Monthly Archives: November 2019

Week 13: Towards an Uncertain Future

I can’t believe how fast this month has passed! It feels like only last week we were being introduced to the complex dynamics of Latin America, and now we’re finishing up our final  projects. I hope everyone’s doing well in these busy last weeks.

As I expected, this week’s lecture and readings culminate with uncertainty, as the title suggests. Also, many of the themes we’ve tracked during the course show up here as well. I noticed a revival of extractive colonialism, power and corruption, and of course protest in the context of modern or recent Latin American events. We’re prompted to think about how these themes, embedded in the history and culture of Latin America, will affect the region in years to come.

Something I found quite interesting was how Latin America shifted to the right in terms of privatisation in the 80s and 90s after the brutality of the governing forces in decades previous. I’m also taking a course in American history this semester, and a similar thing happened in the United States around the same time. Largely influenced by their participation in the Vietnam War, the American population became disillusioned with the government. A shift to conservatism occurred in the 80s, exemplified by the election and administration of president Reagan. I think it’s interesting to compare this with Latin America. Latin Americans also became disillusioned with their government at this time. This is in part because of the devastation caused by brutal authoritarian regimes, but Dawson uses the example of the earthquake in Mexico City to show us that the governments were simply incapable of handling crises and catering to the needs of the people. In America, it seems like external forces shaped the shift to the right, and in Latin America, it was much more internal, when historically Latin America was the one to have been constantly influenced by the actions of other countries.

I think this leads us into discussing the current Left identity of Latin America. This week’s legal readings suggest that there still exists a power struggle between those who have traditionally held power (elites, the US, etc.) and those who rise up against traditional power and corruption to voice a common, popular issue. They highlight the power of democracy in allowing people to voice their concerns against institutionalised power. I think the autonomy that Latin America has now will largely influence democratic experimentation in the future of the region and I’m interested to see how these themes will continue to appear (hopefully in a positive sense) as Latin America continues to grow and develop.

Video Project: Revolutionary Cuba – A History

Revolutionary Cuba: A History is a comprehensive book detailing the prolonged revolution Cuba experienced under Castro. Chapters 2 and 3 explain what happened in the first decade of the revolution, the timeline our video project will focus on. Martínez-Fernández argues what Dawson argues: that the revolution in Cuba was a process, a movement, rather than a single military and political event that consisted of a militia group overtaking a government. 

Martínez-Fernández outlines the most important aspects of the Cuban Revolution. He mentions the popular nature of Castro’s leadership, a revolutionary movement endorsed by the people. He also follows the island’s increasing transition to socialism and communism, especially while under the pressure of foreign relations tensions with both the United States and the Soviet Union. The sugar economy is a consistent theme within the book as well. Martínez-Fernández examines both the negative and positive outcomes of Cuba’s first decade under Castro’s revolutionary structure, information we will use to draw conclusions on patterns in revolutionary Cuba and to connect to larger course themes.

This source will be extremely useful for our video project. It describes the core of the revolution from multiple different angles. We hope to do an overview of the key angles in which the Cuban Revolution can be looked at, most likely focusing on culture, the economy, and foreign relations. Martínez-Fernández traces these themes throughout the revolutionary decade. We will be able to see patterns within the Cuban Revolution because of the text’s wide scope and will also be able to allude to more general course themes using this information. 

Martínez-Fernández follows the revolution throughout the entire decade of the 1960s and speaks on every element also present within our Guevara primary source, the “Letter from Major Ernesto Che Guevara to Carlos Quijano, editor of the Montevideo weekly magazine Marcha” that outlines the New Man ideology and tactics that were so valued within Cuban Revolutionary leadership. We will be able to follow the rise and fall of the New Man, an extremely significant aspect of the Cuban Revolution, using these two sources together.

This book is also in direct contrast with the biased American primary source from 1963 and provides a good foundation for reliable information that we will need while composing the video project. We will be able to contrast views from the 1960s with a recent historical perspective on the Cuban Revolution. We will be able to mention Cuba’s relationship to the United States through both these sources, using the video with a more indirect, cultural interpretation and using this book as direct facts and arguments to meld with our own argument.

Martínez-Fernández, Luis. Revolutionary Cuba: A History. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2014.

Video Project: Inside Communist Cuba

This source is a news story from the Associated Press dating back to 1963. It shows Cuba in a post-revolutionary state under the leadership of Fidel Castro. Differing from the 1959 video, this is American-produced content and shows us Castro’s Cuba from an American perspective. The video begins by introducing Cuba under Castro as “a sorry island” “conquered by communist imperialism,” playing on Cold War fears of potential Soviet and Communist invasion in the United States. Yet, the shots Soviet-influenced armed guards guarding an incoming shipment that accompany this narration show the men smiling with casual posture, typical signs of being happy and in a good mood.

The video then explains Cuba pre-revolution when it was under the rule of Batista. This Cuba seems much more appealing to the Americans; the narrator describes it as a massive tourist attraction, bringing in many Western tourists to significantly boost the island’s economy. The people of the island are described as “peace-loving and good-natured,” and the island is said to be joyful, fun, relaxing, and carefree. A lot of positive language is used to accompany the footage of Cuba before the revolution. People, Cubans and tourists alike, are shown dancing, dining, and smiling.

Then the video explains how sounds of joy turned to sounds of shooting as Castro’s militia violently took over the government. No kind words are said about Castro. He is portrayed as a manipulative figure who slyly convinced Cuba to support his position as Liberator, a government position he apparently betrays as he shifts the island toward communism. Under Castro, the narrator says the island’s life and joy has vanished. Sugarcane fields may be sabotaged, there is no fresh bread or meat, education and entertainment are both extremely influenced by Soviet propaganda, and the island heavily relies on communist (Chinese and Russian) support. Finally, it ends alluding to America as a saviour, as sick Cubans and refugees are taken aboard a ship embarking for the United States with food and medical supplies funded by the Red Cross, aid the narrator said they could not get in Cuba.

Being an American source looking into Cuba from an outsider’s perspective, this newsreel allows us to see the views Americans had on Cuba at the time when Cuba so adamantly opposed any American intervention. It is extremely biased and explicitly anti-communist and anti-Castro, so using the video as an informational source will be not be a priority for our video project. The American perspective of this video will be useful to exemplify the tensions between the United States and Cuba in this time period. We will reflect on the lasting anti-American ideology during the Castro regime, and this American source will come in handy when dissecting why Cuba felt so strongly against American interference in the island.

Instead, the footage itself is very telling of the conditions and affairs that went on in Castro’s Cuba. Sugarcane is a huge part of the Cuban economy and is linked to the revolutionary movement both motivating the government takeover and after during the revolutionary process. Having footage of that crucial aspect of the Cuban economy will be helpful in telling a complete story of the Cuban revolution. Also, the video provides shots of Cuban militia members, most of which are smiling and seem happy. From the armed guards protecting imports and exports to the young militia members patrolling the streets in groups at night, they sport smiling faces and a hopeful attitude based on body language. While the narrator does not attempt to analyse this, we will most likely use this footage to accompany information about the popularity of the Castro regime, especially in the early years.

British Movietone. “Inside Communist Cuba – 1963 | Movietone Moment | 2 Dec 2016.” YouTube. December 2, 2016. Video, 6:44.

Week Twelve: Speaking Truth to Power

This chapter is no less depressing than last chapter. It seems the patterns of repression, disappearance, and corrupt leadership continued well into the 80s and 90s throughout Latin America. I think the information we read about the Madres organisation shows the desperation felt by the general public. Their strong opinions and passion when speaking into the journalists’ microphones, their “por favor”s, all show how affected they are by the government’s actions. The disappearing of “subversive” citizens that we saw last chapter in Peru and that happened also in Cuba post-revolution continues into the 80s in Argentina. While these countries all had relatively different dictatorships it’s interesting to see how the same authoritarian government tactics were used across Latin America. Just like authoritarianism is a common Latin American pattern, it seems the evolution of government repression tactics in this time period is too. The affects felt by these governments certainly still exist today as the Madres continue to march.

I noticed some themes in this chapter that connect to what we’ve previously seen in the course as well. The corruption of leadership and authority is something that really captured by attention in the readings. We’ve seen multiple times and it is again a key aspect this week. In the context of the emerging drug economy and crackdown on drug crime in both Latin America and the United States, the dynamic of authority changes yet experiences the same kind of corruption and inequality we’ve seen through decades of Latin American leadership. Police and political figures begin to lose control, as Dawson argues, and the fear of losing control results in authoritarian leadership. This would explain the pattern of leadership in Latin America, from colonisation to the 80s, as elites and those in power fear the rise of the repressed and lower classes.

In the context of the drug war, the open letters to the drug cartels and Mexico’s politicians and criminals show the shift of authoritarian power from government to drug lords. Instead of addressing the government that theoretically could act to solve the problems journalists are facing by covering drug stories, the Diario directly addresses those who could actually make a difference, those who hold the most power currently: the drug lords. So the authority that holds the power has changed, but the same repressive patterns continue. People disappear, turf wars and the underground economy inspire conflicts among influential groups as they each strive to maintain a monopoly, and the general populace is afraid of those who are in power. Even the police switch from being a (corrupt, when considering the Aguas Blancas Masacre) government authority to being the corrupt puppets of drug cartels. Sicilia embodies the theme of “literary figure to political figure” transition we’ve seen in Latin America as he also addresses corruption and repressive authority in his open letter to both politicians and criminals.

I wonder if we can see this theme in the US as well in the context of the war on drugs. While cartels may not hold as much power in the US and don’t directly steal power away from American governmental authority, drugs certainly have a massive influence in US criminal and justice policies starting from Nixon’s crackdown, grown throughout Reagan and Bush’s War on Drugs. If so, I wonder if this would support the closeness of the relationship between the US and Latin America, or further increase the tensions between them.

Week Eleven: The Terror

This week’s focus is on Peru, specifically movements concerning peasant’s rights, freedom from repression, and institutional corruption in the 1980s. Focusing on the Prolonged People’s War of the Shining Path and administration of Alberto Fujimori, Peru experienced another wave of conflict later than other Latin American countries. Rather than the communist revolutions earlier in the century, Peru’s was sparked by events in the 1960s.

Land reforms are again hugely important as a basis of conflict in Latin America. I believe this is because of Latin America’s history having experienced extraction from colonisers. The region is largely an export economy, one that was founded on and used for raw goods and materials rather than industry and production that characterises the North. Of course, there are still many examples of industrialisation and modernisation, especially in the former weeks of this course, but the legacy of extractive colonialism remains important to Latin America as an economic structure in rural areas as well as bearing continuous social influence on conflicts. As was demonstrated in the Mexican Revolution, land and land reforms are of huge importance to rural Latin American peasants. The Mexican Revolution is shrouded in “land and liberty” ideas and images of the rural peasants taking over the urban environment, arguably taking back what has been kept from them through extraction and the inequality that comes from economic divisions. Like Mexico, land reforms were an integral part of insurgency in Peru, however the unique Peruvian aspect is that middle-class people were the perpetrators of these insurgencies, not peasants. The perpetrators fought on the basis of helping the peasants, but the Velasco coup and the land reforms he imposed to theoretically help peasants aggravated the conflict even further.

In response to the unsuccessful land reforms, more middle-class people founded the Shining Path in an attempt to actually help the peasants. This organisation gained support because it communicated with the peasantry and came to understand their demands and was willing to help and protect them, unlike the government. The tensions between the Shining Path and the government came to a head under Fujimori; violence from both parties and restrictions imposed by the government rapidly increased, resulting in an extremely traumatic dirty war and ultimately, government victory.

Cameron’s video lecture brought up an argument I found quite interesting: the idea of cyclical violence. Peasant repression brought about the Velasco coup which brought about land reforms which brought about the Shining Path which antagonised society to the point of terroristic government retaliation which left a deep fear in Peru still existing today. It seems as if every event that occurred that tried to alleviate repression caused further repression. Perhaps this is because no single movement, event, regime, etc. can cater to every member of the population, and so some people will always be favoured over others. Yet, does this result in a revolution, violence, and further repression every time? The Peruvian case certainly is interesting in this perspective and I’m happy I was able to note some connections to other Latin American happenings that have been discussed in class!

Week Ten: A Decade of Revolution in Cuba

I believe this week’s topic is the topic for my group for the video and research assignments! I hope I was able to interpret it correctly to apply it to our upcoming projects, and I definitely look forward to reading what my classmates have made of the information in this week’s readings as well. I found the Che Guevara letter quite interesting as it highlighted the main goals of the revolution and mentioned where the process needed to improve. The Paz excerpt provided insight into the individuality of the revolutionary process, something that Guevara in his letter mentioned was at the core of the revolution (if done right). Finally, I thought the Sánchez blog posts were a really good addition to this chapter. We haven’t seen too many recent primary documents (I think the only other one was the Chávez speech?), despite the theme that all the patterns we see in this course are still relevant today and still have modern implications and legacies in Latin America.

I keep thinking of the term “revolutionary process.” Based on what I’ve read, I believe Cuba’s revolution really was a process, and Dawson argues this as well. I think this is one of the main themes we’ve explored throughout the semester as well. Revolutions may begin with a conflict between the suppressed and the people in power, but they don’t really end with the overthrow of power. Revolution is really composed of a process including the fighting, establishment of a new leader, reforms, and most important to understanding thematic patterns, the legacy and underlying remains of the revolutionary process.

Guevara’s letter outlines the founding themes of the revolutionary process while Paz’ “El Lobo, el Bosque, y el Hombre Nuevo” explains how those themes affect individuals and their involvement in the revolution. Both of these documents seem a little distant and dated compared to Sánchez’ blog posts. While they do provide a good example of revolutionary (and counter-revolutionary) mindsets during the height of the revolutionary process under the Castro regime, they show only a small slice in the timeline of revolutionary patterns. Sánchez proves that the revolution remains in Cuba and her activism online allows for the world to take notice. Sánchez’ posts are mostly critical of the revolution, as in they oppose or disagree with many of the outcomes the revolutionary process has caused. As a closing note, this leads me to wonder, with every revolution and its continuing legacy, will there be an influential critical or counter-revolutionary legacy like there seems to be in Cuba? And does this clash further fuel the influence and longevity of the revolution?