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The Mexican Student Movement of 1968  

Eugenia Allier-Montaño

At the end of July 1968, a skirmish between students from rival schools in central Mexico City led to police intervention. The repression of young people was so energetic that students organized to demonstrate against government violence. They were once again repressed: from the afternoon of July 26 to the early morning of July 30, the city center was the scene of multiple battles between students and police. In the following days, an unprecedented movement formed in the country and had strong support from the rector of the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), Javier Barros Sierra, who, with his call to march on August 1, gave legitimacy to the movement. On August 7, the National Strike Council (CNH) was formed, which included representatives of all higher education institutions (public and private) participating in the movement. For more than two months, the students toured the city, obtained the support of different social sectors (housewives, workers, neighborhood groups, and young professionals), and used ingenious methods (brigades, lightning rallies, flyers) to face the intense government campaign (always supported by businessmen, the media, the anticommunist right, and the high clergy) against them. The students’ demands were specified in six points in the CNH petition: freedom for political prisoners, dismissal of the military considered responsible for the repression, disbanding of the Corps of Grenadiers, repeal of the crime of social dissolution, compensation to the families of the dead and wounded, as well as the delineation of responsibilities for acts of repression. However, the main point for the students was to demand that negotiations with the government take place within the framework of a “public dialogue.” The movement continued until December 6, 1968, when the CNH was dissolved, but its splendor occurred between August and September. It was in those months that the movement showed great strength, particularly in the impressive demonstrations that swept through the capital. But by September 18, the UNAM’s University City was militarily occupied, and on September 24, the army took Zacatenco and Santo Tomás, two educational precincts of the National Polytechnic Institute (IPN). On October 2, 1968, the students held a rally in the Plaza de las Tres Culturas in Tlatelolco. The government of Gustavo Díaz Ordaz implemented a massacre against them: hundreds of wounded, thousands of detainees, and around 40 dead were the results of the operation, whose main objectives were to scare the population with unleashed violence and to detain the members of the CNH. Ten days after October 2, President Díaz Ordaz inaugurated the XIX Olympics. However, state violence did not stop. At least until February 1969, the government sought out and arrested political and social activists linked to the mobilization. As a result, some 200 men and four women were kept in prison and sentenced to long sentences. With the new government of Luis Echeverría in 1970, the students were released. However, for a group of sixteen students and teachers, the only option for release was political exile.

Article

#YoSoy132, Social Media, and Political Organization  

Javier Contreras Alcántara

During the 2012 presidential election in Mexico, a movement arose that broke with the existing framework of political mobilizations. What began as a protest to call into question the past of one of the candidates became, with the assertion of their status as university students, a student and social movement that urged a discussion on the nature of Mexico’s democracy. The movement, called #YoSoy132 (#IAm132), became active on YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter, uniting young citizens from a generation that was beginning to distance itself from politics. Finally, following a series of debates on the path the country should take and the presidential election, the movement did not strengthen, but instead left behind a generation of young politicized citizens who now adopted new forms of socialization and organization for political action, which applied to further mobilizations. Since then, Mexico witnessed the emergence of new political players which have lifted the unease felt by the current political class.

Article

Communist Parties of Central America  

Iván Molina

Throughout the 20th century, Central America experienced two key waves of communist-party formation. The first wave lasted from 1923 to 1931 and the second from 1949 to 1954. The first-wave parties actively participated in four fundamental historical processes: in El Salvador, in the rebellion of 1932; and in Costa Rica, in the banana strike of 1934, in the reforms of 1940 to 1943, and in the civil war of 1948. The second-wave parties participated decisively in the radicalization of the Guatemalan social reforms (1951–1954) and in the 1954 Honduran banana strike. These parties had a differentiated impact on Central American societies. In Costa Rica and Panama, the communists promoted social changes whose success worked against the communists themselves. In Belize, an active Labor party prevented a communist party from developing there. In Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, and Nicaragua, repression neutralized the role that communist parties could play as institutional modernizers. In the mid-1940s, the military assumed this modernizing role: in Guatemala, with the collaboration of the communists; and in El Salvador, Honduras, and Nicaragua, against the communists. The most radical of these reformist experiences was the Guatemalan, which ended in 1954 due to a US-backed coup. In the other countries, the military endorsed socially limited reforms without political democratization. In this context, the communist parties began to be displaced by guerrilla movements from 1959 to 1963. In Honduras, the military managed to stop this displacement in the early 1960s through broader reformist policies, but the guerrillas in the other countries led a successful revolution in Nicaragua (1979), fought lengthy civil wars in El Salvador and Guatemala, and turned Central America into one of the main battlefields of the Cold War in the 1980s. Beginning in the 1990s, these guerrilla movements became political parties, electorally strong in El Salvador and Nicaragua, and marginal in Guatemala, but different from the communist parties that preceded them. At the beginning of the 21st century, the communist parties that still exist in Central America barely maintain a presence on Facebook.

Article

Disability in Guatemala  

Heather Vrana

In Guatemala, experiences, meanings, and impacts of disability differed depending on one’s race, ethnicity, gender, social class, education, and location, among other factors. They also changed over time. Pre-Hispanic Mayan art indicates physical disability did not exclude people from the elite. In the colonial period (1521–1821), an important charity hospital system emerged. Some Guatemalans who might be identified as disabled today lived with widows and orphans in charity hospices and asylums. Disabled Guatemalans underwent cutting-edge treatments, for better or worse, owing to avid medical research by the protomedicato and faculty at the University of San Carlos. After independence in the early 19th century, Catholic charity endured and worked in tandem with state-building projects, even as disputes between the Conservative and Liberal parties churned. Guatemala’s growing hospital system relied upon this cooperation. The new century brought explosive growth in infrastructure and an expanded role of the state in everyday life. Reforms in policing, public health, and education transformed the lives of some disabled Guatemalans, often expanding confinement and surveillance alongside medical resources. The period of democratic florescence, known as the “Ten Years Spring” (1944–1954), brought reforms, including the creation of the Guatemalan Social Security Institute (IGSS) in 1946 and work-injury, illness, and maternity-benefits laws. Between 1946 and 1948, the Guatemalan and US governments conducted syphilis experiments on disabled residents of the Insane Asylum (Asilo de Alienados), as well as on soldiers, incarcerated people, orphans, and commercial sex workers. By the mid-20th century, decades—or even centuries—of inequality debilitated poor Guatemalans. Chronic illness, workplace injury, malnutrition, and other endemic conditions created temporary and permanent disabilities. Civil war (1960–1996) erupted and revolutionary groups argued that they fought to end the inequality that caused debilitating conditions. The war itself created new disabled people. Combat, torture, and trauma transformed Guatemalans. Yet the Historical Clarification Commission report neglected this topic and the experiences of disabled people in the war. Unlike their peers in El Salvador, Guatemalan veterans did not form influential advocacy organizations after the war. Since the 1990s, disability has been a serious cause and effect of widespread migration to the United States. Migrants have fled Guatemala because of inadequate access to disability-related healthcare and education. Some people have been disabled by dangerous conditions en route to the United States.

Article

Social Movements in Late 20th-Century Ecuador and Bolivia  

Marc Becker

Both Ecuador and Bolivia have gained a reputation for powerful social movements that have repeatedly challenged entrenched political and economic interests that have controlled the countries since their independence from Spain almost two hundred years ago. A wealthy and powerful minority of European descendant landowners ruled the countries to the exclusion of the majority population of impoverished Indigenous farm workers. Repeated well-organized challenges to exclusionary rule in the late 20th century shifted policies and opened political spaces for previously marginalized people. Social movement organizations also altered their language to meet new realities, including incorporating identities as ethnic groups and Indigenous nationalities to advance their agenda. Their efforts contributed to a significant leftward shift in political discourse that led to the election of presidents Evo Morales and Rafael Correa.

Article

Cochabamba’s 2000 Water War in Historical Perspective  

Sarah Hines

Water has long shaped economic, social, and political life in Bolivia’s highlands and valleys. As a result of dispossession under the Incas, the Spanish, and postcolonial governments, a small group of large landowners (hacendados) controlled most water sources in Bolivia’s most important agricultural valleys in Cochabamba by the end of the 19th century. Purchases of some of these estate (hacienda) sources and hydraulic infrastructure projects under military socialist governments in the late 1930s and early 1940s increased water access for independent smallholders (piqueros) and the growing urban population there, but water ownership and access remained highly unequal on the eve of Bolivia’s 1952 revolution. After seizing power in April 1952, the Movimiento Nacionalista Revolucionario party passed an agrarian reform that provided for redistribution of hacienda land and water sources. Redistribution of previously hoarded water sources to estate tenants (colonos) transformed the region and the nation’s water tenure regime. But the reform excluded Cochabamba’s piqueros, landless peasants, and residents of the growing department capital. In the decades that followed, these groups worked to expand and protect their water access. City center residents protested shortages and rate hikes. Migrants to neighborhoods on the urban periphery built independent water supply and distribution systems. And peasants built and maintained irrigation infrastructure and fought efforts to drill deep wells that threatened shallow irrigation wells. These groups rallied behind the Misicuni Dam project, which promised to provide water for consumption, irrigation, and hydroelectricity, and faced off with the Inter-American Development Bank and Cochabamba’s municipal water company, SEMAPA. Contention and competition over water access and management, as well as residents’ autonomous management and contributions of labor to building water infrastructure, laid the basis for conflicts over water privatization in the 1990s. “Water wars” in Cochabamba in 2000 and in El Alto in 2005 forced the national government to cancel water administration contracts with transnational corporations and helped propel coca growers’ union leader Evo Morales to the presidency. Morales, Bolivia’s first Indigenous president, called a constituent assembly to refound the country in the interests of Indigenous people, workers, and the poor, fulfilling his promise to social movements. The resulting constitution enshrined a right to water access as well as Indigenous and peasant communities’ rights to manage water and other resources autonomously. At the urging of Morales’s government and water activists, the United Nations adopted a human right to water. While some Bolivian water activists supported these efforts, others have criticized the Morales government’s use of the concept of the human right to water to justify new rounds of water dispossession.

Article

The Coca Leaf in Bolivian History  

Susan Brewer-Osorio

Coca is deeply interwoven into the political, economic, and social history of Bolivia from the Inca Empire to the 21st-century rise of President Evo Morales Ayma. As such, generations of Bolivians, from powerful hacendados to peasant farmers, have resisted efforts to destroy the coca leaf. Coca is a mild herbal stimulant cultivated and consumed by indigenous Andeans for centuries, and the primary material for making the potent drug cocaine. During the 16th and 17th centuries, Spanish colonizers promoted coca production on large haciendas to supply mining towns, giving rise to a powerful class of coca hacendados that formed part of Bolivia’s ruling oligarchy after independence. In the early 20th century, the coca hacendados shielded coca from international drug control. Following the 1952 Revolution, agrarian unions replaced hacendados as guardians of the coca leaf. The unions formed a powerful social movement led by Evo Morales Ayma, an indigenous leader and coca farmer, against US-led efforts to forcibly eradicate coca. During the 1990s, Morales and his allies created a political party called the Movement Toward Socialism (MAS). In late 2005, Morales was elected president of Bolivia and his new government deployed state power to protect the coca leaf.

Article

Central America’s Caribbean Coast: Politics and Ethnicity  

Robert Sierakowski

From the period of imperial conquest and competition, the Caribbean coast of Central America has served as an interstitial space: between British and Spanish rule; between foreign corporate control and national inclusion; mestizo, black, and indigenous. Running from Guatemala in the north through Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Panama in the south, “la Costa” has functioned as a contested terrain imbued with economic import, ethnic difference, and symbolic power. The coastal zones were transformed in the 20th century through the construction of railroads and later highways, large-scale foreign immigration, the spread of states’ bureaucratic agents, and internal migrants, as well as transnational projects such as the Panama Canal and the United Fruit Company’s integrated banana plantation empire. The coastal region’s inaccessible terrain, large communities of lowland indigenous people, and vast numbers of Afro-Caribbean migrants from islands such as Jamaica markedly differentiated these lowlands from the wider Central American republics. From indigenous groups such as the Rama, Mayangna-Sumu, Kuna, Guaymí, and Bribri, to the Afro-indigenous Garifuna and Miskitu, and the English-speaking black Creoles and Afro-Antilleans, the region has enjoyed great ethnic diversity compared to the nominally mestizo republics of which it has formed part. Finally, ladino (non-indigenous) or mestizo (mixed-race) campesino migrants from the Pacific or Central regions of the isthmus arrived in large numbers throughout the 20th century. Racism, ethnic exclusion, and marginalization were often the response of national states toward these coastal populations. In some contexts, tensions between and among ethnic groups over land and natural resources, as well as between national states and local autonomy, flared into violent conflict. Elsewhere in Central America, the Caribbean coast’s position in national political development permitted a gradual meshing of national and regional cultures during the second half of the 20th century.

Article

AIDS Crisis and Brazil  

Richard Parker

The response to the AIDS crisis in Brazil has been the focus of significant attention around the world—both as a model of social mobilization that other countries might follow and as an example of the difficulty of sustaining mobilization without necessary political support. It is possible to identify at least four reasonably distinct phases in the Brazilian response to HIV and AIDS, beginning in 1983 (when the first case of AIDS in Brazil was officially reported) and running through mid-2019. An initial phase, lasting roughly a decade, from 1983 to 1992, was marked by significant conflicts between activists from affected communities and government officials, but precisely because of the broader political context of re-democratization was also the period in which many of the key ethical and political principles were elaborated that would come to provide a foundation for the Brazilian response to the epidemic thereafter. A second phase ran from 1993 to roughly the beginning of the new millennium, when these ethical and political principles were put into practice in the construction of a full-blown and highly successful national program for the prevention and control of the epidemic. During the third phase, from 2001 to 2010, the response to the epidemic increasingly became part of Brazilian foreign policy in ways that had important impacts on the global response to the epidemic. Finally, a fourth phase, from 2011 to late 2019, has been marked by the gradual dismantling of the Brazilian response to the epidemic, at first through relatively unplanned omissions on the part of the federal government, and then through a very conscious set of policy decisions aimed at deprioritizing the strategic importance of HIV- and AIDS-related public health issues in Brazil.

Article

History of Alternative Communication in Chile: Phases and Endeavors  

Chiara Sáez and Jorge Iturriaga

With the surge of social struggles tied to the implementation of capitalist modernization at the end of the 19th century, diverse forms of technology-based mass communication in Chile arose to represent the emergence of social sectors that didn’t participate in the dominant culture and sought to disseminate an alternative. Working-class and feminist newspapers, neighborhood theaters, and Cordel literature broke away from the traditional elitist and pedagogical nature that had defined the media until that time. Since then, with cycles that have ebbed and flowed, numerous communicative experiences were related to mass culture in controversial ways: they opposed it, converged with it, et cetera. Even though it is possible to trace the continuity between the cases described, this continuity is not clear upon first glance, due to its underground and nascent character. In general terms, these experiences were not established as an autonomous space for technical or aesthetic experiments; when there was a strategy, it tended to be political in nature, whereas communicative material remained conditional. Finally, the study of these cases implies a paradox: the 20th century began with a vast number of alternative communication projects that became institutionalized over the years, but they re-emerged more autonomously during Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship and the era that followed. This process of institutionalization alludes to an inversely proportional relationship between the process of incorporating the masses into positions of power (in the period between 1925 and 1973) and the development of alternative communication: these experiences are plentiful in the less institutionalized contexts of the enlightened working-class culture (that is, preceding the founding of the Communist Party in 1922 and after the anti-working-class culture that has accompanied the neoliberalism imposed since the dictatorship).