On the Difficulties of Fighting Barbarism in Latin America

In the wake of the ransacking of Latin literary legend and Venezuelan President Romulo Gallegos's tomb -- to use his bones in voodoo rituals -- Latin expert Beatrice Rangel takes a look at Venezuela's return -- once again -- to a Hobbesian state of nature...

Latin America’s leadership repeatedly counts among the region’s achievements its holistic embrace of progress and rejection of a barbaric past.

And while it is perfectly understandable that rejection of civilization was triggered by a violent process of conquest enacted by a ruthless foreign power, the fact is that Independence took place over a century ago and critical junctures tend to reveal the thinness of civility in the region.

Turning points, indeed, can propel the Latin American societies to progress or hold them back, imprisoned in a past where the absence of rule of law and predominance of violence marry to hijack society into barbarousness.

Mexico staged a brutal revolution at the dawn of the 20th century only to establish a paternalistic political system that lasted for over 70 years.

Colombia had its turning point in the 1980s when live on TV the world watched the violent takeover of the Supreme Court by a guerrilla movement.

But perhaps the country that has had more frequent relapses back into a Hobbesian state of nature is Venezuela.

Virtually every time the country demanded a political or economic reengineering, dialogue and consensus building were conspicuously absent.

From the 16th through the 19th century, all economic crisis or political accommodation demands to let new actors enter the decision-making circles ended in violence, famine and destitution.

And while the country managed to rebuild the economy and start a new development phase, should one do the math, every crisis moved the history clock back at least half a century. In other words, critical relapses into barbaric means have cost Venezuela over 200 years of development.

Paradoxically, very little research has been conducted on the origins of these structural flaws except for Asdrubal Baptista’s work on the quantitative bases of Venezuela’s development.

Prior to Baptista, the only serious analyst of the difficulties encountered by the country in building a modern and civilized society was a high school professor and novelist and president of the country: Romulo Gallegos.

In his landmark work Dona Barbara, Gallegos describes the intensity of the struggle between progress and obscurantism; between knowledge and conjecture; between law and abuse; between corruption and uprightness.

And he subtly and beautifully surmises the idea that without fundamental changes in the Latin mind, there will never be progress.

In his masterpiece, education seems to be the trump card to win the hand of progress.

And perhaps this is the reason for his country’s current riddle. Over half the Venezuelan population barely reads and writes after having reduced illiteracy to 9% by the 1980’s.

But barbarian forms of government need people to be poor and uneducated. Thus the clock was turned back.

As clearly indicated by the Bolivarian Minister for Development Planning Jorge Giordani: “For our regime to sustain itself, we need the poor. Poor people are our support base.”

He could have added like Donald Trump: “Poorly educated people — I love the poorly educated!”

And in a true display of how great progress has been made in destroying the moderate progress made by Venezuela in education through the unstinting efforts of leaders like Gallegos, Luis Beltran Prieto, and Andres Eloy Blanco, the tomb of the most famous and revered writer was dishonored by vandals seeking to his bones for the newly installed leaders of a backwards Venezuelan society: voodoo priests called paleros.

Published by Latin American Herald Tribune on June 20th, 2016