Saturday, 5 March 2016

My founding fathers and mothers

Yesterday I read this post about the Bolívar cult by Mónica Correa. I liked it a lot, although I disagree with the details about when the cult started. Correa, like many other Venezuelans, consinders the personality cult around Bolívar started really when Guzmán Blanco came to power. As German historian Norbert Rehrmann and others indicated, it was rather Bolívar himself who initiated the mental cult.

Then it was Antonio José Páez who re-started the cult in the early forties of the XIX century, when the world price for coffee - Venezuela's main export back then- plummeted and popular unrest threatened Venezuela's stability. Páez needed a big event to gain popularity.

You should read this decree by Páez to understand how he initiated the cult to this figure.

Many Venezuelans now would find it hard to believe Antonio José Páez would have been the actual promoter of the Bolívar cult. Venezuelans were taught from early on about the very real conflicts that separated Bolívar and Páez once Bolivar focused on his idea of governing the Gran Colombia. The thing is that what happened between Bolívar and Páez didn't prevent the latter to use the myth of the former in order to gain popularity. That is how he brought Bolívar's bones to Caracas from Colombia, how he tried to call Caracas Bolivar (at the end people would rename Angostura Bolívar, but that happened a bit later), how he organised Bolivar cult ceremonies in every Plaza Mayor of Venezuela then - those Plazas Mayores are now called Plazas Bolivar. Páez was also the one who reverted a law that had been introduced in order to stop the cult of the caudillo in congress. Páez was the one who started bringing marble statues of Bolívar from Europe.

The post's comments ended up revolving around the idea of "founding fathers". I thought about that as well and I wondered why it was that I never had such a fixation with the military men that ruled my country. The reason, I realised was that my founding fathers - and mothers - were very different from what I got at school.

My founding fathers and mothers were Spanish settlers from the XVI to the XIX century fleeing poverty in Spain. My founding fathers and mothers were the native Americans who lived for so long before around the then beautiful Valencia Lake, people who produced those petroglyphs and who cooked those arepas and wove those cotton clothes we hardly know about. My founding fathers and mothers were the black slaves who came from Western Africa with nothing but chains and humour and music and energy and probably many other things in their minds that we are no longer aware of because that is how history works.

My founding fathers and mothers were my great-grandparents and grandparents who worked very hard in their humble conucos,  their small land plots, to grow corn, beans, tomatoes and cotton, to raise chickens and pigs to feed their family and others.

My founding fathers and mothers were those who taught so many children to read and write, to count, who helped young adults to think analytically about economic issues, who introduced modern health practices in Venezuelan villages that until then were in conditions similar to those of Europe's Middle Ages.

If there was the need for any other kind of "founding fathers", my father and mother brought me to public talks of scientists Fernández Morán and Jacinto Convit and showed me - I was so lucky - the theatre work of poet Aquiles Nazoa. My sisters even took part in Nazoa's children theatre group.

My own founding father and mother taught me the magic of producing food and making something technical work.

My founding parents were actual doers, not military men.

I am convinced we can reshape what kind of myths and role models we need. Other countries have done so.

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