Week 12: Repeating History

The thing that I noticed the most in this week’s reading was how history was repeating itself in Latin America. In particular, the rise of drug lords was very reminiscent of the rise of caudillos a century before. Just as caudillos took advantage of a power vacuum to become local leaders by giving out favors, the drug lords took advantage of weakened central powers to exert influence over communities. They gained favor and power in communities by giving back to the people, and eventually became very powerful. I was surprised to learn about Pablo Escobar being elected to the Colombian Congress, as it seemed strange that a famous drug lord could ever win a government seat, but I saw that it made sense in the situation. In the US, drugs and those who deal them are vilified and seen only as threats to the society, but in Colombia they were seen by many as beneficial to society; drug lords were thought to be helping the poor by employing and aiding them. In that context, electing one to office would seem logical, while in the US it would be laughable to even consider it.

The US was another repetitive issue. It was very frustrating to hear about the constant counter-productive, failed interventions staged by the US. Just decades before, the US had sent billions to Latin American militaries so they could fight the dangerous communists, resulting in more conflict and violence. All that conflict weakened those countries, leaving power gaps that were filled by drug lords, so the US sent billions more to Latin American militaries so they could fight the dangerous drug cartels, resulting in more conflict and violence. One would have thought that the US would learn its lesson the first time, and realize that sending weapons into already fraught situations was a bad idea, yet they did it again only years later. The first time, the American attempt to prevent the harm that would supposedly come from communism or socialism caused harm under military dictatorships instead. The second time, their attempt to combat drug cartels with weapons only put weapons in the hands of the cartels, making it harder to fight them. The second failed attempt to remedy a problem by funding the militaries is even more frustrating, because there were so many better ways that the US could have spent that money. The drug cartels were able to gain so much power in part because they had so many people in them; the extreme poverty throughout the region left many with little choice but to join a cartel. Instead of throwing billions of dollars at the military, which had already proven many times over to be a horrible idea, the US could have used that money to strengthen the economies or governments of Latin American countries, or to fund social programs to help people out of poverty.

2 thoughts on “Week 12: Repeating History

  1. Carolina Miranda

    Hi Elena,
    I find the connection that you made between drug lords and caudillos to be quite interesting as I had thought of it myself when reading the chapter. Apparently, every successful political system in Latin America can be traced back to clientelism. About Pablo Escobar: I also did not believe he got elected to congress when I watched “Narcos” a couple of years ago. I thought the writers of the show had exaggerated the story to make it more dramatic, but upon research (meaning Wikipedia) I was dumbfounded to discover it was true. More than that, he was made into a literal saint. People prayed for him. Latin America is crazy and you can’t not be surprised.

  2. Jon

    “how history was repeating itself in Latin America”

    It’s depressing to think that, isn’t it? It reminds me of the famous quotation from Marx: History repeats itself, “first time tragedy, second time farce.”

    But there’s another side to things, perhaps: thinking back to similar patterns in the past might inspire us also to recover forms of resistance to think about new ways to approach contemporary challenges.

    What resources to you think that past offers to problems in the present?


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