This week, Dawson delves into some of the ways Latin Americans have resisted oppression and violence, particularly in the way they have worked to garner attention from the international community (especially the U.S.) as a tool for making a change in their reality.
One of the examples the author discusses is the Madres de la Plaza de Mayo, who occupied a central square in Buenos Aires as a form of protest for their missing children during the dictatorship, from 1976 to 1983. At first they were left alone, but as soon as the government realized the women were undermining its claims that “family values” were the foundation of their regime (as a justification for their actions), they started being persecuted. The Madres, however, did not back down. They testified in a report for the Organization of the American States, which mobilized NGOs such as Amnesty International and built pressure on the U.S. government. After it failed to support Argentina in its play for the Falklands against the British, the governing junta became unpopular and civil government was reinstated.
Another example explored by Dawson is the Caravan for Peace, which crossed the United States during the summer of 2012 to bring attention to the repercussions of the war on drugs. The Caravan pushed for the end of the militarization of drug control and called for a new approach to drug control, placing importance on the treatment of addiction and not punishment of users.
The author discusses how drug trafficking is a huge business in Latin America and how this started when the countries in the region were in bad shape economically. Since the people, especially the rural and urban poor, didn’t have many economic opportunities, and the state didn’t provide social welfare policies to keep these people from the informal sector, drug trafficking ended up being a way to relieve the burden of economic distress.
This is a very common reality in Brazil. One recent example that helps to illustrate this reality is the story of Nem (told in this article), who was in charge of the entire drug dealing operation in Rio de Janeiro’s Rocinha, the biggest favela in Latin America, from around 2000 until his arrest in 2011.
Antônio (his real name) lived with his wife and baby daughter at Rocinha, and his daughter got very sick as a nine-month baby. He had a job that didn’t pay enough to cover her medical bills, and as a slum-dwelling family, there was nowhere he could go to get a loan except to the then kingpin of drug dealing at the favela. He offered to work for him as a way to pay back the loan and, after a couple years and conflicts involving other favelas, he ends up being the head of the operation. Under his command, the street sellers were ordered to not extort or threat any of the residents, minors were prohibited from working for them, and he offered economic assistance to the residents, paying for medical treatments and for trips for them to go see family in other parts of Brazil.
In 2011, Nem was arrested at a police checkpoint, while trying to leave Rocinha in the trunk of a car with suitcases full of money. His story helps us understand the context in which the urban poor, in particular, live in, and prompts to try to think about ways to address this problem. In Brazil, the one thing the vast majority population agrees would make a difference is providing quality education and opportunity to disadvantaged kids. My discussion question: what do you think it’s the first thing the government should invest in in order to revert this scenario?