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Comparative Literature Studies 41.1 (2004) 80-100

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National Culture, Globalization and the Case of Post-War El Salvador

Silvia L. López
Carleton College

"Yo llegué a la revolución por la vía de la poesía. Tú podrás llegar (si lo deseas, si sientes que lo necesitas) a la poesía por la vía de la revolución)." 1
—Roque Dalton

In 1998, Roque Dalton, Latin America's most famous leftist guerrilla poet, was voted El Salvador's national poet by the right wing national assembly of that country. The news made the front cover of the New York Times and puzzled the world. This happened at a time when the way in which we talked about Latin America had found itself in crisis since the collapse of Soviet socialism, the proclamation of the end of the cold war, and almost ten years after the end of traditional guerrilla warfare in Central America.

The discursive spaces opened by the Cuban revolution that permitted the flourishing of Latin American social thought and revolutionary praxis 2 have been increasingly threatened as the final victory of the market forces and of western liberal democracies sweep the globe. As Edgardo Lander has argued, "we have moved from a world of two superpowers whose strategic equilibrium gave some maneuvering options to countries not directly submitted to their spheres of influence to a world with one hegemonic center of political and military power. The geopolitical and military restrictions of economic powers like Germany and Japan only consolidate the political-military hegemony of the United States." 3 Beyond the tensions that emerged from the economic restructuring of the world, the industrialized countries have managed to maintain their internal political coherence. Through a number of mechanisms that permit not only political agreements (Group of Seven) and military agreements (NATO) but primarily economic control of international economic and financial institutions (IMF, [End Page 80] World Bank, IDB, GATT, etc.), the industrialized countries of Europe and Japan begin to consolidate their interests according to the new world order.

For the rest of the world, the margins of freedom have been reduced drastically. The international criteria of economic restructuring are prescribed to all countries, and Latin American countries have at this conjuncture no other option but to comply with the new economic order. 4 The hegemony of the United States in the ideological-cultural terrain is even more palpable as now the consumption of alternative products to U.S. mass culture becomes practically impossible. Neoliberalism is accompanied by its ideological pronouncements of the end of ideology and of history. In the midst of all these transformations, Latin America experiences the worst economic crisis of the last fifty years and struggles to compete in the global economy by offering to the transnational corporations what it can: labor power and natural resources for exploitation. The dilemma faced by Latin American countries today is how to participate in this world economy while at the same time protect the rights and interests of its citizens, at least of those who will remain active within the current economic structure 5. It is within this context that the question of modern national culture takes on a particular significance. In spite of the claims of globalization, the problems of culture continue to be bound by situations, institutions and actors that find as their setting the nation. The nation is part of a collective imaginary, supranational in character, that we name "Latin America." The study of the phenomenon of literature under the described conditions illuminates the reality of the predominance of a literate and modern project of national construction, that is a project that finds its grounding along national lines and according to modern models of culture, even today in the early twenty-first century and regardless of the ideological signs of the governments in power. In this article, I present the case of post-war El Salvador to illustrate this phenomenon.

Before treating more in detail the case of El Salvador, I will frame in more general terms the...


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