Monthly Archives: September 2019

Reflections Week 5: Latin America-US Relations

For this week’s reflections, I will be commenting on my professor’s lecture for Week 5 of class, entitled “Caudillos versus the Nation State”.

What I found most interesting about this week’s material was its focus on the West and Western ideology and how they influenced (and still influence) Latin America, which is a topic that is still researched heavily today. Namely, it is declared that Marti saw the US as an increasing threat to Latin America. This was a sentiment that was popular in the 19th century, and still is today. However, this is not a sentiment that is only echoed in Latin America, but throughout regions where US involvement was and, in some cases, remains prominent. One may think of Iran, Russia and Southeast Asia as examples. Interestingly, poll after poll, people outside the United States and the Western World have declared the United States as the greatest threat to world peace today. This offers a dichotomy with the American and Western sentiment towards American interventionism, which is still relatively positive and seen as a force for good and the preservation of peace and human rights around the globe.

Additionally, it is stated in the lecture that independence brought neither order nor stability. This is still the common reality of Latin America (and other regions such as Sub-Saharan Africa) today. In fact, strife, intergroup warfare, tribal politics and separatism are still commonly observed to this day. One might think of the various revolutionary groups and of opposition political parties still active today, such as the Zapatistas, the FARC, the numerous ELN groups, and the still ongoing debate between left-wing, right-wing and centrist parties throughout Latin America. Also, although liberalism is said to not be accepted in Latin America as the leading ideology, this is not exactly accurate. In fact, almost all regimes in Latin America accept the basic principles of liberal ideology as true, namely the ideal of a capitalist economy, equal constitutional rights and liberties, fair and free elections, and free trade. Most of the countries are also aligned with the United States and the West on most political and/or economic issues. The examples of Chile, Peru, Mexico and Argentina may be cited. Although the general population declares itself independent and autonomous from the West, its policies often don’t reflect this sentiment. Notably, Argentina, Mexico and others continue to take parts in international agreements and conferences led by the United States and the West, and have been part of tremendous trade relationships. Thus, saying that Latin America and the United States, and by extension, the West, are completely disconnected politically and economically would be a little misleading.


Reflections Week 4: Do our principles withstand harsh realities?

This week, we are examining the video lectured provided by Professor Beasley-Murray for Week 4, entitled “Independence Narratives, Past and Present”.

To begin, one thing that I found of particular interest to me was the fact that, as mentioned early on, modern times were considered to have begun, or at least in European terms, with the age of discovery, and in particular with 1492. This is still something that is accepted as universal in the education system, although, it is worth mentioning that this is not based upon objective historic standards. Namely, is modernity associated with these events in other cultures and histories? What makes the act of discovery so “modern”, and why did such a discovery warrant the institution of a new historical era? These are questions which one should reflect upon.

Additionally, one question that is posed in the video is as follows: “Who gets to make the decisions that affect the inhabitants of the Americas?” My theory would be that, for the Americas, it used to be mostly the Europeans and the colonizers, who stripped the Indigenous inhabitants of their rights and power. Although this is a changing trend, there are still individuals and groups which would be considered as “non-people” by the powerful. For instance, recent policy developments in Canada and the United States often consider Indigenous peoples as an interest group among thousands of others, rather than as an important and constitutional part of the citizenry. Nonetheless, when reading the treatises and declarations written by those in power, whether it be in the Renaissance or now, in rhetoric, it would seem like all people, even the powerless, have rights and power in their possession. However, this is not de facto power, but only de jure, as the law is not translated into action. Even today, power and rights are stripped away from people in the name of “human rights”, “freedom” and “equality”. Notably, this was the case in Iraq, where the US contended that its intervention in the Middle East was humanitarian in nature, and for the stabilization and democratization of the region, and for the greater good of the world. The same goes for US-funded and US-backed interventions in Latin America, such as that of Nicaragua, Argentina, Brazil, Chile, El Salvador, Guatemala, Panama, Paraguay, and Peru.

This is to say that our rhetoric in terms of human rights, freedom and equality is usually idealistic, and the principles we pretend to defend and represent usually come running when the circumstances and our interests are at stake. Another example of this is the numerous armed revolutions which took place in the 19th and 20th centuries not only across Latin America but throughout the world. Namely, although they started as based upon emancipation from subjugation and upon equality in rights and redistribution of power and wealth, its implementation usually differs, ending in a bloodbath which more often than not leads to militaristic, authoritarian or at the least illiberal rule.


Reflections Week 3: The Oxymoron of Expansionary Conquest and the Legacy of Racial Uniformity

Hi all. For this week’s blog entry, I will discuss some elements that caught my attention while listening to this week’s lecture from Jon Beasley-Murray.

To commence, one thing that I find interesting about Empires and Imperialism is how such empires believe that conquest and territorial expansion will prove their culture and nation as victorious and superior, although such a thing is in itself an oxymoron. In fact, as briefly mentioned in the lecture, Spain has always had (at least) a dual identity, composed of a Christian European and a Muslim Arab heritage. It is all made even more heterogenous when considering the presence of people of Jewish background, immigrants, and other minority groups as part of the mix. Additionally, such a conquest and expansion only served to open Spain’s borders and cultural identity, rather than isolate it.

Another thing that I found fascinating was the introduction of some Casta paintings, originating from Spanish colonial Mexico and Texas. To elaborate, I noticed that although the racial and ethnic differences and similarities were purposefully highlighted, there were also significant similarities between the types of clothing worn by individuals and families, no matter their racial or ethnic background. For instance, some Whites were wearing clothes that could be perceived as part of a “lower class” denomination compared to some Mixed, Black or Indigenous peoples that were part of more apparently affluent families. Thus, society would also be divided on wealth rather than only on race and ethnicity.

Finally, I could also relate to this kind of ethnic and racial divide on a personal level, as it is highly present in all three places I have lived in before moving to Vancouver, namely Quebec, Lyon and Chiapas. In Quebec, we almost only rely on three ethnic groupings: White (also called Pure laine or Pure wool), Metis (referring to a mix between White and Indigenous or First Nations), and non-White. Although a lot of people are mixed, we usually call them according to their non-White half. There is also still a lot of work to be done to integrate Africans, Middle Eastern peoples and Asians into society, although Latino peoples are usually better integrated, as they have a easier time learning French and have similar values to that of Quebecois people. France has a very similar problem. To conclude, most individuals in Mexico (especially the part of the population that is university-educated, White, and/or part of the economic and political establishment) still associates higher social and economic status with whiteness. Indigenous or mixed populations, it is important to note, also usually have a harder time finding work, housing, getting loans, being protected by the state and police, and so forth. Thus, although more than a century has passed since slavery was abolished and these practices were abandoned, there is still a lot of work to be done regarding equal rights and opportunities for all ethnic and cultural groups in our modern societies.


Reflections Week 2

For this week’s edition of my blog, I will be commenting on a video made by my LAST 100 professor, Jon Beasley-Murray, called “The Meeting of Two Worlds #LAST100 wk 2”.

After watching the video, I was left with many questions and reflections. Many of them, however, concerned the future of Latin America’s landscape as well as of the perception of colonialism and Columbus. Mainly, after establishing that Latin America is merely an idea that is, primarily, social and societal, and an accessory to its geography, I was contemplating whether Latin America should and would expand beyond its current recognized borders, and whether certain countries with strong nationalistic sentiment and tremendous Latino diasporas, such as the United States, would be added to the standing list. Additionally, would this geographical volatility be something that could be attributed to other political and socio-economic, such as that of “The West” or “Europe”, where membership is highly contemplated and uncertain?

Furthermore, when discussing Christopher Columbus’ legacy, one thing that is left unanswered is why 1492 was chosen as the eternal and historical date of founding (or discovery, rather) of the Americas. In fact, as is briefly considered in the video, there are plenty of opportunities outlined before us to reconsider marking the founding of the Americas to a prior date, such as with the Vikings coming to Newfoundland, or with the myriad of Indigenous peoples that had established settlements, cities and even empires years before the Vikings or the Europeans came later on. One theory would be that the Americas must begin, within the Western historical narrative, with European colonialism, and although classical colonialism is no longer present nor practised in Latin America concretely, the idea of Latin America persists to this day.

Finally, this leaves me with a question, that, in my opinion, would be worthy of further discussion. Such is whether Columbus’ journey, as is presented to us in retrospect, was, indeed, worth it? Is Latin America better off, or/and will it be better off, than if it had never been discovered, or rather, conquered? One thing to consider is the idea often entertained that nothing was gained in the colonial quest, as stated in the video through the statement that nothing was brought of the journey but a promise. Although certainly true for the “conquered” side, the Spanish definitely had a lot to gain in this conquest, as abundant land, resources and cheap or even slave labour were acquired by the Spanish Empire as a direct result. Additionally, the reporting made by Bartolomé de Las Casas of the ongoing atrocities perpetrated by the Spanish considerably diminished the public and private fervour for colonial practices, and brought awareness to the cruelty and dehumanization promoted by colonialism.


Reflections Week 1

Good evening, y’all. My name is Joseph Bouchard; I am a 3rd year student at the University of British Columbia, currently studying International Relations and minoring in Latin American Studies. These series of blog posts will be related to my LAST 100 class, which I am taking out of my interest for Mexican and Latin American politics, as well as for my desire to enhance political and diplomatic relations between Canada and Latin America.

This blog post will comment on two videos produced by students.

For the first video, I picked the one entitled “The Meeting of Two Worlds: Aztec Edition”, produced by Sophie Chevalier, Michelle Marin, Elena Munk, and Christiana Tse.

The most prominent reason why I picked this video in particular was for its artistic design, which was not only simple and straightforward but also positively attention-grabbing. The humour dispersed in the video also helped make the difficult subject matter much more tolerable to learn about. As far as the content goes, its unequivocal and unapologetic format makes it as simple as can be. Nonetheless, as I will elaborate on further below, this can also harm the reach of the content presented. In fact, one element that could have been worked on in further detail, was the amount of attention paid to the complexity of the situation at play, as well as the true extent to which the colonial practices of the Spanish against the Aztecs impacted not only ancient Aztec life in an enduring and severe manner, but also contemporary life in modern Latin America. For instance, no mention is made of the fact that the Spanish, both through government and private entreprise, has continually engaged in a new form of colonialism in sparse regions of Africa, exploiting its natural resources and labour potential in almost as harsh a manner as was done in Cortés’ time.

As for the second video, I have chosen to comment on the video entitled “Citizens and Rights”, made by Leobardo Elizando, Aaliya Kochra, Tamara Malhas, and Roy Saito.

This video discusses equal gender rights in Latin America, a topic that is still highly discussed today in Latin American politics and society. In fact, as is the global trend for developing countries and non-liberal democracies, machismo culture and an economic and societal advantage provided to men is still commonplace in Latin American societies. It was made clear that this video touches on this sensible and challenging subject with intelligence and accuracy, as few important elements are left out of the conversation. However, very sparse time was granted to the progress that has been made in recent years to achieve such a social and economic gender equality in Latin America. Namely, many political and ideological movements, such as that of the Mexican Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional and the Bolivian Movimiento al Socialismo, have made great strides to not only include women among their ranks, but also promote them as leaders of the movement, even making women into elected members of Congress of Parliament. Thus, although this video does a great job at portraying the issue that is still currently at play, it could have better integrated the recent progress that has been made to alleviate such an issue.