Universal history has witnessed the odious difficulties encountered when trying to import a political system and its ideals into a society that barely understands them or, even worse, is doubtful of its value for their interests and traditions.

In our hemisphere, in our Americas - not only the America of Martí, the Cuban patriot - the ups and downs, understandings and misunderstandings of democracy and dictatorship have had particular consistency and a persistent hold throughout the 200 or more years of independence from the European monarchies. No country in the Americas has been free from the unfortunate effects and loss of illusions imposed by a dictatorship. Only one dictatorship in the history of a country - and some have known several - is enough to mark it forever with the equivocal sign of bitterness, hatred, the always terrible fear of institutional injustice, the awful scar of mistrust, and, worse than anything else, the certainty of violence's absolute power. All of these spiritual components are opposed to the ideal of democracy and to the individual freedom of every citizen.

With the experience of dictatorship fresh in their memory, and the knowledge gained in two centuries of governments swept away by the violence of brute force and the harsh dictum of the omnipotent dictator, the citizens of the American countries know well of the hidden forces, the deceiving motives, the unbelievable justifications, the mean objectives that sustain the dictatorial power. It is sad to remember that if not all, many of the dictatorships in our continent - the same ones that have given reason to those who promote them to criticize their vileness - have been initiated in the same boardrooms from where they receive support and contempt. Those who have held dictatorial powers not always have been as powerful as they appear to their fellow nationals, and it would not be possible to talk of diplomatic stratagems when trying to explain the ways, byways, insults and whims that have brought them to a relative and conditional political power.

Hard is the work of the leader imposed by force. There is no need to search much in the annals of wars, invasions and military interventions of every sort to understand that under every claim of undisputed authority hides the weakness of fear. Or worst, perhaps, the sickly petulance of the one who thinks himself all-powerful. Never such lawless figure reaches the throne of leadership unaccompanied, never lasts in it without support of others, and never succumbs alone. It does not matter how powerful a dictator seems, he is only the dead of a larger, much larger body with complex organs, dubious functions, and ubiquitous able members. Each dictator is always, in essence, the same monster, revived in multiple individual manifestations - here or there, yesterday and today - the same insidious basilisk that does not die even when beheaded. Those who do die, their decomposing rests in most cases pollute the land and poison the people they used to dominate.

Knowing what looms under every dictatorship, the Latin American countries should be doubtful, with justified reason, of the violent solution. Violence not always has been effective; even against the wishes of those who think that war is necessary because of its inevitability, violence is a bad political counselor and many a time a weak argument in favor of democracy. Perhaps because of this neither Mexico nor Chile, countries with representation in the United Nations Security Council, have been in agreement with the war in Iraq.

In our incomplete estimate of the forces at play, having the experience of so many interventions in our American countries, we cannot be but cautious; we must raise questions about the shifting arguments used to defend against diplomatic opposition some of the proposals and its worrisome consequences. It must be observed, though, that at the level already reached in the dispute, the consequences of whichever solution is adopted, will be, in one way or another, equally worrisome. •



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