200 years of partial and deficient emancipation

By Javier del Rey Morató (for Safe Democracy)

Beginning next year, there will be bicentennial celebrations for the independence of the Hispanic-American republics. But, certain realities suggest instead a stubborn and steadfast dependence.

Javier Del Ray Morató is professor of Political Communication and General Information Theory at the Complutense University of Madrid. He has a degree in Information Sciences from the University of Navarra and a PhD in Information Sciences from the Complutense University of Madrid. He has taught courses and seminars on Latin America and is the author of numerous scientific articles and books on communication and politics.

FELIPE GONZÁLEZ has been named extraordinary and diplomatic ambassador for the bicentennial celebration of the independence of the Hispanic-American republics, news which inspired me to write this article.

The uncomfortable question of the title belongs to an article by Carlos Fuentes (published in the spanish newspaper El País, 30/06/07), in which the author questions the independence, asking himself if it was worth the trouble, and criticizes the territorial dismemberment, of the profusion of constitutions, and of the exclusion of the Indian and the black.

Sources speak of the creation of the virtual States, divorced from the real societies, of the systematic confusion between the real and the possible, of the gap between the real nation and the legal nation, of independence without glory, and of constitutions in which it is unclear whether they were created for angels or for men.

And we say it is an uncomfortable question because of what it brings up: something went wrong. Why do we imagine the North Americans to be interrogated if independence was worth the trouble?

Among North Americans the question is inconveivable, impertinent, ghastly. But in Latin America the question is heuristically relevant, as it suggests that the rhythm must be corrected. And the case is – as Borges said-if the past is unchangeable, it isn’t so for the image we have of it. And maybe the best thing is to construct an image distinct from the past that many consider seriously lacking, origin of an equally unsatisfactory present.

To begin, nothing prevents us from deciding that the independence of 200 years ago was not like that: we prefer to speak of emancipation. And of partial emancipation. Because there were medieval European kingdoms implicated in the conquest, colonization and evangelization, and the Hispano-Americans at first only attained political emancipation from one of those rules: that of Spain.

But they continued as unconditional subedits of another medieval rein: the Papal States. Nothing like this happened in North America, in which the priests had neither political power nor aspiration to conquer it. The reading by Alexis de Tocqueville is enlightening. And is of great current importance.

That is why in North America, religion and modernity are not ruled, as if they were in Latin America. The cause is not in Catholic beliefs, but rather in the political dimension: the Church preaches the idea that its rein comes from beyond this world, yet executes as many projects as possible so that-as in the novel by Alejo Carpentier–, its rein becomes of this world.

The Papal States founded -with the inestimable help of the Spanish king-a new Roman Empire on American lands, in which they applied a medieval, totalitarian power. They did it well: more than ten centuries of experience in the exercise of an absolute power upheld that operation.

And it is that, as Fernando Pessoa says, the Catholic Church does not derive itself, does not descend from the Roman Empire. The Catholic Church is the Roman Empire. In high school they lied to us. The Roman Empire didn’t fall, it just changed hands: it became the Church.

As the experience is a grade, the new Roman Empire imposed on Spanish America was successful: it lasted three centuries, and still exists, metamorphosized, at least in that which has to do with the influence of another medieval rule implicated in the conquest.
That explains many things: among others, the affirmation of Evo Morales, Hugo Chavez and Julio Maria Sanguinetti in the words pronounced by Benedict XVI during the course of his recent visit to Brazil. And it also explains the disaffection of many Catholics, who are moving to protestant churches, in which they find a greater compromise from the priests, with attitudes that are distanced from power, centering themselves in something as legitimate as religious feelings, which we wouldn’t think of questioning.

Another thing is the political power of the Church, whose legitimacy remains aptly dismounted by Baruch Spinoza, an advisable reading on the eve of commemorating an episode that, more than independence, appears a stubborn and steadfast dependence.

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