May 3, 2005

South American liberty fighter teaches Spanish class a lesson

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Author makes stopover at Princeton High School.

On Friday morning — in a room packed with Princeton High School students — Argentinean author José Ignacio Garcia Hamilton spoke about the wax and wane of liberty in South America.

As a man who has been imprisoned for his exercise of free speech, Mr. Garcia Hamilton should know a thing or two about the subject.

”When they became a government of dictatorship, I was sent to jail,” Mr. Garcia Hamilton said. ”They didn’t like free journalism,” the former newspaper editor said, referring to his country’s seven-year military regime.

But unbeknownst to the young journalist, this encounter with prison steered him into his passion for penning novels.

”I wouldn’t write in newspapers anymore, so I turned to books,” the historical biographer explained. ”Now I give thanks to the dictatorship,” he joked.

On a stopover visit to the area last week arranged by the Princeton Rotary, Mr. Garcia Hamilton shared some of these literary works and political philosophies with Spanish students at PHS.

”To construct a state with a republican, democratic and a strong economy is not easy,” Mr. Garcia Hamilton told the audience.

”The system in South America is a strong government with many resources,” he explained. ”We have no tradition of democracy, competitiveness in economy and interest in public affairs. It’s not a system in favor of democracy.”

In particular, Mr. Garcia Hamilton spoke about the lives of two of South America’s legendary dictators — José de San Martín and Simón Bolívar.

”Washington decided not to be king, he refused to continue,” he said, referring to the momentous occasion in which President George Washington chose not to run for a third presidential term. ”This didn’t happen with Bolívar,” he noted.

In his lecture, Mr. Garcia Hamilton also cautioned against some hurdles to democratic development.

”The mix between war and religion is contrary to progress,” he said, citing the Byzantine-era holy wars as an example. ”I see the U.S. going in this path,” Mr. Garcia Hamilton said, referring to the war in Iraq.

”The countries that are growing defend life, property and rights of the people. We are in progress,” Mr. Garcia Hamilton said, referring to Latin America’s process of democratization. ”But it’s so difficult to build up.”

According to Spanish teacher Marty Hayden, these lessons on Latin America fit in well with ongoing classroom themes.

”We’ve been teaching Spanish through history, rather than just grammar,” she said. ”We’ve studied the history of the Incan empire and the lives of the revolutionaries. We got into colonialism, the conquest and the independent movements. We just finished studying Bolívar and San Martín.

”We don’t teach it in the schools, and I mean, we’re neighbors, we should teach this stuff,” she continued, citing a lack of Latin-American studies at PHS.

But after leading a student trip to Peru last year, several Spanish teachers decided to incorporate Latin American history into the curriculum.

”We started off doing the Incas, but then we had to do the conquistadors,” Ms. Hayden said. ”I mean, who discovered who, really?”

In this context, Ms. Hayden said, the noted author’s visit couldn’t have been better timed.

”It’s really perfect. He came because the kids knew about the topic — they’d been handling it for awhile,” she said.

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