Every Monday and Friday we have what we call morning class. Everyone, teacher, student, guest speaker, is welcome to prepare a presentation about any topic that is of interest to them and share their passion about it. This morning a guest speaker that we love inviting for his passionating talks, came to tell us more about the relationship between USA and Latin America. Here is what I learned from this class.

Let’s lay out the context: The media are focussing on the drama and not on the root cause of problems. We have in the recent years seen a lot of dramatic stories about immigration. Where does the promise of building a wall between Mexico and the US come from? Why would people want a wall to be built in the first place? There are camps built at the border and they are not broadly shown in the media. We recently saw the scandal of children being separated from their family at the border, babies being caged while parents are being “processed”. Why is this happening in the first place? Why do people risk their lives to cross the border to America when they know what can happen? What is the cause of all these problems? What is the history behind them? 

We need to take a closer look at the history of Latin America. What is widely taught throughout Europe and the US is that when Colombus arrived in America in 1492, the indigenous population was primitive, savage, uneducated, with no intrinsic worth. But the reality is that Columbus and Cortez and the conquistadores met a very developed and impressive civilization that had built very wide cities with running water and public light in the streets. “When the Spanish conquistadors got their first look at the Aztec city of Tenochtitlán in 1519, they compared its magnificence to Venice and Istanbul.” It was so wonderful that I do not know how to describe this first glimpse of things never heard of, seen or dreamed of before…— Hernando Cortes

Instead of learning from each other, and collaborating, the Conquistadors just destroyed a whole civilization in the name of the crown of Spain and of the Pope. At the beginning of the 1500s a law (encomienda) was created to allow the Conquistadores to collect taxes from the indigenous people. They do not take over the land, but because they are collecting taxes, they create this feudal system in which the indigenous people just became enslaved and dependant on the newly proclaimed lords. This law was of course enforced by force and created a society with very rich European Elite and poor indigenous people. This lasted until the 1800s when the European Elite started questioning the taxes to be paid to the different countries in Europe and independence wars erupted across South America. These independence movements weren’t started by the indigenous people, but by the rich, ruling class that wanted to keep the riches! Simon Bolivar was a Venezuelan military and political leader who liberated what are currently the republics of Venezuela, Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and Panama as sovereign states, independent of Spanish rule. While this independence movement was taking place at the beginning of the 1800s, the US president James Monroe sees an opportunity. He sees that to gain influence in South America, they don’t need to fight Europe anymore and that is very interesting for the new country. So in 1823, the Monroe Doctrine is created. It states that further efforts by European nations to take control of any independent state in North or South America would be viewed as “the manifestation of an unfriendly disposition toward the United States.” and would mean a declaration of war. At the same time, the doctrine noted that the U.S. would recognize and not interfere with existing European colonies nor meddle in the internal concerns of European countries. This is not just because they had good intentions and wanted to help people, they wanted to gain influence. The US used a different way of gaining control, not by colonizing, but by sending in big industries that buy large areas of land and pay off governments to make sure that they have cheap workers available, for example, Chiquita or United Fruit. This created a society of Elite, Buffer/Middle class and a large majority of people are kept in poor condition in the working class. 

In the 1960s, the people from the bottom classes started to rise up and fight for their rights. Salvador Allende acceded to power and started to create a society that is fair to the people. He started building schools, hospitals and fair jobs. The US didn’t like it and they set up the military coup that put General Pinochet into power. This was set up to allow the big businesses to keep their access to cheap labor and keep making a lot of money. Another example is the War in Nicaragua that I will not discuss here.

From the 1960’s till 1990’s on account of the cold war and the fight against communism, guerrillas were funded by the US to fight socialism in Latin America and “destabilize the Socialist movement”. 

The working conditions are so terrible and people have no way of organizing to get themselves out of the misery they are in. So they try to flee and immigrate to the US. This humanitarian crisis will not stop until the living conditions get better. 

Only White Anglo Saxon Protestants can look back and say that America was ever great. Black, Latinos and other minorities cannot relate to a time when America was a good place to live. Only white, rich landowners could relate to a comfortable life, but because the school system depicts it as a reality, the majority of people believe that they are entitled to it.

The western world is at a breaking point. Do we accept our past and try to take action to make it better or do we keep covering up and building more and more lies? The real solution for these people is to not have to go in the first place and have a place to stand in their own country. It’s important for all citizens to understand and be made aware of what is happening so that they can then put pressure on their government to change and let Latin America take its own road. There is something happening, some people are speaking up and taking action: Chavez, Moralez…

This class was a real eye opener and I know that this is just a little part of the iceberg that was scrapped. I really want to read and understand more about the situation. The class was really focussed on the role of the US in the situation in Latin America, but I am also aware that Europe has a very big role to play in this as well. Where do all the riches come from? Why are Europeans and Americans rich and Africa and Latin America poor? These are some of the questions that push me to change the way I look at the world and make me want to change what I can to make it a better place.