By Kailin Koch, Committee on U.S.-Latin American Relations
As the year draws to a close amidst international strife and political contention, CUSLAR begins to reflect and prepare for its upcoming 50th anniversary next spring. Perusing the archives brings to life the firsthand and passionate role CUSLAR has played in world events, both in Ithaca, New York and beyond.
CUSLAR has long served as a resource for information on Latin America for the Ithaca community and wider region. Previously these ties included programs in Ithaca schools, community groups in prisons, and “people to people” programs emphasizing dialogue and understanding. Within the Cornell community, CUSLAR protested CIA on-campus recruitment in the seventies so effectively they greatly reduced their presenceon campus.In 1974 CUSLAR sponsored persecuted Chilean pastor Joel Gajardo and his family after the military coup against the Salvador Allende administration, and convinced the State Department to have him sent to Ithaca to serve as CUSLAR’s coordinator.Similarly, CUSLAR worked with the Cornell Physics department and Amnesty International to get an Argentine Physicist and her child out of Argentina during the Dirty War in 1977. CUSLAR also organized multiple protests of US involvement in Latin American affairs, including a 1985 sit-in protesting the Nicaraguan Contra affair in a State Senator’s office that let to the arrest of some CUSLAR members.
Indeed, it is hard to look back at CUSLAR’s dedicated activism and not note the ways in which our work has changed. Much of the work we do now is still about community engagement, dialogue, and study, with less focus on the more direct protest action taken by our predecessors. We also focus less on direct US governmental intervention in Latin America and more on broader patterns of migration and inequality. Perhaps this follows changing nature of student activism on campus, or perhaps it reflects the diminished number of direct US military interventions currently taking place in Latin America. Whatever the cause, on this important anniversary it seems prudent to reflect on what aspects of CUSLAR’s history we have retained and what we have reimagined.
We continue CUSLAR’s legacy of direct activism by playing a support role to community organizations and coalitions in Latin America. In collaboration with the Intag Project, a Cornell class seeking to implement economic alternatives to mining in the cloud forests region of Ecuador, we have been studying a recent environmental impact assessment about the effects of mining in the region. Our work is in service of the local communities’ efforts to protest foreign mining operations. Additionally, a CUSLAR delegation spent time in Washington, DC in October, in the offices of US Congresspeople seeking support to resolve human rights violations in Paraguay. A recently launched Cornell Global Health Program in collaboration with CUSLAR takes students to the Dominican Republic. These core principles are very similar to “Pueblo a Pueblo” trips to Nicaragua which encouraged understanding and dialogue. Furthermore, we have also retained strong ties to the Ithaca community, from Spanish classes to co-sponsoring events to discussing current events on local radio programs.
In addition, we have also focused on less direct, more nuanced forms of activism and student leadership development. Our work-study groups, focusing on land rights and migration, have challenged us to consider the world market and foreign policy dynamics, particularly around food sovereignty and child migration. Unlike in CUSLAR’s early history, US involvement in Latin America no longer consists of large military interventions. Tackling, or even just defining US involvement in Latin America becomes much more complicated. If the state isn’t the main actor, who is? To what extent do we consider US inaction as taking a stand, such as after the coups in Honduras in 2009 and in Paraguay in 2012?
Being willing to engage the big, even unanswerable questions proves necessary to understanding today’s multidimensional and nuanced relationships between Latin America and the United States. It is no longer as straightforward as overly aggressive and violent US military involvement in Latin America. Given this immense landscape, we have turned to collaborative study and dialogue as steps toward developing thoughtful, human rights-based proposals for change at home and abroad.