Mario A Ceron Valdes
Overview of human rights issues and their recent evolution in Latin American history; military dictatorships; contemporary challenges in the region's democracies. Human rights concerns in relation to broader sociopolitical context. Recommended: knowledge of modern Latin American history. Offered: jointly with JSIS A 324.
SUMMER 2010 This course aims to provide students with an overview of human rights issues and how they have evolved in recent Latin American history, from the military dictatorships of the authoritarian period to contemporary challenges faced in the region’s democracies. It also aims to place human rights concerns in a broader sociopolitical context. Too often our understandings of these issues are based on simplistic images of citizens cowering at the mercy of tyrannical dictators, and histories dominated by the capricious acts of a few powerful men. While such caricatures do indeed capture some truth, in this class we will examine the origins of human rights crises in deeper social and political structures, asking what environments encourage the commission of atrocities and violence, and how these forces have shaped recent Latin American history.
As recently as thirty years ago, much of Latin America’s Southern Cone was ruled by the iron grip of military dictatorships like Augusto Pinochet’s regime in Chile; many Central American countries were immersed in ruthless civil wars, and Guatemala experienced a genocide. The global human rights movement was just beginning to take root, as resistance to state repression spread and an international network began to mobilize. Eventually, human rights would become a central way to organize longstanding struggles for justice and democracy in the region. Today, all Latin American countries but Cuba (and as of this writing, Honduras) are headed by democratically-elected governments; yet human rights challenges remain urgent. The focus has shifted: rather than restraining a murderous state from infringing on civil and political rights, today’s human rights activists often rally around social and economic challenges, some of which have shaped politics in the region since the Conquest. Indeed, many of today’s human rights issues are rooted in the past: the courtroom has become the front line of struggle in many countries, as survivors of state violence demand justice for past atrocities. But others respond to new and emerging challenges, among them trade agreements like the proposed Free Trade Area of the Americas, neoliberal economic policies, environmental devastation and threats to biodiversity. In this class, we will explore the roots and contemporary realities of human rights movements in Latin America.
The examination of these topics should allow us to pose broader questions about the meaning of human rights in a globalized world, the efficacy of international instruments for rights enforcement, and the complex challenges that linger in the aftermath of authoritarianism and state-sponsored terror. However, it will probably not lead us to any consensus on “the right answer” to the many challenges facing Latin America. In fact, this course may leave you with more questions than answers. You will read and hear things you agree, and disagree, with; this is intentional. My goal is not to convince students of any single interpretation, but rather to encourage you to develop your own ideas, interpretations, and approaches, and to continue these inquiries beyond the course.
Prior familiarity with Latin America is not required for this course, although it will definitely help. All students, whatever their level of previous familiarity, are encouraged to enhance their understanding of the region by reading newspapers with in-depth international coverage, subscribing to relevant listserves, and keeping abreast of current developments.
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