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A lot of people didn’t feel sorry for the U.S.

DISCUSSIONS | June 05, 2006

Carina Novarese, Uruguay

2003 Nieman fellow; El País, Montevideo

It was 9/11 and I was rushing to the newsroom, after dropping my daughter in her school. With the coffee mug in my hand ready to be filled, I watched the images that now are part of the world memory: a plane crashing into one of the Twin Towers. And then a second one. My first reaction was of disbelief. That was not happening. Not in the most powerful country in the world.

My second reaction had nothing to do with international politics: I felt a strong urge to run to my daughter’s school to pick her up at once and stay at home with my whole family. I resisted that urge, but nevertheless called home to warn the nanny that once Antonia arrived home it would be better to stay there and not make any errands or go to the park.

Did I know at the time that I was being irrational, fearing some threat that was thousands of miles away from home? I knew I had nothing to fear in this little and forgotten country of mine. But the feeling of insecurity that 9/11 set was so intense that even little and peaceful Uruguay was going to be touched by it.

Uruguayan people have had mixed feelings about the States for a long time now. Beginning in the 60’s and especially during the 70’s, the U.S. was strongly associated with Latin American dictatorships, one of which was in Uruguay. As a consequence, a lot of people have had “anti-imperialism” feelings for a long time, even when the country recovered its democracy in 1985. Nevertheless – and although there was always a “hard” group of leftists very opposed to the States – during the 90’s this negative feeling began to subside.

After 9/11, George W. Bush’s international politics brought again negative opinions about the States. Uruguayans never openly “celebrated” the fact that the most powerful country in the world had been hit by a bunch of poorly armed and trained terrorists that came from some of the most underdeveloped countries in the world. And there were no street manifestations supporting this terrorist act. Nobody rejoiced at the tragedy but a lot of people didn’t feel very sorry for what had happened. As one person explained to me at the time: “I feel sorry for the unlucky people who so unfairly lost their lives in this tragedy. But I also have to recognize that the U.S. has done a lot on its part to reach this point”.

His feeling summarizes the one that a lot of Uruguayans have developed to the States. For a lot of this country’s inhabitants, the U.S. is a big power and we better have a good relationship with them, but it also is the big “devil” that decides to make war without the rest of the world’s approval, the big power that entitles itself to mistreat people who want to enter the country, even those who just want to go on vacation.

Now Uruguay is facing the strong possibility of reaching some kind of free-trade agreement with the States. Last week Tabaré Vázquez (the president of Uruguay) sat in the White House with Bush. Their picture, holding hands, was the most important in all the front pages of the newspapers of this country. For now, Iraq, immigrants, Bush rudeness and even the 100 bucks you have to pay so the American consulate gives you a visa to travel to the States, don’t seem to be such terrible things. The future will tell.

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