Latin America

Dennis Rodgers challenged current perceptions of safety in Nicaragua in a talk Tuesday at Richardson Hall.

Photo Credit: Mike McGraw | Daily Texan Staff

Dennis Rodgers, urban studies professor at the University of Glasgow, challenged prominent narratives about the leftist Nicaraguan government at a talk on campus Tuesday.

Rodgers, who spoke at Richardson Hall, said politicians, mainstream media, academics and non-governmental organizations have stated Nicaragua is one of the safest countries in Latin America. He said the claim seems true when compared to other Central American countries, such as Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador, which have some of the highest homicide rates in the Western Hemisphere.

“All I want to say is they are all wrong and to debunk this dominant perception of contemporary Nicaragua,” Rodgers said.

Rodgers said Nicaragua has become a narco-state, in which the government facilitates drug trafficking through its partnership with drug cartels. Nicaragua is an example of what Mexico and Honduras could become, according to Rodgers.

Leftist guerillas, such as the Sandinista National Liberation Front in Nicaragua, sprung up in several Central American countries in the 1980s, Rodgers said. The situation in Nicaragua was different from that in Honduras and El Salvador because the Sandinistas gained mainstream political power, and, in 2006, Nicaraguans elected Sandinista leader Daniel Ortega as president.

Rodgers said the latest wave of the Sandinista movement has shifted dramatically from its original positions.

“What we might term Sandinismo 2.0 has very little comparison with the inspiring, transformative version of the 1980s,” Rodgers said.

He said the Nicaraguan government had manipulated the statistical figures on  homicide rates, as Nicaragua’s homicide rate was most likely closer to 25 homicides for every 100,000 inhabitants, which the World Health Organization considers to be at epidemic levels.

According to Rodgers, drug-trafficking routes in Nicaragua increased in the early 2000s after the government improved highway infrastructure, and the government has since conspired with drug traffickers. He said government judges routinely mitigate sentences for convicted drug traffickers, and, while the weight in drugs seized by the government has declined, it could be because of government corruption rather than effective police efforts.

Mariana Morante, global policy studies and Latin American studies graduate student, said she appreciated Rodgers’ deconstruction of governmental statistics.

“Statistics present one story, but, once you’re there, you can see a whole different reality,” Morante said.

Yoalli Rodriguez, Latin American studies graduate student, researches feminist movements in Mexico. She said she attended the talk to make connections between the states of violence and government repression in Nicaragua and Mexico as well as other Central American countries. 

“A lot of the subjects talked about here, like drugs and the narco-state and violence, are not particular to Nicaragua,” Rodriguez said. “It’s something that, in Latin America, we live in our everyday lives.”

Argentinian Minister of Defense Agustín Rossi visits the LBJ School of Public Affairs on Wednesday afternoon.

Photo Credit: Madison Richards | Daily Texan Staff

Agustín Rossi, the Argentinian minister of defense, discussed foreign affairs and peace in Latin America at the LBJ School of Public Affairs
on Wednesday. 

Rossi, who spoke with a translator during the event, brought documents dated from the 1970s and 1980s to give to the Nettie Lee Benson Latin American Collection. 

Introducing Rossi, James Galbraith, government/business relations chair and government professor, said Rossi has had a major impact on various social movements in Argentina. 

“Rossi was the prime mover behind significant social reforms in Argentina,” Galbraith said. “He is a great friend to many of the causes we believe in.”

Rossi said that, for the first time in history, the Latin American countries have been brought together by an organization called UNASUR, the Union of South American Nations. 

“The establishment of UNASUR, which was born out of the effort of the Brazilian president, was the first time we were able to have all 12 nations of Latin America become member states,” Rossi said. “This promoted the possibility of more cooperation.”

Rossi said that soon after the creation of UNASUR, the organization was able to keep conflicting countries from going to war.

“The first secretary general of UNASUR was ex-president Kirchner,” Rossi said. “The first challenge that this organization took on was to avoid a diplomatic conflict that existed between Colombia and Venezuela.”

Peter Cleaves, president of DRG International, an international business advisory firm, said that he understands why it was necessary to create organizations such as UNASUR.

“The Argentine military and other militaries in the Latin American region are engaging in international cooperation [and] new kinds of projects, which, in effect, deflect their previous interest in watching the civilian politicians,” Cleaves said. “So all of these clubs, projects and mutual defense pacts are to keep the military busy doing productive activities, certainly more productive than plotting against the civilian regime.”

Argentina has made headlines for its attempt at keeping a territorial hold on the Malvinas Islands in the Southern Atlantic. Rossi said he supports Argentina’s stance on their right to the islands.

“Argentina claims sovereignty over these islands and will continue to do so," Rossi said. "As a matter of fact, it is part of our national constitution, which declares that we have sovereignty over the Malvinas and the South Atlantic region,” Rossi said. “They belong to Argentina, and we will continue to claim these rights in international forum.”

Rossi said that the Argentinian government has pushed to work peacefully with other nations over the past 40 years so that Latin America can propel itself forward.

Photo Credit: MichelleToussaint | Daily Texan Staff

Visiting professors painted sharply contrasting pictures of the treatment of undocumented workers in the U.S. and of immigrants in Argentina in two separate talks given Wednesday.

Pablo Ceriani, professor of law and coordinator of the Migration and Human Rights Program at the National University of Lanus in Argentina, focused on the improving legal status of immigrants in Latin America with his talk “Human Rights and the Politics of Migration.” He focused on Argentina, where he said major reforms are being implemented.

A recent appointee to the United Nations Committee on Migrated Workers, Ceriani said since Argentina implemented a new immigration law in 2004, the country has attempted to focus on the human rights of migrants in its policies.

“With [Argentina, Bolivia and Uruguay], you can see the recognition of social rights to all migrants, regardless of their immigration status,” he said. “I mean access to education, health care and — an important thing to recognize — that migration is a human right.”

Lindsey Carte, a recent geography doctoral graduate, said learning about Argentina’s immigration policies made her want to compare them to the way migrants are treated in the United States.

“What I think is really interesting is how countries in Latin America have more and more progressive-seeming policies,” she said. “I really thought it was interesting to compare to our own context of laws.”

Despite Argentina’s laws and recent reforms, Ceriani added that immigration is still a sensitive issue in Latin America and these changes remain a work in progress.

In a separate talk, Sergio Chavez, assistant professor of sociology at Rice University, presented the challenges faced by undocumented workers in America in his lecture titled, “‘Rooferos’: The Occupational Networks of a Highly Mobile Labor Force.”

Chavez interviewed nearly 40 migrant workers — 39 undocumented — from Guanajuato, Mexico, once they returned from working as roofers in the United States. He said the workers described the job as physically dangerous and mentally challenging.

“When you are [a] roofero, and you are on top of a rooftop, roofing plays a lot of tricks on your mind,” Chavez said. “So if you are thinking about your family, and all of a sudden you don’t see that you’re on gravel, you’ll slip and could break every bone in your body.”

Nicole Guidotti-Hernandez, associate director of the Center of Mexican American Studies, said the mental health of migrant populations is an understudied issue.

“I actually think, in the body of scholarship, studies on mental health care are where we need to go next,” said Guidotti-Hernandez, who introduced Chavez. “Then we may be able to interact with them and better serve those communities, or provide support in those ways.”

Photo Credit: Charlie Pearce | Daily Texan Staff

As a photojournalist immersed in a world of gang violence and poverty, Donna DeCesare brings visceral images of Latin America to an international audience. A bilingual adventurer, a compassionate commentator and a UT journalism associate professor, DeCesare is now the recipient of journalism’s oldest award, the Maria Moors Cabot Prize. 

DeCesare didn’t always dream of becoming a world-renowned photojournalist. The daughter of Irish and Italian parents, she was the first one in her family to attend college, studying English literature and the writings of James Joyce at SUNY College at Buffalo and Essex University in England. She began to explore her Irish heritage, frequently visiting parts of Northern Ireland and using her hobby, photography, to capture images of conflict.  

“I knew that even though I loved academia, there was a part of me that wanted to be out in the world,” DeCesare said. 

DeCesare used her skills as a writer, photographer and videographer at Irish news publications during the 1980s. Coverage of political strife in Ireland cemented her interest in the violent happenings of Central and South America. After meeting with members of the “Sanctuary Movement” and aiding victims of political persecution in Latin America, DeCesare decided to move to Central America.  

“That’s when my life really changed,” DeCesare said. “It was an experience seeing how people live in other parts of the world and a level of poverty and injustice that I had not known in my own country.”

She has since won recognition from the National Press Photographers Association, received the Dorothea Lange-Paul Taylor Prize from the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University and participated in the Fulbright Scholar Program. Her photographs and multimedia projects have been featured at international venues and most recently earned her the 2013 Cabot Prize, an award historically given to international journalists contributing to Inter-American understanding. 

Rosental Alves, journalism
professor and DeCesare’s colleague, said DeCesare’s commitment to the lives of her subjects has pushed her far beyond the realm of her contemporaries. 

“When virtually all American journalists left El Salvador after the end of the Civil War, Donna stayed to follow the post-war situation and noticed the formation of the gangs and how the bloodshed somehow started again, especially in the capital city, San Salvador,” Alves said in an email. 

DeCesare has taught at UT for 11 years, using her career to unlock students’ potential as storytellers. 

Alejandro Martinez-Cabrera, a former student of DeCesare, learned both professionalism and passion from DeCesare.

“She has a heart that guides her toward the right places, the sensibility of an artist for beautiful, nuanced compositions, the talent to achieve technical excellence and the courage to love her subjects and become a perpetual part of their lives,” Martinez-Cabrera said. 

In a world deluged by NGO marketing, social media and individual branding, DeCesare said people need to remember why they are journalists in the first place. 

“When I was a young photographer, [photojournalism] was about showing the most dramatic images depicting the horrors of war. That was what we thought would grab people’s attention,” DeCesare said. “But we need to tell stories on a human level so that people want to be engaged and actually believe that they have the ability to change things.”

The front page of a Venezuelan newspaper features a picture of U.S. President Barack Obama with a headline reading in Spanish, “Obama: I won!” at a newsstand in Caracas, Venezuela, Wednesday.
Photo Credit: The Associated Press

CARACAS, Venezuela — From Caracas to Havana to La Paz, President Barack Obama’s re-election victory was welcomed with a sigh of relief by many on Latin America’s left, though others cautioned that the U.S. leader had not made the region a priority during his crisis-buffeted first term and was unlikely to do so in a second.

In Cuba, state-run news website CubaSi called the outcome a victory for the lesser of two evils, saying: “U.S. elections: the worst one did not win.”

“The news of Barack Obama’s triumph in yesterday’s general elections in the United States was received with some relief and without great optimism,” CubaSi wrote.

On the streets of Caracas, some said they worried that a Romney win would have brought a much harder line against leftist leaders such as their own President Hugo Chavez, and that they hoped another four-year term for Obama would bring relatively peaceful U.S.-Latin American ties.

“The other guy would have cut off relations with Venezuela,” said Cesar Echezuria, a street vendor selling newspapers emblazoned with front-page photos of Obama celebrating. “It would have been a disaster for Venezuela if Obama had lost.”

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has not commented since Tuesday’s vote, but he raised eyebrows during the campaign when he said that if he were an American, he’d cast his ballot for Obama over Republican Mitt Romney. Despite years of strained relations between Chavez and Washington, the United States remains the top buyer of Venezuelan oil.

President Raul Castro’s government is also often critical of the American president, but under a Romney administration it might have faced unwelcome rollbacks of Obama policies that relaxed restrictions on Cuban-American travel and remittances and increased cultural exchanges.
The U.S. remains the top trading partner of many countries in the region, with exceptions including Brazil and Chile, where China has recently taken its place.

During the presidential debates, Romney had called Latin America a “huge opportunity” for the U.S. economically. The region, however, was far from a hot topic in the election and seldom garnered mentions by the candidates — although one pro-Romney television ad in Florida had played up Chavez’s pro-Obama comments.

Ahead of the vote, some commentators in Latin America had groused that Obama and Romney were so similar in foreign policy stances that the result didn’t matter much. A recent front-page cartoon in Argentina’s Pagina12 newspaper summed up such complaints, showing a conversation between two bearded men. One remarked: “What difference is there between Republicans and Democrats?” The other answered: “Both bomb you, but the Democrats afterward feel just a little bit bad about it.”