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September 2003

Historian Alfredo Jocelyn-Holt:
"The Chilean Republic is dead"

"The Republic is dead, so there's nothing to celebrate on the year 2010". Such is the belief of professor and Historian Alfredo Jocelyn-Holt, one of the investigators that has best—described Chile's Independence.

By Rosario Mena.

To understand Independence as a process —which was opened on September 18th of 1810 but is still ongoing— is the focus that professor and historian Alfredo Jocelyn-Holt proposes:

"Independence is a juncture within a long emancipation process, a modernization process. The interesting thing is to see the Cabildo made on September the 18th as a political issue, which opens a change in a traditional society entering to a modernization through political ideas, with no need for a Revolution".

To avoid rigid tales and emblematic dates seems to be the first condition for a truly critical approach to our History: "To reduce History to just an ephemeredes calendar it's not the correct way to make or learn History. What's interesting is to make more complex what now looks as a scale model".

Many myths are what —to his knowledge— have explained our Independence. "First, to say that we have become independent. Second, that we became independent from Spain. Third, that in 1810 we became a democracy. Fourth, that Independence is Chile's beginning. Fifth, that the Independence is a Revolution. Like all myths, part of them is true. But we have to turn them Historical, question them. That is the work of the class teacher, of the Historian writing a book, of the Museum when exhibiting", says one of the investigators that has studied the most about our Independence. His doctoral work, "Chile's Independence. Tradition, modernization and myth", published both in Santiago and Madrid, was the base for the script for the exhibit of that period by the National History Museum.

Like few others, Jocelyn-Holt has tried to "do a close-up" of these events highlighting their ideological legacy, and approaching its political and cultural context. That's how the Museum exhibition begins with a hall called "The empire's collapse", as a way of "making reference to a very extended temporal unity, which is the incorporation of territories to the Spanish empire, which both grows and worns itself. The competence between France, Holland and England ends up with the hegemony that Spain had over America. But it is still an empire that survives for a long time. As a matter of fact, we speak Spanish and have incorporated western culture through the Spanish perspective. So, the empire has not yet finished. Anyway, Independence is an extremely fast and unexpected collapse that has consequences till our days".

Independence: a changeless change
A full room for new icons, flags and words is the result of the focus put on ideology, showing the elements that create a new order. "This helps to justify what happened later. In that sense, the exhibition stays away from old conspiratory theories. To me it was very important to make clear that there was no degree of conspiration to provoke the demise. It is not a proper revolution, even though it has revolutionary consequences. Even if it was accidental, it fuses with a situation which happened in all America, where there were formed government juntas that held power after the King disappeared because of the Napoleon invasion to Spain".

—About that, don't you think that we have made a rather artificial division in our History and Culture from the rest of Latinamerica?
—I believe that questioning about our identity is not really a useful thing; it's a teenager issue. I think one has to assume what's given, and that our identity is determined by western—European culture. Our identity does not begin with the arrival of the Spanish, nor when we got the political Independence. Our identity also includes our age, the Greek "agora" and the Roman forum. The notion of identity is now very much in—vogue among the Social scientists, but I propose a cartographic point of view, focused on understanding how a western culture, with all its linguistic, religious and political conditions, can be introduced and consolidate in a new space —which is the American, which has a Pre—Columbian background. Instead of searching for our identity, the thing is to place ourselves within a pre—existing cultural map.

—And how did the Independentists focus the issue of native cultures? It seems there was a movement for their rescue or dignification. On the contrary, the extinction continued at fast—pace.
—So it is. There were intents to incorporate certain images. For example, in the first national coat of arms there are two Indians. But there is no integrative intention, and it is based on a western and stereotyped vision of the native world. The Republic was much more overwhelming that the empire. They took away their lands to people that had already gotten their autonomy, such as Arauco. The 19th Century logic is one that assumes the white-man as superior, and that combats the barbarie in the name of their positivism. At the Patagonia, there is a true genocide. A systematic extinction of several ethnic groups. The Conquest did produce extermination —because of the wars, the plagues, all those strange virus coming from Europe— but I believe it was less deliberate that that of the Republic. It is to the Republic that one can blame the responsibility of this intentional extermination.

—Which are the main cultural consequences of the Independence that we can still trace today?
—The Independence does not produce a change in the social nor the economic order. The Chilean society kept on being mainly rural, administrated by a land—owning elite that had the power, the wealth and the privileges. So the main consequence is political. It is the cross from a monarchic order to a Republic, with all that that implies: the popular sovereignty notion, the representation, the idea that citizens may elect their leaders through votes. But this is not a social change. On the contrary, there is a consolidation of the dominant "criolla" elite, that expresses itself on universal terms and that allows other groups to gradually incorporate themselves to power. There is some kind of social mobility, within an elite regime, a liberal but not revolutionary system. This has to be understood as a way to prevent revolts like that of the French Revolution, which had a deep impact in the American "criollos". That is what makes somebody like Simon Bolivar, so loyal to the Spanish crown, to take power, preventing a slaves raise in Venezuela. Here, the threat of slaves liberation was less, because this was not a slavist society. But we did have tenants and the hierarchy had to be kept firmly.

—That also brings a secular movement.
—The museum hall where are all the portraits made by Gil de Castro are —all those key figures from the Independence— illustrates very well how this people in a way replaced those from the clergy. The king and the saints of the sacred art were the only ones to appear on that time's paintings. And, suddenly, all this people with military uniforms start showing up. They had no real military career, but —like O'Higgins— are landowners that have to take military functions because of the circumstances. Jose Miguel Carrera and Juan Mackenna are the only ones that are real militars. That is remarkable. This painting collection by Gil de Castro is, probably, what's most valuable in this museum.

Revolution "for the people but without the people"
—Is it a Chilean political mark this thing of the revolution for the people, but made by the elite?
—Right: for the people but without the people. That was the Independence. When you have no authority, those who can hold power are these landowners, who have to legitimate themselves with the people's cause.

—The same with Allende: he never got out of an intellectual elite.
—Our revolutions have always been made from the top. But, during the Allende government, it was the only historical moment where a revolution from downside was possible. But there is something a little schizophrenic on the Popular Union (Unidad Popular), because I think they never quite agreed in if they wanted to make the Revolution from the bottom or from the top. The military dictatorship, on the other hand, tries to make a silent revolution through the economic growth made —from the top— by economists and strategist. It is a fundamental schizophrenia. That Mateo de Toro y Zambrano was no longer a Count and had become a citizen with no apparent change, means that everything had changed. Actually, it is those ideas from that first Cabildo on September 18th 1810 that allow —160 years later— a self-described Marxist like Salvador Allende to arrive to La Moneda, with no need for a Revolution in the Marxist sense, but through the votes. That Cabildo helped to open a transformation process through ideas, even though the events say that closer reality has not changed. But this helps to make the country more democratic, because it establishes the people's sovereignty, even when the social and economic conditions do not allow all to have access to this changes, the social and economic evolution widens this access with no need to change the ideology, because it is already given.

Death certificate
—And about the participation of the militars, how do you think that the fact that Independence was won through battles, helped the social status of the Armed Forces in Chilean political History?
—Militars have always been present in the key moments of Chile's history. It can't be more clear than saying that a civilian, such as Bernardo O'Higgins, used a military uniform. And that determines that political regimes are civic and military. This is the kind of regime that we had from the Independence all through 1860. From that year until 1924, it is the only period of time that we have had political regimes only civil. Since then, until nowadays, we keep on having regimes civic—military, cause that is what the 1925 Constitution establishes. It is what explains that, at the end of his administration, Allende had to call the Army Commander-In-Chief to take part of his cabinet. That is the Constitution that defines the Army as "warrant of the establishment", and so is confirmed by the 1980 Constitution.

—And in more affectionate terms, how do you think that Chilean society has changed their perception of the military?
—I believe this is a tense relation, of love and hate. This is a country founded over war, which was the only exit for an impossible Conquest. In Chile, we had war because we had no Conquest (as there was on the rest of America). The natives stopped the Spanish. So the military has a starring role that legitimates both historically and politically. That makes the military not more likeable, but unavoidable.

—What is your view on the Republic Bicentennial celebrations?
—The Republic is dead and, so, there's nothing to celebrate about. It died in 1973 and later, among the Concertacion's administrations, the person that has appropriated best the concept of the Republic has been Ricardo Lagos, even though he has destroyed the republican institutions with his handling of Universidad de Chile, the Public Works Ministry and the scandals at CORFO. The Concertacion' administrations seem to me a military-civic prolongation of the military dictatorship, because the Constitution has not been modified, nor the economic model. The oficial and semi-official use of the Bicentennial trademark seems suspicious to me.

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