History Other / Conflict: The Basis For Latin American Change (Born In Blood And Fire: A Concise History Of Latin America)
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Autor: anton 13 March 2011
Words: 1744 | Pages: 7
The expansive empires of the Aztecs and Incas, came crashing down, upon the arrival of Spaniards in the New World. The birth of colonial nations came about in the same stride that death came to indigenous populations. Modern Latin America has conflict built into its system because that is what it has mostly seen for the past five hundred years. In Born in Blood and Fire: A Concise History of Latin America, John Charles Chasteen supports the argument that Latin America's problems developed due to its violent origins and history of conquest. From the conquest, through colonialism and revolutions, to modern day, violence has always been a main player in the advancement of Latin America. Chasteen has left me with a greater comprehension of our neighbors' history and our influence in its maturation from colonial seed to what we have today.
Cortes and Pizarro were both the masterminds of conquest of the largest empires in Latin America. Cortes' conquest of the Aztecs was rife with luck, due to local legends and biological reasons unbeknownst to him, and violence. Through a capture-the-leader strategy that was very popular with the Spanish, Cortes and his men were able to topple the empire that at the time, its capital had a larger population than Madrid or Lisbon (Chasteen 31). Pizarro also had the same results with the Incas, killing tens of thousands with his miniscule arrangement of conquistadors. But once their swords were sheathed and their guns holstered. The native populations continued to disappear due to their vulnerability to foreign germs. This decimation of the New World's population would not end Western Europe's tyrannical exploits in the New World but would only shift their focus to another socially despicable act, slavery. The purpose of settling these lands was for profit, so with no large working force available from indigenous populations the Europeans turned to African slaves. Any country that has had slavery, as our own, sees that even after the abolishment of this institution racist attitudes and social structures remain. Slavery only added to the spirit of repression in the colonies which throughout history usually leads to rebellion. This division, and setting up of classes with whites on top, then mestizos, blacks, and indigenous people would shape the next few centuries in the Latin America.
With the Enlightenment spreading across Europe, a period marked by revolutions sprung up across the world. With news of the American Revolution, the French Revolution spreading throughout the world, everyone started examining their own governments. With the first revolution in the Caribbean happening in Haiti, the spread of this revolutionary anti-colonialism thinking reached the shores of Latin America and would mark the nineteenth century with revolutions.
We can see Chasteen's argument that Latin America's origins shaped the way its history unfolded clearly in the case of Mexico. The class system model was such a great part of the environment at the time that cousins could become enemies. The divisions between poor and rich have always been apparent, and in the case of Latin America race played an important role also. Creoles and peninsulares both were at the top of the food chain in Mexico; their differences very slim as only one generation in America would turn a peninsular into a creole. The need for the division was also brought about by the conquest period, to separate the whitest of the white from those who already lost some of the "Spanish-ness" in the New World. The creoles did not like that peninsulares got the best positions in the New World over them, though not always qualified. This problem arose over materialism, which had been the sole reason for Latin America's conception in the first place, and throughout its history led to conflict. The division between parties you would think to be allies was all that was needed for the first revolutionaries to take to the streets and inspire lower class Mexicans to stand up against the oppressors, as Hidalgo and Morelos did, though they did not succeed greatly (100-01). Simon Bolivar and Jose San Martin would step in a few years later to end Spanish control of American affairs, but the end of colonial rule did not mean the end of conflict for the Latin nations; it merely turned into a game of musical chairs as to who would sit in the leader's seat. The problems were there to stay, as even Bolivar, a man who helped liberate five nations, said of his deeds, "[I] plowed the sea [accomplishing nothing]" (112).
Throughout the 1800s Latin America was trying to catch up with the rest of the Western world, progressing with increased exports, manufacturing, and industrialization. These advances did not stop the internal problems of most Latin nations. With these changes, as in the rest of the world, there was a growth in urban populations and in the middle class, adding another layer in the social structure; which in turn is just another group that will vie for power, and benefits from the government (180-90). This period is characterized with a large amount of wealth being concentrated in the hands of a few, which on paper shows great economic progress in the form of a GDP number, but there was still great wealth disparity. The switch, in Latin America, from conservatives in the early part of the 1800s, to liberals for the latter half, eventually turned to authoritarian governance; the democratic goals liberals set out to achieve were trashed for power and economic benefits, in keeping with previous generations (191). Chasteen's depiction of the Porfiriato in Mexico is a prime example of the type of rule prevalent throughout American society at the time, with fraud, corruption, and propaganda on the forefront of Porfirio Diaz's oligarchic rule (193). This period of harsh treatment against the masses built up the spirit of betrayal that again resulted in a revolution; this time on a grand scale: The Mexican Revolution. This cyclical action of promises, overthrowing the oppostion, gaining power, straying away from promises has been followed in nearly all Latin American countries and has become inherent in the way of doing things there due to it being the only prevalent model for change in its history.
Chasteen exposed some facets of Latin American history that I only had faint knowledge of, the most interesting of which was United States involvement in the way Latin America developed as of the mid 1800s. While talking about our neighbors' history, Chasteen manages to teach us about our own history, some of which is disturbing. This topic of U.S. "colonial" tactics expands my previous general knowledge of key elements such as the Monroe Doctrine, and Roosevelt's Big Stick policy. With the United States in the world's eyes right now over involvement in foreign affairs is criticized, parts of this book show the long tradition of the United States' imperialistic tendencies. The battles, with now "ally" Mexico, over land are known to most but the extent to which we influenced their economy is astonishing, for example the now frowned upon tactic the Chinese are using of "dumping" goods (200). It is remarkable how history repeats itself, with the lead up to and the war in Iraq having striking similarities to the Spanish American War. With yellow journalism, and depictions of Spanish tyranny all that was needed was attack on U.S. interests to justify a war over Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the Philipines; this U.S. interest came in the form of the USS Maine. To read of the United States' strictly materialistic values at the time leading them to cause a civil war in Columbia, create a new country, Panama, and set up rights for a U.S. base and canal there with no Panamians present is the ultimate example of machismo (201). Complaints over the religious right today are clearly much more watered down than their counterparts in the mid 1800s, a time in which officials were not concerned with political correctness and stated outwardly that "God has marked the American people as His chosen nation to finally lead to the regeneration of the world," as Senator Alfred J. Beveridge stated (202). Through the early 20th century with the United States looming over Latin America, things generally went well, but with the emergence of Communism our support went to undemocratic dictators. With the overthrow of Batista in Cuba, and Fidel Castro at the reins, a tit-for-tat match began between the island nation and the United States resulting in the stand-off of the Cuban Missile Crisis and a beginning of a new era in U.S.-Latin American relations. Our support of military rule in Latin American countries is shocking even today, choosing authoritarian governments over the risk of democratically elected Marxist governments. Backing governments that made dissidents "disappear" is unnerving, and staging coups in democratic countries to prevent any movements to the left, as in Brazil (279-81). It is very disappointing to see these happenings, knowing some of these militaristic actions continued much further into modern day including the coup of Allende in Chile, the School of Americas, contras in Nicaragua, the helicopter "accident" of Omar Torrijos of Panama, anti-NAFTA Zapatistas in Mexico, and the current standoff with Huga Chavez in Venezuela.
The simple language of Born in Blood and Fire makes it accessible to anyone, bringing fact after fact to the table. It has left me with a positive influence over this gloomy topic of conflict in Latin America. It is evident that Latin America was "born" in blood and fire, but it seems that is has "grown" in it too. It is hard to break the cycle of anything, when a course of action is the only way you can remember of doing a task there is little one can do to change. The key is with the education of the population, which a book like this would certainly be beneficial. The subtitle of "Concise History" is certainly correct as it brought the largest issues to the forefront. I have hope for Latin America in the future, with most of this based on my optimistic outlook in general and less on the reputation on Latin America. As with the United States' progression from the slave trade, to plantation systems, to abolishment, to Jim Crow laws, to the Civil Rights Movement, to modern day when topics of racism are still on the news; we have changed, though not fully, and Latin America too will eventually be able to stray away from the ways of its conception.
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