Week Thirteen

This week I focused on Max Cameron’s video, “The Left Turns.” Cameron, a professor of political science at UBC, took a more hopeful and uplifting look at Latin America than the previous weeks readings and videos. More specifically, he talked about democracy and the reasons for the rise of the Left. According to Cameron, the three biggest reasons are:

  1. Disenchantment with neoliberalism
  2. Disappointment with the functioning of democracy
  3. International Context

When it comes to disenchantment with neoliberalism he discussed the “wrenching programs of structural adjustment” that certain countries were forced to go through. He claims that these were “unsuccessful even on neoliberalism’s own terms.” Growth under neoliberalism has changed over the past decade, although this is thanks to international prices and not neoliberalism. Cameron also mentions Bolivia as a weak institution pointing out the privatization of water. It is no secret that Bolivia’s water crisis has greatly affected the country. When I was in Cochabamba (fourth largest city in Bolivia) last year, the country was experiencing its’ worst drought in twenty-five years. There were occasions when multiple days would go by without running water in the entire city. This meant that little things that we take for granted here in Canada, such as doing laundry and showering were not always possible. Bolivia’s poor population is of course always hit the hardest when this occurs.

Anyways, continuing on to Cameron’s second point: the disappointment with the functioning of democracy, he says that Latin America is mostly democratic with “no alternatives to democracy” and that many democracies were formed through bargains among the elites. Cameron’s third point was: International Context. He indicates that Latin America is overall much more autonomous than it used to be, partially because the United States is more concerned with the Middle East and partially because there is a gap in understanding from the US when regarding Latin America. At one-point Cameron points out that if the US was still as involved as before, there would’ve probably been a sponsored coup to overthrow the Evo Morales government in Bolivia in the 1950’s. This of course didn’t happen, but his point got me thinking about what could’ve been different had history played out differently in Latin America. He also brings up that with this newfound autonomy, countries were able to experiment with democracy on their own.

I was intrigued by the two Lefts that exist in Latin America. There’s the “radical, populist, antidemocratic left in Bolivia, Ecuador and Venezuela” and the “mature, responsible, reformist governments in Chile and Uruguay” (Cameron). My question for the week is: what triggers countries to become one side of the Left or the other? What similarities and differences exist between these countries?

Week Twelve

Violence is yet again present in week 12 and Dawson can’t help but agree that there has always been violence in Latin America. This time however, drugs become a major part of the multitude of issues.

I found it really interesting to read about the war on drugs but was not surprised to read that the “successive U.S. administrations declared that they would not approve aid or favorable trade agreements for regimes that did not take an active (some would say militarized) role in disrupting the flow of illicit drugs” (Dawson, 334). The United States has often resorted to the military to “solve” problems and it wasn’t any different in this case. Millions of US dollars in military aid have been sent to countries such as Colombia, Israel, Egypt and Mexico in 2007. As a US citizen I have often wondered where all of our tax money goes and in Mexico and Colombia’s cases, most of the money was used on military equipment. In Mexico, a lot of the money was spent on Blackhawk helicopters and in Colombia, millions of dollars were funneled “to paramilitary groups, many of which have close ties with the military” (Dawson, 335).  I found it terrifying to read that the paramilitaries have attacked many people, especially those trying to establish some order. Also, this is just proving that people will do anything, including harming other people, for money. Money is what motivates people. In this case, the revenues are more or less “$40 billion annually” (Dawson, 335). This is not shocking when considering that “one kilo of cocaine sells for $1,000 in Colombia’s interior, $25,000 in the United States, and $60,000 in Britain” (Dawson, 335). Because this is such an enormous sum of money, I wonder if the drug cartels helped Latin America’s economy in any way.

Another part of this week’s readings and videos that I found intriguing was the massive “No” campaign. It was fascinating to see how many people did not want Augusto Pinochet to continue his rule for another eight years. I really enjoyed listening to the song “No Lo Quiero, No” by Isabel, Javiera and Tita Parra, because I feel like it really shows how powerful this movement was. “Chile la Alegria Ya Viene” was also produced during this time. These songs must have had a really large effect on everyone who listened to them. In the end, General Augusto Pinochet was not reelected because the “No” side won 56% of the vote.


Short Research Assignment – The Meeting of Two Worlds

Excerpt from a letter written by Hernan Cortes to Charles V in 1519.

Hernan Cortes’ letter describes his stay in a city in Mexico where he and his men were welcomed with open arms by the Indigenous people. We see evidence of this in the first paragraph when Cortes states that the people “came out of the city to greet [him] with many trumpets and drums.” We can also really see that he is an outsider looking in when he continues to describe what he’s observing regarding the priests. He talks about the “many persons whom they regard as priests in their temples.” When I read this phrase, I felt like he was demeaning the Indigenous people because Cortes doesn’t seem to care much about their status amongst the citizens. It sounds as if Cortes isn’t recognizing their status as priests, and rather that he’s saying that they are simply viewed as priests. We also learn that he and his men stayed in very nice living quarters, but that they were unfortunately not being fed very well and that the elites of the city barely came to see and talk with them. I was slightly confused when reading this, but continued to read in hopes that maybe I would better understand if the events were playing out this way for a reason.

In the second paragraph we learn that an Indigenous woman told his interpreter, Marina, that she should escape because Cortes and his men were about to be killed. During the short time Hernan Cortes and his men had been in the city, women and children had escaped with their belongings, and roads leading to the city had been blocked off. Cortes found out about this plotting through Geronimo de Aguilar, who let him in on the conversation that occurred between Marina and the other Indigenous woman. To be 100% sure of what was going on, Cortes questioned a random man he found walking down the street. This man confirmed everything.

Cortes quickly planned an attack. He summoned the elites to his room and left them bound up before the fighting started. Once he left, he had them killed. Cortes then explains to Charles V how well they fought; “…in two hours, more than three thousand men were killed” and that they were “easy to disperse” of. It is in statements like these that Cortes appears to think very highly of himself compared to the Indigenous people. (In regards to my earlier confusion, I think the city elites wanted to weaken Cortes and his men, and to keep them in the dark about what was going on in the city).

Source: Cortes, Hernan. Hernan Cortes to Emperor Carlos V., 1522. In Hernan Cortes: Letters from Mexico. Translated and edited by Anthony Pagden, 72-74. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1986.

Personal Account, Bernal Diaz del Castillo

Bernal Diaz del Castillo was with Hernan Cortes during his travels and recalls his story in this personal account.

The first part of this document talks about the relationship between the Spaniards and the Indigenous people in a town called Tabasco. Diaz del Castillo also recalls how kind and welcoming the Indigenous people were upon their arrival, similarly to the first source I discussed. They were given many gifts when welcomed, but the best gifts they received, according to Diaz del Castillo, were twenty women (one per captain), including Dona Marina. During their time in the Americas, they converted many people to Christianity. In this particular case, the Spaniards introduced Christianity through an image of “Our Lady” and by explaining her importance. Within a short period of time, many were baptized and crosses were being carved and put up everywhere. It’s interesting to read about how easily influenced and manipulated the Indigenous people were in this particular account, when it came to converting to Christianity. Going to mass became quickly popular and was attended by everyone. The town of Tabasco was also renamed Santa Maria de Victoria. At one point there was even a procession that everyone participated in.

The second part of this document goes into more detail about Dona Marina who played an enormous role in the Spaniards conquest. Dona Marina was from a town called Paynala, and the daughter of chiefs and Caciques. Her father passed away when she was still a child and her mother remarried and had a son with her new husband. This son was adored by her mother and step-father ad they decided that he would be their successor. Because of this, they gave her “to some Indians from Xicalango and pretended she passed away. From there she was given to the Tabasco people and finally to Hernan Cortes and his men. She was officially given to Alonzo Hernandez Puertocarrero, but lived with Cortes once he returned to Spain. She had a child with him named Don Martin Cortes. Cortes always took her with him on expeditions and during a religious speech one day, Dona Marina’s mother and half-brother were there and “were in great fear of Dona Marina, for they thought that she had sent for them to put them to death.” Instead, she forgave them and gave them gifts.

The reason Dona Marina was so vital for the Spaniards wasn’t because she could speak Spanish, but because she spoke Cuatzacoalcos and Tabasco with the Indigenous people. The tabasco language was in turn, translated to Spanish by Jeronimo de Aguilar who also spoke Tabasco.

Source: Diaz del Castillo, Bernal. Chap. 22-23 in Discovery and Conquest of Mexico, 1517-1521. 1585. Translated by A.P. Maudsley. Noonday Press, 1965.

Week Eleven

The readings for this week were indeed terrible and are appropriately named, “sometimes called the dirty wars, sometimes called guerrilla wars, sometimes labeled as ‘terrors’” (Dawson, 284). Conflict is yet again present in Latin America and this time, more than ever.

Evidence of the ‘terrors’ can be seen in Peru. For example, “between the 1960s and the 1990s, the region went through one of the bloodiest periods since independence” (Dawson, 283). In fact, the Peruvian economy was a mess, except in the cocaine business where “guerrillas, army officers, and corrupt government officials were growing rich from cocaine while Peru fell apart” (Dawson, 284). In May of the year 1980, the Sendero Luminoso movement was introduced to Peru when some members destroyed the election ballot boxes for the first democratic election in over ten years. This up-rise made a lot of sense to the Peruvians living in the rural highlands as they did not gain much from the democratic system, however not all Peruvians living in cities felt the same way. This movement actually began because of a different movement led by Fernando Belaunde Terry twelve years prior but he was eventually overthrown in a coup in 1976. Due to the consequences of these events, Peru became more radical. A revolution began, led by Abimael Guzman, known as Presidente Gonzalo. Women started standing up against their husbands and “corrupt government officials, landlords, and cattle thieves met ugly fates at the hands of the Sendero’s cadres in the early 1980s” (Dawson, 298). Over time, the Sendero movement’s influence drastically expanded because of all the rural communities. If there hadn’t been so many rural towns, the movement probably wouldn’t have been able to expand. I think it’s fascinating to see how much influence and power the Senderos accumulated so quickly.

Something else I found interesting in this week’s readings were the “testimonios” that grew in the 1980’s. The testimonios were supposed to be “a means of relating these experiences” (Dawson, 300). These touch less on Peru and more on Latin America overall but are equally intriguing to read about. Several different writers shocked their audiences with different accounts of their experiences. One writer, Alicia Partnoy, even talked about “surviving torture by the Argentine military” (300). The text opens up a conversation about how people who partook in such tortures and horrible things are still living normal lives today. My question for this week would be: what specific reactions did people have to the testimonios and how did it affect them long term?


Week Ten

This week focused primarily on populism in Latin America which emerged from different movements during the 1930’s through the 1950’s. This was also the beginning of a new age of technology as items such as the radio came into use. This united people and nations because now, they could actually hear their political leaders. The radio established a sense of closeness because political figures were actively being listened to by thousands. For many, this gave them a feeling of belonging. Before the radio came into use, people who lived outside of cities, in more rural areas, had no way of forming their own opinions about politics if they weren’t even able to connect with politics. Populism and technology gave more opportunity to lower classes, especially workers, to develop their political views and impressions.

This week’s readings in the textbook were all about the Peronista Party, more specifically about Eva Peron. Eva Peron, or Evita as she preferred, was the wife of General Juan Peron (who later became the President of Argentina). The Peron’s were extremely high regarded people who stepped up when Argentina was in desperate need of hope. It is Peron “who gave them social, moral and spiritual dignity” (Dawson, 229). As populists, they promised to “subject [themselves] to the decision of the people”. Minorities including women, children, workers and elders were thrilled when he came into power, however the oligarchy at the time was furious because equality was now being promoted for the minorities through Peron’s “Justicialismo”. Unfortunately for the oligarchists, this was concerning because they, of course, wanted to remain rich and powerful.

I think it’s really interesting that Eva preferred to be called Evita, considering that a nickname is not usually something that would be used in politics. However, I think that this actually worked in her favor because it helped her established a closer connection with her supporters. This close-knit relationship she built with the Vanguard of Descamisados can be seen and understood when they cheered her name in “The Renunciamiento” speech.

I was also very intrigued by how devoted Evita was to her husband. In “The Renunciamiento as Compiled from Newsreel and Archive Footage” Eva states, “I was never interested in deceit or slander when they unleashed their tongues against a frail Argentine woman…it made me happy inside, because I served my people and my General…It is not Eva Peron they attack, it is Peron” (Dawson, 233). It is obvious in this quote how loyal Eva is to her husband because she will endure anything to serve Peron.

Would Peron have had the same kind of influence on the nation had radios not been invented yet? Now that I’m thinking about this question, I don’t think he would’ve had the same kind of influence because the people that were primarily affected in this populist era were those in a lower class and I imagine they were living in more rural areas, whereas politics usually circulate more in larger cities…Let me know what you all think.


Week Nine

I really enjoyed the readings for this week as well as the videos regarding the yellow fever and “banana land”.

The Silent War, as they called the yellow fever, was a really big issue in the Americas, specifically between the equator and the Panama Canal. Many doctors from Colombia, Brazil, Panama, Cuba and the United States spent endless hours trying to find a cure for this horrible virus (some even died because of it). Yellow fever is transmitted by the bite of a mosquito and can be contracted by humans as well as animals. The video explained that the yellow fever mosquitos breed in the treetops rather than in pools of water on the forest ground and so many animals living in trees, especially monkeys, contracted this virus. Interestingly enough, infected monkeys didn’t die from the virus and I’m confused as to why that is… In a time when hundreds of people were dying because of yellow fever, and walking through the forest was basically a plea for death, monkeys survived. Humans are more closely related to apes than to monkeys, however we still share over 90% of the same DNA as monkeys so I wonder what the variable was that determined that monkeys would live and humans would die. Anyways, a cure was finally created for yellow fever and vaccinations were brought to many different villages and towns to prevent any further cases. The vaccination thankfully lasts for many years. It was taken to many army hospitals as well to ensure the safety of soldiers.

The second video regarded “Banana Land” which includes all the countries from Mexico through Colombia and some islands in the Caribbean. The first part of the video discussed mostly what life was like in Central America in the 1950’s. The speaker talked about how the streets looked very “Spanish-American” and how people in the highlands were more old-fashioned because they do things the way their ancestors did. He then touched on the Mayan Civilization and how it is one of the oldest civilizations in the world.

The second part of the video focused on the actual bananas. He talked about how they’re grown year-round and that teams of three men usually pick the bunches. These bunches can have anywhere in between 72 and 280 bananas. These bananas are carefully taken care of so that they aren’t bruised when they’re exported internationally. What really surprised me was the fact that if it weren’t for quick transportation, bananas would be an expensive luxury in the world. This of course makes a lot of sense, but it’s never something I really considered because bananas are at our disposal everywhere today and on top of it they’re a fairly cheap fruit. It’s strange to think that they could’ve been a rare delicacy.


Week Eight

This week we listened to another lecture by Professor Alexander Dawson regarding the Mexican Revolution and the Plan de Ayala. He claims that when revolution is discussed, it is “an attempt to shape a view of the past, that organizes power in the present” (Dawson). In the Mexican Revolution there were three major groups that were trying to “win” control of the political system:

The Old Guard: These were the people who were benefitting during the Diaz regime and who want to continue to maintain such privilege.

The Villa and Serrano Revolutionaries: These were the people who wanted to be free outside authority, whose lives were turned upside down because of modernity.

The Zapata and Agrarian Revolutionaries: The majority lived in central and southern Mexico and were primarily indigenous or mestizo. Most of their land had been illegally taken from them and so a priority for them was to get their land back.

In the end, there was no ‘official’ winner in Mexico’s Revolution however the product of this revolution was new political order.

Something that interested me in the lecture was this idea of “revolutions legacy.” Dawson specifically discussed Poncho Villa and Emiliano Zapata who were both assassinated and became ‘good’ symbols because “they didn’t live long enough to disappoint” people (Dawson). Even though both of them were closing doors on politics (Poncho Villa retired and agreed to not reenter politics and Emiliano Zapata was negotiating a peace with the government of Mexico) their influence was powerful enough to prompt people to kill them. This led me to start thinking about whether other martyrs in the world are viewed in a similar manner which does, in fact, seem to be the case.

I also found it intriguing that the contemporary Zapatistas were the first guerrilla movement to effectively use the internet. The impact technology has had on the world is revolutionary and is continuously growing. The world is becoming more and more connected and information is constantly in our reach. Professor Dawson admits that because of the Zapatistas’ effectual use of the internet, they have been more taxing for the Mexican State to deal with. This is compelling because it leads me to wonder if people can actually keep up with a world that has been overthrown by modernity. Everything (communication, wars, politics, the overall spread of information) has taken on a new level of complexity might be too great for our own good…



Week Seven

Alexander Dawson, a history professor at the Simon Fraser University considers modernity to be a concept with four different elements:

  1. Innovation: societies that are constantly innovating will, by default, be constantly improving.
  2. Emancipation: modern societies are continuously becoming freer, slavery doesn’t exist and all humans have equal rights.
  3. Secularization: modern societies aren’t defined by religion
  4. Universalism: modern values are shared by everyone once they’re discovered.

Of these four elements, the one that intrigued me most was secularization because looking back at history, religion has been the rationale for many different events such as the holocaust, and even the expansion of the United States (manifest destiny). It’s interesting to recognize that religion is being snuffed out of modern societies, so much so that it’s considered an element of a modernity.

Mexico’s yearn to be a modern society (like Europe in the late 19th century and the United States in the early 20th century) was so immense, that modern armies were created and new government systems were introduced. The issue Mexico ran into with modernity didn’t simply resolve itself once boulevards and underground sewers were created nor when electricity was installed. Mexico’s society didn’t become modernized like the Europe because Mexican people did not believe that liberal democratic values were “appropriate”. (A liberal democracy being the “ultimate modern society” meaning rights should be invested in individuals rather than corporations and various kinds of groups). There are two reasons these values weren’t appropriate: there was too much political chaos at the time (late 19th century) and, like Professor Dawson said, people were “racist” and not open-minded. Democracy, thus modernity, could only be achieved if order and progress came first.

On a different note, James Creelman’s article “Porfirio Diaz, Hero of the Americas” was unique because rather than being shocked by how repressive Mexico was, he was impressed by the physical progress he saw. To me, this physical progress was a façade to trick people into believing that Mexico really was becoming a modern player along with Europe and the rest of North America. I think it’s understandable that Creelman was wrong about Diaz because the future can only be predicted based on what we know, that being said, I wonder what Creelman would have written about Diaz after he was kicked out of power. If he had written another article after, how would this have affected Mexican history as we know it today? Would it have had a similar effect on people that “Porfirio Diaz, Hero of the Americas” had?


Week Six

This week’s lecture was a reminder of the horrors that existed during slavery as well as those that still exist today even over a hundred years after its abolishment.

Millions of slaves were captured and transported to the Americas and approximately one million died in transit because of the awful conditions they had to endure. According to the Professor Beasley-Murray, six times more Africans had reached the Americas than Europeans by 1800. I’m still astonished that three million slaves were brought to Brazil and even more so that over half of the Brazilian slaves died within three years of their arrival.

I live in the Midwest of the United States where race is not often acknowledged. Many people believe that a good “solution” is ignoring race or being “colorblind” to race which means completely disregarding heritage, traditions and identities. Closer to Chicago, the after effects of slavery and segregation are extremely prominent. Many more people of color are stopped and sometimes even shot by cops in and around the city than white people. Awareness is growing however, for example the Black Lives Matter movement is becoming more and more active in the Chicago area.

How can we do justice to such histories? We can acknowledge this awful part of history, learn from it, and teach as many people about it as possible so that no such thing is ever repeated again. I am white and therefore benefit from white privilege especially in the United States. I think it’s important to use this privilege to take action for what is right. The lasting effects of discrimination are still prevalent and certainly won’t disappear by ignoring them.

Other examples of unresolved conflicts or tensions include the Holocaust (as mentioned in the lecture). One of my neighbors, Mr. Walter Reed (who unfortunately passed away a few years ago), was a Holocaust survivor. He escaped Nazi Germany when he was a teenager and fled to the USA where he completely changed his identity. It is through people like him that the stories of the Holocaust came to life for following generations to learn about.

Returning to the topic of this week’s lecture, I found it intriguing to consider that the abolishment of slavery didn’t solely come from people in power like Abraham Lincoln, but by the slaves themselves every single time they acted out. I guess I just never questioned what I had been taught when it came to abolition. It’s also interesting to recognize that rights are interpreted differently by different people.


Week Five

This week’s lecture and readings were very interesting to dive into. What really drew me in was this larger idea that liberalism never had room to grow in Latin America amongst all of the violence that was going on at the time.

Liberalism in today’s society, more specifically in North America, is much more common than it used to be, however I agree with the fact that overall, liberalist societies tend to fail. I think liberalism can, and definitely should exist in the world, but I unfortunately think it’s extremely difficult for a country to maintain liberalistic practices for an extended period of time, especially when politics and people’s opinions are taken into consideration. I don’t think it’s possible to convince an entire population to join together and make a commitment to so called “abstract” principles because of precisely that: liberalistic principles can be seen as abstract. With all of the chaos going on in these Latin American countries in the 1800’s, it makes sense that they weren’t necessarily able to hop onto this progressive bandwagon.

Clientalism and Caudillaje was also a very interesting concept for me. Post-Independence Latin America was the perfect planting ground for an arrangement like Caudillos. It provided a clear-cut system for the everyone which was probably comforting for the poor and powerless. Not only was it was intriguing to think that a client’s wellbeing was in the hands of such powerful patrons, but that the elements of the relationship mattered; you couldn’t simply know of your superior, you had to genuinely know them… Of course, this system allowed the poor to have preferential services, protection and maybe even exemption from unequal rules which were all pros for the clients. I think it’s because of this that the system was so popular amongst them. In the lecture it’s mentioned somewhere that clientelism rewards were concrete and immediate, so that’s an additional reason as to why the powerless thought highly of this dependable system. Caudillaje seems to have been a dependable manipulation by the patrons that kept everyone relatively content and in their “rightful” place.

Esteban Echeverria strongly opposed caudillos and so it was captivating to learn about his opinions on it. In his book “The Slaughterhouse,” his descriptions are extremely graphic.

If the Spanish, Portuguese and other countries had had control of Latin America for longer, would liberalism be more prevalent in Latin America today?