Author Archives: FrancesPerry

Week 13 – Uncertain Future

This weeks’ material was interesting for me in the sense that for the first time in the course it seems that Latin America is experiencing something that I can connect with as a young Canadian and I see in other regions of the world. That being said there are important differences but the changing political climate, uncertain economies, mass immigration and differing opinions on social reform are all things that I see in Canada’s national discourse today. Again, uncertainty about the future is something that is not unique to Latin America but in my opinion has now swept across many nations. For example we are seeing the rise of nationalism and fascism reminiscent of WWII which demonstrates that despite all the “progress” we make as a nation/global community we are not immune to going “backwards” and our path forward is less predictable than previously thought. Similarly, it was interesting to see how similar peoples’ reactions are the recent socio-political change and economic downturn as the “exit, voice, loyalty” options explained by Hirshman can be seen in different varieties throughout the world.

I also enjoyed the discussion of how climate change adds another key feature to the uncertainty of the future. Once more, this is not unique to Latin America but Latin America and other regions around the globe with economies dependent on agriculture or with large coastal areas will suffer specific and acute challenges. On a side note, it is truly amazing to me that some people still deny our role in climate change whether it be because they are ignorant of the evidence or they have some sort of agenda.

In terms of the changing political climates of Latin America, from more right-wing after their economic downturn in the 1980s to more left-wing in recent years, I think this is healthy. For me this demonstrates the resiliency of Latin Americans and capacity for progress and positive change in the region. This is supported by the fact that many nations have dynamic and expanding democracies as well as vast reductions in their income inequality. I also think it is amazing considering that earlier in the 1900s so many nations had state-sanctioned violence/kidnappings, coups and dictatorships.

Altogether, as we have seen and discussed Latin America has faced numerous challenges since its “conception” in 1492. Despite this, this week’s readings has instilled in me a sense of optimism for the region that I sincerely hope is not yet another failed promise. On this, my question for the class is to what degree is all of this uncertainty unique to Latin America? Do you agree with me that recent elections, policies, natural disasters, conflicts etc have demonstrated that we are in a time of uncertainty throughout the world?

Week 12 – Truth to Power

This week we looked at the various forms of protest and “speaking truth to power” that took place in Latin America in the later half of the twentieth century and the early 2000s. I was particularly interested in two components of this weeks reading: the effect of media and modern technology on protests and reformation as well as the degree of influence that the drug trade and cartels have had and still have in the age of the war on drugs.

In terms of the media and technology shaping the effect of protest, I thought it was cool to read about how this began as today the ability of the media to shed light on corruption or change public opinion is very evident and powerful. The effect of international media attention in bringing the human rights violators to justice in many parts of Latin America was juxtaposed with concurrent attempts by various international governments (particularly the US) to influence these corrupt leaders to suit their needs. This was an interesting era in which, for the first time, technology allowed for people to have hard evidence in exposing cover-ups and corruption like with the government kidnappings in Argentina and the massacre of the 17 peasants in Mexico. However, international attention wasn’t always for the best. Neo-colonialism at this time came in the form of foreign governments backing one political party during a period of instability which in my view usually served to just prolong and enhance the  instability.

Another thing that was really fascinating about this week’s reading was the discussion of the rise and power of the drug cartels in Latin America. I was shocked to learn that Latin America has by far the highest homicide rate in the world and that prison over-crowding is a big problem with 80% of the crimes being drug-trafficking offences! Document 10.8, the open letter to the drug cartels, was very chilling to read. It demonstrated the terror, pain and helplessness that the cartel and the drug trade instilled in areas like Chihuahua where the police and the elected officials are essentially in the cartels’ pockets. I have long been an advocate for not treating addicts as criminals and for decriminalizing drugs in order to quell these horrible side effects of the war on drugs but this week’s readings really re-affirmed the importance of this and the difficulty of this change.

My question for discussion this week is to what degree are foreign governments and foreign aid groups justified in intervening in a nation’s affairs? Is it generally for the good of the nation or does it have an ulterior motivation?

Research Assignment Caudillos Group

During the Week 5 readings about caudillos we examined how they were able to come to power and how the appeal of immediate and concrete rewards in exchange for military or political support from followers outweighed the abstract appeal of liberalism or citizenship. I was left wondering more about the socio-political structure of caudillismo and how it compared to the strict social stratification and order of colonial times. The essay, “Reconstruction of the Socio-Political Order After Independence in Latin America: A Reconsideration of Caudillo Politics in the River Plate”, by Valentina Ayrolo and Eduardo Miguez further explains these caudillismo dynamics.
Although, independence brought about many changes, the social hierarchies that existed during colonialism were largely the same with creoles being at or near the top. Creoles, wealthy landowners and those who had won military prestige became the new ruling class – the caudillos. What was different was the way in which social power was defined and achieved. One was no longer able to gain or hold power through class alone but now power was dictated by one’s ability to connect with rural people. In this sense, power was “ruralized”. The lower class peasants that made up the caudillos following included vagrants, farmers, former military men who had either deserted or lost another battle and freed slaves.
I wondered why rural, lower class people were so inclined to follow an elite leader with whom they had little in common and in some cases may have contributed to their oppression. According to their essay, the bond formed between caudillos and their followers was based on three main elements: the charisma of the leader, distribution of goods gained from pillage and the administration of justice. The charisma of the caudillo was ingrained in his ability to mobilize and garner the respect of the rural people through displays of courage, wisdom, cruelty to enemies and benevolence to allies. Caudillos had to tactfully distribute the bounty of their raids so to quell insurgencies and reward loyalty. The used mercy and justice as tools to demonstrate the return of having close ties with the caudillo. In this way, a strong patron-client relationship was established.
Furthermore, caudillismo was not specific to one political ideology as presented in our readings, there were Unitarian caudillos as well. The Federalist caudillos were more powerful and prominent as quintessential caudillo examples because the federalist ideology they pushed was so hyper-local that they and their followers saw even the neighbouring regions as being complete foreigners. I can see how this would forestall the generation of a national identity and government as we discussed in class. However, caudillismo did create a sort of social order in a time where anarchy was constantly on the brink.
The essay, “Reconstruction of the Socio-Political Order After Independence in Latin America: A Reconsideration of Caudillo Politics in the River Plate”, by Valentina Ayrolo and Eduardo Miguez illuminates the soci-political dynamics of caudillo rule in terms of the patron-client relationship, they background of caudillos and their followers and how caudilloism prevented national government.

Ayrolo, Valentina, and Eduardo Miguez. Reconstruction. “Reconstruction of the Socio-Political Order After Independence in Latin America: A Reconsideration of Caudillo Politics in the River Plate”. Jahrbuch fur Geschichte Lateinamerikas, vol. 49, no. 1, 2013, pp. 107-131.

Research Assignment Caudillos Group

During week 5, we learned about the era of caudillos in Latin America and how their reign forestalled the implementation of national government, democracy and modernization. We discussed the impact of the vacuum left by independence in creating this political phenomenon that became a corner stone in Latin American political history. However, there were many additional and key factors that contributed to the setting of caudillismo and to the rise of local strongmen. The essay, “Caudillismo: Identity Landmark of Hispanic American Authoritarian Political Culture” by Alina Titei outlines these additional factors.
The setting of caudiillismo was largely borne out of the chaos created by independence. Prior to independence, some historians theorize that the oppressive colonial rule and the legacy of conquistadors contributed to caudillismo. The Spanish monarch ruled with absolute power, encouraging and allowing conquistadors to rampage and pillage in the Americas. This effectively transferred these ideals to the New World, paving the way for this style of leadership and patron-client relations to later establish itself. Later on, during the independence movement, the violent uprisings and revolts by lower class indigenous and slaves as well as by creole elites seeking sovereign power from the Spanish “penninsulares” resulted in a breakdown of social order. Along with this, these wars for independence resulted in economic downturn leaving many in worse situations of poverty and/or without means to make a living. Finally, post-independence brought about a political and social vacuum in Latin American nations that had no historical political system of their own to draw on. Attempts to fill the void by adopting models of liberal constitutions from European nations largely failed and violence and wars ensued throughout Latin America. Altogether, these factors set the stage for the local strongman to take the lead.
Caudillos could not be just anybody, but again were characterized by specific factors and traits that led to their power. Caudillos were successful in rising to leadership roles if they were militarily successful, were able to connect with the local people through popularity and charisma, and were cruel to those who threatened their power. Caudillos had to be able to manage and provide the two most valuable resources at the time: land and protection. Often, caudillos came from wealthier families with a good portion of land and/or were very successful in battle and appointed to lead over the lower-class peoples by other creoles. With these factors and characteristics, local strongmen became successful caudillos.
Thus, in addition to the elements creating caudillajae and leading to the success of caudillos that we learned about in the readings and discussion of week 5, there were many other key factors involved outlined in the essay.

Titei, Alina. “Caudillismo: Identity Landmark of Hispanic American Authoritarian Political Culture.” Philobiblon, vol. 18, no. 2, 2013, pp. 283-296.


Week 11

This week we looked at Latin America in the late twentieth century and the political upheaval that took place in many nations. We focused specifically on the civil war within Peru. The war was really acts of terrorism perpetrated by both the state and a radical political group called The Shining Path. I found it particularly interesting how this terror began and the lasting effects on Peruvian politics today.

The rise of The Shining Path was driven by Abimael Guzman and his ability to mobilize the disenfranchised indigenous peoples in the Ayacucho highlands. It seems that a lot of the people recruited to the Shining Path were young, university-aged students who were well-educated. This surprised me because I have generally thought that educated people like university grads and professors like Guzman and his colleagues would not resort to such extremely violent measures to get their agenda across. I think that they felt they needed to resort to this, speaks to the significance of political ineptitude at the time as well as the degree of abandonment that people felt from their government being in such a remote region of Peru. Professor Cameron discusses how it is so unique that this type of violent reformation movement would spring up after an agrarian reform rather than before, again speaking to the lack of political leadership at the time.

Similarly, I was intrigued by the discussion in the video of the lasting effects that the war and the very public violence had on the political and cultural climate of Peru. For example in the conversation with Professor Maxwell Cameron he mentions that 70,000 people were killed, billions of dollars of materials are lost, and that there was “a deep trauma to the political psyche of the nation”. This was unsurprising; considering the degree of violence and the length of the war it is understandable that Peruvians would be weary of politics and reformations. What is interesting is how the war and the corrupt political moves by Fujimori resulted in a degeneration of democracy and political parties that are still struggling to fully recover.

My question for discussion is what was the international reaction to the violence and what was the reaction of the average Peruvian? It seems like neither side was really “in the right” and both were perpetuating grotesque bloodshed. Similarly, what is the sentiment about the war today and whose side is portrayed as the right one if either?

Week 10

This week we looked at the political movements that shaped Latin America in the 1930s-1950s. These movements created a new version of political technique called “populism”. Coupled with the widening use of technology like radios, photography and the growing number of people living in big urban centres, politics was becoming less a game of elites and more available to the masses of the working class. Before the implementation of technology, those in rural areas and/or the lower classes would have no way of connecting with politics or to take a broader view, their own national conversation. With urbanization and technology, even people who couldn’t read could feel connected to their countrymen and be in the know as to what was happening in politics. This gave the huge population of lower-class, working people a lot of power. They now had access to the same pop culture like comics, and radio shows that the elites did and not only that but they began to dictate what was pop culture.

Recognizing this shift, many hopeful politicians tried to capitalize on this by using radio and photography to appeal to this new lot of informed voters. A couple were successful in out-competing commercial radio shows such as Argentine President, Juan Domingo Peron and his second wife Evita. Together, they garnered the love and support of the working-class and were able to harness their political power in order to get freed from jail and win the presidency.  During this time, women in Argentina were also granted the right to vote and the end of the second world war brought new foreign interest in Argentina’s exports leading to a temporarily flourishing economy.

My question for the class this week is that in my understanding, populism is very often viewed negatively and leaders who are retrospectively labeled “populists” were ones who often did no follow through on their promises and actually ended up being worse for the lower-class. However, with this week looking at the Perons it seems as though they certainly empowered the lower-class politically and economically. In one instance they empowered them to the point where they were forced to do their bidding to avoid a strike and Evita had to run as the vice president. I wonder if there if this is actually the case and the Perons and other populist leaders from Latin America were actually good for the lower class?

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?