Friday, November 30, 2007

The U.S. and Latin America: At a Critical Juncture

A few weeks back, a fairly well-known and well-respected scholar of U.S.-Latin American Relations, Riordan Roett, came to Tulane as part of the inaugural events of the new Center for Interamerican Policy and Research (CIPR) which is affiliated with my office, the Stone Center for Latin American Studies.

Professor Roett participated in a series of meetings, and I attended a luncheon meeting at which the small group discussed informally the nature of contemporary U.S.-Latin American Relations. One of the points that came up during this discussion which Professor Roett made was that U.S. policy makers these days, as most clearly reflected by the frontrunner candidates of each major party in the upcoming U.S. Presidential contest, have almost no substantive interest to speak of in Latin America as a world region. Of course, the one exception to this could be Hugo Chavez in Venezuela, but even then our interest in Chavez is mostly reactive to his outrageous behavior and is still only sporadically on the radar screen. And when US policymakers are engaged with Latin America, it is almost always in the context of domestic issues: immigration, trade, jobs, etc. As a student of Interamerican relations, I have myself noticed this trend and basically agree with this assessment. What is interesting about this trend is that it is somewhat counterintuitive to the trend of the increasing "Latin Americanization" of the U.S., which generally everyone admits is occurring, for better or for worse, to some degree or another. One would think that as we in the U.S. become more intertwined with Latin America, the greater our interest in the region would be.

This discussion prompted me to explore more fully a hypothesis that has been brewing in my mind as of late which seeks to explain more systematically why this may be. I am now in the process of a more formal investigation of the subject which I will hopefully write up in a paper that I will present to my peers for their reactions at any one of a number of upcoming conferences.

My basic hypothesis is that the disconnect between the growing integration of the U.S. and Latin America and the relative disinterest among our policymakers in the region is nothing more than a reflection of the product of a deep-seated psychological discomfort and anxiety that Anglo-America is experiencing as it feels the waning of its cultural hegemony in the context of this inexorable integration and as it thus relinquishes its position of privilege and dominance, especially in the realm of culture, to what Nestor Garcia-Canclini might call a culture of hybridity.

In essence, what I think is happening is that the people of the United States are sensing that we are at a cultural critical juncture in our history, and that this juncture bodes a change that will radically reorient what it means to be "American" - at least how they have come to understand the meaning of an American identity. Thus, I think what we are witnessing in reaction is a kind of policy and attitudinal schizophrenia. We see policy makers ignoring the region at one level, yet obssessing over the region's impact on the domestic reality of the United States at another level. We witness no coherent foreign policy that seeks to engage the leaders and the people of Latin America all the while we see a kind of psychotic obsession with the dangers of the Latin Americanization of our culture and our society, all of which is manifested in a resurgent isolationism (withdrawal from engaged diplomacy in the region, a resurgent economic protectionism, etc.), a reactionary cultural nativism (English as the official language), and strong traces of an ugly xenophobia in the anti-illegal immigration movement the likes of which I have not witnessed in my lifetime.

In essense, we are disengaging ourselves formally from the region precisely because we are becoming ever more integrated with the region. And the more we realize that we cannot escape this process of cultural hybridization, the more we try to bury our heads in the sand in the face of it.

This is a very preliminary and rough outline of my hypothesis. I think, though, that there is clear evidence in support of it and I'll be developing it more thorougly over the next few months. But I wanted to share it here now, and will welcome your thoughts on the subject.

here today, gone tomorrow

In an article in the NYT - Americas section, I read that in Ecuador, in an effort to rewrite the constitution a vote was passed to dissolve congress in order to give more power to the current president. I was surprised to hear such a drastic change could occur so quickly, even after learning about several unstable governments in Latin America. I think what is surprising is that the congress actually voted to dissolve itself, as opposed to a forced dissolution from the outside.

Chavez Calls for Changes

Thousands have been rallying in Caracas, Venezuela this week because of the proposed changes to the constitution. Today, people that support the changes are rallying in response to those that are against them. These constitutional revisions include changes in presidential terms-Chavez could continue to run for president, the creation of communal property, and concentrate more power with the president. This has been raising eyebrows around the world, in that Chavez will have even greater power in national decision making, however he argues it is only helping to move Venezuela "toward a more socialist system." While each side predicts outcomes in their favor, the final decision lays in the hands of the Venezuelan people. Find out more here.

Hostages in Colombia on Video

This article is about, and includes a few snippets from, videotapes seized by the Colombian government from suspected members of the FARC. One of the hostages--the first one pictured in the video, is Colombian senator Ingrid Betancourt, who was kidnapped in 2002 while running for president. The other three are American contractors whose plane was shot down in 2003. Exactly the stuff we talked about in class this week--current news.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Is Cuba Taking One for the Team with Medicine?

This article examines what Cuba's health system really costs, not in terms of money but quality of health care. It's amazing that Cuba manages to be so generous in providing pro-bono health care to people who are not even citizens and don't live there. It's an interesting contrast to the US where we have people who throw fits about illegal immigrants receiving care in our emergency rooms. As the article points out, Cuba is by no means in excellent economic shape, yet they do have certain priorities that they stick to. Doctors in Cuba are often forced to work very hard with pay that is not comparable to what doctors receive in other countries. Doctors seem to work hard anywhere, but it does seem like there is kind of a trade-off. Here is the link

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Fatal Mine Blast in Ecuador

At least two miners are reported dead and at least 15 injured in a blast in a gold mine in the village of Ponce Enriquez in Azuay province in southern Ecuador. Authorities say they do not yet know what caused the blast, which was so powerful it was felt in a town 15 minutes away. for the full article, go to this website:

Sunday, November 25, 2007

new addictions in Mexico

In this article, Mexico has begun the transition from primarily a highway of drug trafficking to the United States to a country with its own growing drug problem. Since 2001, the number of addicts seeking treatment has tripled for crack cocaine and doubled for methamphetamines. Mexican President, Felipe Calderon, introduced a program in July to test all high school students for drugs. Even midsized towns in central Mexico are dealing with a recent surge of new drug addicts and drug-related crime and poverty.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

More riots in Sucre

On November 24th in Sucre Bolivia, more riots took place by students protesting Bolivia's constitutional assembly, leaving two students, one by the name of Gonzalo Duran, dead and another wounded and hospitalized. The protestors want the assembly to relocate the capital from La Paz to Sucre, which has been rejected. Violence in regard to this protest has been ongoing since September where violence including clashes between students and police. The riots became so dangerous that the assembly meetings has been postponed and have no been rescheduled to resume yet.

For the full story visit this website:;_ylt=As1bkJAq0BV69jZNI1D8AxO3IxIF

Friday, November 23, 2007

Andes glaciers are melting rapidly

Cities such as La Paz, Quito, and Bogota are being and will be severely affected by the melting of Andean glaciers which provide water for the cities. There are and will continue to be water shortages in these cities, water which provides for crops, hydroelectric power plants, and drinking. In order to combat this rapid dwindling, these countries will have to take very expensive measures, with money they simply don't have. The irony of this is that these less-industrialized countries are responsible for very little carbon emission, though they are the most affected by global climate change, so far. Associated Press article

Intereting points about L.A. democracy

This is a rather hopeful article about the future of democracy in Latin America. It seems that more worker's movements are working within the political process rather that arming themselves and fighting.

Pinochet's Widow Cleared Of Charges

We just spoke in class about how Chile is taking more of an open approach to dealing with its skeletons than Argentina is. Despite the fact that the charges were thrown out, this CNN article shows that there is still concern over General Pinochet's legacy; his widow and four children were accused of embezzlement related to his multi-million dollar overseas accounts (cleared because they were never government employees).

Link also has a seemingly recent picture of Pinochet--maybe one of the last. Looks just like your grandpa, a friendly old guy.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Hugo and Fidel Arguing?

This a very intersting but short article about a letter published by the press that Castro supposedly sent Chavez. Fidel definitely expresses some angry, or perhaps resentful feelings. Given that Cuba needs Venzuela for oil, it seems very bold of Castro to publish such a letter.

Monday, November 19, 2007


This just occurred to me. It's interesting how some leaders in Latin America, some thinkers or what have you still talk about pan-latinamericanism when the keyboards aren't standardized from country to country (at least the ones that I am familiar with come in two types, and this is in the same country). You would think that little things like that, basic things like communicating in the same language, would have some degree of standardization, no? A unified latin america? ha.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Gay Rights in Argentina

This article discusses a gay rights parade that recently took place in Argentina. This article shows how a lot of the problems that people face in the United States are common to people across the globe. People from different cultures and languages still face the same discrimination and hardships.

Large Scale Animal Slaughter in Puerto Rico

A few weeks ago, I posted about the inhumane killing of cats and dogs in Puerto Rico. It had appeared that there were 80 animals that had been killed (by being dropped off overpass bridges), but now the Associated Press has investigated, and has discovered that employees of Animal Control Solutions routinely kill strays or even family pets in this manner. Charges will be pressed, and hopefully a spay and neuter program will be implemented.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Indigen Advancement in Identity and the Church

This article is a couple days old, but it seemed to touch perfectly on two topics we have discussed recently: the identity of the indigenous population within Latin American countries and the role of the Catholic Church in Latin America. The article is about an indian from Argentina named Namuncura who died in 1905 when he was training to be a priest. He is credited to performing one miracle, and has been beautified by the Catholic church, a part of the process towards sainthood. To read the full article, go to this website:

Friday, November 16, 2007

Colombians sue Chiquita

Relatives of hundreds who died in Colombia at the hands of the paramilitary group United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia are now suing the Chiquita banana company. Chiquita apparently was a financial supporter of the group. The company says that the group threatened employees and their families, so it had little choice in giving money (an action they admit to).

the article:


This is the site for a project I took part in this summer in Bolivia:

They've updated the site so that now you can hear the spoken language among other things. The description is interesting and shows how Kallawaya is in some ways representative of many small indigenous languages in South America, and in some ways quite unique (in that it is both mixed and secret).

Chavez and nukes

Read this article about the nucular program that Hugo Chavez is planning on creating. He says that he is planning on developing a peaceful nuke program however i don't think that we should believe it. He is relating his nuclear program to Iran's which I think that the United States should be concerned about. I think that any country, ecspecially an unstable one, that is developing a new nuclear program is something to be concerned about.

Poverty Rates Drop in Latin America

According to a U.N. commission report issued on Thursday, strong economic growth pushed the number of people living in poverty in Latin America and the Caribbean below 200 million for the first time in more than 15 years. Latin America's economy has grown more than 3 percent a year since 2003, which is the greatest per person GDP growth since the 1970s. This is helping to slash unemployment and poverty levels in a majority of countries. Here is the story:

US Businesses talk food with Cuba

This past week was the Havana International Trade fair, where, surprisingly, nearly one hundred American businesses and some state officials were found trying to compete in the Cuban economy through food imports. While the ban on selling food to Cuba has lifted, the Bush administration has been making it more and more difficult for the agriculture sector to do business with Cuba. This new market has been great for farmers and farm states alike, and "the need for jobs has trumped cold-war politics." You can find out more here.
In light of the idea of Progress in our readings this week, I noticed an article in the NYT-Americas section about a lawsuit against Chiquita banana for illegally funding military groups in the civil war in columbia, making them partially responsible for the deaths of thousands of people. WHile the company said they were forced to make these payments to defend their own lives, I think that this is an indication of the elite and business classes ties to governmental military in many latin american countries. While this may be an isolated instance, it at least shows chiquita banana's ties, and additionally the importance and wealth attached to exports.

Latin American film

Recently there has been a steady production of critically acclaimed movies from Latin America. This article explores the Latin American film industry and some unfortunate economic situations that sometimes make these films less available at home than in the rest of the world.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Chiquita Banana

In this article, families of victims of a Columbian paramilitary group are suing Chiquita Brands International. A subsidiary of the company, Banadex paid millions of dollars to a group responsible for some of Columbia's worst massacres. The company claims that the payments were necessary in order to protect their workers and property from the group's death squads. Families of 387 victims, however, say the company went so far as to ship rifles to the organization.
One of the recurring topics in this class is the difficulties in establishing a stable government in region where revolutions and coups often take the place of political processes. Foreign companies cannot conduct business without adequate security, but only perpetuate the violence by funding terrorist groups with "protection payments."

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Earthquake in Chile

This CNN article has text, video, and pictures of a recent earthquake which affected Tocopilla in northern Chile. In it, the mayor says that people will have to sleep in the streets, they don't have water, etc. This got me thinking about disaster relief there and how it compares to here. Living in post-Katrina New Orleans, I always think it's interesting to see how other parts of the world cope and rebuild after disasters like this. You would think that major US cities would have a comparatively fast recovery rate--but I don't know if that's really the case.

Chavez is at it again..

Hugo Chavez is now threatening Spain with drastic economic action is Spain's King Juan Carlos does not apologize to Chavez for telling him to "shut up". I think this is moderately ridiculous and maybe a good example of the personalism in Latin American politics. Spain has a lot invested in Venezuela and Chavez seems to be making this about him as opposed to his country. This article also mentions some Chavez's other extreme antics, such as his proposal to eliminate term limits in Venezuela.

Latin Americans Help the U.S. Economy

We often hear opinions from politicians or citizens Joe and Mary down the street. "Latin American immigrants are taking our jobs and and sending our money back to Latin America. They're hurting our economy." This article tells why these accusations are false and goes on to discuss how Latin America is actually doing the opposite of what most believe. Latin America helps our economy more than we help theirs.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Wilson (Chuck) Lucom bequeaths to and highlists starving Panamanian children.

Wilson (Chuck) Lucom a rich landowner who married into the " Prominent Panamanian Arias family" died leaving all of his riches to children starving in panama. His widow will try to reclaim the estate however.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Latin American Summit Focuses on Poverty

Chilean President Michelle Bachelet on Thursday opened a gathering of leaders from Latin America, Spain and Portugal with a call for renewed efforts to fight poverty. Bachelet is called on the 22 participating governments to increase concern for social issues and poverty while much of the region is experiencing economic growth. Here is the full story

Uruguay and Laptops

This article about Laptops being made which will sell for $100 explains how it will benefit Latin America. Urugay has already placed an order for the laptops and because they are inexpensive they willbe far more accessible to schoolchildren. In todays society it is important to know how to use technology and it will be beneficial to Latin American countries if they can get more laptops for school aged children.

Chavez seizes power...again

Hugo Chavez of venezuela has began a process to alter the constitution of the country to allow him to stay in power indefinitely. In an article in the NYT, the paper reported that university students who were protesting this change were shot at by a group of hooded men.

Personally, I think it is good to see that even in countries where freedom of speech is questionable, students are fighting to uphold the constitution. It is very unfortunate that the outcome was so bad.

Brazilian Oil

This is a story about Brazil which has discovered their largest oil reserves yet. The abundance of oil in Latin America and U.S. dependence on oil produced in the region I feel tend to go overlooked by many in a time when the Middle East dominates all international thought. Chavez is significantly more threatening with one of the largest oil reserves in the world behind him as well.

Clinton's position on free trade

This article is a relatively detailed analysis of Hillary Clinton's politics regarding free trade in Latin America. It discusses the complicated political issues that have to be dealt with when forming economic policy.

Fear of Epidemics in Flooded Tabasco

After an estimated 80% of the state of Tabasco flooded last week, officials now fear for wide spread infections and even epidemics in the area. Medical teams have started giving injections to guard against the outbreak of hepatitis, influenza, tetanus, cholera, and even maybe dengue fever. Find out more here.

Coincidence? hmm

So, in the span of 4 days Sao Paulo had 4 helicopter crashes, the latest killing 6 (thats what the article above focuses on). The article states that business people often use helicopters sort-of like cars, but without having to deal with traffic. But is the high number of crashes really normal? If anything like this happened in the US everyone would be screaming "terrorist!" and going crazy but it hasn't raised much of a flag in Brazil. Although the guys in charge of the landing flat have resigned.

Brazilian Death Squads

From the article: "Extermination groups are common in major Brazilian cities, where police often are ineffective and storekeepers can hire off-duty or retired officers to 'clean up' undesirables."

The article is actually about the recent dismantling of two of these "death squads" by police, but the above sentence was the one that really jumped out at me. I usually consider New Orleans to be an exceptionally violent city--but news blips like this make me feel very sheltered.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Gunmen Open Fire on Protest in Venezuela

Since we were talking about this just the other day in class this article grabbed my attention. Students who were protesting in Caracas against president Chavez's "self-coup" were fired upon by masked gunmen who were hiding inside the university. 8 students were injured, at least one directly due to the shootings. Last week, troops used tear gas and water cannons to disperse protesters. Was the goernment behind the shootings as well? Go to the link for the full article.

Colombian Arepas Con Huevos

This is a site that includes pictures and recipes for traditional Colombian foods such as arepas con huevos, banuelos and others. It also talks about the street food in Colombia which typically says a lot about a culture.

"Dirty War" Memorial

Argentine President Nestor Kirchner unveiled a new memorial to the victims of the Dirty War of 1976-1983, when ~13.000 people were kidnapped, tortured, and murdered: the "desaparecidos." Right, Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, the president-elect, with one of the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo, viewing the memorial with some of the names of the victims inscribed (8.917, though there are many more unknown)
They also took this opportunity to urge for quickening the legal process to bring the perpetrators to justice.

Mexican rooftops become islands

After devastating floods in the Tabasco region of Mexico, many families have been relegated to the roofs of their flooded houses. From there, they slaughter what livestock they have and wait for the floodwaters to recede. The scene elicits unavoidable parallels to Katrina as a residents of a flooded city must survive with or without government help. More can be found here.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

UN Praises Cuba's Ability to Feed People

John Ziegler, a UN food expert recently made a trip to Cuba to examine the populations access to food. Cuba is one of only 32 nations that outline "the right to food" in their constitution. Ziegler was very pleased to announce that he did not find any signs of malnourshiment, an amazing achievement considering the precarious situation Cuba found themselves in with the collapse of the Soviet Union and the ongoing US Embargo. According to Ziegler, "Cuba always invents an answer," and they appear to have made access to food a priority.

Find the full article here:;_ylt=AuoWt97Is0jTN7lA2nQedhS3IxIF

Monday, November 05, 2007

Dia de los muertos

This week was Dia de los Muertos, a holiday celebrated in Mexico. The holiday is around the same time as Halloween but it is a very different holiday. It is a day to respect the dead and celebrate their spirits. It is an example of the different perspectives on spirits and the supernatural in Latin America.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

President Bush Refuses to Alter US-Cuban Relations

President Bush delivered the first speech since 2003 to deal solely with US-Cuban relations this past Wednesday. He was adamant in his refusal to remove the sanctions imposed after the 1959 Revolution, but is in favor of developing a “freedom fund” to foster the growth of democracy in Cuba. He was immediately accused of attempting to incite violence, especially after directing his remarks towards the security forces in Cuba to make a choice to support liberty when the time comes. He also urged the international community to pressure Havana and support the US position. While I do feel democratic reform in Cuba may be inevitable, it seems that an unwillingness to change our policy after nearly fifty years seems slightly misguided at this juncture.

Follow this link for the full article:

Tabasco Floods

Tabasco, Mexico floods as a result of cold fronts. This article compares the floods to the scene of New Orleans after Katrina. How is this comparison and is this what we have to look forward to as a result of Global Warming?

Saturday, November 03, 2007

A Little More Than Un-P.C.

When I read this article I actually laughed out loud at how incredibly ludacris it is. In an published on interview with Dominican Republic Cardinal Jesús López Rodríguez, not only does the cardinal digress from the topic of the interview to the church's stance on abortion and contraception-- which were completely unrelated-- but he actually refers to gays as maricones, the spanish word for faggot. Read the article to see some other shocking things the cardinal has said about the gay community. It seems to me that leaders like the cardinal are an obvious reason as to why religious practice is declining in Latin American countries.

A Little More Than Un-P.C.

When I read this article I actually laughed out loud at how incredibly ludacris it is. In an published on interview with Dominican Republic Cardinal Jesús López Rodríguez, not only does the cardinal digress from the topic of the interview to the church's stance on abortion and contraception-- which were completely unrelated-- but he actually refers to gays as maricones, the spanish word for faggot. Read the article to see some other shocking things the cardinal has said about the gay community. It seems to me that leaders like the cardinal are an obvious reason as to why religious practice is declining in Latin American countries.

Guatemala struggles for stability

Guatemalans will elect their sixth consecutive civilian president since military rule ended in 1986 on Sunday. This article highlights some of the problems he will face in office.

23 tons of cocaine seized in Mexico

This short article in the NY Times says 23 tons of cocaine were found on a ship in Manzonillo, Mexico. The ship is Hong Kong based and came to Mexico from Colombia.
This reflects the changes that have been seen in drug trafficking in these 2 countries- things are improving in Colombia while Mexico's drug trade has expanded enourmously.


Read this article detailing the potential for even more political crisis in Haiti. The current presdident, Rene Preval, has proposed making changes to the constitution. Haiti is already a a country without any stability. It is full of violence and poverty and the president's attempt to change the constitiution may make everything temporarily (or permanently) worse.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Tropical Storm Hits the Caribbean

While New Orleans has avoided many storms this hurricane season, the Caribbean faced Tropical Storm Noel. This storm has led to heavy damages, severe flooding, and deaths throughout the region including Cuba, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, and the Bahamas. More about information on the situation can be found here.

Gorgeous Guatemala

This could be one of the most beautiful landscape photo's I've ever seen. Santa Maria is an active volcano in western Guatemala. Its las eruption in 1902 was one of the three largest explotions of the 20th century. One particular vent has, throughout this century, been forming another volcano alongside called Santiaguito.

Volcanos are an integral part of much of Latin America from El Salvador to Bolivia. As much as they represent a geological reality they have integrated themselves into the culture like hurricanes in the Carribean. Interestingly in Bolivia this summer one of the guys told me a story about the tallest mountain in Bolivia, Sajama, which happens to be a volcano. He said that legend has it the mountain fought with another. They threw huge rocks at one another and bled profusely. Sajama won when the other mountain (I forget the name) sent an army of great white rats to dig it out, but Sajama darkened the skies and the rats froze to death. Their bodies rotted into the ground and made it white (which it is, because of salt). Pretty cool that an oral tradition can preserve what was probably a real event this long with no written record.

"Tens of thousands" protest Chavez' constitutional reforms

Tens of thousands of Venezuelans protested in Caracas yesterday, against constitutional reforms that they say violate rights and go against democracy. Some people feel that Chavez wants to be leader for life, and is going in the direction of dictator.
Apparently, police and soldiers fired plastic bullets, tear gas, etc.
Associated Press article

Thursday, November 01, 2007

More Argentina's New President

This article was written before de Kirchner's victory, but it brings up some interesting points of her platform. Apparently, in stark contrast to her husband's administration, de Kirchner spent much of her campaign overseas building relationships in Europe and the US. Some were concerned that this meant she was ignoring domestic issues. De Kirchner has to put extra effort into maintaining relationships outside of Latin America as Argentinia gets closer to Venezuela and Chavez. Chavez's support might scare away Western investors. I think it's interesting that part of her campaign was catering to outside interests. It seems very smart diplomatically, but given that the US is not so popular right now it seems like it should have been more damaging to her popularity. Here's the article

Flooding in Mexico

Tens of thousands of people in the states of Chiapas and Tabasco have fled their homes after heavy rains caused massive flooding. Tabasco Governor Andres Granier said that 70% of the state is covered by water (it's usually 34%). The article is here.