It happened today - February 28, 2016

Today is the anniversary of the Cry of Asencio on Feb. 28, 1811. If you’re wondering why Asencio was weeping, well, it was due to misgovernment in Latin America. And that’s gonna bring out a lot of tears.

The cry wasn’t actually a burst of sobbing, of course. Rather, it was a manifesto against colonial Spanish misrule, in Spanish the “Grita de Asencio”, that triggered the Oriental Revolution centred on the city of Montevideo, the capital of Spanish America after revolt in the older capital of Buenos Aires.

Without getting into all the weed, suffice it to say that the revolution succeeded but the Revolution failed. As the “great liberator” Simon Bolivar would lament on his deathbed, in terms of social change he had spent his life “plowing the sea”.

The Spanish empire was both moribund and seedily repressive and it needed to go. But the newly independent regimes copied its political style and its vices to the point that the improvement was hard to discern. Indeed, given how Spain eventually turned out a case could be made that not establishing independence would have brought better rule to Latin America from Madrid than what they got from where they were.

The contrast between this sad history and that of the Anglosphere is worth dwelling on to understand the importance and durability of political culture. Magna Carta was not a declaration of how men ought to be free but of how they were free and ought to remain so. And fundamentally they did, through the long and exciting history we trace in our documentary.

In Latin America, sadly, the noble proclamations are for the most part just “might have beens” to this day.

It happened todayJohn Robson