When reading about the perils of Latin America, I sometimes sit back and think to myself, “how do we end this?” There are so many layers of trauma, corruption, and power imbalance that it seems an impossible struggle to fix. The interventions from more powerful countries (the United States, predominantly) seems to be only in the interest of those more powerful countries, although sometimes that backfires, as in the case of the US militarizing anti-drug efforts. Often, because of a weak state, poverty, intimidation, or the promise of wealth, anti-drug actors end up joining the drug trade, and so both sides are now heavily militarized to devastating ends. And because of a weak economy, drug money brings power and stability. So cartels and kingpins are the most powerful and have the most devastating weapons. Those who lose the most in this situation are the poor, without a strong state to protect them, and always fighting against the lure of drug money to feed their families. Cartels will resist any efforts to strengthen the state, and anyone who attempts to contain their corruption often walks straight into death. With these stats, the future seems bleak.
So how do you fight something so powerful? The cartels rule by intimidation, and even the media almost uniformly refuses to publish anything about the drug war. Perhaps personal testimonies broadcast through social media would bring attention, similar to the Madres de la Plaza do Mayo, in Argentina in the 1970s. In 1976, the junta ended all political opposition and began abducting youth. The mothers of these youths gathered peacefully in the Plaza, eventually drawing enough media attention that the events that would lead to a return to civilian rule were set in place. Without the wide circulation of these testimonials, the Argentinian juntas would not have been pressured to release control. But this is risky. Especially when dealing with heavily armed cartels. Even a peaceful act of protest could end in death.
From here in Canada, we can help in the unraveling of this corruption by being mindful of where we put our money, what are we funding? And we can have discussions, in person and online, drawing attention to these injustices so that hopefully awareness will spread, putting pressure on those responsible.
I was unfamiliar with the term “dirty war” before this week’s readings. But it does make sense that if there are vague terms, a lack of cohesion, and if the enemy is within your own nation, that the only way to describe this type of war is with a word like “dirty.” Sure, there were reasons for war thrown around, the threat of communism, that democracy was just another way for elites to control the masses, but ultimately there were no clear, defined, reasons for the brutal killings of this time. Personal agendas played into these wars, and whole groups were targeted because they were thought to be against whatever agenda was in play at the moment. In fact, in many cases, if you weren’t actively supporting the regime, or the players with power, you were seen as a threat to be removed. Economic crises in Latin America further strengthened these tensions, as well as a sort of spillover of the Cold War: the United States and the Soviet Union offered military support to parts of Latin America attempting to establish dominance in the area.
What I thought was most interesting about this week’s readings is the role that students and youth played in the unrest. Young people had been without a voice up until the mid twentieth century, and now that they were discovering their power, they used it aggressively. Che Guevara was a prominent rallying figure for youth during this time. Protesting the authoritarianism that was ubiquitous both in the political sphere and in the home, Latin American youths often used violence and fear to get their message across. While this unified them as a powerful group, it often alienated them from those who were older and more conservative. Not only that but even those who desired change were afraid of these young idealists and the terror they left in their wake. In response, governments tightened their own security measures in an attempt to subdue these left-wing idealists. The outcome was horrible violence, distrust, and fear.
Oh yeah, and then there’s the cocaine thing. Dawson mentioned that some people consider the violence of Latin America to be uninterrupted since colonization. It’s hard sometimes to disagree.
My name is Elan and I am coming back to university to finish my degree after several years off. I work in law, and I also write science fiction and play music. I took this course because Latin America is a fascinating place of which I know very little. I hope to change that over the next few months.
Here are my thoughts on some of the student videos from past classes.
I didn’t know what Caudillos were before watching this video. They are dictators that came into power in the 1800s in Latin America. But the term is more nuanced than that. Caudillos were also leaders who initially represented a change from the current government, but who eventually became corrupt with power. The people who had initially supported these leaders inevitably suffered under their command. I appreciated the comparison to Donald Trump at the end of the video. Trump certainly came to power because he represented change for the people who elected him, and perhaps we are now seeing the inevitable fall. But this isn’t political science, so I will leave it at that.
Casta Paintings: An Introduction
These paintings were created in the 1700s as a way of organizing and defining the boundaries between the different races in Latin America at the time. Casta is translated to Caste, and the artists of Casta Paintings, who were Spanish elites, were attempting to enforce a racial hierarchy within this diverse region. Represented at the top of the hierarchy were lighter-skinned Spanish peoples who were “pure of blood,” especially those born in Spain. Indigenous people were at the bottom, and women were always depicted as subservient to men. I appreciated the comparison to modern media, and the observation that perhaps very little has changed. There was a Filmora watermark on the video the whole time, which was pretty distracting.
The War on Drugs
The video begins in the 1980s when the movement of drugs from Latin America to the United States really takes off, and clearly illustrates those who gain (those in control of the flow of drugs) and those who lose (basically everyone else). There are several examples of cities and individuals directly affected by drugs, complete with compelling pictures and first-hand accounts. The video ends with an ominous question about whether drugs will continue to exert this tremendous power over Latin America, or whether the region will recover from the war on drugs. A clean and professional video.
Lastly, I LOVED the music in all the videos. I’m gonna go dance now.