Conference on World Affairs: What about Latin America?

A discussion on Latin American life, policy, & immigration

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Flag walk at CU Boulder during CWA week

Erin Sullivan
Flag walk at CU Boulder during CWA week

Latin America’s culture, pride, problems, and some of its representatives ventured to the foothills of Boulder last week for the Conference on World Affairs, hosted by the University of Colorado Boulder. The headlining event for this topic, What about Latin America?, featured four speakers who convened in the UMC West Ballroom to express their expertise, experience, and passion for what Latin America has endured, and where theses countries are headed tomorrow. Throughout each speech, a transversal theme of the experiences of the indigenous population in Latin America, which we can connect to the treatment and experiences of many Latino immigrants in the United States beginning in the 1980’s through today.

Judith Morrison at CWA: Gender and Diversity Division at Inter-America Development Bank

Erin Sullivan
Judith Morrison at CWA: senior advisor Gender and Diversity Division at Inter-America Development Bank

Judith Morrison is the senior advisor in the Gender and Diversity Division at Inter-America Development Bank, and she has had immersive experience as the former executive director of the Inter-Agency Consultation on Race in Latin America. She has dedicated the majority of her professional career to promoting development for marginalized communities in Latin America. Thus, Morrison reiterated the importance of what many American’s don’t consider about the indigenous peoples—how they become so, their ties to the US, their lifestyle. She focused on how commodities are central in what separates many individual Latin American countries into two nearly distinct nations. The indigenous people in places like Panama have “virtually no access to health care of quality, the education levels are also tremendously different.” These people are tremendously poor despite living “right next door to Mennonite communities that may have access to running, potable water systems and electricity.” The complexity this thick gap expands beyond the tangible commodities themselves, and further into why programs to aid indigenous people fail—the body that governs them. There is no competition to be had in comparison to international markets, which they are incredibly vulnerable to. As Morrison said, “if you don’t have value than you can’t produce and you can’t increase salaries and (from there) it’s just a race to the bottom.” She highlighted the challenge of attempting to have any functioning public-private partnerships when the government counter parts can’t put into place the good corporate governance practices. Additionally, with limited funding allotted for these projects, equates strains on the time given to develop and progress these goals for long-term benefit and impact. The people of Latin America have dealt with a rapid transformation from a dictatorship in a small span of time, and in the indigenous people have been left armless in the process.

Mercedes Alvarez and her partner Gregory Bowles have also worked intensively in Latin America, specifically with the indigenous population in Nicaragua and also advocate and expose the truth of Latin American immigration to the United States. The two were able to expand upon Morrison’s message with personal and first hand testimonies. This portion of the event took an especially emotional tone on the topic at hand, as Mercedes has indigenous roots in Nicaragua and is a Latin American immigrant. She described the skewed perspective that many American’s with current rhetoric in the media on immigration. She describes the people from her homeland of Nicaragua as an “undivided family” and that the “Nicaraguan people want to stay close together… are fighting to improve the life in (their) country”, not just flee it. There are deep, family-reflective and loyal roots of countless people in Latin America who must travel for opportunity to work. They do so with ultimate aims to return and improve life in their birthplace, not to escape Nicaraguan life. Mercedes illustrated that the Nicaraguan people have been war-torn and enduring separation for so long, that today, their outlook on immigration has changed to being for their country rather than themselves. Although, she fully acknowledges the struggles we commonly see when it comes to the journey of a Latino immigrant. “It is very expensive to travel from Honduras from Guatemala from Mexico… and it’s so terrible, the treatment, there are so many people who are not guaranteed their life…this is why it is so difficult to pass from Mexico…or Honduras…because the violence in crossing (the borders) are so, so high”, said Mercedes.

Mercedes and Gregory at CWA

Erin Sullivan
Mercedes and Gregory at CWA

Furthermore, Gregory Bowles expanded off his partner’s thoughts in his description of the development of the violence not only while crossing borders to America, but back to Latin America as well, and how this violence has carried over into indigenous populations. Primarily, with Nicaraguan’s there is a predominate history of drug trafficking and gang involvement. In the 1980-90’s the policy of the United States “was to get rid of as many people as possible who were involved in drug trafficking or otherwise seen as undesirable”, so they were deported back. The Latino immigrants who were deported back for illegal gang activities, whether proven or suspected, maintain those connections to the drug traffickers in the US once becoming indigenous in Latin America, as they return poor and are sometimes even neglected and turned away by their families. In countries like Nicaragua, these people make up roughly 20% of the population. Bowles narrates when he and Mercedes worked along the Atlantic coast in the 1980’s, “it really was like working in a whole different part of Nicaragua, the life of the indigenous population was, quiet frankly, terrible…very similar to what happened in Vietnam in terms of people being arrested from their homelands and their villages and being forced to live elsewhere.” He also emphasized the complication of having a widespread situation where the government is not doing as much intentional work or providing as many resources to the indigenous population as they should. These problems are not only generated from Latin American governing powers, but are a result from the treatment of these immigrants while in the United States, through their deportation. They are incredibly isolated and cut-off from access to commodities and the process to obtain legal work, competing pay, proper education, and ease of travel has drastically effected the Latin American people.

Pablo Better speaks at CWA

Erin Sullivan
Pablo Better (right) speaks at CWA

Although these impacts linger today, the US has made international efforts to amend its relationship with Latin America in the past decade. The final speaker, Pablo Better, has quiet the track record of managerial experience in the private and public sectors, being the former chairman of the Central Bank of Ecuador. Currently, he works in as the principal shareholder and General Manager of Ecuador Stealth Telecom among other positions. Better offered the board an inquisitive concluding perspective on US involvement with the transforming governing powers throughout Latin America. He claims that the US has “neglected Latin America in the past 8 years, for good and for bad.” By this, he intends to convey that the US has taken a step back from its uninvited and forceful intervention and imposition on the Latin American government. “The US government treats the Latin American people as equals…respecting their sovereignty and not intervening further than they are invited,” said Better. He claims that it was not hate that went against the interests of the people, it was a politicized, and it was support for America’s own local programs and overall economy.

Crowd in UMC West Ballroom for "What About Latin America?"

Erin Sullivan
Crowd in UMC West Ballroom for “What About Latin America?”

Grabbing the mic for a needed note of optimism, Morrison expressed her astonishment in, the amount of growth and construction around the peace process on a broad scale. She strongly ended with a message of empowerment for the Latin American people, to balance the past hour of heavy diction on Latin American issues: “In a lot of ways, we can see many rays of hope in Latin America…the challenges that are still happening may be growing pains from the rapid democratization still happening, but we should continue to have many dreams and very strong wishes for a very strong Latin America in the future.”

Flag Walk at Norlin Quad on CU Boulder Campus

Erin Sullivan
Flag Walk at Norlin Quad on CU Boulder Campus

 

 

 

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