Week 13

As the term draws to a close, I’ve been focusing on how my perspective of Latin America has changed. I always knew conflicts in Latin America were complicated, with many twists and turns. And although I have learned a lot over the past few weeks I am still more confused than ever. I am confused, because there is really no single answer to allow Latin America to prosper. There is no recipe and no series of steps. What might have worked in other regions will not necessarly work for Latin America.

Although I wish things were simpler, this has made me realize how special Latin America is. My mom always says that Latin America attracts so many countries (who unfortunately, also try to control it) because they want what Latin America has, good weather, plenty of resources, culture and an undeniably large amount of history.  The past few weeks I have learned a lot about conflicts in Latin America. From colonization, to caudillos and the dirty wars and have definitely seen our fair share of violence and chaos, yet (oddly enough) this course has made me feel even more proud to be from Latin America. We are struggling right now but I definitely believe that after a certain point, for things to get better they have to get worse. That’s where we are at right now. Things are bad right now but I am confident that they will improve and Latin America will achieve the peace that it’s been after for so long. In a way, it is exciting to think we are living in an age where so many things are changing. We are living things that people will read about years from now. This course has definitely encouraged me to take more of an interest in what’s going on around me and learn about where I come from.

Week 12

It’s sad to think that Latin America today has not changed much from how it was before. At the beginning of the course, Latin America was portrayed as violent, and full of internal conflict. Although I know things in Latin America are still not peaceful and still need to change, I was hoping along the way our topics would become a little more cheerful. Unfortunately, it seems Latin America is still as violent and chaotic as ever.

Something that really grabbed my attention was the Madres movement in Argentina. These women’s children had been taken from them, bringing them pain that I can only imagine. Of course these women wanted to get their children back so they began to protest. In my mind, their protests are completely justified and I cannot imagine why people would look at them in a negative light. They were deemed as “dangerous” and even considered terrorists for standing up against the military. The military, who took away their children! I may be wrong but as far as I know the Madres campaign was not a particularly violent movement, yet it was still deemed as dangerous and needed to be shut down. It’s tough to protest in Latin America. When you take a violent course of action, the military quickly retaliates with even more violence (and obviously they have more access to weapons) but if you choose to protest in a peaceful manner, your protest is ignored or shut down regardless. The sad truth is that neither of these are very effective and so you see people being violent towards a new target; themselves. In the video, there was some graphic images of people hung from bridges in Mexico as well as dead bodies laying in public squares with signs around their neck. Unfortunately, these tragedies are becoming increasingly common around Latin America.

The one thing discussed this week that gave me a little bit of hope was the idea that the introduction of media was helping people connect. Media is uniting people all over Latin America and encouraging them to spread their message and take a stand. The first step towards dealing with a problem is educating people and acknowledging that the problem is there. Perhaps if everyone in Latin America learned the truth about what is happening around them, they would understand that Latin America is not simply going to change on its own. I guess my question is, will Latin America ever be able to achieve peace or is there such a thing as a “point of no return”?

Week 11

This reading was a little hard to follow because it talked about different countries as opposed to focusing on just one. However, this was also the topic that my group and I did our video project on so I will be focusing mainly on Peru and the rise of Sendero Luminoso.

When I started reading about this terrorist group I had (I’m sorry to say) almost no previous knowledge about it. This is the reason that when I first began to read about them I considered them to be brave and even respected them for being willing to risk their lives in order to give their country a little push towards prosperity. They began as a group of students of humble backgrounds who were simply fed up by what they considered to be an oppressive and unfair government that had cheated them out of their land and rights. However, when I began to learn more about Sendero Luminoso I quickly began to change my mind. While I understand their frustration and even feel that sometimes violence is necessary in order to quickly cause change, I definitely do not agree with the horrible crimes that they committed. Sendero has caused so much damage to the country and the people of Peru. They did not simply act out to who they saw as a threat or as a traitor, but they also murdered innocent people who had no part or say in government decisions. I think that at the very beginning of the creation of Sendero, they did not intend for this to happen. It seemed to me like they had some clear goals in mind and although they did act out in order to achieve them, their early protests were relatively peaceful. I understand why the people of Peru did not support and in fact were terrified of Sendero Luminoso, even though the majority of them also had resentful feeling towards the government.

Similarly, the increasing violence by Sendero Luminoso led the government and military to retaliate, creating an on-going violent cycle. Although the government justified their violent attacks as their way of keeping the guerrillas under control, they also killed many innocent civilians along the way. All this violence caused confusion and fear amongst the people of Peru since they did not know who to trust. It is hard to “choose a side” in situations like these. Both sides truly believe they are right but the crimes that they committed make it difficult to support them even if you believe in what their basic ideologies are. Perhaps if both parties had not resorted to violence, people would have been able to truly choose who to support as opposed to simply running to the lesser of two evils?

Week 10

This week opened my eyes to how big of an effect media can have on a community. The introduction of the radio connected people throughout all of Latin America in a way that had never happened before. People from the country and isolated communities were able to listen to the same things, and feel the same way, as people in large cities on opposites ends of the country. I can only imagine the excitement and curiosity of the people when the radio was first introduced. I found it very curious that the radio had the power to connect people in such a way that it was even able to spark a sense of national belonging in the hearts of people. A great example of this was the role of samba in Brazil. Samba was so popular in Brazil that even president Getúlio Vargas tried to link samba to his “Estado Novo” in an attempt to gain supporters and increase his likability in the country of Brazil. Perhaps his plan would’ve worked had he not failed to consider that the introduction of the radio also provided people with much more power. The power to make judgements based off the way he presented himself. He was now forced to think carefully not only about the message he was sending, but also the way in which he delivered this message. Another factor that he failed to remember was that people now had the power to choose whether they would listen to what he had to say, or turn the radio off. Perhaps if he had used this new technology more effectively, his story would have ended differently. In contrast, María Eva Duarte de Perón was a politician whose success was largely attributed to her use of the radio. “She found her voice in the era of amplified, broadcast, and recorded sound,” is the perfect line to describe Evita’s rise to power. She used her voice to deliver her message to regions where she would have never been able to before.. Her voice was her greatest weapon and it allowed her to move people all over the country. Perhaps it seems a little silly to us now, to think that politicians did not think to use new technology available to them as a resource to help them gain an advantage. However, it was this concept that often determined which politicians would have a successful future like Evita or fade into the past like Vargas. It makes me question, how would things have been different without the invention of the radio?




Week 9

This week is a tough one for me to write about because this topic seems to me quite controversial. Latin America has always been majorly influenced by the United States. The economic industrialization that occurred in the late 1800’s resulted in the United States needing to export goods to Latin America. In return, they would supply some natural resources of their own to the United States. You would think this is an okay deal however, the United Stated gained too much power and controlled much of Latin America. In fact, Latin America is now so dependent on imported goods that many of the local industries have gone bankrupt due to the extreme competition from larger, more successful foreign industries. These industries provide jobs for some of the locals however, we also have to consider that much of this produced wealth does not reach the hands of the people of Latin America. Yes, these industries pay taxes to the government, (at least they should, although it has been reported that a lot of them don’t or do not pay the full amount) and salaries to the worker but much of the wealth is actually kept by the industry and taken back to their home country. It seems to me like foreign industries are benefitting from Latin American resources and Latin Americans are not being given their fair share.

In Mexico, I have heard two very different opinions on this topic. People seem to find that a lot of the products manufactured locally are not as useful or high quality as the ones imported from the United States. Generally, these people support and even encourage the import of goods from The United States to Latin America. They don’t seem to mind where the products are made or where they come from as long as they are efficient and serve their purpose. I understand this point of view, and understand that this seems like a more comfortable choice. However, I think that it would be better for Latin America to take care of their own affairs and start managing the manufactured or their own goods. It may be true that Latin American products may not be as high quality as the ones produced by the United States at first, however I think in the long run this would be beneficial. This change will still provide jobs for Latin American people and perhaps even more that the previous system did. It will also cause the wealth to the be cycled through the country as opposed to having it be divided with another country. Maybe it is time for outside influences, including that of the United States, to be pushed out of Latin America. Perhaps if Latin America was left alone, it would have a chance to learn to manage its own affairs.


Week 8

This week we discussed the Mexican Revolution and the “Plan de Ayala.” The revolution is a concept I was already familiar with so it was easy to follow what the video was saying about a complex topic like the Mexican revolution. In school I was taught the Mexican revolution was one of few where entire families participated in the revolution. This meant women and children were also allowed to fight, even though traditionally, only the men fought. I found this fact quite interesting and since then have wished to learn more about this historical moment. One question that came up while watching this video was why Pancho Villa and the Serrano Revolutionaries were a group that was “on their way out”? I understand that Pancho Villa was a caudillo and in the coming years after the revolution the country would increasingly get rid of caudillos as institutions were created. Even Pancho Villa himself, was aware of it and was partly the reason why he decided to no longer take part in politics once the revolution settled and Obregon took power. However, I think saying that he was on his “way out” is not totally accurate. Pancho Villa was a very powerful figure throughout the revolution and throughout the years that followed. He was largely responsible for the progress made in Northern Mexico and his policies (although violent) were largely beneficial to the lower class community. Even after he retired he was still considered a threat by Alvaro Obregon because Villa still had enough power to potentially restart another revolution (which he feared because the nation was not content with Obregon in power). So although caudillos were not as powerful after the revolution, saying Pancho Villa was on his way out undermines the significance and power that he still held after the revolution.

I had heard about the “Plan De Ayala” before but unfortunately I do not know much about it. This topic is something I would like to discuss in class. My question is, why is the making of this document so significant? Is this document relevant because of the Zapatista movement or was the movement made more significant because of this document? Furthermore, I found it really interesting that the EZLN was the first guerrilla to use the internet. It’s a clever way of distributing your message to a broader audience, however, it makes me wonder, are people that are part of this group really as involved as members of other guerrillas are? Is it less effective to not have a leader physically present at all times as opposed to other guerrillas?

Week 7

This week’s lecture was one of the most interesting ones for me. During my childhood I was taught about Porfirio Diaz and his “iron fist” rule through school. However, when I think of Mexico at that time my mind immediately goes to the Mexican Revolution. Looking back on it now, it seems very logical that people would oppose his government. Diaz turned Mexico into a modern nation, however, he had some really cruel policies and led the country as a military man instead of a democrat. People were tired of not being able to voice their opinion and living in fear. He did not allow the population to take part in government and simply justified it by saying that Mexicans were simply not interested in exercising their rights and if they were given any sort of freedom, the country would turn into complete chaos. The country was then ruled by a small group of largely white elites. In a way, Mexico has not changed very much. The population is still very much considered “incapable” and thus, is ruled by small groups of people. Of course, this makes the nation more susceptible to corruption. The population is kept at bay through violence, while the country’s wealth is distributed to the hands of the few people in power, as opposed to distributed throughout the nation (as it should be). However, the majority of Mexicans nowadays are quite young, and much more involved in politics. People are changing and expressing their discomfort (huge understatement) towards the government more and more. They are desperate for change and more willing to fight for it than before, which is both a hopeful and frightening thought.

The video also focused on the different types of modernity seen throughout the world. Mexico was considered a modern country, particularly Mexico City. In the nineteenth century, it already had an army similar to the one you’d see today, telegraphs, a railway system, modern roads, etc. I think people at the time were quite proud of this aesthetic and economic modernity. However, it’s hard to believe that they were so distracted by the latest innovation that they failed to acknowledge the underlying problems of the country. If Mexicans themselves, were distracted by this facade, it’s no wonder people like Creelman believed that Mexico under Diaz’s rule was something extraordinary or a so called “miraculous transformation.”

Week 6

This week’s idea that race is simply a social construct and not a biological fact is something that had not crossed my mind before but now seems so obvious that I feel silly for not thinking about it before. Race is defined differently among different societies, which I find often leads to the question of identity. “Who are we and where did we come from?” these are two questions that it seems to me everyone asks themselves. We all want to have a concrete answer because it would make things so much easier. Whether this is due an instinctive human need to feeling like we belong or as mentioned before, the human “drive to categorize” I cannot say. Probably a little bit of both. Whatever the reason, it is true that social constructs (such as race) has real effects that impact our societies.

While watching the video, I was surprised to find out the number of slaves brought to Latin America. Three million slaves brought just to Brazil alone! There were six times more slaves of African descent in America than white, European inhabitants. We can only imagine how brutal the system had to be in order to keep that many people down. This is quite evident when you find out that most of them died within three years of arriving, keeping  in mind that they had to be relatively fit and healthy before they started their voyage. There really is no way to make up for what millions of people had to live through but I think it is really important that we acknowledge what happened and educate people. This helps maximize our chances to avoid another institution like this one from taking place. Furthermore, I found it quite disheartening to learn that the process of emancipation was largely attributed to the liberals. By ignoring the way slaves fought for their freedom we are choosing to ignore the millions of lives lost during this struggle for freedom.

The last part of the video talked about Pelliza de Sagasta and her view of the feminist movement. She described women as “celestial conceptions” who should be everything but emancipated. I do not know much about her however, it is quite evident that she speaks from a privileged position. Of course women who were higher class and lived a comfortable life did not want things to change. Perhaps she never experienced the struggle so she saw this movement as an inconvenience rather than a necessity for the majority of women. However, this idea is not surprising and can still be seen by throughout societies today.

Week 5

Week five’s reading was based around caudillos. At the beginning for the video we discussed that independence in Latin America brought neither order nor stability. It also said that “..independent nations of Latin America prolonged the colonial project left incomplete by their former Spanish masters.” I found this idea to be quite ironic. It is suggesting that Latin America was keeping up the Spanish ways that they had so desperately been trying to escape. I understand that Latin America was still a young nation that was still dealing with the aftermath of getting rid of their colonists. This feeling of uncertainty surely took a toll on them and lead them to resort to violence in an attempt of feeling like they had some sort of control over their own affairs. This feeling of uncertainty and threat of increasing influence from the outside world is still present in Latin America today. It is often shared by nations that are rich in both culture and resources because it makes them a more desirable piece of land to other nations. It’s funny how Latin Americans wanted liberty and control but they never adopted the idea liberalism. However, I understand why this “misplaced idea” was not fitting for Latin American society. In the case of Brazil, it would’ve exposed slaves (just one example) to even greater threats (as if they weren’t under threat already) due to the increase in sale of labour power. I can see why their idea of “favor” (as described by Schwartz) was more appealing and seemed much more beneficial. The idea of benefitting from others reminded me of modern day networking (it’s a bit of a stretch I know) but the principle is the same. You meet people for your own benefit who may help you out in the future. This requires a lot of trust between both parties. It requires loyalty as well. It also created rivalry which could potentially put people in more danger than whatever security was provided to them by caudillos. I can’t speak for every Latin American country but unfortunately for mine, corruption and violence are still very much present. In fact, while I was reading about caudillos I was thinking about my home country (like I do in almost every reading). In my country, during the last election one of the political parties (the winning one in fact) was often seen giving “rewards” to people who voted for them (the worst part is, they didn’t even try to hide it). Unfortunately, this caused some people to justify the corruption and crimes committed by some of these politicians (or at least, turn a blind eye). The “rewards” were often in the form of money, food, etc and they were mainly used to target people in need. These rewards were both concrete and immediate, which coincidentally was how the benefits given by the caudillos to the public were described in the video. In a way, the relationships between caudillos and the people at the time can still be seen in today’s society as well.

Week 4

This week we have learned about independence in Latin America. From the very first line,”the idea of Latin America destabilizes geography, history and identity” this video made me reflection what I know about Latin America. Growing up in Mexico, I learned about independence through school. I always thought independence was something that was inevitable. I figured that no nation would want to be a part of political representation if they could avoid it. Naturally, it was only a matter of time before people would take up arms and fight to get rid of the Spanish. It seemed to me that by overthrowing the invaders from their land, the natives had achieved freedom. However it was only until recently that I began to think about what being a free, independent nation really meant. My parents are very interested in politics in Mexico and the Mexican government is a constant topic of conversation at our house. Recently, they made a comment about how Mexico is not a free nation. In Mexico, we have been ruled by the same political party for many decades now that is known to have committed fraud for most of its rule. I won’t go into too much detail but generally, it is believed they have benefitted and exploited the working class for their own benefit. While watching this week’s video a quote from Simon Bolivar came up, “a people is enslaved, when the government infringes on and usurps the rights of the citizen or subject.” This really stood out for me because I could relate it to my own country. I strongly feel that the role of a government is to protect its people and that everyone should have a say in the country’s decisions. Simon Bolivar mentions the “world balance of power” that was needed at the time and the more I thought about it, the more convinced I was about the people’s need for independence and getting rid of Spanish rule. What really surprised me though, was that people who were not of Spanish descent such as the Indigenous people would ever oppose this movement. I understand that they were given many benefits however, they were often seen as less important than the Spanish.  If this was the case, why would they not want to support a movement that would potentially give them a higher social standing as well as a voice in terms of how their country is ruled?

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