Friday, October 15, 2010
Monday, August 2, 2010
Tuesday, July 20, 2010
Friday, July 16, 2010
Thursday, February 18, 2010
- Paraguay has claimed land held today by Brazil and Argentina but, to make up for this sore, they took land from Bolivia after the Chaco War of 1935.
- Bolivia, while upset about losing the Chaco to Peru, is still smarting from the earlier loss of its access to the sea at the hands of Chile in 1879.
- Peru, too, has claims on land taken by Chile in that same war; Chile wanted the rich nitrite and copper mines just beyond its northern border so it went to war with both Peru and Bolivia, defeating them handily.
- But Peru can play the agressor, too, as Ecuador well knows. That country still longs for its lost eastern lands -- nearly half of Ecuador's territory. These were taken by Peru in 1941 (see right) when the rest of the world was preoccupied by land grabs elsewhere. With that territory went access to the Amazon over which Ecuadorans believe they have a cultural claim dating back to 1541 when Francisco Orellana set out from Quito and explored the entire length of that river.
- Colombia also took jungle land from Ecuador but that doesn't stop Colombia from pining for her own lost territory, now called Panama. Panama won its independence from Bogota thanks to the Teddy Roosevelt -- who wanted to build a little canal there.
- Now Venezuela, under Hugo Chavez (right), has been toying around with the biggest land redistribution of them all, an idea that was the dream of his Venzuelan idol and founding father, Simon Bolivar. Under Bolivar's plan, Ecuador, Venezuela, and Colombia (including those pesky Panamanians), would have become one nation called Gran Colombia ruled, no doubt, from Caracas. Chavez thinks this is an idea whose time has come again.
But don't think this territorial jostling is ancient history. Besides the Falklands War in 1982, Chile and Argentina almost went to war in 1978 over three frigid, uninhabited islands near Cape Horn. Troops were mobilized and on the brink of attack and only the intervention of the Pope -- that's right, the Pope -- brought the two countries back from the brink.
Where does all this territorial discord come from? Not surprisingly, the disfunction has its roots in Spain's colonial empire. During nearly 300 years of rule, Spain never worried too much if one part of its empire merged at its edges with another. After all, what might cause headaches for local magistrates in America was of little concern to the King. It was all Spain, at the end of the day. But, when that day finally did end and Spain was kicked out of America, the independent states it spawned wanted border clarity and clarity usually goes to the one with the stronger military. Latin diplomats since independence have been digging out old, often contradictory, maps to bolster their claims by showing what their former rulers had in mind regarding the Empire's internal boundries. It's interesting to note that while Argentina today bases its right to rule the Falklands on Spain's 18th Century presence there it fails to acknowledge that in those same days all of Patagonia was governed from Santiago, not Buenos Aires, meaning we should all be raving about the quality of Chilean beef, not Argentine.
This territorial angst explains why there is now an arms race in South America, an arms race the United States has inadvertently helped fuel. The US, in its efforts to assist Colombia crush the drug trade, has made Colombia the leading military power in the region. This, in turn, has caused Colombia's neighbors, Venezuela and Peru -- goaded by Chavez's fiery appeals to Andean-Bolivarean solidarity -- to increase their own defense spending. Chile, seeing Peru bulking up, has put its significant finances to work preparing against an attack from the north; and while they are at it, they might as well strengthen their border with Argentina, just for old time's sake. What does this cause Argentina to do? You got it, they start chewing over that old bone, the Falklands, and we've come full circle.
Passions over the Falklands run high in Argentina. Visitors there can't help but be astonished to see a Falklands memorial (see left) in every town. These serve not just to honor the fallen soldiers of the war but as reminders that "the Malvinas are Argentine." That slogan is repeated everywhere in Argentina, from flags and beach towels to bumper stickers and t-shirts.
I was recently made aware of how deeply ingrained is this longing for those inhospitable islands and why the belligerence won't go away any time soon. Last year I met a couple from Austria -- no stranger to the pain of lost territory. They had been living in Argentina for several years but had recently decided to take their elder son out of local kindergarten classes. "We knew we had to do something," said the mother, "when he came home from school one day singing a song about how the Malvinas were Argentine and how they were going to get them back with the blood of their sons. They teach this in kindergarten! That was enough for me."
They have since decided to move back to Europe; they are planning to settle in Spain.
Sunday, February 14, 2010
Santiago does not have an old colonial center like many other Latin capitals. What it does have, however, is a wealth of beaux-arts and Modernist buildings. It is as if in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the city tried to make up for its deficit of memorials to the distant past by an enthusiastic embrace of the contemporary. At the end of the 19th century it was the beaux-arts movement that held sway in the city. Chile's leading families and the capitalists, newly rich from the copper and nitrite mines in the north, poured their money into urban palaces. Today, these ornate structures, heavy with cornices and statuary and imposing arches and lintels point to a desire for bourgeois respectibility in a country attempting to show itself and its new wealth to the world.
One of my favorite neighborhoods, downtown, near the Universidad de Chile, is composed entirely of beaux-arts buildings. Narrow cobble-stone streets wind through Paris-Londres, as the neighborhood is called. It is named after the two main streets. Car traffic is rare in Paris-Londres and students and tourists generally stroll down the middle of the streets, the better to admire the stately buildings on either side.