When I think of the great colonial cities of South America, I have had to adopt a memory device. It is “Buenos Rio,” which serves as a hedge against a mental block that prevents me from remembering both Rio de Janeiro (Brazil) and Buenos Aires (Argentina) at the same time.  It may be that thinking of either one of them fills my brain with such a multitude of images that all else is crowded out.

 Beginning in the 19th century, all the countries of South and Central America, and also Mexico, have thrown off the yoke of Spanish or Portuguese domination and embarked on their individual experiments in self-governance. It has been a rocky ride.  Horror stories of repressive regimes and mass “disappearances” have tarnished South American reputations well into the 20th century. The dictatorship in Chile, from 1973 to 1990, became emblematic of that dark time. Novels by Isabel Allende have provided up close views of these tragedies, but the books have not done well in translation to Hollywood movies. The film of her first novel, The House of the Spirits (1993), was a noble failure.

 There have been a fair number of movies that take up the cause of the downtrodden and vilify the oppressors, but there have been few if any that take a longer view of the struggle to shape national identities out of the chaos of liberation.  Madonna in the title role of Evita is as close as Hollywood has come thus far. Eva Peron’s homeland of Argentina is another nation to have experienced terrible violence on the road to orderly self rule.

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