Rebranding the class blog and introducing Latin American Reflections

OK, now the semester is upon us, I am reviving the blog. I think it worked well last semester.

We focused on the relationship between Latin America and the US last spring. This fall we examine popular politics and social revolution in 20th century Latin America and the Caribbean.

I am excited. There is much to discuss as the region is pockmarked with social unrest from Guatemala to Brazil, from Argentina to Venezuela. Folk are rejecting the impunity of the political classes throughout the region.

These contemporary cases invite us to look at the development of politics – broadly conceived to go far beyond electoral politics – among historically marginalized sectors of Latin American and Caribbean societies.

Students will be blogging on this page throughout the course. Feel free to comment as you see fit.


Vatican to open its archives related to Argentina’s military dictatorship, 1976-1983

In a very important move, Pope Francis has instructed his Secretary of State to begin declassifying Vatican reports and diplomatic correspondence from the era of the Dirty War in Argentina, during which more than 20,000 people were disappeared.

The potential for more fully understanding this period of Argentine history cannot be understated.

Lita Boitano, president of the human rights group Familiares, had this to say:

“In 1979 I was in Rome and had asked for a meeting with Pope John Paul II, which I didn’t get, but I got a meeting with a Vatican official. When I gave him my name, he left and quickly returned with a file card with my name on it. It had all the details of my two kids and the exact dates of their kidnappings, they knew exactly who I was.”

This is potentially a massive find that may help bring closure to many families who still yearn for knowledge about the disappearance and demise of their sons and daughters, husbands and wives.

An example of adverts in Argentine newspapers commemorating

the disappearance of loved ones.Source: Pagina 12

For its part, Monsignor Laterza of the Vatican’s State Department declared, “The collection of the material has been concluded and there is a system to scan and digitize it. It could be available to the public in one year.”

For families and historians, this is an important development that is vital to claiming a fuller understanding of a dark moment in Argentina’s recent past.

Yes! Think of Undocumented Immigrants as Parents, not Problems

Excellent op-ed in today’s New York Times by Roberto Suro and Marcelo Suárez-Orozco, both long-time observers of the phenomenon of Latin American immigration into the U.S.

Effectively, they are asking the public and policymakers to humanize these immigrants, but the authors also point out the consequences of inaction. The evidence is clear. The effect on children is detrimental, and this has a direct consequence to the strength of our communities.

Some selections from the op-ed:

  • More than 11 million unauthorized immigrants settled into our communities; many formed families and had children. Now at least one of every 15 children living in the United States has an unauthorized parent, and nearly all of those children are native-born United States citizens.
  • In a recent report, we assessed more than 50 research studies of the children of unauthorized immigrants conducted by scholars in a variety of fields. This growing body of work shows that fear and uncertainty breed difficulties that manifest themselves in delayed cognitive development, lower educational performance and clinical levels of anxiety.
  • In the universe of manufactured disadvantage, we cannot think of many instances in which sitting judges, with the stroke of a pen, can bring immediate and measurable relief to millions of children.

While many opponents of immigration reform will cry foul about these parents suborning US law, the fact is these families are here and are part of our communities. Their kids go to our schools, these families shop at our grocery stores, they seek solace at our spaces of worship. The authors are correct that Americans have long held the idea that children can not bear the burden of their father’s sins.

It’s time for policymakers to realize this sentiment.

Think of Undocumented Immigrants as Parents, Not Problems –

“In defence of Cuba’s strange revolution” – Castro’s trip to the US 56 years

The Guardian newspaper has a great feature that pulls an article from its archive relating an important historical event. One can find, for instance, the account of Nelson Mandela’s famous speech and conviction at the Rivonia trial in 1964.

Today marks the day 56 years ago, The Guardian reported on the arrival of Fidel Castro to the US at the invitation of the American Society of Newspaper Editors. The rhetoric in the report is fascinating, as the battle lines were drawn very early and thus the arcs of the relationship cast.

Looking like a football player though he is really a baseball fan, wearing the fatigue dress of a soldier and carrying a book in his left hand, surrounded by security police but proclaiming his love of mankind, Fidel Castro arrived in Washington last night, more like a picturesque paradox that the hero of Cuba’s revolution.

Even before he stepped from his plane controversy broke over his head. A specialist in Latin American affairs, Senator Smathers of Florida, arose in the Senate to send a ponderous poisoned spear in Castro’s direction. With a strange lapse from the traditions of senatorial courtesy, the Senator told his colleagues that the Castro Government was giving its support to movements which were trying “to invade the shores of other Latin American countries.” Still another charge was flung by Raphael Del Pino who described himself as the head of an “anti-communist movement of the Americas.” He accused Castro of being the “new dictator” of a “Communist-controlled beach head within 90 miles of the United States mainland.”

These charges of communism do not really touch the American peoples’ concern about Castro. They do not think he is an agent of Moscow. But they are troubled about his ruthless executions and his known ambitions. Is this young man of 32 a dedicated hero of a peoples’ revolution or is he the creature of accident and the victim of forces he started but no longer can control? Will he try to nationalise the sugar industry of Cuba and confiscate American profits and investment? Is he a blood-stained tyrant driving men to their executions with patriotism and revolutionary tribunals? Or is he merely exacting delayed retribution, on Cuba’s behalf, for the catalogue of crimes and blunders committed by the Batista regime?


Ever unorthodox, Fidel Castro soaked up his time in the US by defying the security concerns of his handlers:

During his visit, Castro will be in Washington, Princetown, New York, Boston, and Montreal, and will also appear on “Meet the Press” on radio and television on Sunday night. His security guards are in for a hard task. Both at the airport and later at the Cuban Embassy he broke through all the official precautions for his safety. On his arrival he brushed aside the police, allowed himself to be surrounded by 1,500 excited and shouting Cuban admirers. Then at the Embassy, as he was getting ready for bed, he suddenly changed his mind, ran out of doors, and mingled informally with a group of some fifty people who had gathered on the side-walk opposite the Embassy.

Castro has brought his technical advisers with him. He is ready to talk to the American Government about the economic and political problems of his country, if the State Department is interested in them. Certainly the American people are eager to hear him in his defence of Cuba’s strange revolution.

Now that the relations are moving in a positive direction at the same time the Castros are nearing the ‘biological solution’ (a euphemism used on the island), it will be vital to strip this issue of the rhetoric of a bygone era.

Read the article here:

Fidel Castro visits Washington: from the archive, 17 April 1959 | World news | The Guardian


Hacer América and the American Dream – an article on the history of migration in the Americas

Yesterday, the online history magazine Origins: Current Events in Historical Perspective published an article by Professor Steven Hyland on the history of migration. Here are the first several paragraphs, followed by the link to article in its entirety. The editors did a great job and found some wonderful images and charts.

This past summer the American public awoke to the spectacle of thousands of children from Central America, some as young as five, crossing into the United States without authorization. News accounts detailed these children’s treks: traveling on the tops of trains, sleeping in the open air, and navigating violent encounters with criminal gangs and corrupt officials.

The images of these children herded into detention centers in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas launched a public debate and stirred criticism of the Obama administration.

Responses to their arrival varied widely. Some towns, cities, and counties opened their doors and institutions while other jurisdictions declared these children unwelcome.

And those hoping for a dispassionate and sober discussion on immigration policy—what to do with the roughly 11.5 million people living here in the United States without authorization—have been disappointed.

Although the images of these children walking through the Americas are startling, they are part of a much older and more enduring story. Mass migration of humans across the globe is a signature feature of the modern world, and the Americas have long been at the forefront of these complex, worldwide dynamics.

The highly personal act of migration both in the past and today reveals much about the functioning of the world economy and how sending, receiving, and transit societies fit into it. As in the past, all regions of the world are involved in large-scale migration.

We hope you like it.

Hacer América and the American Dream: Global Migration and the Americas | Origins: Current Events in Historical Perspective

Discussing the US (mis)adventures in Central America and the Caribbean

The US has a complicated history with Latin America, but it is acutely complex in Central America and the Caribbean. A central element of this past has been the uncanny and persistent policies of intervention and occupation. Indeed, it is a key them in my US-Latin American Relations course this semester. A key question regarding these policies is, “Was it worth it?” A second question is, “How did the intervened and occupied respond?” The answers to these questions are explored in The Invaded by Alan McPherson (Oxford UP, 2014).


My students submitted their papers on this book. I had them contemplate the responses by Latin Americans to occupation, as explored in detail by McPherson, and integrate them with select writings of José Martí, José Enrique Rodó, and Rubén Darió.

It should make for a vigorous discussion, especially as we gauge the author’s insistence on the concept of ‘political culture’ – something not very well developed in my view – and the view that non-violent means were more successful than violent ones in bringing about the end to occupation.

Also, we will look to see if we can find any connective threads between the writers (Martí, Rodó, and Darió) and the actors explored in the book and what that may tell us about persistent Latin American views of the US.

Argentina. Just damn…

Argentina’s president Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner seemingly has lost control.

She’s certainly lost control of the narrative surrounding the death of the special investigating prosecutor Alberto Nisman. Simply put, she is getting pilloried in the press.

I wrote previously that her presidency was crumbling due to her spasmodic public statements – via social media – regarding how Nisman died – suicide, induced suicide, or murder.

Now, the journalist (Damián Pachter) who first broke the news of Nisman’s death has fled Argentina, fearing for his life and asserting his phone and email account are compromised. As if the president’s pronouncements weren’t enough, her press office decided to publish Pachter’s flight itinerary:


First, the revelation, which was first published by the official news agency Telam, contravenes Argentine privacy laws.

Second, it defies common sense. Seriously, how could this be viewed as a good idea? What was the process? And, how does this help tamp down public indignation targeting Cristina and her government?

Now, the pile on begins. La Nación – the venerable daily – excoriated the manner in which the Casa Rosada has politicized its social media outlets. Congresswoman Elisa Carrió went on television yesterday saying the administration has links to terrorism – citing some old-time Montonero’s in the current government who apparently trained in Beirut during the 1960s. She also accused the government of being run by a mafia of sorts. This latter characterization has been building for some time now.

And all of this does nothing to settle what actually happen last Sunday in Puerto Madero.

Argentines’ faith in its public institutions is yet again at a tipping point.

How the investigation proceeds and the conclusions its reaches will go a long way in exacerbating or quelling public anger. Equally important will be whether or not Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner will act in a presidential manner.

Neither are sure things.

[Posted by Prof. Hyland and crossposted at]

Cristina’s crumbling presidency

The death of investigative judge Alberto Nisman is a tragedy.


Whether he committed suicide or was ‘induced’ to kill himself is something that frankly Argentine investigators may never fully discover.


Argentines have responded to the death by demanding an end to impunity – a widespread belief that its judicial institutions simply cannot hold the powerful accountable.




Nisman, for the past decade, had been investigating the 1994 terrorist attack on the Jewish cultural center, known locally by its acronym AMIA. Nissan was a bulldog. He was convinced that agents of Hezbollah carried it out, and that Iran aided and abetted. He even had arrest warrants issued for a number of Iranian officials. Last week Nisman accused Argentina’s president, Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, her Foreign Minister Hector Timerman, and others of conspiring to fabricate evidence to exonerate the accused Iranians. Further, Argentina would send grain and foodstuffs to Iran in return for oil. The negotiations allegedly were initiated in 2011 in Aleppo, Syria in a meeting between Timerman and an Iranian diplomat. Fernandez and Timerman have denied the allegations.


Nisman was set to testify this past Monday, but died the afternoon before in strange circumstances.


It all stinks.


And again, learning the truth about the AMIA attack is thwarted. It is disgraceful.


It has been equally striking to watch President Cristina lurch from side to side. She initially declared the death a suicide – via social media – and then the following day reversed tack, saying Nisman was killed and was a pawn in a conspiracy to bring down her own government.


Prominent journalist Jorge Lanata criticized the president’s behavior and conflicting statements, likening it to something one would say at a pub and unbecoming of a sitting president.


Two of her key advisers – Aníbal Fernandez and Jorge Capitanich – have both demured when asked their views on the death, replying that that is for the investigators to determine.


Sad on so many fronts. Still no justice for the AMIA. And the decline of the Kirchner era seems to be in its death throes.


The Passing of Ambassador Robert E. White

The US involvement in Central America during the Carter and Reagan Administrations is a black eye at best and a national disgrace at its worst. Much was lost: prestige, common sense, a sense of proportionality, and honestly the country’s moral compass.

Yet, Ambassador Robert E. White, who served in El Salvador briefly in 1980 and 1981, stood out for his commitment to human rights and his willingness to speak truth to power. This strength got him fired by the newly installed Reagan Administration, about which he took great pride in standing up for what was right. He would continue to his work on human rights and the pursuit to better the lives of poor people.

White died last week at the age of 88. There have been many fond remembrances of him as a person and diplomat. He is regarded for his actions and efforts in behalf of the four women religious who were murdered in December 1980 by Salvadoran national guard (link is to a RetroReport short documentary updating the status of the case).

He was also known for his disgust of death squad ringleader Roberto D’Aubuisson and his support for land reform that might help lift rural Salvadoran peasants. These positions caught the attention of anti-Communist crusader, Senator Jesse Helms (R-NC), who previously voted against White’s nomination to the post in San Salvador.

Below is a State Department dispatch citing a request from Sen. Helms to Ambassador White to answer the allegations that White was plotting with the leftist members of the then-ruling junta to join the extreme leftist in organizing a coup. Helms, who was D’Aubuisson’s contact in DC, bought it hook, line, and sinker, unable to resist in challenging White.

Primary Doc DAubuisson Helms

It is a disgrace Helms would support a brute like D’Aubuisson and claim it was in the name of democracy and freedom.

Change is Coming to Cuba

Professor Steven Hyland published the following opinion piece in today’s Huffington Post:

Change is coming to Cuba.

In fact, if one looks closely at Cuba now, one sees a country in transformation. Some are subtle. Others are public. Many are still in the offing.

Nevertheless, if given time, President Barack Obama’s policy will push Cuba toward further change, if only to offset popular demands due to rising inequality.

I traveled to Cuba in June 2012 as part of a delegation of U.S. academics and study-abroad administrators organized by the Fund for Reconciliation and Development.

I had romanticized visiting Cuba for a number of years. The optics at least matched the vision. We first stayed in the iconic Habana Libre hotel, headquarters to Fidel and revolutionaries after their triumphant arrival in January 1959.

Read the rest here.