo and his chauffer for public transportation, and he cooks his own food. He enjoys opera and tango, as well as soccer – as he’s a member San Lorenzo de Almagro Athletic Club.
But some people and institutions have also pointed out his alleged collaboration with the civil-military dictatorship in Argentina between 1976 and 1983 (even though no formal charges have been filed with the Argentinean court).
However others who were victimized by the dictatorship have said that Bergoglio helped the persecuted. There are various and conflicting opinions, but nothing conclusive to attribute his responsibility.
As controversial as they are, a literary genius like Borges has been accused of megalomania, while a soccer star like Maradona has been implicated in drug scandals, game expulsions and medical internment. A revolutionary, world citizen like Che has even been accused of war psychosis, and the new Pope is alleged to have associated himself with a dictatorship.
These views are dependent on the messengers – those who give them and for what purpose. In any case, despite its pros and cons, there’s no denying this land has given us outstanding people.