Monday, October 15, 2007

Cuba and Venezuela Melding But Not Under Martí's Aegis

"Carlos Lage said once that Cuba had two presidents, and then I just said in Cuba that Venezuela has two presidents too, but we are one single government. We are headed for the [José] Martí-style, Caribbean, South American Confederation of Bolivarian Republics."Hugo Chávez, on his weekly television show, Alo, Presidente, aired from Santa Clara, Cuba, October 14, 2007

Poor Martí! Surely it was not this that he envisioned as he stood weeping in front of Bolívar's statue in Caracas, where he headed immediately on arriving in that city in 1880. Yes, Martí's dream, Bolívar's dream — the dream of every progressive 19th century Hispanic-American statesman — was to unite all the countries of "Our America" into a grand confederation of states. Thank God, that dream was deferred.

Each of our republics has enough problems without taking on the problems of all the other republics. Our political evolution is compatible but only in those points where compatibility is hardly desirable. Our histories coincide in the period of Spanish despotism and then break off abruptly at the time of independence never to converge in any meaningful way again. Many of the peoples of Central and South America cordially or not so cordially despise one another and harbor old resentments and feuds that hark back to the time of independence, indeed, to the time of the Conquest. The only times in history that they have managed to unite briefly was when they did so to attack a neighbor. Yes, it is true that Europe with its festering immemorial hatreds and rivalries has managed an economic and political consolidation of sorts. Perhaps all their hatreds and resentments were played out in World War II. This is far from the case in Latin America today and it was even more unlikely in Martí's day, when some of the Latin republics actually had hopes of a bright future.

I can prove that Martí wasn't a Communist because he wasn't, but I can't prove that he wasn't a Pan-Americanist: "When speaking of Latin America, we speak of a people and not of "peoples" intentionally because it does not seem to me that there is more than one from the Rio Grande to Patagonia." He left hundreds of invocations in his writings urging the union of all Hispanic countries. He could be poetic about it: "My fondest wish is to see the people of Latin America, which now live side by side, living soul by soul and hand in hand." Or speak idealistically of a new kind of empire: "a great Latin nation, not a conqueror like Rome." And a new kind of "warfare:" wanting to "equip peaceful armies to march under one banner from the Rio Grande to the Arauco."

Martí believed, of course, that such a union would seal Latin America's independence and frustrate the designs which the U.S. and European powers had on the region in general and Cuba in particular. He never imagined, because his great love for us caused him to idealize and misjudge us, that such a union, far from providing for our mutual defense, might condemn us all to share the same despotic fate; he never saw that we were a greater danger to each other than all the imperialist powers that coveted our lands but disdained our peoples. He never realized that such a union would multiply our vices without multiplying our virtues. Like all who love greatly, he loved us blindly.

Now, as Hugo Chávez said, Martí's dream seems on the verge of being realized, but I do not think that he would approve. Martí has been killed a thousand times since his death by the errors committed both by his own countrymen and the inhabitants of his "greater Hispanic homeland." His legacy has been distorted, his opinions have been falsified and he has been used as a tool by the most ruthless regime ever to exist in the history of the hemisphere modern or ancient. But the union of two tyrannies under the auspices of Pan-Americanism, and, supposedly, in obedience to his teachings, would be more than he could endure. If it were possible for him to charge the line of artillery one more time on his white steed, he would. This is not what Martí wanted. Or Bolívar. Or any of our prohombres.

Martí would argue that this type of Pan-Americanism is the negation of his dream, and it is. But it is also the only type of Pan-Americanism that was ever likely in the first place: despotic nation with despotic nation; mendicant nation with rich nation; insular nation with continental nation (so that the "union" doesn't have to be that tight). Martí should have intuited this. Did he not say that "Countries that do not share common means, though they may have identical ends, cannot pursue together the same object." It follows, then, that nations with common means and identical ends can pursue the same object. Such as Castro's Cuba and Chávez's Venezuela.

Ironically, the only country that could save us from this mutual suicide pact is the United States, which Martí always regarded (not without justification) as "the other," not to say the enemy. "Two condors may live together or two lambs," he observed apropos of the two Americas, "but never a condor and a lamb." Well, now the condor may have to save the lambs, but the condor has no interest whatever in the lambs. It has eyes only for Araby as a continental alliance between the insane and the opportunistic takes shape which promises to destroy every vestige of freedom and democracy in the Americas for the next 100 years.

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