The persistent inequality, the social despotism, the violence in the streets, the cloacae of democracy throughout much of Latin America, have a lot to do with racism, which is the keystone of the arch that joins them all.
President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner of Argentina, a professional of invective, last week tackled the problem but swept the dirt under the rug, attributing to others the exclusive copyright on xenophobia, an "ugly" thing inherent in Europe. Needless to say, she threw in a mention of the Spanish Inquisition, an all-purpose aspersion suggesting that the only land that burned religious dissidents in the 16th and 17th centuries was Spain. It is a pity, then, that she did not include the witch hunts in Central Europe, which brought to "justice" as many or more dissidents than the 9,000 to 10,000 who burned in Spain.
But in other respects she was dead right. The National Front in France, the Austrian ultras who even win elections, and in the Netherlands and Scandinavia the outcroppings of the extreme right, which lie close to the surface in the Spanish PP as well, prove her case.
Dead right, were it not that in her diatribe she failed to mention her own country, and by extension the rest of Latin America. The Widow Kirchner forgets the "desert war" in the late 19th century in Argentina, in which the near-extermination of the Indians was the work of the white settlers, and not of colonial Spaniards. If the average Latin American likes to bask in his moral superiority to other, preferably Spanish, lands, he will enjoy reading Open Veins of Latin America, by the Italian-Uruguayan Eduardo Galeano, written in the clarion language of the pamphlet; and in a more academic vein, with its atrocious conclusions, La patria del criollo (or, The white man's country) by Severo Martínez, a Guatemalan of Spanish parentage.
The fight against racism has been a powerful electoral weapon for Hugo Chávez in Venezuela, and for Evo Morales in Bolivia, though we may now be about to see in La Paz the rise of a new antiracist racism, the vengeance of the losers. Opportunity makes the thief. And the racist, too. Those who have never had colonies do not know just how racist they might have been if they had.
The fight against racism has been a powerful electoral weapon for Hugo Chávez in Venezuela, and for Evo Morales in Bolivia
Spain, earlier than other Western empires, stratified the Americas in racially segregated social groups, and this by no means disappeared when, in the 19th century, the new republics decreed the legal equality of all their citizens, whatever their color.
Latin American racism no longer parades itself openly, as of old. It moves discreetly and by euphemism, shifting to Spain the responsibility for its very existence. In many countries of the region it has been taught in schools that Spain settled its colonies with the sweepings of its prisons. If this were true, it might explain everything.
Racism, as a system of believing (and acting accordingly) that society is made up of superior and inferior beings, is at the base of inequality in Latin America, bound up with the stigma of color. Social despotism is exercised by a handful of whites, who call the shots for the rest of the country. Violent crime is the direct consequence of the two preceding realities.
In the face of this social deficiency, there are those who, instead of promoting color-blind integration, are working more or less benevolently for a new kind of apartheid based on ethnic counter-pride. And we now see spreading through Latin America, in provincial imitation of the United States, the term Afrodescendiente (Afrodescendant) to designate a black. So the whites - would they be Eurodescendants? The aim is to promote pride in African origin, but it also deepens the isolation of those who thus discriminate, declining to identify themselves merely as citizens of the republic they belong to.
Can anyone really claim that the team that won the basketball match against Spain in London was an American Afrodescendant team, and not a merely American one?