Latin America and the World at the Pre-9/11 Juncture

Latin America and the World at the Pre-9/11 Juncture

América Latina y el mundo en la coyuntura pre 9/11

Marc Zimmerman

In the memory of Eduard Delgado,
the Director of Interarts, who lost his battle
against cancer in 2002.

In 1979, when I was the only yanqui working at the recently created Ministry of Culture in Sandinista Nicaragua, a Marxist- Leninist Colombian who was employed as a professor at a Canadian university paid us an emergency visit in order to alert the comandantes that Willy Brandt, François Mitterand, Felipe González, and company were conspiring to distort the revolutionary alternative by convincing Nicaragua and other Central American rebel countries to unite as a block—led by Mexico and Venezuela—so that, in association with European social democracy, they might be able to resist American pressures without yielding to the Soviet side. My Colombian friend was very concerned about this and was frustrated when he found that the Sandinistas had already heard about the plan, and that at least one of the nine comandantes had even indicated that it was the only way to resist American imperialism and build a new society.

I have always kept this incident in the back of my mind, since for me this was a possible, perhaps even desirable, solution for problems that seemed impossible to solve any other way. The situation came to mind again some years ago when I received an invitation from Barcelonan cultural activist Eduard Delgado to attend a conference dedicated to Euro-Latin American relations. In his announcement, Delgado cited “the lack of formal instruments to encourage and govern Euro-American relations, especially in these Post-Cold War/Globalizing times.” In this situation, he said, “Europe needs Latin America more than ever in its search for values that compensate for and correct the loss of public spaces that stimulate coexistence, social life, and creativity.”

I’m very much in agreement with this vision. It’s a line of thought present in the texts of Leopoldo Zea and Enrique Dussell— a romantic and humanist line of thought that honors the best of Europe, represented by Las Casas and perhaps Cervantes. However, I believe that it’s important to remember the clear implication of this Euro-Latin American issue: that the traditional values sought by Europeans were, what at least one human being called, “surplus values.” Naturally, that was the humanist tradition. But we should also remember that Bolivar’s dream, typical of pro-independence criollo thought at the beginning of the 19th century, was to liberate Latin America from Spain in the name of a freedom denied to the non-Western cultures and peoples living and working the land and mines of America.
These questions form part of a complex history that has to do with slavery, mestizaje, and the typical themes of “civilization and barbarity,” in addition to a number of other things. According to that history, economy, politics, and even technology and science are cultural matters. The theory is that Latin American cultures obstruct technological advances and the development of the political and economic trends vital to that development. In this regard, elite Latin Americans of European descent have felt frustrated with the precapitalist and premodern elements of their countries of origin and have thus always sought links with Europe. Even today a certain tension exists between the values and cultural norms promoted by the descendents of the criollo and mestizo elites, vs. those that derive from sectors still linked to forms of popular culture, rooted in entirely different socioeconomic systems, to the extent of having been hybridized, globalized, recycled, and transformed by massive cultural processes. However contemporary they may seem, these cultural processes contain a distinct residue of preindustrial values that the elites consider contrary to the progress and reason that are essential to the European.

Certainly advanced and “cyberneticized” countries need some residue of community and solidarity, but without the descent into ethnic and territorial conflicts that have dominated recent history. However, it’s no less true that projects connecting Europe and Latin America (and perhaps particularly those involving Spain) are regarded with mistrust, ambivalence, and at times, open hostility; as if they might somehow represent a continuation of the colonial relationship. Generally the problem intensifies when the interests of Latinos in the U.S. are involved, because they perceive those projects to be a strategy to gain access to North American possessions. And that’s due to the fact that the Latino leadership, Cubans aside, believes theirs is, or at least represents, the sector least connected to the criollo elites, whose traditions remained more intact.

With respect to Spain, perhaps the most notable example of Latino hostility I have personally witnessed was when, with the blessing of the Socialist government, the INCE of Madrid invited Latino leaders and some academics, including myself, to speak regarding the participation of Hispanics in the U.S. during the 500th anniversary celebrations. The answer was that Latinos in the U.S. didn’t have anything to celebrate on that occasion, and that their leaders weren’t going to betray their communities by sponsoring festive events.

The efforts of the IRELA (Institute for European-Latin American Relations) to promote economic growth and cooperation between Europe and Latin America could possibly represent a new phase. However, it seems to me to be important that organizations that are neither associated or identified with any type of Castilian centralism (governmental or Madrid-based) already have their own Euro-Latin American projects, linked to their own interests and aspirations. In my opinion, it is especially noteworthy that in a period of globalization and alleged Latin American democratization, organizations such as Interarts have stressed, not economics, but rather issues, relationships, and cultural politics. This emphasis on culture is important, even if only because the cultural sphere is where we can more easily find crucial points of difference and convergence; and furthermore where economic, social, and political issues meet more traditionally with success or failure.

Ever since the loss of its territories Spain has claimed a special relationship with Latin America; and naturally, many Spanish families are closely connected to certain places in Latin American. Moreover, the Civil War dispersed Spanish intellectuals (including Basques and Catalonians) all over Latin America, the full impact and continued effect of which still remains to be studied. I believe that one could say that, its relationship with the conservative Latin American criollo elite aside, Franco’s Spain was considered arrogant and condescending; even after becoming a refuge for numerous political exiles from Latin America, contributing thus a great deal to the boom of Latin American literature. During the Felipe González administration, despite certain troublesome and contradictory effects related to the celebration of the 500th anniversary and other matters, relations improved considerably, with increased good will, broader and more democratic projects, etc. Meanwhile, Spain’s economic expansion—through the development of new large-scale business initiatives, not only in Cuba but across the region—represented what some, perhaps exaggeratedly, have called the second Spanish conquest of Latin America.

In order to understand European and Latin American relations today, the agenda must include these and many other themes. There is, moreover, the question of intellectual Eurocentrism, that affects the same categories of knowledge through which those themes are studied, independent of the birthplace of the theorist or the concrete thinker. Yet, what seems to me to be most important to highlight, in terms of our deliberations, is that the issue of Euro-Latin American relations does not have as much to do with cultural policy, the line descending from force and authority, as it does with cultural politics, the resistance of the base to forge and maintain cultural spaces and modes. In spite of the romanticisms and the existence of many non-democratic culture groups, I consider multicultural democratization a crucial factor in political, and ultimately, economic democratization. Hence, I usually focus on people, rather than on national spaces. That brings me to the notion that immigration and settlement issues, and the cultural forms generated by those immigrations, reproduce models and problems more similar to those in America and Europe. In an email I received, Professor Sandra Ponzanesi announced her conference as follows: Increasing mass migration is redefining actors, places, and languages in European writing. These cultural shifts are magnified in the writing of cosmopolitans, expatriates, exiled as all migrants. By and large, the languages of the most powerful ex-colonisers (English and French) have been the privileged medium of expressing straddling nations, cultures and identities. However, other migrant traditions (such as those expressed in minor ex-colonial languages or vernaculars) are mapping new literary and cultural spaces. At the dawn of the new millennium it is important to assess the different material backgrounds that colour all these texts and acknowledge in what way they contribute to rewriting, expanding and subverting existing notions of European identity and citizenship.

It’s not simply about the parallels between immigrant workers and their impact on America and Europe, but also of direct Latin American economic immigration dispersing all over the European space. Here emerges a parallel with the recently published exploration by Mike Davis (2001) on the “Latin- Americanization” of cities in the U.S. as the model for the “Latin-Americanization” of at least certain dimensions of European cultural life. One can easily begin with the Iberian Peninsula, as an obvious nucleus of Euro-Latin American relations; however, England and the rest of Europe are also affected. In this sense, studies relating to domestic work and prostitution in the Dominican population in Madrid joins the increasing international literature in this field, whose most outstanding examples are not always Mexicans, Puerto Ricans, or others in the U.S., but also Colombian workers in Venezuela, Nicaraguans in Costa Rica, Ecuadorans in Italy, etc.

If we focus on cultural politics in addition to cultural policy we find ourselves in such fertile areas of study as macroeconomic and political issues. Moreover, we’ll find that many Latino (or Hispanic) groups of the U.S., equally preoccupied with resisting and establishing themselves, may offer important insights on Euro-Latin American relations. Although I’m not trying to attribute to Latinos a role of deep spiritual reserve among the working class of a world economic giant, they could play a significant role in connection with the contemporary narrative of modernization within the context of globalization, and in the transformations of Latin America, the Third World, and beyond.

• Marc Zimmerman is the Chair of the MACL at the University of Houston. He has written and edited some thirteen books, including U.S. Latino Literature (1992), and New World [Dis]Orders (1998).

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