Week 12: Speaking Truth to Power

What I found very interesting this week is how profit in the drug wars is so reliant on the criminalization of the drug trade. The resistance of the state actually benefits the cartels, as it makes the prices soar. As more restriction is placed on drugs, the higher the demand is, thus the cartels make more money, even as violence increases. So it makes me wonder what the solution could be? Would legalization of narcotics help reduce the violence connected to the drug wars, both on the side of the cartels and of the Mexican state and the U.S.? I definitely do think it would help to change the framework of criminalization to rehabilitation, not only in Latin America but in North America as well. That way, people facing drug addiction are more likely to seek help and the demand for narcotics can be reduced. Dawson mentions that this is something that the MUCD (Mexicans United Against Delinquency) advocates for.

When Dawson discussed the strategies people in Mexico have to avoid the violence, he mentioned that poorer residents that don’t have the option of living in a gated community turn to their friends and neighbors for protection, since relying on the state isn’t an option. This made me think of caudillos and reminded me of how that system is still relevant today.

I think that the term “interdiction” is really interesting. Dawson writes, “Interdiction efforts have what many describe as a balloon effect. When one area is pressed (as in the Caribbean in the late 1980s and early 1990s), the trade expands to another region. Today, as interdiction efforts have increased in Mexico, more and more of the trade has shifted to the even weaker states of Central America, particularly Guatemala and Honduras.”

“One kilo of cocaine sells for $1,000 in Colombia’s interior, $25,000 in the United States, and $60,000 in Britain.”

I think that this is definitely a case study for the detrimental effects of global capitalism. The drug trade will continue to be international in scope as long as the producers can benefit from the rising prices as the drugs travel farther away from their origin.

The story of the Madres de La Plaza de Mayo is both extremely sad and hopeful. Its amazing to see how a group of mothers, most of which hadn’t been present in the political sphere previously, could create such a powerful international movement. I noticed that there is a documentary about them, which I really want to see now.

research assignment

Research Assignment- Speaking Truth to Power

Sheinin, D. M. K..Consent of the Damned: Ordinary Argentinians in the Dirty War. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2012. Project MUSE

For our project, our group decided to focus on the portrayal of different activist groups by the media in Latin America. This chapter from the book Consent of the Damned, Ordinary Argentinians in the Dirty War by David Sheinin shows the presence of the media, mainly popular magazines, during the time period of the dirty war in Argentina. His study shows the absence of media coverage on the revolutionary groups, how that effects the mentality of people reading those magazines, and what it says about the priorities and interests of the middle class.

Sheinin discusses how the Argentinian media appealed to middle class, even with their complicity with the military dictatorship during the Dirty War. Although much of the middle class might not have directly supported the dictatorship, Sheinin explains their reasons for leaning more towards military rule. First, they were anxious over the “rise of peronismo and the growth of working class strength,” which they associated with the turmoil that Argentina had endured for two decades (12). Second, they were enticed by the promise of “rapid modernization,” “prosperity,” and the “return to democracy” (13). They also bought into the portrayal of the revolutionary left as dangerous, subversive, and a threat to society. These values were commonly celebrated among the popular magazines, so it would make sense that the support for the regime would be shown, at least implicitly through the media. Not only did the media actively support the dictatorship through an alignment of values, but it wasn’t always so voluntary. The media was controlled by agencies such as Dirección General de Publicaciones and the Secretaría de Información Pública, which enforced the support of the dictatorship. Sheinin added that the only media group that wasn’t controlled by the agencies was Editorial Atlántida, and that was only because it didn’t need to be controlled; it was already a supporter (13).

Highlighting examples of subversives that represented a threat to the regime was only a small piece of the support that the magazines showed for the dictatorship, the rest was mostly implicit. Sheinin writes that “there were remarkable and convoluted denials of torture, executions, and kidnappings” (16). It was more of an absence of direct political conversation that played a role as propaganda. As violence was so heavy all around Argentina, the magazines continued to show a happy-go-lucky middle class and continuously omit the truth. Rather than publish articles about the Madres de la Plaza de Mayo, magazines were much more likely to have articles about sports and race car drivers. Sheinin explains the economic side to advertising within these magazines and what it meant in terms of supporting the dictatorship. He writes, “Magazines and newspapers were filled with advertisements for products from overseas that emphasized foreign, mostly American, ideals of youth, wealth, and beauty” (14). This reinforcement of neoliberal policies could be conveniently packaged in alluring advertisements rather than explicit politics. By promoting the image of the middle class lifestyle, people became increasingly afraid of any group that represented a threat to the comforts of that lifestyle and luxuries of modernization.



Week 11: The Terror

In this chapter, Dawson focused mostly on the violence that occurred in Latin America through the 1960s and 1980s. He described the complexities of siding with either group and how distorted things became. By focusing on these groups and their violence as isolated from the long history of colonialism, I think that Dawson missed an opportunity to thoroughly explain the economic and historical context of these revolutionary groups. I thought that ISI, import substitution industrialization, was a point he could’ve expanded on to do so. He writes,

ISI depended on the state’s ability to support industry and fund a broad array of educational, health, and welfare programs (including transportation, housing, and food subsidies), but as GDP growth slowed during the 1960s, most governments in the region found themselves pressed by expanding debt, high rates of inflation, increased unemployment, and social unrest. They had to borrow from abroad simply to maintain their current levels of spending. Much of the money they borrowed went to propping up inefficient industries that could not compete against foreign, higher quality and lower cost imports.”

This may be true, but I think that this needs to be explored more in depth. Here are my questions about that quote that I wish were answered during this chapter:

  1. Why did GDP growth slow during the 1960s?
  2. What other reasons prevented the success of ISI besides the decline of GDP?

I think that the Dependency Theory would’ve been important to include in this chapter, especially in terms of why states were so deeply entrenched in debt and could no longer fund the social services that were needed. Instead of framing this as an incompetence of Latin American governments, it could be seen as a product of capitalism and neoliberal policies. These were the conditions that bred the communist revolutionary groups. This isn’t an excuse for their violence, but it is really important in understanding the time period. I think its super interesting that the way that Dawson explains some of these struggles as mirroring the Cold War. Starting as an economic battle, it became so ideological that the “Dirty Wars” became all about fear.

Dawson mentioned Alma Guillermoprieto who described Che Guevara as a “harsh angel,” who “hovered over all this, convincing a generation of young idealists to hurtle themselves against the barricades in a futile struggle.” Dawson goes on to explain that his revolution “stood little chance against the weapons arrayed against them.” I wonder if thats true… Like Dawson says in Chapter 4, we have the benefit of hindsight, so its easy to say that they stood little chance now that we know that they lost. But there was hope in Che’s movement, and maybe they could have been successful if state terror wasn’t so powerful in Latin America at the time.


Week 10: Power to the People

This chapter discusses the creation of national culture, and whether or not it was cohesive or successful. I thought it was really interesting the importance that Dawson placed on the role of the technological advances of radio and photography. In Brazil, authoritarian ruler Getúlio Vargas understood the potential of radio as a means of propaganda, yet there was still some resistance from the public. Its funny that Vargas’s enforced announcement hour was nicknamed “hora fala sozinho” (the hour that talks to itself). I find this an interesting example of people’s ability to resist being influenced by propaganda, but maybe his regime just wasn’t using media effectively enough.

Dawson also explained the emergence of leaders in Latin America that suddenly had such a wider reach because of radio. Evita and Juan Perón were examples of those populist leaders.

“Not only did Juan Perón liberate the tango from censorship, he could speak the same language as the great tango singers. Their expressions, like their rage, were his as well.”

I think that this is a great example of how Perón was a populist leader. The people could relate to him, he wasn’t perceived as a distant elite. Even more so than Juan, Eva appealed to the general public. This was through her “humble origins” and the way she defied the expectations of an elite woman at the time. Dawson explains that almost every popular Latin American leader from the mid-twentieth century could be called a populist so I wonder if there are any that could distinctly be recognized as non-populist? If populist leaders are described as being quite divisive, how did this trend both reflect and influence nation building and unity? Despite the hostility she and her supporters faced, it can’t be disputed that Eva did enhance Argentine society through her foundation, the FEP.

Is nationality always constructed through propaganda or does it sometimes exist genuinely, without forced construction? In the case of Brazil’s samba, popular culture played more of a role in nation building than elites did.


On a side note, I couldn’t ignore this crazy statement: “This was still not the end for Evita, She was dug up and returned to Perón in Madrid in 1971, where the body could occasionally be seen on his dining room table.” ???

week 9

Week 9: Commerce, Coercion, and America’s Empire

What I found the most interesting this week was how Arbenz went about changing the way the United Fruit Company had control over Guatemala, mostly through the Agrarian Reform Law, “Plan 900.”

The UFCO, which in 1952 cultivated only 139,000 acres of its 3 million acres of property in the country, lost 234,000 acres as a result of the law. Worse still for the company, the government offered only $1 million in compensation for the confiscated lands, basing the offer on the company’s own tax filings, which were widely known to significantly undervalue their land.

I thought this was so clever of Arbenz; however, his wit alone wasn’t enough. The U.S. military backing of UFCO, despite its contribution to poverty and inequality, is a clear example of the U.S.’s imperialism in the region. It also highlights how powerful the rhetoric of the red scare was and how it could be used so easily as propaganda, as it fueled the narrative that anyone that was against UFCO was a threat to national security. Dawson calls this partly “the U.S. government’s inability to distinguish nationalism from communism.” This made me think about the Crucible, the play about the Salem witch trials. Arthur Miller wrote this during the time of the Cold War, and the fear of witches was meant to be an allegory to the red scare. This was such a big part of American culture at the time, so it makes sense to me that politicians would use this as a fear tactic to gain power. In ways, the red scare never really ended. The anti-communist sentiment definitely still exists in the U.S., especially surrounding Cuba.

I also thought it was interesting how document 6.4 described Disney as an invader, how they have the ability to make a revolutionary struggle look banal. As I grew up watching Disney movies as a kid, it feels weird to accept this dark side of Disney. Its hard to imagine that the films were made with the intentions of being propaganda but like Dawson said about U.S. intervention in Latin America, “American officials often believed that they were doing good deeds.” Their motives must be analyzed within the framework of North American culture. The effects of their intervention is complicated, because there were benefits, such as cures found for Malaria and other blood-born illnesses, but there were also many costs.


Week 8: Signs of Crisis in a Gilded Age

I think that this week’s topic was another example of the multiplicity within Latin America and how different periods can mean such different things depending on who’s speaking. This is especially complex in reference to the Mexican revolution. When we think of “revolution,” we usually expect there to be a clear goal, yet this isn’t quite the case. There were the Zapatistas and the Villistas, who had more in common with each other than some of the other groups, yet they were still distinct from one another, each with their own hopes for the outcome of the revolution. Many Constitutionalists hoped that with the overthrow of Díaz, who had been in power for decades, their dreams of a democratic society could be attained.

Political upheaval wasn’t unique to Mexico, however. I thought that the formation of political groups in Argentina was really interesting and the idea of a “general strike” having such extreme implications. Those that benefited from the economic situation and didn’t want the transformations demanded by laborers on strike were quick to point to outsiders as being the issue. This, paired with the influx of immigrants, intensified the dynamic of xenophobia, racism, and anti-semitism. Time and time again this is the case in societies with a diversity of groups that have clashing interests. How can this be seen today?

José Carlos Mariátegui has a unique perspective, blending the localism of indigenous communities with the wider hopes of communism. He is a liberal intellectual from Peru, ideologically aligned with Marx, yet does not believe Peru needs to follow the route of capitalism to achieve an egalitarian society. Mariátegui, unlike Vasconcelos, thought that education and policy were actually not the solutions; he recognized that forced indigenous integration was against the harmony of the society and led Peru farther from the hopes of communism.


Week 7: The Export Boom as Modernity

This topic of the export boom and modernity is definitely a topic whose tone changes depending on who’s telling the story. A Mexican elite, a new factory worker, or an American investor might’ve spoken highly of Díaz’s presidency. On the other hand, these new benefits were only possible from the exploitation of so many who suffered during Díaz’s rule. One supporter and advocate of Díaz was James Creelman. As he put it,

There is not a more romantic or heroic figure in all the world, nor one more intensely watched by both the friends and foes of democracy, than the soldier-statesman, whose adventurous youth pales the pages of Dumas, and whose iron rule has converted the warring, ignorant, superstitious and impoverished masses of Mexico, oppressed by centuries of Spanish cruelty and greed, into a strong, steady, peaceful, debt-paying and progressive nation.

That is one way to look at it… And not a surprising perspective from a non-Mexican journalist, himself benefiting from modernity, who could easily appreciate the growth of technological advancement. Anything other than progress towards modernity and civilization fed easily into the “barbarism” rhetoric popular among his North American audience. Liberal elites found justification for Díaz’s cruelty as they believed that “their societies would never prosper, would never become modern, if order was not first established.”

On the other hand, many people’s livelihoods were disrupted, who were well off before the treasures of modernity arrived. Peasants’ land were taken away and they were forced into the workforce. I found something here in Dawson’s commentary that I want to question– he explained that “Industrial workers often found themselves able to take advantage of their new settings (concentrated in cities) to successfully agitate for better wages and living conditions, and they clearly had a higher standard of living than their rural counterparts.” Can that be said so confidently? How is this standard of living being measured? Maybe the ‘rural counterparts’ Dawson is referring to are those that lost their land during Porfiriato and were left to work on haciendas with low pay. I don’t think that they inherently had a lower standard of living though.

The transformation that took place during the export boom seems even more radical than colonial rule. Under the Spanish crown, some villages remained autonomous, but “by 1910 more than half the land in the country was in the hands of one percent of the population, and 97 percent of Mexicans were landless.” This might explain why the indigenous students in figure 4.6 decided to stay in Mexico City after being forced there originally. Maybe some of them felt that their old lives were lost as there was probably no land to go back to. 


Week 6- Citizenship & Rights

Citizenship and Rights in the New Republics is a topic that discusses propaganda and deception, but it also has bits of resistance and hope. Some marginalized groups worked within the law to find their freedom whereas some had no choice but to work outside or against the law. Cofradias, the fraternal societies organized by slaves and former slaves are a good example of manipulating the system for change. They would raise funds in order to “purchase” slaves to free them; they were staying within the law but finding an efficient way of rebelling. For others, however, the law only brought disadvantage, such as the communal villages that were broken up by liberal legislation.

I thought it was interesting to see the reasons why slavery crumbled- once a few nations were emancipated, it became clear that the eventual emancipation of the rest of the Americas was inevitable. Dawson explains that planters started reducing their reliance on slavery, “not because it was unprofitable, but because most believed that their long-term survival depended on finding new sources of labor.” So as the supply chain started to weaken, farmers knew they had to switch to other forms of labor because it was the smarter option, economically. This leaves the problem that many farmers freed their slaves not because of a change of moral conviction on the ethics of slavery, but simply because of economic motives. As slaves were emancipated, institutional racism still existed. This is true even more so in the United States, as Dawson explains, because of the differing conceptions of race. In the U.S., the one-drop rule existed as an accepted “truth” and still exists to this day, to some extent. Race was more complex in Latin America, but the heightened differentiation lead to complicated casts and hierarchies. Blackness was not just a racial category, it was also often times associated with African religions that were considered barbaric in comparison to Christianity.

“Moreover, because people of African ancestry could hope to move up the social hierarchy by acquiring wealth, prestige, and power, after 1889 a confrontational struggle for civil rights gave way to more individualized strategies of advancement. If you followed the rules of the system, you might get ahead. If you protested, you were certain to be left behind.”

This opportunity for advancement was a major difference between the emancipation processes in the U.S. and Latin America. Many former slaves in the U.S. did not have a chance to move up the social hierarchy, despite their ability to acquire wealth or follow the rules of the system.

How does Nina Rodrigues’s belief that blacks could become “civilized” through the intervention of the state still exist in many ways today? Not only in terms of racism against African Americans but in terms of indigenous groups as well.

week 5

Week 5: Federalists vs. Unitarians


“figures who entered the vacuum of power left by the collapse of the Spanish colonial state and who offered hope for stability through the force of their will and their capacity to vanquish their enemies.”

In this sense, the appeal of the strongmen makes sense: the individual leadership was a stark difference compared to the corporate entities that came with colonial rule. With all the turmoil surrounding Independence, it would make sense that people sought a different form of leadership than the failed bureaucracies of colonialism. Suspicion of liberalism fits in this narrative as people doubted the abstract notion of the state. The geography of Latin America is relevant here as well: “even when these countries were sparsely populated, vast distances and geography put the lie to all illusions of central control.” Local governance, then, was not only more popular, but was more suiting to the geographical conditions of Latin America. This was the  position of Federalists, described in Esteban Echeverría’s, The Slaughterhouse. Echeverría paints Federalists in a very unattractive light in his story, as brutal savages that couldn’t think for themselves. I think this his depiction of Federalists was extreme to the point of absurdity, but there might have been some truth to it. On the other hand, he attempts to depict Unitarians as educated saints, even going so far as to allude the Unitarian young man in the story to Jesus. 

This division between groups (Federalists and Unitarians) reminds me of the current political climate in the United States. In fact, the reading’s description of Rosas sounded a bit familiar…

“He spoke a language that resonated with the rural and urban poor, showing them that he was one of them. And he always divvyed up the spoils of power among his followers.”

This reminds me of the rhetoric around Trump and how he has gained such a following. Creating division between liberals and conservatives, Trump definitely “speaks the language” of his followers. When people are feeling voiceless and powerless, a strongman may seem like the only hope. This being said, it’s important to question narratives that are as extreme as Echeverría’s: how could his story itself be considered violent? Dawson explains that liberals’ idealization of civilization became “genocidal,” attempting to eliminate those who came in the path of modernity. This included many indigenous people who opposed liberal attempts to privatize communal lands.


Week 4: a struggle against dependency

As the readings of this week show, there were many different versions of the story of Independence in Latin America. The desire for freedom against Spanish rule was not as widespread as I had expected- many groups opposed the Independence movement, for various reasons. Dawson explained that many indigenous communities were in favor of colonial rule because they were given certain rights that would be threatened by the private property ideology of liberal creole elites. These “early liberals” were characterized by movements that “identified with progress and against tradition” and called for “an end to the power of the corporate entities that characterized colonial society—the Church, the nobility, the military, and the communal Indian village.” I found it interesting that these liberal movements fought for the end of slavery yet favored private property at the expense of indigenous rights. It reminded me of the contradictions of the Civil War in the United States- it was actually the Republicans that fought against slavery. Yet those same values of freedom (mainly economic freedom) over corporate entities and big government that emancipated slavery now fuel the neoliberalism which is so oppressive to Latin America today.

Hugo Chávez talks about this in his G-15 Summit speech, saying that “neo-liberal globalization is a weapon they [the North] use to manipulate us into passivity.” Chávez explains how unbalanced trade policies and protectionism create a never ending debt. It is this debt that causes Latin America to be continuously dependent on imperial forces. It seems as if the United States has taken the place of Spain, latching on to the colonial foundation left behind from a fractured independence.

Would Latin America have been further effected by neoliberalism today if it hadn’t been for the backlash against these early liberals by indigenous movements in favor of Spanish rule?

I think that it is important to recognize the difference between the rhetoric used when talking about Independence and the difference between that narrative in Latin America and in the United States. In the U.S., Independence is a call for nationalism- a break from Europe and an opportunity for freedom. That freedom was being paved before Independence, as settlers saw the new land as a place to be conquered and owned rather than just exploited and ruled from a distance as with the Spanish colonies. The difference between settler colonialism here and colonialism played a large role in how the countries broke away from their imperial rulers. In a way, most of the Americans fighting for Independence were all like creoles, as they were Europeans born in America. Native Americans would not have benefited from European rule and were left out of the narrative entirely, whereas there was more of a diversity of voices in Latin American independence.