I have often said that my living in Latin America the past twenty years has been similar to being hit over the head daily, but in a very positive sense. I have had to see so many things from an entirely different perspective.
It probably should not have been a surprise to me, therefore, when I heard a Venezuelan colonel tell a group of visitors from the U.S. that Venezuela was in possession of missiles.
Then he clarified the matter.
He said the missiles, which Venezuela has and is already using, are missiles with books, missiles with medicines, missiles with food. I think you might interpret this as saying that Venezuela possesses WMDs – Weapons of Mass Development.
Linguistically we are products of our times. And too often the media and those who hold the reigns of governments dominate our ways of thinking and the meanings of words and symbols. Entering the twenty-first century, the word “war” brings to mind Iraq and Afghanistan and the great excuses for every abuse that a government can perpetrate: “the war on terrorism” and “the war on drugs.” We forget that even in the United States of American there was once a positive use of the word “war,” the “War on Poverty.”
The word “weapons” brings to mind the billions of dollars that are spent on destruction throughout the world. A common dictionary definition says that a weapon is something used to injure, defeat or destroy. We have been locked into the idea of injuring and the negative connotations of “defeat” and “destroy” and have overlooked the possibility that the word “weapons” could also be used positively (e.g., for books and food) as means to defeat and destroy problems such as illiteracy and hunger.
I listened very carefully to the closing remarks of the Latin American presidents who were at the Mercosur meeting in Montevideo, Uruguay, last week. They spoke repeatedly about the threats to democracy in the region. But in their remarks, and possibly I missed something, I didn’t hear any of them referring to the need for a “War on Terrorism” or a “War on Drugs” to protect democracy. They did speak repeatedly about poverty and inequality as the menaces in today’s world that had to be overcome. In spite of the fact that the meeting was about trade agreements, the emphasis seemed to be more on social development than economic development. The second was of importance only in relation to accomplishing the first.
In that connection, President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela spoke of the concept of “free zones.” To those who travel to foreign countries, “free zones” bring to mind the Duty Free Shops that populate the international airports. To those involved in commerce, “free zones” provoke the thoughts of free trade.
But Chávez said that the world needed to begin to speak not only of free trade zones but also of: “zones that are free of illiteracy, zones that are free of malnourished infants, zones that are free of abandoned women living alone with their children in shacks, zones that are free of youth who are not able to finish their secondary education, zones that are free of young men and women who finished high school with hard work and who now can’t go to college; zones that are free of the street children that fill our cities; zones that are free of exclusion, exploitation and misery.” He added, “We can plan for this and we must plan for this. If we, who are political leaders, can plan for economic development we are even more obligated ethically to plan for social development.”
So, once again, I feel like I’ve been gently hit on the top of my head and my brain is spinning a bit. Leaders here are speaking a different language. But happily these linguistic thumps don’t bring me to the medicine cabinet for an aspirin; they do bring a smile to my face and give me hope for the future of our world.