A Conversation with Rita de Grandis

This week I found the conversation with Rota de Grandis to be interesting in terms of her analysis of disappearance as a form of oppression as well as reconciliation and recovery of a nation from an era of frequent disappearances. Truly is seems to me that a pattern of people vanishing is one of the most violent and terrifying forms of control of a regime. The technique when performed well is devastatingly effective for the perpetrators as there is no accountability. Considering that the crime is without evidence and the only tangible fact is the absence of a person and the absence of an event. There is no place to start an investigation, even if you were to suppose that a police force would be willing to assist you and it wasn’t a private undertaking. Even with government sanctioned murder there tends to be evidence, grizzly as it may be often regimes are trying to send a message. This lack of accountability as de Grandis pointed out can lead to an alarmingly large pool of potential victims. I can imagine the most devastating detail for families would be the huge hurdle to finding closure, they can never be assured of the fate of their loved one. With the disappeared it can very often be assumed that they have met an end but the invisibility of any evidence of the fact leaves a torturous glimmer of hope. The inability to ever close the chapter means that families must have their minds open to the most gruesome possibilities and if the disappeared person has been killed they never had a moment to say goodbye.

I found the action of Argentine women to find out details on the disappeared and to locate their children to be especially interesting. Often protest even if it is peaceful, moves against traditional structures. These women have worked within their traditional gender roles as mothers and wives to petition for change. To me there can be no doubt that prescribed gender roles for women need to be expanded to this day. However this action within traditional roles is ingenuity and intelligence of a group of people who are simply motivated by care and concern for their loved ones. Their protest has remained peaceful and persistent and I believe it is a major testament to honour those who have disappeared.

1 Comment

Filed under Week 12

Uncovering the Magalomania Behind Evita Peron

In my reading of “Uncovering the Megalomania Behind Evita Peron”, Eva Peron undergoes a somewhat scathing dissection of her persona as opposed to her talents and influence. The critique that Evita’s popularity is attributable to her lack of testing is easy to defend. Her success came largely out of the bravery to insert herself into typically male dominated circles as well as through seduction and charm of influential men. She made these connections while maintaining a traditional femininity that was palatable to the machismo and patriarchy that was a hallmark of Argentina and Latin America. Obviously these structures continue to be prevalent in Latin America and internationally; however, Evita was addressing crowds during a period of dramatic advancement of women’s rights. This point is well illustrated in her push for women’s suffrage, though this struggle endeared her to many women (and provided her husband with a loyal voting block) she “was careful to enlist the support of her male listeners by assuring them that after enfranchisement, women would not become masculine or overbearing”. These and similar stances allowed her to represent modernity. As she had some immunity from criticism in this period as the wife of the president, she was a valuable figurehead. 

Though many people suggest it Evita was in no way a politician. She was an emotional powerhouse, her entire life was a performance. This was so actualized by her Rainbow Tour through Europe, which was complete with huge spending on shopping trips, a massive entourage and a closet to match. Though different countries received her with varying degrees of enthusiasm this cemented her status as a performer. Add this to her rise to fame as a radio and television actress and this identity is undeniable. She was firstly and adored celebrity, she came to play a politician which explains the phenomenon of adoring fans, a phenomenon that for any normal politician is a bit strange. Her influence is summed up well in the testimony of Dr. Serge Pilar who recounts his memory of attending an Evita speech: “Throughout her lifetime Evita was able to hold herself above factions and espouse her ideas without having to answer for them to anybody.”

The main attraction of Evita came of the dreams of what this uncriticized golden woman could propose. Evita’s actual political bid was evidence of her complete incompetence, not only was Argentina not ready for this or any woman this close to the presidency, Evita was woefully underqualified. There is no evidence that she ever would have had the capacity to effect genuine change; her background, life and education do not support this notion. Evita’s political prowess could only ever be praised in theory and as her day has come and gone, she will perpetually remain symbolic of Argentinian dreams.

Sources Cited: 

Scarpa, Anna. “Uncovering the Megalomania Behind Evita Peron.” Nyu.edu, NYU, Dec. 2000, http://www.nyu.edu/classes/keefer/ww1/scarpa.html.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Week 11-Black and White Thinking over the Course of the Dirty Wars

While reading this week I was reminded and saddened by how little the pursuit of truth really affects the way human beings interact. The shocking violence of the Terror is based on violently conflicting beliefs. The worst violence occurs in situations when opposing camps have no interest in seeking out a middle ground. Dawson pointed out that he believes the biggest tragedy Peru faced during its dirty war was the obliteration of the middle ground, I’d have to agree. Our convictions can be based on a variety of sources and dubious or not they guide our steps. This is so important to understand when considering why many Latin Americans did not show more resistance towards authoritarianism. I think it was important to reiterate the catholic perception of the left. Especially Marxist leftists were seen by many Latin Americans as devilish. These people were so opposed to their faith and way of life that their children, religions and moral societies were in grave danger. Such high stakes can make a less than ideal state seem preferable. In the same vein it is important to understand the perception the Iquichanos had of outsiders. Mario Vargas Llosa does a really beautiful job of outlining the importance of belief in his article. It does not justify violence or murder but it allows for understanding. Understanding paves pathways to reconciliation. The horrible mutilation of the bodies was an especially repulsive part of the murders, the explanation that these mutilations were ritualistic forms of self preservation allow an unsettling glimpse into the mindset of the Iquichanos. Vargas Llosa also points out how perhaps the most disturbing part of the Iquichanos perceiving foreign journalists as evil devils was that it was not the most unreasonable understanding they could have had. For the peasants and indigenous communities of Peru gratuitous violence from essentially all the warring factions was to be expected. Violence breeds violence. This is why much of the time the least helpful first step of reconciliation is to assign blame. As an overarching theme encompassing all individual violent incidents is desperation. In writings from this time and other texts coming out of regions in crisis I have noticed the repetition of the phrase “the only way”. Many extreme leftists in Latin America believed class warfare was the “only way” to a fair society. This is alluded to in El Diaro’s interview with Chairman Gonzalo. Many fascist governments seen in this period were backed my individuals who felt authoritarian control was the “only way” to prevent the destruction of society by the evil left. I fundamentally disagree with this way of thinking, I think it is very rare and likely impossible that there is only ever one way of doing things. I believe the road to peace and progress is built on common ground.

1 Comment

Filed under Week 11

Week 10a-The Virtues and Vices of Fidel Castro

I found this weeks reading on the Cuban revolution especially interesting due to its cynicism surrounding all leaders around. While Dawson didn’t condemn the revolution against Batista he certainly did not praise its leaders, least of all Fidel Castro. While it is true that the revolution was never a united front, Dawson seems to propose that Castro wasn’t in fact a representative of the majority so much as the most successful at asserting himself. He presented himself as a revolutionary hero, the incident with the doves landing on his podium is one of the most iconic singular moments of this process. Dawson casts doubt upon whether the entire landing was staged.

The most interesting part of Dawson’s analysis of Castro and the Cuban revolution is his explanation of the process through which the revolution transitioned into a regime just as oppressive as the one it had sought to replace. What is interesting is that the idea of ongoing revolution and thus resistance (specifically against the US) became vital to the enforcement of the regime. It became important for Castro to maintain enmity with the USA, a fact possibly exemplified by the apparently convenient shooting down of the Miami based planes in 1996.

It cannot be denied that Castro to at least some extent fulfilled the wishes of the people, specifically in terms of being a pioneer for income equality. The Urban reform law of 1959 served to boost the lower class. However the Agrarian law of the same year, though it returned land to smaller farmers and owners was a definitive step in the direction of communism and nationalization. 

The most telling marker of Castro’s tyranny is his attitude towards dissent. The criminalization of opposition and the imprisonment of 100 000 of such criminals is clearly not in alignment with a society fully freed by revolution. It was important for Castro to be charismatic and personally powerful. He empowered the masses with assurances of his own might and intentions without giving the people much autonomy at all. This is why his visits to the US were and had to be painted as brave and defiant measures, Castro had to be seen as a man of the people who was on the ground seeking justice and freedom. This clearly served Castro well, his people did not accept this resignation. While this could have been due to a great number of his political policies that had improved the daily lives of many citizens, Dawson seems to believe that above all Cuba’s approval of Castro was of Castro the figurehead. Perhaps this theory is bolstered by the increasing cynicism that would develop in Cuba in the years to come.

1 Comment

Filed under Week 10a

The Rise and Ethics of Mass Communication

This week,reading about the rise of technology and largely the popularization of the radio as both an entertainment and a political tool I began thinking about the ethics of mass media. Technology moved incredibly quickly in the early 1900s and it was up to politicians to move just as quickly and to take advantage of the new tools available to them. However, I doubt anyone could have fathomed the dramatic effect of nationally heard messages until they were spoken. I wonder if this affected the way politicians initially chose to deliver their messages.


I imagine that, at least initially it was not entirely apparent that political rhetoric could not be packaged as it always had been to speak to small groups that did not exceed the size of a village. To begin with, it is much easier to construct a message that will be palatable to a single community than it is to appeal to an entire nation.Not only could this drastically affect a person’s political popularity it could change the entire mood of a nation and even provoke violence. 


I found the ethics of widespread consumption of political messages and the usage of media to be an especially interesting point when considering the rivalry of Getúlio Vargas and Carlos Lacerda. While public media has been incredibly important for the unbiased political education of masses, Vargas and his use of public radio demonstrates the serious danger of universal messages. Modern technology has given autocrats who abide simply by no moral code aside from maintaining their own power, more reach than ever. The invention of the radio gave rise to questions of censorship (or targeted propaganda) as well as a new aspect to consider in order to maintain a free press. While radio can be a useful tool to spread ideas quickly, is it the proper domain for a government to have free reign?


Lacerda seemed to understand more clearly the opportunity for emotion that arose with the mobilizing of a huge group of people. He utilized a more personal approach and much more successfully created a sense of national unity and often of national upset. However the real power of mass emotion is shown by the events of August the 24th 1954. Vargas was by no means a popular figure but by making a drastic statement on a huge scale he managed to trigger a wave of emotion, simply because he was capable of reaching enough people to make a difference.


Filed under Week 10

A Roosevelt

This week I was captured by the Ruben Dario poem, A Roosevelt. I found it to be a beautiful and passionate description of Latin America as well as a scathing rejection of those who try to change or control it. I found the poems initial descriptions of Roosevelt to be intriguing, the words “primitive and modern” struck me as interesting, especially in the context of last week’s discussion. This seems to be a comment on the struggle for progress, especially since Latin American “progress” was often modeled after the appearances maintained by the United States.

It becomes quickly apparent that though the poem uses the name “Roosevelt” this is not a criticism of one man. It is a rejection of the United States of America as a whole. By calling Roosevelt a “future invader” Dario makes his mistrust clear. It’s important to understand that this “invasion” doesn’t just mean a physical invasion into Latin American territory but a cultural infiltration. This would be especially dangerous to Dario who seems to feel that American culture is corrupt. 

His main grievance, as driven home by the very end of the poem, is with what he perceives as America’s failing Christianity. Considering this last line implies that without God, everything means nothing, the idea of a godless influence on Latin America is grim indeed. This is the main differentiating factor between Dario’s descriptor of the two America’s one “still prays to Christ”.

Immediately prior to his passionate description of Latin America, Dario takes time to acknowledge the grandeur and power of the United States. I believe he does this to prove that Latin America does not need to minimize other nations in order to possess majesty and honour. 

This is a powerful revolutionary poem due to the unifying language used throughout. Though it may not be fully representative as Latin America was and in many large part continues to be fractured. Dario uses a common “we” throughout the poem. The use of this language is what makes the peace especially defiant. The understanding that “we” are the ones who tell “our” stories, who share history, who share pain and who share dreams and a common heartbeat allows for the rise of “we” the people. Such a united front can stand with much more impressive defiance. 

In a way I believe in the unity and familiarity expressed in this poem. Though the family may be strained and in places broken apart, Latin Americans share a common experience that is not imitated or owned by any other America.


Filed under Week 8

Modernizing Mexico

While watching this weeks video I found myself interested by the suggestions that the appearance of modernity and true modernization are two very different things. I think when most of us imagine a modern society we do think of outward organization, the latest technology and an ever growing presence on the world stage. Even more nowadays we see modern societies as those with an active population of politically concerned youth. Millennials are quickly becoming one of the most influential groups of people in terms of modernizing their societies. Modernization is seen as a good thing, it indicates improvement, better lives all around. More than anything I think modern society indicates prosperity. Sometimes however I think that when we think of modernization we don’t consider the advance of equality. I believe progress should be synonymous with modernity. Progress is a more encompassing word, it does in fact mean a better life for all those it influences, not just an appearance of advancement. Progress means moving forward in all aspects, whether it is protection for the surrounding environment, more rights for people or advancement in scientific technology to allow us to know more about our world as a whole. 

I think that when we consider the modernization of Latin America and in this case specifically the modernization of Mexico it is worth thinking about appearance versus reality. Mexico appeared to modernize quickly as it put up impressive architecture and cemented itself in military ventures. However while these actions were impressive they by no means guaranteed any change in lifestyle or prospects for the average civilian, many of who were extremely oppressed by an elite white ruling class. For the ruling class modernity was about imitating Western European culture. This ideal was one of a sanitized and organized bureaucracy. It makes sense that liberal democracy which allows independent rights for each person has been the cornerstone of the “modern” society.

However in their hesitation to allow society at large to enjoy a broader set of rights the ruling class halted progress in favour of “modernizing” in terms of aesthetic and impression. While the natural next steps would have been to gravitate towards a more liberal society, fears of chaos and violence lingered. These eruptions of chaos would not have meshed well with the ideal picture of a modern society. I think when we consider developed nations or modern cities it is absolutely vital to look beyond infrastructure and achievements in technology and the like. In the quest for progress we must look to how the people, the majority working class are advancing if they are at all.


Filed under Week Seven

Post Slavery Latin America

The scars of slavery are present and it fact remain deeply gashed into the fabric of North America. For me the most alarming thing is the lack of accountability and reconciliation on the part of many Latin American countries. I’ve been educated in both Canada and Chile and while Canada has huge stains on its history (more prevalently regarding the oppression of our indigenous peoples and the use of residential schools). The approach in terms of taking responsibility. While at long last reconciliation has and continues to become a vital part of Canadian curriculum, Chilean history classes barely mentioned a history of slavery. This lack of accountability has led to fractures in the culture and makeup of Latin American society.


The most disturbing detail about the lack of Latin American acknowledgement for its involvement in the slave trade is that lack of acknowledgement does not equate to lack of responsibility. The majority of Latin America engaged in the sale and then abuse of people-slaves. Yet it is not highlighted as a blemish on the history of many nations. Chile abolished slavery in 1823 but there were those who continued to illegally make use of slave labour for years afterwards. In addition to this, thee Latin American assault on the indigenous peoples of the region is all too often disregarded. Families, cultures, and groups were devastated and as reconciliation fails to provide for the damage done, populations at this moment continue to struggle. The devastation of colonial rule has not laid off for many of these people groups. 


The degree of education reflects on the general sentiment of much of Latin America. Canada, though it continues to struggle to entirely disregard the constraints of segregation calls itself a multicultural society. The United States refers to itself as a melting pot. I don’t think many inclusive labels could be applied to a lot of Latin American countries as a whole. An especially unnerving part of this is that I sometimes wonder about how many in the country I know, Chile, would embrace a fully integrated society. In Chile the walls are built high and strong. Distinct ethnic populations largely keep to themselves, the use of racially charged and thus derogatory language is commonplace. Race is much more readily used as an identifier of value or personality. I worry when I see the way the indigenous populations continue to be treated while reconciliation does not consistently present itself as a political talking point. For me the redeeming quality is the youth, I truly believe young people across countries are leading the push for equality and justice.


Filed under Week six

Authority in Post-Independence Latin America

I felt the description in this weeks lecture of 19th century post independence Latin America as [“Independent nations prolonging the colonial project”] to be interesting and apt. Bolivar and his contemporaries instigated a self serving independence in Latin America. It served a specific group of people. largely the ruling elite. Thus it was a very incomplete independence and the holes became obvious as the presence of colonial powers lessened.

At this point what we now know as “Latin America” entered an identity crisis. We see this in the large political masses that broke into smaller independent countries. It was up to those who remained to determine a new cultural, economic and political landscape.

There was an undeniable power vacuum left in Latin America post independence. Figureheads of the independence movement were never necessarily going to be accepted without question. Without even considering the power struggles among the political elite, the masses were finally getting a chance to assert visions and ambitions for their countries. Even those of Spanish descent who had been born into Latin America had never had freedom from colonial rule. It was only natural that the race for domination of the political landscape would intensify as colonial rule retreated.

It is typical to the nature of man that the pursuit of power is almost always accompanied by conflict and in this case bloody war. Latin America had to discern which colonial structures were to be dismantled and which parts of history were to be preserved. Political units that had been held together by the glue of imperialism naturally disintegrated and thus new countries were born. Out of these new countries came all new economic and cultural systems that to this day are distinct and unique to each area her people and her history. The hierarchical nature of colonial society remained.  As it was an elite class who pushed for independence this is a natural sequence of events. Unfortunately this resulted in an arguably even more cruel oppression of the least privileged classes. The numerous campaigns against indigenous peoples that dot Latin American history are a black mark on our heritage that cannot ever be erased.

Despite political turbulence and extreme violence within countries, across borders and even from North America. Latin America has emerged vibrant and extraordinarily varied. The first week of class I chose in our discussion to associate Latin America with resilience. I feel that though the scars of not only colonialism, but internal destruction are widely felt they do not define the character of Latin America.


1 Comment

Filed under Week 5

Bolivar and Colonial Irony

Sometimes I’m taken aback by the lack of self awareness shown by those at the top of social and political hierarchy. If any group is going to be a group of oppressors it is this demographic. However oppressors practically never understand that their direct actions subjugate people. Perhaps since the less privileged class are frequently not perceived as fully human.

The only time oppressors feel sympathy for the oppressed is when they begin to feel infringed upon themselves. This is painfully true in Bolivar’s “Letter from Jamaica”. While he demonstrates an understanding of the autonomy that many of us believe is owed to all human beings, he cannot fathom that anyone aside himself suffers. He considers himself to be deserving of rights by virtue of his humanity yet he can’t recognize the humanity of those over who he has dominion.

Entitlement rears its head again in the writing of Bolivar. He is used to being included in a political and social hierarchy. It is his natural condition to have his opinions carry weight. it also speaks to his expectation of the land he is inhabiting. He takes issue with such a vibrant, fruitful land remaining “passive”. This speaks first to his expectation of un-colonized land to be rudimentary and primitive. He sees the colonized lands as mold-able to his vision and sees it as a great injustice that he is not being given the power to change the landscape.

What Bolivar did not recognize is that he was a visitor in a land of people who possessed the same level of humanity as himself. It would have made much more logical sense to try to integrate into the existing power structures of the indigenous population. Instead he is attempting to overrule the existing dynamics and hijack the orders being given to him for his own purposes. Bolivar supposes he understands the climate and potential of his surroundings better than Spanish politicians considering he can give first hand accounts. Ironically he does not assume that the native inhabitants might have a better understanding of their home than he does.

Slavery is a condition abhorrent to the human condition. In possibly the most provocative section of his letter Bolivar describes himself and fellow colonialists-many of whom were slaveholders- as “lower than slaves”.  He is able to do this because by grace of their diminished humanity, the enslaved non-Spanish population-in Bolivars eyes-can naturally and comfortably settle into the condition of slavery. Therefore, when he understands his own lack of power to be infringing on his inherent rights, he can quickly assume the position of the gravely oppressed.


Filed under Week 4