Visiting the House of Dr. Luis Alberto de Herrera, Montevideo, Uruguay: remembering issues of historic sovereignty
A locally well grounded standing
This house in Montevideo, Uruguay, is a museum dedicated to the memory of prominent Uruguayan historical figure Dr Luis Alberto de Herrera y Quevedo (1873-1959).
La Casa del Dr. Luis Alberto de Herrera is located at Avenida Dr. Luis A. de Herrera 3760, appropriately named for Dr. Herrera (1). This late 19th century structure has been part of the Museo Histórico Nacional since 1966. Its gardens were designed by Charles Racine. Eclectic style elements including neo-Renaissance — popular in Uruguay in its day — are visible at the House.
In any attempt by outsiders to understand a figure such as Dr. de Herrera, one must first of all try to divest oneself of perceptions which may — however unwittingly — be coloured by a Cold War-driven analysis. It must be remembered that, as far as Latin America is concerned, memories run deep about the way first British and then American perceived gunboat diplomacy was part of the historical experience of Latin American countries long before Cold War divisions started to coalesce in the 1940s.
So who was Dr. Luis Alberto de Herrera? and what did he represent?
First of all (and I will forbear from summarizing his thought just yet), he was a ruralist who for decades led the Partido nacional or blanco: this party's historic opponent was the Partido colorado, against which, until 1904, the Nacionalistas engaged in period civil war insurrection for much of the mid- to late-19th century. Dr. Herrera himself was always proud of his role in the 1897 and 1904 rebellions against the Colorado government, in office for the best part of a century.
When I tell you that Dr. de Herrera was an avid supporter — at least morally — of Nicaraguan revolutionary Augusto César Sandino (1895-1934), the followers of whose cause were later known as Sandinistas, many North Americans might immediately assume that Dr de Herrera must therefore have been a leftist, even a Marxist, of some description.
Except that nothing could be further from the truth. Such an assumption would arguably be coloured heavily by the projection of a Cold War-driven analysis.
The fact is that, long before the Cold War, just as large numbers of Latin Americans already found it morally unacceptable for European powers to have exercised a hegemonic influence upon their countries economic and political affairs, so a similar degree of moral indignation historically arose if the United States has tried to intervene by toppling Latin American leaders, whether by overt or covert means.
(I myself am not moralizing; but I am trying to insist that one must comprehend the basic thinking of many citizens of Latin American countries in seeking to understand figures such as Dr. de Herrera, because otherwise inaccurate assumptions are likely to be projected upon such figures and their significance.)
Interestingly, Dr. Luis Alberto de Herrera is known for having supported in 1933 the coup d'état led by the sitting President, Gabriel Terra. So in the eyes of some foreign observers this automatically tarnished Dr de Herrera's reputation as a supposed reactionary.
Except that all was not as it seemed. Gabriel Terra, with the reputation of a Colorado liberal, had taken office in 1931 as President in 1931. Terra was basically a socialist, who advanced state intervention in the economy, women's rights, and other measures widely seen as progressive, enforcing these measures by decree. Meanwhile, wealthy families who had exercised a more conservative influence through the parliament were in a measure sidelined. Thus, each side could try to portray itself as more 'liberal' than the other, to some extent. Alfredo Baldomir succeeded Terra as President in 1938, later staged his own coup, and his rule by decree was supported by leading Colorado liberals and communists, while many socialists opposed it.
Dr Luis Alberto de Herrera was, in short, a conservative nationalist, but one whose roots and thinking were both very much localized in Uruguay, especially its rural areas, but also in the wider mainstream of Latin American nationalism. To some considerable extent Dr de Herrera represented a determination not to allow the urban interests of Montevideo inordinately dominate national life: a tall order, since traditionally about a half of Uruguay's population has lived in the country's capital.
Dr de Herrera's career and principles thus defy glib classifying or re-classifying by international observers.
Dr. de Herrera's Nacionalistas finally won the elections in 1958, a moment which provided somewhat of a crowning achievement for a man who had led his party for half a century. His passing in 1959 cut short an electoral triumph which had occurred when Uruguay was being governed by a Collegiate Presidency (based on that of Switzerland).
Part of Dr Herrera's political legacy has been personal. His grandson. Dr Luis Alberto Lacalle de Herrera (1940-) served as President of Uruguay 1990-1995, and his great-grandson Luis Alberto Lacalle Pou (1973-), a former Parliamentary speaker, ran for President in 2014, narrowly losing to President Tabaré Vázquez.
A statue of Dr. de Herrera stands at the nearby intersection of Avenidas Herrera and Flores.
August 3, 2016
(1) An adjoining street is Margarite Uriarte de Herrera, named for the wife of Dr Herrera.
See also: http://www.museos.gub.uy/index.php?option=com_k2&view=item&id=159:museo-hist%C3%B3rico-nacional-casa-quinta-del-dr-luis-alberto-de-herrera
Also worth seeing
How to get there: LanChile flies to Montevideo , Uruguay from North American destinations including New York and Toronto. Car rental is available at Montevideo Carrasco International airport. Please note that some facilities may be withdrawn, without notice. For up to date information, please check with the airline or your travel agent. Visitors to the Casa del Dr Luis Alberto de Herrera are advised to email: firstname.lastname@example.org in advance regarding opening times.
MJFenn is an independent travel writer based in Ontario, Canada.
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