Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Don Quixote in Caracas 

About a month ago the Chavez government, which is always promoting new education initiatives, had hundreds of thousands of copies of "Don Quixote" printed up to be given out for free. This proved quite popular as thousands and thousands of people all over Venezuela lined up to get a copy. Interestingly, the opposition, which likes to deride Chavez and his supporters as illiterates, has had nothing to say about this.

Apparently it didn't escape the attention of the Christian Science Monitor who had a interesting article on it today. Some excerpts:

A month ago, says Antonio Zambrano, surveying Caracas's historic Plaza Bolivar, there were maybe 4,000 people standing in single file right here.

The line wound its way around the Congress, cut up near the cathedral, and snaked around the statue of 19th-century independence hero Simon Bolivar. Mr. Zambrano had come, just like everyone else, for his "personal copy of 'Don Quixote.' "

Derided by some at the time, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez is playing an Oprah Winfrey-like role in Venezuela, turning the country into one giant book club - and stimulating a fresh appreciation of literary classics.

"We are all going to read 'Quixote' to feed ourselves once again with that spirit of a fighter who came to undo injustice and fix the world," the populist leader announced on TV in April, promptly printing 1 million copies of Miguel de Cervantes's 1605 tome.

Everyone interviewed in the plaza on a recent afternoon was ready to discuss the man of La Mancha. Better still for the president, many are making positive comparisons between the idealistic would-be knight who roams Spain and dares to dream, and Chavez, a leader from humble origins who sees himself as the champion of the poor, traversing Latin America to speak to the masses about a better, common future.


"To be really honest, I suppose some number of those people who lined up to get the book were illiterate, and the others had probably already read the book in high school, like myself," says Mr. Zambrano, "but that is part of the genius of this program. It's about being more educated, but it's also about everyone having the right to a library at home. Why should only rich, reading-types have libraries? We are all equal and worthy - that is what Don Quixote and Chavez are trying to tell us."

Nobel laureate Jose Saramago of Portugal, in a special introduction to the edition, stresses this theme of betterment and equality, writing that "curiosity moved Alonso Quijano [the ordinary man who later transforms himself into Don Quixote] to read, reading led him to imagine, and now, free of the ties of habit and routine, he is able to travel the roads of all the world."

Most Venezuelans, explains Zambrano's son, Rolando, grew up on a steady Don Quixote diet: "We watched the story in cartoons when we were kids, and then we heard it referred to everywhere later - from our churches to our telenovelas [soap operas]. But we never actually read the text carefully," he says. Now the country reminds him of "one big schoolroom," where everyone, armed with a personal copy of the book, is encouraged to "really think about the meaning for us today."

"Both Chavez and Don Quixote are fighting for justice and equality and the oppressed, they are both tolerant to all, and they both want to create better worlds," he adds.

His father nods gravely. "Indeed," he says.

Read the whole article here.


This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?