[Excerpted from “Pueblos Incapaces Para Civilizacicon Democratica?" May, 1955, published in Pensamiento Politico de Haya de la Torre, Volume V.]

[The following commentary on Latin American politics comes from Victor Raul Haya de la Torre, (1895-1979), Peruvian Marxist political theorist and activist who founded and led the Aprista Party. He was among Latin America's most influential political thinkers. He founded (May 7, 1924) the Popular Revolutionary American Party (Alianza Popular Revolucionaria Americana [APRA]), known as the Aprista movement. APRA was dedicated to Latin-American unity, the nationalization of foreign-owned enterprises, and an end to exploitation of Indians.]

Haya de la Torre Portrait THE MILITARY RULER OF VENEZUELA, COLONEL PEREZ JIMENEZ, declared recently to Time magazine of New York that the Venezuelan people were still incapable of living, with full rights and duties, a civilized democratic life. He said that such incapacity justifies the existence of a military government, or in other words, a dictatorship.

This assertion is not original. It has been repeated in America every time a general has taken control of the government. In Spain it forms part of the three or four set replies which General Franco has developed for the journalists of the Tree World when they ask him some indiscreet question about his despotism. The people turn out to be poor because of their backwardness or barbarism and are thus officially declared worthy of government from the barracks. For the purpose of preparing them for the meritorious life of democratic liberty, they are administered with the utmost possible demagogy, corruption, and tyranny.

Our Indoamerican incapacity for democracy is the handy argument used here and there to justify the endemic malady of our militarism, proneness to conspiracy and coup d'etat, and unlimited usufruct of the benefits of government by means of tyranny. It is said that for our democratic life, we are hampered by climate and race. They have coined easy commonplaces to repeat such as that which maintains that democracy is incompatible with the high indices of illiteracy which, without doubt, are a dishonor to our republics.

What is certain is that when militarism has been controlled or liquidated, democracy has been possible in Indoamerica, in spite of racial and climatic variations: Costa Rica is a country of the tropical zone and its democratic spirit and system are exemplary. In the same Caribbean, where there are the ferocious militarisms, in the republics called "independent," stable democracies of mestizo "colonial" peoples are appearing that quickly become models to be followed in the test of our America: The West Indies-destined sooner or later to form part of our community-are showing the way. Jamaica is a case, Puerto Rico is another, and the Dutch Antilles are closely behind them.

Uruguay and Mexico are the two poles of our Democracy, Uruguay, a temperate country, with a Latin-European racial predominance, is without doubt among those republics on the line of the great social systems of Switzerland and Scandinavia. With those, they are ahead of the North American democracy. Mexico with its 30 millions of inhabitants, in majority mestizo, has other problems; but without doubt, it advances with sureness towards an integral democracy. It is important to point out that the first step in the Mexican democratic development has been the elimination of militarism-even revolutionary militarism-and the sure establishment of civil government as the unequivocal mark of the institutional progress of the country.

In spite of its partisan agitations--perhaps a little French mimicry-Chile is a stable democracy, one of the most stable of America. The fact that a veteran general, Carlos Ibanez, now presides over the country is not a basis for doubting Chilean civil democracy. [The reference here is to General Carlos lbanez, who was elected President of Chile in 1952. He presided over the only dictatorship Chile has had in the twentieth century, between 1927, and 1931. However, he returned to office in 1952 by popular election and in 1958, turned his post over to his duly elected successor, President Jorge Alessandri.] His mandate comes from an unfraudulant election, and he is the only Chilean general who in a period of several decades was tempted by bad policy--let's say a temptation or contagion of Central American origin-and the only one who thirty years ago, overthrew a civil government and an ominous dictatorship. Its end was a beautiful victory of Chilean civic opinion when public consensus threw militarism out of power. Now the general, without ornaments or arrests, has returned to power backed by the legitimacy of election, to amend old and misguided steps and to behave as a president respectful of the rights of the people.

Haya de la TorreIt is good to remember that Chile has given America relevant lessons which make us believe in the civil decency of democracy: General [Manuel] Baquedano was the victor of the war of 1879-1884 between Chile on the one hand and Peru and Bolivia on the other. The triumph of Chilean arms made them masters of the entire Bolivian coast and of the huge nitrate zone of Peru, and Baquedano returned to his country after having occupied Lima, over whose vice-royal palace floated, for two long years, the victorious banner. In spite of this, when Baquedano was proposed as a candidate for the presidency of Chile-and the elections took place during the last part of the war, in the heat of repeated Chilean victories-the general was not elected. The victor was an honest anal poor civilian! Don Domingo Santa Maria, the victorious president, who at the end of his mandate did not have a house in which to live and whose friends gave him one. Baquedano never became president of his country.

In addition to the almost legendary self-sacrifice of President Balmaceda-whom Getulio Vargas imitated perhaps with equal benefit for Brazilian civil government-to save Chile from internal struggle and certainly from a military dictatorship, one must remember two other more recent and eloquent examples. [J.M. Balmaceda was president of Chile, from 1886 to 189. An advocate of extensive social reforms, he was overthrown by conservative elements in a short civil war and committed suicide upon his defeat. Getulio Vargas, the Brazilian ex-dictator who was reelected freely to the presidency in 1950 also committed suicide when the military sought to oust him in 1954.]The election of Alessandri in 1920, was made possible because the Conservative party, on account of the decisive intervention of Archbishop Crescente Errazuriz, voluntarily made way for the candidate of the Liberal Party who supported a program of the separation of Church and State and had the reputation of being a terrible revolutionary. The triumph of the Popular Front in 1938 was a similar occasion. Aguirre Cerda came to power by election that year with only a majority of about 4,000 votes. This marked the fall of the right, and the Casandras of the coups d'etat predicted one in Chile. The chief of the Chilean Army-a conservative general-stepped forward to deny publicly the subversive rumors and to counsel the defeated candidate [Gustaro] Ross to accept the electoral decision.

I have visited Venezuela-and not only Caracas-during its democratic period in 1946, just before the elections. I was in the Andean region which is traditionally conservative and the breeding ground of tyrants, I ascertained for certain that the Venezuelan people were not barbarians, that is to say, incapable of democracy. I attended demonstrations of citizens which did not differ from those of democratically civilized countries. I learned after my departure that the elections for members of the, Constitutional Assembly were carried out in as orderly and honest a fashion as in any cultured country.

I think that Bolivia demonstrates clearly how the elimination of militarism opens the way for the advent of a democratic order of profound social significance. The case of Bolivia is singularly stimulating for all of the Andean Zone of Peru, Ecuador, and Northeastern Argentina, populated by millions of descendents of the subjects of the Empire of the Incas, whose race, whose language, and whose demands are the same. Bolivia is teaching our states with native populations that they--a fact confirmed by Mexico and Guatemala-are proper places for democracy. Even more, Bolivia shows that in their native organizations and habits democracy is practiced---the systems or elections are an example in the communities of Inca tradition-but always with a high degree of social sense. This is something which the Bolivian experiment is discovering. When the anti-democratic factor represented by imperialism is pushed aside, the indigenous institutional life encounters its traditional path of freedom and discipline, spontaneous characteristic of its natural way. [Haya is referring here to the revolutionary regime of the Nationalist Revolutionary Movement (MNR) which seized power in 1952. It carried out a thorough agrarian reform and took many other measures to incorporate the Indian majority into the economic, social, and civic life of the nation. Unfortunately, the MNR regime made the mistake of building up the armed forces, which finally overthrew the MNR in November 1964. Most of the program launched by the MNR government, nevertheless, remains intact.]

Psychologically, both peoples are pacific-perhaps too much so-but unadaptable to regimentation and the regime of the barracks. It is clear that in Peronista militarism, demagogy and terror are ingredients which are much better combined than in Peru, where the experience of collective intimidation is much longer and more cruel. But to both peoples there is attributed excessive subservience because of their apparent submission in the face of brutality. Profoundly within each, however, there is a type of passive resistance, which is sometimes active, unavoidable. I don't believe that I am mistaken when I argue that at any moment-this happened in Peru in 1945-in Peru or in Argentina civil liberties might be restored and militarism would fall. The peoples will enter immediately into democratic paths as people who take a familiar road.

In Brazil I understood well that it is, among our peoples, the one least apt to tolerate a dictator, especially of the somber military type which we know in the other states of the continent. Getulio [Vargas] was a civil boss during his long tenure as president. Last August, a few weeks before the tragic events, the president was exposed to many gibes from platforms and cafes which were as entertaining and biting as those of the theaters of the Mexican neighborhoods…
or those of Paris.

Soon the hour of the drama arrived. When in the mind of the Brazilian people the conviction matured that Getulio sooner or later would pay for his defiant "0 petroleo e nosso," [“the petroleum is ours”] there came the improvised suicide. Thus Getulio closed the way to a possible military coup, and he showed himself dauntless but sincere.
All of which supports my premise: perhaps another measure must be applied to the case of Spain. The history of Spain is the history of the struggle of the people for freedom; we might point out many phases in its development that offer proof of their indomitable desire for freedom, from which originate the names applied to those indomitable and fierce people, independent and individualistic. We note in passing the rising of the communities against Charles V, the war of independence against Napoleon, the establishment of the first republic in 1873, as a reaction against the chaotic situation of the country and military uprisings. The most recent and exemplary phase is represented by those elections of April 12, 1931, which brought the second republic, This was the first time that the Spaniards could show their civil aspirations, and they decided to attempt to overthrow a worn-out institution and to take pacifically the pat of liberty. This conquest closed the road to military dictatorship for the time being. Thus the generals of totalitarian spirit who hoc to submit to this pacific and overwhelming impulse; worked to sup press it, using foreign arms; and the civic and cultural development of Spain was stopped. But Spain doesn't sleep, and it will emerge from this nightmare of totalitarian horror, disposed to take the wide road, natural and proper for the peoples: the road of freedom.

With respect to our America, political. militarism, the professional general-conspirator who converts his army into an armed political party, and the armed forces into forces of occupation is their own country, represents in America anti-democratic totalitarianism. All our people might live without armies, but they do no accept to live without freedom.
The remedy? It is the union of all our armed forces into a single continental army-from the moment in which, after the Rio Pact of 1947, there cannot be war among us-for defense against any extra American aggression. An Interamerican command arsenal would mean fewer pre-atomic generals and more soldier-citizens of an America united for liberty.