Bello, The Economist’s new column, makes a poster boy of 19th c public intellectual

RASHMEE ROSHAN LALL February 1, 2014
The Blue Plaque that marks Andres Bello's home in London

The Blue Plaque that marks Andres Bello’s home in London

It’s not every day that one is present at the birth of a new Economist opinion column. Bello (pronounced BAY-o) debuts today to underline the newspaper’s regard for Latin America. Written by Michael Reid, with whom I’ve had the pleasure of working off and on when he was LatAm editor in London, it explains that Bello “is tribute to the region’s expanding weight in the world”.

Brazil and Mexico now count among the 10 biggest economies by purchasing power, says the column and the region is enormously important in energy, food production and the environment. Except for Cuba, says Mr Reid, “democracy holds sway throughout the region”.

But the point, of course, is in the column’s choice of name, which looks before and after (but unlike Shelley’s Ode To a Skylark, does not pine for what is not). As the column explains, Andrés Bello was a Venezuelan-born polymath, educator, writer and diplomat. For a short time, he was Simón Bolívar’s teacher. But he was unlike his student and the other 19th-century liberators, who “provided the ramshackle hardware of Latin American independence”, says The Economist. Instead, he helped “create the software of nation-building”.

Mr Bello, who is featured on the old 2,000 Venezuelan bolívar and the 20,000 Chilean peso notes, is quite a symbol. There’s the Venezuelan Order of Andrés Bello, a Catholic university named after him, as well as Chile’s Diplomatic Academy.

The new column sees him as a poster boy for causes that the region must need work on — the rule of law, education and openness.