Week 13: Towards an Uncertain Future

The first thing that I thought of when I started reading this chapter was the crack on the sidewalk outside of my grandmothers house, from the 8.1 magnitude Earthquake in Mexico City on September 19th, 1985. I may have not been alive at that point in time yet, but my parents, my grandparents and the rest of my Mexican family were there. As we reached this final week in Latin American Studies, we got closer and closer to the present, and now, we are reading about common topics of discussion nowadays, because Latin America continues to be a region struggling to recover from the effects of the colonial period.

This weeks documents focus on the conflict between Chevron and Ecuador. I had heard about this conflict before in school, but not in so much detail and I find it both sad but insightful.

Evidently, I find it sad because I feel like this truly shows the true colours of many groups of people, corruption on both ends of the rope, and it is something we continue to see today. These events are happening right now, even as I write this blog post. It is sad that as an individual, I cannot heal Latin America of its issues, and its sad because it is my homeland. Last class, we spoke about what responsibilities we had as Canadian residents to Latin America and upon hearing some of the responses given by my classmates, I feel confident that there are things that could be done. Unfortunately, one cannot fix an entire region’s problems overnight. It will take time, but I prefer to stay hopeful about Latin America’s future.,

Anyway, I got kind of sidetracked… Back to the documents. Document 11.1 is part of the summary of the decision made in the Lago Agrio trial, written by the lawyers of the Ecuador plaintiffs. Document 11.2 is part of the injunction that Judge Kaplan granted to Chevron. As Dawson said, they are 2 very different interpretations of the same evidence. Document 11.1, as I’m guessing it was supposed to do, made me kind of angry, because it’s a huge list of damages done by Chevron. The land, the people and the lives of many were ruined. For what? Oh yes, exploitation of natural resources and money. It is very unfortunate that this is the case, even today… Especially today. On the other hand, there is Document 11.2, which shows the other side of the same coin. However, it also made me angry? There is so much corruption everywhere. Yet, it leaves me wondering if I, too, would’ve turned to less than moral ways to try and win a trial for money that could be used to fix at least some of my country… I feel like I would… What do you guys think?

That being said, happy end to term 1 everyone! I hope everyone enjoyed the course material of LAST100, and best of luck on your final exams! 🙂

Week 12: Speaking Truth to Power

Much like last week, this week’s chapter has also not failed to shock me with the thought of how recent these events occurred, however, this week’s shock was far greater. ‘Speaking Truth to Power’ focused on how the truth, perpetuated by the increased use of social media, and increased accessibility to news worldwide through technology, has placed pressure on governments to be more ethical, showing the power the truth has in creating change. Unfortunately, the true power it has is limited as we see that corruption continues throughout Latin America, and many parts of the world.

Reading about the “Madres de la Plaza de Mayo” in Argentina made me sad, especially thinking about my own parents. Growing up, they always told us that there is nothing worse for a parent than to lose a child, and the fear of losing a child is greater than anything that we could imagine, and I believe that the “Madres” video on Youtube conveys their anxieties and sadness. While I understood their words, I couldn’t understand their pain, as in, I don’t think anyone who hasn’t lost a child could ever truly understand. And to think that hundreds of mothers throughout Latin America had their children taken away from them is a truly disturbing and saddening thought. It is clear that corruption ran rampant in Latin America, and as I began to watch Doc. 10.3, “Matanza de Aguas Blancas”, I was overwhelmed with a lot of emotion thinking about how this took place slightly over 20 years ago, a few years before I was born. I read the comments in Spanish, and I felt even more sad as I read one of the comments: “nothing has changed.”

This week, the readings also discussed the War on Drugs, another problem that truly troubles my home country of Mexico and many other countries, if not all, in Latin America. This war continues to this day, and it seems more and more difficult to win this war due to the economic state of the countries in Latin America. I hear people around me talking about drugs. I’ve seen documentaries about people in prison who were there due to their drug addiction. I’ve heard talks about the damage that drugs can cause to an individual. But only now do I truly see the drastic effects it has had on Latin America. This brings me to think about some of the  corrupt policemen or soldiers who have worked with or as drug traffickers, and I think to myself: many of these people do it because it is a more profitable alternative. Most likely, it is not because these civilians are greedy for money in order to buy material goods; it is because they are looking for ways to survive and to feed their families, especially in suburban areas. When the economy is, quite frankly, so shit that they have to work 60 hours week and even then it is still not enough to put food on the table on a daily basis, part of me can see why they would turn to helping the distribution of drugs to support their families. Which brings me to my question of discussion: Are you able to sympathize with them? If you were in their position, what would you do? Honestly, I would feel like I’d have no other choice.

The Meeting of Two Worlds – Short Research Assignment

Source: Todorov, Tzvetan. “Montezuma and Signs.” The Conquest of America, Harper & Row, 1984, pp. 63–97.


Different accounts of the Spanish colonization of Latin America are explored in “The Conquest of America” by Tzvetan Todorov. The section “Montezuma and Signs”, focuses on the Spanish conquest of the Aztec Empire, showing how the Aztecs’ tendencies to rely on “communication between man and the world” (69) and their inability to “[master] interhuman communication” (70) were contributing factors in helping the Spaniards conquer the empire with relative ease.

Prior to the Spanish arrival into Latin America, the Aztec civilization was reliant on fortunetelling. The Aztecs’ calendar was cyclical, containing 13 months of 20 days” (63), and the fate of an individual was decided based on the day in which they were born, and the events of that day in the past – it was during this time that sorcerers, astrologers or soothsayers determined what was to be (64). However, unexpected events, which were not previously predicted, were explained by omens (64), a form of ‘communication between man and the world’ – Aztecs held this communication to the highest regard (66).

The Aztecs’ deep-rooted belief in the nature of the timeline initially helped the Spanish enter Mexico. Prior to the Spanish arrival, the Aztecs were reliant on fortunetelling. Their calendar was cyclical, containing “13 months of 20 days” (63), and fate was decided based on the day in which they were born, and the events of that day in the past, creating a form of prophecy. However, unexpected or unpredicted events were explained by omens (64), a form of ‘communication between man and the world’, which the Aztecs held to the highest regard (66). Montezuma II, the emperor of the Aztec Empire, searched the books of past events to predict the Spaniards’ intentions, however, the Spaniards’ arrival and behaviours could not be explained (86). Consequently, Montezuma II was unable to take adequate measures against the Spaniards, aiding in the overall ease of the Spanish conquest.

It was also the Aztecs’ inability to communicate effectively with both the Spaniards and each other that contributed to the fall of the empire. They attempted to convince the Spaniards to leave by sending them gold and offering them women (87-88), having the converse effect of giving them more reason to remain. Later, they attempted sacrificing Spanish soldiers, however, this aggravated relationships and motivated the Spaniards to be more determined to conquer the Aztecs (88). Additionally, war cries which the Aztecs used to scare their opposition (the Spanish soldiers), in reality, disclosed their proximity, giving the Spanish the advantage in battle (89). This highlights how their ineffective communication with other humans lead to their downfall.

Overall, Aztec adherence to their form of “communication between man and world” (69), inhibited their ability to successfully respond to the presence of the Spanish Conquistadors. Furthermore, they were unable to communicate effectively with each other and the Spaniards, and consequently, as Todorov concludes “[The Spaniards] were incontestably superior to the Indians in the realm of interhuman communication” (97). This superiority gave the Conquistadors the upper hand, and ultimately, helped them bring about the easily-achieved downfall and conquest of the Aztec Empire.

Week 11: The Terror

I want to start this week by sharing a more personal perspective with regards to this week’s reading. I had to take a step back and really think about the timeline of these events. In the 1960’s my parents were born (and my dad was born in Mexico). In the 1970’s, my parents had their childhood. In the 1990’s, I was born. When studying history, I always think about how long ago it was, but suddenly, studying Latin America, ‘history’ is not so long ago. And it’s also scary – especially considering how recent these events are, and how people continue to be vulnerable to such terror and such injustices.

I also wanna briefly mentioned that I studied a bit of the Cold War in grade 10, but my study focused mostly on the broader known ideas – Russia vs. USA, the space race, the Cuban Missile Crisis, but it did not at all talk about the other adverse effects that it had in Latin America. I feel like the Cold War helped increase tensions (and elevate fears) between communism and capitalism/neoliberalism, which brings me to Peru. When reading about the Shining Path and Fujimori, I couldn’t help but think of what Dawson mentioned in the opening of the Chapter – “[transforming] certain victims … into romantic figures, idealists… may allow us to tell stories with definitive heroes and villains, to satisfy our desire for moral clarity. What we risk is gaining that clarity ta the expense of understanding the past for all its ambiguity.” I wholeheartedly agree with this, not only in the context of Peru, but in the grand scheme of history – and I even wrote an essay about this last year, with regards to how a historian must look at all aspects to a story in order to gain a more holistic understanding of the events that took place. No account is more important than the next, as they all contribute to a broader understanding of history. In the context of Peru, I am brought back to the Shining Path and Fujimori.

The Shining Path was an extreme left political party, with Maoist ideologies of communism and guerilla warfare tactics. They committed many acts of terror, including a massacre in 1983 (Again, doesn’t seem so long ago), however, they were ultimately (trying to) fight for the peasants and the ‘forgotten’. Yet, a large portion of the population feared the Shining Path (which is partially why The leader of the Shining Path, Abimael Guzmán,  was captured shortly after Fujimori’s autogolpe in 1992. This, in turn, gives Fujimori a more idealised ‘heroic’ character (to some), however, Fujimori himself was known to violate human rights, as approximately 70,000 people were killed, caught in the crossfire of the internal Peruvian conflicts. So where does this leave us?! Why is this such a mess? Of course, we want to think as history as a series of bad events (and in Latin America, there were many) followed by the heroic leader who leads a civilization to progress, success and prosperity, but this is not the case, especially not in Peru, further showing how one cannot classify a character as purely evil or purely good, but rather, a combination of the two.

I will finish this post with a question for you – do you believe there will come an individual who could truly ‘save’ Latin America? One whom we wouldn’t have to see from multiple perspectives as there would only be one, positive perspective? Or do you believe in the repeating of history, where there will be times of relative calm and times of terror, as the history of Latin America shows us?

Week 10: Power to the People

This week’s readings talked about “populists” in Latin America. I put the term in quotes because it has a very ambiguous meaning in the context of Latin America; As Dawson says: “almost every popular Latin American leader of the mid-twentieth century could be called a populist” such as Caudillos that we learned in week 5. Nevertheless, during this time period came technological and social change, and this is the time period where we find our ‘populists.’ This was the time period where radios became popular (pun? intended?). The radio meant something significant to these leaders, as it was a significant medium which helped propagate their ideas and messages, helping people come together and unite in a certain way.,

This week’s documents were quite interesting, as it focused on various ‘sides’ to the same story – The story of María Eva Duarte de Perón. She was the wife of General Perón, who served as president of Argentina. In these readings, the people of Argentina wanted her to run for vice-president, alongside her husband. She was popular for a variety of reasons, including being the “head nation’s largest social services organization, the head of the Peronist Women’s Party, and she was adored by the people she addressed”. It is clear that she was thought to be a fitting and kind leader by the people.

From the documents, it is also clear how desperate the people were for a humble and considerate leader that could oppose the oligarchy. I want to briefly talk about the ‘dialogue’ between Evita and the crowd, according to Mónica Amaré who compiled various newsreels and footage to construct a somewhat accurate version of the events on August 22nd, 1951. In all honesty, it makes me a bit angry at the crowd, and how it seems that they don’t truly consider her, as a person. Evita tries to connect with the people, but it seems that the people have established some form of separation where they see her so high on a pedestal that they fail to try to see things from her perspective, as they refused to give her time to think it over. They even threaten a strike, which could have vast negative effects throughout. Evita turns down the post of the vice-presidency, which I believe is in part due to her failing health, and how she believes that she best serves the people of Argentina, and most specifically, the “descamisados”, by her husbands side.

From what I’ve read this week, I see why Evita was such a likeable figure – she was selfless and humble, and kept the best interest of the public in mind. My question for you today is – do you think that Evita would’ve been as popular if it wasn’t for the radio, or do you think that she’d still be able to garner ample support due to her likeable character? Do you think that her message would’ve reached (at least near) as far as the radio did?

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

I had always known that Latin America and the United States have had a tumultuous relationship, but I have never thought about how truly complex it was. Just by reading Chapter 6 in the textbook, I got a fair idea of how truly damaging yet necessary this relationship was.

I really enjoyed reading about the banana republics, because I like bananas; they’re a staple in many homes, so reading the history of how they gained popularity was very interesting. It is also a fantastic example of the conflicting relationship that Latin America had with their northern neighbours. The United Fruit Company (UFCO) became a critical entity in the south, especially in Guatemala. The banana business brought many benefits, including employment, and further investment into Guatemala’s infrastructure. UFCO also operated schools, hospitals, radio-stations, banks, breweries and hotels. Overall, it seems that UFCO was a great thing in Latin America! Unfortunately, it wasn’t all that it was made out to be.

Banana zones, while employing tens of thousands, brought about a lot of consequences, since they required a lot of migrant labour. The workers lived in company housing, with less than ideal conditions, away from their families, and often, they did not speak the local language. This lead to the banana zone communities to have high rates of alcohol abuse, prostitution and violence. As Dawson said, “workers often chafed at their own work conditions and pay” but being employed by UFCO was better than being employed elsewhere. This is the sad truth that many, including UFCO, did not acknowledge, and that is truly unfortunate. It makes me sad because nowadays, it is most likely still happening, and I think of places like Singapore, where migrant workers make up a significant portion of the construction industry. Could it be that imperialism still exists in a different form, one which nobody wishes to acknowledge?

I found the readings interesting because they made me look at modern commodities in a different light; acknowledging their history and how they became commodities in the modern day and age. It has also made me think of modern imperialism and if it still exists as an incarnate form. What are your thoughts? Do you believe a form of imperialism exists? If so, where? What do you think are the positive and negative effects of such situations?

Week 8: Signs of Crisis in a Gilded Age

This week’s readings were hard, and I honestly had a hard time keeping up with everything that the documents were saying (and that’s only if I actually managed to understand what they were saying…) So, I’m not going to go into much detail with regards to all the documents + the video, and rather, I’m going to talk about what stood out for me the most. “The Problem of the Indian” from Seven Interpretive Essays on the Peruvian Reality by José Carlos Mariátegui will be my topic of discussion today.,

As I mentioned earlier, the readings were hard. As I read this document, I was confused about what point he was trying to get across. However, after reading it over again, I understood a little bit more. Here, Mariátegui expresses what he believes is the root of the problems which Latin America, and more specifically, Peru, faces. He argues that the problems do not come from racism, nor religion, nor the lack of education, but rather, due to the land tenure system. He states that “the servitude oppressing the indigenous race cannot be abolished unless the latifundium is abolished”. I thought this was an extremely interesting point, and I found it very different to what I had originally thought, as it seems that the oppression Indians faced was largely due to factors such as greed, hunger for power, and corruption. Nevertheless, I also don’t fully agree with Mariátegui, because I believe that any problem a nation/village/anyone faces is actually a chain of events or a dynamic relationship between different factors, and in this case, a dynamic relationship between education, religion, education and the way that land is owned.

Mariátegui does bring up another very good point – “The colonial regime disrupted and demolished the Inca agrarian economy without replacing it with an economy of higher yields.” One could say that the Inca was an extremely organized civilization prior to the colonial period, especially if one considers that over 10 million people lived in the nation prior to colonial rule. This success, Mariátegui believes, is due to the concepts of agrarianism which the Inca adopted which “combines communal ownership of land and the universal religion of the sun.” This system lead to an efficient ruling over the large territory. Post independence, about 300 years later, there was no more sign of this system, leaving the Peruvians to start over again, and hence, the arising problems of the land tenure system, with so many opposing views on how land should be used, divided, or owned. It is saddening to think that a nation of 10 million was reduced to 1 million, especially when the 1 million nationals are treated like inferior beings.

Which leaves me with my question for today – Considering that the Peruvian national population was decreased from 10 million to 1 million, how do you think the Inca would have developed if Spain had never arrived? Do you think that the Inca Empire would’ve been able to extend to the extremes of South/Central America? If so, do you think that their agrarian ideologies would’ve been enough to keep their territory under control?

Week 7: The Export Boom as Modernity

Originally, I was going to talk about the bulk of Dawson’s 4th chapter “The Export Boom as Modernity”. I was going to discuss Dawson’s interview and how he talked about the different features that constitutes a “Modern Society” (Innovation, ethos of emancipation, secularization, and universalism”… But then I read the excerpt in the textbook: James Creelman’s “Porfirio Díaz, Hero of the Americas”, and now I don’t think I have enough time to talk about anything else.

Before this day, I had never heard of President Díaz. Not because he is not a famous character, but because I simply never learned the history of Mexico (which is sad and ignorant of me, considering that I am half Mexican.) After reading this, I feel like I have learnt a lot. I want to start out by saying that it is evident that Creelman has a certainly biased view of Díaz, as the way he portrays him is extremely idolized. However, being able to read what Díaz says about Mexico and his hopes and dreams for her… It moved me a lot. It also made me sad, but more on that later.

Creelman talks about Díaz’s accomplishments. I have made a table:

Before Diaz

After Diaz


Bankrupt, divided, infested with bandits, a pretty to a thousand forms of bribery

Life and property are safe from frontier to frontier of the republic

Foreign Trade





34, assets of nearly $700,000,000 and capital stock of $158,100,000


4,850 schools, 163,000 pupils

12,000 schools, ~1,000,000 pupils


2 small lines

19,000 miles of railways

Revenues of the Government


$115,000,000 and reduced taxes

It seems like Díaz did a lot for the country, and in the interview it is clear that he has a passion for improving the country as a whole, wishing to advance it so that one day, it could become a modern and prosperous democratic society. However, as Alec Dawson said in the interview, some “came to believe that a miraculous transformation has taken place but ignored all the signs of crisis”. It is true that Mexico grew a lot under Díaz’s 7 terms, but his regime was much like a dictatorship, as it was violent and oppressive in the sense that people had their land taken from them, and there were large injustices throughout his rule. It was even explicitly mentioned by Díaz, as he admits “We were harsh. Sometimes we were harsh to the point of cruelty.”

So this clearly brings me to a dilemma… Díaz mentions that “If there was cruelty, results have justified it”, and I’m having a very hard time with this line. If mass suffering and cruelty built a magnificent city, does this justify the mass suffering and cruelty? I highly doubt it, because in that case, almost all cruelty could be justified. Slavery justified by growing economies. Child labour and poor working conditions justified by cheap clothes for many. Underpaid and overworked farmers justified by cheap produce and affordable meats. I’m happy that Mexico gained some order under Díaz, but I am saddened that many had to suffer for its growth. Yet, without him, Mexico wouldn’t be the home that I call today.

What are your thoughts? If Díaz is a villain and a hero, would you consider him more of a villain or more of a hero?

Week 6: Citizenship and Rights in the New Republic

This week, we learned about the people of post-Latin American independence fighting for their rights as citizens. As Dawson mentioned, race and caste were the most prominent categories in the early Latin American republican period, even before women’s rights became a topic of of debate. However, at this point in time, even something as straight forward as the French “Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen”, can be arbitrary, due to the fact that it was difficult to define ‘citizen’.

Growing up, I learned about the slave trade and how they were transported across the Atlantic Ocean, however, we never truly covered how the slave trade was in Latin America, especially after independence. Considering that it wasn’t until 1888 that slavery was fully abolished in Brazil, and the slave trade lasted well over 3 centuries, it is easy to see why many effects are still visible today, only 129 years later (less than half of the length of time that slavery was present in Brazil!). In present day America’s, we see a lot of prejudice and social stigmas against people of African descent. There is unspoken and spoken racism that can be both discrete and evident. Hate crimes are prominent all across the America’s and this could be attributed to the history of imported slaves from Africa. Even though nowadays, there may be “equal rights”, socially, people of African descent continue to fight for equal opportunities and this will continue for a while, as the effects of slavery on contemporary America are long-lasting.

Because of this brutal history, tensions exist today. An example of these tensions that still exist today includes the tensions between Japanese and Chinese due to the Rape of Nanking in 1937. Growing up in Shanghai, a close proximity to Nanjing, it is clear that there is a lot of resentment. A lot of people will never forgive the Japanese, even though it occurred several generations ago, and meanwhile, many Japanese deny that the event ever occurred., Because of this, there is an underlying tension between the two peoples. Similarity, tensions exist in Latin America, and even in North America where slavery was also prominent.

I don’t believe that it is possible to do it justice. After all, how could anyone truly forgive such atrocities, deaths, or infringements upon people’s rights?  I do believe that, to a certain extent, we have to admit that it happened, however, we must remember that the past is not the fault of our current generation. All we can truly do is acknowledge history, not dust it under the rug, and keep history from repeating itself. For example, here at UBC,  it has become a custom to introduce the campus by saying that we are “located in the traditional, ancestral, and unceded territory of the Musqueam people. The land it is situated on has always been a place of learning for the Musqueam people, who for millennia have passed on in their culture, history, and traditions from one generation to the next on this site.” We do this acknowledgement because we cannot displace the many non-indigenous people living here and simply “give the land back” to the Musqueam people. Nevertheless, we recognize that it is their territory, which, long ago, was taken from them, rather than pretending that it was never theirs.

Week 5: Caudillos Versus the Nation State

This week’s lecture spoke about post-independence Latin America and the rise of Caudillos. Initially, one may think that life after independence would be great, but unfortunately, this was not the case for Latin America. In reality, Latin America was spotted with wars between different nations and neighbours. Independence left many people susceptible to harm, and this lead to the rise of Caudillos.

Caudillos are defined as military ‘strongmen’ who would gather support from their ‘clients’ by promising protection,  or land. In return, these caudillos gained political and even military support. With this support, they gained power. The lecture asks us why post-independence Latin America was fertile ground for the rise of said Caudillos; I believe this was because after independence, the poor and powerless were extremely vulnerable with worn-torn regions. Furthermore, the Caudillos were essentially leaders who could provide a sense of direction for the people, and as they advertised a form of ‘inclusive community’ and ‘fictive kinship’ to the indigenous peoples, (who were previously looked down upon due to the Casta system) they tended to be popular amongst them.

The Age of Caudillos reminds me of the saying “out of the frying pan, and into the fire”. I fount it slightly ironic that people fought for independence, only to find themselves lost and in need of a strong leader, ultimately holding centralized power. Granted, the new leader was not foreign which could’ve formed a sort of connection between the people and their leader. Nevertheless, foreign or local, corruption is still possible as we saw in the age of Caudillos.

After watching the lectures and reading the textbook, I was left wondering: were Caudillos seen as good, or bad? In a way, they did unify the nations and in a sense, created the foundation of a nation. However, they were both popular and unpopular amongst a vast majority of people, such as Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna, who, despite having been forced to retire or resign and was even exiled, was elected and re-elected a whopping 11 times and is even seen as a national hero. I feel like this type of irony that occurred in Mexico was representative of how tumultuous post-independence Latin America was. It was in need of direction, and Caudillos were the ones to provide it. Whether or not they did a mediocre, good or great job doing so, they indeed helped shape contemporary Latin America.

A question for discussion – What do you think of Caudillos? Do you think they did more harm than good? I am interested in hearing your thoughts.

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