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An epic intellectual history of Latin America by one of the regions most prominent thinkers
In his first book to appear in English since Mexico: Biography in Power, a work which the Wall Street Journal calls the standard history of postcolonial Mexico, prize-winning author Enrique Krauze illuminates the evolution of political, social, and philosophical discourses in Latin America. With echoes of Richard Hofstadter and Edmund Wilson, Krauze explores the Latin American intellectual tradition by deftly animating its decisive figures, from Octavio Paz to Che Guevara, JosÉ Vasconcelos to Hugo ChÁvez, and inscribing them upon a vivid landscape of patriotism, opportunism, morality, and avarice—and of love, honor, loyalty, and identity. Redeemers delivers an unparalleled explication of the roots of ideology and action in Latin America today.
Accessible roundup of the evolution of modern Latin American political thought via the lives and convictions of key leaders and writers.
Mexican journalist and editor Krauze (Mexico: Biography of Power, 1997, etc.) shapes his work through an engaging mixture of biography and historical currents in the style of Isaiah Berlin or Edmund Wilson, thus allowing lay readers to follow what can sometimes be for the English reader a dizzying succession of revolutions, doctrine andcaudillos.The author proceeds more or less chronologically, from the late 19th century to the present, from the lives of four prophets—the four Josés (Martí, Rodó, Vasconcelos and Mariátegui) through poet Octavio Paz, popular icons Eva Perón and Che Guevara, novelists Gabriel García Márquez and Mario Vargas Llosa and present-day Venezuelan hero à la Bolivar, Hugo Chávez. In Martí, a Cuban-born New Yorker journalist advocating for Cuban independence, Krauze traces the beginnings of Latin American disenchantment with American-style freedom when the U.S. defeated Spain in 1898. The Generation of '98 was galvanized by work such as Rodó'sAriel, which reversed ongoing racist, imperialist theories by asserting the superiority of Latin American culture "over the mere utilitarianism espoused by the Caliban of the North." Rodó's emphasis on the education of youth, Vasconcelos's fashioning of the Mexican foundation myth and Mariátegui's affirmation of Peruvian indigenous culture and pride set the stage for the next generation's Marxism ideology and revolution. While the poetry of Nobel Prize winner Paz would reflect both his sympathy for communism and later disillusionment with the Soviet Union, the sweeping prose of García Márquez and Vargas Llosa took on the mythopoesis of the dictator and revolutionary. Charismatically tragic figures like Perón and Guevara fulfilled themes of Christian martyrdom, while the postmodern Chávez reignites the cult of the leader, despite the promising evolution of electoral democracy in all of Latin America.
Krauze demystifies for his North American neighbors the crucial ideas that have shaped Latin America and rendered it distinct from the United States.
The history of the modern ideas of revolution in Latin America begins
with the life, work, and martyrdom of a New Yorker named José Martí.
He was born in 1853 in Cuba, an island that, along with other islands
(Puerto Rico and the Philippines), was the last bastion of the Spanish
Empire. Both of his parents were Spanish. His father, from Valencia,
was a sergeant in the army and his mother had been born in the Canary
Islands. He had endured poverty as a child and exile since his adolescence.
"I have learned how to suffer," he wrote from the prison of La
Criolla, at the age of sixteen, to Rafael María de Mendive, a teacher
who had inspired his political awakening. Martí's prison time was spent
at hard labor in a quarry, which left him with a permanent and often
painful inguinal hernia for the rest of his life. His precocious commitment
to the cause of Cuban independence had landed him behind bars.
Some months earlier, he had expressed his newfound faith in a one
act drama, adolescent in style, premonitory for its content. In Abdala,
a Nubian warrior confronts the Egyptian Empire for the purpose of
redeeming his people:
I am Nubian! All my people
await me, to defend their liberty!
A foreign people treads our land
and threatens us with vile slavery;
they boldly display their powerful pikes
and honor commands us and God commands us
to die for the fatherland, rather than see it
a cowardly slave to the barbarous oppressor!
And with his mother, Espirta, Abdala debates a vital question: What
is the deepest kind of love?
Espirta: And is that love greater than what your mother awakens in
Abdala: Perhaps you believe there is something more sublime than the
Abdala's words would resound along the course of Martí's life. They
would be an essential part of his myth, but the myth would also
obscure the luminous side of his personality, as a masterful poet; a bold,
original, and surefooted writer of prose; a man of limitless energy and
curiosity and a heart overflowing with creative delight and love, above
Deported to Madrid, he took a degree in law and published El presidio
político en Cuba (The Political Prison in Cuba), demonstrating that
freedom of speech was much greater in Spain itself than in its American
colony. He wrote a poem on the execution of medical students in
Cuba falsely accused of subversion and, when the first Spanish Republic
was proclaimed in 1873, a prose piece titled La República Española ante la
revolución cubana (The Spanish Republic Compared to the Cuban Revolution),
referring to the failed Cuban revolt of 1868. And there for the
first time he applied his idea of the Republic and his conception of
liberty to the criticism of imperial domination:
And if Cuba proclaims its independence through the same right
that the Republic has proclaimed itself, how can the Republic
deny Cuba its right to freedom, the very same it has exercised in
order to exist? How can the Republic deny itself to itself? How
can it dispose of the fate of a people, imposing a condition upon it
where its complete and free and most evident will does not enter?
The words impressively anticipate the statements of American
anti-imperialists in 1898—men like Carl Schurz, William James, and Mark
Twain—faced with the American annexationist war in Cuba and the
occupation of the Philippines. A republic cannot suffocate another
republic, without denying its own essence. The idea of the Republic is
a constant refrain in Martí's concept of revolution. From 1873 on, he
would always be a classic republican, committed to democracy, to civilian
(not military) rule, and a sworn enemy of tyranny and personalist
His concept of revolution was a legacy of the American Revolution
and the later Latin American wars of independence against Spain. Years
later Martí would write, with passion and sympathy, about the Martyrs
of Chicago (the execution of innocent anarchists after the "Haymarket
Riot," when a bomb-throwing incident in 1886 killed a policeman).
And earlier, in 1883, he mourned, discreetly, the death of Karl Marx, but
never applying partisan terms nor the concept of revolution itself that
would later become common usage. And he would use the occasion to
warn against violence:
Karl Marx is dead. He deserves honor, because he stood with the
weak. But he does not do well who points to harm and burns with
generous anxiety to relieve it, but rather he who teaches a gentle
remedy for that hurt. The task of launching men against men is
frightening. Turning some men into beasts for the good of others
is unworthy. But one has to find an outlet for indignation so that
the beast may halt in its tracks, before it leaps, and be frightened
Until the moment (in 1882) when he chose to settle down in New
York City, Martí was a wandering Cuban across "great America." He
was a short, slender man, with a passionate and hyperactive temperament.
He considered living in Mexico or Guatemala, where he wrote
for journals, gave lectures, and collected admiration and fame. In both
countries he left loyal friends, evasive or enamored women (one who
languished and died when he moved on), but he left both countries
behind, disdaining their dictators or their local luminaries, men always
uneasy with the presence of a man without a country who proclaimed
himself the citizen of a greater country, the "country of America." Martí
then thought he might go to Honduras or to Peru. "It's very hard,
wandering this way, from land to land, with so much anguish in my soul,"
but in that same soul a certainty "was seething": "In my head I carry
my unhappy people and it seems to me that one day their freedom will
depend on a breath from me."
In Mexico, he met (and would later marry) Carmen Zayas-Bazán,
a Cuban of aristocratic descent. And Martí decided to return to Cuba
with her. It was a discreet return, using only his middle name and
his metronymic as a semi-pseudonym (he would enter Cuba as Julián
Pérez). He tried, briefly, to settle into his native land, where his son,
José Francisco, was born in November 1878. But the call of his
conscience drew him rapidly into conspiracy against the government and
he was deported again to Spain, where he remained very briefly.
In 1880 he came to New York and began to solicit funds for a second
Cuban attempt at independence, the so-called "Little War" (La Guerra
Chiquita). With a force of twenty-five men, General Calixto García set
sail for Cuba, only to meet with another defeat. Martí remained in New
York, as interim president of the Cuban Revolutionary Committee.
He was living at 51 East Twenty-ninth Street, in the home of Manuel
Mantilla, a Cuban exile who was very ill and would die a few years
later. With Mantilla were his wife, María Miyares, a Venezuelan, and
their two children. When his own wife and son arrived from Cuba,
Martí rented a house in Brooklyn. But Carmen never comprehended
nor came to terms with her husband's political passion (her father
thought he was a "loco"). In October she returned to Cuba. One month
later, María Miyares de Mantilla gave birth to a daughter she named
María. Her father was not Manuel but José Martí, who became the girl's
godfather. Martí then spent a brief time in Venezuela, María's native
land, where he founded an ephemeral publication (the Revista
Venezolana) and announced "I am a son of America . . . Give me, Venezuela,
a way to serve you; in me she will have a son." But the supremely vain
Venezuelan president, Antonio Guzmán Blanco (disgruntled because
Martí had not mentioned him in a public speech), decided to expel him.
Martí returned to New York. His mother requested, his wife demanded
that he come back to Cuba. He would write to Carmen,
You say I should come back. If it meant dying when I arrive, I
would gladly give up my life! I don't have to force myself to go,
but rather to not go back . . . That you don't value it [Martí's political
work], that I know. But I don't have to commit the injustice of
asking you to value a grandeur that is merely spiritual, secret and
unproductive. . .
It was a marital tension that could not be resolved: Carmen did not
understand his mission and would never support it.
The contours of the drama were established. Exiled from his country
in order to serve the revolution, estranged from his wife and bereft of
the son he adored, consoled by his secret affair with a married woman
and walks in the park with his "goddaughter," Martí would live only
thirteen years more. Carmen and his son, José Francisco, would still
alternate long periods in Cuba with time in New York until the final break
in August 1891, after which he would never see his son again. All through
that decade he would lessen his personal anguish with the dedicated
passion of his work, as an active strategist, ideologue, orator, prophet,
and, in the end, moral caudillo of the Cuban independence movement.
He would publish short, beautiful books of poetry. He would translate
novels, edit books and journals; and he would let himself be carried
away by a voracious desire to understand and make others understand
the marvels of this strange and dizzying city that had accepted him.
New York was now his home, or at least his home away from home.
Dealing with this environment into which he had settled, "struggling
to dominate the beautiful and rebellious English language," Martí
would become the innovator, in Spanish, of the journalistic column in
the form of an extended letter. As he wrote to Bartolomé Mitre, editor
of the major Argentine newspaper, La Nación, he wanted to write from
New York neither to denounce nor to praise but to offer a lively and
intelligent vantage point from which to observe a reality that was
important for Latin Americans to understand.
Everything astonished him. His copious accounts are a primary
source for the study of a decade of life in the United States, not only of
the transition from a more or less peaceful application of the Monroe
Doctrine to active and militarily aggressive imperialism but also and
mainly about everyday matters and national events: the trial of President
Garfield's assassin, the inauguration of President Cleveland (and
the trousseau of his fiancée), the opening of the Brooklyn Bridge, the
bustle of a Sunday at Coney Island, the fashions of Fifth Avenue, diversions
(dances, sleigh rides, regattas, boxing matches, baseball games),
the crimes and criminals of New York, the death of Jesse James, the
wonderful bouillabaisse served by Madame Taurel in Hanover Square,
which was then the center of the financial district; art exhibitions,
openings of plays, details of the Oklahoma land boom and the wars
out west against the Sioux. And in one of these long epistolary pieces,
written for La Nación in 1886, on the installation of the Statue of Liberty
in New York Bay, he writes the kind of encomium that generations of
immigrants would feel, though less eloquently, as their ships slowed
down to enter the great harbor of the Land of Hope:
There she is finally, on her pedestal higher than the towers,
magnificent as the tempest and as kind as the sky! Any dry eyes in
her presence once again learn what tears are. It seemed that souls
were opening and flying up to shelter themselves in the folds of
her tunic, whisper in her ears, settle on her shoulders to die, like
butterflies in the light! She seemed alive; smoke from the steamboats
enveloped her: a vague clarity crowned her. She was truly
like an altar, with the steamboats kneeling at her feet! . . . She has
been created by all the skill of the universe, as freedom is created
from all the sufferings of men.
He saw the faults and the virtues of the Colossus of the North. And
the dangers for Latin America. The overwhelming emphasis on money
did not seem to him "a sound basis for a nation, this exclusive love,
vehement and uneasy, for material fortune that ruins people here, or
polishes them only on one side, giving them the appearance of being
simultaneously colossi and children." And stemming from these values,
"a cluster of avaricious thinkers" yearned for expansion at the cost of
the territories of "our America." Certainly it seemed to him that it was
"a deeply painful thing to see a turtledove die at the hands of an ogre."
But one should not confuse "a circle of ultra-'eagleites' [aguilistas—a
word Martí coined from the symbol of the eagle and applied to American
chauvinists]" with the thought of a "heterogeneous, hard-working,
conservative people, occupied with itself, and because of these same
varied strengths, well-balanced." And faced with the cultural inertia of
Spain in America, Martí felt an urgent need to explain the United States
"to bring into the light all its magnificent qualities, and to highlight,
with all its positive strengths, this splendid struggle of men."
For a decade, Martí's columns appeared every week in La Nación
and later in as many as twenty Latin American newspapers. Although
he was an electrifying speaker, the orator's quality of rousing rhetoric
barely appears in his articles. An observation he made in 1881, about a
single interesting word, reflects his sense of the proper style for his
innovative journalism: "The bare word, vigorous, colloquial, natural,
colorful, the sincere word, candid, simple, the word 'yankee,' this was the
word used by Henry Ward Beecher." And, in fact, it was in New York
that Martí began to change the language of Latin American Spanish,
shifting away from what he termed metaphors replete with "suffering
and victim hood," expressions like "to write our history with blood,"
toward descriptions and structures that rely on demonstrative logic. In
the North American press and literature he discovered a freedom without
fear and without the need to harangue. Speaking up, writing, publishing
ceased to be merely forms of rebellion and become a profession,
"lively, simple, useful, human conversation," a public discussion.
Excerpted from Redeemers by Enrique Krauze Copyright © 2011 by Enrique Krauze. Excerpted by permission of HarperCollins. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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On the Translation xvii
Part I Four Prophets
1 José Martí: The Martyrdom of the Liberator 3
2 José Enrique Rodó: The Hispanic-American Homily 23
3 José Vasconcelos: The Cultural Caudillo 49
4 José Carlos Mariátegui: Indigenous Marxism 87
Part II A Man in His Century
5 Octavio Paz: The Poet and the Revolution 119
Part III Popular Icons
6 Eva Peró: The Madonna of the Shirtless Ones 273
7 Che Guevara: The Saint Enraged 293
Part IV Politics and the Ovel
8 Gabriel García Maárquez: In the Shadow of the Patriarch 333
9 Mario Varga Llosa: Creative Parricide 365
Part V Religion and Rebellion
10 Samuel Ruiz: The Apostle of the Indians 405
11 Subcomadante Marcos: The Rise and Fall of a Guerrillero 433
Part VI The Postmodern Caudillo
12 Hugo Chávez: The Hero Worshipper 451
Posted October 13, 2011
My parents are from Colombia South America and I was born in California and grew up in the South. I have always had an interest in Latin America and what drew me to this book is its cover with many familiar faces from that region of the world.
What I discover is that I come from a tough people who can be very ruthless.
Enrique Krauze has done a marvelous job of taking a snippet of individuals from that region.
They touch on revolutionaries, artist, writers, and cultural icons. What I sense is the best contribution to the body politic is that the author humanizes the individuals. They do not allow their circumstance to limit their potential.
From Peron to Chavez in the same breath you sense the passion and fire that is located south of the American border.
This is a favorite read and should be a part of any reference library.
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