As a Texan, immigration laws are always on the forefront of my local news. While we did discuss inter-Latin American migration, I would have liked to have learned about the changing trends of inter-American migration, and how the laws are changing to adapt to this. We discussed this when learning about the historical conflict between the nations of Haiti and the Dominican Republic, who share the island of Hispaniola. The new Dominican citizenship laws clearly show that migration in other areas of Latin America and the Caribbean is just as or even more important than it is between the United States and the rest of the Americas.
The Latin America Advisor did a commentary on the changing migration patterns of Latin America, noting that in recent years there has been a slight shift to “south to south” migration rather than migration to the more developed countries. Chile, Ecuador, Argentina and Venezuela have shown the greatest growth in migration rates in recent years.
As a Mass Communications major, I have learned that examining a country or a society’s particular media—whether that be film, press, or television networks— can tell you a lot about the political ideology, economic health, and social movements of that population. For my research paper, I examined media censorship throughout Argentina during the Dirty War, which revealed just how repressive a military regime can be and media’s ability to maintain a population’s ignorance.
I realize that in this class it would be difficult to cover media throughout Latin America, but I think it could be interesting to see how it has progressed over time—even if it is just a broad overview. For example, I think it would be interesting for our class to look into “TeleSur,” a pan-Latin American television network that was launched on January 24, 2005 (the 222nd anniversary of Simon Bolivar’s birthday) in order to promote the integration of Latin America. The slogan of the network is “Nuestro Norte es el Sur” (“Our North is the South”)—a slogan which reflects the common notion of Latin American pride and search for independence that has been discussed throughout our class.
“Telesur abre señal en portugués para Brasil” [Telesur opens signal in Portuguese language for Brazil]. Ministry of Information and Communication of Venezuela. January 24, 2005.
As a Spanish major, I love focusing on the culture and literature of Spanish speaking countries of the Latin American and Caribbean region. However, I find it interesting how broad the course is and how as a class we only view a glimpse of each country. I am curious to learn more about the Caribbean nations specifically the smaller ones that are outside of the more recognized French and Spanish oriented nations. I was very interested in the very first group’s presentation that included Trinidad and had hoped to learn more about the country. Perhaps in the future, the LACS class could span an entire year allowing time to cover the mainland countries in one semester and Caribbean islands the next. This is not as much a culture class as I expected it to be, but I thoroughly enjoyed the difference disciplines represented in the class. I suppose I do not have a specific issue on which to focus more, but rather I would have liked more time to delve further into each area. On the other hand, you could have a class strictly dedicated to the “Legacy of Empire” in each country, comparing and contrasting more between the colonizing nations to include smaller colonizers like Holland. This would satisfy my culture craving and perhaps even the economics or politics major as they could dive into the countries’ system.
What follows, please take with a grain of salt…. I’m still an economics major.
It’s difficult to try and highlight something in the course that I wish I could have had more exposure to. The first thought came from my research paper about the US economic influence in Chile. I analyzed the economic development in Chile for the last forty years and continued through present day Chile. This topic was similar to other parts of the course in terms of economic analysis that we saw through Winn over the centuries in Latin America. However, it differed because it was a recent analysis of the region, not the same as what we saw in Winn who looked at colonial economies over centuries and then at the import industrialization substitution of the 20th century.
In addition to my personal experiences from the project, the class period today also got me thinking about the future of Latin American and Caribbean Studies in the US and how it will evolve with the expanding influence of Latin America in the US. What about the modern Latin American economies that are emerging? I wish that we could spend at least a class about the emerging economies in Latin America and analyzing the impact in the region, in the US and in the world. One analysis that could be conducted in class that is relatively recent is about the impact of NAFTA back in the 90s. Brazil’s rapidly growing economy is enough for an entire course to consume over a semester but could be skimmed over briefly. The gist of what I would love to see is a discussion over the current economies of Latin America, and the potential for the growing economies. A subsequent discussion could evolve that could compare and contrast the current economies with those of recent history and of antiquity.
The Oportunidades program in Mexico (formally known as PROGRESA) has attracted a lot of attention for being one the most successful poverty reduction programs ever implemented in Latin America. The program provides direct cash transfers in order to incentivize school attendance, preventive health care, and better nutrition among the poor. Currently it serves 6.5 million families and its model is being implemented in more than 30 countries in the world. What is the story behind this successful social policy program? I was interested in learning about it so below I will briefly describe the history of its beginning and highlight some of the key factors that have contributed to its success.
The founding of the program is attributed to Santiago Levy (an economist) and Gómez de León (a demographer). In the midst of rampant poverty from the economic Tequila Crisis, Mexican President Ernesto Zedillo assigned to Levy the responsibility to create a poverty alleviation program. Consequently in 1997 Levy launched the Campeche experiment which later evolved into PROGRESA and was subsequently renamed Oportunidades under Vicente Fox administration. One of the main characteristics of the program from early on was its conditional direct cash transfers. The Campeche experiment provided cash transfers conditional upon regular medical check-ups (for pregnant women, lactating mothers, and infants) and to purchase food. While the pilot project targeted health and nutrition, it did not have the educational component. Recognizing the need for this component, Levy –with the help of Gómez de León—developed an improved version of the program called PROGRESA (the acronym stands for education, health, and nutrition). The new program provided direct cash incentives for school enrollment, in addition to those for preventive health and better nutrition. Additionally, it focused on women’s empowerment by making cash payments directly to women and not to men.
What has influenced the program’s success? Besides the economic incentives, factors such as rigorous evaluation and independence from politics have led to the success of the program since its beginnings. From 1998 to 2000 the International Food Policy Research Institution (IFPRI), a globally recognized organization, conducted the evaluation for the program. This allowed consistent tracking of the program’s impact based on international standards and highlighted any areas for further improvement. Additionally, external evaluation reduced possible bias on the results. Currently the program’s evaluation is done by different institutions including Mexico’s Ministry of Social Development (SEDESOL) and other international and national organizations. Furthermore, in order to prevent the program from being political exploited, PROGRESA was run by an independent agency. This allowed the program to prevent any linkages with the Zedillos’ administration and therefore was able to continue under different administrations. As a result of effective implementation, the program which started as an experiment in few rural areas of Campeche is now in every state of Mexico (99% of the places are rural and semi-urban) and its model is being implemented around the world.
We briefly touched on Latin American style and traditional clothing, but I would be interested to examine how style has evolved over the past decades in Latin America. Mexico is known for sombreros, ponchos, and serapes, which is a blanket-like article of clothing, similar to a shawl. Winn discussed the Bolivian polleras of the Aymara people. Flowing dresses for the tango and salsa dances have gained recognition throughout time. I find it interesting that many Latin Americans still dress in traditional clothing, although style has evolved rapidly. For example, Oscar de la Renta is a renowned fashion designer from Santo Domingo. He has had a tremendous impact on the fashion world with his extravagant dresses. It’s interesting that Latin American style has such variety, yet some people still maintain tradition and wear their outdated clothing with pride.
Despite one presentation, we did not cover very much of the Mexican Drug War. In particular, it would be interesting to know more about the rise of the cartels and how they have assumed so much power in the region. Since 2006, an estimated 60,000 individuals have been killed in the drug war. Current President Enrique Peña Nieto has claimed to revamp security and policies to fight drug trafficking but his plan has been criticized as ineffective by various parties, including the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the Human Rights Watch. The egregious violence plaguing the country will continue to undermine social, political, and economic progress until the issue is controlled. Furthermore, it will be interesting to track the legacies of this conflict when it subsides.
We touched on merengue briefly, and how it changed during the Trujillato but I wanted to learn more about it. Merengue is first originated in the mid 19th century in the Cibao region. It gained a reputation for being an immoral dance, but despite that it became popular throughout the Dominican republic. Merengue began to gain acceptance among the upper classes during the reign of Trujillo, who was a fan and had it played wherever he went. After Trujillo’s death merengue began to be influenced by other styles of music such as rock. Merengue began to become popular in the United States in New York during the 1980’s. It reached new heights in the 1990’s with rise of musicians such as Juan Luis Guerra.
We talked briefly about the United Fruit Company during the presentations of our research papers, but I would have liked to know more about how influential it was in Latin America, especially after reading 100 Years of Solitude last semester. According to one author, the company was “more powerful than many nation states … a law unto itself and accustomed to regarding the republics as its private fiefdom” (Kurtz-Phelan). The United Fruit Company was friendly with some of Latin America’s most infamous dictators and played a key role in several regime changes, notably that of the coup against President Jacobo Arbenz in Guatemala in in the 1950s. With so many United States officials invested and involved in the company as well, it represented an extension of the U.S. power over Latin American affairs.
One topic we didn’t get to talk much about in class was environmental protection. While we talked about the Amazon a few times, we did not mention the importance of coastal and marine resources, especially for the Caribbean. These resources create many industries, including fisheries and tourism. Many people depend on these resources in order to support themselves and their families, yet these resources are often left unprotected. As a result, coastal and marine resources are exploited and polluted, and many marine ecosystems are at the risk of being destroyed.