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?