Author Archives: silas latchem

Week 13

Democracy, as Max Cameron points out, is a fickle thing. I thought he made an excellent point when he talked about how it can fail those without the ability to vote, especially things like nature. It is a novel idea to think about nature as having rights, but I suppose it makes sense when you view nature as a collection of individual beings that do have rights, including, to a certain degree, us. We rely on nature as much as nature relies on us, but in very different ways. Often, we exploit nature, for reasons of survival, or because for economic gain. Sometimes making money is necessary for survival, either on an individual scale, or that of a nation. But nature relies on us not to over harvest, not to be excessive in our consumption. So in times where it becomes necessary to take too much in order to not continue growth, or ensure future survival, how do we reconcile that with being a forward thinking society? Democracy allows us to make decisions that keep us moving forward, but the progress comes at a cost, one that, over the long term, may be unsustainable. Still, for its flaws, democracy is still infinitely preferable to an authoritarian leadership, one which doesn’t respect the will, or the wellbeing, of its people. I was also very interested in Latin America’s so called “left turn.” I thought of the three major reasons Cameron mentions for the left swing, the United states’ absence in the region was the most fascinating. In class we had had group discussions on what the west should do now in terms of what was going to be best for Latin America, and one suggestion that was mentioned frequently was just to leave them alone. In particular, there was some agreement that the United States should cease its interventions in the region, and just let it develop on its own. And when Latin America gets a chance to do this, during recent years, when America has been more focussed on other things, Cameron points out that there is a marked increase in democratic experimentation. Clearly, the governments in Latin America could be improved, some more than others. But this trend towards effective social policies and independence governance is in my eyes very indicative of the regions ability to be completely capable of taking care of its self, so long as no other countries try to mess it up.

Week 12

While I enjoyed all of this weeks lecture video, my favorite part was the potent reminder of how fortunate we are as Canadians to have the power to elect politicians. When we aren’t happy with who’s in power, we have a chance to act to change it- peacefully! Lucky us. I continue to be horrified by the violent and cruel nature of the crimes the government is commenting. It seems especially cowardly given that in the case of the Madres de la Plaza de Mayo the innocents they were murdering were unarmed, non-violent women. I suppose that’s another thing we have to be grateful for here; the right to protest. We had talked previously about whether or not violence is ever justified. I think often peaceful protests can seem ineffective, but the Madres de la Plaza de Mayo would serve as a fine counterexample to that point. Of course, no everyone could manage to be as persistent in the face of  so great a threat, so perhaps there was a uniqueness to the bravery of the mothers and grandmothers who stood up against a foe far more powerful than they that imbued them with the ability to affect change. But maybe we can all draw from the same source and achieve the same power they did. Regardless, they are certainly an inspiration for us all. I must say that I am not entirely surprised to find out that there were individuals on the American right that supported the argentine government. Politics, as well as being a scumbag, seem to know no borders. Reagan’s comments justifying the actions of the government seem particularly callous, indicative of a total lack of empathy for the oppressed lower classes as well as a lack of understanding of the situation. But that’s Reagan for you. Part of the reason the peaceful protests worked, it seems to me, is because they were backed up by the threat of foreign nations- nations like the US, who were not afraid of being violent themselves. However, in the long run, it also seems to have contributed to a more stable, peaceful society, whereas more explicitly violent causes, such as the armed revolutions in the 1920s and 30s, while more immediately effective, did not yield the same long term prosperity. One more thing that we have to be thankful for is a free press. Often, I believe, media is overlooked or dismissed, especially in this era of so called “fake news,” but as the deaths of journalists as recent as the past decade show, its definitely something we can take for granted here.

Week 11

I thought this weeks video was fascinating. Peru’s unique history holds a lot of interest for me- and I think there’s a lot we can learn from it. In my opinion, one of the most fascinating things about Peru’s military takeover in 1968 is that, for maybe the first time ever- and since- there was a coup that resulted in a progressive military government; one that attempted to better the lives of its people through land and social reforms. I still can’t wrap my head around that. For once, there was a military government with unquestionable force, and with that power they tried to do something good. Even more amazing in my eyes, is that their attempts failed.  The uniqueness of the tragedy is noteworthy. I wonder how things might have resolved had Sendero Luminoso never risen to power. Would the government have the want or the ability to first restore order in the agricultural societies, and second pursue other social reforms? Of course, we know that power would’ve been transferred from a military government in the democratic 1980 elections, so its not like all of these acts would’ve been under an autocratic government. However, when you consider the means the government did adopt during the Sendero Crisis, one starts to wonder if there was any significant difference. I do not believe that the sender Luminoso were in the right, nor do I condone any of their actions, which I believe to have done far more damage than good. But that doesn’t mean everything the government forces did in retaliation were right either. In class we asked the question “is violence ever justified?”, which is a question I believe to be very pertinent to the situation at the time. At the time, violence may have been necessary for either side to prevail, but only because both sides worked themselves into that state. I don’t want to be too naïve, but I do think that violence can be avoided. The events that lead up to the conflict may have been convoluted and hard to piece together, and I’m not sure that anyone can be blamed if they did not see it coming. However, if we look back and learn to recognize patterns of behaviour that lead to violence and abuse perhaps we can avoid future crimes. Peru, I think, has many lessons for us to learn, if we have the aptitude to learn.

Research Assignment

Our group project focuses on Peru’s internal conflict. I will be speaking on the global contextualization of the conflict, particularly in regard to the Soviet Union. As described by Ruben Berrios and Cole Blasier in Peru and the Soviet Union (1969-1989): Distant Partners, the same events that would eventually lead to the conflict also opened the door for Soviet influence in Latin America. The Soviet Union desperately needed a standalone base of operation in mainland Latin America, one they could reach without relying on western services. (Berrios & Blasier, 366) It was really the beginning of the Peruvian conflict that both made Soviet presence in Peru desired, as well as possible. On the 3rd of October 1968, there was a military coup in Peru that resulted in the replacement of a pro- United States president with a non-partisan general, Juan Velasco Alvarado. Alvarado was himself both against communism and capitalism, and wished to create a more nationalistic political culture in Peru, one that would be less easily influenced by outside powers. (367) Shortly after his installment as president, trade relations between Peru and prominent western countries began to crumble. In particular, the US and France refused to make trades of military supplies on equal ground with Peru. Denied favorable trading with the western powers, Peru took its business to the socialist powers. Not even half a year after Alvarado took power, diplomatic relations were established with the Soviets on the 1st of February, 1969.  (367-368) The Soviet Union now had their foot in the door to Latin America. Trade between the two nations would fluctuate over the years, but experienced a largely upwards growth, peaking between 1975 and 1980. It is worth noting that the bulk of Peruvian imports of the time were military hardware, something that would become more relevant after the start of Peru’s internal conflict in 1980. (370) While Peru did benefit economically from its trade with the socialist nations, it was really the Soviets who would get the most out of the deal, as they secured a firm purchase on the continent. The Soviets were in fact less interested in supporting the communist revolutionaries in Peru than they were in establishing a strong relationship with the country, one which they could use to serve their own goals of global expansion. Indeed, when the Maoist communism splinter party “The Shining Path” (Sendero Luminoso) first emerged in strength in 1980, the Soviet Union did not support them, and were critical in particular of their violent methods. One Moscow-line party leader was quoted with saying “the acts]…[ not only are not revolutionary but they benefit counter-revolutionary groups because they facilitate repressive plans.” (380) The Soviet Union did of course lend support to more moderate left leaning groups, but were decidedly anti-Sendero Luminoso, a view they shared with the Peruvian government. The Soviet Union’s powerplay in Peru meant that it was preferable for them to side with the existing non-communist government, even if that meant going against fellow communists. (380-381) The role of the internal conflict in Peru in the larger ongoing cold war is nothing to be taken lightly; it served as a catalyst for Soviet influence to spread further West, increasing their power on the world stage.

Berrios, Ruben and Blasier, Cole. “Peru and the Soviet Union (1969-1989): Distant Partners.” Journal of Latin American Studies. Vol. 23, No. 2 (May, 1991), pp. 365-384. JSTOR, JSTOR

Week 10

It seems to me that there are really only three paths to political power. You can listen to your voters, and honestly try to represent their interests; you can convince your voters that you will look after them, but serve your own (or your parties!) interests first; or you can disregard the will of the public and the ideals of democracy and seize power by force. Given the definition of a populist then, which is “a member or adherent of a political party seeking to represent the interests of ordinary people,” it would follow that there are only three types of political leaders: populists, those who appear to be populists, and dictators. And yet populism is usually considered a negative characteristic. Surely a true populist would be infinitely preferable to either a two faced politician or a dictator. I think the problem with populism arises from the fact that a populist tries to make everyone happy all the time- something not even the smoothest political representative can pull off. Take Peron, for example, who promised far too much to far too many, and delivered far too little- resulting in his eventual downfall. My father always says that a perfect compromise is one that leaves everybody a little unhappy, but a populist promises to make everyone happy, something I believe to be both very idealistic and, in its own right, unachievable. You could, as a leader, attempt to make everyone in your constituency agree on every topic, but I think that would be a Sisyphean task. The more popular (haha) route seems to be to promise different things to different people, always avoid conflict whenever possible. Compromise is like poison to a populist. Of course, the only way to ensure that you never anger anybody through your actions is to never take action, which results in no change, or real representation, for your people or your country. To use Peron again, during his exile from Argentina, he made many conflicting promises to polarized groups, like communists and right wing members. At the time, this was an okay strategy, as, being out of office, he had no power to act on his promises, and could thus be excused for not taking action. However, when he did return to office, in 1971, his various assurances came back to bite him. Populism may get you to power, but it doesn’t seem to be very good at keeping you there. Politics, even when perfect, will never be able to make everyone happy.

Week 9

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.


Thanks for reading.

Week 8

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.


Thanks for reading

Week 7

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 ). 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.

Week 6

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.


Thanks for reading

Week 5

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.

Thanks for reading