Massive election cycle is at hand in Latin America

The Brookings Institution has a scene-setting post about the massive 22-month election cycle for 14 of Latin America’s nations starting this month. While the post attempts to synthesize trends for the region, much of the ultimate votes casts will be based on decidedly local, mundane affairs and sensitive to consumer confidence and trust in existing institutions.

It is worrisome that confidence in democracy has dropped roughly 10 percentage points across the region.

Screenshot 2017-11-10 07.35.35


I’m sure this is linked with the slowing down of national economies, the reduction in purchasing power, and persistent uncovering of naked corruption on the part of political elites.

Thus, the coming election cycle will be important for the further deepening of democratic practices throughout the region as current governments and aspirants to run government pursue policies to safeguard the material well-being of Latin Americans in a climate of slow economic growth.



Corruption and Depoliticization Campaigns in Argentina

A recent and solid op-ed by Andrés Asiain ran in Pagina 12 – an Argentine left-of-center daily – criticizing the use of anti-corruption campaigns by economic and media elites to further disenchant a populace already tired of corrupt politicians. The assertion is that these campaigns allow counterintuitively for an further deepening of the ties of policy outcomes with corruption. As he writes, “moral campaigns do not seek to improve the transparency of politics.”

More interestingly, Asiain engages the Cambiemos mantra pounding the corruption of the Kirchner administrations – noting that the current president’s family wealth came during the “heat of the contract state” – and the oft used phrase “They stole our GDP.” Now, this was an effective campaign slogan because it allowed the mind to wander about the size of the graft – and of course the was graft – without any responsibility by the hurlers of the charge with providing proof and amounts.

So, Asiain plays it out. Taking at the high end of estimates, he suggests that only 2% of the GDP could have been diverted for corrupt purposes. I concede this amounts to some serious cash being diverted, but the author’s point is that it is far smaller than what charge would have folk believe otherwise. And therein lies the effectiveness of the allegation and campaign slogan.

And yet, with the anti-corruption campaigns spreading throughout, the question remains, “What change will actually happen in the practicing of politics in Latin America?”

Critiquing the emerging Cuba policy

Harold Trinkunas and Richard Feinberg, longtime observers of US-Latin American relations, have a blistering op-ed about the foolishness of the emerging Trump policy towards Cuba, in particular, and the administration’s appreciation for diplomacy, in general.

Here’s the money quote:

this White House and its pro-embargo allies in Congress have opportunistically seized on these mysterious illnesses affecting U.S. diplomats to overturn the pro-normalization policies of a previous administration, using bureaucratic obstruction and reckless language when they cannot make the case for policy change on the merits alone.

As usual with the current presidential administration, there is no larger plan but simply an intent to undo as much as possible the work and advances of the previous one.

US to cut embassy staff in Cuba

The US State Department is going to slash the number of diplomats stationed at our embassy in Havana and will also warn US tourists about possible attacks at hotels in the Cuban capital. The US will also stop processing visa requests by Cubans.

Much mystery around the sonic attacks that have injured – some quite severely – members of our and the Canadian diplomatic corps endures.

This story is developing but it is unclear if any new information about the source of the sonic attacks has emerged. Regardless, this is a setback for the rapprochement between the two historic adversaries.

North Carolina Latin American Film Festival

The annual North Carolina Latin American Film Festival in Durham, NC begins next week on September 28 and runs through Wednesday, November 8.

North Carolina Latin American Film Festival (youtube clip)

The lineup of movies looks outstanding. Highly recommended.



TH. SEP. 28 | Pleasants Family Assembly Room. Wilson Library, UNC-CH. 5:00pm.
Maestra. Catherine Murphy (Cuba), 2012. 33min.

*Preceded by a reception.

La Jaula de Oro / The Golden Dream. Diego Quemada Diez (Mexico, Guatemala), 2014/15. 90min.

*Preceded by a Brunch.

SUN. OCT. 1 | SILVERSPOT CINEMAS, Chapel Hill. 7:00pm (Ticketed event: please reserve HERE)
Tata Padrinos / Godparents. Dignicraft (Mexico-USA), 2017. 62min.

*Followed by a reception. *With presence of the filmmakers. Special event thanks to RTI Latino Diversity Group.

Boi Neon / Neon Bull. Gabriel Mascaro (Brazil), 2015. 91min.

Finding Oscar. Ryan Suffern (Guatemala/US), 2017. 90min.

El Aula Vacia | The Empty Classrom. Gael García Bernal, et all. (Mexico), 2015. 111min.
O custo da oportunidade | The Cost of Opportunity. Dudu de Morro & Stephanie Reist (Brazil), 2017. 30min.

*Preceded by a reception. With presence of the director The Cost of Opportunity.

TH. OCT. 5 | CAROLINA THEATRE, Durham. 7:00pm.

Short animations by Walter Tournier: Chatarra/Junk (2015) 5min; Alto el Juego/Cease the Game (2016) 6min.
El botón de nácar / The Pearl Button. Patricio Guzmán (Chile), 2016. 82min.

FRI.  OCT. 6 | Frank Porter Graham Elementary, Chapel Hill. 7:00pm.
Children’s programming: animations by Walter Tournier, Uruguay.

Chatarra/Junk (2015) 5min; Alto el Juego/Cease the Game (2016) 6min.
Main program: Selkirk, el verdadero Robinson Crusoe | Pirates of the Seven Seas. Walter Tournier (Uruguay) 2012. 65min.

*Popcorn and beverages will be offered. *With presence of the filmmaker.


Short animations by Walter Tournier: Chatarra/Junk (2015) 5min; Alto el Juego/Cease the Game (2016) 6min.

Sin nombre. Cary Fukonagua (Honduras, Mexico, USA), 2009. 96min.


ARTEMIO. Sandra Luz López Barroso (México). 2017. 50min.

*With presence of the producer.

SUN.  OCT. 8 | SILVERSPOT CINEMA, Chapel Hill. 7:00pm. (Ticketed event: please reserve: HERE)
Neruda, Pablo Larrain (Chile). 2016. 107min.

Tempestad | Tempest. Tatiana Huezo (Mexico), 2016. 105min.

Salero. Mike Plunket (Boliva) 2016. 116min.
Narrating Nature (three Shorts)

El Acompañante | The Companion. Pavel Giroud (Cuba), 2016. 104min.

Truman. Cesc Gay (Argentina, Spain), 2015. 108min.

Strange and stranger – sonic weapon attacks in Cuba

The list of American diplomatic personnel suffering symptoms from purported sonic attacks in Cuba has grown to 21. At least 10 Canadian diplomats were targeted and injured too. American and Canadian officials and investigators have confessed publicly to being perplexed. Scientists are puzzled by how a sonic weapon could do this sort of damage.

In short, no one is certain what in the world happened.

In this The Guardian story, an important take away is that the US government is not yet convinced the Cuban government was intentionally involved. That, of course, may change, but since there has been no further punitive actions by the Trump administration one can surmise that we still do not have a clear idea of what took place.

Strange and stranger, indeed.

Pope Francis and his psychoanalyst

Anyone familiar with Argentina’s Dirty War from 1976 to 1983 understands the savagery that the military dictatorship meted out on the civilian population. Suspicion was enough to get one disappeared.

During this moment, Pope Francis, known then as Fr. Jorge Bergoglio, served as the Superior of Argentina’s Jesuit priests, many of whom were strong critics against the crimes and violence committed by the regime. Two Jesuit priests were terribly tortured on the Pope’s watch.

As a result, Pope Francis visited a psychologist weekly for a year, surely seeking guidance, understanding and perhaps assurance for his actions. For those familiar with Argentina, visiting an analyst/counselor is a River Plate tradition. It makes perfect sense that one would seek help in a moment of national tragedy and trauma.

Here’s the news story and a sympathetic op-ed from The Guardian.

Welcome to the class blog of HIST 317 – Modern Latin America

Hello world!

We are resurrecting this blog and attaching it to HIST 317 – Modern Latin America. Students will be responsible for posting news articles of interest. Links to the articles will be preceded by a summary of the article and how it links to the course themes of 1) politics and rights (civil, human, environmental, etc.), 2) the economy and society, and 3) relations among Latin American nations and with the broader international community.

Looking forward to the semester.

– el Profe

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.