By Peter Fontanes
Hispanic/Latino American political unity is a myth that must become a reality if we are to see changes in the harsh political realities that presently exists in the United States and in Latin America. We must begin to think in Pan American terms and not in the limiting nationalistic, racial and ethnic tunnel that has stymied any effort for both of our communities to move forward and realize our rightful place in the world of tomorrow.
It has been nearly a century and a half since Simon Bolivar declared his philosophy of ”La Gran Colombia” which stated that it was only through Pan-American unity could the southern hemisphere escape the domination of foreign powers. Unfortunately, his cries for the salvation of the newly emerging republics became victim to Spanish colonialism, foreign imperialism and corporate globalization. His philosophy was also tainted by an underlying snobbishness that led to his views as being portrayed as despotic, condescending and even antithetical to democratic rule.
More importantly, the failure of “Bolivarismo” lied in the fact that the great general sought to initiate the movement from his homeland without having an effective advocacy in Washington, D.C. Clearly, men like Teddy Roosevelt and Cornelius Vanderbilt were in no mood to see anyone obstruct their canal or their railroad in Latin America.
The obstacles and problems with “Bolivarismo” continue to this day. Ruling classes, military interventionists, “Cold War” alarmists and multi-national corporate paranoid are just some of the hurdles that we have to surmount if meaningful reform is to come about in many Latin American countries beset with poverty, corruption and human rights violations. Coupled with Hispanic/Latino Americans in the United States being shuffled and fragmented as political and economic pawns thus being ineffectual as nominal power brokers on the national scene, it is no wonder that our community lacks a vehicle for both national domestic and international mobilization.
Groups like the National Council of La Raza, the League of United Latino American Citizens, the United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials and the National Hispanic Leadership Council have done a fantastic job of building solid policy sounding boards that are well respected and effective for reaching the ears of the White House and Congress. The outstanding leaders of these organizations with scarce resources at times have been diligent in keeping their noses to the grindstone and making sure that our people are well-served. The problem lies on the level of effective national grassroots organization and mobilization.
In an age where the growing Hispanic/American Latino population numbers have made us the votes to get in swing elections, the Cuban-Americans in Florida, the Dominican-Americans in New York, the Puerto Rican Americans in Chicago and the Mexican-Americans in Texas must learn to form a Pan-Hispanic/Latino American national coalition based on commonalities of agendas. Obviously, it would be foolhardy for us to seek unanimity. However, it is certain that if we can mobilize as one voice on certain issues, we can positively impact on domestic policies such as education, economic development and civil rights. Additionally, fairer international trade agreements, less intervention in favor of military dictatorships, improved foreign investment opportunities and enhanced foreign cultural and educational exchange programs are part of the evasive international wish list that can be ours if effective Pan-American bonding can occur.Indeed, Hispanic/Latino Americans, by being more united and aggresive here, can be part of the foriegn policy making that will address some of the political and economic problems that has caused many of our brothers and sisters to leave their country, freinds and relatives to cross our borders sometimes at great risk to life and limb. Is it not time for us to get involved as a people, as "La comunidad Hispana " to address this tragedy? Or are we to sit idly by as more Latinos die in the back of overheated truck containers or in construction accidents on unsafe job sites? This is the great challenge for our community for this decade!
Clearly, the potential for dramatic and radical changes in our hemisphere that are needed lies in the growing population demographics of the Hispanic/Latino American living in the United States. If we here do not move forward as a united national front, the rest of Latin America is doomed to wait. The vanguard of a successful Pan American unity movement lies in the emerging political strength and experience of the Hispanic/Latino American here in the United States. By combining our resources and energy with those of like-minded individuals, organizations and governments here and abroad in Latin America, we can significantly impact on foreign and domestic policy initiatives where it really counts- the White House and Congress
Individuals such as Hugo Chavez of Venezuela and Fidel Castro of Cuba have made the “Bolivarismo” doctrine a central part of their respective governments’ agenda for Pan American unity but these are not the real spokesperson for this cause.
Chavez and Castro are constantly condemned for their attempts to unify Latin America and reform the region’s political and social and economic conditions. These and other like-minded leaders are actively opposed for their efforts by elements within their own country as well as the United States. Clearly, while Cuba has made great strides in education and health care even while under the United States embargo, Castro openly challenged the United States and is a different horse of a problem. His support of local revolutionary insurgencies, his disregard for the human rights of the Cuban people to insure the survival of his regime and an overzealous adherence to an unrealistic and antiquated economic model certainly has taken the shine off this once charismatic and universally hailed leader. On the other hand, Chavez has been the unfair victim of an unusual amount of continuous and onerous vilification and strife that has not been seen in this hemisphere since the Allende era. This is a leader who has been overwhelmingly voted into office in two freely held national elections. Despite what one may feel about the Venezuelan leader and his brand of leadership, this is no Castro “wannabe”. These two have been lumped together by common enemies but not common philosophies. Yet, from the reports coming from Caracas, you can only assume that Marxism has been newly revived with the advent of Chavez’s rule. Nothing can be further from the truth.
The concern for regional political stability is a valid one for the United States and its allies but that is not a mandate to thwart off every reasonable attempt to assert much needed reform in many of these countries. Some of the problems arise when the efforts to self-define and determine their own best interests does not coincide with those of the United States government. This is where effective advocacy by the Hispanic/Latino American community residing in the states is especially needed in Washington.
However, as mentioned before, we must be aware of the fact that pure “Bolivarismo” carries with it some heavy baggage that may prove counterproductive as the overriding philosophy that will come to terms with the new realities of our times. We here in the United States must work with our counterparts in Latin America to convince them that “Bolivarismo” is old and stale and must be revamped into a new Pan American creed. No one who is a serious scholar of Simon Bolivar can deny that this was a man who had little confidence in the masses and was willing to institute a strong dictatorship to bring order to the chaos of post independence Latin America.
To Simón Bolívar, the independence armies had already gained freedom from Spain and the struggle for political stability was to be the next phase of the revolution. Lacking the political traditions of North America and England, the Spanish American people required that their new states be organized so that order was maintained by checking the popular forces until they could be trained in the civic virtues. “Bolivarismo” emphasizes the common good over the individual. Democratic expressions that harmed the state and nation must ultimately result in the loss of freedom for the individual. In “Angostura Discourse”, Bolivar said that, "The most perfect system of government is that which results in the greatest possible measure of happiness and the maximum social security and political stability ... we must hope that security and stability will perpetuate this happiness. Strong, central government prevents the anarchy that would destroy true freedom.”
Clearly, this is not the philosophy that will bring the Hispanic/Latino American in the United States or their neighbors south of the border into the twenty first century. “Bolivarismo” looked good on the surface, but once we dig deeper we realize it has little place in today’s world. It needs to be severely transformed and reshaped in the context of modern day aspirations. It is a philosophy that has been contaminated with historical misconceptions, missed opportunities and philosophical misspeak. Economic and technological globalization, international political enlightenment and access to new concepts of the role of citizens in their government have altered and, indeed, elevated the calls for democratic rule in Latin America without resort to totalitarian rule.
A new philosophy must be nurtured that will allow for true Pan American unity both here and abroad to flourish without being confused or tagged as an “undesirable” leftist or rightist insurgent movement by the CIA or the FBI and their cohorts in Latin America. It must be anchored in the love of democratic ideals and constitutional protection of basic human rights. It must also be free from usurpation or dominance of one group of another. It must have a common universal appeal that will allow competition, individual expression and solidarity of purpose. Common visions, experiences, intrinsic values, etc. should be part of the “asopao” of this vanguard.
With a possibility that there will be an increasing number of Hispanic/Latino Americans elected to Congress (There is even a slight possibility that Puerto Rico may soon become a state or a more autonomous commonwealth sending voting representatives to Washington) coupled with the alliances being forged among enlightened non minority and minority Democrats and Republicans, there is no reason why a formidable strategic national alliance cannot push “La Nueva Unidad Pan Americana” forward in the halls of the federal government
Efforts to unite the Hispanic/Latino American community have not been without controversy. Due to issues of cultural, philosophical and nationalistic diversity, there has been skepticism surrounding the potentials for success in developing a unifying message. This message has to bring Hispanic/Latino Americans and their counterparts in their countries of origin to a workable alliance that will be able to influence the way the western hemisphere will be shaped for the next thousand years. Clearly, the alliance must be of equal partners with each bringing their vast human and natural resources to the table to negotiate new mutually beneficial political and economic arrangements. Ideas of commonality and diversity must find common ground and allowance for specific issues and concerns must be made. Subgroups must be given the right to express themselves freely so as to avoid stagnation and loss of liberties. Hispanic/Latino Americans here in the United States must then serve as the buffer zone, the conduit and the conscience of this message in the United States by forging together as a viable national political force via the voting booth, the picket line, the editorials and campaign election financing.
The other factors that led to failures of such similar previous attempts have been the elitist mentality of United States foreign policy makers. Look at the failure of the Organization of American States, the Alliance for Progress and the recent Trade Zone negotiations. This must be a movement guided by Hispanic/Latino Americans and by enlightened Latin American political leaders and government officials and not by misguided federal bureaucrats and corrupted regimes.
A less spoken taboo is the ugly head of racism. Blacks and Indians make up a substantial part of the population of Latin America yet they are the ones who are constantly left off the radar screen. Indigenous Indian movements and Negro/Black/African influence in Mexico, Brazil, Peru and other countries are now highlighting this racism and making some headway. “Bolivarismo” never encompassed the struggle against racism and was, in fact, primarily a neo- Spanish European freedom movement as opposed to embracing an emancipating doctrine in regards to African slaves and Indians. Moreover, what is often neglected by scholars and researchers is Bolivar’s views toward racial/ethnic relations in Latin America. As Leslie Rout reminds us in his prolific piece The African Experience in Spanish America (1976, 2003), Bolivar believed African empowerment was worse than Spanish occupation, serving as a vital threat to the privileged class he belonged to and looked to sustain in power. Clearly, these often unspoken realities paint a not-so-pretty picture for “Bolivarismo”. The Hispanic/Latino American community must insure that these groups are well represented as part of the leadership in”La Nueva Unidad Pan Americana”. Without a multi-cultural and inclusive unification, free from white Latino male privilege and machismo, it will make a mockery of our beautifully diverse cultural heritage and take away some of the steam needed to drive the pistons of this movement.
Certainly, fifty years ago, political pundits were biting at the heels of those who dared to propose that Europe could be united under one common market. Within the context of modern day globalization, a more tightly knit and integrated union of the western hemisphere nations is not such an inconceivable notion. Without it, we will see nothing but strife and conflict as the poor and disenfranchised nations become more alienated from the promises of our American heritage. This time they will not go slowly into the night.
The National Hispanic/Latino American Summit Agenda Summit is geared toward the American version of “La Nueva Unidad Pan Americana”. If it cannot work here then it cannot work anywhere else. It should start here given America’s resources, experience and riches. We cannot underestimate or undermine Latin America’s potential and efforts already underway. However, the initiative must be made here. We must begin this movement here and join existing efforts by our sisters and brothers in Latin America. We must begin working together, affirming our diversity and setting aside petty political partisanship, ethnic rivalry and nationalistic clannishness to unite for social, economic and political justice! Just as an ocean must come from a river so will a political dream flow from the hearts and minds of a free and enlightened people because “Juntos Podemos!”
Tomás Alberto Avila
Avila & Associates
Providence, RI 02940