Visiting 'Parque José Enrique Rodó', Montevideo, Uruguay: Remembering the Relevance of 'Ariel' — and E. Howard Hunt
Some deep state background on US foreign policy towards Latin America — doubtless of interest to readers of Bob Woodward
Parque Rodó and some of its features
In Montevideo, Uruguay, Parque José Enrique Rodó (1) — often simply known as the Parque Rodó — is a 44000 square metre sea of greenery in the heart of the capital city of one million plus population. This borders onto Ramírez Beach (Spanish: Playa Ramírez) on the River Plate (Spanish: Río de la Plata). The Park gives its name to the local suburb of Montevideo in close proximity.
One of the Park's features is a 17,059 square metre artificial lake. Tree species in the Park include palm and willow.
Work began on landscaping what became the Parque Rodó at the beginning of the 20th century under the guidance of architects Carlos Thays(2) and Carlos Racine, although planning for the Park began in as early as 1889. Initially the creation was known as the Parque Urbano (Urban Park).
A huge range of activities have come to be associated with the Park at various times of the year. Around the Christmas season, a book fair is held. A musical pavilion is the scene of many concerts, including of works by Beethoven, Brahms and Mozart. A structure known as the Castillo (Castle), dating from the beginning of the 20th century, has since the 1930s contained a children's library.
Various commemorative monuments have been established in the Park, including one which remembers the Uruguayan playwright Florencio Sánchez (1875-1910).
José Enrique Rodó and his 'Ariel'
Probably the most significant monument in the Park is dedicated to the memory of the Uruguayan modernista writer for whom the Park is named: José Enrique Rodó (1871-1917). Influenced strongly by Nicaraguan poet Rubén Darío (1867-1916), he is particularly known for Ariel, issued in 1900, an essay influenced by Shakespeare's The Tempest, and indeed, by Ernest Renan's writings on similar themes. Using the characters of Ariel, Prospero and Calibán, Rodó argues in favour of the aesthetic integrity of Latin American culture, contrasting the idealism of Ariel with the materialism of Calibán.
The wider context of this work is US intervention in Cuba in 1898 which for Rodó provokes an opportunity to assess what he sees as excessive utilitarianism and materialism — represented by the US through its foreign policy and large corporations — adversely influencing Latin American culture and youth and their capacity for idealism.
Rodó is also well known for his Motivos de Proteo (Motives of Proteus), among other writings.
While Ariel became very widely known in Latin America and beyond (3), it was also after some decades thought to be dated in its goals and applications. It became known as a literary milestone which for its time may have been significant, but many 20th century writers and political leaders in Latin America, though aware of Rodó, Ariel, and its themes, were taken up with other compelling issues.
Sometimes in the course of a country's history it may take a series of far-reaching events for awareness to be heightened of past writings and existing themes in literature to be reassessed. Arguably, the history of the United States's often complex relationship with Latin American countries was characterized by a particular intensity during the Cold War, when — in the United States, at least — bilateral and cultural issues were often to some extent subsumed into compelling foreign policy stances: e.g., the Cuban Missile Crisis, Iran-Contra and a whole series of US-backed coups-d'état in various Latin American countries. In all these series of events, the background of the Cold War loomed large, to a greater or lesser extent.
Enter E. Howard Hunt...with all the Vice President's men
The career of E. Howard Hunt (1918-2007) best known for his notoriety as Watergate's plumber-in-chief in 1972, is not widely thought of in relation to Uruguay.
In actual fact, during the 1950s E. Howard Hunt served as CIA station chief in Montevideo, Uruguay. The New York Times described the frank impression of Hunt, received by a serving American diplomat, of Hunt's efforts to tilt security and intelligence matters in Uruguay to further US interests in Montevideo, as follows:
'...totally self-absorbed, totally amoral and a danger to himself and anybody around him' (4).
E. Howard Hunt is also well known in Latin America for his role in the repressive 1954 CIA-backed Guatemalan coup-d'état, leading to decades of sanguinary conflict, and for his involvement in the failed, CIA-backed Bay of Pigs (Spanish: Bahía de Cochinos) invasion, Cuba.
Crucially, not long after E. Howard Hunt's service as CIA Station Chief in Montevideo, and subsequent to the Bay of Pigs fiasco, he became Executive Assistant to Director of Central Intelligence Allen W. Dulles (1893-1969) and served on the important Operation 40 (5) committee tasked with administering Cuba after the hoped for success of the Bay of Pigs intervention, and with defending 'U.S. holdings in other Latin American countries'.
The Operation 40 committee was headed by Vice President Richard M. Nixon (on whose behalf Hunt later served as Watergate plumber-in-chief). Other participants with Hunt in Operation 40 included Tracy Barnes - a CIA veteran of the Guatemala coup - and Colonel J. C. King (who at another stage of his career headed Johnson and Johnson in Argentina and Brazil, countries which neighbour Uruguay, and who had previously served in Argentina from 1941-1946 for the Office of the Coordinator of Inter-American Affairs). Indeed, it was King who articulated the goal of measures to defend 'U.S. holdings in other Latin American countries' in a memorandum to DCI Allen Dulles in 1959, which led to the setting up of Operation 40, under Vice President Nixon (seen in the photo, below, with Argentinian President Arturo Frondizi in 1959).
Thus it is abundantly clear that economic motives were close to the disastrous security and intelligence measures with which E. Howard Hunt was intimately and widely involved.
After E. Howard Hunt had moved on from Uruguay, which faced economic stagnation and social unrest, the in some ways comparable figure of Dan E. Mitrione (1920-1970) (6) of the Office of Public Safety also loomed large in Uruguay, as well as in neighbouring military-led Brazil, with which the Nixon Administration had close security ties.
It might be added that the renewed relevance of Rodó's warning in Ariel about the excessive materialism of expanding US corporations and political interventionism in Latin America does arguably come into focus when one considers the contribution of personalities such as CIA station chief in Montevideo E. Howard Hunt, among all Vice President Nixon's men.
(I have to declare a marginal personal interest. I grew up, in part, in Uruguay.)
April 1, 2019
(1) See also: (in English) https://www.inspirock.com/uruguay/montevideo/parque-rodo-a911953889 ; (in Spanish) http://jardinenuruguay.com/ParqueRodo/estuvimosrodo1.htm
(2) Architect Thays was also notably responsible for the Hotel Carrasco, Montevideo.
(3) The British politician Aneurin Bevan (1897-1960), who served as Minister of Health and created the National Health Service, notably accounted José Enrique Rodó as a seminal influence in his thinking.
(4) Samuel F. Hart, American diplomatic contemporary. qu. by: Tim Weiner, Obituary: E. Howard Hunt, Agent Who Organized Botched Watergate Break-In, Dies at 88, New York Times, 24 January, 2007 https://www.nytimes.com/2007/01/24/obituaries/24hunt.html
(5) See also: https://spartacus-educational.com/JFKoperation40.htm
(6) Mitrione — later assassinated, whose funeral was attended by President Nixon's son-in-law David Eisenhower — was a specialist in enhanced interrogation techniques, which he taught Uruguayan police in the cellar of his home in Uruguay. Subsequently, it was the Brazilian military which participated in the rigging of Uruguay's 1971 Presidential elections, driven by US interests seeking to prevent the leftist Broad Front (Frente Amplio) from taking office. (This was later revealed to have been privately admitted by President Nixon. Since the Frente Amplio finished third in this Presidential contest, such efforts were clearly a wild overreaction, even if the crude attempt were made to justify them on the grounds of Realpolitik.) President Nixon's Press Secretary Ronald Ziegler spoke of Mitrione's "devoted service to the cause of peaceful progress in an orderly world will remain as an example for free men everywhere". More recently, US Ambassador to Uruguay Frank E. Baxter was involved in controversial efforts in 2008 to promote what he called 'pushback' against an Uruguayan investigation of the murder of a prominent Uruguayan citizen (Cecilia Fontana de Héber in 1977), by invoking the memory of Mitrione.
Other sources which relate something of the past relationship between the CIA and Latin America include: Bob Woodward, Veil: The Secret Wars of the CIA 1981-1987, The Simon & Schuster, 1987; Stephen Kinzer, Bitter Fruit: The Story of the American Coup in Guatemala, with Stephen Schlesinger; Doubleday, 1982; revised ed. Harvard University Press
Also worth seeing
How to get there: LaTam 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.
MJFenn is an independent travel writer based in Ontario, Canada.
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