TRAVEL NOTES ON SOUTH AMERICA
This article was published in Birikim, April 2016
South America, due to the invaders of Latin origin, is considered as Latin America. Even we exclude French Guyana, which is not an independent country, countries of Surinam and Guyana, whose official languages are Dutch and English respectively, are generally perceived as African countries. In Bolivia, Ecuador and Peru and Central America most people are of Native American origin. Quechan language is a common tongue from the north of Argentina to Colombian territories. Maya languages are dominant in Guatemala, Honduras and Belize.
For some reason, only a few people know about that there are three Guyanas in the world. In general, we first think of French Guyana, which is not even a sovereign state. This is perhaps because of lucrative French promotion or the famous book “Papillion”, which described a prison in Devil Island.
In fact, next to French territories, there were only Dutch colonies before Netherlands ceded a part of them to the United Kingdom. The name of this entire region was called Guiana, which means “land of waters” in one of the native languages there. Later, Dutch Guyana was named Surinam after its declaration of independence; the other one called itself the Cooperative Republic of Guyana. This isolated nation is among relatively less known places in South America and also a socialist stronghold.
Following my trip, everyone asked me which country I found the most interesting in South America. My answer, without a doubt, was Guyana. This answer probably annoyed micro nationalists of Latin America. They gave me an impression that let alone their countries; I was supposed to say Columbia or Equator. Certainly all South American countries are beautiful but the word interesting requires a different type of explanation.
Guyana’s neighbors are Venezuela, Surinam and Brazil but the land access to country is only possible through Surinam and Brazil. The south of Surinam consists of savannas. Several groups of native people inhabit Surinam. There are eleven official recognized indigenous languages. In addition, there are Indian and African immigrants. Some of these Indians are Muslim. Therefore, particularly in the capital Georgetown, there are many Indian temples alongside with churches and mosques. Halal meat sellers and restaurants are not uncommon.
Therefore, it is safe to say that there is no tension between different ethnicities. Guyana’s socialist origins derived from their fourth president Cheddi Jagan, who was a Marxist and considered as a founding father of the Guyanese nation. Despite diverse ethnicities, all political parties in Guyana are usually allied and located on the left side of the political spectrum. As the official name of the country (cooperative) points out, it is possible to claim that Guyana enjoys a socialist type of administrative structure.
During my visit, political leader Maduro of Venezuela strangely threated this isolated and peaceful socialist country. Being unable to prevent economic crisis and corruption in his country, Maduro first attempted to expatriate Colombians there then massed troops along the Guyanese border without any sound reason. Perhaps he recalled the letter by Simon Bolivar, which was sent to the United Kingdom in 1824, stating that these lands belong to his people.
The Venezuelan currency Bolivar faced depreciation in a short time up to the ratio of 600%. The country was struck by all sort of crimes such as kidnapping, extortion, robber and murder, which all became monotonous and common occurrence. Due to the increasing crime rates, the police forces were engaged in corruption instead of dealing with security issues. Unfortunately, Maduro failed to pursue his predecessor Hugo Chavez’s understanding of Bolivarianism.
Of Basque origin, Simon Bolivar leaded South Americans and declared independence of Venezuela, Colombia, Equator, Bolivia and Peru from the Spanish crown. This movement was an inspiration for other Latin American countries and considered as Bolivarianism. Chavez added a socialist infrastructure to this ideology and attempted to exit from US’s backyard.
FARC has still great influence in the southern parts of Colombia. Recently they declared that they admired Bolivar’s ideals, sympathized with Chavez’s Bolivarian revolution and they adopted a rapprochement policy with Venezuela. However, apart from political conflicts and fragmentations, I do not understand why Venezuelan people in general dislike Colombians. These two nations lived together in Great Colombia state between 1821 and 1831 and one cannot observe a difference among them. Their accents, reactions, behaviors and manners are almost the same.
When I spoke of this in Venezuela, they get angry. Some said, “Do we claim that you and Greeks are the same?” My answer was ready: “we are more or less same except our languages and religions. Then what is the difference between you and them?”
In fact, it is almost impossible to find two neighbors in the continent with mutual positive feelings towards one another. Before the Monroe Doctrine was applied and US joined the game, South American counties fought each other either for independence or to gain new territories. After the continent became US’s “backyard”, military dictatorships, which were established fascist coup d’état, naturally increased tensions between neighbors. The most recent example to this was the tensions between Pinochet’s Argentina and Videla’s Chile in 1978.
There is still a mutual antipathy between Chileans and Argentinians. Some Chileans dislike Argentinians because of their İtalian origins, because Chileans are more “Spanish.” However, the cloudy difference of Uruguayans from Argentinians was outspoken as such: “the only difference is that everything here is better.” Their capital city Montevideo seems like a mixture of Izmir and Ankara in the 1980s, so it is hard to agree with this claim. Instead, Uruguay looks like a province of Argentina. The accents in Montevideo and Buenos Aires are almost the same. Uruguayans can be distinguished by their frequently used Arabic word of ayva. They probably loaned this word from Immigrants of Arabic origin in Latin America, who are generally called as Turcos (Turks). Ayva means “good, nice, pleasant and okay” in Arabic.
Armenians, Assyrians, Sephardic Jews and people from Syria and Lebanon migrated from the Ottoman Empire to South America in late 19th century and in early 20th century. These immigrants therefore were labeled as Turks. As only Armenians objected this name, these groups are still known as Turcos. Jewish people from Eastern Europe were called as Rusos (Russians).
“What the heck will you do in Paraguay?” asked the Argentinian friends in Buenos Aires. “There is nothing but human-sized mosquitos and humidity.” They remained silent when I asked this question: “Have you ever been there?” Argentinians are the most disliked among Latin Americans in general. Unlike their compatriots Ernesto Guevara and Jorge Luis Borges, most Argentinians pay no attention to get to know the world. They think they live in Europe and they are Europeans. They ignore and neglect indigenous people whose lands they invaded.
Under the leadership of Chakos living in north Argentina, a group of native people camped in the middle of Buenos Argentina for months and wanted to have their demands heard by the socialist government. Nevertheless, this initiative produced no results. There is considerable number of Mapuches in Argentina, however most Argentinians were ignorant to claim that these are Chileans. As we all know, these people inhabited the continent, before Argentina and before Chile.
On the contrary, Paraguayans are proud that one of the official languages in their country is a native language called Guarani. Most Paraguayans speak this language together with Spanish. However, small indigenous groups in Paraguay know neither of these languages. This poor country has no effective assimilation policies on these groups yet.
This applies to villagers living in a Maka village near the capital Asuncion. Only a few villagers spoke Spanish. The rise of Parana River had created a danger for flood. The government provided land somewhere else. Nevertheless, they were fishermen for thousands of years. This new reservation forced them to cultivate land. The elderly usually play their traditional games whereas children prefer to play football.
When I arrived Paraguay, Paraguay’s rival in Copa America was Argentina. The crowd went mad, as Paraguay national team scored a goal in the last minute leading to a draw. Paraguayans’ hate towards Argentinians dwell on the Triple Alliance War (1864-1870), in which they lost 70% of their population. Now this hate continues as rivalry in football. A guy that I met there said, “we are mad, that war was started by Brazil but we love Brazilians, we would like to be like them. Somehow, we hate Argentinians, even more than Uruguayans.”
Before this tragic war, Paraguay had no foreign capital, beggars and thieves. There was no starvation. All citizens knew how to read and write. Therefore, Paraguay set a bad example for her neighbors and even for other countries. Being financed by two British banks and a corporation, the Triple Alliance (Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay) attacked Paraguay. The result was near annihilation of entire Paraguayan population, which was later balanced with migrations from several countries. Immigrants came from Germany, England, Australia and even from Korea and Japan. Thanks to these migrations, Paraguay has a cosmopolitan structure at the moment.
There are several region names in Paraguay starting with “new”. Immigrants settled in these regions. For example, New Germany was founded by Frederich Nietzsche’s sister Elisabeth Förster-Nietzsche and her husband Bernhard Förster in 1887. Later it is said that former members of the Nazi party escaped to Paraguay. Allegedly, Nazi war criminal Josef Mengele hid in New Germany to avoid from Nazi hunters. Some German families still live in castle-like compounds. They refuse to speak Spanish and remain in isolated groups.
Some socialists from Australia founded New Australia near Villarica in 1893. This colony, consisted of two hundred thirty eight individuals, was an initiative of a socialist commune.
William Lane, who was a prominent figure in Australian workers’ movement in these times, came from Sydney to Paraguay with her recruited volunteers. They were all English speaking white people. They shared communitarian values. They support lifetime marriages. They were against alcohol consumption. The state of Paraguay provided productive lands to these immigrants. However, their communal life ended in two years because of internal conflicts. Interestingly and critically, Kropotkin considered this imitative as a real example of contemporary capitalism.
New Australia is not known by many in Paraguay. I do not blame people much for forgetting such an event that had made a tremendous impact because we know that long lasting fascist dictatorships and rightist governments in South and Central America attempted to destroy all revolutionary, anarchist and leftist legacy of the past.
One of these commune initiatives was tried in the Parana state of Brazil in 1890. This colony was known as Cecilia. Furthermore, Italian anarchist Giovanni Rossi attempted to found an anarchist commune for the second time (first one was Citadella in Italy) in Brazil. They were five individuals in the beginning, and then in time commune’s population reached 250. The commune of “free love” and “propertyless” did last only five years.
Anarchist thought, which was rather effective in the continent, came with Italian and Spanish immigrants. These ideas were based on Bakunin’s thesis but also combined with some anarchists such as Ravachol and Caseri and their individual and armed activities. We might list these anarchisms as anarcho-syndicalism and anarcho-communism. As famous Italian anarchist Enrico Malatesta lived in Buenos Aires between 1885 and 1889, we might guess the impacts of such ideas on Argentinian people.
As a matter of fact, anarchists were in lead during the peasants’ and shepherds’ (gaucho) rebellion. This rebellion was gorily repressed by the Argentinian government in 1921, leaving about one thousand five hundred deaths.
Argentina Regional Workers’ Federation FORA (Federación Obrera Regional Argentina) labor union was founded in 1901 and adopted anarcho-communism ideas a few years later. FORA was able to gather 70,000 anarchist workers on the 1th of May in 1904. The union’s influence over Argentinian public was considerable as the number of members exceeded 700,000 by the 1920s.
Union Republicana del Pueblo in Chile was founded over an anarchist platform. Their first call of strike in 1890 resulted the first general strike in South America. Regional Federation of Peru (1912), Regional Workers’ Federation, Paraguay (FRO-Federación Regional Obrera) (1906) and Uruguay Regional Workers’ Federation (Federación Obrera Regional Uruguayo) (1905) were inspired from their sister organization of FORA. Local Workers’ Federation FOL (Federación Obrera Local) (1908) and International Workers’ Federation (Federación Obrera Internacional) (1912) in Bolivia acted on the basis of anarcho-syndicalist principles and fought for eight-hour working day.
The active leaders of Brazilian Workers Confederation COB (Confederação Operária Brasileira) between 1908 and 1915 were anarchists. Anarchists’ anti-war demonstration in Rio and Sao Paolo was suppressed by police fire, causing 200 deaths.
Federación Regional de Trabajadores del Ecuador was an anarchist labor union. This union orchestrated a general strike in Ecuador. The army stroke back and 1000 workers were killed by soldiers.
Naturally these were not the first or the last pages of the continent’s bloody history. This period even witnessed genocide in Tierra del Fuego (Lands of Fire, located in the southernmost of Patagonia). Indigenous Selk’nams were systematically killed. Native Americans were not only wiped out through firearms, but through diseases that were carried by white people to Americas. . Charles Darwin, who was able to visit these lands during his youth, wrote that he found native people unhygienic. Darwin seems to ignore constant problems of hygiene in Europe and how European diseases paralyzed Native Americans’ immune systems.
Colonizers of the continent also cannot tolerate revolts of native peoples. Tupac Amaru II and Tupac Katari, who led the last great rebellion against Spanish (1780-1782) were massacred with 100,000 comrades.
Maoist guerilla organization Tupac Katari Guerilla Army (Ejército Guerrillero Túpac Katari), which was active in Bolivia between 1991 and 1992, adopted his name. Bolivia’s incumbent Prime Minister Alvaro Garcia Linera was a former member.
Tupac Amaru is the eponym of Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement (Movimiento Revolucionario Túpac Amaru-MRTA) in Peru, which is remembered with its raid to Embassy of Japan in 1997 and National Liberation Movement-Tupamaros (Movimiento Liberacion Nacional-Tupamaros) in Uruguay.
National Liberation Movement-Tupamaros was the most organized urban guerilla group in Latin America. They were active between 1966 and 1973. Their success depended not only their armed attacks but on acquisition of secret documents, kidnapping of a CIA torturer, who was sent under the guise of development advisor. They were also famous for destruction of luxurious pubs and casinos without doing harm to anyone. The organization also help the escape of women prisoner on the 8th of March.
Former president of Uruguay, Mujica was one of its leaders. He was arrested following the 1973 military coup and remained in chains in a dungeon-shaped cell for about 12 years.
Most people in Uruguay were complaining about president Mujica’s incompetence. Military regime that lasted until 1985 penetrated all levels of the government. Therefore, what can Mujica do alone to wipe out all these institutionalized fascist staff? I think people know well that there is need for a long lasting struggle and power for a comprehensive cleaning. Nevertheless, they all expect a single hero.
Like we all do…
 Mi Mejor Enemigo, 2005 Dir. Alex Bowen
 See https://vimeo.com/131368258
 La Patagonia Rebelde, 1974 Dir. Hector Oliviera
 Ten Minutes Older, 2001 (This movie contains many short movies, I mentioned short movie of ) Dir. W. Herzog
 Etat de Siege, 1972 Dir. Costa-Gavras