Monthly Archives: October 2017

Week 9:

So far this semester we have traveled from the early colonial days of the 1500s to the not so distant past of the 20th century.  In particular, this week has focused on continued imperialism against Latin America from its new enemy to the North. Dawson’s reading has two narratives; the more commonly known militaristic intervention from the united states; and, at least to me, the subtle cultural influence that now seem to have been quite pervasive.

The first point that Dawson made which I found very interesting is of America’s self perceived image. “the US was a nation forged through anti-imperial struggle, a nation dedicated to the principles of freedom and self-determination”.  In this light it is interesting to think of how north americans might have seen their countries intervention to the south. For example, Dawson mentions an ad campaign run by United Fruit that attempted to portray their massive enterprise in as a modernizing force that benefited entire countries. However, it is now known that their presence had long lasting and devastating consequences. It could be argued that their role in the coup against Jacobo Arbenz in Guatemala laid the groundwork for a long civil war that took the lives of 200,000 people, mostly Mayans. Furthermore, they stripped many people of their land and the chemicals that were used on their banana plantations caused many illnesses and deaths. In Nicaragua, the U.S invasion in the 1920s could also be partially attributed to them.  To this respect, Augusto Sandino’s manifesto was a great read. His clear anti-american sentiments resounded deeply with many poor and disenfranchised people.  “Today that flag hangs idle and humiliated by the ingratitude and indifference of its sons who don’t make the superhuman effort to free it from the claws of the monstrous eagle with the curved beak that feeds on the blood of this people while the flag that represents the assassination of defenseless peoples and the enmity of our race flies in Managua’s Mars Field. Sandino shared the dreams of many Latin Americans of a free and sovereign region. He feared U.S influence, particularly the influence they would gain over Nicaragua and the region as a whole if the they managed to build the Nicaraguan Canal. So, Sandino was one of the first Latin American revolutionaries to challenge U.S hegemony. Unlike Marti who wanted their neighbor to the north to get to know and understand them, Sandino wanted them gone.  “Come, you gang of morphine addicts; come murder us in our own land, I am awaiting you, standing upright before my patriotic soldiers, not caring how many you may be. But bear in mind that when this occurs, the destruction of your grandeur will shake the Capitol in Washington, reddening with your blood the white sphere that crowns your famous White House, the den where you concoct your crimes.”


The second Narrative that Dawson gives is of cultural influence. There were a few things here that struck me. First off was the Belmonte that he provides. When I was in Nicaragua earlier this year Belmont’s were still a popular cigarette, and as he notes, they were more expensive and thus seemed to offer some sort of prestige(maybe they kill you faster or something). Secondly, He notes that television had a great impact. This immediately made me think of Chavez’s desires to start a news network of the south(Telesur), now that I see how long U.S television has had an influencing role in Latin America the urgency with which Chavez beseeched this idea to his counterparts makes more sense. Finally, the impact of Disney cartoons seems almost comical, yet utterly serious. I think that it is widely accepted that Walt Disney was pretty racist, but I never thought that his work had such a subtle impact.  The analysis of the Abominable SnowMan by Dorfman and Mattelart was fascinating. The way that they perceive this character as a metaphor(allegory?)  of Latin America’s indigenous peoples and the story as the story of colonization seems incredibly accurate.  The way in which the snowman is treated as a uncivilized and naive child is emblematic of the colonizers opinion towards Indigenous peoples. “The hegemony which we have detected between the child-adults who arrive with their civilization and technology, and the child-noble savages who accept this alien authority and surrender their riches, stands revealed as an exact replica of the relations between metropolis and satellite, between empire and colony, between master and slave.”,,,”Each time this situation recurs, the natives’ joy increases. As each object of their own manufacture is taken away from them, their satisfaction grows. As each artifact from civilization is given to them, and interpreted by them as a manifestation of magic rather than technology, they are filled with delight”

So, my question for this week is, What force had the biggest impact in the long run. Did the military intervention that led to countless dictatorships and probably millions of lost lives hold Latin America back. Or was it the cultural impacts that played a more vital role with the stereotypes and the continuation of “look and feel” modernization that it promoted  have a stronger and more lasting effect?


Week 8: Signs of Crisis in the Gilded Age

This weeks material focused on crisis facing Latin America at the beginning of the 20th century, with a particular focus on Mexico and the Mexican Revolution. The Mexican revolution is really interesting to me because it seems to still play a role in Mexican politics and society. As Dawson mentions in the video the Plan de Ayala is still taught in the Mexican educational system. However, its influence goes well beyond this. Dawson also speaks to the continuation of the EZLN and their resurgence in 1994. I think it is very interesting that they were the first Guerrilla that utilized the internet to spread awareness of the crisis that they were facing. I don’t  think it was mentioned in the video, but as many of you know the EZLN re-emerged in 1994 in opposition to the implementation of NAFTA. The trade deal threatened their communal lands, and I believe that they also(rightfully so) feared the liberalization of agricultural trade. To this note, their use of the internet was very successful. They were able to alert NGOs, and regular people around the world of the imminent threat that they faced. In turn this helped protect them from the state repression that undoubtedly would have followed their resistance to NAFTA.  Now that I think about it, i’ve talked to my parents about this, both of whom remember hearing about the Zapatistas, led by subcomandante Marcos declaring war on the Mexican government on January 1st. I guess this should have made it obvious that they were using new methods to spread awareness. The legacy of the revolution is also present in a very strong way in Mexican Politics. The PRI which I think can be considered a product of the revolution, has, to put it lightly,  been a powerful force in Mexico since the 1930s. With an uninterrupted rule of something like 70 years, they have clearly been a shaping force of modern day Mexico. And if i’m not mistaken they are back in power today after a short interruption in the early 2000s.


Something Dawson said that  I found really interesting was that Zapata and Pancho Villa became very strong symbols because they did not live long enough to disappoint. This idea rang true for me. It made me think of Castro, Ortega, Chavez.. It seems that, to a certain extent these leaders have fulfilled that claim. Although I am honestly a fan of all these leaders, I don’t think any of them lived up to their potential. I think Castro did well, yet did not truly create the society of which he had imagined. Same thing goes for Chavez. His first 10 years or so were amazing, yet it seems that towards the end of his life the idealistic society he aimed to create began to become warped. However, for both these guys I think that is incredibly important to consider the outside influences that impeded their dreams. What could have happened if the US minded their own business? As for Ortega I simply find him disappointing. But anyways i’m getting way off track.

A further point that Dawson made is that their were no clear winners of the Revolution.  In the Cuban revolution Castro and his followers clearly won, in Nicaragua Ortega and the Sandinistas won, what made the  Mexican outcome different?  

This weeks original documents were also quite interesting. Primarily, I liked “ The Problem of the Indian” and the “Plan de Ayala.”  I found “La Raza Cosmica” sort of confusing so I will address this one first. It seems that Vasconcelos was headed in the right direction, but i found it really hard to ignore the racist undertones which in the end made me doubtful. Was Vasconcelos saying that the ultimate human will be created from the mixing of “races” by eliminating unwanted weaknesses. Or was he saying that the ultimate human would be created because the “savagery” of blacks and indians would eventually disappear? Perhaps someone can clarify this in the comments.   

The other two mentioned readings I really liked. The Plan De Ayala clearly echoes many of the demands of the poor. Not just in Mexico but throughout Latin America. The Indian problem framed the need for land as a socioeconomic problem. Secondly, his framing as the Latifundio system as a continuation of feudalism is spot on. Even today, in a “modern” way we can see this continue in the fruit plantations of central america, in the orange groves of florida or in the vineyards of the Okanagan.  Particularly interesting was the argument that the division of land is capitalist, liberal and bourgeois, something i’ve never heard anyone else argue for.  The way that the current neoliberal system frames this issue makes this seem counterintuitive; bigger is better. Yet, with a little thought it does make sense. Small plots of land=more capitalist, arguably more production, and definitely increased competition.  

My question for this week is in regards to Dawson’s idea that revolutionary figures can be eaten by the revolution and thus usually disappoint. Can anyone think of a revolutionary leader who survived to rule afterwards and actually implemented what they had promised?


Sorry to anyone who’s had to read this, I know it’s not very clear. haha.


Week 7: “Modernizing” forces in Latin America

This weeks content focused on the idea of modernity Latin American. Modernity in Latin America and a difficult concept that continues to be debated today. As such a broad idea, it seems to tie into many subjects that we have covered so far in this course. It can be thought of in the context of civilization vs barbarism, in the context of citizenship, the relationship between racism and modernity or Caudillismo vs liberalism and many others.


I think the main idea that my post will follow is from Dawson’s interview from this week’s syllabus; the idea that Latin America’s elites wanted the “look and feel” of modernity, rather than what real “modernity” might actually be. Dawson in his interview explains this as the expansion of infrastructure, global fashion, technology, while continuing to ignore the injustices that were (and still are) so prevalent in Latin American society. He believes that real and advanced modernity is the investment in the whole populace and not in corporations or the aristocracy. To further relate this point to the points made in the first paragraph, Dawson states that the justification for the promotion of this type  of modernization was the chaos that defined post-colonial Latin America. Yet, He believes that the real reason for the superficial modernization was the rampant racism that still existed in these societies. For example, in this week, as well as past week’s readings the favorable immigration policies towards Europeans have been mentioned. In Argentina and Brazil 5 and 1.6 million europeans, respectively, immigrated leading to the desired whitening of these countries. This racism translated into a fear of increasing rights for “uncivilized” peoples, thus a need to keep modernization superficial and exclusive.


As the textbook points out, a  great example of “look and feel” modernization lays within late 19th and early 20th century Mexico under Porfirio Díaz. during this era the country underwent a series of changes. the economy grew substantially for years, leading to increasing infrastructure and technology. The roads were populated with vehicles, streets were illuminated with electric lights, government buildings were popping up, sewage and drainage systems were created, and high end buildings such as opera houses began to appear. But, probably the most  important advancement, not just in mexico, but in the most developed parts of Latin America was the creation and expansion of railroads. On a side note: I think it’s super interesting how much Dawson stresses the importance of barbed wire. He claims that, along with the railroads, it help solidify and centralize state power. With the expansion of the railroads, so came an expansion of the middle class. Yet, this modernization is superficial in that in continued to emphasize the “Scientific” organizing of the social and political realms. Thus, with no surprise, those who continued to suffer were the historically marginalized indigenous and afro-latin communities. Inequalities persisted and even increased. “modernization” led to the theft of land from small family and subsistence farms and thus increased the concentration of land. In Mexico 1% of the population  owned over half the  land and 97% of mexicans were without land altogether. So, although GDP grew, wages fell and inequality increased. In hindsight, we now know that this laid the foundations for the Mexican Revolution.


On another yet related subject, I want to consider the role of Porfirio Diaz in the development of Mexico as my thoughts are mixed.  A prominent way of thought in Latin America was order before democracy. Or, in other words, authoritarian led development before the spread and equalization of rights. To this, Diaz seemed to adhere strongly. James Creelman emphasises this point when he says that Diaz is “one who is said to have transformed a republic into an autocracy by the absolute compulsion of courage and character, and to hear him speak of democracy as the hope of mankind.”  Diaz himself acknowledges this when he said that “We were harsh. Sometimes we were harsh to the point of cruelty. But it was all necessary then to the life and progress of the nation. If there was cruelty, results have justified it.” He strongly believed that he had done wonders for the country, which he may have done. He had a long period of economic growth, he believed in education for all, although he might have had a note of racist assumptions when he spoke to this, he created trade across Mexico and across state borders, and for his long rule brought relative stability to the country. Yet, in light of the past section, he also helped increase the concentration of power, wealth and land, laying the foundation for the ensuing revolution.


As mentioned above, he also seems to had a deep respect for democracy. In Creelman’s writings, he claims that he would full heartedly support  the creation of an opposition party. He felt that, after his long tenure, the country was indeed ready for a transition to democracy. He wanted country wide education to fuel this process while also stopping and further violence.


So my question for this week relates to this. Who was Porfirio Diaz? Was he a stepping stone to Mexican democracy, which in reality did not arrive for almost 100 years. Or was he simply a egotistical dictator that did not much more then push the country into further political violence?

Week 6: Citizenship and Rights in the New Republics.

I’d like to begin this week’s post by thinking about the term “scientific racism” as it seems to be a key point behind this week’s topic: Citizenship and Rights in the new Republics.  Scientific racism, as Dawson describes it, is the belief that some people are destined to rule and others to be ruled.  Be it by some sort of Religious destiny, by right of lineage, or by some assumption based on education, wealth or general stature in society. Going beyond the topic of this week, It seems that this is a strong and persistent idea in Latin American history, and one that applies to many aspects of its development. This immediately made me think of the binary way in which many perceived the process of independence, barbarism vs civilization. The uneducated against the educated, white versus indigenous and black and the uncertain place of mulattos and mestizos.  Along these lines, It seems very peculiar how some Latin Americans at the time did not see themselves as racist as  Dawson says that ” Latin American societies did not generally see a legal codification of discrimination based on race, a fact that many Latin American nationalists have long used to argue that their nations are more enlightened when it comes to matters of race.” Yet, it seems that racial discrimination was deeply embedded in Latin American society, and for some reason it seems that this is even more true in the post colonial era.  For example, Dawson mentions that Brazilian economic and political elites worked together to lessen the opportunities of emancipated slaves. By encouraging and subsidizing immigrants to come and work, they shrank the amount of jobs available to the former slaves. This being done because they saw them as unruly and demanding too much. This seems like blatant racism and i’m not sure how anyone could see it otherwise.  


A second point that was interesting in Dawson’s reading was the impact that the call for citizenship had on indigenous Communities. As he states earlier on, Citizenship was exclusive. In general you had to be a wealthy man, who was educated and considered to have the ability of being a rational and able citizen. Thus, as Indigenous people were often uneducated in the colonial system and were definitely  not wealthy, citizenship was not extended to them. So, strikingly, they actually seem to have lost many of their rights along with the fall of the colonial empires. For example, Communities who had been able to exercise a degree of autonomy over their land and water  lost these rights. Dawson says that “ Peasants might insist on their right to village autonomy, to the land, timber and water rights they had enjoyed under colonial rule. This expectation, once guaranteed to them as vassals of the king, would be recast as a citizenship claim made by villages that called themselves comunidades ex-indios.”


A third section I found interesting was the search for a Mulatto identity. Nina Rodriguez seems to have distanced himself from his African heritage, seeing black Latin Americans as completely inferior to whites and even Mulattos. He believed that mulattos were not destined to remain barbarics and could be civilized through education ect.. Some argued that they were civilized because they had “erased their racial origins”, as in Cuba, and some said that racism did not exist, and that they were happy to work within the system. Others however, vibrantly defended their ethnic origins, culture and religion.


While thinking about all the aforementioned points, Dawson’s thought that “ The law in Latin America has a long history of acting as a projection of how society might function, and not so much as a prescription for how it will function”. If we think about the loss of communal lands or the blockage of work for former slaves his point is very valid. Prior to legalizing the (further) theft of land, or racial discrimination in the economy, the racist social sentiments already existed.  However, as is pointed out throughout the reading these laws were not overtly based on race. Rather, racism was an informal practice that was covertly enforced through formal policy.


So my question for this week is, what did citizenship mean in postcolonial Latin America?  Was citizenship ment extend the rights of everyone in Latin American society, or was it a covert way to keep the systems of oppression in place, and even to create new ones.


Week 5: Caudillos vs the Nation state

This week we’re are discussing the role of Caudillos in the course of post-independence Latin America. I think a good place to start is with this quote from the Dawson text. “ They (caudillos) were figures who entered the vacuum of power left by the collapse of the Spanish colonial state and who offered hope for stability through the force of their will and their capacity to vanquish their enemies.” As is evidenced in this text, the Caudillos were one of the driving forces that shaped post colonial politics in the region. Throughout the region these strong men created small nations that continually battled each other for land and resources. In one of my other class, someone pointed out that Caudillos very closely resemble modern day war lords. For example their militaristic tendencies or the mass amount of them that existed in the region, often ruling over a small populace.

For me, one of the most interesting aspects of Caudillo rule is the clientelistic system that they created; the trade of protection of “rights”, property, and life in exchange for political and military support. I think that in many ways we can still see this system at work in contemporary politics. Eg. corporate donations for favourable policies. Or favourable policy in exchange for the promise of a corporate job once retired from politics.

Another aspect I find very interesting is the degree to which people entrusted the Caudillos with the development or protection of their country( or town or whatever it was in any given case) despite the instability of Caudillo rule. I think the example of Santa Anna embodies this perfectly. The fact that he was in power 11 times, despite his numerous failures and that each time he left in disgrace, yet managed to return is evidence of this strange trust people had for them.

On another note, they idea that some members of 19th century Latin American societies wanted to create American copies of Europe seems paradoxical. Did they not seek independence in order to create their own societies, with their own culture, free of European interference?  Or were there more subtle driving factors behind the fight for independence. For example, in the case of Brazil which we learned about last week, the elites sought independence in order to maintain their economic systems. Or in Colombia, Venezuela and Peru, Bolivar fought to increase that status of the Creollo. Did he not state, however, that Latin America did not have its own history. Is emulating Europe in the creation of a new state not continuing along those lines?

Now with these thoughts in mind, one of the questions posed in this week’s syllabus seems quite interesting; “Why might some social groups rather than others prefer the caudillo system to liberal rights and freedoms?” I think that there are many possible answers to this question. From the perspective of the most marginalized sectors of colonial/post-colonial society I think that the promise of liberal ideas did not seem realistic to them. Having been oppressed, to put it lightly, for the past few centuries perhaps they thought the civil rights entrenched within liberalism would not extend to them, and maybe even help keep them indentured to the system. Along these lines, Caudillo rule may have helped them. If they were able to pay patronage to the leader, in the form of economic payments or military assistance, they may have felt protected and not so much on the fringes of society.  As Dawson notes, it may have helped them gain some sort of autonomy which had been lacking throughout the colonial period. However, it is possible that Caudillismo may have had the opposite effect. The lack of liberal ideals may have allowed the oligarchies or elites to continue their systems of oppression. If liberalism had been enacted in the region, and the rights that come with it extended to all sectors of society, it may have had negative effects on the economic activities. If slavery were not allowed, the elites in Brazil would not have been able to continue with its current economic  practice. If liberalism had been entrenched in Central America, the landed oligarchy might not have had the rural poor as cheap labour.

So my question for this week is as follows: Did the era of Caudillo rule increase the rights of the most marginalized sectors of society, or, if liberalism had flourished in the 19th century would Latin America possibly have avoided the hardships of the 20th century?