Monday, April 18, 2011

What we should do

For my paper I will be discussing the neocolonial relationship that the US has with Latin America. In the book I mentioned in my last entry, Grandin argues that Latin America was the beginnings of the US empire. He presents evidence that some of the initial action on Latin America was perhaps truly noble, a civilizing mission, an example of good-hearted Americans trying to better the world by spreading the thing they hold dearest – democracy. But Grandin does not spend too much time talking about those ideas because they represent the minority of reasons behind US involvement in Latin America. Of course, the US was mostly there for economic gain, the same primary reason behind pure colonialism. For the past several decades many countries of Central and South America have been in political turmoil and social unrest. Now some of the largest exports to the US from these countries are coffee, bananas, and illegal drugs (not to mention migrant workers, which will also be discussed in the paper). Like Communism in the Cold War, US political leaders have tried to squelch the evil drug trade of Latin America, like in 1989 “when George H. W. Bush first militarized the ‘war on drugs,’ [and] U.S. troops have [since then] steadily expanded their presence.” US military efforts in the region, both public and covert, have gone under the guise of fighting for the spread Christianity, and then democracy, and now to stop drug trafficking, but the main result has instead been the rise of US-backed dictatorships and mass murder. Today “Washington promotes an economic model that produces not development and stability but desolation and crisis.” Perhaps it is time for the US to stop treating its Southern neighbors as its children, or its puppets. Perhaps it is time to recognize the sovereignty of these nations. As Presidents Lula of Brazil and Kirchner of Argentina stated in their Buenos Aires Consensus, “democracy is meaningless without a commitment to end ‘poverty, unemployment, hunger, illiteracy and disease, which effectively constitute a loss of autonomy and dignity for those afflicted, obstructing them from fully exercising their rights and freedoms as citizens.’” Grandin states that “hardly any U.S. aid goes to alleviating the poverty that even the Pentagon admits fuels war and the drug trade. Needless to say, land reform, planned industrialization, and sustainable rural development are off the table.” Perhaps that’s what we should rethink. At least those sound like good ideas to me. I will end with a paraphrase of what a fellow honors student Gwendelynn Bills posited at a TTU panel discussion about the Middle East on the subject of American involvement in that region. She said she sees the U.S. as Marie Antoinette, trying to give democracy, an advanced political and social system, to these countries when there are so many Middle Eastern people who go without food from day to day. “Let them eat cake”? How about start with the basics – food, water, and shelter. Then we can talk advanced government styles (and religion for that matter). I say we start focusing the money we put into Latin America on developing its ability to support its peoples, not on terrorist regimes whose work will benefit us in the short run. Let’s detach ourselves from our immediate desires for a moment, and think about how to make the world a better place, by helping all of humanity, not just those born on US soil.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Further development of my topic (hooray!)

Yay I’ve decided on a topic! So when rereading the directions for the blog and this paper (always a great idea, by the way), I realized how large the emphasis was on a “current” situation. That helped, because after talking to Dr. Jonakin in the business department I realized that my grand topic could be broken up into three categories, essentially: Spanish colonialism of Guatemala (and when I say “Guatemala” I probably mean Latin America, with special emphasis on Guatemala), post-colonialism in Guatemala (meaning what happened after liberation from Spain in the 19th century), and neocolonialism in Guatemala(/Latin America) with regard to the U.S. The latter would also hopefully go into the influx of immigrant workers to the US that started booming in the 90s (which was kind of the starting point in this train of thought because two of my good friends are workers from Guatemala). But to discuss each of these three distinct periods could have filled a while textbook. Alas, I do not wish to write a textbook at this point in my life, so I realized I’d have to choose one or two periods. And after rereading the rubric I found the decision clear! For this paper I will study Guatemala and Latin America from the time of liberation from Spain to present day; which means my two terms will be post-colonialism and neocolonialism. Dr. Jonakin lent me a book that looks very promising from the introduction. It’s called Empire’s Workshop, by Dr. Greg Grandin, and it looks at how the US used Latin America as essentially a “dress rehearsal” or practice for our take-over of other lands, or put another way, as the beginnings of the American empire. Grandin calls Latin America “the place where the United States elaborated tactics of extraterritorial administration and acquired its conception of itself as an empire like no other before it. The Western Hemisphere was the be the staging ground for a new ‘empire for liberty’”. In the latter part Grandin in quoting Thomas Jefferson. The book discusses the entire history of this plot, from FDR’s “good neighbor” proposal to imperial violence by proxy (funding and training native groups to wreak havoc upon their nation whether in the form of a governmental coup or acts of mass murder to subdue citizen protests). He also discusses some economic factors, the US using “soft power” – that is a non-military form of control, via ‘commerce, cultural exchange, and multilateral cooperation.” Yes, this book promises to give me a wealth of juicy postcolonial and neocolonial history and information. Though, I suspect I will have to find another brilliant source to enlighten me on the immigration story. Let me know if you have any suggestions!

Monday, April 4, 2011

Historical Background of my Topic

Ok, I’ve searched my inner being (hah) and I think I want to research Guatemala. I will briefly talk about the colonial history of Guatemala (and perhaps make references and comparisons to the colonization of Northern Africa? – would that be too much?), but I want the main focus of the paper to be “postcolonial”, as in what has happened since their independence from Spain (the last official colonizer) in 1821. What has happened since then? Well, not surprisingly it’s the same as what always (or at least most of the time) happens after a country is “liberated” from a colonizer – dictatorships, powerful and violent ones.

Before invasions from across the sea, the people of Guatemala were part of the powerful Mayan empire, which existed from about 250 to 900 CE (referred to as the Classic period). In 900, the empire collapsed, and the possible reasons are currently debated among historians and archeologists (drought is one of the most accepted theories). Then until 1500 the empire was divided into regional kingdoms, which is now known as the Calistic Period. The 1500s was when the Spanish Conquistadors came to Central and South America starting with the infamous Hernán Cortés. One of his top lieutenants Pedro de Alvarado was the leader of the conquest of Guatemala in 1519. As in Assia Djebar’s Fantasía, there were numerous local tribes and not all fought against the invaders. Some of them (for example, the Kaqchiquel) actually sided with the Spanish and fought to bring down other tribes. But of course in due time the Spanish would take advantage of them, they would rebel, the Spanish would crush the rebellions, and in the end the Spanish force was just strengthened. Then there was more colonization similar to that of Northern Africa, but of course there were some notable differences, like the emphasis in religion (the spread of Catholicism via the Inquisition).

So there’s a tiny bit of history for you! I’ll do some more along this vain, then talk about liberation, then (as I mentioned before) I’ll spend most of my time talking about postcolonial issues (and the postcolonial relationship between Guatemala and the US). Does this sound good? Do you think I should spend more (or less) time talking about the early colonization vs. postcolonialism? I think I could actually write a whole 12-page paper on either. Should I pick just one? Or maybe include both but focus on one, as was the original plan? Your brilliant thoughts are always appreciated!