November 2015

Week Twelve: “Speaking Truth to Power”

This week’s reading was centered on the idea that Latin American States are seeing as not strong enough to maintain social order, collect taxes, or even maintain the normal level or political stability which is expected of them. In contrast, strong states are considered robust because they rely relatively little on violence and more on explicit deal-making to maintain order and to get things done. It was because of such weak leadership and the lack of political stability that many Latin American countries advanced towards militarized regimes. Governments such as the Argentine, Chilean, Guatemalan, and Salvadorian, were able to inflict terror upon their citizens and incorporate dehumanizing techniques such as coercion, terror and kidnapping which came from the cold war period. On the other hand, their victims, powerless, found in international allies a much strong support than what they could ever get at home. They also found a language which superseded the one the moment was using and which in a sense gave them strength to keep fighting. Many people with conservative views also thought that, in order to achieve order and prosperity, they needed to allow the government to track down the ‘bad guys’ and put some order in the country. This presumption of vulnerability allowed many of these governments to act with such disregard for the law and the well-being of the citizen that they became some of the most violent regimens at the time.

We also learned about Las Madres de la Plaza de Mayo, mothers of individuals who were disappeared by the Juntas because of the dissonance with the dictatorships and their political views. These mothers saw to become the voice of desperation at first, but later they begun to politically organize publically on the main squares in Buenos Aires in order to protest for the many abuses that the Argentinian government had committed against their children. Their demand was: their return of their children. This valiant act, allowed to put a face of grieves out in the open, making a stand where many Argentinian people did not want to voice their opinions out in the open. At the same time that, it also helped bring down one of the bloodiest dictatorships that the region had seen in decades. I think that the fear of thinking that chaos and instability was going to reign the streets of the country, many Argentinians wanted to have stability and the middle class and upper class, blamed anyone who did not looked like the typical or average good citizen, so feminist, freedom-fighters, peace lovers, and especially youth were targeted at the main causes of the problem which plagued the country.

The government of Argentina started to track down the Madres because they saw the enemy in them and because, by the time they were politically present in the Buenos Aires, the government could not get rid of them. Just by being vocal about the brutality of the government, and by talking about the loss of their children, many people within the country and internationally, started to pay close attention to the Madres, giving them a political platform from where they could fight back and know about the circumstances in which their loves ones had disappeared. The Argentinian government were conducting civilian executions, torture, extortion, and kidnapping of many citizens whom opposed to what the Junta Militar wanted for the future of the country. In some respect, this week’s reading reminds me of that short story we read, “The slaughterhouse”, in which barbarism versus civilization practices were presented to us also in Argentina. Later on, during the regime, the Argentinian government were being pressured by exterior forces (President Regan, ONGs, France, etc.) to change its aggressive and horrifying coercive measures.

Week Eleven (De Nuevo): Terror

This is another period in which Latin America seems to be involved in conflict; this week’s chapter says that between 1960 and 1990, Latin America had one of its bloodiest periods since independence. And this got me thinking, has it this being happening since Christopher Columbus discovered America, I mean, the taken over, used other against their will, and treat them like peasants of an inferior class are direct consequences of the colonial period translated into post-colonial applications. The books also mentions that, during this period, authoritarian governments and their military allies carried unprecedented levels of violence against the civil population in what they called: a communist threat. From my point of view, it seems that every time a government wants to fight against a new opposition force (eg. Labour workers, teachers, syndicates, students, etc.), they always find ways to label them as the enemy which would in turn get the public’s support.

This period is called, the dirty wars but also has other names depending of the context in which this violent attacks took place. But the main ‘problem’ for Latin American countries was the creation all across different countries of guerrilla groups which in which their new members (students, middle class people) had heroic figures such as Che Guevara, a romantic figure which they could use to promote their fight, but which in the end were crushed by their authoritarian right-wind governments. The 20th century in Latin America is remember for being a period in which a series of holocausts, cruel acts of violence created an atmosphere of violence which welcomed new technologies of war. The participants of this cruel and violent period came from a variety of different fronts, such as radical and authoritarian governments which saw in any defiant acts the enemy, also in the formation of guerrilla groups whose base in Marxist’s theories saw to implements change throw any means necessary, included armed conflict and civilian deaths. In other cases, the racialized enemy, members of African descendants and indigenous people were the enemy just because they seemed different by their colour of their skin or because they were on the wrong side of the social scale. In general terms, the problem with having collective paranoia, when trying to identify the enemy was that, the enemy could be anyone.

Torture, random killings, and kidnappings, were at the centre of Latin America past, and in a way, the reason they became such a big deal during the 90’s and after, was because they increasingly more public and mass media published them for everyone to see. Latin America then, becomes a region where corruption in the state can be seen at all levels, where modernity was never at the centre of politicians interest, and where it populations where destined to be second-class citizens. At least this is what books such as “The Open Vains “(Las Venas Abiertas), tells us; however, I more inclined to think that explanations of such level of corruption and violence has much more complex origins and cannot all be traced to one source. In one thing I agree with this week’s reading is that, the everyday struggles of the poor, and the need for a more egalitarian future for all, where inclusion, justice, and wealth fare were policies of the state, was what caused people and students to protest fiercely in public. Hence, the consequence of the repression of such protest like the one that took place in Mexico City on October 2, 1968, caused the Tlatelolco Massacre where several hundreds of students were killed by government officials and covered up by the Mexican President of the time.

Week Eleven: “A Decade of Revolution in Cuba”

This week’s reading is centered on the Cuban Revolution, its heroes, enemies, and the struggles that the Revolution brought to the Cuban people. The Cuban Revolution then is a symbol of endurance, a continuous fight against the imperialistic forces of the United States, an economic giant, an image which they used to justify their ‘lucha’ (fight) and to convince their own people that better times where yet to come. One thing is clear: the Revolution created dichotomies of “good versus evil”. There have been many people who have suffered because of the revolution. In fact, thousands of refugees, political dissidents, and middle to upper class individuals left Cuba because the new political model was not one that they could live in. The Cuba exodus to the United States was a mechanism in which some saw as opportunity, while others had a difficult time adjusting or belong. Nevertheless, for Cubans who arrive in Miami it was better to be there than to be imprisoned for being against Fidel Castro.

The heroic figures of the Cuban Revolution are mainly Castro, his brother Raul, El Che Guevara, and Camilo Cienfuegos. They together fought against Fulgencio Batista’s regime, a corrupt government, which was aligned with the United States dominant politics. The Cuban revolutionaries wanted to end the tyranny that this relationship represented for the nation and the region. It is fair to say that, Fidel Castro was a very charismatic man. This became evident later when his charismatic political rhetoric transformed him as the savior of the Cuban people. Fidel Castro needed the backing of Cubans if he wanted this so call Revolution to work and rapped his power in egalitarian terms which people could assimilate and support. I wander if this egalitarian idealism is similar to what the French called “Liberté, égalité, and fraternité” or is totally different because of its distinct political ideology? In the end, the Cuban Revolution brought land reforms, the nationalization of foreign property, and politically alignment with the Soviet Union which at the time was very a strong friend.

The Cuban Revolution at the beginning was embedded in utopian thinking; an ideal of what Cuba could become, without really incorporating the opinion of its people. Political, social, and economic transformative policies where implemented at the beginning of the Revolution where a diversion from sugar exports was seen as fundamentally necessary if economic diversification was to be achieved while promoting the industrialization of the country. A new economic model was introduced by Che Guevara where transactions for food, transportation, and rent were all eliminated. Guevara thought that Cubans would understand the rejection of market transactions while adopting the law of value instead which hopefully would increase overall productivity. This of course, totally opposed other economic models promoted by industrialized nations such as Canada and the United States where free markets prevent governments from direct intervention or where government policy is carefully maneuvered. The Cuban Revolution saw to centrally control (from Habana) everything in order to balance the economy and all the social affairs of the island.

It was very interesting to me to read about the ‘machista culture’ which fetishized Castro’s heterosexual masculinity. This in turn, saw to marginalize other people, such as Cuban gays because for the macho Revolutionaries, they were reminders that decadence, sickness, and weakness were still present in Cuba. The utopian idea of the new Cuban man, a man who needed to be strong to fight the imperial North, did not include or tolerate homosexuals. Gay people were viewed as narcissist’s individuals whose main qualities were self-obsession, physical weakness, and depravity. Therefore, in my opinion, by casting aside people because of their sexual orientation the Revolution failed in being inclusive and tolerant, and perhaps lost people who could contribute to the arts such as poets, writers, musicians, and creative people in general.

Short Research and Writing Assignment

First Source: “The Banana Trade Focus”

My first source is center around the video “Banana Split”, which was directed by Donald Harpelle (2002) and its contained on the article, “Paying the Price: The banana trade in focus” by Petter Clegg (2008). Cleggs analysis of the documentary is very insightful and helps put into context what repercussions the banana trade has in contemporary times. Banana split is a Canadian produced documentary, which provides a general overview economic, social, historical, scientific and environmental aspect of the banana production. The international banana trade has been the center of attention in recent years in the European Union as well as in North America because the main centers of production zone are Latin America, more specifically Central America and the Caribbean. The dispute has been very important in determining international trade policy as well as the economic profile of the Caribbean, there are other contentious issues related to the banana, and this documentary is useful in focusing attention on these.

Once in Latin America the film first provides a brief overview of how the industry was established through the pioneering work of entrepreneurs such as George Busch, Minor Cooper Keith and Lorenzo Dow Baker from the 1880s onwards that would eventually lead to the creation of the United Fruit Company (UFC) in 1899. From this moment the UFC established significant interests in Latin America and Jamaica that included sizeable land ownership (3.5 million acres at its peak) and control over infrastructure and local communities. Such control formed the notion of “banana republics” and the UFC as El Pulpo (the octopus). The film focuses on Honduras, which today exports around 500,000 tonnes of bananas, for its consideration of the role of the UFC in Latin American banana production. Indeed Honduras was the first country to be known as a “banana republic” because of its formerly high dependency on the banana industry.

The film focuses on two regions, Tela and La Lima, which have been scarred by their banana experiences. For a more historical perspective, Tela situated on the north coast facing the Caribbean Sea, is profiled. In early April 1954, dock workers in Tela refused to load one of the UFC’s cargo ships, demanding the overtime pay to which they were legally entitled. Within several days the strike had spread across the country to include workers employed by a number of other companies. Collectively the strikers demanded a number of improvements, including higher pay and better working conditions, as well as the right to collective bargaining. The strike lasted over two months, involved at its height 30,000 people and placed the Honduran economy under considerable strain. The striking workers were accused of being communists and drawing support from Guatemalan President Jacobo Arbenz Guzmán who was soon to be overthrown with the aid of the U.S. government and the UFC. After violent attempts by the Honduran authorities and the companies to defeat the strike an agreement was reached that met some of the workers’ demands. Despite the strike marking a step forward in establishing organised labour in Honduras, the UFC soon left Tela, leaving behind a demoralised and destitute population. The film illustrates well the events of the time via a series of personal recollections.

To sum up, the documentary does a good job at giving a motivating overview of what is currently happening with the international banana trade, the people who produce it, and the main companies which are at the centre of scandal and abusive economic power.

Second Source: “The Banana: Empire, Trade Wars, and Globalization (Notes)”, James Wiley (2008).

This a very extensive research essay done around the Central American and the Caribbean banana trade and has many parts but I will focus my summary around the idea of the creation of empire, which related fully with our chapter assigned for our video. Generally speaking, the banana empire was around the movement of labour from the West Indies (Jamaica, Trinidad, Barbados, etc) and moved to the Central American continent for the purpose of specialized banana labour and because for the Americans working as main man communication in English was easier than hiring local workers for example. The notes mention that many of the had to stay in countries like Costa Rica and Honduras, territory called by the United Fruit Company, as ‘Banana Land’, and their descendants remained in these countries long after they labour was over. The essay also describes the buying of shares by the United Fruit Company in 1906, 50 % of them, from the Vaccaro Brothers Company, one of their rival companies in Honduras. Furthermore, the U.S court system rejected this acquisition at first, saying that it was a violation of antimonopoly legislation, so they company sold its shares after 1908. Ironically, the Vaccaro Brothers Company reorganizes again in 1924 as the Standard Fruit Company, and became the main competitor of the United Fruit Company in the Caribbean and Central America.

The essay also talks about the technical aspects of the banana production such as the language used in it. For example, a “Nine-hand-bunch” refers to the total output of one banana plant, measure vertically before being cut into smaller bunches which we see in stores ready to be sold. Therefore, a nice-hand-bunch was the industry’s standard measurement. In Colombia, at the Uraba zone in 1980s was also going in decline like many other banana producing countries in Central America, and the INC’s operating in the region started to move in again, this time moving to the Santa Marta region. This is a usual and typical characteristic move that companies of banana production do when they need to move from one region to another and it has happened again. This created a second shift which threatened the livelihood and the wellbeing of many banana growers in the region; to be more exactly, approximately, 40,000 thousand people were depending on this type of production and the 6,000 thousand housing complex which were given to these people were also take again from them.



Week Ten: “Power to the People”

This week’s readings could have been titled: Populist leaders and the power or the Radio. People like Juan and Eva Peron (Argentina), Getulio Vargas (Brazil), Jorge Elieser Gaitan (Colombia), were categorized as ‘populist’ leaders but I would say that more than populist; they were smart enough to find a way to be charismatic, relatable, and similar they intended to govern. Each one of these leaders, and especially Eva Peron, found in the radio a direct communication channel which catapulted her to power. Populist leaders were not just defined by a normative political style or movement; they were at the centre of a specific time where social and political change was achieved through the incorporation of new technologies such as radio (commercial, propaganda and songs). In the case of Argentine’s working classes, Tango songs were a way to connect with their struggles, solitudes, and desire which in many cases where underestimated or regarded as socially classless. When I think of Tango, I think of Carlos Gardel and the song Cambalache, which my mother used to play and sing along. Similarly, in the same way Gardel was known, remembered, and loved by many in Argentinians and internationally; Eva Peron was a formidable, almost saint-like figure which transformed her country political arena and made her a unique symbol.


Peronismo in Argentina started during the 1930’s (la Década Infama) and it was very well supported by the labour workers in that country. Juan Peron himself was a very popular leader, always finding effective ways to communicate his political message which seemed to ally with the country’s working class. Peron, a cleaver man, once in power not only free tango from previous censorship, but also capitalized that he could speak and swear like a Tango singer to connect to the people. Peron was the typical ‘self-made man’, someone who embodied the antithesis of the argentine oligarchy and who followed the social compass of the workers and industrialist people of the time. On the other hand, Juan Peron also used his political position to stablish networks of loyalty from which he could give to his political allies’ jobs, fixed favours, money, food, and more. Conversely, Eva Peron, Juan Peron’s second wife, had a clear and even more loyal relationship with the working Argentinian masses to the point that she renamed them “Los Descamisados” (The Shirtless). This unshakable relationship that Eva Peron created facilitated with her descamisados, positioned her as one of the most powerful people (and woman) in the country. Eva became simply, Evita and with her ability to draw people in, formed a powerful alliance with the working classes of Argentina making her husband’s government and party stronger.


In a sense, and to my opinion, Eva Peron was more powerful and loved than his husband ever was. She was never welcomed in Argentine’s high-society, but this did not stop Eva. On the contrary, their acts of cruelty only gave her more courage to get even closer to the working people (to her descamizados). I find interesting how the readings depict the physical transformation which Evita underwent, where her hairstyle and wardrobe evolved, making her stronger, and loving, motherly-like figure of the Argentine people. Eva Peron founded her own foundation (Eva Peron Foundation, FEP), which allowed her to gradually build schools, hospitals, create jobs, and help the poor (donations). Her foundation gave her the political, economic, and social power to get even closer to the working classes of Argentina and made of her a beloved political figure. Her speeches were recorded and played on the radio and heart by many in the cities and across the whole country regardless of class and social status. It also allowed her to be in practically a ubiquitous being ever present. Furthermore, Eva Peron is a romantic political figure which, up to this moment, for some still symbolizes hope for the social struggles which the poor still have to endure at the hands of the powerful.

Commerce, Coercion, and America’s Empire

The United States presence in Latin America is often represented in simple terms, as a violent oppressor or noble saviour. There are many ideas around this concept but it is up to us to uncover the truths behind them. There is a stigma that comes with being so powerful, and in the case of the United States a negative stigma has been given to its name because even since the beginning, its presence in the region has been stabilised to the expense of Latin America’s peoples. On the other hand, one cannot think of the United States without thinking of mass-consumption, excess, technology, and the idea of progress. For example, even today, the most important technology companies are located in one specific region of the U.S: Silicon Valley. In the case of Latin America, American companies, and therefore, American commercial influence has been present since the very beginning. Once the need in the United States was created for products it could not harvest itself, then new markets had to be reached. Latin America was a great candidate because of its geographical location (the tropics and Sothern hemisphere). It had all the necessary raw materials need for production and commerce, and finally, it was a great market place for the new products being made up north. However, these commercial relationships, at the beginning of the twentieth century, were negotiated from a very imperialistic point of view were Americans saw themselves as superior as their Latin American counterparts and stablished ideological, physical, and economic dominance over the this whole ‘under-developed’ region.


The United Fruit Company (UFCO) was a very important enterprise for many Latin American countries because for many of them, the UFCO acted like the sole provider of employment in the region. The UFCO had so much influence in Central America with its banana plantations that in some cases they were more powerful that the governments of these local countries. The UFCO was sometimes the only provider of employment, electricity, health, and even housing for many people who sometimes moved from faraway places to work. But, the UFCO has also being criticized for its exploitative practices were the main focus was given to the bottom-line and no much importance to the actual people who work for them. I think that here is where the problem lies, I mean, too much importance has been given to the commodity production and very little to the labour production and workers of banana plantations. Do we really care where our bananas really come from? Honestly, I did not think too much about it when it came time to buy them, but after reading so much about the importance that banana production had in Latin America, now I will be more conscious about it.


When I was reading about the complexities of cultural flows, I found this topic very interesting because it showed me that this is a phenomenon that has been happening for quite some time and I thought it was a recent one. For example, the story of Carmen Miranda was very fascinating to learn about. She left after being so famous in her home country of Brazil and was attracted by fame and glory in the United States. I wonder if Carmen Miranda ever felt embarrassed for being such a stereotypical figure and wanted to leave it all behind. It must had been pretty boring to always play the sexy Latin woman and never had the opportunity to show more versatility in her acting roles. Furthermore, I see that such appropriation of people and figures still takes place in Latin America and artist like Shakira, for example, leave their home land in order to achieve their dreams in the United States. Personally speaking, I think that if an artist thinks that his/her career will be more successful abroad, then he/she must move. If ‘better’ opportunities happen to be in the U.S, then that is where they must go. However, the problem I have with this is that if during this process of acculturation and ‘crossover’ the artist becomes a racial or a stereotyping cliché, then the artist should remember that he/she also represents a whole community.


Regarding the videos for this week, I must say I was very shocked by the racialized language content they seemed to present. I know they were from another era but still. These videos make you think about power relations and the struggles of some people against other. Also, it makes you think of the geographical division and epistemologies of a global North versus the underdeveloped South. As well as, of how people may see themselves as better than others and how media, once again, plays an important part in promoting and seeding stereotyping ideologies. Not even cartoons from Walt Disney were exempt from playing such an important discriminatory and racialized role in all of this.