Dos países / Antonio López Ortega

Two Countries

Two countries exist, at the same time.

One is the most visible, the vociferous, the forcibly media-driven, the one that postulates itself as real, with its front page headlines and its crime pages. It is the country of misery, of the daily emergency, of inefficacy taken to its most exquisite extremes, of the operations that always come to the rescue of habitual chores. It is the country that displays the worst of our culture: corruption, immorality, spiritual lowliness, Venezuelan craftiness. It is the country that is closest to the State, or perhaps more accurately to Power, that thrives thanks to public funds, that displays a wealth of dubious origin, that elevates its arrogance above the collective miseries or the infinite ignorance.

Actually, it is not a country too far removed from the one the voter repudiated and finally condemned in the ballots in 1998, in hopes of a nobler public scene, one that is more transparent and conscious of its own goals. This country is bicephalous: what it postulates in its discourse, always with fanfare, is undone by its actions, or by their absence. It is a deceitful, or perhaps mythomaniacal, country that believes the word suffices in forging realities. It is a country that, in its most delirious facets, dreams of continental integrations, only to settle for shortcuts, or that strives to unsheathe eighteenth-century swords without realizing the new century is carrying a new energy paradigm under its arms.

While the country of imperial vocation, with its Cyclops body and clay feet, sates itself with its tepid adventures or with its street corner dreams, another country, forcibly realer and more desperate, survives it. It is a country closer to the social act, occult or half-buried, suffering and disoriented, that clamors for a more benevolent reality, that dreams a future for its children, that still believes in the effort or nobility of work. This country goes below, like a subterranean current. It is the historical country, that survives every sudden attack, that resuscitates after each ruin. It is the real country, with its vicissitudes and limitations on its shoulders, with its beliefs and disinterest, with its imperturbable values, that sometimes lets the other live for it while in its depths it harvests a dream of alternatives.

In its most visible or desperate postures, this country protests, closes down a street, makes demands of an undelivered housing plan, aspires to a job offer, offers bodies and victims so the delinquency that decimates it might be sated.

The grandiloquent country goes one way and the quotidian country goes the other. They walk on opposite trails and they never meet. The first uses a blind man’s stick, believing it represents everything, that it concentrates everything, while the other wanders in disbelief, constructing another sense of reality, or perhaps leaving tracks for the future. Since its condition is one of infinite waiting, it organizes itself in its own way to survive the adverse times: it is the one that flowers in an apartment building collective, in a neighborhood association, in a citizens assembly; it is the one that restores an abandoned school or plants trees in an empty lot, it is the one of the children that grow and are shaped in the net of the Fe y Alegría foundation, or in the System of Youth Orchestras.

In its moments of highest consciousness, when despair does not torture and tear it apart, this country joins up with effort, daily work, the education of its children and social reconstruction. It is not the country of omnivorous Power, which turns thieves into magistrates or transforms soldiers into delinquents. It does not have the authority to subvert order, nor to give other names to extreme realities like the poverty that grows or the delinquency that increases. There is no dissolving discourse, nor any magician’s gestures, in this quotidian, street-wise country, that fights with grit so that life does not fall from its hands, like water running nowhere.

That one country might go to encounter the other, like two reconciled brothers, would be the greatest of omens. That the powerful, self-sufficient country might show a minimal gesture of humility and join with the real country, so as to be one, would be an event of major design. It is entirely desirable, but perhaps it is not a possibility. These separations, however, these divorces without the separation of belongings—History confirms this—, have their ends, have their limitations. Either a nation is the consensus of the collectives, or it is no such thing. The rooms might be different but the house remains the same. And unlike what happens in “Casa tomada”—the memorable short story by Julio Cortázar—, no one can go out into the street with immunity and throw the key in the gutter.

{ Antonio López Ortega, El Nacional, 4 April 2006 }

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