By virtue of being the most diverse and hybrid area on the planet, Latin America is a kind of potpourri that is difficult to understand due to the number of ingredients it contains. Are we the poor suburbs of the West, as some see it, or are we by now, after two centuries of independence, something new and different?
The old white elite, with something of an inferiority complex, used to aspire to be Spanish, English, French or, at worst, the American: They went to bullfights, played golf, drank French wine and did their shopping in Miami.
What we really are is a complex jumble of things, not a homogenous continent that can be summed up in sensationalist slogans that make little sense such as: “Homeland or death” or “Ever onward until victory.”
The Latin American left has itself many different ingredients. All of these lefts (and a few centers and rights) were at late Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez’s funeral, some with genuine tears in their eyes, some concerned with making gestures for their domestic gallery, or to ensure the free oil keeps on coming, or perhaps with the secret satisfaction of seeing the corpse of an old enemy go by.
Let us start with the main oil widow: Cuba. The island is the last US bastion of the old Soviet Union and the Cold War. As in North Korea, Cuba has opted for a family succession that will end only when the Castro brothers die. Chavez used to call former Cuban president Fidel Castro “father;” it was to his father that he turned when he fell ill; and now we are witnessing the trauma of a father having to bury his own son, despite the so-called miracles of Cuban medicine.
Cuba is a dogmatic extreme for which, after 10 years of penury due to the fall of the Soviet bloc, Chavez’s arrival in power in 1999 meant manna from heaven. Cuba receives so much free oil from Venezuela that it can resell some to other Caribbean islands.
Let us just say that Chavez’s influence was in Cuba’s interest.
Venezuela is, without doubt, freer than Cuba. In Venezuela the Internet is available, as are newspapers and an opposition TV channel. Twitter is unrestricted and there are parties other than the PSUV (the United Socialist Party of Venezuela), Chavez’s party. While it continues under the single-party regime, with zero press freedom, Cuba has opened up a little, influenced by the fact that Chavez was clearly able to remain in power without restricting a few fundamental liberties.
In this mixture across the continent there is one bad ingredient: the hideous left of Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega. Ortega went to Chavez’s funeral on international women’s day. Did anyone remind him of his stepdaughter’s allegations — 15 years on — that he repeatedly raped her over the course of 20 years? Or that he bought the support of the Catholic Church by banning abortion? Or that he has coopted all branches of power? There is noboby more of a disgrace to the Latin American left than he.
Oddly enough, the freshest ingredient in the Latin American left is the oldest. The most likeable face of the left is that of anti-consumerist hippy Uruguayan President Jose “Pepe” Mujica, an ex-member of the left-wing Argentine guerrilla group known as the Montoneros.
What is more, he does not oppose any fundamental liberty. Uruguay is a free, just and sad country. Sad and dull: Young Uruguayans grow bored and choose to go and live elsewhere.