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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