Thursday, July 9, 2009

Moses and Bueyón

During the mid-to late ‘80s the favorite guest of choice on the Dominican political talk show circuit was one Dr. Francisco Ramon Carvajal Martínez—also known for his colorful nickname “Bueyón” (Big Ox)—an erudite yet blunt elder statesman fond of espousing the grandeur of Greek literature and mythology, as well as cataloguing the numerous faux pas, as he saw them, of his fellow Dominicans in matters of culture, civics and dress.

But when Carvajal Martínez got inspired or even just slightly warmed up, he would openly equate his compatriots with unruly field goats who had lost their way and needed to be reigned in, preferably by force. He routinely advocated for the use of firing squads as penalty for seemingly minor infractions such as loud car radios or males of working age sleeping in past 6 AM.(!) In his eyes, what the Dominican Republic needed to rise above from its malaise was to be governed by a "technocratic-agro-military regime", which would be given a 30 year-span to implement its changes. And if 4 million of the country’s then-6 million citizens had to have a date with the firing squad so that the remaining 2 million could be saved, then so be it. (Actually, he would end that oft-repeated statement mouthing the sound of an automatic weapon being fired.)

My friends and I loved this man. We thought he was so over the top and found him to be hilarious. We would tape his appearances on TV, learn his most outrageous declarations word-for-word and then quote them back to each other as if they were from the script of some silly flick of the time like, say, Better Off Dead. Of course, my friends and I knew that if Bueyón ever had his way and that “technocratic-agro-military” government was installed, we’d probably be among those “first against the wall”, as the Radiohead song goes. But we didn’t fear this possibility one bit, for there was no way—even with its history of brutal dictatorships and other oppressive regimes—the Dominican people were ever letting a madman who was three times the right-wing extremist Pat Buchanan is, rise to power. (Right?)

More importantly, his TV appearances and wildly irrational statements had rendered him a joke by more than just my friends and I. The latter made my mother sad. She had always looked forward to hearing him speak in the past, and was now dismayed by the running comedic skit his pronouncements had become.

You see, it turns out that in his youth Carvajal-Martínez had been a courageous and outspoken patriot who rebelled against Gen. Rafael Trujillo’s tyrannical and murderous regime (1930-1961, and “one of the bloodiest of the 20th century”, according to Wikipedia), going as far as taking up arms against it in the failed invasion of June 14th, 1959, of which he was one of very few survivors.

Subsequently, after Trujillo’s assassination he’d come to be known as a respected intellectual and statesman with keen oratory skills peppered with humor. But at some point, something went off in that grand brain of his that turned him into the local political landscape’s preferred jester; one who had unbelievably taken to lauding Trujillo for the civilian honors he bestowed upon Carvajal-Martínez’s beloved mother, who’d been a schoolteacher all her life.

What happened? How did this staunch defender of the oppressed and avowed enemy of despots change ideological course and align himself with the exact opposite philosophy, one which he had spent his whole life railing against? We never did find out: the good Dr. passed away in 1988, never having told his complete story or recovered his former stature.

Carvajal-Martínez came to mind for the first time in ages, when I learned of actor Charlton Heston’s death last year. I immediately went to Wikipedia to see if they already had posted his passing in their “Recent Deaths” section and eventually clicked on the link to his biography page. What I saw and read there astounded me.

First, of course, was the black and white headshot of Heston at the 1963 Civil Rights March in Washington, to which he accompanied Dr. Martin Luther King; mentions of his public protests against segregation; campaigning for Adlai Stevenson in 1956 and for JFK in 1960; his opposition to the Vietnam War, etc. Yes, Ronald Reagan had once been a Democrat, but this? Wow. I had no idea.

So, once again, what happened? How did this progressive and seemingly forward-leaning individual have a change of heart, switch his party affiliation and become nothing less than right-wing caricature, shilling for the NRA and the likes of Reagan, George H. W. Bush and George W. Shrub? (And yeah, I think Heston perhaps heeding Churchill's infamous quote, If you're not a liberal at twenty you have no heart, if you're not a conservative at forty you have no brain,” is too lazy a conclusion.)

Again, deep down, we may never truly know why, despite all the articles and columns and books on the man. I'd sure like to, though.

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