Analía Gómez Vidal was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina, in 1989. She studied Economics (specializes in Journalism) in Torcuato Di Tella University. Currently, she is pursuing a Master in Economics in the same institution, and working as research assistant in the FIAB. Analía is a regular contributor to different independent media and she has performed as head of the SABF blog. Twitter: @agomezvidal

Jorge Majfud, PhD, works in the Division of Humanities of the Jacksonville University in Florida. He is the author of several books and opinion articles about the situation in Latin America.

AGV: Observing Latin America’s situation, many pose the kingdom of intolerance as the current environment of the region. Even some, a little more extreme, have been brave enough as to speak about a return to the dark times of dictatorships in Latin America (in countries like Venezuela or Argentina), though this time it occurring within democratic governments. Many have also shielded in a sort of historical redemption after having lived that period, falling into the danger of rewriting history into a single story, and reliving confrontations and ways that, ultimately, do not seem to allow the advancement of the region towards a reality of growth and equity. Others, more explicit, have resorted persecution and murder of communicators, journalists and relevant actors in the political and economic field. Are we, indeed, hostages of our own history? Are intolerance of criticism and debate part of our idiosyncrasy, or just a political defense mechanism to the agenda? How to overcome lack of articulated opposition, as the case of Argentina, which promotes the strengthening of a single speech, and divided the opinion among friends and enemies? What other democratic mechanisms should we access to prevent the attrition of our democracies?

JM: There are several points I will address. Briefly:

  1. We can not equate the current Latin America with that of the old military dictatorships. There is no matching point.
  2. We should not be afraid of any historical revisionism, except those promoted or institutionalized by a government, as is the most recent case in Argentina. In a democracy there should be no taboos, but this discussion and revisionism should be based on the freedom of different independent groups, not involved with political parties and least with the officialism, that is to say, the ruling political party.
  3. The problem of violence produced by drug-trafficking activities in countries like Mexico is not only the responsibility of the producer and transit nations, but of the consumer ones like the United States and several European countries. The best way to remove a supply (and therefore the violence resulting from it) is to remove its demand. No country has declared illegal trafficking dog’s dung and nobody has killed himself for this product because there is no interest in buying it (at least for now). Different has been the long history of guano, the coveted bat and seabirds manure in Peru.
  4. Yes, we are in part hostages of our own history. That’s one of the reasons why I excuse those who are in extreme poverty and poor education. When a country is not in lack of resources, they (especially children) are the visible face of a collective crime. We are hostages of history when we do not know how to do something else. But when we have seen alternatives, and we persist with our old ways, then it happens something very common: we become volunteer hostages. On a personal level, we can become aware of a problem, but at the same time we do not take action because we lack will, courage, or simply because we do not want to change. Then we need a convenient explanation, a justification: the blame is of someone else who has ruined my life. In our consumerist society, lack of courage and will is called “disease”; so we pay a third person to listen to us and tell us what deep inside we already know or a friend or relatives have told us.

AGV: That could justify the number of psychologists in the area (especially in Argentina)…

JM: Well, the phenomenon of the proliferation of psychologists and psychiatrists in Argentina is preceding. Probably explained by the large number of European immigrants in the beginnings of 20th century, the propensity for nostalgia and the Argentine-Uruguayan intellectualism that is reflected even in Tango and Rioplatense literature. But the phenomenon of the dictatorship of the popular psychology, not the most professional, but the one that has sold like hotcakes, is more recent; it probably has less than two generations. Some years ago, I was discussing with some friends about “politically correct” customs that we reproduce unconsciously; I can not quote other people words but i can quote myself: “back then we waited for our parents finished watching the news to watch our cartoons, nowadays parents have to wait for children to stop watching cartoons to watch the news. There is always a screwed generation”. We teach not to have courage and to resolve wishes and needs by buying and paying. In this new market culture, attitudes, reflexes and psychological fixations are formed and consolidated: paying is important, like in the supermarket, I pay and I get satisfaction. So many times than then I do not imagine one without the other. Imagine this phenomenon in a collective level. The problem is far more complex.

And yet, after all, almost everything depends on the will, which is the main liberty component . Latin America has changed a lot and not so much at the same time. There has been some progress, but most of it is too slow. I think there is a persistence that explains your surprise: the upright and individual culture that has been centuries on this continent. Whether left or right, Latin American politicians have always fallen in love with power and, while in power, they weave patterns of power that encyst in the political apparatus and in our society.

Presidents who have sponsored changes, who have made revolutions and who have given up power are extremely few. One case is Jose Artigas, in the nineteenth century, and another one remarkable and paradoxical, that many of you will not accept, is the quixotic Ernesto Che Guevara. But the rule has been the opposite.

AGV: About this you mention, the dismantling of the institutions that forge democracy appears to be a trend in Latin America, using their own tools and through extensive and imprecise actions. The most shocking, nowadays, is the development of this pattern from democratic governments, in some cases even re-elected. Facing this, is it sensationalist to warn this kind of political movements? Or are we being naive at believing that their good intentions are real, and not just manipulated? What are the elements that make this reality common in Latin America, with democracies so young and so wanted?

JM: Ideology for many is like passion for a sports fan: once you become a fan of the Knicks, you will defend your team until death. You could change wife or country, but you will never stop being fan of that team. This “logic” is not strange to many (if not to say, arrogantly, to most of you) ideological followers. This is not said by someone who believes it is possible to live in a society on a neutral and non-ideological (without a system of ideas) way, but I believe that self-criticism and the awareness that an ideology is just a partial form of seeing the complex reality can be applied. It is the will to explain everything through the understanding of one of the parts.

Someone, somewhere, said that the problems of democracy should be worked out with more democracy. This remains true. The democratic systems usually tolerate authoritarian practices, especially when there is a “depoliticized” society like in the U.S.A. or excessively “politicized” like in Latin America. In both cases a politic dialogue or reflexion becomes impossible, and then people become easily divided in left and right, black and white, “Braden or Perón”, “Christianism or Communism”, “la burka ou la liberté”, and so on. The essence of a successful politician who is looking for power is to create dichotomies. The reality is always complex and if the politician has a hundred possible variations he will pick two: if you choose the option A, you will suffer the consequences of the catastrophe; if you choose the option B, ours, you will be saved and prosperity will come to this kingdom. Of course, a politician must take decisions within a set of possibilities. But the universal problem comes to light when reality is simplified and a single point of view is imposed. And if there is no clear enemy, one is invented. This is part of the mechanism by which a democracy (not to say a dictatorship) becomes an unclear authoritarian system, legitimized by votes and by the institutions kidnapped with the agreement (at democracy) or fear (at dictatorships) of the crowds.

AGV: So, to sum up, do we always tend to authoritarianism…? How can we move forwards to a real democracy, with respected individual liberties, a voice and vote as citizens? Is this a utopia or just a failed trial of what we expected as society?

JM: The childhood of a person conditions, but does not determine, its destiny. A human being is defined by a differential: a certain grade of consciousness, freedom and responsibility. Thanks to these factors, which are very alike, we are capable of breaking up any vicious circle. It is a humanist perspective. It is not necessary to stop recognizing, as in the Marxist way of thought, that our social class conditions our freedom and our consciousness, but I believe that we should note that if this mechanism was absolute, everyone would become, necessarily, a piece of gear.

In order to be free, we must become aware of the warnings that the greatest Marxists have made in history, but if we became limited to them we would be paralyzed just in the moment in which we could become free. That is, for example, a good woman might recognize that her ideas about how to be a good woman will depend on her economic status and culture. Not only she might, but she should actually do so as a first step to her own liberation. But if she stops at that time and does not take responsibility of her own condition, then she will not get away from her circle of violence. On the contrary, she will confirm it with her own victimization. We can say the same about the psychoanalytic way of thinking, etc.

We are conditioned by a past, but we are not sentenced to repeat it. Is the same with nations. And it is me speaking, who, precisely, has proposed and expanded the resisted idea that there are certain values and probably native ideas of the Latin American cultures that have been carried over from the old pre-Hispanic cultures. Some professors have told me that finding something in common between the Quetzalcoatl myth and the history of Che Guevara was impossible. I believe it is difficult to prove it, although I had provided many grounds about it, but if it is impossible to prove it, it is also impossible to refute it strongly. All of this does not mean that each nation is fatally determinate by its past or its origins. At each moment we can decide what to do with our own past. This decision, in a social level, is much less radical; usually, if there is the collective courage of making some deep changes, it can take generations. For the same reason, I do not believe that countries change in ten years. They can have economic crises and bonanzas, but they are still the same countries, with their same obsessions and their own flaws and virtues, but with different resources.