Latin American History 101 or Maduro and AOC in American Life

Posted on May 26, 2019


Latin American History 101 or Maduro and AOC in American Life

Since Venezuela is now in the crosshairs of many countries today for enabling a dictator, Nicolás Maduro, to drag the country down to starvation in a socialist dictatorship, let’s look at the big picture.

Latin America was a term invented by French historians in the nineteenth century to describe those countries in the Western hemisphere—the Americas–with Spanish and Portuguese roots, which are basically all those nations which emerged from the old Spanish Empire, and Brazil, Portuguese-speaking and part of the old Portuguese empire.

Many of you are curious where Aleandria Ocasio-Cortez (or AOC for media mavens) is coming from, culturally, politically, socially and intellectually. She has both U. S. and Latin American roots, courtesy of her Puerto Rican background even though she was born in the U. S. Since her loud trumpeting of socialism has generated a lot of hot rhetoric lately, let’s take a look at Latin American politics briefly.

In Latin America, as in America, there has almost always existed a tension between private enterprise, entrepreneurship, wealth and power that comes from privilege and tradition, and an honest devotion to democracy and liberty and equality. This tension exploded in the early twentieth century with the Mexican Revolution of 1910-1917. It was a truly socialist revolution devoted to stamping out the Mexico that had developed under an old dictator, Porfirio Diaz (1830-1915). The “porfiriato” had skewered Mexico’s wealth in favor of the old elites and fawned on foreign capital and investments to modernize Mexico. In doing so, it left the working man whether in agriculture, in new industries, in mining and the multitudinous facets of a new, industrial and export economy, in the lurch.

The result was a rising up of “the people,” led by thinkers and activists who were inspired by the rise of socialism, especially in Europe They wanted to overthrow the porfiriato’s structure of rule and promote equality in a nation where wealth and power had not been shared historically and was simply the birthright of the privileged. The Mexican Constitution of 1917 institutionalized these concepts of equality that many considered radical expressions of international socialism. In reality, they were the expressions of the desires and needs of the people, through laws and constitutions, to enable them to live up to the dreams and aspirations of some of the great leaders of the Independence movement a century earlier, their own “founding fathers.”

During the Revolution, agrarian reformers such as Emiliano Zapata rose up in defense of the peasants, the dispossessed campesinos (or peons) of Mexico, and Zapata and Zapatismo evolved into iconic symbols of radical reforms in Mexico. Some claim the Revolutionary fervor subsided in the 1930s and 1940s, but the Revolution still lives in the cultural fabric of modern Mexico, in the same fashion that we pay deference to our Constitution.

Fast forward to the Cuba and the Caribbean in early 1959. Another charismatic revolutionary figure rides into Havana on the backs of another revolution, this one to root out corruption and promote true equality in a socialist-communist model on the island. Fidel Castro does indeed remake Cuba’s political and economic structures, establishing state ownership over most of the island’s resources and he follows the Soviet Union’s leadership in the Cold War against the U. S. Castro’s dictatorship is long and effective, rooting out opposition and forcing Cuba into the Marxist camp. Over a million Cubans flee the island from 1959 to today.

Today Venezuela has followed the Revolutionary model, leading to disastrous results with hunger, displacement, and virtually wrecking the economy with a socialist agenda.

On the other hand, countries such as Chile, Brazil, Costa Rica, Peru, Colombia, Argentina all have gone through their own struggles—including revolutions– to define themselves and have emerged strong, relatively stable and largely democratic in their political, social, and economic structures.

This short review obviously does not do justice to such a large, and important, topic that has a powerful bearing on our own nation. If you want to read more on the culture that formed AOC I would suggest examining the syllabi and recorded classes of her economics and international relations profs at Boston University where she danced on the rooftops and drank—lightly I’m thinking—at the well of her faculty mentors. I don’t think studying history was in the equation of her education.

But, regardless of what you think of AOC’s pronouncements—visionary or simple-minded and naïve in the extreme—she emerges from a long tradition of revolutionary and socialist rhetoric in action.

We haven’t even touched the equally powerful conservative traditions in the region which have stressed peaceful continuity, democracy, religion, obedience to authority, responsible capitalism, populism and, in the best instances, wrapped it in the foundations of democratic republics devoted to liberty and equality. That almost all Latin American nations today repudiate Venezuela’s dictator and politics speaks to the profound commitment to democracy in the region, one shared with us as common heirs of the western tradition.

Published as “Latin American History 101” March 11, 2019 in The Tuscaloosa News

Posted in: History, Venezuela