More than two centuries ago Spain hunted them as outlaws and traitors across its south American and Caribbean empire – a pursuit that often ended in capture, torture and execution.
In Latin America they were the liberators: men who led revolts against colonial overlords, blazed a trail for the continent’s independence and destroyed Spain’s status as a world power.
Now Spain has learned to forgive, and even glorify the rebels by depicting them on screen in eight films to mark Latin America’s bicentenary celebrations.
“It gives a voice to those who needed to have their history told,” said Felipe González, Spain’s former PM and roving ambassador for bicentenary events.
He said the films chronicled the triumph of liberal ideas over the absolutism of King Ferdinand VII, an interpretation to salve any enduring Spanish pangs at having been routed from the new world. Today’s uprisings in Arab countries echoed Latin America’s struggle against despotism, said González.
The 2007 brainchild of a Spanish producer, José María Morales, the project was backed by a range of Spanish cultural institutions and state bodies, including the public broadcaster RTVE, and follows the success of Latin America films such as The Milk of Sorrow (Peru)and The Secret in their Eyes (Argentina).
To deflect suspicion of cultural neo-colonialism each film is directed and co-produced by an established film-maker from the relevant country. It is a “model of collaboration” between Spain and its former territories, said Enrique Iglesias, secretary general of Iberoamericana. The films, which feature battle scenes, political intrigue and romantic sub-plots, are to be shown at festivals and Latin American cinemas before TV broadcast. Four have been completed and the rest are due to wrap by next year.
Each film focuses on different aspects and views of the liberators, some telling stories in flashback through the prism of historically peripheral characters.
The publicity poster for The Priest Hidalgo, about Miguel Hidalgo’s leadership of a Mexican peasant revolt, shows one of the cleric’s lovers in a tight dress with the tagline “the story never told”.
Cuba’s The Eye of the Canarian, about José Martí, which has already won a clutch of awards, is a more introspective delving into Martí’s early life and psychological complexity, its director, Fernando Pérez, told the project’s website. “The point of view will lean more towards the personal rather than the historical.”
Argentina’s The Crossing of the Andes, about José De San Martín, a soldier who fought in Europe against Napoleon before leading Argentina’s insurrection against Spain, promises pitched battles as its hero repels marauding royalist forces.
The story of José Artigas, the father of Uruguay’s independence, is told through an artist who is commissioned to paint his portrait and reads the recollections of a Spanish spy who tried to assassinate the rebel.
Of the films about Chile’s Bernardo O’Higgins, Venezuela’s Simón Bolívar, Brazil’s Joaquim José da Silva Xavier and Peru’s Túpac Amaru, the latter two in particular could be grisly. Silva, a dentist nicknamed Toothpuller, was savagely punished by the Portuguese for trying to establish a Brazilian republic. He was hanged and quartered in Rio de Janeiro, with his head publicly displayed and a message written in his blood.
The Spanish were just as barbaric with Amaru, an Inca leader who was beheaded – and in some versions ripped apart by four horses – after challenging the European invaders in what is today Peru and Ecuador.
At the Madrid launch González said the Spanish conquest had at least left a “vehicle of communication” in the Spanish language, a “great patrimony” which today encompassed 500 million speakers.
Some of the liberation heroes:
Miguel Hidalgo, an unconventional priest inspired by the Enlightenment, led peasants in revolt, sparking what became Mexico’s independence war, and was shot by firing squad in 1811.
José Martí, a precocious intellectual and rebel, resisted US meddling and symbolised Cuba’s fight against Spain’s domination. He died in battle in 1895.
José De San Martin, a professional soldier, is Argentina’s national hero for building an army that engaged Spanish forces in northern Argentina, Peru and Chile. Died in exile in France in 1850.
José Artigas, an expert rider and marksman, helped Spain to resist British incursions before taking charge of anti-Spanish forces in what is today Uruguay. Died in exile in Paraguay in 1850.
Bernardo O’Higgins, of Basque and Irish lineage, ousted royalists from Chile and became the country’s founding father. Died in 1842 en route home after exile in Peru.
Símon Boliívar, a Creole aristocrat, mobilised Venezuela and Colombia against Spain and became the most celebrated liberator. Died in 1830, apparently from tuberculosis.
Joaquim José da Silva Xavier led a Brazilian revolution against Portuguese rule and pillage of mineral wealth. Was betrayed and executed in 1792 in Rio de Janeiro.
Túpac Amaru, the descendant of Inca royalty, led a doomed campaign against Spanish conquest and was executed in 1572. Today several leftwing political groups are named after him.
14 March 2011