An annoying bicentennial? 19 de Abril de 1810

Starting last year and through 2011 most Latin American country will celebrate or commemorate a series of events that lead to the proclamation of independence from Spain.  The coincidence is simple to account for: Napoleon had invaded Spain and under the pretext of supporting the legitimate dynasty of Spain the elite of the time used this excuse to exert first a provisional autonomy that quickly became a declaration of Independence.

Emparan summoned back to the Cabildo
Venezuela was no exception, and in fact the clearest text book case, as on April 19 1810 the Caracas Cabildo forced the Spanish Capitan General to resign and leave the colony.  A year was enough to reach the official Independence proclamation on July 5th 1811.  And thus we have two national holidays to mark our Independence. 

One would think that the bombastic government of Chavez would take the opportunity to appropriate the two celebrations.  After all, such a centennial milestone is reached, well, once every hundred years only.  But no, nothing significantly out of the ordinary is planned.  No major festival is under organization, and we are at barely 30 days of the April date.  No literary competition has been offered that would attract the best pens or keyboards.  We do not know of any major gathering of LatinAmerican head of states in Caracas next month.

How come?

One explanation could be that chavismo knows that a major celebration without at least all of the "Bolivarian" presidents in Caracas does not make any sense (1).  On April 19 Raul Castro cannot replace Alvaro Uribe and Alan Garcia.  Even Chavez for all his histrionic talent could not paper over such an historical nonsense.  In his defense one could argue that July 5 2011 will be a better date to justify the visit of dignitaries form around the world, never mind that by then he could theoretically paper over recent international unpleasantness which solutions have been dodging him, such as the IACHR report or the connection with the FARC and ETA and narcotraffickers.  Not very good timing to celebrate your Independence as you created a Dependence to such unsavory groups....

But there is another much better explanation: April 19 was a uniquely civilian affair.  True, it only concerned the economic and religious powers of the time with the directed "spontaneous" support of the Caracas free class of creoles with some material interests.  But there was no army, no military coup, no nothing of the sort as the Spanish colonial "security" limited itself to make sure that order remained in the streets during this civilian transition.  Some within chavismo would like probably to transform April 19 into a coup, albeit civilian if we must.  Or at least apply to it the term Revolucion as the mysterious hands at work in Wikipedia tell us.  But even such adjective cannot be properly applied as Don Vicente Emparan was a questioned representative of dubious legality since Spain at the time was in chaos.  The Creole elite that participated in the April event was not breaking with Spain, it was serving Spain notice that relations were suspended until it put its house in order and that a legitimate authority could resume.

True, there was some hypocrisy in it as some knew that such a first baby step had to be taken to start on the road to Independence, but the fact of the matter is that it was a civilian event at least in part justified in such troubled times.

Where does a military regime bent on rewriting history fit with the Bicentennial of Civilian Power?  Nowhere and thus it ignores it.

I was a kid when I found in some boxes left behind at a house we had moved to a comic book edited for the "sequicentenario" of the Independence feat, the 150th anniversary.  I barely knew how to read at the time and in all truth this was my first reading in Spanish (I was already reading Tintin in French, being a precocious reader).  It also was my first reading in history, the start of a life passion even if by then I had no idea what the word history really meant.  I do not know what happened to these boxes later, probably thrown away by the incoming tenant of that part of the house (we lived in temporary digs set for a total of three families).  But I still remember to this day that commemorating comic book, likely edited for school distribution in preparation for the celebration.  For the first time I was told who Vicente Emparan was, what el Cura Madariaga did, and what Simon Bolivar would do later.  I still have cloudy images of the drawings which included our blooming national tree, Araguaney, and other such symbols that I did not understand then.  There were two kids narrating the comic book, the images switching between them reading and commenting and simple recreation of the scenes narrated.  The boy was black with a stripped white and blue shirt and the creole girl had long dark auburn hair with a black band holding it.

I cannot say that I understood in truth what Emparan was,  nor the general meaning of the story, but it certainly was riveting to read, impressive enough for me to still have memories today. In a way it does not really matter because what I retained from this book was a civilian epic without any particular message, something that could not be replicated today with he current regime, I am willing to bet anything on that.  After all it was narrated by elementary school kids of the time, you know, not little Cuban pioneritos that some 'bolivarian schools' try to copy.  It was the great decade of Venezuela when democracy was built and when the first wave of alphabetization took place.  This by itself was message enough.

If Chavez remains in office we know which is the holiday he really wants to celebrate.  After all his mantra has always been "hasta el 2021", until 2021.  Why?  It will be the decisive Independence battle, the Carabobo bicentennial and there is one thing that Chavez can relate to, it is a bloody battle field.

1) The Bolivarian countries are those who owe their independence to the wars of Simon Bolivar, Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia to which Panama was added later since it broke from Spain originally inside the Gran Colombia.