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,
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?
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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?
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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,
I was immediately struck by the assigned reading for this week, The Slaughterhouse, written by Esteban Echeverria. A dark, chaotic and exaggerated story of 19th century Argentina, the work reminded me a lot of George Orwell’s 1984. The themes are certainly similar, and they both aim to represent a system of government or hierarchy in power. Personally, I think there is a lot to be learned from literary works like Echeverria’s, particularly about history in the context of that time period. In some ways, works like Echeverria’s offer an opportunity that is granted with a primary source. That includes the contextualization of what we are studying about Argentina at that particular time following colonization and the sense of what the people in the country would have felt like in the late 19th century. In this way, I think literary works are important to learning history because they tell us more about what people at that time felt and experienced.
In terms of the advantages and attractions of liberalism at this time, I think that these would have included the opportunity of individual rights, as opposed to being in the pocket or indebted to a caudillo. Moreover, whilst the caudillo would be propped up as the main leader it could be said that a more liberalist approach would have allowed for a much more spread out structuring of power, allowing people who might not have had the opportunity to have an opinion previously, to have more of a say. I think that the promise of liberalism at this time would have been understood as the more long-term option. Whilst it would not necessarily provide security and certainty in the immediate future, in the long term it would perhaps lead to an upheaval of the socio-political atmosphere in the region. However it is totally understandable that this was not popularly embraced at the time, and instead, the power of the caudillos remained for some time more. Offering an immediate sense of security and an upturn in popular fortunes, they could be seen as the man in shining armour, rather than hoping in an idealistic form of political theory that may or may not have made a difference down the road. So in a sense, it is as equally possible for us to imagine what the attractions of the caudillaje would have been.
For a final thought, I thought it was interesting reading about the caudillos and how they came to fill the power vacuum left by the end of colonial rule in Latin America. I couldn’t help but agree with the observation made by Dawson, that the way the caudillos ended up commanding respect and devotion from the locals of regions and states was not too dissimilar from the way the Spanish crown had ruled over the power. Their ability to protect their respective peoples and vanquish enemies was also reminiscent of the previous colonial power.
Thank you for reading,