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Acevedo Diaz, Eduardo

Eduardo Acevedo Diaz

Uruguayan author and political activist Eduardo Acevedo Diaz (1851–1924) is considered by literary experts to be the founder of the "gauchismo" movement, which came to define the cultural identity of the country's insurgent nationalist movement in the years prior to the turn of the 20th century. Acevedo Diaz was also Uruguay's first major novelist: Among his best-known works is the 1888 novel Ismael.

Acevedo Diaz was born in the small town of Villa de la Union, Uruguay, on April 20, 1851. He was highly educated and eventually earned a doctoral degree. By the time he reached his 20s, he had also become an accomplished writer, and the idealistic young man frequently used his talent to voice his strong political opinions in the newspapers and other periodicals of the day. Banished from his country for his radical partisan journalism in the 1870s, Acevedo Diaz spent many years in exile in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

First Novels Inspired Blanco Rebels

Since declaring independence from Brazil in 1828, Uruguay had been home to two political parties: the conservative and predominately Catholic Blancos were nationalists, while the redshirts or Colorados were liberal federalists. The Colorados, supported by the French and British fleets, had their power base in the port city of Montevideo, while the Blancos controlled the rest of Uruguay with the help of Argentine dictator Juan Manuel de Rosas. This was a lawless epoch in the Uruguayan countryside.

While he was in exile, Acevedo Diaz wrote a trilogy of historical novels based on the patriadas, the first wars of independence in Uruguay. However, he recycled and rebuilt the patriadas into a myth designed to inspire the discouraged Blancos into rising once again against the Colorados. Even from exile, Acevedo Diaz had vociferously criticized the Blancos for losing their masculinity and becoming degenerates during their long years of political oppression under Colorado tyrants. His books offered the Blancos a vision of their glorious, war-like forefathers and spurred them to turn back their moral regeneration.

In his books, Acevedo Diaz cultivated a sense of nostalgia for the great old days of the Blancos that came to be known as "gauchismo." The single word evoked a sense of identity in those who subscribed to it, and there were many; it became something of a cult in Uruguay and was organized formally in hundreds of local clubs that revered ranch life, traditional folk dance, and the old-time Farrapo rancher cowboys. Acevedo Diaz's books were solemn, brutal, and reverential. His "Hymn of Hate" trilogy was comprised of his first novel, Ismael (1888), and by Nativa (1890) and Grito de Gloria (1894; translated as Shout of Glory). The 1894 novel Soledad, however, is considered by many to be Acevedo Diaz's finest work as well as his most realistic. It was Soledad, in fact, that likely served as the primary model of "gauchismo" for the author's literary successors, among them Uruguayan writers Javier de Viana, Carlos Reyles, and Justino Zavala Muniz.

Brought Back by Nationalists

In 1895 some young members of Uruguay's nationalist Blanco movement urged Acevedo Diaz to return to his homeland from exile in Argentina. At their request, the author founded the newspaper El Nacional, which quickly began publishing vicious verbal attacks on Uruguay's highly unpopular Colorado President Idiarte Borda. In addition, Acevedo Diaz used his formidable oratorical skills and his stern, gravelly voice to prepare reactionary Blancos for an imminent revolt against the Colorados. In a speech given in 1895 and transcribed in Latin American Research Review, Acevedo Diaz urged his followers to overthrow the ruling party, intoning: "Rise up from the past, oh venerated ghosts, who gave all before the altars of our political religion: I call on you now, not in ignoble vengeance, but as emblems of supreme valor … in hand-to-hand combat between the holy aspirations of the people and the iniquitous habits of corruption and decadence."

In this appeal for masculine self-sacrifice on the eve of civil war, Acevedo Diaz further inflamed his listeners in a characteristically turgid manner, using the patriada he had created earlier. After reminding the Blancos that they were descended from "the fiercest and most valiant caudillos" or military leaders, he whipped up their indignation and will to fight by telling them that the Colorados viewed Blancas as effeminate, passive, unpatriotic, and ineffectual. When addressing mothers whose sons would soon go off fight in the civil war, Acevedo Diaz expertly evoked the image of a Spartan woman of Rome tearlessly preparing her offspring to die proudly in battle.

Due in large part to Acevedo Diaz's ability to stir up a crowd, the Blancos were able to quickly accept a relative newcomer, Aparicio Saravia, as their leader in 1896. Historians believe that Saravia's sudden influence over the group was thanks to Acevedo Diaz's portrayal of the newcomer as a gaucho, since Saravia had a number of strikes against him as a leader: lack of experience, little education, and Brazilian origins. Meanwhile, in November of 1896 Acevedo Diaz threatened the somewhat complacent Blancos that he would quit his political pep talks if no uprising occurred by the end of the month, or if the elections scheduled for November—and the Colorados' traditional manipulation of them—did not at least incite a public uproar. One of the Blanco leaders, who likely believed that Acevedo Diaz embodied the true revolutionary spirit fueling the nationalist rebellion, traveled to Montevideo to assure the 45-year-old journalist that the Blancos planned to disrupt the elections at locations throughout the country. During the unrest that followed, Uruguayan president Borda was assassinated.

Disappointed in Desire to Lead Blancos

Through their efforts, the Blancos succeeded in winning a minority representation in Uruguay's national elections, the first to be held using secret ballots. Despite his integral role in the Blancos' successful revolution against the oppressive Colorado rulers, Acevedo Diaz was not asked to become a member of the party's leadership. Instead, Saravia rewarded the venerable middle-aged agitator only a symbolic position, disappointing Acevedo Diaz in his dream of helping to lead his newly empowered party.

During this time Acevedo Diaz served as a senator and led a small group of Blancos legislators in opposition to interim President Juan Lindolfo Cuestas, who had taken over after the 1897 assassination of Borda and retained power by violently overthrowing the legislature and declaring himself dictator. Although Cuestas allowed democratic elections, the Blancos and the Colorados agreed to an accord instead, believing the situation was too unstable for elections. In 1899, the resulting legislature appointed Cuestas as president.

Acevedo Diaz and a longtime ally, Colorado senator and presidential hopeful José Batlle y Ordóñez, worked to prevent further accords and lobbied for true elections to be held. Although it was unusual for Acevedo Diaz to side with a Colorado, the writer believed that Batlle's election would injure the Colorados by insulting Cuestas, thus bringing Acevedo Diaz added standing with the Blancos. Through such Machiavellian political machinations, Acevedo Diaz accomplished his goal, and Batlle was elected president in 1903. The following year civil war again broke out in Uruguay, and during nine months of fighting the Blancos, led by Saravia, attempted to undermine the Batlle y Ordóñez government. Ultimately Saravia was killed, and the civil war ended with the Treaty of Aceguá, which also ended Blanco hopes for true representational elections.

Acevedo Diaz's work as an author remains well known in South America, but his successors—especially Viana—have enjoyed more widespread popularity. The author was awarded two posthumous awards for his novels: the Buenos Aires Literary Prize in 1932 for Ramon Hazaa and the Argentine National Prize for Literature in 1940 for Cancha larga. Acevedo Diaz died in Buenos Aires, Argentina, on June 18, 1924. His biography, La vida de batalla de Eduardo Acevedo Diaz ("Eduardo Acevedo Diaz's Life of Battle"), was published in 1941.

Books

Chasteen, John Charles, Heroes on Horseback: A Life and Times of the Last Gaucho Caudillos, University of New Mexico Press, 1995.

Jones, Willis Knapp, ed., Spanish-American Literature in Translation, Frederick Ungar, 1963.

Vanger, Milton I., Jose Batlle y Ordóñez of Uruguay: The Creator of His Times, Harvard University Press, 1963.

Periodicals

Latin American Research Review, Volume 28, 1993.

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