Platts: A Latin look
On Sunday, March 5, the show Last Week Tonight aired with its host John Oliver going to Russia to interview Edward Snowden. I watched the episode the next morning in the Houston airport after a 10-hour red-eye flight back from a vacation in Argentina.
John Oliver traveled to Russia to talk with Snowden for a segment on government surveillance, which he believes we need to start having serious discussions on, specifically because the Patriot Act is up for renewal on June 1.
We aren’t currently doing that, he says. We are appearing disinterested, and possibly even ignorant, about our right to privacy and thousands of leaked government documents that show that we are beginning to lose that right. To prove our disinterest, his team went to Times Square and asked a random selection of people who Edward Snowden is and what he did two years ago. No one they spoke with could give an even slightly clear answer. Most thought the name sounded familiar but didn’t know what he did. The slightly more informed interviewees were pretty certain he was in charge of WikiLeaks or did something to endanger our military by releasing information. But no one knew enough about the subject to be able to discuss the impact it has on our civil rights.
The interviews were funny, but also horrifically shocking. They frustrated me. And I wasn’t sure why, at first. It’s not hard to see that a lot of people in our country are misinformed about what our rights are and how the government relates to them. But the interviews appeared in such stark contrast to the country I had just left where people, young and old, were not only informed about what their government was doing but were straight up outraged about it.
Argentina has had a checkered political past, from dictatorships to military-run governments that forced the country into a period of state terrorism. For the country’s citizens, political outrage is nothing new. But now, more than ever before, Argentines are demanding transparency. They are demanding information.
I’ve been to several countries in Latin America, but my week in the capital of Argentina introduced me to a new side of Latin culture, one with just as much passion, but also a desperate thirst for knowledge. The literacy rate in Argentina is around 98 percent, according to the Central Intelligence Agency. Bookstores and newsstands exist on almost every corner, and most people have some sort of reading material in hand during the day.
Literacy was not the only way people engaged. Walking through the Museo de Arte Latinoamericano de Buenos Aires, I saw young people animated as they looked at different exhibits and interacted with them. In the cab, drivers would sing along to their favorite songs on the radio and tell us about different Argentine bands they loved. And late at night, in the bars and restaurants, young people would talk about their country from the rich wines and quality meats to economic troubles and distrust of the government.
I was constantly inspired. Each person I met had a passion and a drive that made them happy. Despite the strong political dissidence, or perhaps because of it, love for life and all it entailed was more evident than ever. Every cell of their being seemed to light up about any topic, a feeling that made me want to put more passion and dedication into my own life.
The people interviewed in Times Square for “Last Week Tonight” did not have the same vigor. They seemed content with less information instead of more. After a week in Buenos Aires, that was a hard thing to watch.
The Patriot Act has been renewed several times already since its creation in 2001, most recently in 2011. It has done a lot of good in ensuring our safety and has also led to some unfortunate realities about how our own information can be monitored. No matter how you feel about it, we need to start discussing it. Sitting on the sidelines won’t get anything done. John Oliver, Edward Snowden and the people I met in Argentina helped remind me of that.
Barbara Platts loved everything about Argentina. She can’t wait to go back. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @BarbaraPlatts.
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