Latin America is a uniquely important region to the global human rights movement. Just decades ago, much of Latin America’s Southern Cone was ruled by the iron grip of military dictatorships like Augusto Pinochet’s regime in Chile, and many Central American countries were immersed in ruthless civil wars. The global human rights movement was just beginning to take root, as resistance to state repression spread and an international network began to mobilize; key organizations like Amnesty International conducted some of their earliest campaigning on Latin American cases. Eventually, human rights would become a central way to organize longstanding struggles for justice and democracy in the region. By the late twentieth century, all Latin American countries but Cuba were headed by democratically-elected governments, and the attention of human rights campaigners shifted: rather than restraining a murderous state from infringing on civil and political rights, human rights activists began to rally around social and economic inequities, many of which have shaped politics in the region since the Conquest. Today, we see a hybrid set of concerns; countries such as Honduras and Venezuela (and the United States) are arguably experiencing (re)turns toward authoritarianism, generating concerns about core civil and political rights, while at the same time the human rights movement has placed social and economic rights -- including the right to food, housing, education – on increasingly equal footing with political considerations. There is growing awareness that rights are intertwined and interdependent, and although longstanding power differences among nations continue to shape policies, that problems and solutions also transcend borders in our globalized world.
In this class, we will explore the roots and contemporary realities of human rights movements in Latin America. The examination of these topics should allow us to pose broader questions about the meaning of human rights in a globalized world, the efficacy of international instruments for rights enforcement, and the complex challenges that linger in the aftermath of authoritarianism and state-sponsored terror. However, it will probably not lead us to any consensus on “the right answer” to the many challenges facing Latin America. In fact, this course may leave you with more questions than answers. You will read and hear things you agree, and disagree, with; this is intentional. The goal is not to convince students of any single interpretation, but rather to encourage you to develop your own ideas, interpretations, and approaches, and to continue these inquiries beyond the course.
Prior familiarity with Latin America is not required for this course, although it will definitely help. All students, whatever their level of previous familiarity, are encouraged to enhance their understanding of the region by reading newspapers with in-depth international coverage, subscribing to relevant listserves, and keeping abreast of current developments.
Course requirements and expectations
Regardless of your political orientation, class background, profession, religious or ethnic identity, or citizenship status, you are welcome in this class. Please let me know how I can best foster an environment in which you feel comfortable participating as much as possible. The human rights problems our world faces are complex and thorny, and I do not believe any one (political, cultural, ethnic, or occupational) group holds the answers for how to solve them; if we’re ever going to get anywhere, we need a diversity of voices to be valued in human rights discussions. I really care about making sure that happens in this class, but I need your help in figuring out how to do so.
All students are expected to attend class meetings, complete all assigned readings, take the assigned midterm, and participate actively in discussions in class. Your course grade will be assessed as follows: 30% participation in class discussions (this includes both lecture and section); 30% midterm; and 40% final paper.
Students are required to write response papers on the readings most weeks, and to submit these via Canvas by 9 am on Thursday for the week they are assigned. These are relatively short and informal papers (not more than one single-spaced page) in which you are invited to reflect on the readings and course themes. You should not summarize the readings, unless the question asks you to; it’s safe to assume your reader will also have read them. What we want to know is what you think of them. What (if anything) surprised you? What has left you thinking? How does this challenge, or confirm, ideas you had previously? You may include personal reflections and opinions – the point of these papers is to share your own ideas and reactions – but you must also be reacting to the readings and/or class discussions. Late response papers will not be accepted. Response papers are counted as part of your participation grade.
There will be a take-home midterm due on Wednesday, February 7. There will be no make-up opportunity for this exam except under circumstances of severe illness, corroborated in writing.
You are expected to complete a take-home final exam due Monday, March 12. Late papers will not be accepted except under circumstances of severe illness, corroborated in writing.
All readings are available through the class Canvas site; see the "files" tab at left.
Some of the material presented in this class may be disturbing. It is impossible to come to grips with the human rights history of the Americas without delving into accounts of torture, rape, and other violent acts. I understand that this can be particularly difficult for survivors of trauma. If you have been diagnosed with PTSD, you may want to consult an instructor for advance warning as to which readings, lectures, and films might include material you may find triggering. Please feel free to approach me about these concerns.