The first emotion I feel whenever I hear about the united fruit company is one of disgust; how could a corporation be allowed to be so aggressively expansive and so disrespectful in its treatment of the population it essentially controlled? One of the many monikers for the company was “el pulpo,” or “the octopus,” referencing the way it seemed to have endless grasping arms. A fitting name, if you consider the many ways in which it was able to exert its influence on the region; bullying, manipulation, propaganda campaigns… Even more abhorrent, in my opinion, is the direct US intervention in favour of the foreign multination corporation. As Simon Bolivar wrote in his Letter from Jamaica: “Is it not an outrage and a violation of human rights to expect a land so splendidly endowed, so vast, rich, and populous, to remain merely passive?” While he is referencing another time and place, the sentiment holds true- it was not only unreasonable, but unrighteous to expect Guatemala to not take action against the united fruit and nut company. And yet, when they did, the United States, defender of freedom and liberty for all men, rebuked them in the form of a calculated governmental overthrow. Yes, it is true that the America’s mission was motivated by fears of a communist threat, but that propaganda was in no small part propagated by the united fruit company. In any case, the united states own declaration of independence states that “that [all men] are endowed with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness]…[That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men.” But when the Guatemalan people attempted to do this they were purposefully sabotage by the American government. “All men” includes everyone in the Guatemalan population. Arguments for and against communism aside, it is hard to argue that Guatemala’s pursuit of happiness was not at least a little damaged when their democratically elected president was replaced with an authoritarian, and when their country went from being on progress to become a more modern, liberal society to 36 years of continuous civil war, eventually resulting in the death or disappearance of between 140,000 and 200,000 people, and preventing any chance at social reform. When I think of the United States of America’s legacy in Latin America, that is what comes to mind; exploitation of democracy to serve outside, selfish, or fear driven motives.
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This weeks video made me think of the famous line from The Dark Knight: “You either die a hero, or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain.” While certainly not from the world’s most profound movie, the line seems to resonate with some of the revolutionary themes mentioned by Professor Dawson. The lasting popularity of Poncho Villa and Emiliano Zapata as revolutionary figures, could be attributed to the fact they both died before, as Dawson puts it “they could disappoint.” It is also worth noting that even in life, both figures bordered were almost mythical. Given that they were romanticized to such a high degree, their deaths, despite being in itself a reminder that they were human, prevented the inevitable let down that all heroes, revolutionary or otherwise, seem to put their followers through. It begs the question; once a revolution has been started, is its leader of more use dead or alive? In a practical sense, a living human can still fulfill tasks that may be vital to the continuation of the revolution- planning, fighting and the like. But if we consider the main importance of a leader is to act as a figurehead for what his/her struggle represents, dying may seal their legacy as a martyr and lend only more conviction to their cause. After all, if we measure our dedication by our sacrifices, it is hard to go beyond giving up ones life.
Building more on the first point, which is death before disappointment, Dawson provides example the example of The Death of Artemio Cruz, a novel on the passing of a soldier & revolutionary who has rather outlived his charisma. It is revealed, both through his own account and through various audiotapes that he lead a very corrupt existence. One of Dawsons lines in particular that caught my attention regarding the deaths of Villa and Zapata was “by being killed by a revolution that many Mexicans came to see as corrupt and cynical, they’re the early victims of a process that is ultimately becomes like spoiled milk.” Despite the two individuals personal involvement in the revolution, and despite the ultimate feeling that the revolution was corrupt and cynical, being seen as victims of it absolves them of any crime, by association or otherwise. It seems to me that the ideal leader for a revolution is one who stands up for what they believe in, then promptly dies.
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I really enjoyed this weeks video. I thought it presented topics that I had not payed much mind to previously, and broke them down well. The concept of modernity was not something I had ever really tried to define myself, and I found it particularly interesting to consider the varying degrees of modernity a country can achieve- aesthetically but not politically, and so on. It makes me wonder to what degree the countries I do think of as modern these days are truly modern. Am I playing a fool to a countries elegant façade? Or is it justifiable to assume that if a country can present itself as modern it probably is? Probably the former. One thing this video made me think of, while unrelated in many ways to Latin America, was the “Democratic” peoples republic of North Korea, a country that so desperately wants to be perceived as affluent and developed that it is not above building so called “ghost buildings,” empty shells of buildings designed to trick observers into thinking that North Korean Citizens live in modern establishments. (They may also hide or disguise military activity- you can look into them further here if you are curious https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peace_Village_(North_Korea) ). Another point that Prof. Dawson raises is that one of the main elements of modernity is the secularization of the state (or nation). This makes me wonder about countries like the US, where certain politicians have moved towards embracing religion as part of the governments guiding principals. Donald Trump’s speech three days ago (Oct. 13th) at a value voters convention included the line “In America we don’t worship government- we worship god.” And yet, adopted 226 years prior, the first Amendment to the United states constitution states “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion…” giving the founding base of antidisestablishmentarianism in the US. Are we watching the states slid backwards from being a modern country? Did they peak in the sixties? Probably, hopefully not, but it is disheartening to see an abandonment of such a core element of modernity by the President, no matter what his personal beliefs are. Still, I digress. In terms of Mexico under Diaz, I think it is important to draw the link back to our old friend Bolivar and his frustration at governing a unified Latin America. The appeal to force as rule, or power, seems to bridge time in Latin America, from the Caudillos to the “modern society” of Mexico. Maybe it’s easier that way.
Sorry for the eclectic post, thanks for reading.
It seems to me that much of the Americas is still deeply connected to their linage as slave colonies. The United States of America is the most prominent example of this in my mind, although that could be a product of me not being as familiar with the history of Latin America or even modern day Latin America. Statistics like the fact that Brazil had used between 3 and 4 million slaves before slavery was abolished there in 1888 would suggest that slavery was just as, or even more important to Latin America than to its Northern neighbour. Still, one cannot ignore the legacy of slave ownership in America. Lasting institutionalized racism still lingers, although more often than not it is disguised. The post revolutionary American economy, and as such society, was built on the backs of slaves; America not only would not, but it could not possibly be the country it is today without their many forced sacrifices. So in that regard alone we see that the scars of slavery, while perhaps starting to heal over, still run long and deep. The classification of race in America seems not to have changed enormously either; large groups of diverse backgrounds are often homogenized. All black people are “African Americans,” all Caucasians “White,” and any one south of the Texas border “Latinos.” Of course, all of these groups (and the ones I haven’t mentioned) are made up of many, many nations and people, each with cultures as diverse and unique as the next, but under the American eye these differences; what makes each group special, are ignored. When done right, a mixed society is something to behold: cultures coming together and contributing their best to each others development. But when people are sorted into large groups and forced to conform it starts to lose anything beneficial. Society should be a melting pot, not a blender. To further add injustice, value has been placed on the umbrella groups; historically whites have had more power, and as such been considered more important in American society, than would other “races.” can imagine that the scenario has been repeated (or even came before) in Latin America. especially considering their own fascination with race. (Recall the Casta Paintings). When societies define their constituents, instead of letting them define themselves, an important part of those peoples voices are silenced. In my mind, the best we can do now as a Society in terms of reparations is too respect the sacrifice paid by those in the past, while working to ensure that we never repeat the tragedy of slavery in the future.
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To me, the popularity of the Caudillos seems understandable. In a political landscape as chaotic as post independence Latin America, any sort of leadership that can offer some form of stability, or chance of protection must have been tempting. I do find it funny however, that the independence of the region strengthened the dependence of its people on powerful individuals for survival. Can a nation as a whole really be independent so long as its people are not equal? And yes, you could argue that the Caudillos relied upon their “Clients” for popular support, but the power dynamic was very much unbalanced. Comparing individuals, any one common citizen held nowhere near the power of any Caudillo. Today, certain members of society, be it prime ministers or presidents, have more power than an average citizen, but there is a substantial difference between the two societies- we choose our officials, and with their power comes a certain degree of responsibility- a responsibility to protect the best (or most popular) interests of their people. Caudillos had no such responsibility. They would have protected their own interests at all costs- and citizens would just have had to hope that their well being was included in those! However, when forced to pick between starvation, or having a patron, the details start to become less important. When survival is the goal, all ends justify the means. Other rewards sweeten the deal too. Preferential treatment from the law, or in business are nothing to sniff at, and as long as you are the one benefiting from the system, it is very hard to see the flaws in it. Instead of having a system set up to ensure the prosperity of the masses, Caudillos would believe that the needs of the few outweigh the needs of the many. While it is true that our politics are often less than ideal, at least we set our standard fairly high. To begin with a system like Caudillos seems to me like a good way of inviting some of the worst human tendencies- those of greed, endless ambition, and cold apathy in the face of others suffering. Such a political structure is rife with the possibility of abuse, and those who are the most vulnerable are also those who have the least ability to fight back- the poor and marginalized in society. Throw in the fact that you also have to worry about rival Caudillos ruining your day, and the system seems especially unappealing.
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