[-empyre-] eje Sur-Norte - translation of BH by BH

Brian Holmes bhcontinentaldrift at gmail.com
Tue Mar 20 05:12:38 EST 2012

Hello Alicia and everyone -

On 03/15/2012 04:19 PM, Alicia Migdal wrote:

-- "There is a global agenda of thought that does not have to be the 
agenda for Latin American intellectuals. When the map of Europe changed 
so drastically after the fall of really existing socialism, it seemed as 
though the imperial North ceased to look enviously on the South, and its 
liberal intellectuals ceased to take us an occasion for their 
anti-systemic ideas. But all this is a new kind of optical illusion, 
because the empire acts by way of economics and doesn't need to 
disembark its troops on foreign soil to organize the process of 
expropriation. As we all know."

Its incredibly interesting to read this kind of reflection, when one 
lives in the North without feeling entirely well-adapted to the 
surrounding environment. Based on my experience as a North American I 
agree with you entirely: here in the US, Latin America seems to have 
disappeared from the map. There is a strong presence of people from 
Mexico as immigrants - which is super-important and I don't want to 
minimize it - but as far as the richness and complexity of Mexican 
politics and culture, forget it, almost nothing is said. And even less 
about the Southern Cone. (Oh, I'd better correct myself on that one: I 
read somewhere that Buenos Aires is now the trendiest city in the world 
for kids who want to go out clubbing on the cheap.)

-- "Let's say that we Latin Americans have ceased to be present as a 
problem for the cogitations of the liberal intellectuals of the North. 
Guerilla wars, dictatorships and civil resistance were left by the 
wayside with the redemocratization of the Southern Cone and with a map 
that became increasingly more progressive or at least, increasingly 
without authoritarian governments. There was an unthinkable change in 
the origins of certain Latin American presidents: a worker, a woman, an 
indigenous person, a former priest, a former guerilla fighter, another 

I have a friend who is no more than thirty years old, an impressive 
woman who works with prisoners (whom we have a lot of in the US). She's 
also working with others to put together a whole program of cultural 
activism around the memory of the torture of black citizens by the 
police forces of Chicago (where I live). Just to say that I am not 
poking fun at this woman, not in the least. To make money, she teaches 
art (when she can: almost all the professors are now temps). The other 
day she told me that, "even though I'm not qualified for this," she's 
teaching a class in "guerilla art." What's meant by this phrase is 
apparently non-conventional ways of expressing oneself, improvised 
interventions in the street and that sort of thing. I asked her if it 
had ever occurred to her to present to the students the biography of a 
more-or-less famous guerrilla fighter, maybe Douglas Bravo or someone 
like that. "What a great idea!" she replied. In effect, current social 
conditions are such that she had not really thought about the proper 
sense of the word guerrilla.

--"It is as though some people only feel an interest for the perception 
of others during times of explosion and crisis. But the current 
characteristic of empire with respect to the slow-burning zones of the 
planet is to work precisely with low-intensity conflict, generating it, 
while at the same time removing us from the panorama of what's 

Speakng seriously, you're completely right from the imperial viewpoint 
which is the one held by the majority. But I also want to tell you that 
for those few people who are attentive to Latin America there is really 
a lot of interest for what is happening now, and even for the last 
fifteen years. From this minority perspective, Latin America is at once 
the laboratory of democracy and the only place on the planet where there 
has been a philosophical and practical renovation of leftist thinking. 
What's more, this current interest seems to me to be less inspired by 
ideology and romantic-revolutionary passion than it was in the past. I 
personally spent a month in Argentina last year, for the first time 
since 2005, and the deep changes I could see in the political discourse, 
the economic analysis and the forms of popular mobilization seemed to 
signify a real effort to achieve social equality under the difficult 
conditions of global so-called "free trade". Despite all the criticisms 
that one can and should make of the Kirchner governments. Among the US 
students who are starting to mobilize against the privatization of the 
universities there is also quite widespread awareness of the Chilean 
student movements, with lots of curiosity and admiration. For years 
there have been discussions for and against what's happening in 
Venezuela, sometimes even nuanced discussions. And then, among the 
"veterans" of the antiglobalization movement - who are often also the 
"fresh start" of the Occupy movement - the fact of speaking Spanish, of 
spending time in Latin America and of learning about the geopolitics of 
the Southern Hemisphere appears - at least according to the sporadic 
contact I have with these kinds of people - to be something almost 
necessary, an integral part of life for those who respect others as 
human beings. I don't want to exagerate anything, the situation on the 
macropolitical level is exactly as you say, but I just wanted to add 
that nonetheless, there are a few of us in the US who do pay attention 
to the high degree of political and also cultural invention that is 
presently emerging from many Latin-American societies.

Excuse me for all the mistakes of spelling and grammar and whatever else 
there must be in this message, but I wanted to write it in Spanish for 
obvious reasons. It is a pleasure to read you in your own language and 
thanks for your reflections.

Brian Holmes

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