Commentary

Latin America’s Intellectual Cockroaches

When a house or building collapses, the familiar cockroaches that hide and inhabit the floors beneath are suddenly exhibited in their mass unpleasant form, running amuck, sowing the seeds that generate their instantaneous proliferation. They are, after all, cockroaches.

The collapse of the monumental buildings in the immediate aftermath of the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11 — -Black Tuesday — -has left horrific damage and much material ruin, both in terms of worldwide emotional grief, in the tragic loss of innocent civilian life, and in formidable financial destruction. Uncertainty and fear reign. This is a moment that calls for reflection, calculated decision-making, and as much serenity as can be mustered in the face of the unavoidable loss of long-term perspectives. It is, above all, a time of sorrow. Unfortunately, many fashionable pseudo-intellectuals in Mexico and Latin America have seized the day to advance their standard pet causes, akin to a proliferation of cockroaches surging in unison amid the ruin and material collapse of “icons of capitalist greed.” This can be readily observed from the nauseating quantity of insulting editorial opinions against “the empire,” the savage capitalism of neo-liberal yanquee financial imperialism, editorials that can barely mask tacit, if perverse, joy at the moral humiliation that the world’s superpower suffered at the heels of the terror strikes, the enemy without a face.

The “day the world changed.” This is how The Economist has characterized the day of infamy, September 11, 2001. That is the same day that our intellectual cockroaches came out, en masse, taking full advantage of the opportunity to express their anti-yanquee drivel, proclaim the sovereignty of independent nations across Latin America (“we are not the U.S.’s peons,” said the over-rated Mexican novelist Carlos Fuentes), to suggest the need to maintain a “healthy distance” from our neighbors, or intimate that “they deserved this” or “they had it coming,” indeed, even to privately delight in the occasion.

Germán Dehesa, a popular political humorist who writes for the daily newspaper Reforma, sarcastically reproached George W Bush’s remarks the very day after the terrorist strike, for not first “asking the world’s forgiveness” for the “injustices perpetrated by the financial imperialism of the empire of savage capitalism.” Indeed, days later, this “clown philosopher wannabee,” as economic journalist Manuel Suarez-Mier has described him, denounced the Washington consensus of free trade and free markets for advancing an economic equivalent of terrorism across the globe, in the form of mass impoverishment and unequal concentration of wealth.

Similar idiocy has been repeated ad nauseaum across Central America, Venezuela, Argentina and Brazil, among other Latin American nations. Such progressive or politically correct intellectual cockroaches have attempted to transform this episode of horror into an ideological conflict, dirty right-wingers against noble leftist causes, proclaiming their own war against the “terror of neo-liberalism.” This is war against wrong, against poverty and hunger, against ecological degradation. Down with the empire of financial injustice. In effect, Bush is to blame and the entire United States is to blame. To such patently question-begging nonsense one is tempted to add other evils to the list, say, the flu, or sexual impotence, perhaps even earthquakes and summer heat.

These are the champions of the non-sequiter, the anti-gringo mentality borne out of envy, or ignorance or deliberate stupidity. Be that as it may, this is what happens when buildings collapse: thousands of cockroaches emerge. The innocent civilians who lost their lives were not Green Berets, Navy Seals, or Secret Service agents on a covert military mission. They were women, men, boys and girls, newborns, white, Afro-American, Arabs, Mexicans, Colombians, Asian, indeed, people of 62 different nationalities, going about their daily affairs under the normal assumption that today is today and tomorrow is another day. If the logic of intellectual cockroaches prevails, all the relatives of the missing or the deceased should be “asking for forgiveness” and declare war not against the evil which led to the loss of their loved one’s, let alone the horrific crime that changed the world, but on themselves, on themselves as (“neo-liberal”) agents that freely and voluntarily exchange goods and services, attempted to trade in a characteristically global center, thereby causing “economic misfortune” to the rest of the world at large.

In its marvelous analysis on the “day the world changed,” The Economist correctly points out that the very horror of the terrorist acts constituted a declaration of war on the entire civilized world. The response, thus far, has not succumbed to mass hysteria or loss of purpose. There has been “grief, unity” and a sense of urgency to return to normal life. In addition, however, there is a capital danger that looms large — the danger that the criminal acts of terror will awaken the historical isolationist streak in U.S. culture.

Doubtless, would this occur, the cockroaches would declare victory, while the 20 million Mexicans living north of the border would be trapped in indecision. The time of potential high growth and economic opportunity would disappear, at the very outset of the new millennium, with oppression and poverty as the only end result. It is, again to quote The Economist, thanks to America, and “only thanks to America,” that the global economy has experienced such unprecedented growth and opportunity in the past three decades.

Many aspects of U.S. culture and politics, of economics and business, are open to criticism or constructive suggestion, sometimes even of outright reproach. But the implicit premise of the intellectual cockroaches in the face of the horror that the world witnessed on Black Tuesday is a conspicuous example of the massive mental under-development that still prevails in the under-developed world, south of the Rio Grande border.

Dr. Roberto Salinas-León is executive director of policy analysis in Mexico City and an adjunct scholar of the Cato Institute. E-mail: rmsalinas [at] tvazteca [dot] com [dot] mx