Week Thirteen Readings

In this week’s readings we learned about Latin America in the late 20th century and into the 21st century. Today, Latin America and the world faces, not only crises of poverty and inequality, but also a booming environmental crisis. On the one hand, Latin America has been targeted for their natural resources and therefore experienced much environmental degradation. Latin American countries usually have more lenient environmental policies and regulations, which makes resource extraction much easier for Western countries. On the other hand, not only Latin America, but the world is experiencing the consequences of human-induced climate change. These consequences are triggering more frequent environmental changes, like increased droughts and erratic weather, which particularly affect societies dependent on weather for agriculture. It’s frustrating to think that, although this is a global phenomenon, those countries that least contribute to the climate changing, are the ones who are, and will, experience the most severe consequences of it.

In terms of past environmental degradation, Alexander Dawson talks about Texaco’s involvement in Ecuador. Beginning in 1964, Texaco began exploring for oil in Ecuador and found that Ecuador’s Sucumbio region was oil-rich. Within a few years they began operating and exploiting the region. The Ecuadorian government was on board given that some of the oil would be used locally, and the company made some under-the-table arrangements to ignore its environmental degradation. However, today we can see that Texaco left many toxic water waste pits, polluted waters, and poisoned soils, which affected the health of many locals. In the case of Ecuador, Sucumbio residents stood up and filed a lawsuit against the company. However, this is one in hundreds of cases where the voices of those being violated are heard.

Latin America, as are other developing regions around the world, are particularly vulnerable to changes in climate. However, what stood out to me in this section was that in the face of climate change, there is also increased global awareness and local opportunities. What I mean by this is that, like the cases of Ecuador with its oil or Guatemala with its mining, locals have a greater opportunity today to voice their concerns and confront their oppressors to global spectators. This enhances international support and involvement for those who decide to “voice”, or engage, during crisis, rather than “exit”. Today Latin America may face many crises but I feel like there are also more opportunities to dealing with these crises for locals.

Week Twelve Readings

Both this last week and this week’s readings and videos focus on the “terror” or “dirty war” period of Latin America. Whereas last week’s readings focused on the violence provoked by left-wing individuals, or guerrillas, this week’s readings and videos look at the oppression from right-wing individuals, or the state. Argentina, for example, went through a period of state terrorism from about 1974 to 1983, where military and security forces were encouraged to kill anyone even slightly associated with socialist notions. Thousands of Argentines were victims of violence and kidnap during this period, many of which were innocent and harmless. This state terror was replicated in other parts of Latin America dealing with guerrillas, such as Chile. Both Argentina and Chile are prime examples of outrageous state violence that marked the history of these countries to this day.

I like that this chapter focused on state violence. To this day we often associate “terrorists” to non-state affiliated individuals. In other words, the world’s powers and media have the resources to talk the public into thinking anyone opposing state values is a “terrorist”. Nevertheless, as history eventually tells, or contemporary whistle-blowers are showing, states are responsible for many of the immoral and violent acts that they often claim to oppose. Learning about the Dirty War in Argentina was particularly disturbing. Jorge Rafael Videla’s techniques to campaign against suspected socialists, where he initiated detention camps, banned trade unions, and brought the government under military control, illustrate a devastating dictatorship. Because the government was supposedly fighting leftist guerrillas, their oppressive techniques were not initially questioned. However, as we learned with the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo, the state was eventually questioned and blamed for its immoral acts.

Ironically, times of disaster often open the door for opportunities. The Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo organized marches in front of Buenos Aires’ presidential palace, in opposition of the government’s human rights violations. This was an organization of many mothers and grandmothers that got together to ask the state where their children were. Thousands of individuals in Argentina were “disappeared” by the government, but their mothers and grandmothers were right there to question their disappearance. What is astonishing about the organization of these women is that, as Alexander Dawson mentions, they were able to change their country because they “reconfigured their terrain battle”. They did not just blame the government, they also asked for help from the rest of the world. This in turn, highlighted women and human rights violations all around the world. Hence, the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo are a global legacy that arose from a disastrous period in Argentina’s history.

Research and Writing Assignment

The Shining Path and Peruvian Terrorism – Gordon H. McCormick

The article “The Shining Path and Peruvian Terrorism” by Gordon H. McCormick explains Sendero Luminoso’s (Shining Path) origin, leadership, organizing concepts, and style of operation. According to McCormick, Sendero Luminoso was born in the Andean Peruvian department of Ayacucho. This department has been greatly ignored by the government of Lima, and is one of the most impoverished regions of Latin America. Historically, this region is known for being the site of the last great battle for Latin America’s liberation. Contemporarily, it has been used, and is used, for many Indian uprising. The site’s alienation from the rest of the country provides a great secretive platform for organizing revolutionary groups. Hence, Sendero Luminoso successfully organized itself using this space.
Former Philosophy Professor Abimael Guzman founded Sendero Luminoso in 1970. Guzman attended the University of Huamanga in Ayacucho and studied Immanuel Kant; he wrote his thesis on The Bourgeois Democratic State. His socialist orientation led him to becoming a member of the Communist Party of Peru, and after being kicked out, he eventually founded today’s Communist Party of Peru, Sendero Luminoso. Guzman used his influences in the University of Huamanga in Ayacucho as a basis for creating his revolutionary organization. McCormick explains that Guzman used his position in the university to influence the faculty and the students that entered the university. His mission was to indoctrinate the students for a future generation of followers. The university therefore played an essential role in building Guzman’s image, ideas, and organization.
Although Guzman officially founded Sendero Luminoso in 1970, the group only came to light in 1970. After years of gathering support and organizing its operations, the group was ready to come to light. During Peru’s 1980 elections, Sendero Luminoso attacked many of the polling stations in Ayacucho to prevent individuals from voting. After this main incident, the group grew rapidly and launched multiple attacks following Election Day.
McCormick explains in his article that the group is known for being very secretive and mysterious, so their goals and strategies are hard to pinpoint. However, we know that Sendero Luminoso calls for the establishment of communal village-oriented economy based on barter exchange, and an abolishment of current economic structures. The group began implementing this economic structure on a small scale in Peru. Sendero Luminoso would enter rural villages, kill the present landowners, and hand their land to the peasantry in two-hectare parcels. If anyone owned more than two-parcels they were subject to being shot. Individuals were told to produce only for their needs and for their immediate community. This process, among many other acts of violence, was one of the ways Sendero Luminoso attempted to gain a new state of workers and peasants; and to resuscitate Andean socialism.

Peru Force to Confront Deep Scars of Civil War – William Neuman

The article “Peru Force to Confront Deep Scars of Civil War” by William Neuman gives a contemporary context of the role of Sendero Luminoso in Peru. Abimael Guzman was captured and imprisoned by the Peruvian government in 1992. He was sentenced to life in prison, and since then Sendero Luminoso’s activity has declined. There is currently an existing portion of the group still operating in a remote area in the Amazonian jungle. However, the group has focused less on provoking attacks and violence, and instead has continued largely through drug trafficking. The reliance on drug trafficking is a common theme across many guerilla groups throughout Latin America. For example, many guerrillas in Colombia have fallen into drug trafficking because it is a convenient and fast way of getting money.
In Neuman’s article, he explains that Sendero Luminoso attempted to reinvent itself in 2012. Hundreds to thousands of former guerrilla members came together to gather signatures to try to gain political participation. In spite of the group’s attempt to become a political party, election officials rejected their request. According to officials, the group had failed to meet some requirements and represented anti-democratic ideals. This movement reminds me of the FARC (one of Colombia’s guerilla groups), which for many years have fought to gain political power to spread their socialist philosophies. Although political participation of a so-called “terrorist” organization may sound nonsensical, involving guerillas in politics is a strategy for preventing further guerilla violence. If Sendero Luminoso were to reinvent itself, Peru may consider their participation in the future.
Peru’s economy has been growing since Alan Garcia’s presidential term. However, social inequities, such as poverty, slums, and marginalization of indigenous peoples, are still present within Peru. It is these inequities that inspire minority groups to revolt against the government; hence, the birth and attempted re-birth of Sendero Luminoso. In this article, Neuman explains that what was particularly troubling about the groups attempted rebirth in 2012, was that many of the participants were college students. This raises the question of whether this is a result of Guzman’s indoctrination of the students of University of Huamanga in Ayacucho. Are these contemporary Sendero Luminoso members the followers Guzman was trying to gain during his time at the university? Maybe. What was particularly disturbing for many Peruvians was that the interviews with the students revealed that many of them were so young that they did not remember the turmoil of Peru’s civil war during the 1980s to 2000s. In fact, many of the students could not even recognize Guzman’s face when they were shown a picture of him. It appeared as though many of them did not really know what or for whom they were fighting for or against. Overall, what I like about this article is that it illustrates how Sendero Luminoso is still present in Peru after the war, and after Guzman’s imprisonment.

Week Eleven Readings

This week’s topic “The Terror” gives insight into the rise of Latin America’s left wing guerilla groups. These groups were organized usually in opposition to governments’ right wing, free market approaches. Neoliberal and capitalist ideals in Latin America were not democratic; they benefited the elite and subordinate the poor and rural. In self-defense, the poor and rural turned to communist ideals and violence; hence, guerilla groups. Alexander Dawson explains that this opposition was possible mostly due to the outcomes of the Cold War. Both the United States and the Soviet Union used Latin America as their battleground to gain capitalist and communist support. While the US aided many Latin American governments with money, the Soviet Union aided many local groups with military support. This provided the resources needed for both parties to fight against each other.
As Alexander Dawson explains, many guerrilla groups were born out of the corruption and inequalities that many peasants faced as capitalism entered Latin America. Once again, we see this as a consequence of US imperialism. The US began using its military, market, and intelligence agencies to gain hegemony over the region. This, however, did not compute in the peasant people’s mind, and therefore they began uprisings. Dawson explains how the conflicts that arose with guerrilla groups are described using terms like “dirty wars” or “war on terror”. I very much agree with him in that this type of language was, and is, used by powers, like the US, to create certain imaginaries that benefit their ideas and actions. Any individual or group that defies clean categories, such as being uniformed and controlling specific zones during warfare, is considered an enemy – a terrorist. This is a misconception.
I fail to believe that these individuals and groups are necessarily the terrorists. Yes, as we have learned through Sendero Luminoso, guerrilla group often express themselves through coercion and violence. However, as we have learned with Peru’s civil war history, the state also expressed itself through acts of violence. Both groups killed hundreds of people, so why is only one of them being called the terrorist? I think that this control of language like the “war on terror” is a dangerous weapon that powers, such as the US, have over the world. Words like “terrorist” create imaginaries of fear and “othering” that blur the US’ own acts of terror. It is this type of manipulative language that makes individuals more likely to support foreign warfare in the name of fighting “terror”. We know for a fact that the US has killed hundreds, if not thousands, of civilians through their inexplicable airstrikes and drone-strikes, but I do not see the US being labeled as a “terrorist” in any news headline.

Week Ten Readings

The readings for this week primarily discuss how power was given to the people of Latin America through artistic mediums. The radio was one of the principal forms of power. The radio was a form that allowed individuals to display different arts (music, soap operas, etc.), which enhanced a sense of virtual community within nations. For example, the text talks about how samba became a national identity for Brazil. As samba became more wellknwn throughout Brazil, individuals started identifying more with the music. Getulio Vargas, therefore, decided to use samba to connect the people to his ideologies of the Etado Novo. However, Alexander Dawson explains that, particularly, lower income samba artists rejected this official samba and sought different mediums to express their true samba. The contribution of so many artists overwhelmed the official samba, and eventually took over. Working from different levels of society and expressed through different mediums, samba became a national identity for Brazil. So much so, that in spite of the fact that it rose from lower class individuals, elite Brazilians had to embrace samba to be considered “true” Brazilians. The idea of using art as a source of power is very amusing to me. As the samba example shows, class and power differences are blurred or dismissed when dealing with art. It is more about the quality and quantity of the artwork, rather than the individual, that gives power.
Maria Eva Duarte de Peron also used the radio as a form of power and identity. Evita moved to Buenos Aires to pursue a career in the arts, and in a way, that is exactly what she did – powerful arts. As the wife of President Juan Peron, she was given a political power that she had not previously had. She came from a humble background, and rose to a position of power where she could address and be listened to by a wide community. Given this opportunity she pursued the arts though the radio, but used it to pursue issues of women’s rights, labor rights, and other social issues often dismissed in politics. As a once severely poor individual, Evita knew how and what social issues were important to address.
Both these examples of the arts used in Brazil and Argentina, show how much power common people can have if they are just given the form to do so. The radio is a powerful tool because any class, gender, and ethnicity can use it. One idea can be spread to the entire nation, and that individuals in the entire nation can choose to listen to it or not (as in Vargas’ official samba station). Thus, I see the radio (and other art and medium forms) as a source of great power – potentially even for war.

Week Nine Readings

This week’s readings outline the strategic penetration of the United States into Latin America through the market. Alexander Dawson’s chapter on “Commerce, Coercion, and America’s Empire” begins by describing the connotations and ideologies tied in with the term “empire”. Empires, in the mind of Americans, were created by Europeans, and not by Americans. Americans were at the core of anti-imperialism, and what appeared to be imperialism or domination, was actually God’s calling for Americans to re-appropriate their America. Americans saw their expansion as a Godly responsibility, a duty, rather than a form of suppression. Whatever they’re excuse, Americans were, and are, imperialists. And they managed to succeed through strategically and subtly manipulating the market in Latin America.
The American empire, described by Dawson, is an almost identical reflection of the European empire. Any attempt by Americans to deny their state as an empire, is pure hypocrisy. America’s domination had very similar outcomes to Europeans’ colonization. For instance, similarly to Europeans, America’s intrusion in Latin America introduced death and disease during the construction of the Panama Canal. Involuntarily or not, how is this any different to the diseases, such as smallpox, that Europeans brought to the New World that killed vast amounts of Indigenous populations? If anything, the American empire was more deadly than the European Empire. The fact that the market was the main tool for domination, introduced many more factors than purely physical colonization – like that of the Europeans. What I mean by this is that I think the American market, not only entered Latin America physically, but also psychologically. It used local people’s image to stereotype and attract American demand for Latin American commodities, and it manipulated local people’s tastes to also create demand within Latin America. Particularly through advertisement, the American market empire basically brainwashed both societies into idolizing certain commodities.
This American empire expansion is scary and disturbing to read about. I feel like the market was used so strategically that it was able to favor American interests to any extent. This empire was, and is not, only concerned with expanding its market, but also in expanding its ideologies. This is seen, for example, through the CIA and UFCO cooperated to overthrow Arbenz. Arbenz recognized and acted on the American Emprire’s manipulation and oppression in order to restore his country’s autonomy. However, this did not play out with the American empire and therefore they would do anything to take this interference out of the picture. They began representing him through pictures of the Soviet Union to appeal to the American public, and used CIA plans to invade land in Honduras. Again, this shows how this empire used the market to physically and psychologically manipulate its own empire and its expanding empire. It’s a scary thought to think how the market posed a greater threat than the military.

Week Eight Readings

This week’s readings and videos focused on the “Signs of Crisis in a Gilded Age”, particularly within Mexico. The reading explains how the rapidly increasing industrialization of North America and the demand for a continuous export boom was beneficial for some, but detrimental for others – One person’s boom meant another person’s crisis. There were particularly two ideas that came to mind for me throughout the reading and videos: power and feedbacks (action and re-action).

Power. Power is dangerous. It’s common for feel us, humans, to feel that as soon as we gain any type of power, we must gain even more power. For example, Profirio Diaz’s presidency power triggered his need for more power. He saw North America’s fast development and decided to do the same for his country. He constructed railroads and enhanced economic growth – his economic growth. The railroad systems were constructed to make money off the international markets, rather than to enhance local trade of goods. This allowed him, and the Mexican oligarchs, to enrich themselves. However, what did this mean for the non-oligarchs? This meant increased inequality and violence. Rural peoples were displaced from their land and forced into national and international dependency. The richer one oligarch, the poorer one rural peasant got.

Feedbacks. As the reading states at the beginning, Diaz’s contribution to Mexican history is told ambiguously in schools. Did he bring national benefits to the economy? How were these “benefits” detrimental effects to the people? It’s not like one president can satisfy the wants and needs of all its citizens. With every increase in personal power, comes a further detriment to social power. This is what I mean by actions and re-actions of power. For some reason, individuals find it difficult to understand the concept of “enoughness”. And this is where the idea of “progress” also comes into play. Progress is continuous growth or development. I guess we can’t really know if this addiction is biologically inherent or socially constructed by capitalism. Either way, “progress” is a dangerous term that is often used to justify economic growth – even though the action of economic growth can have (and usually has) environmentally and socially disastrous re-actions.

Week Seven Readings

This week’s readings focus on the rise of modernity in Latin America in the late 19th century. I find that this time of rapid change throughout Latin American countries is controversial and difficult to grasp. North America was looking for cheap resources, and Latin America (better yet, Latin American elites) was seeking more economic growth. This motivated the export boom in Latin American countries. The export boom was classist, sexist, and racist; therefore, whether it was beneficial or detrimental largely depended on where you stood in society. Elites believed Latin America needed to become modern. I think this mentality arose as they were becoming exposed to the “progress addiction” that North America had (and has). However, this meant that non-elites, the poor, the peasant, the rural were forced into the capitalist system. They were forced off their land as their resources became commoditized and privatized, and they were forced to sell their labor as the market economy expanded. In this chapter they state that the urbanization throughout this period was not all bad given that industry workers living in the city now had a place where they could fight for their rights (such as, wage and living rights). However, I do not really see how this is an argument. Industry workers may have now had a space to have their voices heard, but this space would not have been needed if they had not been displaced from their land in the first place. That being said, modernity in Latin America did benefit some other marginalized individuals and groups. For instance, women were able to fight for women’s rights. Modernity enhanced population density and influence in cities, which gave women the power for change in an influential space; and modernity exposed Western feminist mentalities to Latin American women.
This period affected each individual differently, and also provided a place for each individual to portray him/herself differently. I found this particularly interesting to study in the reading’s section on photography. Photographs are literally posed individuals in made-up settings. They allow individuals to picture themselves however they want, wherever they want. Introducing photography helped embed the stereotypes of people and spaces of Latin America to the world – many of them being very negative. For example, photographs portrayed the idea that light-skin, European-like dress, and clean settings was equivalent to wealth. Hence, many Indigenous and African upwardly mobilizing individuals dressed and appeared European-like in photographs. This is a disturbing in that it is self-discriminating and self-destructive, but also represents the confusion and inequality that modernity brought to Latin America.

Week Six Readings

“Citizenship” is an ongoing biased notion. In this week’s reading we learned that, post-independence, granting citizenship was a challenge for Latin American countries. Granting citizenship was determined by those highest in the caste system – the whites. Citizenship was neither given to slaves nor women, while language and religious requirements were also debated. The past’s requirements for citizenship are not much different to today’s requirements. Today, our governments determine who is qualified for citizenship based on biased requirements. People are “chosen” based on subjective terms, usually due to nations’ economic, social, and political interests. Nations make excuses for their citizenship requirements accordingly. The excuse that I found most disturbing in this week’s reading was “scientific racism”: the idea that different races inherently had different abilities. White individuals were smarter, fitter, and more rational, and therefore nations had to improve their race though blood cleansing.
Although past mentalities like “scientific racism” makes me cringe, it also makes me be more aware of today’s mentalities. How will our contemporary mindsets and actions be seen and studied in the future? As an Environmental Geographer, I made the relationship between the treatment of slaves and women in the 19th century, to the treatment of the natural world in the 21st century. We have certain requirements for granting citizenship to individuals based on our national interests and national discriminations. Do we do the same for the natural world? Why doesn’t the natural world have agency? Why can’t the natural world be granted citizenship? We view individuals in the natural world as resources, as entities that drive and boost economic growth. This is the same mentality we had of slaves. In fact, our resistance to changing our energy sources from non-renewable to renewable ones is mostly due to the fear of economic decline – exactly the seam reason for resisting slave abolition.
Furthermore, I found it interesting to study the slave relationships and imaginaries that Brazil, Cuba, and the US had. Brazil and Cuba, and the US had different strategies in terms of using and having slaves in the most economically profitable form. For example Brazil and Cuba relied heavily on importing slaves, especially since slaves tended to die within the first three years. The US, however, focused on keeping slaves healthy and alive, and on native-born blacks, to avoid the financial burden of importing them. This made it difficult for blacks to escape slavery in the US. This is an example of how each country’s economic strategies (here, in terms of slavery) affects how individuals live in or fight against that country’s system.

Week Five Readings

As mentioned in the readings, the lecture, and the podcasts, the 19th century does not represent a time of real independence. Latin American countries were gaining “independence” in writing, but not in practice. Many wars and conflicts arose in the newly-“independent” countries because there tended to be inequality between peoples, lack of governance understanding, and power imbalances. European powers may have backed off, but internal powers still existed. People of upper classes, lighter skins, and educated created a new hierarchy of oppression. In these new disorganized forms of governance, poor peasant individuals were forced to depend on short-term and immediate remedies to their suffering – caudillos.

Caudillos, typically, were military landowners who had political power and influence. Like the lecture video mentions, caudillos depended on the lower classes, and vice versa. Like the “client” analogy used in the lecture video, caudillos provided food and security to the powerless, as long as they supported their patrons. I found this description not hard to understand – in a context where corruption is abundant and food is scarce, it is wise for an individual to rely on a caudillo. While reading about the caudillos, I could not help but relate caudillos to Pablo Escobar. Although Escobar did not necessarily gain political power, he used his monetary power to maintain a large portion of low-class Colombian individuals dependent on him. He would provide them food and wealth, as long as the people promised their honesty and sacrifice to him. Escobar created his own army basically off of his money and charisma.

Similarly, Esteban Echeverria’s The Slaughterhouse represents a strong power imbalance that triggers extreme violence. The story, which is based during Juan Manuel de Rosas’ rule in Argentina, depicts the lifeworlds of two opposing groups: the Federal and the Unitary. Echeverria depicts the Federal as barbarians, and the Unitary as civilized. He represents the Federal barbarians as extremely cruel and gross people through his use of language and analogies. Throughout the short story I noticed that Echeverria uses a lot of meat and animal depictions. I thought that he used these themes in relation to the Unitarians to emphasize the Federal brutality. It is almost as thought the meat and the animals are the Unitarians. Was he using the images of raw, abundant, and wasted meat to foreshadow the death of the young Unitarian? Was the escaped (but trapped) bull a representation of the Unitarians’ failed attempt to fight the Federals? These gruesome imaginaries and comparisons help the reader see Echeverria outrage with the political system.