Years ago I wrote a book on the HIV pandemic in Latin America, which focused on the diversity of epidemics within the region. How could one virus cause such a diversity of outbreaks? Of course it’s impossible to discuss an epidemic without considering human behavior, which we certainly see now with COVID-19. What’s interesting to me is the contrast between Africa, where the death rate has been relatively low, and the severe outbreaks in some Latin American states. Two of my colleagues and I discussed Latin America’s experience with the outbreak in late May, on a panel that focused on Argentina, Brazil and Mexico. Of course, much has happened since then, from the terrible outbreak in Peru, to the mounting challenges faced by Argentina. Still, the broad strokes about how these nations responded to the pandemic has remained similar, such as the populism and denial of Brazil’s President Bolsonaro. You can view our panel here on YouTube.
Global Perspectives: Latin America
I’ve shared a copy of a syllabus for an online “Introduction to Latin American Studies” class before, and somebody recently wrote on Twitter how much they appreciated that. I think that I had posted that syllabus in 2014, and I’ve changed the syllabus significantly since then. Here is the syllabus that I’ll be using when I teach the class this fall. Of course, many of the videos that I am using (and other resources) are only accessible from my library, so you’ll have to see what resources are available at your own institution’s library. But I hope that this may give you some ideas.
I am making this syllabus freely available for anyone to take, adapt or use. In this era of COVID-19, I know that many people are struggling to put classes online, so I hope that this resource may help someone.
Next Tuesday my department will be having a presentation on Zoom about COVID-19 in Latin America. During this discussion I’ll be talking about Bolsonaro’s leadership in Brazil, and the current pandemic trends in that country. Dr. Rodriguez will be talking about Argentina’s response, while Dr. Young will be discussing the experience of both Cuba and Mexico. Since I know little about the COVID-19 situation outside of Brazil in Latin America, I am particularly interested to hear what my co-presenters will say. The talk will be 2pm West Coast (US) time. Please RSVP if you are interested in participating.
Does migration pose a health risk to domestic populations? The Trump administration has argued that “public health concerns” associated with migration are so serious that they justify extensive border security measures in the United States, such as the creation of a wall on the southern border. For anyone interested in a detailed look at the literature on migration and health, I recommend the work of Abubaker (2018) and colleagues listed in the references below. The relationship between health and migration is complex, and this work provides an evidence based assessment of the issues. Of course, migrants often face health challenges that are linked to the conditions that inspired them to migrate in the first place, as well as the physical challenges of migration itself (Carballo & Nerurkar, 2001). There are a small number of infectious diseases associated with migrants from Latin America, such as Chagas’ disease (Darr & Conn, 2015). With Chagas the possibility of transmission is readily managed in areas where this is a health concern through measures such as blood screening, and testing organs before donation (Schmunis & Yadon). …
When I wrote my book on military terror in Brazil (please ignore the ugly cover if you click on the link to the left. #uglybookcovers) I thought that the processes and events that I described were consigned to history. Then as well I believed that my articles on torture described a political practice that had passed in Latin America, and certainly in the West. My confidence proved to be misplaced after 9/11, which brought the U.S. crimes at Abu Ghraib, and the CIA’s adoption of waterboarding. Similarly, authoritarianism and populism have moved to the forefront in Brazil, as the nation has elected a former army officer (Jair Messias Bolsonaro) best known for his outrageous political rhetoric. And his vice-president -another former military officer, Gen. Antonio Hamilton Mourão- makes even more extreme statements than he does. …
French television has a recent documentary, “Dancing with the Dead” which captures the terrible collapse of that country. It begins by looking at popular religion in a cemetery, where people worship dead thieves. One follower of the group says “They weren’t like today’s thugs.” When people become sentimental for the criminals of the past, you know that things aren’t going well. Within the cemetery the graves are trashed by grave robbers looking for gold, rings and body parts that they can sell. Even the former president’s casket has been raided. For me, the moving scene was one in which a long-suffering priest performed a funeral for a homicide victim, while knowing that the people he buries will soon be dug up.
Still, the scene that I’ll most remember was when two ambulance attendant brought a thief to the hospital who had been shot in the hand. The hospital employees asked the ambulance medics if they wanted the hospital to treat his wound, with a touch of amazement or frustration in their tone. One would think that was an obvious question. But then they told the ambulance drivers that the hospital didn’t have the resources for this treatment, and that they should take him somewhere else, because he could lose his hand if they didn’t act quickly. The ambulance attendants asked rather plaintively where they should take him, but didn’t seem to receive an answer before they drove off into the night.
One point that you can’t miss viewing the video is how painfully thin many of the poor are. This film is highly recommended, but be forewarned that it does have disturbing images.
Few topics have attracted as much writing in recent years as the rise of populism and nationalism. I was interviewed recently by a student reporter at PSU, who wanted to talk to me about Jair Bolsanaro’s rise in Brazil. How does a politician -who served as an officer during the dictatorship, and has made offensive comments about many groups- win the Brazilian presidency? Of course, Brazilians are exhausted by the endless political scandals, which have left one previous president impeached, and another in prison. Anyone who once promised to shut down Congress will attract votes in this context. The Worker’s Party failed to denounce its leaders for corruption, which cost them legitimacy. I quoted Bolsanaro in my book on military terror in Brazil, in which he said that 30,000 corrupt officials needed to be lined up and shot. He made that statement about twenty years ago. Brazilians have been so frustrated by the massive scandal involving Brazil’s national oil company, Petrobras, that these and similar comments probably helped more than hurt him. …
Christine Armario has an outstanding article “I’ll walk in my broken shoes: Mom, daughter flee Venezuela,” which was just published by the Associated Press. In general, I try to avoid just sharing a link on this blog, because this isn’t a news aggregation site. Still, this article conveys the reality of what many Venezuelans are experiencing, as they escape a nation defined by starvation and hardship. Despite the fact that an immense amount has been written about this crisis, there is nothing like the human experience to grasp a process so immense it is difficult to fathom. As refugees flood into Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and other states, Venezuela’s social collapse is having a political and social impact upon the entire region. In Brazil, I believe that it has pushed voters towards the political right, and is one factor that helps to explain the rise of Jair Bosonaro, who will likely be Brazil’s next president. The failure of the Worker’s Party to explicitly condemn Venezuela’s leadership has handed their opponents a powerful tool to damage their credibility. But all these political factors fade into the background when faced with the story of one desperate mother’s effort to bring her daughter to safety.
Date rape drugs are a problem in many different nations. A recent article in USA Today, however, reveals systemic issues at Mexican resorts. Raquel Rutledge’s well-researched piece, “Mother’s nightmare at Mexico resort: ‘There is more to this deeper, darker story than we know,'” reveals the inability or unwillingness of Mexican authorities to investigate the use of date rape drugs at these resorts. On a personal note, about six months ago I heard a second hand account from one of my students, who described a case of a husband and wife, in which the wife was raped after they were both given a date-rape drug. I can’t know if this story is true, since I did not speak to one of the people who were drugged. But what was disturbing to me about this particularly story was that this case allegedly took place not in a resort, but rather in a restaurant in Mexico City. Again, this story was not first-hand, and I cannot attest to its veracity. Still, Rutledge’s piece suggests that travelers to Mexico should exercise caution, and that Mexican authorities should thoroughly investigate all such cases, which should include medical examinations for rape, and blood testing to identify the drugs used.
Curious to read more about drugs in Mexico? You can also read this post. I also recommend this Propublica piece “How the U.S. Triggered a Massacre in Mexico” by Ginger Thompson, which covers this topic in much greater depth than my initial blog post.