Iran’s Crisis of Legitimacy
An Embattled Regime Faces Mass Protests—and an Ailing Supreme Leader
THERE is no reason for believing that political stability in Latin America is greater in the nineteen-fifties than it was a hundred years ago. Revolutions in the last 30 years have been as frequent, dictatorships as numerous, durable and oppressive as they were a century ago. It may, of course, be argued that the reasons for instability have changed, and the contention may or may not be true. But the fact of revolution versus dictatorship has remained constant. It cannot even be said that the contemporary revolutions are less bloody or that the tyrannies are more humane. What happened in Colombia between 1946 and 1954 is sufficient to disprove that thesis. Democratic government has remained an unfulfilled hope in spite of the many interesting constitutions that have been written during the last century. The aspiration to achieve the ideal of legality has failed. I shall seek here to suggest some reasons for the failure and to argue for a way out of the dilemma posed by the dream of representative democracy and the fact of revolution or dictatorship.
Contemporary Latin American political difficulties cannot be divorced from their historical past. The Spanish tradition is authoritarian, bureaucratic and centralized. The tradition is to leave political responsibility to the government and expect it to do everything. The extreme individualism of the Spanish character and the authoritarian tradition of the Spanish government seem to go hand in hand. The bureaucratic colonial administration controlled every agency of political administration--with the exception of the cabildo (township), and the township government was immersed in petty localisms. It was aristocratic in character and incompetent to become the base of a national government. The descendants of the Spaniards, the criollos, who led the independence movements, were inexperienced in politics and possessed no clear concepts of nationality. The nation was in the future, something to be forged, molded and solidified. This was true territorially as well as ideologically. There was either no American tradition to appeal to, or it was nebulous and fanciful --such as the attempt to resurrect the Incaic past. There was certainly a sense of identity of the American as against the Spaniard or the European, but the form and substance of this something new upon which the future political life of the people was to be reared had not been molded and the process of integration remains incomplete.
The character of the Latin American people is still being formed and a sense of inner identity and unity such as characterizes the Italian, the French or the English people is something that lies in the future. The king and crown of the Spanish past were unacceptable, and the local milieu, as Bolivar so clearly saw, would not tolerate an American monarchical system. But the milieu proved recalcitrant to all other forms of government. If it visibly rejected the rule of the absolute king, it also resisted and found unpalatable the ideas that derived from the French philosophes and United States constitutionalism.
The bitter and disorganized wars of independence, that had no central guidance, no official date of termination, and ended in no peace treaty, had shattered a great empire and stable government and led to a political vacuum and social disorganization. The end of the wars found Latin America divided in many separate countries, each in turn fractured into regional provinces governed by municipal oligarchies and ruled by local military caudillos. The king as the symbol of government had disappeared without leaving as substitute any other universally accepted idea around which a common loyalty could be evoked and in the name of which government could be carried on. The magic words of liberty, equality and fraternity fell on deaf ears and had a hollow sound, for the society remained stratified, and divided in castas. Neither the sacrifice nor the heroism of the wars of independence made the ideals of the French philosophes and American constitutionalism operative. For what had happened was that, of the two great public institutions--the crown and the church--the first had been destroyed and the second had been seriously weakened. The traditional sources of recognized authority were no longer sufficient. They were substituted for, because authority there has to be, by the informal and legally non-recognized rule of the plantation family associated with the local military. The hacienda with its control of acreages sometimes greater than a European principality became the effective source of local political power. The fact that the power it exercised had no basis in law was irrelevant to its effective rule of its own domain. With the hacienda went the control of hundreds and sometimes thousands of people. These retainers and peones provided a personal militia useful for defense and, if need be, for attack. By intermarriage, by the institution of compradazgo (godfatherhood), by alliances forged of mutual dependence and neighborliness, the plantation system ruled the region, and the leading landowner was "king of all he surveyed." The independence movement had substituted this locally effective but legally nonexistent means of rule and governance for the authority of the king it had destroyed.
The national governments in the early days were so busy trying to stay in power that they had little time to "govern." When there is a new rebellion to suppress every month, and when for many years there is annually a new "national" administration brought in by a new revolution, it is idle to talk about the details of governing--that fell naturally to those that had both stability and power locally. Someone had to protect the locality, its families and its animals, and they who could do that were in fact the governors even if not graced by the name or sanctioned by the requisite legal formula. A detailed description of the life of the older plantations would show it to be both a society and a government; and so it had to be, and so it remained during the nineteenth century, and to some extent so it is, or was until 1910 if not until 1930. There have been some changes--by revolution in Mexico, by the effect of new means of communication, industrialization, social theories, movements and agitation. But the plantation was until the day before yesterday, or the year before last, an economic, a social and a political system with powers of local rule and governance and with a powerful rôle in controlling the provincial and the national political systems. Only in Chile was this substantial fact recognized for what it was--a political force--and a government frankly designed to rest on the plantation family gave to that country peace and quiet through the years when the rest of Latin America was trying to build government upon an individualism that did not exist and upon ideas that had no local relevance.
The splintering of political authority and the rule of the local caudillo were fortified by a social stratification that has persisted in spite of the racial tolerance characteristic of Latin America. Certainly since the Independence, if not before, it has been possible, at least in some countries, for the pure-blooded Indian, like Juarez, to reach the highest office. There has been room for the exceptional individual who, by some magic, had shed his Indian ways and taken on the outlook and interests of the criollo (descendant of the Spaniards). It was possible for him to become a respected member of the non-Indian community. Very much the same thing may be said of the Negro. An age-old law defined him as a legal person and the rule of the Catholic Church identified him as a moral person. This made manumission relatively easy, and kept the social system sufficiently flexible to permit the abolition of slavery without violence and to allow for the acceptance of the ex-slave as a freeman rather than a freedman. This tolerance opened the doors to cultural participation and made possible important contributions by the Negro and the mulatto to art, architecture, music and literature. Latin American society has certainly been friendly to the non-European, and the Negro, at least, has long felt himself identified with the people in Latin America. This is in sharp contrast to the fear and isolation that for so long beset the Negro in many parts of the United States. But after all this has been said, it has to be added that Latin American society has remained stratified, immobile and, if a colonial expression may be used, divided into castas. These are relative statements, but compared to the United States there is noticeably less vertical mobility in Latin America. The countries vary among themselves. There is more mobility in Argentina, Southern Brazil and Cuba than there is in Ecuador or Colombia, and a great deal more than in Peru. But the rôle of the important family, the barrier made by wealth, race and occupation, is markedly obvious in its effect upon social mobility.
More important perhaps than the above sources of social stratification is division between country and city, between urban and rural. The city belongs to one world and the country to another. The capital of the country, like Mexico, Guatemala or Lima, will have all the modern conveniences, newspapers and universities, electric lights and refrigeration. But the little village in the country will in all likelihood have neither literacy nor shoes nor electric lights--it may not even have the Spanish language. More than that, the rural communities may have value systems of their own; their own inner hierarchy, their own sense of propriety, make them a world apart from the city, nation, state or government. A village of Trique Indians in Oaxaca, a Cakchiquel village in Guatemala, a Quetcha Indian village high in the mountains in the province in Ayacucho, has little in common with the world to which it officially belongs, and the political life of the "nation" remains an unrevealed mystery. They do not know the meaning of the activity called politics.
For these and many other reasons political leadership has been regional and personal. The local caudillo was secure from outside interventions and beyond the need of support from a "political party" because his power rested in the loyalty of an extended family, rich in lands and sure of the coöperation of neighboring towns entwined economically and socially with the dominant hacienda ownership. This leader was the "political party" in his region. The people were his. The phrase went "people of Don Pancho" or "of Don Pedro," or "of General Contreras;" there were no other people in the region--and the region might be larger than a good-sized state in the United States. In that area there was only one politician, one party, one loyalty. Everyone belonged to him, and all affairs, even the most personal, the most trivial, were brought to him for settlement and adjudication. He knew and tolerated no opposition, and no stranger could travel in the country without his explicit or implicit consent, for he controlled all the agencies of government, in so far as there were such agencies, including the tax gatherer, the judge, the sheriff, the schoolteacher and the local militia. He was the patron, the father, the judge, the protector of all "his people" and they were loyal to him. If he wanted to run for office, he could always be elected unanimously--for it would occur to no one to oppose him --and his politics did not matter. If he did not wish to run for office, his blessing was sufficient to elect anyone it was bestowed upon. In fact, his mere consent was equivalent to an election--with or without a counting of the votes. This caudillo could die but he could not be removed. He could be murdered, or driven from power by armed force coming from another part of the country under another caudillo, or by the national army controlled at the time by his enemies. But short of these exceptional circumstances, he enjoyed lifelong tenure and his place was secure and his rule absolute.
Under these and similar circumstances, the government could rest only upon the army, and the political party could be only personal. Admittedly, this is a somewhat overdrawn description if taken as applying universally to all parts of Latin America-- but not so overdrawn as to be misleading. Admittedly, too, this is a picture of rural rather than urban social, economic and political structure. But Latin America is rural, and the urban has been deeply influenced by this leadership design of the countryside. In the smaller mestizo towns and cities this influence is immediate and visible--because the "family" and its many ramifying alliances fill the important places and are conspicuous in the economic and social life of the community. To an extent hard for New Yorkers to understand, but not so difficult for people in Charleston, South Carolina, or Richmond, Virginia, the important families rule the state, and not only socially. Lima and Quito are good examples of what I am trying to say. But Popayan, Mendoza and Bahia would be even better examples of a rule over the town by families whose roots are in the country. National politics were shaped by the antagonisms and alliances among these regional caudillos and their extended families.
Since 1910 a number of influences have tended to change this picture. Better communication, increased literacy, a growing industry, a larger middle class, a trade union movement, the impact of such exotic ideas as Fascism and Communism, the great rôle of a strident nationalism, the criticisms of and legislative attacks upon the latifundia, the very rapid expansion of the large cities with their tendency to dissolve the older family loyalties and dependencies, the wealth produced in some places by oil, minerals and large investments in agricultural enterprises--these have, taken together, weakened the rôle of the regional caudillo and the dominion of his imperious family. Another reason for his lessening power and prestige has been the acquisition of more efficient arms by the government in power. This has tended to weaken the "democratic" impact of regions against the national caudillo who has the machine guns, the tanks and the airplanes so generously provided him by the United States on the assumption that it was in the interest of the defense of continental democracy--but for the time being helping to perpetuate the self-elected ruler in the control of the government. Under the circumstances, political parties continue to be personal.
The trade unions have made some differences, but they, too, are largely dominated or controlled by the government in power. Presumably, the middle class has interests of its own and would --or should--have independent political aspirations that manifest themselves in political activity. But the middle class, like the trade unions, is so much under the thumb of the administration and so beholden to the government for favors received that it has in fact no effective means of opposing the administration. The mass of the people in most places are beyond the political horizon --they do not vote, are indifferent to the election, and in many instances, especially in the Andean countries, unaware of the nature and meaning of the political process. It must by now be clear that the government rests upon the army and why it can in fact rest upon nothing else. In the Andean countries at least, the local leadership, which was the natural foundation of political power in the past, has not been adequately substituted for. From some points of view, the political foundations in Latin America are weaker and less stable than they were, because nothing so clearly representative of a region or a class or an interest has replaced the local leadership.
Under the circumstances, the president of the country must be the author of his own political party and must unite about himself the group with which he governs. Once in office, he can brook no opposition because disagreement is a challenge to the power of the president and not to his policies. All dissent leads in the direction of revolution, and criticism is taken as a prelude to political violence. The president must make all the decisions, even the most trivial. He must rule the army, the civil service, the judiciary, the legislature, the universities and the economy. And with the current penchant for increasing governmental participation in the economic affairs of the nation, the president is ever more competent to favor his supporters and to punish his opponents. He must and does control the national and the local elections. No governor of a state can come to office against his will or remain in office against his wishes. The frequent use of the constitutional provision for "intervention" in Argentina and Brazil, and the equally effective powers exercised through the permanent committee of the congress in Mexico, make that clear enough. What holds true of a governor also applies to the election of members of congress and of the Senate. The power of the president is pervasive and nothing escapes it completely, not even the judiciary.
In addition, the president must decide who is going to succeed him, and he must be able to enforce that decision or face a revolution. This is true whether there is an official governmental party, as in the case of Mexico and Argentina, or not. The president will either choose his successor and place him in power, even if he decides to succeed himself, or someone else will make that choice and overthrow the régime to make sure of the election. This is the most important political decision of the president and will affect his ability to pass on the executive powers peacefully to his successor. The more peaceful the election, the larger the officially announced vote, the quieter and the more democratic the electoral process seems, the more effectively has the original decision been carried out. Doubtful governors will have been removed, the police heads changed, the army's loyalty made sure of, the control of the voting machinery securely placed in proper hands and the final result known long before the formal decision-making process has been set in motion. That is why opposition parties frequently refuse to participate in the voting. They, like everyone else, know the outcome in advance and have no desire to lend moral sanction to an executive decision by taking part in the election. If, however, they do participate, it is in the hope that some accident--a rebellion or division of the army--will upset the official plan and a revolution will pave the way for their own candidate. One could point to Costa Rica, Uruguay, Chile and possibly Brazil as exceptions, but both Chile and Brazil have relatively recent histories that would neatly fit into the electoral process just described. The recent history of Bolivia is in some ways an exception. The government in power failed because of ineffective executive leadership to produce an electoral majority, the army took over the government, and a revolution based upon the miners and the urban workers ousted the army. But the entire electoral apparatus as revealed in the election of 1951 involved for all parties only 50,000 voters out of a population of more than 3,500,000. The parties do not represent the people-- they represent the leaders.
In fact, party organization does not attempt to embrace the mass of the people and there is no experience that would lead a political party to the idea that it needs to be based upon the local communities, representing local interests meeting together to hammer out national policy. If one excepts Colombia, Chile, Uruguay and Cuba, it might be questioned whether there are, in fact, any political parties in Latin America that fit any meaningful definition. The APRA is a movement rather than a party. The Fascist and the Communist "organizations" are exotic groupings that may have significant political consequences but they are not describable as political parties; they are organized from the top down, have centralized control and discipline, and lack the local spontaneity so essential to representative political activity. The intellectuals in Latin America are an important political influence but they are not organized, have no power and serve a purely critical and negative function.
This bleak political panorama leaves little room for an optimistic formula on how to establish democratic and representative government in Latin America. What then is to be done--if anything effective can be done--in the face of a personal leadership tradition and a tenaciously stratified social system? The first need is to draw the people into political activity, and these are mainly rural rather than urban folk. In most of the countries, 50 to 80 percent of the people live in country villages, and many of the seemingly urban communities are essentially rural in their outlook, interest and activities. More important is the fact that the rural folk are, in the Andean area, in Central America and in Mexico, communal rather than individualistic. The concept of the individual as the base of the political party system, so characteristic of the United States, is not really applicable to vast areas in Latin America. If we are going to talk of effective participation in politics by the mass of the people in most of Latin America, we must recognize that we are talking about isolated and often highly integrated rural communities possessed of an internally tenacious value system. These communities must become part of the political party system if the parties are to represent the mass of the people or become instruments of effective democratic governments. But it will be hard to come by these aims.
In the Andean countries, with the possible exception of Venezuela, in Central America and in Mexico, the special character of Latin American rural organization, so largely neglected by intellectuals and politicians, hampers the easy development of effective political parties. The individual peasant-ranchero is a relatively rare specimen; perhaps not more than 5 percent of the total rural population and certainly not as high as 10 percent live on individual small farms which they own. One needs to make an exception here of Costa Rica and the highlands of Venezuela and parts of Colombia, but in countries like Mexico, Guatemala, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Chile, and to a lesser extent in other places, the people live either in hacienda communities or in free villages. And these villages, as suggested above, are isolated from the nation politically, socially and to a very considerable extent culturally. In vast areas they are Indian rather than European, and even the mestizo villages are often immersed in an Indian rather than European cultural milieu. These rural communities live on the fringe of the monetary economy. They build their own houses, weave their own clothes, raise their own food, make their own utensils, and what they secure from the outside comes through a parochial market from other villages and frequently by barter. Many have little or no knowledge of the Spanish language, they are illiterate, and those who can read have neither newspapers nor books. They are in fact nonparticipants in the affairs of the nation.
These communities are the actual base of the nation, whatever city folk may think of the matter, and the future of the Latin American countries will be largely shaped by the changes that occur in these little human groupings. Mexico alone has over 100,000 rural villages. In countries where the hacienda system remains in full vigor, the problem is complicated by the fact that a majority of these villages may be located within the confines of the plantation and have no possibilities for independent political life and no room for initiative in their own community affairs. They can neither build a school, hire a teacher nor freely shape their own agricultural activities. We have no statistics for the distribution of the rural communities between the free and the plantation, but it would require great boldness to suggest that less than 50 percent of the inhabited places in Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia and Guatemala, not to mention other countries, are not located within hacienda boundaries. The point is worth stressing because it complicates the attempt to integrate the rural folk into the political life of the nation. To bring these communities to participate in the active political parties is difficult enough and the plantations make it more so--perhaps make it impossible. The preliminary to the growth of peaceful and representative government in Latin America is the disintegration of the present hacienda system. This may for many reasons prove neither possible nor practical. If so, then hopes for democratic government in Latin America are dim indeed.
But the plantation system is not the only thing that stands in the way. The cultural isolation of the rural community is equally effective as an obstacle to the growth of national representative government. This isolation, as the people working on the Point Four program know, makes the community apathetic and indifferent, almost unaware of the nation. The major single issue in the political destiny of Latin America is to bridge this gap between the rural Indian and mestizo community and the nation. This can be done only with an adequate system of rural education. At best, it will take--even with heroic effort--generations of unremitting devotion to the task.
The successful pursuit of this task requires a new vision of the nation itself--a nation of thousands of free, economically competent and culturally developed rural communities. The stability and well-being of the nation must be seen as depending upon the initiative and leadership shown by these villages. Latin American nations--at least the nations facing the Pacific--are multicellular, and each cell is frequently a community with its own value system. These communities have to be developed as such. The emphasis has to be on the group and not on the individual in the group. The needs of the community determine the school curriculum. The available resources are the raw materials which the school must use in its program, for in the long run it has no others. It needs to be remembered that a rural community has a fixed habitat--the mountains, the woods, the earth, the spring, brook, river or lake are given, and little can be done to change them. If the community is to achieve the good life, it must do so in that place--for there is no magic to move the mountain or change the course of the river. The climate, too, is given. The heat, moisture and rain are what they are, and man must find the skills and the wisdom to abide in comfort within the limitations nature has provided. Literacy may be useful, but habits, techniques, practical wisdom that derives from experience, and the special knowledge modern science can offer, are more immediately effective.
The question to be resolved is how to fit what modern science has to offer into this specific and limited environment. How to use and conserve the resources, how to keep the soil from eroding, how to purify the water, how to drain the swamp, or how to irrigate the land with the available waters and with the little means at the disposal of the community, how to make two blades of wheat grow where only one was grown before, how to increase the yield from the stalk of corn, how to select the new fruits that could thrive in the specific place, how to prune the tree, how to protect it from disease, how to conserve and use the fruit, how to build a good house out of the available stone, clay or bamboo, how to improve the diet by growing vegetables that will not wither or die, how to tap the underground for water in a desert area, how to make new uses of the local fibres, how to improve the weaving, how to design and cut a dress, how to improve the cooking, how to breed good pigs, how to smoke, salt or otherwise conserve the meat, how to improve the cattle of the village and how to adapt the hundred different possible uses of milk. All of these activities and a thousand more are the legitimate curricula of the rural school, not to mention the town band, the arts and crafts, and, if one lets his imagination go, the reading of good fiction and poetry.
The program of the school is how to discover the ways to the good life within the place where the community is located and with the available resources--for there are no others, and even the best of governments can do little to substitute for what nature has provided. The emphasis must be on creativity rather than on book learning. The school becomes the House of the People that is open from sunrise to the middle of the night. For the life of the community itself is mirrored in the school's activities. The children are there, but so are the women folk who use the school sewing machine or school medicine chest or consult the teacher who is a practical nurse; and the men are there when not at work to learn how to read or to use the tools from the school carpenter shop, or to discuss one of the many questions that arise every day of the year. The emphasis is upon the development of local leadership and the tapping of the tradition of coöperation imbedded in the rural community. Everything is done coöperatively. The school is built by the community with its own labor, all taking part, including the women and children. And every activity has to have its committee, its mutual responsibility, its special leadership, its special discussion. The school has to be built and largely maintained by the community, for the simple fact is that the governments do not have the financial resources out of which to build the schools, equip them and pay the teachers as well. If it cannot be done by the communities it will remain undone. Even in Mexico, where such heroic efforts have been made to develop a rural school system, at least half the children of school age are not going to school, and this is probably an understatement. In fact, the villages must learn to build and maintain their rural schools as they once built and maintained their rural churches; otherwise, the dream of a matured and self-confident rural community will remain a dream and representative democracy an unfulfilled hope.
It is easy enough to pose the issue in these--shall I say, romantic?--terms. It is difficult to visualize a realistic effort to meet the challenge the rural community represents. For one thing, this kind of program requires an almost religious devotion to the idea of an independent and mature rural community. Such a devotion to a rural ideal is hard to find and difficult to generate. Latin American intellectuals are urban and not rural minded. They are filled with the ideal of literary rather than practical education, and they simply do not know their own rural community and are on the whole indifferent to it. They do not see that the strength of the society and its stability requires a healthy and vigorous rural basis which in the Andean areas means thousands of self-sufficient rural villages.
What is true of the intellectuals is in most cases even truer of the governments. The government bureaucracy is urban minded and preoccupied with the large city. The capital of the country crowds all other communities to the very thin edge of the bureaucratic conscience. And equally serious is the fact that such a program cannot be developed in a country where the large plantation is the dominant rural institution. Unless the government has an effective agrarian policy, it cannot have an effective program of rural education--and the first may, for political reasons, be impossible and the second appear undesirable.
But even where the intellectuals--or some of them and the government as well--have a commitment to building a healthy multi-cellular nation based upon rural communities, the difficulties are so great as to seem almost insurmountable. The program of bringing these commitments and their leadership into the nation will require many years of continuing effort in the same direction. There is, to begin with, the lack of funds--a chronic state of affairs and, except for a windfall as in the case of Venezuela, not visibly remedial. But even with funds, where are the teachers to come from? The ordinary teachers' training courses do not prepare for the thousand needs and skills essential for the rural community. And worst, perhaps, teachers raised in an urban environment, unless moved by missionary zeal, find the rural community--where no Spanish is spoken, where there are no electric lights, no moving picture houses, and no newspapers--a place of exile. To be a rural schoolteacher in these surroundings calls for a high degree of self-sacrifice and devotion to an ideal. The Mexicans have tried to meet this difficulty by developing the Cultural Mission which, by periodically bringing the poorly trained rural schoolteachers together, gives them a renewed stimulus, additional training and a feeling of working on a task of national importance. A fully staffed and wisely administered rural normal school so placed as to train teachers for a given rural environment with similar problems would meet part of the difficulty, but only if it succeeded, which is almost impossible, in imparting many skills without so changing the habits and attitudes of its students as to make them wish for an escape to the city, which unfortunately is too often the case.
But all these obstacles are perhaps secondary to what is after all the major difficulty--to make the educational efforts constructive rather than disruptive of the life of the rural community, where prejudices are tenacious, values noncommercial and noncompetitive, and where the local mores are something apart from the urban and sophisticated world whence the educational impulse must come in the first instance. To be useful, the teacher, the administrator, must learn respect for the idiosyncratic cultural traits of the rural folk as a preliminary to the acceptance and trust without which nothing useful can be done. The emphasis must be upon building new habits, attitudes and institutions inside the rim of an older culture complex and not against it. It must always be borne in mind that the new habit or institution must make its way and be absorbed by the community, that changes must come from the inside, from accommodation, and not be forced. That if this can be accomplished, then there are vast resources of possible coöperation, initiative and leadership to be had. But confidence and good will must first be won, and they can be had only if the administrators and the teachers can accept the communities as moral entities with their own integrated value systems.
We have had some useful experience in this matter, most of it in Mexico where the rural education endeavor dates back to at least 1923. Here, however, the original impulse derived from a social upheaval that emphasized the needs of the rural community and the worthwhileness of the rural population. But even here some of the original impulse has been lost: impatience and too much sophistication have, as they always do, borne their usual fruit--skepticism and indifference. But the experience did show that when given the opportunity, thousands of rural communities not only built their own schools but took on, with an almost childlike faith, the many new responsibilities that the school brought.
It still remains a question whether such a program is sufficient for the purpose of bringing the communities into the political life of the nation. In some way the leadership developed in the rural communities must become related to or identified with the leadership of the larger world, and the schoolteachers and the inevitably bureaucratic personnel of a Department of Education are not the real leaders of either the community or the nation as a whole. General Lazaro Cardenas has recently initiated a voluntary effort by active people in the region about Uruapan, in the state of Michoacan, each of whom adopted a rural community as his special interest and responsibility. The individual in a sense is elected as the padrino-godfather of the village and takes on the rôle, establishing contact for the community with the larger world. He is the adviser and consultant, the guide and the counselor of his village, and tries to help it work out its own problems. This is an initial effort. It is nongovernmental. There are about 40 such individuals, each of whom has adopted and been accepted by a community. The undertaking has to remain nonpolitical, nonbureaucratic, and take on a missionary flavor. A meeting of these 40 people represents a cross section of the best available skills and scientific knowledge in the region. The group contains doctors, lawyers, engineers, chemists, agronomists, foresters, specialists in cattle, in fruit culture, and so on. The scientific and cultural resources of the group are impressive. And at the meeting which I attended it was interesting to see that these men would call on each other for help. One man said to another, "I have a water problem that my village does not know how to deal with. You know about these things. Could you come and spend a day with me?" It was evident that here were substantial resources that could be tapped in behalf of any one community. Equally important, here were possible contacts with the active leaders of the larger world.
If one could assume that the effort will persist, that it will not become bureaucratized, that it will develop into a kind of missionary movement, then perhaps we have the opening of a way towards bridging the gap between the rural community and the nation. But so many unresolved questions face the project that it will be a miracle if it fulfills even part of the promise it carries.
And any such program, difficult in itself, would have to hurdle two stubborn "states of mind" so deeply imbedded that they are likely to survive whatever political changes the winds may blow across Latin America. It would require the toleration of increased local independence and the devolution of the tax system so as to give the localities an increasing measure of income. As things stand at present, and have stood from time immemorial, the central government absorbs most of the available income and leaves a pittance to the states and the municipalities. Everyone expects it to be that way and local officials beg hat in hand as a favor what they could have had on their own if the tax were differently distributed. I would like to believe myself wrong in this characterization--for it will largely determine the prospect of political stability in Latin America--but the one revolution that has no advocates, no parties and no prospects is the one that would strengthen the parish, the township, the county and the state at the expense of the central government. And yet without such a change, neither the rural education we have been suggesting nor the political party to which it is antecedent can fully make its way.
The other "state of mind" is the well-nigh universal expectancy of centralized control and guidance of the economic and social life of the nation. The tradition of governmental regulation and "planning" antedates the Independence and is so much part of the milieu that all political credos take it for granted. The idea of planning, seemingly so new and so revolutionary, is congenial even to the most conservative Latin Americans, for to them the notion is old and inevitable. The government must do everything, for no one else will. That is the conviction and the expectancy. The friends of Latin American democracy who look to the planning of the economy as a means towards political stability and representative democracy will, to their disillusionment, discover that they have strengthened the central political machine at the expense of the localities and increased the barriers to representative government and political stability. The route out of the dilemma lies in the growth of local and national institutions with resilience enough to survive the all-absorbing tendency of the central government. But that growth will be slow and painful.
How Washington Can Help Turn Things Around