Loneliness of Latin America

Stockholm, Sweden, December 8, 1982

Antonio Pigafetta, a Florentine navigator who accompanied Magellan on his first world tour, sailing past the shores of South America, wrote impartial travel notes that read like an adventure novel. He writes that he saw pigs with an umbilical cord on a ridge, birds without paws, whose females hatched chicks on the backs of males, as well as birds that looked like pelicans without a tongue and with beaks that looked like spoons. The fact that he saw a strange animal with the head and ears of a donkey, the body of a camel, the hooves of a deer, which neighs like a horse. He tells that the first resident of Patagonia, whom they met and placed in front of a mirror, almost lost his mind from horror when he saw his image.

It is a short and fascinating book, in which the prototypes of our modern novels can be traced, while it is not at all the most surprising evidence of our reality of those times. The chroniclers of pre-Columbian America left us an innumerable number of other written records. Eldorado, our favorite fictional country, for centuries has been displayed on maps, changing its place and location at the request of cartographers. In search of the source of eternal youth, the great mystic and healer, Alvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca, for eight years explored the northern part of Mexico at the head of an expedition of daredevils who ate each other, and in the end, out of 600 people, only five survived. One of the many mysteries that could not be solved was 11 thousand donkeys, loaded with one hundred pounds of gold each, which once left Cusco to pay a ransom for the Incanian ruler Atahualpa and never arrived at their destination. Subsequently, after colonization, hens were grown in Cartagena de las Indias, grown on alluvial soils, in whose goiter could be found pieces of gold. This golden madness of the founders of our countries lasted until recently. Not later, as in the last century, a group of German experts, whose task was to assess the feasibility of building an inter-oceanic railway on the Panamanian Isthmus, came to the conclusion that the project would make sense if the rails were not made of iron (of which there were very few in these places), and made of gold.

Liberation from Spanish rule did not save us from madness. General Antonio López de Santana, who was the dictator of Mexico three times, ordered to bury his right leg with the highest honors, which he lost during the so-called Cake Wars. General Garcia Moreno ruled Ecuador for 16 years as the absolute monarch, at the funeral he was put in the presidential chair and dressed in full uniform with many awards. General Maximiliano Hernández Martínez, a theosophical despot who barbarously destroyed 30,000 Salvadoran peasants, invented a pendulum to determine whether food was poisoned and ordered to cover street lights with red paper to combat the scarlet fever epidemic. The monument to General Francisco Morazan, installed on the main square of Tegucigalpa, is in fact a statue of Marshal Ney, bought in Paris at a warehouse of used sculptures.

Eleven years ago, the Chilean Pablo Neruda, one of the greatest poets of our time, illuminated our continent with his work. Since then, benevolent and sometimes not very benevolent European minds have been flooded with news about incredible events in Latin America, in the vast expanses of which live magnificent men and wonderful women whose unshakable will cannot but arouse admiration. And since then we have not known a moment of peace.

One of our presidents, like the heroes of antiquity, died in his captured palace, fighting alone against an entire army. Two more presidents (one of them - the military), who sought to ensure a decent life for their people, died under unexplained circumstances in a plane crash.

During this time there were five wars and 17 coups d'état, as if a dictator had arisen from the netherworld, who, using the name of God, had committed the first genocide in Latin America in the modern era. Meanwhile, 20 million Latin American children died before they were two years old. This is more than was born in all of Western Europe since the 1970s. The number of missing persons as a result of political repression reaches almost 120 thousand people. This is tantamount to, as if suddenly the whole population of the Swedish city of Uppsala would have disappeared to where. In Argentina, many pregnant women were thrown into prison, and the fate and whereabouts of their children are still unknown. They were either secretly adopted or placed by military authorities in orphanages. Due to unwillingness to put up with a similar situation on the whole continent, about 200 thousand people died. More than 100,000 died in three small but freedom-loving Central American countries: Nicaragua, El Salvador, and Guatemala. If this had happened in the United States, the death toll from a violent death in four years, respectively, would have been 1.6 million.

About one million people, that is, 10% of the population, left Chile, a country known for its hospitality. About 20% of citizens emigrated from Uruguay with a population of 2.5 million. As a result of the civil war in El Salvador, since 1979, every 20 minutes one resident of this country turns into a refugee. If we collected all the emigrants and internally displaced people of Latin America, then in number they would exceed the population of Norway.

I would venture to suggest that it was this monstrous reality, and not only its literary reflection, that this year caught the attention of the Swedish Academy of Literature. The very reality that exists not on paper, but in everyday life, is the root cause of the countless deaths that occur daily. It is she who feeds the spring of constant creativity, filled with suffering and beauty, to which, by the will of fate, the Colombian standing before you, restless and nostalgic. Our unbridled reality is full of poets and beggars, musicians and prophets, warriors and scoundrels - the characters themselves are so bright that they do not even need to strain their imagination. After all, the main difficulty for us was the insufficiency of ordinary literary methods to paint our life in a reliable light. It is here, friends, and our loneliness is born. After all, these difficulties impede our expression. It is not difficult to understand that the most talented people living in this part of the world and gazing with enthusiasm at their national cultures do not have an effective method to express our thoughts and feelings. It is clear that they seek to apply to us the measure that they measure themselves, forgetting that each has a different share of suffering, and the search for our own identity is as difficult and painful for us as it was for them. The story of our reality with the help of other people's methods only makes it difficult for others to understand us, restricting our freedom and aggravating loneliness.

Perhaps Honorable Europe would understand us better if she tried to discern us in her own past. If I had remembered that it took London 300 years to build its first wall, and another 300 to ordain its own bishop; that Ancient Rome of 20 centuries was in the darkness of doubt, until the Etruscan king determined his place in history to him; and also that as early as the 16th century, Swiss mercenaries, the ancestors of present-day peace-loving citizens, famous for their delicate cheeses and watches with impeccable course, flooded Europe with rivers of blood. In the midst of the Renaissance, 12 thousand mercenary landsknechts who were in the service of the imperial armies, plundered and ravaged Rome, killing 8 thousand of its inhabitants.

I do not intend to repeat here the dreams of Tonio Kreger about the union of the strict North and the passionate South, which Thomas Mann sang here 53 years ago. But I think that Europeans with open-minded thinking, who are also fighting for humanity and justice in their homeland, could do us a great service if they radically reconsidered their perception of us. Belief in our own dreams will not reduce our loneliness until it is embodied in a rally to support the legitimate demands of peoples seeking to participate fully in world politics.

Latin America does not want and should not be an elephant without a chessboard, her dreams of independence and her own path of development are completely realistic and do not contradict Western standards.

However, the development of navigation, which significantly reduced the distance between Latin America and Europe, as can be seen, increased the cultural distance between them. Why is our own vision of the world accepted in literature without any reservations, and any (so difficult) attempts at social change cause only suspicion and rejection? Why is it generally accepted that Latin Americans, using their own methods that meet their special conditions, cannot also strive for social justice, which advanced Europeans are trying to bring to life in their countries? Those innumerable sufferings that we experienced in our history are caused by violence, age-old injustice and humiliation, and not by conspirators who are 12 thousand kilometers away from us. But many European leaders and thinkers believed in it, like old men who had fallen into childhood, who had forgotten about the bold tricks of their youth, believing that a different fate was impossible except to hope at the mercy of the powerful. These are, friends, the scale of our loneliness.

But our response to suppression, robbery and loneliness will be faith in life. Neither a flood, nor a plague, nor hunger, nor natural disasters, and even wars that have lasted for centuries, have failed to take away from life its advantage over death. And this advantage is constantly growing: the number of newborns per year exceeds 74 million the number of deaths. With their help, each year it would be possible to increase the population of New York seven times. The majority of these children are born in countries with insufficient resources, which, of course, include Latin Americans. At the same time, the richest countries have accumulated so many weapons, which is enough not only to destroy a hundred times all the people who have lived up to our day, but in general all the living beings that have ever existed on our miserable planet.

One day, my teacher, William Faulkner, said on this very spot: "I cannot agree with the end of a man." I would not consider myself entitled to occupy this place where he once stood, if he were not completely sure that for the first time since the birth of humanity that terrible catastrophe, the probability of which he refused to recognize 32 years ago, now represents only a purely theoretical possibility. In the face of this terrible reality, which at all times should have seemed utopian, we, the authors of various legends, consider ourselves to assume that it is not too late to create a utopia with the opposite sign. It will be a new and all-conquering utopia of life, where no one decides for others what to do and where love will be sincere, and happiness will be real, and where people sentenced to a hundred years of solitude will have another chance in mortal life.

I express my gratitude to the Academy of Literature of Sweden, which awarded me a prize, which puts me on a par with many of those who have enriched me with their works as a reader and contributed to my familiarization with the insane craft of the writer. Their names and works continue to invisibly take care of me, at the same time imposing obligations, often debilitating, which implies such a high honor. This hard burden, which in their case seemed to me to be absolutely fair, personally seems to me to be the next of those unexpected lessons that fate presents to us. These lessons once again show that we are only toys in the hands of an unpredictable event, which, as a rule, gives us only one bitter reward - misunderstanding and oblivion. Perhaps that is why in the most secret corners of our own consciousness, where we usually store those main truths that make up our essence, I asked myself what is most important in my works that could attract such close attention of such strict judges. Without false modesty, I confess that it was not easy for me to find the truth, but I want to believe that it turned out to be exactly the one I would like.

Friends, I would like once again to express the hope that now we pay tribute to poetry. That poetry, whose power fills a myriad of ships in Homer's Iliad with a powerful wind that drives them forward with timeless speed and mind-boggling speed. That poetry, whose thin strings link Dante's tercets into one whole, breathing life into all the literary works of the Middle Ages. Poetry that so miraculously reminds us of our land on the top of Machu Picchu, the greatness of Pablo Neruda, in which the thousand-year-long sadness of our best unfulfilled dreams froze. Poetry, after all, is the invisible energy of our daily life that prepares peas for us in the kitchen, causes love and creates images in mirrors.

In each written line I always, with more or less success, try to invoke shy spirits of poetry, and in every word I try to witness my admiration for their gift of foresight and permanent victory over the indifferent power of death. With all my modesty, I take the award I just received as a consoling admission that my efforts were not in vain. That is why I invite you all to raise glasses for what Luis Cardoza y Aragon, one of the great poets of Latin America, called the only concrete proof of human existence - for poetry.

Thank you very much.

Announcement image: aboutespanol.com
Lead image: notimerica.com

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