October 15th, 2018
Dear colleagues and friends,
Welcome back to the start of a new academic year at Bolivar House. This is a great time for the study of Latin America. Profound transformations are unfolding before our eyes, related to the empowerment of women, indigenous peoples, Afro-Latin Americans, and many subaltern communities and peoples in the region. Throughout Latin America, citizen engagement and social mobilizations are shifting the way we understand and how citizens deal with corruption, political, social and economic inclusion, and the protection of basic political and civil rights. We must continue being witnesses, students, and participants of those processes.
There are, nonetheless, enormous challenges, beginning with the humanitarian crisis that continues unfolding in Venezuela, repression in Nicaragua, or the tragic human toll of deaths and disappearances that the combination of the war on drugs, criminal violence, and the complicity of the state has brought to Central America, Mexico, Brazil, and the Caribbean. Political turmoil continues in Peru, as corruption scandals have touched every country in the hemisphere. CICIG in Guatemala is teaching a lesson to the world, as an institution that under siege, bravely defends its role in the transformation of new ways for justice to be established in the region. While these are current affairs that often shift very quickly, we must play a role in providing the historical, social, legal, anthropological, and political perspectives that may help us understand why these challenges are so intractable.
Notwithstanding populist threats, democracy remains in place. Newly elected presidents in Chile, Paraguay, Colombia, Costa Rica, and Mexico cover the whole political spectrum, revealing that there is no particular ideological tide sweeping through Latin America. There are many reasons to be concerned, of course, about the democratic recession, the polarization and dire prospects for the Brazilian presidential election, and the authoritarian regimes that remain firmly in place in some Latin American countries. CLAS will continue hosting events and discussions on these processes.
Economic growth has been a mixed bag, with Chile, Bolivia, Panama, and Paraguay doing relatively well, while the plunge in Venezuela continues in free fall. Argentina and Brazil struggle, but seem to be coming out of their recessions. Mexico successfully retained its trade agreement with North America (now baptized with the horrible acronym USMCA) in spite of all the sound and fury of the Trump administration. Whether the economic growth will actually benefit the poor will depend largely on the kind of social policies and poverty relief efforts that are either kept in place or expanded in Latin America. This is an important issue that I hope we can explore together this coming year with a conference we will put together with one of our Tinker Visiting Professors.
Climate change is affecting Latin America, and has led to the emergence of social movements struggling to mitigate its effects. Citizens, many of them indigenous, in places like Ecuador and Bolivia, work on finding new solutions for conservation and sustainability. Climate related natural disasters have become increasingly common in the region, with long-term impacts affecting, in particular, many islands in the Caribbean. We will continue facilitating the exchanges between scientists and engineers at Stanford with those in Latin America, as they seek to better understand the challenges of environmental preservation, biodiversity, and sustainable energy.
Only a few weeks into the quarter, and we have already had events celebrating Fernando Alegria, two sessions on memory of the Tlatelolco 1968 student movement, our weekly CLAS seminar is in full swing, with a lineup of many exciting lectures. I hope you will be able to take advantage of the many guests and speakers we will have this year. The conferences and the special events announced in our weekly newsletter.
I thank you and look forward to your continuous involvement and contributions to the Center’s mission.
Director, Center for Latin American Studies
Senior Fellow, Freeman Spogli Institute