This year's 200th anniversary of the independence of several Latin American countries has unleashed a wave of necrophilia: Several nations are literally unearthing the corpses of their independence heroes amid a growing fixation with the past.
Is the region's obsession with history -- visible in everything from best-selling books to daily discussions on popular TV talk shows -- a healthy way to promote national pride? Or is it a cultural disease that is often distracting countries from the urgent task of focusing on the future, becoming more competitive and reducing poverty?
In recent weeks, several Latin American heads of state have presided over lavish ceremonies of exhumation of their countries' independence heroes. The nationally televised procedures were aimed at conducting new probes into the national heroes' deaths or to move their remains into newer, more lavish mausoleums.
2 SISTERS, TOO
Chávez ordered the exhumation to investigate the causes of Bolivar's death, which he has said occurred "under mysterious circumstances" and may have been caused by "the oligarchy." Bolivar died on
Not satisfied with the exhumation of Bolivar's remains, the Venezuelan government announced
Chávez has gone farther than most of his fellow leaders in focusing on the past: he routinely addresses the nation in front of a huge image of Bolivar, has called on Venezuelan children to replace toys of Superman and Batman with those of
But Chávez is far from alone in his fixation with the past. Consider:
A group of scientists will examine the remains of the independence heroes and make sure they are well preserved, before they are moved to the National Palace "so that all Mexicans can offer them proper homage to them in this anniversary of the fatherland," Calderón said. The public showing of the remains is scheduled for later this year.
- In Central America, several presidents are squabbling over the remains of regional independence hero Francisco Morazán, which are resting in
Salvadoran press reports say there were serious discussions among the various Central American countries to temporarily lend Morazán's remains to one another for a few months at a time. The proposal, which some characterized as necrophilic tourism, drew strong objections from Salvadoran intellectuals.
The casket with Peron's remains was taken to its new resting peace by an official caravan, and the ceremony turned into chaos as opposing fractions of Peronist supporters engaged in fistfights. As soon as the headlines about the fight faded from the front pages, a new controversy erupted over whether the remains of Peron's wife -- Evita -- shouldn't be moved as well to the new mausoleum to rest with him.
- The Uruguayan government sent a bill to
While one can make a valid claim that Latin American countries are young republics that need to solidify their national character, and that celebrating their history is a good way of doing that, it is also true that using the writings of 19th century independence fighters as guidelines for 21st century government policies can often be absurd.
We are living in a different world. Bolivar, probably a great man in his time, died in 1830. That was 40 years before the invention of the telephone, and 150 years before the start of the Internet.
Without forgetting their past, Latin American countries should look more to the future. Instead of spending so much time on their fallen independence heroes, countries should spend more time debating why only 1.9 percent of all the world's investments in research and development are going to
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(C) 2010 Andres Oppenheimer