Tag Archives: slavery

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

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