Civil Society, Europe, Headlines, Latin America & the Caribbean

LATIN AMERICA: Blogging the Bicentennial

Diego Cevallos

MEXICO CITY, Mar 14 2008 (IPS) - Three women and four men from Mexico, between the ages of 22 and 25, have begun a journey through seven Latin American countries to document the commemorations in 2009 and 2010 of the bicentennial of independence of the region’s countries from Spain, in videos, still photography and text.

"Expedition 1808: A Journey Through Ibero-American Bicentennials" will take the seven young people to the capitals of Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Spain and Venezuela, as well as to several Mexican cities, in March and April this year.

The travellers began their journey on Mar. 3 in Caracas, promising to record as much as possible of their experiences and to share their unfolding stories on a web log (blog).

The expedition is an initiative of the mayor and city council of Mexico City, run by the leftwing Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD), that plan to make a television serial or film about the journey.

The aim is to provide a diversified view of the way different Latin American countries commemorate their independence from Spain, historian Enrique Márquez, in charge of Mexico City’s commission for the bicentennial celebrations, told IPS.

The participants in Expedition 1808 were selected from among hundreds of applicants under the age of 25 who met the basic requirements of being graduates or students of courses in the visual arts, literature, film, photography, economy, music or history. Applicants were also required to present a special paper related to their field.

The bicentennial of the wars of independence against Spain will be marked in different ways in the countries of the region, which have strong cultural ties with the former colonial power. Commemorative works will be unveiled and academic and literary initiatives, as well as some programmes of a social nature, will be launched.

The expedition blog says "it would appear that independence would separate and disconnect our countries. But the fact is that there are more similarities than differences between us, more opportunities to share than to differ, and the opportunity to express an opinion is so wide that indifference withers away, because this is not a solitary process."

It adds that "in order to tighten those links, a group of seven ‘expeditionaries’ will visit seven countries that, like Mexico, won independence from Spain."

Márquez said that the young people selected for the expedition underwent intensive training for one month on the arts, history and economics of the countries to be visited.

People interested in the venture will be able to view the bicentennials from the perspective of a group of creative young scholars of the humanities, he said.

The first movement of independence from Spain to be commemorated in Latin America will be in Sucre, the constitutional capital of Bolivia and the seat of the Supreme Court, on May 25, 2009, followed by Quito, Ecuador on Aug. 10, 2009. The other countries celebrate their bicentennials in 2010.

Twenty-four-year-old Ariette Armella of Mexico, a member of Expedition 1808 whose field is literature, said she hopes "to take the pulse of the cities we visit, and be inspired by what I discover to write a series of short stories."

Economist Manuel Bautista, 23, another member of the expedition, said being part of the group is "an honour," although he admitted he feels nervous about the responsibility involved in maintaining the blog.

Filmmaker Enrique Vázquez, also 23, said he is enthusiastic about the opportunities for making discoveries during the adventure. "I think that beyond the actual celebrations, the festivities will show us where we really stand," he told IPS.

The Latin American bicentennials coincide with Spain’s celebration of its own uprising against the French invasion, two centuries ago, which was immortalised by Francisco de Goya (1746-1828)’s painting "The 3rd of May, 1808 in Madrid: The Executions on Príncipe Pío Hill".

Goya’s painting, showing the execution of patriots from Madrid by a Napoleonic army firing squad in reprisal for their uprising against the French occupation, is on display at the Prado Museum in Madrid.

In Mexico, the celebrations have caused some controversy. The mayor’s office in the capital, along with several other cities, have organised their own festivities after efforts by the government of conservative President Felipe Calderón, of the National Action Party (PAN), to unify celebrations across the country were unsuccessful.

In addition to independence from Spain, in 2010 Mexico will be commemorating the centennial of the Mexican Revolution, led by the legendary Emiliano Zapata (1879-1919) and Pancho Villa (1878-1923).

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