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2015/2016 Blog

Welcome to our 2015/2016 blog! 

11911766 1047498278596383 416259745 nMy name is Katarina Sabados and I will be your 2015/2016 LAS blogger. I am currently in my fourth year at the University of Toronto, majoring in Latin American Studies and Spanish and Portuguese. My interests include human rights and social justice issues in the Latin American context, as well as film, language-learning, and web design. I will be reviewing the amazing events that LAS will be hosting, sponsoring, and/or attending this year. There are a lot of great opportunities this year to engage with the LAS community and explore your interests! 

 

 


A review of Flin Flon Film Flan, May 24th  

On May 24th, the Mining Injustice Solidarity Network co-hosted a film screening event at the Royal; the film, Flin Flon Flim Flam is a medium-length production of investigative journalism that details a few of the major mining operations controlled by Hudbay Minerals, a Canadian mining company, in Manitoba, Arizona, Peru, and Guatemala. American filmmaker, John Dougherty was present during the screening and held a question and answer session afterwards.

Prior to the film premiere, there were allegations by Hudbay that the documentary was funded by a special interest group, Farmer’s Investment Co. (FICO), which is an Arizona-based company that openly opposed Hudbay’s proposed Rosemont Mine. Dougherty states that while FICO did fund the film they did not have any editorial power, nor did anyone from the company see the film before it was made public. Interestingly enough, Hudbay also denied several requests from Dougherty himself to be interviewed to explain their code of conduct internationally and to respond to allegations of human rights abuses.

The 53-minute film begins with a case of smelter lead poisoning as a result of ore tailings seeping into groundwater near Grass River Provincial Park, and the Mathias Colomb Cree Nation lands in Manitoba. While legally, Hudbay did not commit misconduct, their negligence in disposing of poisonous waste lead to an entire community being poisoned and suffering severe health problems (most of the victims were Cree children), and receiving no compensation from Hudbay. Instead, Hudbay is now waging a countersuit against the Mathias Colomb Cree Nation for “disruptive protests” that supposedly blocked the entrance of the Lalor Mine in Manitoba.

The film continues by discussing the Níquel Fenix OS -11 Mine in Guatemala, where the most known cases of human rights abuses by subsidiaries of Hudbay were committed and are currently being deliberated in Canadian courts. These cases include the murder of Adolfo Ich who was killed by security forces working for Skye Resources, a subsidiary of Hudbay in Guatemala, during mass evictions that were carried out against indigenous Mayan people between 2007 and 2009. During these evictions, the same security forces are accused of the gang rape of 11 Mayan women, and the 2009 assassination attempt on Herman Club during a soccer game. A similar situation is noted in Peru, in the district of Cusco, where an open pit mine began operating in 2011 and was met with protests and demonstrations by local indigenous communities that live in proximity to the mine. These protests have turned violent, with private security forces working for Hudbay Peru S.A.C. acting violently towards protestors, including pregnant women.

The disrespect towards communities affected by extractive mineral operations and the impudent destruction of the environment as a result by Hudbay Minerals, is not limited to countries in the Global South. Currently in Tucson, Arizona, Hudbay Minerals is attempting to begin the construction and operation of the Rosemont Mine, a mine that would destroy the scarce, aboveground water streams in its proximity, as well as the habitat of America’s only remaining wild jaguar that makes its home in Santa Ritas, where the proposed copper mine would be built. Over the course of the last three years, Hudbay has been denied several key permits that render the creation of the mine illegal, because of the extent of environmental damage it would cause. Hudbay failed to disclose this information to investors and shareholders until long after they knew they had been denied the permits. While Hudbay maintains that no wrongdoing has been committed during any of their operations, the evidence of mistreatment, environmental destruction, displacement of indigneous populations, and a number of human rights abuses is mounting. 

 


 

A review of “Discursos Contagiosos,” April 22nd

On April 22nd, the LAS department welcomed visiting scholars from the Universidad Autonoma Metropolitana, Dr. Lilia Granillo Vásquez and Dr. Carmen Imelda Valdés Vega, and our own director, Dr. Susan Antebi to discuss feminine corporality in the 19th and 20th century in Mexico.

Dr. Vásquez began by recounting the history of public health in Mexico, and the relationships between marginalized women and doctors, who often held misogynistic views and saw venereal diseases as punishments for infidelity that don’t deserve to be treated adequately. Prostitutes suffered the most in these times as they were often turned away from medical care. Dr. Vásquez then compared the paintings from that period of doctors performing surgery on female cadavers to female bodies being seen as sites of experimentation for men, which exposes women to sexual abuse, violence, and enslavement. The professor then recounted her own experience with violence in Mexico, and stated that while not all men are violent there is a societal tendency toward gendered violence where men commit most of it.

Following the discourse, Dr. Antebi continued the dialogue by including an analysis of legislation regarding medical practice and the disabled in Mexico, post-revolution. This presentation of institutional treatment of those who had hearing/vision impairments was discussed in the presentation.

Next, Dr. Vega began by discussing discrimination against patients who had syphilis in the early 20th century, who were seen as “dirty” and at times better off dead to prevent the contamination from being passed on to future generations. Of course, this coincides with the “raza cósmica” theory of the time that formed Mexican national identity. There was also further discussion of the moral views of sexually transmitted diseases, and how they prevented doctors from treating patients. 

Thank you to all of the presenters for their tireless work in contributing to the “feminine counter discourse,” and to the Mexican consulate for their support.

 


 

A review of the LAS Undergraduate Research Day 

On April 20th, the Latin American Studies department hosted the Undergraduate Research Day, where undergraduate students submitted papers on various topics and were chosen to present them to an audience of students, faculty, and the general public, with comments from a panel of professors.

The presenters were well received, with a diverse and abundant audience who engaged with the essays with questions and comments.

The first presenter, Jessica Brown, discussed the misrepresentation of Latin American Indigenous cultures in Hollywood films. In her essay, “Stealing Latin American Culture and Filing off the Serial Numbers,” the author discussed the movies The Emperor’s New Groove, and The Road to El Dorado, pointing out the warped representation of indigenous rituals, historical revisionism, and a reaffirmation of the colonizer as a saviour notion. The essay was commented on by Professor Susan Antebi, who elaborated on the historical revisionism of El Dorado, specifically the portrayal of Hernán Cortés coming to what is assumed to be Peru, when in fact, it was Francisco Pizarro who invaded the Incan empire in the 16th century.

The next presenter, María Isabel Martínez presented her paper on the role of Afro-Colombian women in the Salsa music industry in Colombia. The paper discussed how anti-blackness was prominent in the Salsa mainstream in the 70s and 80s in Colombia, and how all-female salsa orchestras were under-promoted and over-sexualized. Professor Nestor Rodriguez commented on the structure of Salsa both in Colombia and the Dominican Republic, where similar trends of discrimination against women, particularly Afro-descendent women in music are prominent.

After a break for a delicious lunch, the presentations resumed. Adrianna Baiz presented her paper on the democratic transition in Venezuela, with comments by Professor Donald Kingsbury.  Adrianna spoke about the Punto Fijo Pact and its influence on constitutional reform in the country.

The final presenter of the day was Juan Velandia, who presented his paper on the changes to public security in Bogotá and Medellín. Juan discussed the recent reforms that both local governments have made to integrate marginalized communities and reinvent how public spaces are perceived and used. In the case of Medellin, Juan states, it was social urbanism-making public spaces more accessible to the public so they can be safer. In Bogotá, on the other hand, it was through workshops on citizen security, and legislative changes that prohibited the sale of alcohol at certain times to prevent the insecurity that comes from large-scale public drunkenness.

Overall, the day was filled with interesting ideas and important analyses on a variety of topics that kept the audience engaged and interested.

 


 

Review of Bruce Manheim: Radical Translation & Ontological Relativity

On March 18th, the Latin American Studies department had the pleasure of co-hosting a talk on translation, where Professor Bruce Manheim was invited to speak about his work with Quechua speakers in the south of Peru and central Bolivia.

Professor Manheim is a linguistic anthropologist, specializing in the languages of the Andes. 

Professor Manheim began by present two schools of thought when studying translation: representational relativity versus ontological relativity. Throughout his lecture, the professor mentioned his work and the problem of translation from one language to another. He quoted the scholar Sapir, “the worlds in which different societies live are distinct worlds, not merely the same world with different labels attached.”  Therefore, the loss between each translation is not only one of general meaning of words, but how those concepts are experienced in the native language. Seemingly, this is irreconcilable unless we can somehow transplant linguistic-cultural knowledge and infuse our understanding of words with that of the culture in question.  

One must keep in mind the “mythic narratives” of the language they are translating, as meanings vary because of the realities that create them. What one considers to be cold another considers less warm.

Professor Manheim touched upon many aspects of translation including core cognition (Susan Carey), and multidimensional indexical networks (Michael Silverstein) that oppose the theory of ontological austerity.

 


 Review of Bryan McCann: Favela Politics in Rio

On March 3rd, Professor Bryan McCann was invited to give a lecture on the history of favela politics in Rio dating from the creation of the favelas in the 1970s until the present day.

Professor McCann began by talking about a favela called Vidigal, which is settled overlooking the world-famous Ipanema beach in Rio. In 1978, when the land value began to grow for all the properties around Rio’s beaches, the military government attempted to evict the residents of Vidigal and tear down their homes in order to re-appropriate the land and build a hotel. This was part of a pattern of favela evictions during the time of the military dictatorship. However, the residents of Vidigal resisted, and with the help of religious leaders from the Liberation Theology movement along with the archdiocese of Rio de Janeiro they gained the support of excellent lawyers who assisted in creating a legal precedent to prevent these forced evictions.

Throughout Professor McCann’s presentation, there were slides of back and white photographs from the Jornal do Brasil from the 1970s that captured this popular struggle of the era, which was happening simultaneously in multiple favelas. Eventually, as a result of the success of the Vidigal favela, mass resistance to evictions across the country began, and as a result a separate legal judiciary was created to deal with issue of land claims.  However, there is still a lack of formalisation of government services in the favelas, leaving these people vulnerable to criminal gangs that exploit the lack of service available to convince the residents to allow gang activity in exchange for things like running water, or a health clinic.

Professor McCann continued into the 1980s, discussing the rise of territorial drug wars in the favelas and the increasing presence of arms, which led to the epidemic of urban violence in the 1990s that has continued on into the 21st century.  The professor went on to discuss the modern day favela evictions that occurred in preparation for the 2014 FIFA World Cup and the 2016 Summer Olympics. The professor also discussed the issue of gentrification and tourism in favelas, and how that had both negative and positive consequences.


 

A review of Martha Batíz: A Panoramic View of Mexican Corridos and Narco-Corridos

On February 12th, the Latin American Studies department along with the Mexican Consulate welcomed esteemed scholar Martha Batíz to discuss her work on the history of the Mexican corrido from the Mexican Revolution up until the modern phenomenon of narco-corridos. 

“The corrido is something distinctly Mexican,” says Batíz as she introduces her subject, “it is part of the national imaginary, and everyday life.”

The Mexican corrido is a form of traditional folk music originating in the north of the country. It can be heard in the United States near the U.S.-Mexico border, as well as other parts of Mexico. The corrido is a ballad that can cover a range of topics; love and heartbreak, daily life, friendship, and of course, revolution. As Martha Batíz mentioned in her talk, the genre came out of the Mexican Revolution (1910-1920), an event that transformed the state of Mexico after 35 years of rule under Porfirio Diaz.

An interesting thing to note about corridos, as mentioned by Batíz, is the range in content, from the most positive and passionate declarations of love to explicitly degrading messages about women being the messengers of the devil. Throughout the talk, Batíz played several corridos from different eras to demonstrate the diversity of themes, and the difference in sound across decades. Some corridos like “Los tres encajuelados” (The Three Men in the Trunk) tell of violent kidnappings and assassinations, whereas “La gallina de los huevos de oro” (The Hen with Golden Eggs) talks about Kate de Castillo, the infamous Mexican actress that publicaly supports the world’s most wanted cartel leader (currently), “El Chapo” Guzmán.

Which leads to another interesting concept that Batíz discussed, the narco-corrido. As Batíz mentioned, the narco-corrido has its roots in the 1970s, when corridos that glorified the use of drugs and alcohol became popular amongst young people. Four decades later, this subgenre has developed along with what is now recognized in Mexico as narco-cultura, which is the celebration and glorification of a criminal lifestyle. Batíz elaborated further during the Q&A that mainstream media, including networks like Univision, have embraced narco-cultura and continue to promote it indiscriminately because of its popularity amongst youth. A youth, as Batiz mentioned, that is facing increasingly high rates of unemployment, a lack of opportunities to improve their financial or social standing, and a government that is only interested in improving the lives of a select few, to whom narco-cultura appeals because of its lavishness, accessibility to women, and feelings of power. 

Martha Batíz is an acclaimed writer, actor, and professor at both the University of Toronto, and Glendon College at York University.

 


 

Mariela Castro Espín on Transgender Rights in Cuba

On November 23rd, 2015, a group of students, professors, and interested members of the public gathered in the Jackman Humanities Building to hear Mariela Castro Espín, and her colleague Manuel Vasques discuss the journey of LGBTQ+ rights in Cuba.  The evening began with a short clip from a film made by David Fernández and Jerome Scully(both LAS alumni) titled Oye Qué Bola! (2007) about sexual diversity in Cuba at the time. Following the film, the panel began by commenting on the legal obstacles that gay activists in 2008 were facing in an attempt to legalize gay marriage. Mariela pointed out that by changing the wording from ‘marriage” to “civil union” they would have been met with less resistance, however, the Federation of Cuban Women (FMC) decided along with the activists to pursue other more important aspects of equality instead of marriage equality.

Mariela then stated that today, there will be no more concessions to their demands. The National Assembly, of which Mariela is a member, voted to make discrimination based on sexual orientation illegal. The Assembly rejected Mariela’s additional clause to include gender identity in the amendment.  Later on in 2013, the same amendment was being made to the Labour Code, and again the Assembly refused to include gender identity in the amendment so Mariela voted against it (which she later had to explain to the President). Mariela repeated the need to end all forms of discrimination based on sex, orientation and gender.

Manuel Vasquez, who is a colleague of Mariela, spoke about the differences between the LGBTQ+ struggle in Cuba and the one in Argentina. He commented further on the reasoning behind the shift in focus from marriage equality to civil rights. Manuel and Mariela also spoke of the importance of recognizing gender disparities in medicine, relating to hormone therapy and sex change operations, which are legal in Cuba and are performed by visiting foreign doctors once a year. As a result of the scarcity of medical assistance, transgendered individuals will often have clandestine aesthetic surgeries that are unregulated, and performed in unsanitary conditions leading to disfiguration, disease, and death.

While all of these unfortunate realities are ongoing, Mariela and Manuel stated that the advances of LGBTQ+ rights in Cuba are also progressing. As Mariela stated, “We can’t always move our revolution at the speed we wish.”

 


 

Review of the Mining Injustice Solidarity Network event “They want us to forget:  Criminalization and Canada’s Resource Wars”

On Remembrance Day, the Mining Injustice Solidarity Network held an event at the Friends House on Lowther Ave. The event invited a variety of individuals to speak about the mining injustices being committed by Canadian multinationals in Guatemala, and Colombia, and the legal processes currently underway to attempt to prosecute these companies for various human rights abuses.

The presentation began with a keynote address from Eliza Star Child Knockwood, a Mi’kmaq woman from Abegweit First Nation. Eliza spoke of the similar struggles of Aboriginals in Canada as well as in the rest of the Americas. Jessica’s moving speech included a song and a prayer, reflecting on the importance of appreciating Pachamama and recognizing the indigenous and Aboriginal peoples who inhabited and continue to inhabit the lands being exploited by these multinational corporations, resisting the colonial-settler system that continues to disenfranchise them.

The audience heard from Guatemalan economist and journalist Luis Solano, and Colombian human rights lawyer Francisco Ramirez Cuellar. Solano spoke of the recent court case against a Canadian mining company based in B.C., called Tahoe Resources, for an attack on peaceful protesters in front of a mine in Escobal, for which the community is suing Tahoe Resources, in the Canadian court system. Ramirez Cuellar spoke about the legalities and the change to the mining code in the recent years by the Colombian government to allow multinational organizations larger profit margins and free them from the responsibility of safe mining practices and ethical working conditions. Ramirez Cuellar also spoke of the threats to union leaders in Colombia, and the incredibly high assassination rate for union workers, and workers rights activists in Colombia.

Later on in the evening, the audience watched a short film by Monica Gutierrez, called “Gran Colombia Gold,” one of eight films in a series titled “Crude Gold: Stories of Justice Denied in Colombia,” in which several union leaders and well known workers rights activists in the town of Segovia, Colombia speak about the threats to their lives as a result of their activism.

The evening concluded with a question and answer session, and attendees had the option, upon departure to admire the photo exhibition, which depicted portraits of the community members who have suffered as a result of the extractive work of Tahoe Resources in Guatemala. 

Seguimos con ustedes!

 


 

Review of Jeffrey Pilcher: Beer in Latin America

On Wednesday October 21st, 2015, the Latin American Studies faculty welcomed Professor Jeffrey Pilcher, from the Scarborough campus for the first lecture in the LAS Lunchtime series, which will be hosted by the faculty throughout the year. Professor Pilcher is a leading figure in the field of food history and his recent book, Planet Taco: A Global History of Mexican Food, explores the development of Mexican national cuisine within Mexico and the southern United States. His current project, which was the subject of this lecture, will explore the history of beer and its intercontinental migration through global networks of trade and imperial pursuits.

Professor Pilcher was greeted by an enthusiastic crowd of students and faculty eager to learn about the processes of beer making and beer culture in Latin America. Professor Pilcher began by offering historical insight into original brewing methods from Germany and the United Kingdom, delving into the varieties of ales, lagers, and stouts that have been developing over the last three centuries in Europe. The audience was enticed with a variety of topics from stories of brewing journals to anecdotes from Professor Pilcher’s travels. The lecture included cultural, technical, economic, and gastronomic dimensions regarding the promotion of different beers in Latin America. Everything from promotional material in Argentina to Mexico was shown to demonstrate the differences in marketing specific beers to different societies in Latin America.

Following the lecture was a question and answer session where the audience of students and faculty asked engaging questions about Professor Pilcher’s lecture. The audience inquired about the marketing of beer in Latin America, Latin American predecessors to beer, such as pulque, and Professor Pilcher’s future research. Overall, the event was extremely informative and served to educate the attendees about a niche area of study that is incredibly interesting and vital to a more profound understanding of the cotidiano.

 


 

Review of Colombia Talks: Conflict and Historical Memory in Basta ya! Colombia: Memorias de Guerra y dignidad (Basta ya! Memories of War and Dignity in Colombia)                          

On Friday October 2nd, in an overflowing auditorium on Lowther Ave., students, academics, and the general public gathered to witness the formal launch of a report authored by the Colombian National Centre for Historical Memory that documents the details of the internal armed conflict, including the voices of victims and the process of healing necessary for the nation as a whole.  

The evening began with a welcome address from the Colombian ambassador to Canada, who spoke of the historical timing of the report and its significance at a time when the peace talks between the Colombian government and the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) had made significant progress towards a permanent peace. The ambassador made a statement that was echoed amongst all of the speakers; while history is said to be written by the winners, through this report, the accounts of everyone else would be heard as well.

Among the speakers were two members of the committee responsible for compiling the official report Basta ya!, Andrés Suárez, an advisor to the National Centre for Historical Memory spoke of the plurality of violence in a country marked by the division between rural and urban spaces. He underlined the importance of testimonials in the peace process, and the need to re-legitimize institutions in parts of the country where paramilitaries and cartels govern as para-state entities due to a lack of government presence.

Martha Nubia Bello, the director of the Basta ya! report and of the National Museum of Memory in Colombia, spoke to the audience via Skype about the necessity of a step-by-step reparation process wherein the exiled, the indigenous populations, the Afro-Colombian populations, the internally displaced, and the families of the disappeared are given a permanent solution and a promise of non-repetition.

As the evening progressed, the audience heard from anthropologists, researchers, activists, and a representative of the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), on everything from peace politick to indigenous Wayuu philosophies on reconciliation. While Basta ya! has been published, the road to a permanent peace and how to deal with collective trauma remains delicately intact until the ongoing peace talks in Havana result in implemented restorative justice that acknowledges both the history of the conflict and its actors. 

 


 

Bilingualism, PRT120Y, and the bridge between romance languages

Learning a new language is intimidating, but in our increasingly globalized world, language learning is becoming vital in all areas of our lives; interpersonal, business-related, and in our studies. The bridging of cultures in all of these aspects has presented opportunities for a greater understanding of the world and the people in it. The question is, what languages should we be learning? Which are most commonly spoken? And probably the most common concern I hear from second language learners, which language will be easiest for me to become proficient in? The answers vary for each individual depending on a variety of factors, including maternal language, exposure to other languages, and the amount of time at their disposal to learn their desired language.

For Spanish speakers, the advantage in speaking the second most widely spoken language in the world is a good reason to feel as though their arsenal of communicative abilities is well stocked. However, Portuguese-speakers are among the top three fastest growing populations in the world, most notably in South America and parts of Africa. In an article by Michael A. Child, from the University of Arizona, the author mentions that students learning a third language will benefit from any previous language acquired, but will use the skills of the language with the least “psycho-typological distance” to aid in third language acquisition. This means that a Spanish-English speaker learning Portuguese will use their cognitive knowledge of Spanish to learn Portuguese, rather than their knowledge of English because of the similarity between the two. In turn, this means that the brain will learn the differences between the languages quicker, and therefore make the language acquisition faster.

Luckily, the University of Toronto’s faculty of Spanish and Portuguese has a course designed especially for Spanish speakers learning Portuguese. Portuguese for Spanish Speakers or PRT120Y is designed to build on students’ intuited knowledge of Portuguese grammar and differentiate from Spanish structures, starting from a basic level (A1/A2). The course is a great tool for Spanish-speaking students interested in learning a new language that is less intimidating because of its familiarity. And for the non-Spanish speaking students who want to study Portuguese, the department also offers introductory and advanced courses (PRT100Y, PRT220Y), along with culture courses.

Here is the link to the Michael A. Child paper:http://www.ensinoportugues.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/Child-2013-Language-Learning-Perceptions-The-Role-of-Spanish-in-L3-Portuguese-Acquisition.pdf

Hasta pronto! Até logo!

 

 

Review of the Mining Injustice Solidarity Network event “They want us to forget:  Criminalization and Canada’s Resource Wars”

 

 

On Remembrance Day, the Mining Injustice Solidarity Network held an event at the Friends House on Lowther Ave. The event invited a variety of individuals to speak about the mining injustices being committed by Canadian multinationals in Guatemala, and Colombia, and the legal processes currently underway to attempt to prosecute these companies for various human rights abuses.

 

The presentation began with a keynote address from Eliza Star Child Knockwood, a Mi’kmaq woman from Abegweit First Nation. Eliza spoke of the similar struggles of Aboriginals in Canada as well as in the rest of the Americas. Jessica’s moving speech included a song and a prayer, reflecting on the importance of appreciating Pachamama and recognizing the indigenous and Aboriginal peoples who inhabited and continue to inhabit the lands being exploited by these multinational corporations, resisting the colonial-settler system that continues to disenfranchise them.

 

The audience heard from Guatemalan economist and journalist Luis Solano, and Colombian human rights lawyer Francisco Ramirez Cuellar. Solano spoke of the recent court case against a Canadian mining company based in B.C., called Tahoe Resources, for an attack on peaceful protesters in front of a mine in Escobal, for which the community is suing Tahoe Resources, in the Canadian court system. Ramirez Cuellar spoke about the legalities and the change to the mining code in the recent years by the Colombian government to allow multinational organizations larger profit margins and free them from the responsibility of safe mining practices and ethical working conditions. Ramirez Cuellar also spoke of the threats to union leaders in Colombia, and the incredibly high assassination rate for union workers, and workers rights activists in Colombia.

 

Later on in the evening, the audience watched a short film by Monica Gutierrez, called “Gran Colombia Gold,” one of eight films in a series titled “Crude Gold: Stories of Justice Denied in Colombia,” in which several union leaders and well known workers rights activists in the town of Segovia, Colombia speak about the threats to their lives as a result of their activism.

 

The evening concluded with a question and answer session, and attendees had the option, upon departure to admire the photo exhibition, which depicted portraits of the community members who have suffered as a result of the extractive work of Tahoe Resources in Guatemala.

 

Seguimos con ustedes!