For many in Colombia, the election of Bogotá mayor Gustavo Petro represents a step forward for democracy and the fight against poverty. The former leader of the revolutionary-socialist guerrilla faction M-19, Petro’s policies in office have explicitly recognized class tensions in the city and work to transform them. For the city’s wealthy, however, the election of an extreme left-wing politician threatens Colombia’s newfound security—or at least that of its monied neighborhoods. A recent proposal to build affordable housing in a wealthy enclave, isolated in the north of Bogotá, reveals the class conflict that defines life in the city. Continue reading
In considering the political firestorm in Venezuela, it may be best to start with a quantitative measure of populist will: elections. The government of Hugo Chávez—and the associated Bolivarian Revolution, more movement than literal revolution—came to be in 1999, following the elections of 1998 in which Chávez won a majority, 56%, of the national vote. In second place came the center-right candidate, Salas Römer, with 40% of the vote. Chávez’s margin of victory was particularly impressive given Venezuela’s abundance of political parties.
After less than a year of governance, the Chávez administration called a public referendum to approve the creation of a Constitutional Assembly, which would be charged with the task of drafting a new constitution to replace the outdated and outstanding one written 39 years prior by rural and business elites, and engineered to preserve their interests. The referendum passed with an unprecedented 88% of the vote. Continue reading
“Hemorrhage: An Ablution of Hope and Despair”
In April 1937, Mussolini and Hitler’s air forces, in compact with Franco’s nationalists, began a bombing campaign against the Basque city of Guernica. The city had no military defenses and few soldiers; hundreds of civilians were killed or maimed in the assault. While the Basque civilians were horrified at the senseless aggression of the fascists, the rest of the world barely noticed. Rather, it took a generation of artists to take to their typewriters and paintbrushes to communicate the fascists’ war crimes to a callous world.
One of these artist happened to be the Spaniard Pablo Picasso, who was living and painting five hundred miles northeast, in Paris. His response was to paint “Guernica,” perhaps his most famous canvas, an abstract depiction of the agonizing death of Guernican civilians under the wrath of the bombers. So powerful and illustrative was the painting that it is rumored to have prompted a Nazi officer to arrive at Picasso’s doorstep in Paris and ask, “Did you paint this?” To which he responded, “No. You did.”