Dismantling the Humanities at Stony Brook University, or What Good Is a Spanish Department Today?

In a recent video, the president of LASA, Aldo Panfichi Huamán, described his vision of the future of Latin American Studies as global in scale. The globalization of Latin American Studies underscores a renewed interest in diasporic populations, international migration, and the vicissitudes of international politics in shaping modern identities and modes of life. It also reinvigorates long-standing tensions between here and there, the specific and the general, disciplinary and interdisciplinary methods, area studies and transnational critique.

The future of Latin American Studies—indeed, the future of all our economies, politics, and lives—may be global (this in spite of the recent shift toward isolationism in Britain and the US), but what about our academic fields? What about our departments?

To my own field: Contemporary literary studies may be globalizing, but not everything is World Literature.

And yet, on May 1st—just as I was wrapping up my time at LASA in Lima—I received an email informing me that the dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Stony Brook University, where I work, planned to eliminate the PhD program in Hispanic Languages & Literature (my department), and to merge HLL with two other departments—European Languages, Literatures & Cultures and Cultural Studies & Comparative Literature. This merger would result in a new unit: the Department of Comparative World Literature. (Language is conspicuously absent from this new title).

Just what sort of thing is comparative world literature? And why did the Dean, Sacha Kopp—formerly of UT Austin—decide to take this measure?

Some context: Stony Brook University (SBU) is part of the State University of New York (SUNY) system, and depends heavily on the New York State budget. Just this past April, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced, to much fanfare, a new plan to provide “free tuition” for middle-class college students in the SUNY and CUNY systems. It was a bold move in the wake of the polarizing 2016 Presidential election campaign, and one that followed in the footsteps of similar proposals, first by Bernie Sanders and then by Hillary Clinton. But this bold move was lacking in detail and structure, a vague promise of upward mobility that was soon criticized as politically expedient and lacking in substance.

One of the budgetary items that this plan failed to include was funding for the UUP (United University Professions) negotiated salary raise for SUNY faculty of 2%. That is, rather than fulfill its financial obligation to faculty and staff, the state required individual campuses to find ways to cough up the money. In the case of the College of Arts and Sciences at SBU this amounted to $1.5 million. In effect, this salary raise became a tax on SUNY universities, and has led to the current situation in which short-term solutions such as cutting arts and humanities programs are proffered as necessary and in the best interest of the university as a whole. Cost savings, efficiencies, and shared resources have become key words in this neoliberal paradigm, just as faculty governance is undermined while administrative positions expand.

These cuts will disproportionately affect low-income students, students of color, first-generation college students, and in particular Latino/a students, whose languages and cultures are quite literally being devalued at Stony Brook University. This, in stark contrast with SBU’s recently published (and now ironic) Diversity Plan.

Some numbers: SBU’s Hispanic/Latino graduate students comprise 6.3% of all graduate students. In HLL, they comprise 60%. Hispanic/Latino faculty comprise 3.9% of SBU’s total faculty. In HLL, they comprise 80%. Latinos on Long Island constitute 20.5% of the population and represent the fastest growing group in an area where all other population segments are decreasing.

In a letter to the dean, we, as a department, pointed out the following: “Along with this population boom comes a growing Latino cultural presence in our region, in New York State, and the country. Given the young average age of Latinos, soon they will represent one of the largest target groups for Stony Brook recruitment. This growing presence also increases our intellectual responsibility to research, document, and theorize about the traditions, debates, and challenges of what soon will be 25% of the US population. We, and many others, believe that the identity of Hispanic Languages & Literature is absolutely vital to the mission of the university, and to its future. Our visibility as a vibrant unit on campus and beyond is of key importance to preserve our department’s academic excellence and the future growth of our undergraduate and graduate programs.”

And we were not alone. Letters poured in from professional organizations such as the MLA and ACLA, as well as from prominent scholars in Latin American, Iberian, and Trans Atlantic Studies. Current HLL graduate students circulated a petition that has garnered nearly 4,000 signatures. Acclaimed writer Junot Díaz wrote on Facebook: “This sucks. Stony Brook, what the hell are you thinking?” Indeed. Other writers joined in his indignation. Univision Noticias ran a headline: “Esto apesta.” The Graduate Student Organization convoked a protest on May 12th that was attended by students, faculty, and staff from across the university.

Echoes of the chant “We want education not administration” fell on deaf ears. Deaf still, even as this year’s commencement speaker, Michael J. Fox, highlighted the need to support the arts and humanities in the current political climate. Deaf to the alternative proposals presented by Chairs of several CAS departments. Blind to the mission of the public university as an engine of upward mobility. Blind to the reality of Stony Brook’s place in the broader fabric of the Latino/a population of Long Island and New York State. Blind to the optics of gutting a program that promotes the intellectual growth, historic specificity, and artistic value of Spanish-speaking world. Deaf and blind to the reality of such a proposal.

All of these efforts have led to one minimal concession: HLL will be able to keep its graduate program (for now). Still, the College has announced that it will suspend admissions into the undergraduate degree programs in Theatre Arts, Comparative Literature, and Cinema & Cultural Studies, as well as to the graduate program in Comparative Literature. The plan to merge the three departments is still in effect. Comparative World Literature remains the end goal of the administration.

What good is a Spanish Department in this context? Or, perhaps, we should be asking ourselves: What value does the specificity and independence of a Spanish (or Spanish and Portuguese) Department add to a university? If we are to take this plan as any indication, the answer seems to be that there is no qualitative reason to distinguish between one linguistic, cultural, and literary tradition and another. All literatures are world literatures. All languages are world languages. All languages outside of the English-speaking world, that is. (Again, ironic).

The plan represents not only a shortsighted attempt to resolve a budget shortfall, but the repetition and entrenchment of the very colonial ideologies that many of us have ardently sought to dismantle. In addition to serving the interests of the neoliberal economy (save STEM fields, cut the humanities), this plan exposes—with astounding clarity—the underlying structures of colonial dominance that persist in the academe. Rather than conceive of Spanish as a language of critical importance and academic inquiry; rather than conceive of a Spanish Department as an essential component in promoting diversity and mentoring for minority students, Hispanic Languages and Literature is to provide a service, a bonus, to students from other departments. It is a plan that I can only describe as willfully ignorant of its intellectual bankruptcy. But that was never the point, was it?

Joseph M. Pierce
Stony Brook University
Department of Hispanic Languages and Literature

M.A. Latin American Studies, 2007, The University of Texas at Austin
Ph.D. Spanish American Literature, 2013, The University of Texas at Austin

Mexico’s Lessons for the 2016 U.S. Election

PicMonkey Collage2DAVID CROW

In the third presidential debate, Republican candidate Donald Trump refused to commit to accepting the results of the November 8 election. Trump has ramped up warnings about fraud on the campaign trail, and many Americans fret over the prospect of post-election protests and deeper polarization.

One analyst, León Krauze (Washington Post, October 24) draws parallels to the Mexican 2006 election. The loser, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, warned of fraud before the election; after, he refused to acknowledge Felipe Calderón as the rightful winner. López Obrador’s actions, claims Krauze, wreaked severe damage on Mexican institutions.

As an American political scientist who has lived and worked in Mexico for over 16 years, I have studied and observed first-hand the elections of both countries. Krauze draws exactly the wrong lesson from Mexico. It’s not that the loser’s baseless claims of fraud weakened democracy. It’s that ineffectual, tendentious institutions failed to guaranty elections widely accepted as free and fair.

Mexico’s 2006 election is very different from the current presidential race in the United States. For one thing, the Mexican election was decided by a difference of just over a half a percentage point, out of 41.5 million votes. (López Obrador had demanded a full recount, but Mexico’s electoral tribunal ordered a recount of just 9% of the polling sites.)  The U.S. election hasn’t taken place, but all signs point to Clinton victory of between six and eight points.

More important, though, there were reasonable grounds for suspicion in Mexico. All nine councillors on the Federal Electoral Institute (IFE), the national election board, were identified with Calderón’s party or its major ally, and none with López Obrador’s party. Calderón had been best man at the head councillor’s wedding, and the IFE awarded contracts to supervise national voting rolls to Calderón’s brother-in-law and affiliates.

The election itself was riddled with irregularities. One study found that in just half of Mexico’s 130,000 polling precincts, the number of irregularities—in which, say, polling site vote tallies didn’t match official IFE numbers—exceeded the margin of victory more than two times over. Some scholars found statistical oddities in the results. Most of the irregularities were the sort of human error that occurs in all elections, but others (ballots found in a garbage dump, missing and incinerated ballot boxes, and so on) seemed inconsistent with good faith.

Whatever the case, Mexico’s long history of fraud, the IFE’s apparent partiality, and the irregularities led López Obrador to allege fraud and call for non-violent protest. López Obrador’s style was clearly on-the-nose, but fully half of all Mexicans either believed the elections were fraudulent (35%) or didn’t know whether they were or not (15%).

In contrast, independent examinations of “fraud” in the U.S. have found almost no evidence of in-person voter fraud, where a voter casts a ballot using someone else’s name. One study identified just 31 incidents of fraud in over one billion ballots cast between 2000 and 2014.

Despite no credible evidence of fraud, some 40% of Americans, including 73% of Republicans, are concerned about their votes being counted properly. Clearly, this is a case of a potential sore loser stirring up trouble, with deleterious consequences for democracy. But this is not a lesson one would glean from Mexico, where the tight 2006 result and irregularities made suspicion reasonable and, in any event, inevitable.

What lessons, then, does Mexico afford?  One is that election authorities must be credible. In many ways, Mexico 2006 resembled the 2000 American election. That contest was also very close, decided by just 537 votes in Florida. In both cases, legal authorities stopped recounts that could have provided greater certainty. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled to halt the recount along strictly partisan lines, echoing the apparent IFE partisanship.

Trust in both the Supreme Court and the IFE (and in Mexican democracy generally) declined after the respective elections. This decline did not owe to losers’ casting aspersion on democratic institutions, but rather to partial, deficient performances by the institutions themselves. This lesson is particularly relevant for the U.S., as many states have attempted to make voting more difficult for Democrats.

A second lesson from Mexico is that persistent inequality produces radical candidates. The gap between rich and poor is only a little higher in Mexico than in the U.S. The wealthy translate economic power into political power, which they then use to perpetuate their economic power. Until democracies worldwide find a way to distribute growth and opportunities more fairly, we will see more candidates like Trump and López Obrador.

David Crow
Assistant Professor
Centro de Investigación y Docencia Económicas (CIDE, Mexico City)
University of Texas at Austin, Ph.D. in Government (2009)



DISCLAIMER: The views expressed on this blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the position and views of LLILAS BENSON Latin American Studies and Collections.

Tagged with: , , , , , , ,

Colombians Divided over Peace Accords


Image: http://bit.ly/2cTkN7V

By Sandra Botero

Versión en español aquí

Last Sunday, October 2, Colombians went to the polls to vote in favor of (Yes) or in disapproval of (No) the peace accords negotiated in Havana, Cuba, after four years of talks between the Colombian government and the guerrilla FARC-EP. The majority of international news headlines reporting on the results of the plebiscite were variations on a similar theme: Colombians rejected peace. Although it’s true that the No option won, an analysis of what happened on October 2 must go beyond the word rejection.

Colombians did not reject peace: instead, the results of the referendum brought to the fore the chasm that divides the country and its heightened levels of polarization. The results do not entail the automatic death of the accords: the electoral triumph of the No does not invalidate them. There are institutional options to continue with the peace process, although there is also a lot of uncertainty, and President Juan Manuel Santos is in a very difficult position. Holding a plebiscite was a high-cost, high-reward strategy. The tight victory of the No campaign over the Yes (by an extremely narrow 0.43% margin and a 60% abstention rate) does not reflect a rejection of peace. To be more precise, the victory of the No reflects six sides of a very complex reality:

(1)   The country’s polarization in the face of accords that are by definition controversial.

President Santos insisted on holding a referendum on the accords in an effort to legitimize the agreement. If the final accords were approved via referendum, they would enter the implementation stage strengthened, as would the president’s mandate. From the beginning, this was a very risky strategy as peace accords are, by nature, controversial. Political negotiations to facilitate disarmament, in Colombia as well as in many other cases, usually include dispositions for transitional justice and mechanisms for the political participation of former combatants. Understandably, these mechanisms are usually not popular among the electorate: few want to see illegal armed actors in Congress or receiving sentence reductions. It is hard to come to terms with these concessions, although they are the result of complex negotiations.

In the Colombian case, for example, the legal framework proposed by the Havana accords (a dedicated jurisdiction for peace, with jail time for crimes against humanity as well as alternative reparation measures) was harshly criticized. The No team (incorrectly) characterized this legal framework as being equal to impunity. The impunity accusation was at the crux of their argument against the accords and it generated a lot of discomfort among Colombians.

Beyond the biased campaign, these are delicate issues. Peace accords are contentious, and neither Colombians nor foreigners should be surprised that there is opposition to them. The arguments put forth by both sides need to be taken seriously.


Imagen: http://plebiscito.registraduria.gov.co

(2)   The profound division between rural Colombia, which suffers the direct consequences of the war and mostly voted Yes, and urban Colombia, which voted No.

The map of the electoral results clearly paints two sides: On one side is the country’s urban interior, where the majority of inhabitants voted No (orange in the map). On the other side are the rural areas of the country where the Yes vote was predominant (green in the map). This division coincides, in a nearly macabre manner, with the division between the areas of the country that directly experience less and more of the conflict. The No vote was the majority in urban areas that are less hard-hit by conflict-related violence, with the exception of the capital Bogotá, Cali, and mid-sized cities in the Caribbean coast, were the Yes won. With its vote, the urban country decided for the rural country. Sadly, it is rural Colombia that usually takes the hits.

(3)  The importance of former president Álvaro Uribe.

The leader of the No campaign was former president and current senator Álvaro Uribe, who opposed the peace accords from the beginning. An immensely popular politician, Uribe is the leader of the Colombian right. His dislike of sitting president Santos, who was a member of his ministerial cabinet, is well known. As leader of the No campaign, Uribe’s initial objective was to shut down the negotiations and afterward, to insert himself into them. He was Sunday’s big winner: he is now the center of attention. Some analysts go further to suggest that his campaign in favor of the No is part of a longer power struggle over who plays the leading role in sealing the peace deal.

(4) The No campaign organized earlier, did so effectively, and moved quicker.

The groups that joined forces under the No campaign did so well before the government and its allies began to campaign in favor of the Yes. The campaign that the No supporters designed was effective, emotional, and media savvy. Their strategy benefited from the confidentiality that characterized the long-drawn four years of negotiation. The choice to conduct peace talks in Cuba and behind closed doors sought to shield the discussions from attempts to sabotage them, thus avoiding the mistakes made in previous peace negotiations. Yet this secrecy kept the Colombian public in the dark with regards to the terms of the deal until late in the process, well into its final stages. Those who opposed the peace talks spread biased, but emotionally compelling, information about them and started to do so well before the plebiscite was set to happen. This information was shown to be inaccurate later on, but was hard to disprove when it was initially presented.

(5) The Yes campaign started late and machine politics did not come through. It was over-confident in public opinion polls.

The Yes campaign got off to a late start due mostly to the government wanting to wait until the Constitutional Court had ruled the agreements constitutional. While the government awaited the court’s decision, the No was already mobilizing. Since official campaign season for the plebiscite was extremely short, a little over a month, the late start had important consequences. The Yes group suffered in terms of positioning their message, coordinating and setting the agenda. Finally, as La Silla Vacía astutely observed, although machine politics favored Yes supporters, the machinery failed.

(6) The No’s strategy successfully linked the peace accords with other key items in the larger political agenda: the president’s dwindling popularity and the interests of the conservative right.

The plebiscite became a no-confidence vote on President Santos and a catchall for other issues. Conservative and right-wing groups put forth a biased interpretation of the agreements, particularly as they relate to the accord’s gender perspective (enfoque de género). These groups raised concerns around what they describe as the government’s imposition of ‘gender ideology’ and a larger attack on the traditional family. In this context, discussions about the peace accord with the FARC often became debates about the president’s performance and/or discussions about sexual minority rights and the social construction of gender. The debate was polarized, and the framing successfully mobilized many religious and conservative citizens. The peace message was diluted. Divisions grew.

Just as England after Brexit, Colombia is in the midst of uncertainty and shock. The results took all involved by surprise. In the final stages of the campaign, the No team shifted from radical opposition against the peace accords toward requesting that they be renegotiated. Sunday’s electoral victory, which they did not expect, caught them unprepared and they are rushing to put together a concrete proposal. The FARC and the government have ratified their commitment to negotiation. Assuming that the parties’ willingness to negotiate is sincere, we find ourselves faced with the opportunity to build consensus around peace. This is no easy task.

At the moment, three institutional paths forward seem plausible: (1) that the accords be renegotiated and put up for a popular vote afterward; This route seems to be the preferred one, for now; (2) a constitutional assembly; or (3) that the accords be implemented after congressional ratification.

After publicly acknowledging the results, Santos called for a meeting of all political forces, a meeting that members of Uribe’s party, the Centro Democrático, chose not to attend. This decision raised concerns. The government has named the three spokespersons who will negotiate on its behalf, and so has the No. It is expected that government, FARC, and No negotiators will meet soon. The challenge is enormous: to renegotiate a 297-page agreement that took four years to craft—this time around, with new actors (No supporters) who have very few ideological or electoral incentives to seek consensus.

A more pessimistic reading of the current juncture predicts the slow death of this negotiation. From this perspective, No supporters and/or the FARC will delay the negotiations for as long as they can until they force another party from the table, thus sabotaging the entire process. Another factor that suggests pessimism is the larger context: the FARC are not the only destabilizing, illegal armed actor in Colombia. Furthermore, the activities that finance the war and those who profit heavily from them, including groups not interested in addressing the agrarian conflict that underlies the violence, are a powerful silent force. At any moment, these silent players may choose to kick the negotiation table and subvert the process. As of today, it is hard to know which is the most likely scenario.

Time is running short, and maintaining the cease-fire is getting harder day by day. Last Sunday, we missed a historical opportunity, but perhaps there is still room to maneuver and negotiate peace. Our debt to those who have been unwilling victims of this conflict is huge.


botero_headshot1Sandra Botero is assistant professor of politics at Willamette University. She holds a PhD in political science from the University of Notre Dame, a master’s from LLILAS and a BA from Universidad Nacional de Colombia.





DISCLAIMER: The views expressed on this blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the position and views of LLILAS BENSON Latin American Studies and Collections.

Tagged with: , , , , ,

Colombianos Divididos Ante la Paz

Sandra Botero


Imagen original: http://bit.ly/2cTkN7V

English version here

El pasado 2 de octubre los colombianos fueron a las urnas  para declarar su apoyo (SI) o su rechazo (NO) a los acuerdos de paz resultado de cuatro años de negociaciones en La Habana, Cuba entre el gobierno de Colombia y la guerrilla FARC-EP. Los principales titulares internacionales que informaron sobre el resultado  del referendo tenían en común variaciones sobre la siguiente fórmula: los colombianos rechazaron la paz. Si  bien es cierto que el No triunfó,  un análisis de lo sucedido el pasado domingo tiene que ir mucho más allá de la palabra rechazo. Los colombianos no rechazaron la paz: más bien, los resultados del referendo hicieron manifiesta  la profunda fractura y polarización nacional. Los resultados del plebiscito no significan la muerte automática de los acuerdos, ya que el triunfo electoral del No no los invalida. Hay opciones institucionales, aunque también hay mucha incertidumbre y el presidente Santos está en una posición difícil. El plebiscito era una estrategia con potencial de dar altos dividendos  pero también una que acarreaba alto riesgo. La apretada victoria del No, el cual superó al Si por apenas 0.43% de votos con 60% de abstencionismo, no refleja el rechazo a la paz. Para ser más precisos, la victoria del No refleja seis caras de una compleja realidad:

1)   La polarización frente a acuerdos que son por naturaleza controversiales. El presidente  Juan Manuel Santos insistió en la refrendación popular de los acuerdos de paz para legitimarlos. De ser aprobados vía plebiscito, los acuerdos estarían fortalecidos de cara a su implementación, reforzando el mandato popular del presidente. El riesgo de esta estrategia era desde un principio altísimo, pues los acuerdos de paz de este tipo son por naturaleza, controversiales. La negociación política de la dejación de armas (en Colombia y en muchos otros países) suele incluir disposiciones sobre justicia transicional y participación política de los desmovilizados, entre otros. Estas disposiciones no son populares con los electores. Pocos quieren ver a quienes estuvieron alzados  en armas y en la clandestinidad en el Congreso o recibiendo penas de cárcel reducidas. Es difícil entender por qué estas concesiones, aunque éstas sean producto de negociaciones complejas. En el caso colombiano, por ejemplo, el esquema de justicia propuesto por los acuerdos (sistema que incluía una jurisdicción especial, cárcel para crímenes de lesa humanidad, y otras medidas de reparación) fue duramente criticado. El No presentó el esquema de justicia en términos (incorrectos, por demás) de “impunidad total”. La “impunidad” fue el caballo de batalla de la oposición y generó mucho desasosiego entre la opinión pública. Más allá de la campaña tendenciosa, son temas delicados. No debe sorprendernos,  a propios ni a extraños, que haya cuestionamientos a los acuerdos de paz.  Los argumentos de ambos lados deben ser sopesados con atención.


Mapa tomado de la Registraduría Nacional de Colombia. http://plebiscito.registraduria.gov.co

2)   La profunda división entre el país rural, que sufre las consecuencias más directas de la guerra y votó por el Si, y el país urbano, que votó No.  El mapa electoral del 2 de octubre hace evidente la división entre dos Colombias: el interior del país, urbano, donde se impuso el no (naranja en el gráfico) y las zonas más rurales de Colombia, donde se impuso el Si (verde en el gráfico). Esta división coincide de forma casi macabra con las zonas  del país que menos y más sienten el conflicto, respectivamente. El Sí se impuso en los departamentos más azotados directamente por el conflicto y el no, por el contrario, fue mayoría en las zonas urbanas menos afectadas por el mismo—con excepción de Bogotá, Cali y las ciudades intermedias de la costa Caribe, donde el Si fue mayoría. El país urbano decidió por el país rural. Tristemente, es el país rural el que pone la mayoría de las víctimas.

3)   La importancia del ex presidente Álvaro Uribe.  El jefe de la campaña por el No fue el ex presidente y actual senador de la República Álvaro Uribe, quien se opuso a los acuerdos de paz desde un principio. El ex presidente Uribe  es el líder de la derecha colombiana, un político inmensamente popular. Su enemistad con Juan Manuel Santos, quien fuera  miembro de su gabinete, es legendaria. Como líder del No, Uribe buscó primero, acabar con las negociaciones y después, insertarse en ellas. El domingo ganó: ahora es el centro de atención. Algunos análisis van más allá al sugerir que su campaña por el No forma parte de un pulso de poder para determinar quien pasa a la historia como protagonista de los acuerdos de paz.

4)   El No se movió más, se movió más rápido y se movió más efectiva y afectivamente. Los grupos que se unificaron en campaña por el no lo hicieron mucho antes de que el gobierno y sus aliados empezaran la campaña por el Sí. La campaña que el No diseñó fue mediática, efectiva y emotiva. Su estrategia se benefició, además, de las condiciones de confidencialidad que caracterizaron los cuatro años de negociación. La decisión de negociar en Cuba, a puerta cerrada, buscaba blindar el proceso de intentos de sabotaje, y mitigar así los errores de negociaciones anteriores. Este hermetismo impidió que el público colombiano conociera las condiciones que se estaban negociando sino hasta las fases finales de las conversaciones. Quienes se oponían a los diálogos de paz difundieron información tendenciosa, incluso desde antes del plebiscito. Esta información después resultó falsa, pero en el momento era difícil de desvirtuar y apelaba eficazmente a las emociones de muchos colombianos.

5)   El Si se demoró, se confió en las encuestas y su maquinaria falló. La campaña por el Si empezó tarde. La demora se debió en gran parte a que el gobierno no quería arrancar oficialmente hasta que la Corte Constitucional no fallara aprobando los acuerdos, un paso previo necesario. Mientras el gobierno esperaba el fallo, el No ya se estaba movilizando. El tiempo de campaña oficial fue corto, poco más de un mes, así que la demora de semanas le costó al Si en posicionamientos mediático, coordinación y contundencia. Como bien lo dijo La Silla Vacía, la maquinaria electoral que estaba a favor del Si falló.

6)   El éxito de la estrategia política del No la cual vinculó la oposición a los acuerdos de paz con otros ítems claves de la agenda política: la falta de popularidad del presidente y los intereses de la derecha conservadora. El plebiscito por la paz se volvió un referendo al mandato de Santos, cuya popularidad ha ido en baja los últimos años. En paralelo, sectores conservadores y de derecha  hicieron una lectura tendenciosa del enfoque de género del acuerdo,  cuestionando lo que han descrito como “imposición de ideología de género” y el ataque a la familia tradicional. Con esto,  la discusión sobre los acuerdos de paz con las FARC se convirtió muchas veces en debate sobre la gestión económica del primer mandatario y/o en debate sobre los derechos de las minorías y la construcción social del género. El debate se desvió y se polarizó, movilizando a sectores conservadores. Se diluyó el mensaje. Se ahondó la brecha.

Al igual que Inglaterra un día después del Brexit, Colombia está sumida en la incertidumbre y el shock,  pues los resultados tomaron por sorpresa a todos los involucrados. En la etapa final previa al plebiscito, el No cambió de una postura de oposición tajante a los acuerdos hacia una solicitud de renegociación de los mismos.  Sin embargo, la victoria electoral (que no esperaban) los pescó sin un mapa de ruta claro, y hoy se encuentran improvisando propuestas concretas a marcha forzada. Tras los resultados del plebiscito, Las FARC y el gobierno han ratificado su compromiso con la negociación. Si la voluntad de negociación de las partes es cierta, estamos ante la oportunidad de construir un consenso alrededor de la paz. No será fácil. Por el momento se vislumbran tres salidas institucionales 1) la renegociación de los acuerdos, que parece ser la opción que se está explorando primero, y su posterior ratificación vía plebiscito. 2) Una asamblea constituyente o 3) Que los acuerdos se implementen vía el Congreso. Al reconocer los resultados, Santos convocó a una primera reunión de toda las fuerzas políticas, reunión a la cual el Centro Democrático, liderado por Alvaro Úribe y abanderado del No, no asistió. Esta decisión generó sospechas. El gobierno ya nombró a tres voceros para negociar, y el No por su parte hizo lo mismo. Se espera que gobierno, FARC y negociadores del No se reúnan pronto. El desafío es enorme: renegociar un acuerdo de 297 páginas que tomó cuatro años construir, con nuevos actores (el No) que tienen pocos incentivos ideológicos y electorales para encontrar posiciones de consenso.

Una lectura más pesimista de la coyuntura actual propone no el consenso, sino la lenta agonía de esta oportunidad. Bajo esta lógica, los partidarios del No y/o las FARC van a alargar las negociaciones hasta obligar al otro a retirarse de la mesa y así sabotearlas. Otro factor de pesimismo es el contexto: las FARC no son los únicos actores armados ilegales que generan inestabilidad en Colombia. Adicionalmente, las actividades que financian la guerra y quienes están interesados en ellas—y en que no se toque el status quo agrario—son una suerte de poder silencioso que en cualquier momento puede entrar a desestabilizar la mesa de negociación. Es difícil en este momento especular qué escenario es más probable. El tiempo apremia, y sostener la tregua se hace más difícil cada día que pasa. El Domingo perdimos una oportunidad única, pero tal vez haya espacio todavía para darle cierre a este nuevo intento por negociar la paz. Nuestra deuda con las víctimas es inmensa.


Sandra  Botero
Profesora Asistente
Depto. de Ciencia Política, Willamette University.
Historiadora de la Universidad Nacional de Colombia,
M.A. LLILAS, UT Austin
PhD en Ciencia Política, Universidad de Notre Dame.





DISCLAIMER: The views expressed on this blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the position and views of LLILAS BENSON Latin American Studies and Collections.

Tagged with: , , , , , ,



“La historia es terca y yo tengo su misma insistencia”
(José Revueltas)

El 26 de septiembre de 2014 la noticia acerca de la desaparición forzada de 43 estudiantes normalistas en Guerrero me llegó mientras leía los textos de José Revueltas sobre la masacre estudiantil en Tlatelolco, el 2 de octubre de 1968. Escalofríos. Llevaba meses leyendo sobre el tema y en ese instante fue imposible no conectar ambas historias, sentir que ciertos horrores para los que hemos tenido que inventar nombres, que ciertas situaciones en las que se manifiesta lo inefable, se repiten. Tristemente, nuestra reacción sigue sin poder darle sentido a lo que ocurre. En la visceralidad entendemos, en el cuerpo lo sentimos. Hay un nudo en la garganta, algo que se aprieta en el pecho, un revuelco del estómago. Sin embargo, tratar de explicarlo, buscar las explicaciones, lograr nombrar, nombrar los hechos como sentimos la necesidad de nombrar a los estudiantes desaparecidos, se vuelve difícil. Falta información, faltan responsables, sobran mentiras. ¿Cómo se llama la violencia que detiene la vida de 43 estudiantes? ¿Cómo se llama el dolor de los padres que los buscan, de los hijos que viven el día a día de su ausencia? No sé. Lo desconozco y, en esa imposibilidad, siento, siento cosas que no explico. Yo misma estudiante, ese 26 de septiembre de 2014, leyendo Revueltas, trato de darle sentido a ese acto violento que se empecina en cerrar las posibilidades de acción a quien quiere aprender, aprender para cambiar.


Hoy es un año de este hecho. En el trayecto, el gobierno ha tratado de construir “verdades históricas” que no son más que mentiras. Nos siguen faltando 43, nos siguen faltando miles, son los coros de multitudinarias marchas a nivel internacional que exigen explicaciones. Un año después la historia continúa siendo fragmentos. Piezas que no calzan, otras que son fabricaciones que insultan la legitimidad de la demanda de verdades. Ha pasado un año y releo a Revueltas, un texto del 2 de octubre de 1970, a dos años de la masacre de Tlatelolco, donde afirma:

“Han transcurrido dos años desde la sombría matanza de Tlatelolco. Repetimos: no se trata del lapso transcurrido. El tiempo es el más tenaz e infatigable trabajador de la libertad y la justicia. La presencia viva de nuestras voluntades –más intrépida, más tenaz, más osada–, por encima del tiempo que la dictadura pretende detener con las cárceles y con la muerte, será lo que acelera ese ritmo con que la historia trata de liberarse y encontrarse.” (Lecumberri, Ciudad de México, Octubre 1970)

Veo la presencia de nuestras voluntades encima del tiempo detenido, la historia tratando de encontrarse y liberarse. Los familiares de los desaparecidos que no se cansan, las redes sociales plagadas de mensajes, las imágenes de pancartas en diferentes regiones del mundo, los rostros de los 43 estudiantes, de tantas otras víctimas, poblando el mundo. Sigo pensando en Revueltas: “El mundo puede ser inconmensurable; pueden existir países y montañas y ríos y ciudadanos. Pero el sufrimiento humano, aun el más grande, el sufrimiento que no tenga medida, puede caber en solo un pedacito de tierra, en un pedacito pequeño, donde quepan un pie o una mirada.” Ayotzinapa condensa tantos dolores y, después de un año, Ayotzinapa no se olvida. Yo ya no soy estudiante, pero sigo sintiendo ese dolor como si parte de las esperanzas mías, parte de las esperanza de mis estudiantes hoy, hubiesen quedado coartadas en esta ausencia, en esta grieta. Y en esta visceralidad siento una verdad que no explico, pero que me habla de lo que este hecho significa.


Es fácil perder la esperanza en este círculo ineludible que parece a veces la historia, lleno de masacres y desapariciones. En México es común caer en preguntarse, ¿y qué se hace? y solo tener un silencio amargo de vuelta, lleno de ese pesimismo que inmoviliza. Revueltas dudó de cualquier esperanza en México, el 4 de octubre de 1968, dos días después de la matanza de Tlatelolco, una vez más escondido, sabiéndose perseguido y sintiéndose pronto a la muerte. No obstante, el sentimiento de derrota le duró poco y en su diario escribe:

“Amargo el encuentro del mal, de su gente, de su espacio. Evidentemente uno nació para otra cosa, fuera de tiempo y sin sentido. Uno hubiese querido amar, sollozar, bailar, en otro tiempo y otro planeta (aunque se hubiese tratado de este mismo). Pero todo te está prohibido, el cielo, la tierra. No quieren que seamos habitantes. Somos sospechosos de ser intrusos en el planeta. Nos persiguen por eso; por ir, por amar, por desplazarnos sin órdenes ni cadenas. Quieren capturar nuestras voces, que no quede nada de nuestras manos, de los besos, de todo aquello que nuestro cuerpo ama. Está prohibido que nos vean. Ellos persiguen toda dicha. Ellos están muertos y nos matan. Nos matan los muertos. Por esto viviremos.”

Hay algo condensado en ese párrafo que hoy dice tanto a México. El caso de los estudiantes normalistas desaparecidos de Guerrero es la historia irresuelta diciendo presente, una muestra admirable y a la vez desgarradora de lucha por la dignidad, un sentimiento de náusea ante la impunidad, la violencia y la corrupción del Estado mexicano, ante la violencia del narco, ante la indolencia de los que deciden mirar al otro lado. Duele, sobre todo, porque es un desprecio de la vida por la que muchos luchan insistentemente. Esta devaluación de la vida, esta política que se nutre del cuerpos y proyectos sacrificados, puede desesperanzar a algunos. Y nos diría Revueltas, la historia es terca e insiste. Y aunque a veces lo inefable domine y nuestra incapacidad de entender ciertos procesos nos duela, aunque nos mientan, nos nieguen acceso a verdades y justicia, la vida misma es terca y muchos, como estos 43 estudiantes, como sus familias y amigos, que merecen horas de aplausos, de gritos de rabia, y no de silencios, tienen su misma insistencia.

Desde Quito, ¡vivos se los llevaron y vivos los queremos!






Giulianna Zambrano
PhD 2015 (Depto. de Español y Portugués)
Universidad San Francisco de Quito

DISCLAIMER: The views expressed on this blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the position and views of LLILAS BENSON Latin American Studies and Collections.
Tagged with: , ,

Family Detention in Karnes

By Virginia Raymond
J.D., 1985
M.A., 2003
Ph.D., 2007


September:  The Sun in Honduras

 The little guy hands me a piece of paper. My first impulse is to laugh at the ferocious, scowling sun.  That’s what it looks like in Texas, too!

But seven-year old Isaac* is somber, and as my eyes take in his drawing, I realize there is nothing funny about it.

We are in a small, cold room.  Sterile and quiet.  Isaac’s neighborhood is dangerous and hot.  Birds bleed mid-air.  Men with pistols or chimbas smoke and shoot.  Children hide.  The sun is angry, I learn, because people hurt each other and even the birds.  The people don’t take care of nature.  I notice a corpse on the side of his house.

Tell me more, Isaac. 

October: Last Three

“Last three?”

“Yes, your honor.  Um.  I am here for Olga Verónica PADILLA Salinas, your honor, and her children, Isabela Brenda NAJERA Padilla and Gilberto Pablo CUEVAS Padilla.”

My goal is to say everyone’s full name out loud.  I emphasize the patronymic in each to stave off confusion, but I have to speak quickly, before the man in a black robe cuts me off.  I perform looking inside the file for the information the judge wants.  I haven’t written it on the front of the file, as rational immigration lawyers do.

“It would be much easier, Ms. Raymond,” a weary judge counsels, “if you would just give us the last three digits in the alien’s ‘A’ number.”

“Yes, your honor.”

I KNOW it would be easier.  It would be so much easier for all of us not to see these people as fully human.  Numbers are for inventory, but human beings?  Each of us has a name. [1]

December:  A Vocabulary Problem

From his big desk, the judge calls one Abby Gadda in L.A., whom he is allowing to make a “telephonic appearance” on behalf of her detained client, Rigoberta Gómez Tuyuc.  It develops that Abby has neither met nor spoken with Ms. Gómez.  Though Rigoberta speaks K’iché and no Spanish or English, Abby waives Rigoberta’s right to an interpreter.  The proceedings continue in English.

Rigoberta is present only as a silent head on a video screen.

This is the first time that Rigoberta has come to the U.S.  She has no criminal record.  She plans to stay with a family friend in Chicago, or maybe with a relative in Kansas, Abby tells the judge, but the relative doesn’t have papers.  The ICE lawyer, L. Fiskall, presses for specifics about the family member, and Abby half-apologies for confusion by blaming her client.

“They don’t seem to understand there’s a difference between a brother-in-law and a cousin.”

“And this person has agreed to sponsor Ms. Gómez?” the judge wants to know.

“We’ve been told he’s spoken to her.”

Every time the judge or ICE attorney asks a question she can’t answer, Abby explains that Rigoberto has a verbal (sic) literacy issue, if that makes sense, Judge.  We can’t communicate, avers Abby, because “Rigoberta seems to have a vocabulary problem.”

I have “vocabulary problems,” too, in Urdu and Swedish and Cantonese and Swahili and Afrikaans…and all those other languages I don’t speak.

In Rigoberto’s encounter with the border patrol, L.  Fiskall points out, she “did not indicate a fear of returning to Guatemala.”  No one asks, in what language did this supposed conversation take place.  Abby admits that she doesn’t know why Rigoberta is afraid of going home.

L.Fiskall opposes Rigoberta’s release on bond because she and her children, like all the other recently-arrived Central Americans, “pose a threat to the national security of the United States.” Besides, Rigoberta’s “communities ties” are “weak,” and for all anyone in the courtroom knows, she has no asylum claim.

The judge repeatedly offers to re-set the bond hearing so that Abby can return with more information.  No, she insists, “We are going forward with the bond hearing…She wants her bond hearing today.”

Don’t you think that’s malpractice?  whispers the colleague next to me.

The judge rules that since “the Respondent doesn’t appear eligible for relief [from removal], a high bond is necessary.”

With a handful of exceptions, the only lawyers who will represent the Mayan-speaking indigenous refugees are those who shouldn’t.  They are lawyers who see no ethical problem with allowing a child to translate for his mom; or for a single bilingual detainee to more-or-less translate traumatic, often humiliating tales for a whole bunch of women who speak related but distinct languages; or to “represent” a woman with whom they can’t communicate.

In February, I hear that Kate Emminger’s law firm, Morgan Lewis, had hired a K’anjobal interpreter, someone “out of Arizona.”  In July, I learn that Anne Chandler of TAHIRIH in Houston had also found an interpreter to make the trip to Karnes with her.  For many months, I had searched and begged for Mayan interpreters, with limited success.  Professor Sergio Romero makes several visits.  He is the only one who comes.

* Names are pseudonyms, except in the last paragraph.  For a larger story, please see this annotated chronology of the events of the past year.

Virginia Raymond is an alumna of Bryn Mawr College (A.B.) and the University of Texas at Austin (J.D. , M.A., Ph.D).

In her current law practice, Raymond participates in the Programa Asesoría Legal Externa (PALE) of the Mexican Consulate in Austin.  What is the interest of the Government of the United Mexican States. Why is it desirable for Mexico to befriend the court in this dispute? Her training in Mexican American Studies has never been more salient. In May, Grassroots leadership honored Virginia Raymond for her work at Karnes. In July, the State Bar of Texas deemed her a “Pro Bono Champion” and the National Women’s Political Caucus (NWPC) named her a “Woman of Courage.”

DISCLAIMER: The views expressed on this blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the position and views of LLILAS BENSON Latin American Studies and Collections.

Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,

Rereading Your LLILAS Course Packet

By Joseph Pierce
MA Latin American Studies, 2007
PhD Spanish American Literature, 2013

We should begin in the Benson Latin American Collection: I am sitting at a carrel, organizing a few thoughts about nationalist discourses in Argentina. I have a paper to write. I think it is going to deal with the relationship between patriotic education programs and discourses of family in the late 19th century. But that seems so boring. I want to make it sexy. So I start thinking about how I can approach education and family from the vantage point of queer theory. Queer Kinship?

Ten years later: in its broadest sense my research explores the mechanisms that shape individual and collective identities, discourses of power, and relations of historical and systemic inequality in Latin America. I imagine this is the case for most people engaged in contemporary Latin American studies. But then again, we all do this in different ways, engaging various frameworks of analyses, taking different objects of study, tracing unique lines of inquiry.

My current book project combines literary and archival analysis to question the role of the nuclear family as a foundational metaphor for Argentine nationalism at the turn of the century (1890-1910). Its central argument is that the family functions simultaneously as a space of consolidation and rupture for the normative ideologies regarding politics, education, gender, sexuality, and race in Argentina at the height of this period of modernization. Rather than imagining the family as a conservative space of identity formation, my research asks what is already queer about the family and how can we make sense of the forms of relatedness that characterize the shifting notions of national and cultural belonging in the context of the Argentine fin de siglo.

Looking back on my first semester’s schedule at LLILAS—yes, I still have all my notes, course packets, and final papers—I was pleasantly surprised to recall that the three courses I took had to do specifically with race and nationalism, 19th century literature and culture, and gender and sexuality studies. These same issues still frame my approach to Latin American studies. While my current work is (hopefully) more nuanced, more grounded in historical materiality, more daring theoretically, one of the things that has struck me about looking back on some of that early work is that all of my broad interests have persisted.

Another important endeavor that has persisted from my time at UT Austin is my work with La Poderosa Media Project. What first began as a collaborative effort to promote youth empowerment through community-based filmmaking workshops in Latin America by a group of like-minded graduate students has grown in size, scope, and complexity. Since 2006, along with fellow UT alumni, Alejandra Zambrano and Jorge García, we have facilitated the production of more than 30 short films and documentaries in the Dominican Republic, Argentina, Panama, Chile, Ecuador, and the US. What began as a project invested in developing technical and cognitive skills in Latin American youth is now also a credit-bearing study abroad program housed at my current institution, Stony Brook University.

To trace the history of these academic and activist endeavors from my time at LLILAS to their current iterations is to revisit the ways in which our interests in social justice, critical pedagogy, and academic production are influenced by the ethos of an institution meant to foster just such dialogues. I want to contextualize these foundational experiences as part of a broader community. The investments we make in others and in ourselves are flecked with inspired moments and enduring connections, relationships that form us as fellow community members. One of the things that I realized, flipping through my old notebooks, was that the work I was doing, indeed the work I continue to pursue, was always relational and collaborative. The work that I have been drawing upon theoretically was informed by the lived experience of building community in and around the Benson. Is there such a thing as a carrel community? A community of the carrels? (There is something queer kinshippy about that). At any rate, what I had imagined as a solitary endeavor (me seated at the carrel) was never actually solitary, but always already infused with the disagreements, agreements to disagree, moments of inspiration, and eye-brow-raising perplexities that made my time at LLILAS transformative. I think this means that LLILAS doesn’t simply make it possible to pursue interdisciplinary approaches to Latin American studies, but that it enables you to engage with others while doing so, and that is no small feat.



Joseph M. Pierce
Assistant Professor

Department of Hispanic Languages and Literature
Stony Brook University

MA Latin American Studies, 2007
PhD Spanish American Literature, 2013



DISCLAIMER: The views expressed on this blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the position and views of LLILAS BENSON Latin American Studies and Collections.

Tagged with: , , , , , ,