Look to Latin America’s past to understand current events unfolding today

By Brenna Engel Posted: February 25, 2019 10:00 a.m.

Dr. Miguel Sánchez believes he has an obligation to speak up and inform people of the history and current state of Latin America.
Dr. Miguel Sánchez believes he has an obligation to speak up and inform people of the history and current state of Latin America. Photo: External Relations

Like it or not, President Donald Trump is a constant topic of conversation these days, including at the University of Regina where a panel entitled The Trump Effect: Populism and US Foreign Policy in Mexico and Venezuela garnered considerable attention. 

One of the panelists, Scarlet Muñoz Ramírez, from the Department of History, spoke about her home

lecture

Dr. Miguel Sánchez and
Scarlet Muñoz Ramírez
discuss the tumultuous
history between Latin
America and the U.S.
Photo: External Relations

country of Mexico. Ramírez is currently teaching the History of the Mexico-U.S. Border, a course that helps students understand the development of the border — something Ramírez said is essential to understanding current concerns surrounding the Mexico-U.S. border. 

Ramírez shared that those in Latin American countries have always lived in the shadow of the U.S., but under Trump that shadow is lengthening. Ramirez was teaching in the U.S. prior to Trump being elected. In short order, she faced racist comments from her students — for the first time in her teaching career. 

“Unfortunately, we now have in President Trump, a world leader whose arguments show little understanding of the nature of the Mexico-United States border and are based on generalizations, stereotypes, inaccuracies, and historical prejudices shared by many people today,” she said. 

Ramírez notes that after each class, her current students come to her full of new questions, looking to better understand a topic that has caught the attention of the world. 

Dr. Miguel Sánchez, associate professor and associate dean with the Faculty of Social Work, compared

graduation photo

Dr. Miguel Sánchez (left)
receiving his high school
diploma in 1972. A year later
he would be in the San
Fernando Jail. Photo:
Dr. Miguel Sánchez

Venezuela to Chile, where he lived until his 20s. Though Trump’s time in office has introduced new forms of chaos to Latin America, Sánchez made it clear that the U.S. has had a history of interfering with Latin America. 

From 1964 to 1973, Chile’s situation was similar to that of oil-laden Venezuela today. More than five decades ago, the U.S. wanted access to Chile’s copper and was looking for someone in government to give them that access. In 1970, Chile’s Popular Unity Government came to power.  Salvador Allende, as president duly elected by the people, refused to comply with U.S. demands.  Then in 1973, after years of U.S.-imposed economic sanctions, a successful U.S.-supported coup, led by Chile’s military with General August Pinochet at the helm, removed Allende from power. Sánchez draws a parallel between the crippling power of U.S. economic sanctions then and now, and the U.S. need for Chile’s copper under Richard Nixon’s leadership and their need for Venezuela’s oil now under Donald J. Trump. 

“The relationship between Latin America and the U.S. is very violent. This is yet another example of the U.S. being only concerned about their own interests. Human rights concerns end where their economic interests begin,” said Sánchez. 

Sánchez speaks from first-hand experience. 

When Chile resisted the U.S., sanctions were imposed and the country stopped receiving goods and many of the basic necessities of life. Sánchez, at the age of 15, worked with fellow students to procure from the black market the necessities missing from the open marketplace. In 1972, he received his high school diploma and within a year, on September 28, 1973 — his 18th birthday — Sánchez found himself in the San Fernando Jail due to his activities with the black market. After serving three years, Sánchez, a political prisoner, was given asylum in Canada. 

Both Sánchez and Ramírez agree that to understand what is happening in Venezuela, and, indeed, Mexico, today, you need only look to the U.S.’s history with Latin America.

Ramirez and Sánchez are able to bring new perspectives and first-hand accounts of lives heavily influenced by the United States. The purpose of their panel and much of their teaching is to ensure that others learn from what they have seen and experienced. Canada, who has had a relatively cordial relationship with the U.S., must be mindful of the past as they navigate the future of their own relationships with Latin American countries. 

“I want people to reflect, not simply believe what they’re being told at face value, looking deeper  at the issues as they try to find their own answers to the way our country deals with  other countries in light of our relationship with the United States,” said Sánchez. 

Ramírez appreciates the opportunity to teach students at the University of Regina about her home country and its rich history, so that they are able to look beyond the headlines to more first-person accounts of the current situation at the Mexico-U.S. border and the political motivations surrounding it and the often tangled histories between the U.S. and other foreign governments.