Who says magical realism is dead? In Latin America, where that form of imaginative literature was born, the absurd is the stuff of everyday headlines. Events that defy belief are just another aspect of the daily routine of life in the region. Or, to put it another way, you can’t make this stuff up.
What if they held a presidential inauguration and everybody showed up — except the president? That’s more or less what took place in Caracas earlier this month, as excited crowds of adoring followers jammed the streets to celebrate the start of a new six-year term for President Hugo Chávez, the man who wasn’t there.
Venezuela’s Constitution mandates that the president take the oath of office within a set period after the election. But since Mr. Chávez lies gravely ill in Havana after yet another round of cancer surgery, he couldn’t make it to the January 10 inauguration.
No worries. When the legislature and the courts are in your pocket and your toadying syncophants control the machinery of government, anything is possible.
The Supreme Court ruled that Mr. Chávez, 58, may stay out of the country “indefinitely” and can be sworn in whenever he recovers. If he recovers, that is. Until then, Venezuela will remain in limbo, with its elected leader incapacitated and governance in a state of suspended animation.
Other countries in the region that claim to champion democracy should pressure Venezuela to change course and adhere to the Constitution. But these days, to judge from events, there are no real champions of democracy anywhere in sight.
As if to prove the point, Cuba’s despotic Raúl Castro was sworn in this week as president of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), a group that pays lip service to human rights and democracy.
Castro claimed this “honor” because it was Cuba’s turn at the helm, but that makes this event no less preposterous. The tyrannical Castro brothers possess the worst human rights record in Latin America and should be deemed outcasts in any organization truly dedicated to human rights and freedom. This makes as much sense as making Lance Armstrong a poster boy for drug-free sports.
But maybe the height of absurdity came when Argentina announced that it had reached a deal with Iran to jointly investigate the 1994 bombing of a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires.
The Iranian government has been widely suspected of being behind this terrorist action. Indeed, it has refused to comply with international arrest warrants for nine people Argentine prosecutors suspect in the attacks.
As some critics were quick to point out, this is like asking Hitler to investigate Kristallnacht or the Holocaust — or partnering with al Qaida to investigate 9/11.
It’s impossible to say what drove the government of President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner to make this preposterous deal, but it subjects her government to international ridicule and undermines any claim to being taken seriously.
That’s what makes all of these events a setback for the entire region. As long as some countries in Latin America indulge in political fantasies and others turn a blind eye to their machinations, Latin America will not be taken seriously, deprived of global leadership and forever mired in its long-standing and self-imposed solitude.