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LATIN AMERICA: pot-banging protests

Rosa de Pena from Argentina naturally feels strongly about the plight of her country. In response to criticism of pot-banging protests as no substitute for serious discourse, she says: "The problem is that all that serious discourse did not prevent the disaster that Argentina is now facing. Pan-banging is just a desperate way to tell the people in charge to get back to reality. And serious discourse was far more damaged during the military dictatorship where people who dissented were taken away, tortured, and thrown from planes. All with the approval of those champions of freedom Ronald Reagan and Jeanne Kirkpatick (wiped out be their names from the Book of Life)".

I can understand Rosa's feelings, but demonstrations in Latin America are becoming a kind of theater. Rosa's argument can be applied to Venezuela, where Hugo Chavez is a caricature of a demagogue. He has denounced the Church, whose leaders have now cancelled a planned meeting with him and issued a firm statement. Which will have more effect, the pot-banging or the church warning?

Democratic Colombia is in the middle of a devastating civil war. President Pastrana decided the impose a tax on entertainers, who had hitherto been exempt. In addition to pot-banging, they have put on shows, the dancers taking advantage of the opportunity to stage a performance on Bogotá's main square. In Peru, President Alejandro Toledo is trying hard to bring order and justice to his country. Protests, perhaps justified, have been an example of cultural syncretism: pot-banging (from Argentina), workers stripping down to their underclothes (from Mexico), and other workers being crucified and beaten with a lash (from Spain). Why no Indian form of protest?

These protests may be a form of expressing anger over official indifference. They remind us of the peasant who was beating a mule mercilessly with a big stick. An animal rights activist protested that he was being cruel. He replied "I'm just trying to get his attention". But that is not enough. The mule, having got the point, must go to the desired destination. So must a country. That calls for reasonable discourse.

Ronald Hilton - 1/30/02