Tag Archives: rights

Week 13 – Towards an Uncertain Future

Max Cameron is so positive this week! I feel like he was delivering his interview responses with a small smile and a twinkle in his eye. Though we definitely have to be cautious that we don’t paint the future with an overly optimistic brush (think Creelman), there are some encouraging developments since the 1980s. What I thought was most significant was that the indigenous seem to be gaining a measure of agency, or at least are able to speak more freely than ever before. Though violence and inequality is still there, the inequality gap is shrinking in Latin America, even as it widens in the United States. More and more states are attempting to help the poorest (often indigenous) and are addressing some of the humanitarian violations that have gone unchecked for centuries. Indigenous communities are able to voice their wishes for self-determination and basic rights. There is a long way to go before these wrongs are righted (if they ever truly can be), but the ability to speak without violent repercussions is a positive milestone.

One of the most encouraging aspects of this week’s material was the concept of “buen vivir,” a concept brought by the indigenous meaning that we should strive to live well in harmony with nature, as opposed to the Western model of progress, which emphasizes “getting ahead” and economic growth. This concept has even been written into the constitutions in Ecuador and Bolivia! After reading so many accounts of abuse, violence, and silencing of the indigenous, this development felt like finally taking a full breath. We’re getting somewhere.

Of course, we can’t let ourselves believe that the struggle is over. There is still massive corruption, violence, and power imbalance. But maybe we can allow ourselves to hope that things may be turning around in Latin America. With the example set by Hugo Chavez (that social programs can be effectively implemented) and in Brazil (redistributive policies can function in Latin America), the hope is that the Latin American narrative will change from one of corruption and hopelessness to one of strength and fairness. Gradually. These things take time (and are never fully realized).

My question this week is: If neither a drug economy nor an extraction-based economy are sustainable options, how can Latin America participate on even footing in the global market?

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Week 6 – Citizenships and Rights

Propaganda, especially when presented by “respected” figures such as scholars and scientists, can effectively work against any gains that would have been made by recently emancipated groups. Individuals like the Cuban criminologist Fernando Ortiz attempted to block or even reverse the acquisition of rights for Afro-Cubans by spreading fear. Ortiz’s publications depicted Afro-Cubans and dangerous and incapable of being absorbed into Cuban society as free people. Coming from his place of prestige as a scholar, writer, and public official, he was able to sew the seeds of fear and doubt widely enough in the collective Cuban mindset, that he did not need to make an attempt to restrict Afro-Cuban’s rights in any way–his propaganda created enough distrust in the Cuban population that the resistance to Afro-Cuban rights was widespread. As Dawson points out, when Afro-Cubans were in a position to discuss their rights, their appeals only acted to accentuate their difference, to “highlight their blackness, and foment further white hysteria over the black threat.” Ortiz’s propaganda had done its work.

Similarly, European scientists such as Francis Galton worked to further entrench racist sentiments by presenting “scientific” evidence that certain races were superior. Again, this claim is advanced by a trusted individual and the effects of this propaganda presented as science are impossible to overcome. Rights-seeking groups are reduced to, at best, inferior, and at worst, dangerous. Though marginalized groups have made some progress since emancipation and a global shift toward basic human rights, propaganda is ubiquitous, and the voices of the marginalized remain whispers next to the powerful propaganda of privileged white men.

After reading the works on women’s rights, I am left wondering if the same attempts had been made to scientifically reduce women to being intellectually inferior, or was the propaganda at the time mostly religious and aesthetic in tone?


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Week 4 – Independence

It’s not hard to imagine that after several generations following the mythical point of origin of Latin America, 1492, that residents of the Americas would begin to feel the itch for independence. I found it interesting to consider how the different social classes approached the idea of breaking free of European rule, and the concept that some stood to lose mainly power and wealth, whereas others stood to lose very basic rights. Those who were most oppressed had a healthy fear of independence because there were some (if limited) protections for them while the crown was in place. But what if the landed elites wrested the power from the Iberian Peninsula? How would the new, independent, state treat those in the lowest positions? The prospect would be frightening. But elites also feared independence because of the uncertainly of their continued power and governance once severed from Europe. Despite these fears, the desire for independence was nearly universal across the Americas.

I enjoyed reading about the various regions approach to independence, and how varied the experiences were. In Haiti, for example, slaves succeeded in overthrowing the colonial presence, and this led to the eventual emancipation in 1793. Compare that to Brazil, where the Portuguese Emperor actually settled after fleeing Napoleon. The emperor’s son then declared Brazil independent and slavery was further entrenched. Both states came to independence from Europe, but carry vastly different histories and struggles. The people who directly feel the consequences of these contrasting roads to independence would understandably form vastly different identities. We can see why a simple description of Latin America is elusive, and reductive.

The accounts of Bolivar, the Great Liberator, were fascinating. He had grand ideas of independence, and was eloquent and persuasive. Though his lifetime achievements certainly were not on the scale of his dreams, he grew to be a figure as important as Columbus in shaping the Americas. We also get the sense that his story is equally mythical. Could we discuss Bolivar more in class, especially the reception of his ideas following his death?

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