Thursday, July 09, 2009

The Freedom Delusion

Today is Argentina's Independence Day. On July 9, 1816, delegates from the United Provinces of the South, voted to sever political ties with the Spanish monarch. It's an odd holiday because the event was almost an afterthought: the revolt against Spanish rule began on May 25, 1810, all of which reminds me, even more oddly, of a story about Ghana's independence.

First, a little context.

For six long years Gen. José de San Martín kept demanding that the congress of provincial delegates -- similar to the U.S. Continental Congress -- declare a rupture. In 1810, news had arrived of Napoleon having marched into Spain and imprisoned King Ferdinand VII. The locals, lacking an army, deposed the viceroy and seized power in name of the imprisoned monarch.

This was a legal technicality, built on the colonial legal technicality that the territories in the American continent belonged not to Spain, but to the Spanish crown, technically equal in sovereignty to Spain. (I believe Britain held to a similar conceit as a way to deprive its colonies of a seat in Parliament.)

By 1816, with Napoleon long gone, San Martín was growing tired of the charade of claiming allegiance to the same monarch as the Spanish troops with whom he did battle.

Independence and freedom were never the same thing, as the slaves of all the colonies well knew.

Indeed, the notion was put most succinctly by a classmate of mine -- Monica G. -- in a university short story seminar in Montreal. She had written a short story set in her native Ghana. (Imagine how hard it must have been for a citizen of an African country so near the Equator to weather the blizzards of Canada!)

The protagonist was a poor old woman going home from work as a domestic on the eve of Ghana's independence. I forget what happened in the story, but I recall one of the woman's hopes for the great event of which everybody talked.

Would the bus be free after independence, she wondered.

We have all shared in the disappointment of realizing that the realization of our highest, fondest and noblest hopes never quite turns out as we imagined, if it ever does. Our ideals, like our lives, turn to dust, like the soil of Ghana's deforested savannah.
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