Monthly Archives: November 2017

Week 12: Speaking Truth to Power

As the course draws to a close, it has become evident that the Latin American reality, despite a lot of beauty, is one that has consistently been categorized by violence, repression and inequality. The last few weeks have felt particularly depressing, probably because we are looking at the not so distant past. Yet, although this weeks topic covers issues from only a few decades ago, it seems that its causes stem from the centuries of history that we have covered. This makes me wonder why? It seems that a lot of regions have learnt from their past; In europe large scale conflict has been missing since the end of world war 2. Or in North America we have been fairly peaceful(excluding internal oppression of minorities) since independence. Yet in Latin America, the patterns of history seem to repeat themselves. It seems to me that this is due to the entrenchment of a small political and economic elite, in a region that has come to accept violence as the norm( at least by the international community). There are so many examples of this, one of which was covered in the video Rita De Grandis.  


The military dictatorship of Argentina seems to have been one of the most brutal to have appeared throughout the region. The “Dirty War” saw the disappearance of approximately 30,000 people in a mere 7 years.


As Dawson notes, media outlets were compliant with the military which allowed them to frame the coup in a positive light. I think that it could be argued that this is due to the concentration of media ownership. The small elite who owned the means of communication were the ones who would gain from the dictatorial policies that were to come and thus were willing to support its establishment. Along these lines, elite complacency at its best, or downright collaboration at its worst allowed these ruthless regimes to remain in power. For, as has been exemplified time and time again throughout the course, Latin American elites have been ruthless in their search for power and wealth.  


On the other hand, resistance has also been commonplace in Latin American history. The Mothers of the Plaza De Mayo were the first group to oppose the military regime in Argentina. They sought  to search for  their missing children who had been disappeared by the government. Something that is  really interesting is that they have provided DNA to helped identify the missing. Again, we see how  technology has played a role in Latin Americans History.  Furthermore, one of the practices of the military regime was to take the children of the women they had disappeared and give them to military families, sometimes they were even taken out of the country to Europe. The video mentions that about 130 children have been found using DNA  technology. If anyone is interested in this, there’s a good film called “The Official Story,” check it out! It is definitely worth watching. Anyways, The Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo are still very active today, they march around the square every thursday.


After the fall of the dictatorship in argentina, a truth and reconciliation commission was established by the first elected president, Raul Alfonsin. However, world wide economic crisis struck Argentina and Alfonsin was forced to step down in the face of social protest caused by hyperinflation and other social issues. Yet, as Rita De Grandis notes, his successor Carlos Menem, seems to have continued the legacy of inequity in the country. During the 10 years that he was in power, Menem implemented an array of neoliberal policies that further concentrated wealth and power, and thus increased inequality and disenfranchisement. However, of critical importance in relation to the dictatorship and the TRC, Menem gave amnesty to military officials who perpetrated these crimes!  

This is something that I have always struggled to understand. And this is not specific to Argentina alone. In El Salvador for example, military men were also given amnesty, as is the case of Guatemala, Peru and Chile. Now, there is an obvious argument for amnesty, That the threat of retribution might push the perpetrators to continue their acts of violence as a means to stay and power and avoid persecution. However, I am not fully convinced by this. Is it not also true that this could harm the consolidation of peace? If the figures who had terrorized the people are still in power how can the society heal. In El Salvador, this seems to be the case. Many of the worst members of the military and the death squads remained in positions of power in the armed forces, government and police.


So this is my question for the week. What do you guys think; is amnesty a better way to assure peace? Or should the perpetrators of mass atrocities be brought to justice?


Research Assignment: The Terror

   Source: Holmes, Jennifer S. “Sendero Luminoso After Fujimori: A Sub-National Analysis.” The Latin Americanist 59, no. 2 (2015): 29.

   For our group project we will be focusing on Peru’s Sendero Luminoso insurgency that was active in the 1970’s through the 1990s, and to some extent in the early 2000’s.  For my part of the research, I will be drawing on Jennifer Holmes’ essay, “Sendero Luminoso after Fujimori: A Sub-National Analysis.”(1) The article studies two factions of the original Sendero insurgency that re-emerged after the fall of Alberto Fujimori in 2001. The essay argues that it is important to analyze the remaining factions in post-Fujimori Peru as there was significant change in motivation between the past and present groups,(2) primarily due to changes in the current political, social and economic climate of the country. Specifically, the author believes that these changes are due to the changing policies of coca eradication, a growing economy as opposed to the economic crisis from which the original group emerged, and a call for peace from Sendero’s leader Abimael Guzman.(3) In the opening section of her article, Holmes provides examples of contemporary Sendero activity, primarily in coca growing regions.(4)  She asserts that there are two dominant interpretations of the continued presence of Sendero Luminoso factions. The first is that they are no longer an ideologically motivated group, but rather that they have warped into a narco business.(5) The second holds that they are still an ideologically motivated military group with a strong social and economic base.(6) The second section of the article examines “linkages between specific economic commodities and violence.”(7) Of particular focus here is the link between coca and the drug trade, and Sendero Luminoso and their protection of drug routes.(8)  In the third section Holmes examines the role of the State in the persistence of violence in the country.(9) She argues that high state capacity is a necessary precondition to eradicate terrorism.(10) Furthermore, she argues that a reduction in inequalities will assist in the reduction of violence.(11) In the fourth section Holmes emphasizes this point by arguing that economic maladies are a root cause of continued violence.The remainder of the essay sets out to prove a series of hypotheses relating to the aforementioned sections, using quantitative analysis.

   This essay is useful for our topic in a number of ways in that it provides a historical context from which to base our project as well as a foundation for analysis on the continued existence of Sendero Luminoso. The original conflict arose out of the context of the neoliberal economic crisis that was sweeping the region in the1980s and 90s. The present conflict is different in that it takes place in the context of a growing economy, yet the social, political, and economic inequalities continue in the regions where Sendero is present. Thus, it seems that Sendero is unwilling to disband due to the continued issues faced by the poorest members of Peruvian society. Furthermore, it appears that the persistence of these issues has also led to continued support from communities in the areas where they are most active. To add a layer of complexity, the article also highlights new factors in the ongoing presence of the Sendero, such as growing narco businesses that have strengthened, or warped, the insurgency, depending on your perspective of the situation. Finally the general theme of the article, the re-emergence of the insurgency, is useful for this project as it will allow us to give a more holistic history of the conflict.


1:Jennifer S. Holmes. “Sendero luminoso after fujimori: A subnational analysis.” The Latin Americanist, vol(2), 2015,. 29-50.

2: Holme, P, 29.

3:ibid., p, 30.

4: ibid., p, 30

5: ibid., p,31

6: ibid.,

7: ibid., 32.

8: ibid.,

9: ibid., 34.

10: ibid., 35.

11: ibid., 36.


Week 11: The Terror

Fujimori’s 1992  Autogolpe, is a really interesting case of de-democratization. It seems that he suspended the constitution  in order to amass power in one swift sweep. Or i guess it is more accurate to say that he dissolved the other branches of government in order to concentrate power in the executive.  What’s very interesting about this is that it seems to be a maneuver to gain support from the people in his fight against the Sendero Luminoso. Subsequently, I doubt such a move would have increased his support if it were not in the context of civil strife. As Dawson notes, all this also happens in the context of the cold war, although it formally ended in 1991, is a very important point. Looking across the region at this time, we can truly see the influence that the international context had. Along these lines, Dawson points out that Latin America was the region most used as a proxy of the cold war. After the Cuban revolution, the United States was irrationally fearful of further communist revolutions in the region. As is so, they subsequently tried to repress further revolutions in El Salvador, Guatemala, Uruguay and many others. After the successful revolution in Nicaragua, they claimed that it posed “the threat of a good example” and proceeded to attack the Sandinistas through their brutal proxy army, the Contra.

The reading about the massacre in Peru has me feeling uneasy. Not only due to the brutality of the events, although that is obviously part of it, but because if the complexities of the Latin American situation that it brings to light. First off all, the reading states that “guerrilla movements are not “peasant movements.” They are born in the cities, among intellectuals and middle-class.” This complicates things because it changes the image of peasant led revolutions that aimed to better the lives of its participants. The reading points to Cuba(although not in this context) it is a valid example of this statement. Fidel Castro was indeed part of the upper middle class, a lawyer from an affluent family. Without passing judgement on the ensuing regime, it is sad to think of how many people lost their lives in the process of the Cuban revolution. Or, more relevant to this week’s readings is Sendero Luminoso’s leadership. Abimael Guzmán was indeed a middle class person. Did he really understand the lives of the poor enough to lead many of them to their death? In all these revolutions it seems that the poor suffer most. As the reading states, “the peasants are coerced by those who think they are the masters of history and absolute truth. The fact is that the struggle between the guerrillas and the armed forces is really a settling of accounts between privileged sectors of society, and the peasant masses are used cynically and brutally by those who say they want to “liberate” them.” I cannot come to a conclusion on these points right  now as they require much more thought. But they are indeed perplexing questions. One last random thought: the reading says that “In the Andes, the Devil merges with the image of the stranger,” is this a cultural thing or some sort of colonial trauma?

My question for this week is as follows: were Latin American revolutions indeed a battle between affluent members of society, in which the poor were used as cannon fodder. Or were they truly trying to achieve a better life for the majority of society which had for so long been ignored. Do the means justify the ends?

Week 10: Power to the People.

The first topic of focus is of the utility of technological advancement in the political sphere. It seems that leaders such as Juan and Evita Peron were able to utilize these advancements greatly as a means to create a wide support base. As is mentioned in the reading, prior to the creation of radio it was difficult to create this wide base as means of communication were limited. The radio was able to make people feel like they were at a speech, for example, giving a sense of participation and unity even if they were listening alone. Another interesting point to this respect is the use of cultural symbols. Leaders of the time were able to create unity throughout their countries by referring to national cultural symbols. This is to say that they were able to create a shared sense of identity by giving reference to an activity, or a cultural item that was widely related to the populace.  

something that has struck me week after week is the continued relevance of many of the topics that we have studied. This weeks material has covered the empowerment of the masses, particularly  through Juan and Evita Peron and the Peronist party. For example, Dawson draws a parallel between Peron and Chavez. In Evita’s speech she said “Those who made the country suffer an endless night will never forgive General Perón for raising the three flags that they should have raised over a century ago: social justice, economic independence, and the sovereignty of our Fatherland.” This is in true likeness of Chavez’s Venezuela. Like Peron, Chavez aimed to raise the lower classes, he sought to decrease global dependency and replace it with regional integration, and limit foreign intervention it Venezuelan affairs. Furthermore, it seems that many of the sentiments present in Argentina, were commonly shared throughout the region. Evita says that ”our oligarchy, who always sold itself for a pittance, does not expect the people to stand up this time nor does it realize that the Argentine nation is comprised of honorable men and women who are willing to die to finish off, once and for all, the traitors and the sellouts.” Here I see many of the same sentiments evident in Marti’s writing as well as in Sandino’s Manifesto.

My question for this week is: What does it mean to be a Latin American leader? Is there something particular to Latin American leaders that is so effective in generating popular support? Or is it the conditions in Latin America – poverty and unequal distribution of wealth, oppression, US intervention – that make a strong leader a necessity in order for social change and revolution to take place?