Every Monday and Friday we have what we call morning class. Everyone, teachers, students, guest speaker are welcome to prepare a presentation about any topic that is of interest to them and share their passion about it. This morning a guest speaker that we love inviting for his passionate talks, came to tell us more about the relationship between USA and Latin America. Here is what I learned from this class.
Let's lay out the context: The media is focussing on the drama and not on the root cause of the problem. We have in the recent years seen a lot of dramatic stories about immigration. Where does the promise of building a wall between Mexico and the US come from? Why would people want a wall to be built in the first place? There are camps built at the border and they are not broadly shown in the media. We recently saw the scandal of children being separated from their family at the border, babies being caged while parents are being "processed". Why is this happening in the first place? Why do people risk their lives to cross the border to America when they know what can happen? What is the cause of all these problems? What is the history behind them?
We need to take a closer look at the history of Latin America. What is widely taught throughout Europe and the US is that when Columbus arrived in America in 1492, the indigenous population was told to be primitive, savage, uneducated, with no intrinsic worth. But the reality is that Columbus and Cortez and the conquistadores met a very developed and impressive civilization that had built great cities with running water and public light in the streets. "When the Spanish conquistadores got the first look at the Aztec city of Tenochtitlán in 1519, they compared its magnificence to Venice and Istanbul." "It was so wonderful that I do not know how to describe this first glimpse of things never heard of, seen or dreamed of before…"— Hernando Cortes
Instead of learning from each other, and collaborating, the Conquistadores destroyed a whole civilization in the name of the crown of Spain and of the Pope. At the beginning of the 1500s a law (encomienda) was created to allow the Conquistadores to collect taxes from the indigenous people. They did not take over the land, but because they were collecting taxes, they created a feudal system in which the indigenous people became enslaved and dependent on the newly proclaimed lords. This law was of course was enforced and created a society with a very rich European Elite and poor indigenous people.
This lasted until the 1800s when the European Elite started questioning the taxes to be paid to the different countries in Europe and independence wars erupted across South America. These independence movements weren't started by the indigenous people, but by the rich, ruling class that wanted to keep the riches!
Simon Bolivar was a Venezuelan military and political leader who liberated what is currently the republic of Venezuela, Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and Panama as sovereign states, independent of Spanish rule. While this independence movement was taking place at the beginning of the 1800s, the US president James Monroe saw an opportunity. He realized that to gain influence in South America, they didn't need to fight Europe anymore and that was very interesting for the new country.
So in 1823, the Monroe Doctrine was created. It stated that further efforts by European nations to take control of any independent state in North or South America would be viewed as "the manifestation of an unfriendly disposition toward the United States." and would mean a declaration of war.
At the same time, the doctrine noted that the U.S. would recognize and not interfere with existing European colonies nor meddle in the internal concerns of European countries. This is not just because they had good intentions and wanted to help people, they wanted to gain influence. The US used a different way of gaining control, not by colonizing, but by sending in big industries that bought large areas of land and paid off governments to make sure they had cheap workers available, for example, Chiquita or United Fruit. This created a society of Elite, Buffer/Middle class and a large majority of people were kept in poor condition in the working class.
In the 1960s, the people from the lower classes started to rise up and fight for their rights. Salvador Allende acceded the power and started creating a society that was fair to the people. He started building schools, hospitals and fair jobs. The US didn't like this and they set up a military coup that put General Pinochet into power. This was set up to allow big business to keep their access to cheap labor and keep making lots of money. Another example is the War in Nicaragua.
From the 1960's till 1990's on account of the cold war and the fight against communism, guerrillas were funded by the US to fight socialism in Latin America and "destabilize the Socialist movement".
The working conditions were so terrible and people had no way of organizing to get themselves out of the misery they were in. So they trid to flee and immigrate to the US. This humanitarian crisis will not stop until the living conditions get better.
Only White Anglo Saxon Protestants can look back and say that America was ever great. Black, Latinos and other minorities cannot relate to a time when America was a good place to live. Only white, rich landowners could relate to a comfortable life, but because the school system depicts it as a reality, the majority of people believe that they are entitled to it.
The western world is at a breaking point. Do we accept our past and try to take action to make it better or do we keep covering up and building more and more lies? The real solution for these people is to not have to leave in the first place but have a place in their own country. It's important for all citizens to understand and be made aware of what is happening so they can then put pressure on their government to change and let Latin America choose its own road. Things are happening, some people are speaking up and taking action: Chavez, Moralez…
This class was a real eye opener and I know that this is just a little part of the iceberg that was scraped. I really wanted to read and understand more about the situation. The class was really focussed on the role of the US in the situation in Latin America, but I am also aware that Europe has a very big role to play in this as well. Where do all the riches come from? Why are Europeans and Americans rich and Africa and Latin America poor? These are some of the questions that pushed me to change the way I look at the world and make me want to change what I can to make it a better place.