Thursday, October 11, 2007

Between the Gringo & the Gachupin

It was a sobering if not unforeseeable denouement from the Spirit of Salamanca where in 2005 Latin American leaders united in a spontaneous show of gratitude for the tireless efforts of King Juan Carlos to promote Ibero-American cooperation. Now, two years later, in Santiago, Chile, at the annual summit of Hispanic nations, an exasperated monarch told Hugo Chavez to shut up, and shortly thereafter walked out of he summit’s plenary session to underscore his royal displeasure at criticism of Spanish economic policies in the region.

Needless to say, the neo-liberal media around the world was all a-blast and a-blather with headlines El Rey espetó a Chavez: Por qué no te callas?” It was only a matter of time before Fox or the Daily News would screech: King to Hugo: Shut Up! The monarch’s language was indeed strong. Spitting out a question without using the deferential subjunctive was a notch above the barrack bark of command. Anglo-Americans who care little about Ibero-America and know even less could easily be persuaded that nasty Hugo at last got his well deserved comeupance. Don’t cry for Venezuela... if the full-of-trouble half-breed gets what’s coming

But yesterday’s events can only be understood in their historical context; and for those minimally acquainted with the disaster and tragedy of Spanish and American history, it was a depressing state of affairs.

From the outset, the relationship between Spain and the AmerIndian World was problematic and paradoxical, to say the least. The Iberian conquest of las Américas was a necessary historical event. Simply put, it is a worse than absurd fantasy to maintain that half the world should have stayed at home for 3000 years until the other half made it from stone age to iron age and could deal on equal footing. Even the Indians understood the inscrutable necessity which drove Spaniards to their shores, which is why, knowing full well otherwise, they wrote apologetically that they had thought Cortez was a god.

Spanish rule brought a necessary technological development and cultural amalgamation to the new world. While these changes partially destroyed the indigenous cultures, they also gave painful birth to new hybrid customs and awarenesses which are marvelous in their own right.

But Spanish rule also brought voracious economic exploitation and political discrimination. This latter was not confined to the effective exclusion of the Indian; it included as well a de jure discrimination against native born Spaniards, or criollos as they were known. Spain adopted a mercantalist policy whereby the the colonies in their social and economic entirety existed as the boiler room for the Spanish Ship of Empire. As in the English Colonies, such policies did much to spur the spirit of resentment and revolt.

However, contrary to nationalist myths, the collapse of the Spanish Empire was not brought about by American independence movements -- by the Bolivarian Revolution, the Argentine uprising and the Mexican War of Independence. Rather it was the collapse of Empire that allowed and indeed necessitated the independence of the American states. The political map of Latin America -- what Ché called “divisiones inciertas e ilusorias” -- was not so much the product of genuine grass-roots movements but simply chunks of empire fallen to pieces. What brought the Spanish Empire to its end was a Bonapartist invasion of Spain following on 200 years of Anglo-American piracy and subversion.

The opening salvo in this assault was Cromwell’s propagation of the Black Legend, a spurious and sado-masochistic libel of Spanish cruelty published under the title of The Tears of the Indians and which was used as justification for the “liberation” of Jamaica. Once liberated, the English promptly imported 500,000 slaves, evidently not giving much of a rats ass about the Tears of the Africans.

But the propaganda of Belgian babies roasted on bayonetes only goes so far. To undo an empire, an ideology is needed. This was found in the liberal mantra of “free markets” and “free trade.” Washed of its perfume, what the ideology came down to was a demand to poach on what Spain felt was hers. An entré. A fair slice of the pie. A bite at the apple. Share a bit of what’s yours Jack, it’s only right.

Needless to say, there were those in the colonies -- mostly criollos -- who could not have agreed more. These liberales -- like liberals everywhere -- embellished it all with copious Rouseauian and Jeffersonian flourishes -- but the bottom line was basically simple. If, say, you owned a ranch that produced 1,000 hides a year, you could make more money selling them on the free global market than you could paying the state monopoly prices dictated by privileged merchants in Seville.

Even worse than the merchant-guilds of Seville were the gachupines -- old country Spaniards who were granted the cream off the top. Armed with royal licenses and patents, they would arrive in the New World, make a killing and return home with a new or refurbished title. To the Indian, it is fair to say, old- or new- world Spaniard was a distinction without a difference. But to the mestizos and criollos, these peninsular Spaniards were loathed for their rapaciousness and for that exquisite arrogance of which only the Spanish are capable. Death to the Gachupines became the battle cry of a hemisphere.

As much as the hammer of Bonapart’s regiments, Liberalism was the wedge that shattered the Spanish Empire which became the felled beast and ravaged prey of English and American pirates, smugglers and carpet-bagers allied with tin-pot “local liberators” and oligarchs in the host lands.

In truth, Hispanic America had simply traded one predator for another. For the next 100 years, both Spain and her once glorious colonies slid into a century of what might be called cold anarchy -- a state of perpetual political unrest and uncertainty whose only beneficiaries were foreign investors and their local presta-nombres (name-lenders), venda-patrias (country-sellers) and oligarchs. The Anglos had won at last and las Américas became the economic colony of the Brits and the Americans with supporting roles by the Dutch and the French.

The acrimoniousness that followed in the wake of “collapse and independence” cannot be underestimated. On both sides of the Atlantic, the Spanish world turned not so much inward as away from one another as if the other did not deserve to exist. On the American side, Argentina was the least resentful; Mexico the most. Mexico’s social-democratic revolution in 1910-1920 and Spain’s national-fascist revolution in 1935-1939 only exacerbated the estrangement. Mexico gave refuge to Spanish republicans and never recognized the Franco regime.

As bad as the political estrangement was the economic stagnation that ensued on both sides of the Atlantic upon years of anarchy, revolt and civil war. Whereas during the colonial period, Hispanic America had been within the developed portion of the world, independence only brought under-development and economic dependence. Argentina did relatively well, especially during the Second World War. In contrast Mexico’s 1910 revolution set back her previously achieved prosperity by 30 years. Spain’s loss of empire had reduced her to an economic midget and her civil war had rendered her destitute midget at that. The grandiosity of fascio-nationalist rhetoric only underscored Spain's hopeless, dried-up condition.

But as is well known, shortly after his accession to the throne, Juan Carlos lent his support to the rejuvenation and democratization of Spain. Less well known were his efforts to re-establish what he called the “Ibero-American community.” Too much bad water had flowed under the bridge to put in place what had been Count of Aranda’s farsighted but shelved plan in 1780 to create a Spanish Commonwealth; but Juan Carlos felt that something like that could still be achieved de facto. Beginning slowly, promoting tourism and cultural exchanges, the young monarch sought to revive the better bonds of memory between the peoples of the Iberian Peninsula and the Americas.

One of the more popular off-shoots of the royal effort was La Ruta del Quetzal a camping route that would acquaint Spanish kids with the colonial and indigenous culture of Ecuador. It was also no small matter that four years ago, mostly as a result of the King’s efforts, the academic reactionaries of La Réal Academia de la Lengua Española, agreed to incorporate a wealth of Ibero-Indian words into the officially authorized dictionaries. Such efforts ultimately culminated at the 2005 Salamanca Summit where it was agreed to institutionalize the reunions so as to give the idea of Ibero-Americanism an ongoing political and economic presence and purpose.

This week, three years on and with the support of Argentina’s Kirchner, the leaders of the Second Bolivarian Revolution -- Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez, Nicaragua’s Daniel Ortega, Bolivia’s Evo Morales and Ecuador’s Rafael Correa -- let it be known they are not about to free themselves from the gringo only to reindenture themselves to the gachupin. They would happily welcome renewed Spanish economic ties, so long as they provided a way of freeing themselves from Yankee neo-liberal plunder. If Spain were willing to do for it’s former colonies what Europe did for Spain in the 1980’s all the better. But a Spanish predator is no better than a NorthAmerican one.

The critique was headed up by the Harvard-educated Correa who criticised the conduct of Spanish companies whose predatory practices had led Ecuador into a “long and dismal neo-liberal night.”

As the Spanish monarch and president Jose Luis Zapatero wilted, Correa redoubled the attack scoring Spanish “birds of prey” -- like Telefónica, Santander, Unión Fenosa, and Repsol -- who, allied with European trusts or U.S. and Canadian multinationals, had produced a "chasm of social inequality in a trail environmental devastation.”

That blast, was followed by Chávez, who rose to criticize former Spanish president José Maria Aznar whom he called a neo-fascist, a lackey and a snake for promoting predatory business practices. Chavez recalled that Aznar had once privately told him that the poorer Latin American nations had “screwed themselves”. Responding to a recent complaint by the Spanish Chamber of Commerce (CEOE) against an alleged “lack of juridical security” in Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador, Chávez denounced Spanish companies for having (juridically) “sacked” Venezuela.

In fact, by criticising a former president, Chávez was being somewhat less direct than Correa, given the fact that the conduct of the Spanish companies remains the same under the Zapatero’s administration. But this obliqueness went over Zapatero’s head and he demanded an apology from Chávez taking into consideration, he said, that Aznar deserved the respect due someone elected by the Spanish People. Chávez replied, that as a paid lobbyist Aznar was globe-trotting disrespect against Venezuela and that he had a right to defend the Venezuelan People against such attacks.

At that point, as Zapatero and Chávez began to talk over one another, the King exploded and to the shock of everyone present, told Chávez to shut up. Undeterred and addressing Zapatero, Chávez replied that Aznar may have been elected but he was still a fascist.

President Bachelet, the summit’s host, smoothed things over; but not one of the Latin American leaders came to the defense of the Peninsulares. Columbia’s Alvaro Uribe, a neo-liberal himself, later advised Chávez to use less forceful language when referring to known personalities, but he did not defend either the King or his president. The feeling among the American leaders was, that if the summits are to be truly substantive they require frank discussion about conflictive issues.

The frank discussion continued in full force when Chávez was followed by Nicaragua’s Daniel Ortega who began by noting that 90% of his country was opposed to the predatory business practices of Spanish companies and then went on to state that European policy had subsumed itself to the “dictatorship of global capitalism, led by the United States.”

He criticized Europe’s policy towards Cuba as hypocritical and stated that both Europe and the United States had historically maintained a policy of interference and destabilization with respect to those Latin Ameircan countries who wished to act with true independence. He called for the creation of a new Organization of American States free from the domination by the United States.

Before he had finished, and with a nod from Zapatero, the King left the chamber.

No doubt Fox News and the New York Times will treat the story in much the same manner as the right wing Spanish press which will huff and puff about how a noble and patient king was exasperated by the uncouth, aggression of a demagogue. The reaction from the left has been more sympathetic:
"Without Videla, Pinochet or Stroessner, these ‘Ibero-American’ summits just aren’t what they used to be. Now these sovereign nations dare top criticise the depradations caused by Spanish multinationals and to defend themselves against Aznar’s attacks waged on behalf imperialist lobbies whose servile creature he is. And when they do, the King looses his cool.
“If the image of the gachupines was already bad enough in Latin America, the monarch’s conduct has done a poor service to his country.”
"Perhaps the tone and words used by Chavez and Ortega were not the ne plus ultra of the Castillian language, but actions not words are what cause social injury and in this respect the balance does not run in favor of the Spaniards in attendance at the summit. .... Borbón y Zapatero forgot that they are not in their colonies and that on this side of the planet they can neither command nor demand. ... Nor were they meeting a group of obsequious lackeys; but on the contrary were obligated to listen and to take into consideration the critiques and opinions of their summit counterparts. Or do Borbón and Zapatero think that Latin America is merely the personal preserve of predatory corporations?
"Both men seem to have forgotten that the Crown and Staff are ultimately not worth a goddamn in these parts if they are not accompanied by honesty, wisdom, and most importantly by democratic legitimacy. Unfortunately, predatory enterprises have always counted on the absolute support of the monarchy and, as we know now, from Zapatero as well. Both are simply mayordomos of interantional capital -- a fact which the Spanish ought to correct...."
King Juan Carlos' efforts at creating an Ibero-American Community were a worthy correction of a tragic history if, and only if, they lead to such investments as respect the natural and cultural environment of the host country and pay back a portion of profit into the social and economic welfare of its people.

©WCG, 2007

References tener-doble-discurso-cuba-onu.html

No comments: