The hustle and bustle with the United States of America's presidential elections brought the American continent, or at least a small part of it, to the international agenda. Despite being the country with the most influence in the International Order, the USA is only a small fraction of America. However, it is this country that outlines the international agenda in Western countries and has earned the name of the continent itself.
The title of this article is nothing more than an evocation of the short story by Delmore Schwartz, published in a volume that brings together eight stories by the author and a preface by Lou Reed, in an issue of Guerra e Paz, given to the Portuguese public in June this year. , which was titled after another short story, Responsibilities begin in dreams. Schwartz centers his literary creation in the USA, especially in large cities, gravitating his characters in the cities that are most familiar to us.
The America that Schwartz describes us comes to us today through art, be it cinema, literature or music, but it has long since disappeared from the news that reports on daily life. It is already a country full of contradictions, in which the American dream that everyone longs for and considers possible, becomes the achievement of some.
The successful characters in their academic career and vigorous intellectuals of their time vanish in the face of the difficulties of affirmation imposed by a society that bases its success on its professional capacity to be well paid and to adapt its capabilities to a market value. The author deals not only with the arrival of Jewish immigrants, prior to the Second World War, mainly from Russia and the surrounding countries, but also with the journey of their children, born American.
Schwartz's characters, like himself, circulate in secondary intellectual circles. Broadway or Hollywood are far from desiring their philosophical reflections or aesthetic concepts. Culture has to be ready to consume, adapted to the tastes and requirements of a reception that goes there for entertainment and not for cultural debate. Somehow, Schwartz's tales are characterized by giving the reader a bittersweet flavor, of what could be and what is, of the dream that only becomes reality for some ... for a few. This reality in the USA foresaw the cleavages of a utopia that was disappointed in dystopia.
Despite having written, mainly, about the first half of the XNUMXth century, Schwartz had perceived the contradictions of American society and his short life was itself the result of American controversies. Despite being recognized by his peers, due to his literary value, he was never a prominent author in the North American literary market, that is, in the market designed for the masses of literary consumption.
His disillusionment was then maintained only for intellectual circles that dared to question the path this part of America was taking. When today we look at what American society has become, in which social and political confrontation has become more aggressive and in which reality is given to consume as a more or less creative narrative, we cannot say that it is something totally unexpected.
However, America is not just the USA. And we can go down just a little bit and travel to Central America to see how diverse this continent can be. This part of the American continent was famous, in the past, for the designation attributed to its countries "Republic of Bananas". At present, it was the clandestine migratory currents that brought these countries to the forefront of international media.
It seems that in Central America, the hard times never ended. This is the title of the most recent book by Mario Vargas Llosa, published in Portugal by Quetzal, in September this year. In this book, the author scrutinizes the relations of the USA and, more specifically, of the United Fruit Company with the political events that were taking place in Honduras, Nicaragua and, above all, Guatemala, where a coup d'état occurred in 1954, orchestrated with the support of from the USA.
In his book, he makes relevant not only aspects of the relationship between the giant, then a regional power, and its closest Latin American neighbors, but also goes into detail to expose the method used by this country to intervene politically with its neighbors. .
Starting from the figure of two men, coming from Jewish immigrant families (exactly the same generations that Delmore Schwartz deals with in the aforementioned book), more specifically, the president of the United Fruit Company and his trusted man in communication, public relations and advertising , Edward Barneys, nephew of Sigmund Freud, and famous for his books on this area. Barneys believed that through the media it would be possible to lead American public opinion to believe in a communist threat in Guatemala, which, in turn, would legitimize the US government to intervene directly or indirectly in overthrowing the Guatemalan political regime.
In fact, this is exactly what happened. In a US-orchestrated coup and sponsored by the United Fruits Company, the Guatemalan government would fall. Never has the expression 'Republic of Bananas' been so well applied. In fact, it was the agrarian reform and the revision of the tax system intended by the Guatemalan government that had frightened the banana production and export company that led to this outcome. But Llosa's book is not a political treatise. It is also an excellent literary aesthetic object, well written and dimensioned so that the reader can follow the various perspectives of the narrative.
Connecting these two books, we realize that, for many decades, times have been much tougher for one part of America than for another. This progressive Guatemalan government intended to integrate indigenous populations and ensure some redistribution of wealth, namely, through their inclusion in the production system in a way that departed from the service model that had prevailed until then.
It is true that in the wake of the social turmoil that has been installed in Central America, this fruit company in particular, but also another competitor, introduced some improvements in the working conditions of its employees, founded schools for their children. The attempt was to contain social and political change, through measures that would improve its image in the USA and in these countries. For the USA saw itself as a country that helped development, through its foreign investment, and not as a country that had replaced and adopted, adapting, the colonizer models.
It was this awareness that needed to be reassured and hence the idea of the communist threat in Guatemala. They were the country of the American dream, where everyone could be happy and obtain material well-being. Curiously or not, perhaps they are still the citizens of those Central American states, where the wealth remained undistributed and social and political reforms arrived late, to believe in this American dream. Now their arrival in the USA is putting up walls to stop them.
Schwartz undoes this idea of realizing the dream, due to the dystopia that his life and work represent and also due to the tortuous paths of his characters. Llosa demonstrates how the export of the American ideal to its neighboring countries was nothing more than the foreign investment directed there, based on the economic system inherited from colonial times. Again, dystopia, instead of the utopia of exporting the values of freedom and human rights.
After so many decades, why converge these authors and their ideas? An American and a Peruvian writing about periods of time that cross and complement each other, one looking at the USA and the other looking at Central America living with the USA. Because this relationship between the USA and America still persists and because it is not a theme of the campaign underway in the USA for the presidential elections, it is something that the next president will deal with and now with new variants.
The end of utopias
It is difficult today to look to America as a land of promise as it happened in the past or to the USA as the land where dreams come true. The violence in American countries, the wounds that the colonial system left open and that American elites chose not to heal, maintain the dichotomy between the owners of power (political, economic and social) and the disinherited of that same power. The conflicts that arise in these societies, such as the “social outbreak” in Chile, or illegal migrations in Honduras, or even racial conflicts in the USA, result from the failure of these new states and the dystopias generated there.
Although, in the American electoral race, the political debate focuses only on domestic issues and the exchange of accusations between political actors, the truth is that in order to remain a hegemonic power, the USA must also look at its own neighbors. No longer with the proud eye of those who represent and export human rights, but as a couple that has its internal contradictions, its victories and failures and, above all, with the awareness that there are new competitors there, such as China whose presence is , gradually, more evident throughout the continent.
In reality, the entire American continent, with the exception of Canada, is in turmoil, in a period of fragile and, in most cases, contested political frameworks. Here, in this European corner, we look at the presidential campaign and the lack of elevation of candidates for the US presidential campaign in awe and forget the rest of the continent. It seems that America is swallowed up by the perspective of the USA and little remains. However, in the near future, it is possible that we will see new forces to join and new internal and external political alignments and by that time we will see how dystopia won that utopia that started in Europe, where America was the continent that would save Europeans.