Author Archives: Joseph Bouchard

Reflections Week 13: The Release of Ovidio Guzmán

Hi all. For this week’s reflections, I will be commenting on the release of Ovidio Guzmán, commonly known as one of El Chapo’s sons. More specifically, I will be comparing two responses to the incident, and give my own personal take on it.

To give more background to the incident, a few weeks ago, the town of Culiacan, in the state of Sinaloa in Mexico, was attacked by cartel members and sympathizers as a direct response to the arrest of Ovidio Guzmán by the government of Mexico. Armed military and police personnel was then sent by the Mexican government, although they were overrun by the cartel forces. In fact, many government agents and officers were killed and taken hostage by the cartels. This gave the possibility to the cartels to threaten the Mexican government with mass slaughter against the town Culiacan, as the civilians were now left stranded without arms or defences. This thus prompted President AMLO to issue the release of Ovidio Guzmán, to prevent further bloodshed. 

There have been different responses to this event. One of them, as outlined in Daniel Tenreiro’s article in the conservative magazine National Review, has been to condemn AMLO’s decision, instead calling for a reversal of his “hugs, not bullets” policy, and to instead heighten the militarization of the country by bringing more United States armed forces in. He also calls for a modernization and strengthening process of the local and state police forces, to fight the corruption currently present within them. This, in my view, is a deeply flawed solution to the problem, as it has been tried for more than a decade before, and has continuously made drug cartels stronger, while only serving to heighten the tensions and violence between the two camps. This has also resulted in a “decapitation” policy, based on arresting or killing heads of cartel syndicates in Mexico, which has only served to create more turf wars and increase polarization and the number of warring factions in the country. This has notably shown in the continuous growth in the number of deaths per capita in Mexico, now at 29 per 100,000 people. According to Tenreiro, the AMLO administration is to blame for this, saying the policy has been tried and has not worked, although not even a full year has passed since AMLO took office, while the previous militarization policies have been tried for 13 years, to no avail. This has, nonetheless, been a very popular response among the Mexican people, albeit a highly emotional one.

A second response to the situation has been to endorse AMLO’s response. This is my response, and that which is also voiced by one of my favourite political commentators, Kyle Kulinski, founder of the Justice Democrats currently hosting The Kyle Kulinski Show. Kulinski rightly points out, as does the AMLO administration, that this was done to prevent further slaughter, and perhaps even a genocide against the Culiacan population. There was no choice given to the government, as the lives of the innocent were worth much more than the arrest of one kingpin’s son, regardless of the will of the DEA or the US government. Kulinski also correctly argues that militarization and heightened violence and enforcement is not the appropriate response to the crisis, but rather drug legalization, taxation and regulation. This is based on the true premise that drug cartels currently have a monopoly over the drugs they sell in the black market. Pursuing a legalization, taxation and regulation of drugs policy would thus force the cartels to compete with legitimate business in the marketplace, and would, through time, make them go out of business and lose their profits. Another temporary solution, though not mentioned by Kulinski, might be to offer self-defence training to local populations in regions affected by the drug war, until the policy is fully enacted. The former policy, incredibly enough, as been considered by the AMLO government.


Reflections Week 12: Disappearances in Latin America

Hi all. For this week’s reflections, I will be commenting on a video posted for week 12, entitled “Dictatorship and Resistance”.

In it, Professor Rita de Grandis speaks about the military junta in Argentina between 1976 and 1983, which was supported by the United States through Operation Condor, though the exact extent of the American role remains unknown. During this period of repressive rule, tens of thousands, accused of being left-leaning or Communists/Socialists/Bolshevists, were jailed, tortured or simply vanished from public life without a trace.  Most of them were public intellectuals, labour rights activists, and young people associated with anti-establishment or leftist causes. This prompted a public outcry from the “mothers of the disappeared”, standing up to the regime for the rights and humanity of their sons lost in the incident.

This is, as history shows us, far from the first nor the last instance of mothers revolting against their governments for their rights and that of their families. Allusions to the French revolution may be made, as tens of thousands of wives and mothers marched down to Versailles to claim their economic and political rights, mostly related to food and labour rights, although I will mostly talk about the Mexican case. In fact, since the start of the War on Drugs, led by the United States since the Reagan administration, women, and mothers in particular, have taken on a very important role in the public perception of the slaughter associated with the drug cartels.

As President Calderon heightened tensions between the American and Mexican military apparatus and the drug cartels by increasing the level of militarism and police enforcement in the country, hundreds of thousands have died at the hands of the Mexican Drug War. This has primarily affected civilians and families, who are caught in the middle of the trade and of the violence. Mothers and family members of the victims, which have been primarily consisting of military-aged men and boys, have taken to the streets in great numbers, month after month, to protest the inaction of their government and the ineffectiveness of the policies enacted. A great portion of them, enraged by the great injustice and trauma caused by this catastrophe, are protesting in search of their husbands and sons, as many of them have disappeared as a result to kidnappings and mass burials, in part enabled or even done through the Mexican government and the military. Therefore, the disappearances in Argentina during the Dirty War, and the public reaction to them, bear great resemblance to that of the Mexican Drug War.


Short Writing and Research Assignment: Part 2

Second Source: Guatemala and the United Fruit Company: Office of the Historian – United States Department of State. “Foreign Relations of the United States, 1952-1954, Guatemala.” September 11, 1953.

This public document, redacted by the United States Department of State in 1953, outlines in great detail the sentiment towards Guatemala and the Arbenz government taken by the United States government right before it covertly invaded Guatemala in 1954. This is notably voiced right at the start of the memorandum, as it pins to Arbenz and his government the labels of “anti-US” and “Communist” (twice in the case of the latter). Similar to the Nicaraguan case 26 years earlier, the U.S. government tries to justify the invasion of Guatemala through moral and political motives, invoking “hemispheric solidarity”, “security” and Cold War-esque tropes throughout the text. In total, the word “communist” or “Communism” is invoked 20 times. Guatemala is, additionally, referred to as a “primitive country”. Besides the political rhetoric, of particular interest is the detailed plan of action and budget proposed within the memorandum, which outlines the different tactics which would be used by the CIA to deal with the Guatemalan case. This includes, among others, isolation and intimidation through sending military aid to neighbouring countries, psychological warfare, para-military operations, and applying economic pressure. This memorandum is thus trying to justify a coup orchestrated and backed by the CIA in Guatemala to topple the current Arbenz government.

This text will be of particular use to the video project in that it will allow us to contend that Guatemala indicates American intervention in Latin American long before the Aguida vs. Chevron/Texaco legal case. It will also allow us to detail the political rhetoric used to justify these interventions, which, as we will see in greater detail later on with the coup in Brazil, revolves heavily around the American fight against Communism and the Soviet Union during the Cold War. We will also observe how such anti-Communist rhetoric was incited and encouraged by the American corporations who had interests in the interventions. This will be demonstrated with the case of the United Fruit Company (UFC), which took on tremendous lobbying efforts to label Arbenz’s government as a Communist. As we will see, this is primarily because Arbenz had undertaken land reforms that massively threatened the UFC’s investments and interests in the region. Finally, this specific text will be helpful to our project in that it will outline the methods and tactics used by the United States government to topple governments in Latin America. Other CIA declassified documents subsequent to the memorandum will also be referenced to put such methods in tactics in further detail.


Short Writing and Research Assignment: Part 1

First Source: Banana Wars in Central America: U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee (Frank Billings Kellogg). “Memorandum submitted January 12, 1927, to the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee.” 12 January, 1927.

This primary source, written in 1927 at the height of the Banana Wars, outlines a memorandum delivered by then-United States Secretary of State Frank Billings Kellogg. In it, Kellogg outlines how the United States government should look into perpetuating its occupation of Nicaragua, which it had stopped two years prior. Though there were multiple previous military interventions on the United States’ part in the 1890s and early 1900s in Nicaragua specifically to protect business and economic interests in the region, Secretary of State Kellogg insists that this is a political endeavour of moral importance. In fact, Kellogg argues that the resurgence of Communism, Bolshevism and anti-American sentiment in the neighbouring Mexico country through the influence of the Soviet Union is a threat to the United States. Kellogg, by the same token, argues that this is a struggle that has proven effective for the enemy, as this has allowed the Communist and Bolshevist leaders in the United States to rise to prominence. Due to this, Kellogg argues that the United States must continue to preserve its interests and supremacy in Nicaragua. Therefore, Kellogg’s reasoning for occupation and intervention seems to be purely moral and political.

Not mentioned by Kellogg is the fact that at the time, and since the first U.S. intervention in Nicaragua in the 1890s, American imperialism had allowed U.S. companies to thrive in the Central American region. Most of the region’s vital industries, including that of agriculture (especially bananas), infrastructure and railroad construction and maintenance, the mining sector, and banking, were dominated by American companies. American investments in the region were also heavily threatened by civilian and political unrest in the region. Thus, using this primary source will leave us to argue that not only was American interventionism in Latin American (in this case, in Nicaragua) based on preserving its own economic and financial interests, but that such interventionism was also hidden by a veneer of underlying political rhetoric. This primary source will be instrumental in building this argument, which will then be referenced in other American interventions later on, such as in the case of the U.S.-backed coup in Brazil in the 1960s. Kellogg’s address will help us argue that there are many cases involving the United States engaging in foreign meddling in Latin American countries’ affair before the Aguida vs. Chevron/Texaco case, as the Banana Wars show. To construct this point, this source will also be contrasted with other historical facts about the Banana Wars, including the broader context to the wars, the specific companies benefiting from the occupation, and the repercussions of the war on the region’s political and economic landscape.


Reflections Week 11: Disruption in Peru

Hi all. Since there is no video lecture for this week’s material, I will be writing comments on a video entitled “Peru’s Civil War”, with Maxwell Cameron.

One thing I found very interesting which can also be applied in the Peruvian context is that many (and one could argue even most) revolutionary movements praising social and economic change start from the bottom, with labour unions, students and “radical” intellectuals who separate themselves from the establishment of their time. This has been true in many cases throughout Latin America, including the 1968 protests against political and military repression and poor economic opportunity, which started in Mexico City with UNAM students and brave professors and academics. This is partly the reason why so many authoritarian and fascistic regimes, when entering the arena of power, begin their crusade of repression by censoring, jailing or even killing those in labour and student movements. Many examples come to mind, including Nazi Germany, Turkey, Russia, and Cuba. This is a notion which can be applied to the Peruvian context, as, as Maxwell Cameron points out, with the Communist Party of Peru and the APRA Party leading the charge in the revolts. It is also interesting to point out that when leftist revolutionary movements take power, like was the case in Peru, they often focus on “paying back” those who started and helped the struggle for power, by taking on educational, labour and land reforms.

Another interesting thing that I shall comment on is the Shining Path. The thing that caught my attention with this series of events is that although the Peruvian government and elite intended to appease the peasantry with land reform policies, that only served to exacerbate tensions and growing pains. This is, in part, other than for the reason that Professor Cameron mentions, is due to the fact that the reforms were not far-reaching enough, and demonstrated the lack of understanding of the elites and the powerful of the daily difficulties experienced by labourers and workers in the countryside. Too often, this situation repeated itself, where those in power, who were elected to represent a certain group of elites, could not properly serve the interests of the remaining portions of the population. This poses a fascinating question, which is what should have been done to remedy this conflict and avoid a full-scale uprising and insurgency. Two possible answers might be consultation with or surrendering to the opposition forces, although the first one is much more plausible and much less detrimental.


Reflections Week 10: Comments on the Peronist Philosophy

Hi all. For this weeks reflections, I will be commenting on a video, entitled Power to the People: Peronism, as well as on the broader Peronist movement.

Firstly, the first part of the video outlines Peron as an opportunist who only saw this rise of the labour movement as an opportunity for him to gain political power. This is not only inaccurate but also based on speculation. This is also reinforced by the fact that he was a civil servant for a long time, being a Lt. General for over 30 years in the Argentine military, as well as serving in different high-ranking senior government positions, including that of Secretary of Labour and Social Security, and Minister of War. Although I do not fully agree with the Peronist philosophy, painting this picture without stating facts to back it up can appear dishonest. 

Additionally, as the video rightly points out, the Peronist movement was originating from a need of representation from the labour and working class, which had just seen a tremendous influx of people from Europe, mostly in relation to the Great War. In a way, Peron was seen as the cure to the ill that had plagued Argentine politics for long, with a long line of political and military insiders and leaders with fascist or corporatist ideological leanings preceding him. This was, however, not entirely accurate, as he was himself a military general and a member of the political class. Despite this, his charisma, political stances and discourse made him appealing to the Argentine people, and made him one of the first popular populists in history.

This is a theme that is still very much true in modern politics, whether in Latin American politics or otherwise. Indeed, in the United States, people like Ross Perot, famous multi billionaire oil tycoon who ran for President twice as an independent, Tea Party politicians, Donald Trump, and others, although being part of the political and financial elite, adopt populist rhetoric and are portrayed as men of the people’, even though their policies often times do not reflect this portrayal. Similarly, in Latin America, self-described ’’populists’’, including the Perons, as well as others, including Vargas in Brazil, Ibarra in Ecuador, and Chavez in Venezuela, are characterized as leaders of the people and populists although they had militaristic, authoritarian or even dictatorial and fascistic tendencies as rulers. We in Canada, for now, have been spared of this dichotomy, and have not had our share of authoritarian populist rulers. Some exception may be made with Quebec, which was ruled by Maurice Duplessis, whose time in office was accurately characterized as La grande noirceur (The Great Darkness) due to his crackdown on left-leaning ideology, trade unions, civil liberties and his promotion of a heavily Catholic State. 



Reflections Week 9: U.S. Foreign Policy in Latin America

Hi all. For this week’s post, I will be discussing and analyzing a video in relation to this week’s material, entitled “Commerce, Coercion, and America’s Empire III”. More particularly, I will be commenting on the remarks it made regarding U.S. Foreign Policy.

To begin, the video states that the United States asserted its dominance and influence in the Latin American region to acquire its wealth and natural resources. This is only partially true. As for every piece of legislation enacted by a global hegemonic power, there are a lot of reasons behind United States involvement in Latin America. Firstly, the United States, after its official founding, ironically enough as that might sound, was trying to establish itself as a global power and as a defender of liberty, equality and human rights. This is embodied by the Monroe Doctrine as well as following policy legislation from the U.S. government. Thus, it was mostly trying to extend its influence and to acquire power and control beyond its own borders. Following this reasoning, this was also part of the reason why the U.S. Government, and most prominently the American Intelligence Community, meddled in the affairs of many Latin American governments and tried to influence their elections. Simply put, the United States government was trying to expand its circle of influence and to partially or completely dictate the global political order, which it has consistently viewed as one where the United States must stand against any kind of regime that goes against its principles and interests. Other reasons for involvement non-exhaustively include pre-emptively or actively trying to minimize possible threats to U.S. national security and economic interests, and protecting or asserting the economic monopolies of U.S. companies in the region (such as the United Fruit Company, for instance).

Nonetheless, we may criticize this policy and the genuineness of its underlying motives. For example, many of the foreign policies implicating the United States in Latin America, although citing human rights, liberty and democracy as a motive, have actively caused the death and imprisonment of civilians, toppled democratically-elected politicians and governments for U.S.-backed authoritarian counterparts, cracked down on the rights and liberties of innocent people, and have caused the region to be wrought by mass poverty, inequality, authoritarian politics, and civil war. This is best exemplified by Operation Condor, as well as the continuing War on Drugs.


Reflections Week 8: The Mexican Revolution

Hello, all. Since there is no online lecture linked to this week’s material and classes, I will be commenting on an interview assigned to us, entitled “The Mexican Revolution”.

To start, I will comment on the claim “Revolution is a claim of ownership on history”. This is an interesting claim, but only partially true. Revolutions usually mean a social, economic or political break from the current course of history, which can be either violent or non-violent. Revolutions and revolutionary factions do not claim to own a certain part of history or try to change it, but rather want to change its current predicted trajectory. However, there have been revolutionary factions and movements which have seeked to re-write history in their image and dismiss the past histories written, such as was the case with the Chinese Cultural Revolution and its continuation to this day, as well as with the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia, which tried to own history to rewrite it as well as change its trajectory.

Further, It is interesting to see how some of these historical dynamics from the Mexican Revolution still persist to this day. In fact, when mentioning Emiliano Zapato and his Zapatista revolutionaries, I was reminded of the trips I made last year to Chiapas, in Southern Mexico. An important chunk of the Chiapaneco territory is still claimed by Zapatista factions, after many violent clashes with the Mexican and state government. Also interesting to note is the fact that many people in the state see the Zapatistas and other Indigenous factions as the legitimate governors of the state, whereas they see the Mexican federal government as an illegitimate aggressor cracking down on their rights and sovereignty. This bears quite a lot of resemblance to the Quebec sovereigntist/independentist movement, which claims that the provincial government is the legitimate sovereign in the province, while the federal government is aggressing Quebecois peoples and ruling over them in an unconstitutional, undemocratic, or even fascist manner. They also claim that since the Quebecois peoples (the French and French Canadians, as well as the American Indian Peoples (Peuples Amérindiens du Québec) settled on Quebec land before the British and English Canadians did, they hold sovereignty over such land. The broader story of both of these sovereigntist revolutionary movements, as well as many other ones, is about local peoples trying to decentralize power and bring it into their hands in order to be able to decide their own history.


Reflections Week 7: Modernization of Modernity

Happy Thanksgiving, all. Since there was no video lecture given by our professor for this week, I will be comenting on a related video, entitled “Modernity and Modernization in Mexico”.

The first thought that caught my eye were the disconcerting similarities between the definition given of modernity and that which is understood of progress. Especially, this is true when talking about technological and social innovation, as well as positive change to one’s society. However, although these definitions are somewhat similar and, one might say, interchangeable, they are not associated with the same era(s). In fact, modernity is often talked about in a philosophical and historical context, when discussing the Western world entering a certain historical era, whereas progress, and progressive politics, have been flowing in and out of political discourse for centuries. Other themes that are included in modernity, such as secularization and emancipation, are still discussed today, also. For instance, France and my home of Quebec have continuously and for decades brought forth legislation aiming for la laïcité de l’État (laicity of the state). La Charte de la laïcité de l’État in France and La Loi 21 only two recent examples of this principle. In the United States, ever since slavery and the emancipation of the slaves, there has been continued dicussion about reparations, and modern forms of slavery, and how to tackle them. Thus, these topics are still touched on in today’s political discourse.

Also, another element of modernity that is left unaccounted for or rather that is stated as true (but which isn’t) is how only a democratic regime and system are compatible with modernity. Nonetheless, although a democratic system is usually preferable for the well-being of a nation, it is wrong to assume that it is the only system that is compatible with modernity. This would only be true if seen through a Western, pro-democratic, liberalist (in the historical sense of the term) lense. There are two main elements of criticism to this notion. Firstly, the West at the time (and still today, to some extent) hardly fit the definition of a democratic regime, as many individuals and groups were (and are) barred from voting, including racial minorities, expats, ex-prisoners, and so forth. Additionally, there are many examples of countries and states which, although not democratic, fit into the definition of a modern state, mostly based on the level of human development and technological inovation. Notably, the People’s Republic of China, Singapore, and many Latin American countries, have historically proved this idea wrong.


Reflections Week 6: Ethnic Ancestry as Biological

Hi all. For this week’s post, I will be reflecting upon this week’s video lecture, entitled “Citizenship and Rights in the New Republics. More precisely, I will be discussing race and its importance in discourse.

Stated in the lecture is that “race is a social construct, rather than a biological fact”. This is not true, as there are notable physical and genetic differences between racial (or rather ethnic ancestry) groups, which are common to people of a common ethnic ancestry group. Skin colour, types of hair and facial characteristics are only parts of it. To deny this would be to deny decades of scientific research that has been documenting this topic thoroughly. Although there is genetic variation between members of the same race, there are still trends and commonalities between such members. Nonetheless, this does not make race more or less important as a political or moral argument, and also does not take away stress from the fact that we should base our discourse and reflections on one’s personality and psychological characteristics, rather than the biology they are assigned or born with. Additionally, this is not to say that these ethnic ancestry differences are to be part of a broader moral argument, such as “Africans are X, and thus are better at Y than Caucasians”, which is highly reprehensible and factually incorrect. To read more about this topic, I highly recommend Vivian Chou’s article posted on Harvard’s SITN website.

Additionally, it is true that these racial differences have been highlighted and even heightened, which has caused historical divisions that have led to many conflicts and brutal wars. The Casta paintings namely commit this fallacy by highlighting racial difference in order to justify different racial treatments and racial superiority. In Latin America, even today, there is still a tremendous divide between peoples of European vs. Indigenous ancestry. In Mexico, notably, there have been studies done about how Mexicans of European, Indigenous or even Latin American ancestry have experienced different social, political and economic treatments. Most individuals in positions of power are still of European or Latin American descent, and only recently was the National Indigenous Congress (similar to the Congressional Black Caucus in the United States) created and had elected political representatives. This is also a problem throughout the rest of the world, including the West, which is not deprived of this. The economic/financial wage gap between ethnic groups is still something that is grappled with in Canada and the United States to this day.