Week 13 – Towards an Uncertain Future

In this week’s final chapter, Dawson focuses heavily on the economic priority that is continually held when considering the future development of a country or region. Stressing that the rate of economic growth and demand far outpaces the majority’s desire to ameliorate poverty and inequality, as well as to address environmental concerns. Its this tension that creates a hardship for many countries that aim to develop further in an increasingly globalized market. Yet with this discussions Dawson once again brings it back to the notion of power and the way that power is accumulated and distributed in Latin America.

For the majority of this course it has felt like this notion has been the driving force for many aspects such as creating political and social change, maintaining the status quo, protesting, violence, race, religion, and the war on drugs. Yet for once it feels as thought the modern Latin America may be close to the cusp of overcoming this power dynamic, and realizing the potential for social and economic growth that the region has. If only the drug war epidemic and the continuous failure of political regimes (such as in Brazil) wouldn’t let them down, I believe that there is a new theme approaching the future of Latin America.

This course has been a really eye-opening one for me to be a part of, and I’ve learnt so much about this region that I never thought I would. I’ve been pleasantly surprised on numerous occasions covering Latin America’s deep history, with different aspects of religion, art, violence, and social activity reminding me a lot of my studies in modern European history as well as the colonial empires. At the beginning of the class we opened with a discussion on what Latin America was exactly. Was it an idea, or a spirit, or a political ideology, a racial entity? So many different ideas were thrown around, but after several months I believe that I can now express my opinion with some confidence that Latin America is a spiritually orientated ideology, shared by the people who inhabit the regions in South and Central America. I believe that their specific history of their people and that region has ingrained within them a spiritual idea of what it means to belong to Latin America. Being a European myself, I can only equate this to what I feel as a strong connection to the region of Europe and the political and social ideology that comes with that.

My final observation would be that I do not think I have read or learnt about a group of people that have been through so much in the way of lies, manipulation, political monstrosity, external pressure, and violence, as the people of Latin America. And I would say that this says something that many across the world always consider the region to have the identity and capacity to become one of the leading global influences both politically and economically.

Thanks for reading,


Week 12 – Speaking Truth to Power

This week’s lecture is also the main subject my groups video project, so there have been several main aspects that we’ve looked at together that I found to be particularly interesting. The first one which I found to be really compelling was history of the Madres de la Plaza de Mayo in Argentina. The story in itself is an amazing one of the mothers of kidnapped children coming together to protest the violence that had swept through in the 1960s and 70s. However, perhaps even more interestingly, was the international attention that this captured. It pointed towards a future trend of the globalization of inter-regional protests that took place later in Latin America, including the likes of the ‘No’ campaign in Chile. The story of the Madres is an important one also because it brings up the question of whether change is only really accessible when there is a real worldwide focus towards that subject, bringing global attention to topics such as the drug wars in Mexico has certainly enhanced the number of efforts to combat it.

Personally, I found that the most shocking aspect of the corruption and violence that erupted from the 1960s in large parts of Latin America to be the involvement of state governments and political individuals. As Dawson highlights in this chapter, there were many examples of the government being involved in killing and kidnapping their own citizens.  Moreover, it certainly makes sense as to how all of this was able to be kept under wraps to an extent, and it was not until major events like the Madres protests would come up that the government was forced to face these questions. Its one thing to fight against corruption and violence in the form of separate groups, but when the country’s own government is the one behind these acts, its an entirely different prospect altogether.

I think the subject of the war on drugs is one that can be related to the aforementioned role of the government in corruption and violence. This is because there has been a huge disillusionment with the way that the war on drugs is being combated, particularly on the part of the USA and their huge intervention in Mexico. Whilst one could commend the nation for giving seemingly generous amounts of money to combat the war, and helping the government to stop the huge rise in killings and kidnappings, it is also very easy to question their methods and intentions. Is it to end the production of dangerous drugs? Why would the USA want to end an affair that has been so profitable for them? They have and continue to make tons of profit from lending Latin American countries money in exchange for them using this to buy US made weaponry! Moreover, the role of the Mexican government has been called into question on numerous occasions in the last 20 years. How deep does this corruption go? And is it even plausible that the war on drugs can reach a suitable conclusion? These are just some of the questions that arise in my mind when thinking about this subject.

Thanks for reading,


Week 11 – The Terror

This week’s lecture topic focuses mainly on the violence that erupted within Latin America during the 1960s, through to the 80s. One of the things I found most interesting after reading about this period, is the level of blurriness that was clearly evident in politics and society at that time. Whilst it is easier to point towards the level of violence coming from one direction or the other, in this case, there seemed to be violence and chaos protruding from all different directions. I think an aspect of this that Dawson touches on that I find really compelling, is the influence that the Cold War had on the region and how this global context was the backdrop for the violence and chaos that ensued in Latin America. As Dawson himself points out in the chapter, Latin America was the region most used as a proxy for the Cold War. Following the Cuban revolution, the United States was irrationally fearful of further communist revolutions in the region, and so they subsequently tried to repress further revolutions in places like Uruguay, Guatemala, and El Salvador, amongst others. This is also something that has come across consistently in my research for my group’s video project, with many people seemingly blaming America’s anti-communist intervention for creating an environment that led to the drug epidemic across Latin America.

Reading when Dawson states that “Latin Americans typically believed their governments were exceptionally corrupt”, brought my thoughts to the current socio-political climate in Latin America. Would it be fair enough to say that many Latin Americans would still stand by that same belief today? I think it’s an interesting question to ask, particularly seeing as this course has seen many moments of evidence when history seems to repeat itself. Specifically, the violence and chaos of this time is being replicated in the form of the war on drugs and gang violence.

Thanks for reading,


Short Research And Writing Assignment Part 2

Source 2

Lauren Villagran (2013). The Victims’ Movement in Mexico. Building Resilient Communities in Mexico: Civic Responses to Crime and Violence, San Diego.

This source is an excerpt from a book by Lauren Villagran that focuses on how important the public activist groups will be in finding the solution to the drug war in Latin America. The main argument that is presented is that the drug war has created a problem whereby the states in Latin America have proven unable to guarantee a right to human security, leaving individuals and groups to their own devices. As a result of this, it has meant that it has become more important for activist groups to rise up and attract global attention on these regional issues. This source is particularly valuable because it is directly related to the discussion of activist groups in Latin America. The author suggests that activist groups in the most affected regions in Latin America have begun to concentrate on reforming their respective justice systems and laws, in order to reach their ultimate goal of real justice.

The most essential reason for why this source is valuable for our group’s research is that it gives a thorough historical background for the activist movements, beginning with the 1997 founding of the MUCD in Mexico. Although the focus is primarily on the region of Mexico, this is nonetheless an important aspect of the source. Not least of all because Mexico is a key aspect in the topic of the Latin American drug war. The source details how the MUCD drew in international attention after a 2004 march dubbed “Let’s rescue Mexico” that drew hundreds of thousands of citizens dressed in white onto the streets and central plaza of Mexico City. Moreover stating how important this international media coverage was in implementing stricter laws against drug trafficking and violence in Mexico. In more recent years, the source details how the use of social media (particularly Facebook and Twitter) have been prime tools in new victims’ movements that aim to bring people together. Villagran suggests that this shows a growing consciousness and engagement among crime victims in Latin America, which is promising. And those activists appear to be moving beyond fear or fatalism to create mechanisms to pressure the state for justice.

I believe that the observations made in this source about how activist groups have become a force of civil society with which the government (particularly in Mexico) must reckon, are important in strengthening our own research and arguments about activist groups in Latin America. Furthermore, the specific examples of activist movements in the region of Mexico, as well as the detailed historical context provided for victims’ movements in Latin America, contribute substantial background knowledge.

Short Research And Writing Assignment

Source 1

Russell Crandall & Savannah Haeger (2016) Latin America’s Invisible War, Survival, 58:5, 159-166, DOI: 10.1080/00396338.2016.1231537.

For our group project, we decided to concentrate on the way that Latin American activist groups are portrayed in the media, and how this contributes to the overall outlook on activism in Latin America today. Together we chose to focus our scope of research on three specific examples of activism related to this topic. The particular topic that I am concentrating on is the activist opposition to the drugs and violence that escalated within Latin America into the early 21st century.

The first source that I found on this topic is a scholarly article written by Russell Crandall and Savannah Haeger titled, “Latin America’s Invisible War”. This source is very useful for the research of this topic because it focuses on the context of the evolution of Latin American criminal gangs and drug-related violence. The main argument made by the source is that Latin American crime has become more organised than ever before, having been able to take advantage, either through extortion or corruption, of weak states and their inability to control violence and criminal activity. I think this source is incredibly important to this topic because it gives a lot of background knowledge on how the drug wars were allowed to come about in Latin America, as well as how the drug war has been combated and opposed by activist groups and the United States. Furthermore, I also believe that this source is valuable because it will allow for a stronger argument to be made when discussing the evolution of activism in Latin America, from the Madres all the way to the drug war portrayed in the media today.

Interestingly, this source also discusses how activist efforts in relation to the drug war only began to gain real traction after the fall of Pablo Escobar. In other words, it describes how much of a relatively new group it is in comparison to the activist groups that stood up to political leaders or female inclusion from the 1970s. I think this is a good perspective for our overall argument, precisely because it provides a logical pathway to the media portrayal of activist groups in Latin America has possibly changed over time as well. Lastly, I think this source offers much in the way of its interesting statements made about the drug war in Latin America. One of the arguments put forward is that the attempts to democratize the region of Latin America only helped to further the unstable atmosphere that created the intense drug war that we know today. This is an interesting perspective because it collides with the often-held association between democracy and activism and freedom of speech, instead suggesting that the attempts to infuse this into Latin America resulted in helping the drug war come about.

Week 10 – Power to the People

One thing that I thought most interesting about this week’s lecture was the emphasis on the new technologies that had come about, and how politics during this time was heavily influenced by it. The wave of populists that emerged in Latin American politics were able to reach so many people through the use of technology in mass media. This meant that with the utilization of radio, political figures such as Juan and Eva Perón were able to mass market their voices and create an aspect of direct dialogue that made the people feel as though they were being spoken to on an individual basis. In a sense, it meant that politicians who dominated this era were the ones who proved most effective at taking advantage of the opportunities these new technologies afforded. Moreover, I think that it’s interesting to reconsider the relationship that politics has with the media nowadays, with it being a delicate balance between utilizing and manipulating the media for political benefit, to the media often being the downfall of a political figure or party.

As discussed earlier in the week, the populist leaders of this time would utilize idealist views to gain popularity and support from the masses. By promising them the world, they would be able to gain a strong following and create a discourse that involved a ‘us versus them’ notion. This method was used by the Mexican president Cárdenas and Argentinian President Perón, to establish a relationship of trust between the government and the people. I think a question that can be asked in relation to this aspect is to what extent are all political figures populists? I would argue that the very nature of politics itself is inherently populist, with leaders such as Julius Caesar being populist in their nature.

Finally, another interesting aspect of this week’s lecture was the role of Eva Perón (affectionately known as Evita). Prior to her name, it was very rare to come across such a powerful female figure in Latin America, particularly in politics. After reading the excerpt of Evita’s speech, I was struck by the pure affection and emotional attachment she seemed to have when speaking to the masses. I think that excerpt acts as a signifier of what it would have taken to be such a popularly supported figure in a quite volatile political environment in Latin America.

Thanks for reading,


Week 9 – Commerce, Coercion, and America’s Empire

Whilst we had previously looked at America’s involvement and intervention in Latin America in a more political sense, this week’s lecture focused more on the cultural and economic aspects of their presence. I couldn’t help but try to find the similarities with European colonization that had taken place in continental Africa, yet immediately, from the beginning of Dawson’s chapter, we are told that this was different because America saw themselves as anti-imperialist. I found this to be really interesting because it seems as though America truly thought they were solely acting in a beneficiary manner in terms of bringing economic opportunity through trade, as well as exposing many of these countries to American culture. Nonetheless, I find that the possible reasons that formed the basis of America’s involvement in Latin America enough to question whether this is actually true. I think that the lines are blurred at this point because, on the one hand, one could say this was simply a way of globalizing its economy and stretching its economic influence, whilst on the other, it’s easy to say that this was clear evidence of America wanting to become a dominant superpower.

Another interesting point that stood out to me was the huge impact that the building of the Panama Canal had on this subject of American intervention. I had not previously known of the intricacies that came with the building of the Canal, including that the value of American investment in the region, jumped from around $308 million in 1897 to $2 billion by 1929. Although this didn’t result in any further direct US government involvement in the region (apart from the Canal being under its jurisdiction for several years), it cannot be understated how important this would’ve been for the American economy. In particular, it would have been a big marker in achieving what I described previously as a way of globalizing its economy and stretching its economic influence, yet even more straightforward, it would have allowed the US to expand its trade routes whilst also simplifying them.

Lastly, after reading the piece by Ariel Dorfman and Armand Mattelart, I found it valuable to gain an insight into one of the Latin American perspectives of American involvement in the region. In my opinion, one of the main things I gathered was that there was a huge aspect of deceit and disguise in relation to how American involvement was perceived. And I think that the question of what extent was this aspect of deceit and disguise purely based on Latin American perception, addresses interesting points.

Thanks for reading,


Week 8 – Signs of Crisis in a Gilded Age

I found this week very interesting, particularly looking at the different aspects and parts that make up a revolutionary movement. I thought Dawson’s analysis of the revolutions, that the socio-economic, and political movements in Latin America did not actually distribute the gains equally across the different populations. After reading into this conclusion it is easier to understand how Latin America has struggled to develop due to the lack of development from the numerous revolutionary movements that took place. It is fascinating to see another example of Latin America’s current socio-political climate being a direct product of historical incidents.

Another aspect of Dawson’s analysis on revolutions that interested me was his idea that in order to change the present day conditions, the groundwork of the past needs to be altered. I think this idea of Dawson’s relates to a lot of what we have been looking at in regards to Latin America, in the context that the notion of ‘Latin America’ is an ideological construct rather than anything geographical or concrete. Moreover, going off of this, during this time when revolutionary parties were emerging, it was a crucial factor that the essential middle class did not side with many of these revolutionists. The lack of support and mobilization of such a large group meant that the long-term would always look bleak for any revolutionary hopefuls.

My main question after this week’s readings would be based on what exactly the definitions of a successful revolution are? And who institutionalizes revolutions as a success or failure?

Thanks for reading,


Week 7 – The export Boom as Modernity

This week brought about an interesting aspect of modernity that I had never really thought about previously. I think most people would immediately think of modernity and the modernization of society as a primarily positive aspect of humanity, in the sense that we have moved forward and continued to push the boundaries of what is possible. However this week, we learnt about modernity in a more balanced analytical way, looking further at both the positive and negative aspects it had on Latin America, particularly Mexico in the reading by James Creelman.

I found it interesting to learn about the economic divide between the wealthy and the poor during this time in Latin America, taking a step away from the political analysis and colonial aspects we have been looking at so far. One thing I found to be really cool was the fact that it was the people who made up the upper middle/middle classes that were trying to forcibly bring about change and modernization. One would usually think that the poorer people would be pushing for economic and political change, but it was the upper classes and their exposure to Europe and the United States that made them want to modernize. On review, it makes a lot of sense that these elites would travel to Europe and gain inspiration from their aesthetic aspects of modernity, and attempt to bring this home with them and implement it in Latin America.

After reading Creelman’s essay on Mexico’s ex-president Porfirio Díaz, I was immediately struck by the explicitly positive and romanticized way in which he spoke of Díaz’s achievements and efforts for Mexico. As he states himself, “there is not a more romantic or heroic figure in all the world”. Nonetheless, the question he addresses and one that I further ask after this week’s learning is, can it prove to be a more successful and effective democracy if there is a stronger middle class to represent both sides economically?

Thanks for reading,


Week 6 – Citizenship and Rights in the New Republics

The week’s readings and lecture video focused particularly on what it means to be a citizen and what exactly that entailed during this period in Latin America. I think it is interesting that our content and learning has led us to an area that is particularly European in its liberalist ideologies, that is the Enlightenment period. Thinkers such as Rousseau and his idea of the social contract are especially relevant to this week’s topics on the rights and social structure of Latin America at this time. Learning about the elitist liberals who gathered together to construct the constitutions of many of the countries in the region at this time, I was struck by the explicit contradictions of many of the Enlightenment-inspired ideas. The mestizos and Native peoples of many of these countries were simply ignored in terms of human rights and the idea of entitlement, the introduction of notions of natural and civil rights seemed to include an inherent racist aspect. As Dawson discusses in this week’s chapter, this aspect of racism was fuelled and supported by scientific reasoning, defining the biological differences between the races.

I also found it interesting to learn about the detailed socio-civil makeup in Brazil, with their being a range of categorization between black and white. This meant that there was a much bigger eclectic mix up in their society in comparison to countries such as Argentina at the time. It seems, at least to me, that there was a huge disparity with how each country went about setting up their social and political landscapes, particularly in terms of how different types of people were seen and categorized in each country. This meant that places like Brazil would see some people that would otherwise be categorized as black, owning slaves and obtaining private land. Being from England, I have only really learnt about the history of slavery in the US, Britain, and Africa. Thus, I’ve found the opportunity to learn about the history of slavery in places like Brazil to be really eye-opening. The biggest difference in my eyes has been that the really aggressive traditions of slavery were being seen at this time when Latin America was supposed to be restructuring and becoming a liberalist-based society akin to Europe. Whilst in Europe, the biggest era of pro-emancipation and abolitionist movements were taking place (even though it would take years and years for these to be formally put into place in the colonies). Interestingly enough, as stated by Dawson, there was a huge influx of European immigration to countries like Cuba and Brazil, in a government promoted effort to dilute the large Native populations.

Thank you for reading,