Week Thirteen

During the disucssion in class last week about mining in Latin America, its effects and the peoples’ reponses I think we touched on, or at least started to, the general topic of this week’s reading which seemed to mainly focus on the continued expoitation of Latin America. I focused mainly on the Lago Agrio Case in Ecuador which actually reminded me of another case that happened in Nigeria between Shell and the Ogoni tribe. One difference between the two however, is that the people have received their settlement which was determined through a federal court in New York, although there was also a great deal of violence involved in this case (there is a lot more to be said about what happened in Nigeria than what I shared, so if you want to read more about it here’s a link to an article  https://www.theguardian.com/world/2009/jun/08/nigeria-usa  ). The people in Ecuador never received their settlement, despite appealing to a court in New York too.  Instead, Texaco who I believe at that point had already merged with Chevron, demanded that the trial be taken to Ecuador, I’m assuming in part because the government had previously been in favour of multinational companies- which is another issue in itself that is up for discussion because why do these governments allow corporations to pollute and destroy the land? The answer usually is: for economic profit and development. However, another reason as to why they wanted the place of the trial to change was to drag it on. It has been going on for an exceptionally long time, Texaco (Chevron) was first accused in 1993 and decisions are still being disputed today over 20 years later. This is an example of the strategy that they used probably so that the plaintiffs would give up. They did not and the ironic part of Chevron pushing for the trial to be held in Ecuador is that the court there actually ruled in favour of the people. Chevron refused to pay the settlement and took the case back to America. I think an important thing to mention about this case is that there was a fair amount of allegations of fraud and manipulation on both sides which complicates the situation. It provides an unclear story and discredits both sides.  As well, the plaintiffs were not completely innocent and the judicial system was not entirely lawful. To what degree do you think this matters in the larger scheme of things?

What can be done to hold multinational corporations more accountable? There has been some changes over the past few years, but clearly larger steps/more regulations need to be put in place, but who is willing to create them and how can they be enforced (think of the International Court of Justice)?

Week Twelve

I find it difficult to imagine a world where “surveillance and torture” equals “peace and security”, but sadly, even more than sadly, this was the reality for many people in certain Latin American countries. As the reading highlights, there were many, many accounts of the government killing, kidnapping, and torturing their own citizens. In the sections about how word got out to the rest of the world about these injustices, I found it a bit funny how governments exiling people almost worsened whichever regimes they ran. The people were able to share first hand accounts of what was really going on in their respective countries and by attempting to silence the people, they were only given more of a voice. These people were not exiles, but the story about the Madres de la Plaza de Mayo in Argentina although extremely tragic was also inspiring. The law prohibited protest yet the women continued to call attention to and demand back their missing children. The movement made the missing people into a personal issue rather than vague and viewing those who were missing as “simply statistics”- they had a life and connection to the community.  However, after increased global scrutiny the government framed the women as crazy and as terrorists, but groups still sympathized and believed them. Others did not.

The United States once again involves itself in Latin America and once again their actions anger me. I cannot believe that anybody would support what was going on in Argentina or choose to turn such a blind eye to the evidence of human rights abuses taking place. Although we have learned in previous weeks that the United States supported other far right administrations in Latin America. Reagan’s comments particularly upset me, one reason being that he only mentions incarceration even though people were also being tortured and killed (-although I’m not completely sure of what information was known at the point, but I’m sure it was enough to not be in support of the Argentinian government).

What I found really interesting was the connection of these regimes, the United States, and the drug trade in Latin America. Due to lack of support from authoritarian regimes, many propped up by the United States, disadvantaged people were forced to find other means to provide for their communities and one of these ways was through the drug trade. Some of the “drug kingpins” were able to build and fix hospitals, schools, etc. even though they also commited/still commit large acts of violence, contributing to/creating a dangerous environment. The USA then gave money to governments like Mexico for example which was then used to buy weapons and military equipment to combat the drug trade. However, it remains quite unsafe for many people. This simplifies/condenses a complicated issue with many levels, but it seems like the root of the problem goes back to the marginalized being neglected.

Why do you think some people/groups chose not to believe the Madres de la Plaza de Mayo and other people who gave testimonies?

What benefits do you think the USA got out of supporting Argentina and their involvement in the drug trade, as it was a different situation from the UFCO for example?




Short Research and Writing Assignment (The Meeting of Two Worlds)

Balderas’ paper titled “Death During the Conquest Era” connects to our group’s theme “The Meeting of Two Worlds” through their discussion of funeral rites practiced by the Mexica/Aztec/Nahua people (which I will refer to as Mexica as that is the term Balderas uses) and how these rites changed during the Spanish Conquest.

Balderas first mentions how the Mexica belief system focuses on “death as the main creator of life” with different rites depending on how a person died- where a person’s being went also depended on their death (167). It is important to note that although there is a list of some rites, the author recognizes that there was a fair amount of diversity and not one universalized practice (182). Some rites include the cremation of people who passed away from “common illness or old age” and the burial of those who died from resaons relating to water (170). Those who died in battle or childbirth were considered very important because both were thought to go to “Solar Heaven” to keep the sun in motion (170). Most people were given various offerings after their death as “they were [considered to be] for the next world” (184). Balderas also acknowledges that there are some sources that state class played a role in a person’s funeral rites (172-174). This one aspect of society clearly shows that before the Spaniards came the Mexica people had a complicated and developed culture. The Spanish did not come to a land that was uncivilized or without tradition.

The Spanish Conquerors practiced Catholicism which differs from Mexica beliefs in that “where one’s soul will travel after death…[depends on] one’s behaviour on earth” and there was only one funeral practice (burial)  regardless of how the person died (178).  The change in tradition for the Mexica people was not one entirely of “blind acquisition of the rites and beliefs of the Spanish conquistadors” (184). Balderas indicates through remains found in cemeteries near old hospitals that there was a mixing of both cultures as people had been buried, but had been buried with various objects (183). Clearly, the people did not choose to change their beliefs and did not entirely discard them.

As it was mentioned earlier, the Mexica people did not abandon their practices in favour of new ones, but rather those practices somewhat fused together (184). The people “had to give up [some]…rituals and practices”, but the “new institutions, forms, and meanings” that were created still somewhat reflected their traditions. (184). Lastly, to tie in with an important point made by Balderas is that the Conquest “established the bases for the development of new practices” in the emerging colonial society (184). At this time societal norms and practices seemed to be fairly undefined, so Balderas’ article provides some insight on how at least one area of society may have begun to develop.







Balderas, Ximena Chavez. “Death During the Conquest Era”. Invasion and Transformation: Interdisciplinary Perspectives on the Conquest of Mexico, Brienen, R. P. and M. A. Jackson. University Press of Colorado. 2008. Pp. 167-184. Project Muse.

Week Eleven

I think if there was one word to sum up what the reading talks about and the video interview is violence. The word is mentioned so many times and for good reason. Most of the focus is on Peru although there is mention of some other states and how certain regimes oppressed their people through violence. Dawson does note that the Sendero Luminoso was just as bad, if not worse than the government in use of violence. Part of the explanation for this is because they were able to fund their cause (through cocaine trade) more than in other countries. This gave them a huge advantage because they did not need as much support in numbers since they had a large supply of arms. They did not need to rely on support from peasants, however this later lead to most peasants siding against the Senderistas with the government. What was interesting to read though was how the Senderistas came about and helped the rural populations because they were largely ignored by the government. In the video Cameron talks about how they helped with local injustices and crime like cattle thieves, corrupt mayors/tax collectors, and punishing abusive men. As well, when the government first attempted to eradicate the Senderistas they only caused more people to support it because of the massacres the marines enacted. I am a bit confused at the time around the 1980’s though because Dawson mentions that the Senderistas lost support from most peasants around the 1980’s, but Cameron doesn’t seem to mention that at all. Dawson discusses how many peasants created their own defensive or rebel groups because they did not support either the government or the Senderistas, although as I mentioned earlier, people were happy when an end was brought to the Senderistas.

What is clear though that those who suffered the most through this was the peasants or rural people. As well, from what I understand from the readings, it is difficult to place where there support lay throughout the war and it should not necessarily have to be. Their stance in the war cannot be universalized because both sides were doing such terrible things and to add onto that, some people decided not to choose a side and chose to defend themselves. Another point I wold like to mention is that this sentence: “indeed, most of the senderistas who ever made it to a jail cell were urban, middle-class students. Their rural comrades and sympathizers met more violent ends” proves that a difference in class still changed the way people were treated and even the views of the senderistas evolved so that they “treated peasants as if they were ignorant tools of revolution, to be called to arms when useful and destroyed when recalcitrant”.

How would you define/place the peasants involvement in the war?

Week Ten

Technology and politics will always be connected in some way to one another. Of course there are different types of technology used by governments two of which being media-based technologies and weaponry. Both can easily be used against the people, in the case of media (newspaper, radio, tv), to promote certain negative ideals, point of views or false information and in the case of weapons I feel it is fairly self explanatory.

This week Dawson focuses on more media based technologies, particularly the radio and leaders ability to make use of it. He starts by noting that in the 19th century and before the use of the radio was widespread “crowds were…most often unable to sustain movements that went much further than the village boundary for any length of time” (209). With increasing urbanization in the 20th century and more availibility to certain technologies people became more connected. The radio allowed people to listen to the same music, radionovelas, and historietas, it “produced new forms of nationalist sentiment” and “blurred the boundaries between classes” (210). As I somewhat mentioned previously, governments also saw this as a useful tool because they could broadcast to more people whatever they wanted in part because it made information available to people who were illiterate.

Dawson saw Vargas from Brazil and Cardenas from Mexico as mediocre users of the radio, but unable to reach the full potential that the technology offered. A good point that was made was that they had too much competition from other channels and were not compelling enough to draw people to their programs. People preferred the popular stations rather than the government ones. I agree that Cardenas did a better job though by broadcasting speeches and announcing important decisions over the radio- nationalizing the oil industry and getting rid of foreign companies- which helped him receive support from the people. Peron in Argentina was deemed to be the greatest user of the radio as he was fairly charismatic and I think more importantly was able to connect with the people through pop culture. He “mixed tango lyrics in his speeches”, which were popular amongst the people, so they were able to connect to what he was saying more. Arguably, his wife, Evita and “her status as a radio star” was even more useful (223). She was able to use her voice and fame to bring attention to Peronism. She was not limited to this however, and created a foundation that was “the most important social agency in Argentina” at the time (224).

The importance, it seems to me, is to use all parts of new technologies. It was simply not enough to just use the radio, but to be fully effective one has to make use of the culture that comes along with it as Peron and Evita did. I suppose that is a large part in what populism is, finding a way to connect to the people on a level that they understand and can associate with. As well as, making use of the “nationalist sentiment” that the radio created in order to lead the people to a particular political cause or group (210).

How effective/important do you think technology and popular culture was/still is in politics?

Week Nine

I find the general topic of American intervention in Latin America to be intriguing, so this week’s reading was particularly interesting. Latin America essentially entered a new age of imperialism with the introduction of massive (typically American) companies. The example that is highlighted in this chapter is Guatemala. The UFCO at one point had a monopoly over banana production and at one point owned about 42% of land in the country- a fair amount of which was taken away from peasants. Dawson does note that it was difficult to protest against the company because it brought “material wealth, public services, and infrastructure”, therefore the pros of it’s presence outweighed the cons. It’s still hard to wrap my mind around how much power the UFCO held in Guatemala because they were also given a veto power to any sort of legislation proposed that could threaten their interests. However, what was even more aggravating, even though it didn’t come as a surprise was the USA’s involvement after Arbenz attempted to take back some of the power the UFCO had over the country. They painted him as a communist through propaganda (there’s that word again), so that he would lose credibility in the eyes of Americans which would help justify the USA’s interference. As Dawson mentions, Arbenz was anti-communist, but the Americans made him out to be pro-communist. This reminds me of how during WW2, the USA changed the way they depicted Stalin when they became allies and then once again after the war had ended. The USA portrays people in ways that help their interests (although they did have to work together in ww2 to stop Hitler and Stalin did some pretty terrible things). Returning to the situation between Arbenz/Guatemala and the USA, I think an important line from the reading about it is: “U.S government’s inablilty to distinguish nationalism from communism”. It can be looked at in multiple ways, did they United States really see the attempted land reform in Guatemala as communist? As it was during the McCarthyism era were they that afraid of anything that could slightly resemble socialism or communism? Or was it more that they created this image for justification to help the UFCO maintain their monopoly/power? Either way, the United States sought to break up Arbenz’s government and they succeeded. Another exmaple of the USA interfering in Latin American states for American economic interests- government or company, was in Panama. When Colombia denied a deal with the US in regards to the unfinished canal, the USA helped the Panama declare independence from Colombia and then signed a deal with them. As these two occurences, others listed in the reading and many more not mentioned show, the USA used other countries’ products (bananas), geography (canal), etc. and intervened in local politics for their own economic benefits.

Week Eight

This week I found the primary source readings in the textbook showed a very particualr opinion by each author. Their topics also reflect some of the thoughts and feelings that were going in Latin America during the early 20th century.

It is clear in Ruben Dario’s poem that he is not impressed with Roosevelt and therefore the USA’s interest in Latin America. I thought that these lines addressing the USA were the most telling about the situation though: “that the future is wherever your bullet strikes. No.”. By 1904 the USA’s power was on the rise and of course they sought to expand wherever they could in whatever way they could. Dario seems to be saying that the USA thinks of themselves as the bringers of progress. As Dawson mentions Dario writes in response to the United States’ interference in Panama and with the intention that just because they see themselves as more ‘developed’ that doesn’t mean that they are. As well, that they are not very virtuous although they act like they are.  Dario’s view- which I’m sure was mirrored by many others- denounces the USA and instead chooses to mention some histories of Latin America. Their land already has it’s own culture and is not there for the USA to ‘strike their bullet’, although it already has in Panama, gaining much from the Panama canal. After this independence and regardless of Dario’s poem, the USA continued to interfere in Latin America throughout the 20th century. To sum up Dario’s poem, he later states “Long Live Spanish America” which shows how he seeks to resist American influence and celebrate Spanish America.

I found the Jose Vasconcelos reading to be fairly confusing, but after going back and reading what Dawson had to say about the excerpt it made some more sense.  This sentence essentially sums up my confusion: “Vasconcelos adopted North American racist stereotypes in describing his country even as he tried to upend them in an argument that Mexico was actually more progressive than the United States”. His writing is fairly offensive towards the people he trying to argue for. Dawson talks about how he both wanted to be like the USA and also advocate against it. I found his idea of the three social stages: material, intellectual, and spiritual and the three paths to reach stage three: duty, illusion, and passion to be interesting and bit strange. His main argument is about the third social stage and the creation of the next great civilization through a new ‘cosmic race’. He adds detail and discusses race in a disgusting way as I mentioned before and almost reminds me of the Casta Paintings- which always seem to pop up and connect to many of the readings/topics, clearly the social standings/stereotypes that they promoted had a lasting legacy- although Dawson does mention his views come more from the North American racial stereotypes. However, I think his obsession with “racial mixing” seems to connect more to the paintings.

To what degree do you think the USA was able to influence Latin America based off of our reading this week and the language/opinions in the documents?

Week Seven

Dawson’s interview introduced some points about modernity in Latin America- particualrly Mexico. He talks about how only certain parts of the traditional definition are included in the Mexican execution. Elites wanted the “look and feel” of modernity, to be like Western Europe. With these white elites, they thought that order and progress were the key to achieving modernity. Not only that, but there was no democratic modernization and the textbook reading mentioned positivism which rejects “liberal democratic values”- individual freedoms. Most ‘Northern’ (USA, Europe) nations saw no problem witht this and continued trade with Latin America mostly because they couldn’t give up the goods provided by it.

Something I found interesting is the comparison between the relationships of the ‘North’ and independent Latin America and the ‘North’ and colonial Latin America in regards to production and trade. Latin America was still using it’s resources to support the luxury of the North. They did gain some benefit from this however, in that they were able to export their own resources, and therefore make a profit. This essentially paid for the creation of the railroads which were very important to development as it made it easier to transport resources from remote areas to the cities and eventually to Europe and other Northern countries. It seems that Latin America was pretty much doing the same job as before independence, just as the rulers were technically different, but remained a small and oppressive elite. Both politics and international trade seemed to promote an illusion that for the average person things had changed. Most people were still denied certain rights and the countries themselves internationally still remained at about the same level- important for resources. I feel that in a sense all the countries that were investing in Latin America were almost bribing them, so that their country could get first choice or the best deal on whatever resources they wanted. Some Latin American countries although they were able to profit greatly from the “export boom” were unable to create local industry besides resource extraction if that counts. They still had to rely on manufactured goods from the North probably made from their resources. Unlike under colonial rule, Latin America or at least certain countries in Latin America were able to modernize due to their increased money gains. However, a concept I learned in a geography course is one that involves the difference between money (GDP) and wealth (assets). A country can have a high GDP, but low wealth because the assets are being used up and money can no longer be made from them. It seems as if this is what was happening in Latin America during the export boom and even during colonial rule except the people couldn’t benefit from the profits from exports.

Did Latin America’s position in the global stage change that much after independence and the export boom? Or was it the same and the only difference is that countries gained previously withheld wealth?

Week Six

Official freedom in the Americas is a strange thing. Essentially it was only freedom for a certain group of people and everyone else was left to find other ways to advocate for their own rights. The Caudillos was one of these methods which we learned about last week. However the reading for week six focuses on the abolition of slavery and freedom for slaves in the Americas. Although as mentioned in Dawson, the abolition of slavery and independence from colonial rule did not neccessarily mean that everyone was equal in society.

“Scientific racism” became popular in the time after independence, which saw  “whiteness [as] a scientific virtue. Whites were [deemed] smarter, more rational, more fit to govern, and more fit to be citizens of any society” (Dawson 75). This allowed for the white elites to exclude pretty much everyone from politics, therefore making decisions based upon their own interests because they were “smarter”. For example, many Indigenous peoples had their land taken away and/or had to relocate and be forced into labour. Not only that, but scientific racism  allowed and encouraged many other things- ie. “eras[ing] the stain of blackness or Indianness through intermarriage or reclassification” (76).

Dawson also talks a lot about Brazil and Cuba because they were the last two now-countries in Latin America to abolish slavery since they relied on it for their economies so much. Both also had large populations of free people of colour, but each reacted to their population demographics differently. Cuba tightened their caste hierarchy while Brazil loosened theirs. White Cubans also created and promoted an image of Afro-Cubans as kidnappers and practicioners of witchcraft so as to “exclude [them] from positions of privilege” (87). When I was reading this part the word propaganda came to my mind again, it seems like a somewhat similar situation as the casta paintings. The white Cubans were leading the people to believe a certain thing about Afro-Cubans which was done to stop them from moving up in society. I suppose the same thing could be said for everywhere else that used scientific racism to conserve societal hierarchy. As we see with the caste system in Latin America and its affects today, I wonder how big of a part scientific racism played in perpetuating it. It was pretty much the non-colonial, new idea way of keeping racial divides in Latin America (and I’m sure other places too) especially in a post slavery society.

Do you think scientific racism could be viewed as another form of propaganda?


Week Five

Last week we discussed about who gained indepenedence and where. The reading this week solidified the fact that the revolution(s) only benefitted those who already had power. As outlined in the reading this week, the people, typically those who were poorer or of lower social standing, were unable to turn to the new governments for help. This lack of trust was mostly due to the elites treatment of the ‘lower classes’ prior to independence. However, what I am still curious about is what set the Caudillos apart from the creole elites? Were they also elites who had exploited the people during colonial rule? If yes, then would the people not have been wary of the promises that were made to them. How would the Caudillos have been able to gain the attention of the people? Yes, the Caudillos carried out their promises, but I wonder how long it would have taken for the Caudillo to build up trust in a community- would one success/reward be enough? Were some of the Caudillos not previous elites and instead men who were able to rise up in social ranks during the revolutions? If this was the case for some, although it would be a difficult thing to measure, was their acceptance amongst the people faster than the others?

In Dawson’s reading it mentions that some of the Caudillos would accomplish a goal of the people, but would then do something that directly contradicted that goal. Diaz for example was a Caudillo, but then became a liberal leader. He privatized the indigenous peoples land even though he previously advocated for village autonomy. It was interesting to read about how each Caudillo catered to whatever region they had made an agreement with, but I suppose the Caudillos agreed with whatever the people wanted as long as they gained the support/army that they needed to secure their power. The people also saw what the Caudillos were offering and determined them as the best option. I can see how their rule would be preferable compared to the creole elite/liberals. Although later on liberalism was the preferred choice, particularly in Mexico due to its advertisement as being inlcusive to all people.

After the Revolutions states were created, but as we learn in this week the states really had no power in everday life for many people. The Caudillos allowed for local or customary law to be followed as opposed to the laws set by the central government. So, what did the central government really have power over then?

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