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Opinion and Analysis: International

At Mythology’s Door

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In this much-commented upon opinion column published in leading Colombian newspaper The Spectator, writer William Ospina offers his view on the role of Hugo Chavez in what he terms “the Latin American story”.  A subsequent interview with the author about the column has been translated by Venezuelanalysis.com here.

I once asked [celebrated Colombian writer] Gabriel García Márquez if it had been very difficult when a great part of the Latin American intellectual scene broke with the Cuban Revolution, and only he and a few others continued being its friends.

‘Gabo’ didn’t respond with a theory, but instead something more visceral. “For me,” he said, “Cuba was always a Caribbean question”. It seemed to me that this meant that Cuba wasn’t about Marxism or revolutionary theories, but rather the struggle of a people for its sovereignty and culture against the siege of invading powers.

The United States governments, that bought Florida, robbed Mexico, seized Puerto Rico and separated Panama, would have annexed the beautiful island of Cuba with pleasure if it hadn’t been so irreducible in its rebelliousness and so firm in its resistance.

Already in [Cuban independence hero José] Martí there was everything that would make Cuba a country so determined to be independent. García Márquez, who is familiar with the felonies of the “good neighbour” because as a child he knew of the massacre of the banana workers in Ciénaga Square,[i] understood that it was vital to keep the hegemonic desires of that country at bay, a country which respected the law so much inside its own borders and so little outside of them.

The story of Latin America has been that of a healthy tension with the powers of the north. Recently in Ciudad Juárez, in northern Mexico, I visited the Museum of the (Mexican) Revolution. Nothing impacted me more, even more than the cow’s skull on a table below the strong light of the desert, than a photograph of the high society of El Paso, Texas. Gentlemen with top hats and flowered ladies with dresses widened with crinoline, witnessing from the shores of the Rio Grande, while having a picnic, the fight on the other side of the border, where men in large hats and double pistols rose up against the dictatorship. [It was] the live image of a society of wellbeing that entertains itself with the spectacle of the tragedies of others, waiting for the moment to enter the action to gain benefit from the results.

The best way to admire, respect and honour the United States is to fear them, and not be misled about them. To them we are another world: primary resources, natural jungle, immigrants, and governments that submit and sign contracts without too many conditions. And here no one loves them as much as those who benefit from those contracts.

A lot of the continent’s media has made a great effort to turn the opponents of the United States into those in the wrong. They’ve tried it with Cuba and more recently with Venezuela, to the point that their victorious elections are always suspect. It doesn’t matter that in Colombia votes are bought or that they herd voters with promises or threats: this democracy is never questioned. It doesn’t matter that paramilitaries caused 200,000 deaths in ten years in massacres with every kind of atrocity: Colombian democracy continues being exemplary, because the power of the plutocracy continues in charge. But if someone is opposed, not to the United States but to the abuses of imperialism, it makes them guilty of indignity.

One of the great enemies of imperialism is Hugo Chavez. Because of this, although no one can attribute crimes to him like those that stain the hands of so many powers in the world, for many opinion-makers and media outlets he is a dictator and a tyrant. I believe that he’s been a great man, who has loved his people, and has tried to open the way to a little justice in a scandalously unjust continent. Because of this he’s been hard with the traditional owners of the country and for that they don’t forgive him. However they will forgive him, when they realise that everything that is done in favour of the ever-postponed peoples sooner or later results in societies more reconciled with themselves.

A friend said to me recently that a man who gets himself re-elected three times is an enemy of liberty. I don’t share that restricted idea of democracy. Queen Elizabeth of England, who wasn’t elected by anyone, has sixty years, that is for us all of history, as the sovereign of her land, and I don’t see anyone protesting against that abuse. In Colombia we’ve been electing the same guy with the same policies, but with different faces, for two hundred years. The only one who was a little different was Álvaro Uribe, only because he was a bit worse. But the problem isn’t the men but the ideas that govern, and in Colombia the same ideas have governed since the moons of the 19th century, and the catastrophic consequences are seen all over.

If it were necessary to call new elections, the most likely thing is that the Chavista majority would be even greater than the last (regional) elections that were celebrated without Chavez’s presence.

And perhaps we will have the opportunity to see Chavez go from history to popular mythology, to the novelistic Latin American mythology, that is likewise formed by María Lionza and José Gregorio Hernández, Rubén Darío and José Martí, Carlos Gardel and Eva Perón, Martín Fierro and Jorge Eliécer Gaitán, Simón Bolívar and Túpac Amaru, Frida Kahlo and Pablo Neruda, Eloy Alfaro and Salvador Allende, Che Guevara and Emiliano Zapata, Vargas Vila and Jorge Luis Borges, Benito Juárez and Morazán, Pedro Páramo and Aureliano Buendía.

A mythology in which today perhaps we only have Fidel Castro and Gabriel García Márquez still alive.

Translated by Ewan Robertson for Venezuelanalysis.com.


[i] The massacre of Ciénaga square took place in Colombia in 1928, when Colombian soldiers fired upon several thousand banana workers who were protesting poor working conditions at the U.S. United Fruit Company. The exact number of deaths caused is not known.