Eduardo Galeano once defined Latin America as precocious. According to him, our parcel of the world “was specialized in losing from those remote times in which Renaissance Europeans launched themselves to the ocean and sunk their teeth in her throat.”
When I arrived in Argentina in 2009, where I stayed as an international correspondent for almost a decade, I had already had access to much foreign literature yet knew very little about Latin American writers, including Galeano, of whom I had only read “The Open Veins of Latin America.” San Martín, Bolívar, and many other names of the “libertadores” or “freedom fighters” of the continent were mere silhouettes that I could make out from a distance, as celebrities in the pantheon of nations who had previously been Spanish colonies, even if I had already traveled from Bolivia to Machu Picchu.
My intentions, in Buenos Aires, were to complete a Master’s degree in International Relations and Negotiations, which was to last a year. That year turned into almost a decade. That Argentina became my Latin America.
I became acquainted with Bolívar when he was already dying. I always found interesting the decision by writer Gabriel García Márquez to write about the life of Simón Bolívar, a man who had fought for the independence of South America against Spanish control, in the novel “The General in His Labyrinth,” a book that tells of the final days of Bolívar: exhausted, decadent, and fleeing.
I remember that when I began reading the novel, right after the celebrations for the bicentennial anniversary of Argentinian Independence in the year 2010 in Buenos Aires, a festivity had been going on for several days and closed off the impressive 9th of July Avenue, one of the largest in the world. As the celebrations mobilized the Argentinian “Latin Americanness” in a manner that I did not see in the following years. In the stages set up throughout the city, you could hear the voices of musicians that I knew well, like Gilberto Gil, and others that I knew as well as Bolívar, such as Pablo Milanés and Fito Páez. It was the first time that I saw a procession of women covering themselves with white handkerchiefs, a procession that made shivers run down my spine from the solemn atmosphere, while the women moved as a centipede through the streets. They were the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo, women who had lost their sons and daughters during the Argentinian dictatorship.
It was the first time that I saw the ex-president Néstor Kirchner, whose ugliness I felt was almost a caricature, impossible of ignoring: he had an eye that looked east, while the other looked south. He was the husband of the then ex-president Cristina Kirchner. I would only see him again during the news coverage of his funeral, five months later.
It took me many years to see Argentina as the rest of the world believed the country was: the most European country of the continent. For me, it was a species of Macondo, a fictitious city that would personify the genre of “magical realism” of the writer Gabriel García Márquez.
I remember being in the funeral viewing of Néstor Kirchner, in the Casa Rosada, when, from a mile-long line of people, a tenor spontaneously sang an Ave Maria. It was an oneiric moment. A widow, dressed in black from head to toe, threw herself into the arms of the then ex-president of Ecuador, Rafael Correa, in search of consolation, generating murmurs and gossip. The Heads of State of the rest of countries from South America at the time—some of them who are now absent from ceremonies nowadays, due to the political turnaround in the continent—where, among others, Lula, Hugo Chávez, Mujica, Fernando Lugo, Evo Morales, and representatives of Mexico, Cuba, and many others whose destinies lead them to prison, oblivion, retirement, and even death. All that scene gave, in retrospect, a Fellinian atmosphere to the country I had decided to live in.
That was my first encounter with Latin America, in a funeral viewing. When in 2010 Mercosul was conceived to mobilize the economy of the region, creating a regional block facing the rest of the world, it was a 19-year-old teenager. Young and, shooting for the stars, it dreamed of something more than a mere a common customs union, open to markets. It wanted to bridge cultural barriers, imposed by historical and regional vestiges, as well as our lusophone condition. Throughout these years, Mercosul has grown out of its adolescence, trembled in front of other stronger groups, suffered bullying, procrastinated, but has been able to regenerate in maturity.
Five years after moving to Argentina, Mauricio Macri took over after Cristina Kirchner. I closely followed the campaign. I had a certain euphoria when sensing a change in the air. Accordingly, the motto of the campaign was “let’s change.” Two months after Macri took office, a Brazilian newspaper talked about the line of businessmen and authorities that formed around the Argentinian President during the World Economic Forum in Davos. It was predicted that there would be “a rain of foreign investments” that would come with the end of 12 years of “populism” in the country. It seemed like we would benefit from that Argentinian self-confidence.
Many other countries climbed aboard the same neoliberal caravan. Some prospered and others, as Argentina—temporarily or not—continue shipwrecked.
Mercosul gained a breath of air with the new free trade agreement, signed with the European Union last month, yet our identity as a continent remains in question. Who are we beyond our customs union? Brazil threatened, at the outset of its newly-elected government, to turn its back on its partners in the continent. I perceived that we could all be brothers, however different we may all be. With the dissolution of commercial barriers, another reality has crystallized: to the world we are not Argentinian, Bolivian, Brazilian, Chilean, Colombian, Costa Rican, Cuban, Salvadorian, Ecuadorian, Guatemalan, Haitian, Honduran, Mexican, Nicaraguan, Panamanian, Paraguayan, Peruvian, Dominican, Uruguayan and Venezuelan, but rather Latinos. We are not the same, but we are destined, if we are to prosper, to walk together.