Spain & América, today

When people here in Carboneras, the little Andalusian town where we live, say "América" or "americano", most often they're not referring to the United States but to any of the 20+ Spanish-speaking countries of "América" -- i.e., the entire Western Hemisphere -- where many of them have relatives who emigrated in the hard, Franco years or even later, in the better years since Franco's death in 1976. Many Republicans (i.e., defenders of the Second Republic against Franco in the Spanish Civil War) found refuge in Mexico or Argentina, and smaller numbers to other Spanish-speaking lands (including Puerto Rico -- e.g., Pablo Casals). Later, in the 1950s, many went to Venezuela, Argentina, Uruguay or to Portuguese-speaking Brazil, countries which then offered not only greater freedom but also far greater economic opportunities than Spain.

In more recent years, the relationship has reversed. Spain's economic growth has been phenomenal, while economic conditions in Spanish-speaking countries of America got worse and worse, and political repression drove tens of thousands into exile, many of them to Spain in the years of the Socialist government of Felipe González (1982-1996), which welcomed them. There have been periods of tension, and even today there are occasional outrageous acts of discrimination or even physical attacks on "Sudacas" (a pejorative term for South Americans), but generally Spain is still an attractive place for Latin American emigrants. Here in this little town where I live, most people (until they got to know me) have assumed I was from Argentina (it's my accent, I guess), which doesn't arouse any hostility but rather memories of distant cousins in that country.

Spain's relationships with its ex-colonies have been complicated by contradictory memories. Populist leaders in the Americas often invoke the massacres and humiliations of indigenous American peoples in the Conquest, and anti-Spanish prejudice is still cultivated in Mexico (where they call Spaniards "Gachupines"), but Mexico was also one of the countries that sent most volunteers to defend the Spanish Republic during the Civil War -- so they can't feel all that alienated from the "Madre Patria." Some countries, including Cuba, Venezuela and Argentina, all with large 20th century Spanish immigration, feel especially close to Spain. Anyway, since 1982 Spain has paid large "reparations" (though nobody calls them that) in the form of grants and loans for infrastructure and other projects, including the Junta de Andalucía's generous funding of various cultural initiatives.

So it was a big surprise, and at first seemed even a joke, when Hugo Chávez, considering himself offended by the king of Spain (who finally told him to shut up during his irrepressible interruption of Spain's president at the summit meeting in Santiago) brought up the 500-year old history of the conquest as another reason to re-evaluate the presence of Spanish companies in Spain. Spanish capitalists are not do-gooders, of course -- they're capitalists. But the Spain of half a millennium ago is not the Spain of today, and is really an essential (and currently the most prosperous) part of the larger Hispanic world, a market and (loose) political force of 550 million people.

Population of Latin America

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