October 2015

Week 8: Signs of Crisis in a Gilded Age

When we focus exclusively as a way to understanding modernity in an economic way, then we can leave out even after the golden age of the export oligarchy ended there were people who did not beneficiated from such period. The cycles of inequalities have always been very close to the daily lives of Latin Americans and power relations and power struggles are the current result of disparities in the region. One of the big factors which can be seen as the consequence of the struggle of a few who have too much against a vast majority of at the bottom of the social scale who do not possess much, is the Mexican Revolution. After watching the video, I found very illuminating that there has been a constant nationalist rhetoric to claim ownership on history and how history has been created. I say that perhaps that Alexander Dawson was trying to say was that the way history is presented in to us in a dichotomy manner with winners on one side and loser on the other. However, I ask: can the lines of the revolution be so complicated that these lines are not so clear and therefore, can enemies get together or form a coalition to gain even greater power?

Politics and power are also at play in every central government and I think that presidents and government figures, if stay in power for too long, they will tend to lose focus of their political agenda and become self-involved. This is the case of the Party of the Institutionalized Revolution (PRI) of Mexico which stood in power since 1929 until the year 2000. Is this what we call a healthy democratic process or is it more of an alienation with a majority of assembled power which it is hard to get rid of. Furthermore, I also find important to ask who are the winners or losers of a process like the Mexican revolution. For instance, we have learned that in Mexico, there was the oligarchy of few at the top who wanted to remain in power no matter what, but what about the indigenous people of the south of Mexico who after the creation of the Republic lost their land without any legal compensation. This is very unjust and is these kinds of abusive expression of power which lead to wars and conflict for years to come. Hence, indigenous movements like the EZLN use such rhetoric based on their iconic leader Emiliano Zapata to fight back against a government that does not fight fair. Another fun fact for me knew that this group, the EZLN and the Neo- Zapatistas were the first guerilla group ever to use the internet and other forms of telecommunication platforms to launch their rebellion internationally. What I also find interesting here is the scope and importance that NGO’s currently play in the international political arena and that they can be very powerful allies of small anti-government groups like the EZLN. Are NGO’s new forms of governmental bodies? Do we really need intervention from such bodies? I would say that in most cases ONG’s are very effective ways to do good in the world, such in the case like Doctors without Borders, but I also question the extend in which some governments and anti-government groups may find financial and political support.

Regarding our assigned reading for the week, I have to say that I enjoyed “To Roosevelt”, by Ruben Dario because I love its poetic emphasis of the encroaching of superpowers like the United States has over Latin America. It also reminds us that empires come and go, but their effects can last for years to come. On the other hand, I also find very relevant to read “El Plan de Ayala”, by Emiliano Zapata and for me, such document shows that Zapata was not a simple minded ranchero but someone who was very intelligent and a person with national identity.

Week Seven: “The Export Boom as Modernity”

This week’s reading was very centered on the theme of modernity and it got me thinking. I mean, if you have taken economy classes, you probably have learned that the fastest way for an underdeveloped country to embrace progress is through forest investment and international borrowing. Many countries in Latin America followed this policy after the colonial era was over. Many governments in power did not want to remain behind of what they saw as a very tight door leading towards prosperity, modernity, and enlightenment. It must have been very difficult for Porfirio Diaz to resist the temptation of inviting American investors and military machinery personnel to help him show a more prosperous and less backwards Mexico. After all, at the time what counted as modernity was the appearance of the electricity running through public streets, new modes of transportation (railways), and new fashion stores selling European clothes symbolizing a continued fixation for the foreign, while undermining the locality. However, these 18th and 19th century ideas of a modernity in Latin America, were centrally planned and implemented by a few people who had the intellectual, political, and economical capabilities to implement, sometimes by force, theories of order and progress designed to rule over marginalized classed whom were already used to be told what to do. This is not to say that, when oppressed people did not revolved in Latin America; on the contrary, many rebellions and revolts were initiated in order to fight such repressive forms of governments.

That many governments in Latin America and their elites (oligarchies) thought that the only way to achieve modernity was to clean their indigenousness and their blackness out of their veins, was another scientific approach to what a few saw as the problem and leading the region towards barbarism. How can you get rid of who you are as a nation? Destroy many indigenous monuments, build upon previous indigenous cities and think that somehow the answer could still come from Europe through immigration, economic policies, imports, exports, fashion, and technology? What it is more troublesome, oligarchies never thought to incorporate traditional ways of life that many indigenous and other minority groups had successfully had in the local communities in Latin America. I’m sure that when they actually did, like in the case of Mexico during Porfirio Diaz, they only saw to parade them as relics of the past and never as functioning vibrant sectors within Mexican society. Now, I see the connections that such oligarchic measures inflicted upon modern Latin America and one that still can be seen as current economic dependency in foreign policies. Hence, the incorporation of the region into international forces such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF), The World Trade Organization (WTO), and NAFTA, has catapulted new post-colonial, imperialistic, and neoliberal modes of domination over many Latin American counties and other marginal societies.

To conclude, I would like to say that James Creelman’s “Porfirio Diaz, Hero of the Americas”, was a bit too much. How can a professional writer like I imagine he was, could be so adulating, and exaggerated, almost blind towards a man who he did not know very well at all. Once you have finished reading the excerpt, it is hard not to question him uncanny extreme admiration for Diaz, which makes you wonder of his real political intentions.

Week Six: “Citizenship and Rights in the New Republics”

Week Six: “Citizenship and Rights in the New Republics”

The concept of citizenship, at least from the modern democratic point of view, is a recent one. Its meaning changes through time and what it represents may also depends of who is at the top of the hierarchical scale implementing laws and regulations. In the case of Latin America, we have learned that as early as the 18th century with the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen, attempts were made for “men”, to place themselves as citizens within their own country. However, this step forward also represented a void with regards, once again, to native populations, mestizos, people of African descendants (slaves and free-man), and women.

The enlightenment period brought with it new ideas regarding rights for the citizen, these notions also opened hopeful expectations for a more equal society within the region which in the end were never fulfilled. For example, when the first battle for emancipation was won in the Caribbean, the rest of Latin America was paying close attention and elites in each country used racial political discourses of liberation and freedom, to win over the black population. However, once such battles of liberation against European imperialistic powers were won, many of these liberal criollo elites forgot about their promises and used segregation and alienation as a way to limit power mobility of non-European people. For example, I find very interesting that as early as 1902, Cuba’s constitution allowed adult males the right of vote, regardless of race, still when soldiers of African origin insisted for a better appreciation for their right to vote and requested a meaningful way (by accessing to lands, farming, or other means), white Cuban elites responded by denying their efforts and showcasing their blackness as symbolic of barbarism.

Now, regarding the documents about limiting citizenship, I have some mixed-feelings. First, Raimundo’s essay on “The fetishist Animism of the Bahia’s Blacks”, gives me the impression that the elevated used of language tries to hide a deep racial misconception that he holds against black people. Raimundo uses his ‘scientific’ research findings as a way to justify his views but such observations lack validity. For example, his comparison of Bahia’s worship and fetishism as those of Africa, by far are his weakest proof and undermines people of African ancestry their religions and cultural practises. He sees these practices as bad but does not fully understand them and deems them as backwards automatically positioning him as superior. Second, the “Political Program of the Partido Independiente de Color”, has some interesting points towards the recognition of military blacks in Cuba and their war efforts. It goes on to demand queal rights for all military blacks out of society (land, education, vote, etc.). This is very advance for its time and goes on to show that many military men where highly educated and that they wanted what was best for the community as a whole. Third, Maria Echenique’s “Brushstrokes”, is a great feminist attempt to create a dialogue between women of her time and tries to go beyond poetic term. It takes a stand towards a more practical, political, and philosophical role of the woman, not only their personal lives, but in the civil lives. Conversely, Josefina Pelliza de Sagasta’s “The Emancipation of Women”, is not very helpful with regards with to the feminism. Her argument is probably one of the most stupid arguments I’ve ever heart with regards to women’s role in society. She places them as physically weak, wives, muses of men, tender, etc. To some up, Pelliza’s essay is not a very good example of the feminist movement but it shows us the types of thinking women of the time were expressing regarding their own positionality in history.

Week Five: “Caudillos versus the Nation State”

It is clear that right after independence was gained by different countries in Latin America, the ‘caudillo’ figure was born out of necessity. Consequently, this was the care because some political similarities were necessary to maintaining pre-existing colonial ways of managing power relations. I find it interesting to know the story of Santa Anna, Mexico’s first and perhaps most famous caudillo and how he was regard as a hero in good times and as a villain when things went wrong. As I see it, caudillos were important political and military figures that used force to achieve their political goals throughout Latin America. Caudillos had powerful regional power alliances with other less important male caudillos in the country, not only to achieve dominion over vast territories, but also to maintain loyalties as a reciprocity relation with the main caudillo in power. Hence, hierarchical masculinity, commerce interaction, and political control by the use of arms, is what tied together all this new model of governance in the region.

As power struggle goes, I find even more interesting to study how other social groups resisted caudillo forces in Latin America. For example, the book mentions the Argentinian gauchos (cowboys) and their struggle to maintain a regional identity. This is why I’ve always found literary works related to the gauchesco subject and the ‘pampa’ region of Argentina very appealing to read. Indeed, I remember reading “Don Segundo Sombra” and “El gaucho Martin Fierro”, as two great best examples of this type of literature having powerful rebellious figures as protagonists and whom counteracted the authoritarian figures imposed by caudillos like Rosas may have presented at the time. On the other hand, figures like Juan Manuel de Rosas in Argentina can be seen as a mediator for the poor and less political dominant people within the region. In contrast, many other prominent opposition leaders blamed him of being cruel and authoritarian and someone whose political doctrine brought upon Argentinians barbarism forms of governing. On the other hand, Unitarians may have seen to fight such backward measures with a more liberal and progressive forms of governing.

In Esteban Echeverría’s “El Matadero” (the Slaughterhouse), we see a clear division between barbarism versus civilization. On one hand, we have the Nationalist party where Rosas is a leader representing backwardness, inter-racial mixing, and the interface of a conservative catholic charge in governmental affairs. On the other hand, we have the Unitarians who saw themselves in favour of liberal reforms, progress within their countries, but nonetheless, as people who could be unified progressively into one homogenous race of European origin. Likewise, in the “Slaughterhouse”, Echeverria makes many allusions to the bible such as the Great Flood and the crucifixion of Jesus. It is also important to notice that, even though there are some biblical references in the story as a way to criticize the influence capabilities of the Catholic Church in Argentina, one cannot forget how divisive and racist the views of the Unitarians were against blacks, mulatos, and mestizos in the story. People of other races are depicted as barbaric, scavengers, chaotic, almost non-human, to which I do not agree with. Furthermore, I presume that Echeverria’s intention was to represent a precise dark political period of Argentine’s history by showing Rosas as barbaric; however, one must not forget that history has many manifestations and that not all is white and black and that we need to be critical of what we read.