Hi again, if you’re coming from my previous rave review of the AMC+ series La Fortuna. I really think you should watch it, enjoy it for its strengths. Because I also need to rip into its most glaring and frustrating omission. One that undermines the very points Amenábar, its writer and director, tries to make.
To recap, La Fortuna tells the fictionalized story about how the Spanish government fought a US sea-exploration company that had absconded with the bullion of a Spanish frigate, sunk in 1804. It’s a stunning tribute to the adventure genre, a visual feast, and a celebration of culture, heritage, and civil servants. One where the little country, formerly known as the Spanish Empire, wins over US amoral capitalism and clashing diplomatic interests.
But the series conveniently ignores the question of where that bullion came from. Where were the mines that yielded that gold and silver, who worked in them and who minted those escudos and reales de a ocho. They do tell us where the frigate began its journey, Cartagena de Indias, Colombia (the historical convoy set sail from Uruguay). And that’s it. As far as La Fortuna cares, that gold is just another part of Spanish cultural heritage, the fact that it wasn’t mined or minted in the Mainland is irrelevant because the Colonies were Spain too. Or at least, that’s what it seems to imply. Colonies that, by the time that frigate was sunk, were less than a decade away from starting their Independence movements.
And to omit this fact, in the current context of Spanish politics, sets a dangerous precedent.
Spaniards from the political center and rightwards roll their eyes whenever Americans remind them everything they owe us: Hiding in Twitter accounts colored with their horrid, horrid traditional heraldry, conservative and reactionary Spaniards spit back whenever we tell them it was our resources that made Spain Spain. That and the Arab legacy, which is a whole other story.
They roll their eyes at any mention of their Colonial atrocities, dismissing them as par for the course for the times, that the population collapse amongst the American peoples was mostly due to diseases (true, except they…) and nothing could be done about that (… exploited them into a glorified slavery with extra steps and destroyed their culture), that they actually left us civic structures (and a caste system that refuses to die, more effective in segregating by race than whatever the Southern US could come up with). In sum, that they gave us the gift of European Civilization (but none of its Modernity, its industrialization, and free trade, just monopolized extraction of resources by lazy local elites). This is the White Legend way too many Spanish people tell themselves about their Colonial legacy, which in the end can be summed up as “well, whatever, consider yourselves lucky you weren’t colonized by the puritans”. To be fair, this is also a lie Latin American white elites tell themselves, updated according to whatever atrocity is currently happening in the USA.
But what those reactionaries forget is that it was our gold and silver that paid for the entire modern cultural heritage of Spain. We paid for the Golden Century you squandered away, setting the precedent for the economic incompetence that runs through Spain and Latin America’s history. We gave you the foundations in which you built what is still a developed country. It was our wealth which allowed you to build the most exquisite achievements of Baroque architecture and design, that later would finance two of the greatest painters that ever lived. That helped you in one of those many wars between Catholic Europe and the Ottoman Empire, a war that shaped the man that wrote one of the greatest achievements in the human use of language. All of which are things to be proud of, things in which you should and must build your national identity. Things that have inspired human progress. The cultural legacy that is, indeed, your oil, at the crossroads of thousands of years of history: Greeks, Carthaginians, Romans, Goths, Arabs, and those weird Basques.
Cultural pride that refuses to include us, Latin America (this is about Spanish-speaking countries, but it might as well include Brazil and Portugal, with a twist). That keeps us in their worldview as eternal subalterns, even though we have become something much more complex, richer, much bigger, literally and metaphorically, than whatever they could’ve ever imagined. But this isn’t about what we have achieved in Latin America. This is about what they refuse to acknowledge: That Latin America isn’t just “important” to Spain’s Cultural Heritage, but that there is no Spain without Latin America. There is no Spanish as the cultural empire that it is today without Latin America. For that matter, there is no Europe without Latin America or the Americas; can there be a modernity without the Americas’ wealth? Without the potatoes and corn and sugar and tobacco and chocolate that reshaped Europeans down to their nutritional components? Without everything Europe built on the backs of what you took from here, be it on the backs of indigenous peoples in encomiendas or African slaves? What is the Catholic Church or Protestantism without the question of the humanity of the Black African or the Indian? (a question they answered… incorrectly).
And all of the above, Spain started it, Spain got the first-look deal, Spain dictated it first, Spain got first Peso. And La Fortuna does nothing to address this. There is only one mention of whether that gold might be owed to the Americas too: Frank Wild, the antagonist, brings forth an appeal to retrieve the loot in the name of the Peruvian government. This is framed as just another form of legal f**kery, after all, what claim could Perú have over gold extracted before they became a nation? That’s it, that’s all the lip service given to our hand in Spain’s heritage.
And here’s the thing, the problem is not the gold. Under any legal framework, that gold belongs to Spain, and that’s OK. We don’t need that gold, our mines are far from depleted (putting a pause on ecological concerns just for now) and it won’t make much of a difference if we stored it in the vaults of our Central Banks. We don’t need Spain to give us back the gold, we don’t need them to dismantle El Escorial brick by brick and have it shipped to Colombia. We don’t need any of that: we need the immigrants from our side of the pond in Spain to be treated with dignity (duh), we need you to dismantle neo-colonial exploitation. But above all, we need recognition. Recognition that what you did here kickstarted a chain of horror that is spread in every sphere and every aspect of human society (guess who came up with this whole thing of concentrating people in a camp), recognition that the gold you brought to Europe was extracted by systematic exploitation of the locals. Recognition that we have helped Spain more than once, in hosting hundreds of thousands of migrants and refugees, or in grain after the Civil War.
Recognition that everything that holds us back is not about what you took from Latin America, but what you left behind: A legacy of institutionalized corruption, stratified society, racism, mediocre white elites, incompetence, lazy extractivism. And lost history, lost memories of when and how humans first populated this continent. Lost languages, lost heritage, lost monuments. In sum, lost culture. Just like the other languages of the Iberian Peninsula, which a succession of Spanish governments have tried to suppress.
So when the Minister of Culture in La Fortuna pleas passionately to revindicate Spanish Culture, it rings hollow when you ignore the roots of that legacy. Because this isn’t just about one country’s history, about the looting of one graveyard. It was also about us, Latin Americans and about our complicated relationship with Spain. Because that heritage is also our heritage. Shared on equal terms, at the very least. That’s what makes La Fortuna an incomplete thesis on the value of Culture. Culture without the full story is just propaganda, and that shit has a short shelf-life.
Side note about specificity: The series makes no mention of the political leanings of the Spanish government during the course of the trial. In real life, the process took place under the government of Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, leading a centre-left coalition. The story is updated to our times, but there is nothing that could help us get an idea of what kind of government is this. A lack of specificity with the US market in mind, but that erases what could’ve been a great commentary: How even left-leaning parties in the first-world choose to avoid acknowledging the colonial legacies of their countries, a social and psychological hindrance to the very ideals they are supposed to uphold.
As I said before, erasing Latin America from the cultural heritage of Spain is a dangerous oversight in their current political climate of growing fascism. The mainstream right-wing party (Partido Popular) was already reactionary enough, but along came the far-right Vox, celebrating Spanish Colonialism, Franco and Spain’s dour National-Catholicism, with a religious outlook that comes across as… almost Protestant. Their radicalism has pushed the president of the Partido Popular to up the ante by denying Spain’s Colonialism or claiming that we refer to it as the “Motherland”, because they also like to forget we had wars about that very thing, and they lost. More recently, Spain’s King decided to chime in, and during a visit to Puerto Rico he insisted that Spain had nothing to apologize for.
In a way, it’s almost pathetic: other than the capitals controlled by Spanish corporations, Spanish reactionaries insist on treating us as wayward children, as if they had any real leverage to get us to kneel. As if we didn’t have a culture of our own, bigger, richer, broader. As if we didn’t have problems of our own or with empires that are very much alive and much more powerful than Spain ever was. As if we didn’t made them.
But Amenábar should’ve known better than to leave this issue unquestioned, feeding into the delusions of those Spaniards. Spain isn’t exactly the underdog. They are still a global power. Just one figure: Spain’s GDP is slightly smaller than the combined GDPs of all Spanish-speaking South American countries. They are not the only victims in La Fortuna’s story.
Full disclosure, there’s also the fact that Alberto Cox is super-Basque on the side of… 3/4ths of his grandparents, so he might be a bit biased against Spain. Those Basques came 500 years ago tho. Also, it’s still streets ahead of the Uncharted movie