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.” ???