Latinoamérica en diferido / Alberto Barrera Tyszka

Latin America in Deferment

They’re waiting near one of the boarding gates at the Charles de Gaulle International Airport. They’ve come from different countries, they’re a large group. Most of them are carrying backpacks. Even though it’s winter, some of the kids are only wearing shorts and t-shirts. They don’t care about the cold. They’re going to the tropics. They’re going to travel, for the first time, to a revolution.

In Latin America, revolutions are also a non-traditional product for export. It is a matter of a charm that is as typical of us as pretentiousness or corn, mariachis or chocolate. We also have sentimental caudillos, necessary rebels, a class of heroes that can no longer be found anywhere else in the world. People that seem to have been taken out of a forgotten cinema epic. We are almost the planet’s retro TV channel. All those who still feel a nostalgia for history can come here.

Maybe that’s why Latin American revolutions tend to be so much more successful abroad than in their own countries. Some foreigners are fascinated by how a man of action in our region is always a man of arms, that democracies are a minor whim in comparison to the urgencies of reality, that a country can administer itself by means of authoritarian abuse and bullets. Like a shamanic ritual, like the rustic sun or the red Bolivian poncho, Latin American revolutions seem to naturally fit the fantasy certain people have about us. For many foreigners we continue to be incomprehensible cultures. What is disproportionate, ridiculous, absurd…is suddenly perceived as an act of honesty, as though it were the genuine emblem of our supposed identity.

Juan Villoro affirms: “One of the most serious and subtle results of Eurocentrism is that the search for the authentic privileges the picturesque.” In certain fields, this can even be charming and congenial, but in politics it undoubtedly ends up being tragic. What would be unacceptable in any European republic, is nonetheless legitimate if it happens in our countries.

The most emblematic example is Fidel Castro. A man who governs a country since almost 50 years ago, implementing a regime of a militaristic nature, where the right to information does not exist and where a large percentage of dissidents are in jail, this man is still thought of – by certain sectors of European culture – as a libertarian leader, as a hero of oppressed Latin America. Europe has taken magical realism much too seriously. It thinks the exotic is our birth certificate, our guarantee of authenticity.

The predetermined design, the preset idea, conceived for Latin America is so strong, so overwhelming, that it probably clouds any other diverging sign that might not come from the same reality. We could almost speak of an ideological tourism that comes to Latin America not to get to know the region but to verify that the imagined Latin America actually exists. The kids that wait to board a plane at the airport in Paris only travel to confirm what they already know, even though they haven’t seen it. They don’t come here to be surprised by an unknown reality but to sensibly confirm that the reality they already know is here, within their reach. More than countries we are theme parks, where the spectacle of inequality rotates, according to what the case might be, its indigenous people, its soldiers, its shirtless, its corrupt politicians, its sugar cane alcohol, its dances and its fried food, its songoroconsongo de mamey.

One of the most visible aspects of certain Europeans, including many journalists, is their lack of curiosity, of doubts: the naiveté with which they accept the versions that correspond with the territory they've dreamed. To what Edward Said calls “the rhetoric of guilt,” we also have to add a certain anxiety toward history, the result of which unfortunately seems to be the annulment of complexity. From that perspective, in the name of fighting inequality and poverty, in the name of confronting the culture of the United States, anything is accepted, allowed. In its depths, it is a vision constructed at a distance, they always see us in deferment, as though our history had actually already happened, as though they already knew the destiny that awaits us, that is good for us.

The kids will return to Charles de Gaulle this same winter. One of them might bring a bongo drum as a souvenir. Another one, a t-shirt stamped with a portrait of Che next to Hugo Chávez. Many photos. They’ll distribute the good news: beyond the ocean everything is marvelous and disorganized; beyond the ocean there exists the confused paradise that continent deserves. That’s how it is. Latin American revolutions always tend to be beneficial. Especially if one visits them, if one does not live them.

{ Alberto Barrera Tyszka, El Nacional, 8 April 2007 }

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