Monthly Archives: October 2017

Week 9 – Commerce, Coercion and America’s Empire

This week we learned about how the US grew to become such a neo-colonial power in the early twentieth century with a focus on its military and economic relationships with Latin America. On the military side of things, I found it really interesting how the US used political unrest within a nation for its own gain. For example in Nicaragua, when there was a lot of violence between liberal and conservative groups and the US used this to gain control. It is the tried and true “divid and conquer” method. Similarly in Panama, where the US waited for the French to lose money and lives other the building of the canal and then brokered a multi-million dollar deal to build it. Again we see the US acting similarly in Guatemala, using the CIA to back the UFCO in ousting Jacobo Arbenz. Economically, the US became a large and prominent investor during the export boom, fuelling construction of railways and other infrastructure. From here, this grew into having a monopoly on extremely profitable exports such as bananas as with the UFCO. With these countries relying so heavily on these exported goods, those who had a monopoly had a tremendous amount of political power. Altogether, learning of all of the ways in which the US intervened in Latin American countries to gain political and economic control really helps to answer the question of why they became such a power compared to the still-developing Latin American nations. From the texts like Augusto Sandino’s Political Manifesto and with the above context in mind, I can really understand why the US was often viewed in such a negative  light by many middle and lower-class Latin Americans. As well, this week helps to connect the documents from previous weeks such as Ruben Dario’s “To Roosevelt” and Jose Marti’s “Our America” which identified the US as a war-centric, neo-colonial threat. With this in mind, I can also further understand why so many prominent Latin American figures that we have looked at called for unity amongst Latin America as well as the development of a Latin American identity that was distinct from the US and Europe.

I also really didn’t know much of the US-Latin America relations until taking this course and following the news of hurricane relief in Puerto Rico. I hadn’t realized that the US was not only a neo-colonial threat symbolically but they actually did forcefully invade and conquer many regions of the Americas.

My question for discussion this week is what are the current relationships like between Latin America and US? Being a Canadian, I am really unsure of how Latin Americans largely view North Americans and considering this history of oppression/exploitation from the North I am interested.

Week 8 Signs of Crisis

This week we looked at the political unrest that ensued after the publishing of Creelman’s interview with Diaz. In the interview, Diaz declares that he would not run for re-election, yet he ends up running and fraudulently winning, igniting the Mexican Revolution. This lasted for over a decade, claimed around a million lives and saw many aggrieved groups make claims for land, liberty, or a return to the pre-modern ways. The documents from this week’s readings were an interesting look at the perspectives of different groups during this time and are all in stark contrast to the positive and optimistic nature of Creelman’s interview. Instead, they describe the anger, grievance and unrest that lead to revolution.

What fascinated me about this week’s material was the examination of how the revolution began. The reading’s discussed how before modernization, countless rural rebellions took place but they were really unable to have a national effect. As a side-effect of modernization, now urban rebellions did have the power to turn the tides. Using the new technology for communication and transportation really enabled the revolution to take place, recruit masses of people and have national political and social effects. It wasn’t as though the injustices they were protesting were new, but technology provided them a means to communicate and mobilize and Diaz’s fixed re-election provided the right timing.

Another thing that fascinated me was Dr. Dawson’s discussion of how some people say the revolution never really ended and how it really isn’t the beginning and the end that are important but rather the why and how and who. He discusses how even after Mexico had implemented a relatively stable government post-revolution, there is still a lot of political unrest with leaders being ousted and assassinated. He also discusses how there really wasn’t a “winner” of the revolution per say. However, the Constitutionalists were able to pass the 1917 constitution which enshrined the returning of land to Indians but this wasn’t enacted until the 30’s.

My discussion question for this week is what drives and enables revolution? How do today’s revolutions compare and has anything really changed?

Week 7 The Export Boom

This week we looked at Latin America post independence and post-caudillo when national governments began to play a bigger role in the state. As a result of the long periods of civil war, caudillo rule, and general lack of state-governed order that ensued after independence, many Latin American states were left with poor conditions: states that were very poor, infrastructure that was not keeping up with other countries of the time etc. To overcome this, many nations turned to and then relied on exporting their resources like oil, crops, and minerals as well as allowing foreign buyers to invest in their land. Amongst historical economists there are mixed opinions on the effects this had upon various nations. As a class, we have previously touched on how relying on export of one crop e.g. bananas can be risky for a nation should the global market/interest for that product fall. On the other hand, other economist argue that these export-based economies did last and allowed for Latin American nations to “modernize” with the profits as well as foreign investment. As someone who has never studied but is interested in economics, I found this week to be interesting from that perspective.

Apart from the economic side of things, this week’s material challenged the definition of “modern”. In the video with Dr. Dawson, we are provided with some key elements of modernization being: innovation, emancipation, secularization and universalism of values. From our textbook, it seems that the modernization that took place in Latin America at this time was largely aesthetic in terms of building of infrastructure and acquiring technology such as the telegraph and the photograph. This impressed foreign investors and made Latin America appear to be modern on the global stage. Photography was used almost as a more contemporary version of a casta painting with the subjects purposefully dressed and positioned in ways that conveyed a crafted message. I would agree that Latin America was modernizing aesthetically but there was also some degree of emancipation with the emergence of a middle class, feminism and civil rights. From Creelman’s interview with President Diaz there was also some evidence of secularization with not allowing priests to vote or hold office.

Amongst other things that could have made Latin America more “modern”, it was true democracy/liberalism was still lacking. There was a lot of racism that fed the idea that lower-class non-Europeans were not capable of the “order” necessary for democracy/liberalism/progress. This led to a lot of positivism and really an oligarchical or dictatorship government with the facade of democracy. However, I think that true democracy is something that “modern” countries still largely struggle to achieve today and if we look hard enough a lot of the issues with “democracy” that existed then still exists. My question for the class is to what degree can we look back on these early “democracies” and criticize them for lack of “modernity” when really we in Canada/US still have some of the same issues? And given this, is “true” democracy achievable?


Week 6 – Citizenship and Rights

This week’s material did not really surprise me at all. After learning about the social disorder and disagreement that followed independence in Latin American nations last week, it seemed to follow suit that there would be immense class, gender and racial struggles as well.

During this era, many nations sought to define civil rights as in who deserves them and what rights those are. Again, not surprisingly, the common theme was that property-owning white males were placed at the top of the hierarchy, awarded rights of free speech and political activity. During this time, there was also a concomitant changing economy as pressure to end slavery was mounting. This led to questions of how to organize society and civil rights of those who were former slaves – how do they fit in? In a lot of places (Cuba, Brazil, USA), the answer for white elites was to portray Africans as dangerous breeding things like KKK, eugenics and the like. This meant that though former slaves were technically “free” there was not much disruption to the social hierarchy that put white males at the top.

There were many regional differences in how emancipation came about and how former slaves were treated post-abolishment. These differences illuminated for me why, as a Canadian I have grown up hearing much more about racial discrimination and tensions in the US rather than in Brazil which imported many more slaves. In post-slavery US, the white elites acted to enshrine discrimination/segregation into law as slavery had been very much linked to race in the sense that there weren’t many/any people of colour who weren’t slaves. This is in contrast to places such as Brazil, in which there were many prominent free Africans, some of whom were wealthy. This made it so that post-abolishment Brazil could not enshrine discrimination into law like what happened in the US but instead had less overt methods of discrimination. In Cuba, rather than scapegoating African former slaves for their race per say, white elites used religion as a tool to frame them as savage/uncivilized as was shown through Nina Rodrigues writings.

Women were also amongst those whose civil rights were under question. Some women, like Maria Enchenique, argued for more rights and opportunities for women in education and in the public sphere. Where as others, like Josefina Pelliza de Sagasta proclaimed that women should not have as much freedom as men otherwise they would lose their greatest charms.

Being Canadian, I have heard and learned extensively about the effects of slavery and racial hierarchies on modern American culture both in the US and in Canada. My question that came out of this week is: is there a similar racial tensions and lasting institutional racism in Latin American countries today? Or did the fact that Latin American nations didn’t have overt laws that made racism legal after emancipation make it so that today, there is less of a divide?