Potholes, Parks, and the PRI: One Reporter’s Understanding of the Mexican Drug Wars

NI_vunews_quinonesIn October 2013, CLAS hosted a visit by Sam Quinones, Los Angeles Times journalist and creative author of nonfiction (Antonio’s Gun and Delfino’s Dream and True Tales from Another Mexico: The Lynch Mob, the Popsicle Kings, Chalino, and The Bronx). While in Nashville, Quinones was featured in on- and off-campus events. During a CLAS-sponsored brown-bag lunch, he spoke with graduate and undergraduate students about his personal and professional experiences working on the topic of the Mexican drug wars. Off campus, at Casa Azafrán Community Center, Quinones delivered a public lecture entitled “Potholes, Parks, and the PRI: One Reporter’s Understanding of the Mexican Drug Wars,” which attracted a crowd of more than 180. While at Casa Azafrán, Quinones also met with young Latino writers who recently won a Hispanic Heritage Month essay contest titled “My Hispanic Roots, My American Dream” and sponsored by Conexión Américas.

The Helguera Collection and the Dean’s Fellow Program

Contributed by Rebecca West, M.A. in LAS Candidate and Paula Covington, LAS Bibliographer

The expanding J. León Helguera Collection of Colombiana has generated a buzz both at Vanderbilt and around the world. Professor Helguera, Colombian historian, lifelong bibliophile, and professor emeritus of Vanderbilt, continues to add donations to this unique and distinguished collection of the Jean and Alexander Heard Library. At this point, it includes an estimated 5,000 documents, broadsides, pamphlets, and programas; the nineteenth century collection contains a bit of everything, from government documents to school curricula. Spanning topics such as government administration, politics, religious diatribes, treatises, religion, education, and medicine, the digitization of this collection will further research opportunities for scholars around the world.

Gloria Pérez, a Ph.D. student in anthropology, was selected to work on the digitization of the Helguera Collection as one of the Dean of Libraries’ newly established Dean’s Fellows. The Dean’s Fellows program was established to create opportunities for students to have hands-on access to special collections and to foster in-depth learning experiences. With the support of this program, Pérez is reading, evaluating, registering, and sorting through thousands of documents. The documents that she selects will be digitized and indexed online by subject, and every word will be fully searchable. She will also create an online exhibit and write a series of essays.

Pérez, who is Colombian herself, is particularly well positioned to evaluate these documents. An M.D. and former ER physician, she has returned to graduate school to study anthropology and the effects of internal displacement in Colombia. In a brief conversation on the collection, she noted, among other things, that she saw the influence of the Catholic Church in all spheres of life, even medicine, since the local church served historically as the forum for public health announcements.

Working with the collection will also add new depth to Pérez’s own research. As she studies displacement in the country with the highest number of internally displaced people in the world, she has found that this problem did not start with the paramilitary forces. Rather, displacement began with the seizure of coffee plantations in the 1800s, followed by lands with sugar cane, cattle, mines, and so on.

Pérez proudly announced that she has completed the A’s. With 25 letters in the alphabet to go, that may not sound like progress. She convinced us of how far she has come, however, when she led us down to Special Collections where she showed off the 15-some-odd boxes comprised solely of “A” documents. Despite the initial limit of 35, she whittled the A’s down to about 55 of the best documents—45 of which are not available anywhere around the world. These documents include such treasures as proposals for a new constitution, the declaration of the borders of Colombia, Venezuela, and Ecuador, and a pamphlet on Nueva Granada (Colombia’s name before independence) in the 1840s and 50s establishing the basic definitions of citizenship and other materials that, as Pérez states “define a nation.” None of these documents has formerly been available online, and many are unique and hitherto unknown, “…so” she explains, “you can imagine the potential.” All this just from the A’s. Progress indeed!

 

Manuel Zapata Olivella Collection

The library has also embarked on creating a digital database of Colombian interviews with “abuelos analfabetos,” or the Voz de los Abuelos Project, one segment of Vanderbilt’s Manuel Zapata Olivella Collection. Zapata Olivella was a Colombian anthropologist, doctor, novelist, folklorist, and pioneer in preserving and promoting the nation’s ethnic and cultural history and its Afro-Colombian identity. In the 1970s he arranged for a graduation requirement to be put in place in Colombian high schools: students must interview an anciano (older person) before graduating. Students were provided with 100 possible questions on topics from politics to religion, race, and magic.

Pérez describes the collection as having “newly acquired value [from] the recognition of negritude…in Colombia….Zapata Olivella is one of the figures coming to the forefront of the black social movement.”

Vanderbilt purchased the collection from Zapata Olivella’s daughter with the permission of Colombia’s Ministry of Culture that Vanderbilt conserve it and begin to make it available digitally. Using the Robert Penn Warren “Who Speaks for the Negro” project as an example, the library is in the process of making the interviews, transcripts, and photographic portion of the collection available as an open online database. Despite the enormity of these efforts, this project is just the tip of the iceberg, and we hope to find funding to complete the rest of it.

Browse the online collections at helguera.library.vanderbilt.edu and mzo.library.vanderbilt.edu/home.

Director’s Corner: Edward F. Fischer


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Latin American Studies at Vanderbilt has never been as strong. We have remarkable faculty and students working on projects in every school and college on campus. There are so many, most of us are probably only aware of a fraction. Mike Newton at Vanderbilt Law School (and his students) are advising the Peruvian Supreme Court on judicial reform; working with Pelayo Correa and Doug Morgan in the medical school, we are the world center for the study of the particular sort of infectious stomach cancers found in Latin America; and that is just the tip of the iceberg. In Spanish and Portuguese, history and political science, anthropology and sociology—some of the best cutting-edge research on the region comes from Vanderbilt faculty.

Our role in the Center for Latin American Studies is to encourage and facilitate that work, when possible, and to support students studying the region. But more important is our role as a matchmaker and as a hub to share our work and make new connections between fields of study. This semester we will continue our experiment with 45-minute, talk show-style panels of professors from different fields. We are also working with LAPOP to make their incredible treasure trove of data more accessible to scholars in other fields on campus.

We have an equally important mandate off-campus: to disseminate knowledge about the region to our political leaders, business community, and to K–12 schools and other colleges and universities. This semester, in honor of Black History Month, we will offer a Teacher Workshop with MTSU and TSU on intersections of black and Latin America, are working with Belmont University to organize outreach events around a visit by Oscar Arias, and continue our digitization of curricular materials for teachers. The library’s program of digitizing our singular collections of Colombiana also support this outreach.

This semester we will also be writing and submitting a proposal for NRC funding for 2014–2018. By the Department of Education’s criteria, we are as strong as any of our peer institutions. At the same time, funding is still uncertain, and one never knows about the vagaries of the deciding committees. We will do our best to represent your many accomplishments in the proposal. Wish us well.

The Latest from LAPOP: Democratic Legitimacy Put to the Test in Upcoming Presidential Elections in Latin America


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Contributed by Matthew Layton of LAPOP (Latin American Public Opinion Project)

Nine Latin American countries will hold presidential elections during the twelve-month period that began in November 2013 (see Table 1). Early news reports suggest that voters will likely re-elect incumbent parties or candidates in Costa Rica, Colombia, Bolivia, Brazil, and Uruguay, but there are some cases where there is no clear frontrunner and elections should be highly competitive (Honduras, El Salvador, and Panama) or where elections will likely result in an opposition victory (Chile). Thus, even if on average, the elections yield few seismic changes in the region’s politics, some of them will be contentious and will raise important questions about the legitimacy of democracy in their respective countries.

Table 1. Latin American Countries with Presidential Elections between Nov. 1, 2013 and Nov. 1, 2014

Country Election Date Trust in Elections

Chile November 17, 2013 64.2

Honduras November 24, 2013 35.5

El Salvador February 2, 2014 54.1

Costa Rica February 2, 2014 54.9

Panama May 4, 2014 48.0

Colombia May 25, 2014 46.4

Bolivia October 5, 2014 47.3

Brazil October 5, 2014 47.7

Uruguay October 26, 2014 76.9

Note: The point estimate of average trust in elections is scored on a 0–100 scale based on data from the 2012 AmericasBarometer survey conducted by the Latin American Public Opinion Project (LAPOP).

Questions of democratic legitimacy were prominent in the elections that have already occurred in Chile and Honduras. After Chile’s second round of voting on December 15, Chilean voters elected former President Michelle Bachelet for her second tenure as president. This election is the first held in Chile after extensive electoral rules changes, which included a transition from voluntary registration and compulsory voting to automatic registration and voluntary voting. With these changes, voter turnout in the first round fell below 50 percent of the eligible population. This figure highlights the extent to which all of the major Chilean parties will need to find ways to bolster their legitimacy and ability to represent and mobilize this large unorganized body of the electorate in future elections.

Also as expected, the Honduran election was highly contentious. Honduras is still emerging from the disruptions that occurred during the 2009 overthrow of former President Manuel Zelaya. Presidential candidates in the recent election represented the entire partisan spectrum from pro-coup to anti-coup, including Romeo Vásquez, the general who led the Honduran military during the coup, and Zelaya’s wife, Xiomara Castro. The first uncertified results from the election showed that the incumbent conservative party candidate, Juan Hernández, had a relatively large electoral lead; however, Castro’s supporters also claimed victory, which has fed the underlying tension in the country. No matter which candidate ultimately prevails, this election is unlikely to produce a government that can claim broad legitimacy in part because overall trust in the elections is exceptionally low in Honduras (see Table 1). Consequently, instability will likely continue to characterize Honduran politics for some time.

In the other countries where elections have yet to occur, there is still considerable uncertainty about voter sentiment; indeed, some countries’ parties have yet to fully finalize their selections for presidential candidates. Nevertheless, it is likely that political elites in some of these countries will also face challenges to their democratic legitimacy that are similar to those seen in Chile or Honduras. Overall, this next round of Latin American elections will highlight the region’s widespread commitment to the formal trappings of electoral democracy, but it will also draw attention to the significant variation in deeper democratic consolidation within the region. Citizens across these nine Latin American countries will have the opportunity to voice their opinion on who should rule their countries through their ballots, but, as important as elections are for democracy, these elections alone will be unable to resolve deep social and political problems without the subsequent implementation of effective democratic governance.

CLAS Summer Research Awards Support Global Field Experience with the Vanderbilt Vaccine Center


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Last summer, CLAS awarded two Simon Collier Summer Research Awards to allow second-year School of Medicine students Leah Vance and Mana Espahbodi to participate in the Vanderbilt Vaccine Center’s global field experience in Argentina.

Since 2009, the Vanderbilt Vaccine Center has partnered with Fundación INFANT, an Argentinean nonprofit organization established by Vanderbilt’s Dr. Fernando Polack, to offer students the opportunity to conduct biomedical research and pediatric rotations at hospitals and medical centers in Buenos Aires. Fundación INFANT focuses on translating laboratory findings into preventive and therapeutic medical interventions that promote pediatric health. With this in mind, its main areas of interest include dengue, asthma, breastfeeding, and basic and translational research, as well as epidemiological studies in pediatric respiratory pathogens.

While in Argentina, Vance and Espahbodi, along with other student participants, worked primarily on dengue viruses and the treatment of dengue hemorrhagic fever, a disease that is now re-emerging in the country. Espahbodi conducted basic science research, consisting of various experiments on the dengue virus, while Vance focused on epidemiology, specifically on understanding the presence of dengue, creating guidelines for care, and educating the population in order to control possible outbreaks.

The Vaccine Center’s unique collaborative field research program focuses on training future leaders and scholars in medicine to address challenges in the field of medicine. Students in the four-week program have the opportunity to work with a team of local and U.S.-trained researchers and physicians. As part of the team, students investigate both the basic science and also the clinical effects of viruses that cause respiratory infections in infants, children, and adolescents.

Working and researching in Argentina provides Vanderbilt students with the opportunity to immerse themselves in the local culture, take advantage of Spanish lessons, and enjoy excursions around the country. The program also offers students intensive, on-site orientation and coordination, in addition to multicultural outings. In the past, students have taken excursions to Iguazu Falls and have participated in tango lessons to expand their cultural and terpsichorean horizons.

Research and clinical opportunities with Fundación INFANT are available year-round to School of Medicine students and residents. Applications are accepted on a rolling basis. For more information about applying to the program, visit vvcenter.org/international-research/infant or contact Sarah Ladd at sarah.ladd@vanderbilt.edu. For more information about CLAS summer award opportunities, visit vanderbilt.edu/clas/funding-opportunities/ student-summer-awards/

Dominique Béhague

Dominique P. Béhague is associate professor of Medicine, Health and Society (MHS) and affiliated faculty in the Department of Anthropology at Vanderbilt. Originally trained as an anthropologist, she began her foray into the intersections of global health and anthropology during her master’s work at Bryn Mawr College, where she also completed her bachelor’s degree. She received her Ph.D. in anthropology and social studies of medicine from McGill University in Canada in 2004. From 2002 to 2010, she was lecturer (assistant professor) at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, where she also held a Wellcome Trust Postdoctoral Fellowship. During her time there, Dominique completed a master of science in epidemiology, out of which she developed a new research interest on the contemporary changes in statistical modes of reasoning within global health.

Dominique’s long-standing research on the emergence of new forms of community-based psychiatry in Pelotas, Brazil, was some of her most formative, laying the groundwork for her later interests in the rise of global mental health expertise. Dominique is currently part of a team partnering with CLAS to develop a proposal to critically examine current evidence and policy practices in global mental health. The partnership, which includes colleagues in MHS and CLAS at Vanderbilt, the Department of Social Science, Health and Medicine at King’s College London, the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, and the Institute of Social Medicine at the State University of Rio de Janeiro, recently received funding through the Vanderbilt International Office to host a proposal development workshop and to begin exploratory research for the project. Dominique is working directly with Ted Fischer and Avery Dickins de Girón to design the proposals, which include plans for close collaboration with colleagues in Brazil and Ecuador.

Since her arrival at Vanderbilt, Dominique has developed and led three classes for MHS and one in anthropology. Her Global Health and Social Justice class focuses on understanding a new wave of critical global health studies, examining health as part of a broader international development issue. Her research-based Psychiatry, Culture, and Globalization class explores the history of debates on globalization and culture in psychiatry and the influence of this history in global mental health today.

Each year, Dominique spends the summer term working at King’s College London. She recently became a member of the Senior Editorial Board for the Vanderbilt University Press. She is currently completing research for an upcoming book compiling results from a ten-year study on the role of community psychiatry in young people’s lives in Pelotas.

Faculty Publications


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Marshall Eakin (History), “The Emergence of Brazil on the World Stage,” Latin American Research Review 48:3 (2013): 221-230.

Earl Fitz (Spanish and Portuguese), “Lima Barreto and Gender: An Inter-American Perspective” Lima Barreto: New Critical Perspectives, ed. Lamonte Aidoo and Daniel Silva (Lexington Books, 2013).

Jane Landers (History), “The Atlantic Travels of Francisco Menéndez and his Free Black ‘Subjects,’” Biography and the Black Atlantic, ed. Lisa A. Lindsay and John Wood Sweet (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2013). “The African Landscape of 17th Century Cartagena and its Hinterlands,” The Black Urban Atlantic in the Age of the Slave Trade (The Early Modern Americas), ed. Jorge Cañizares-Ezguerra, James Sidbury and Matt D. Childs (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2013).

William Luis (Spanish and Portuguese), Looking Out, Looking In: Anthology of Latino Poetry. (Houston: Arte Público Press, 2013).

Paul B. Miller (French and Italian), “I Hear Therefore I Know: Post-Dictatorial Traumatic Expression and Death and the Maiden,” Studies in American Jewish Literature 32:2 (2012): 121-140.

Benigno Trigo (Spanish and Portuguese), Kristeva’s Fiction New York: SUNY Press, 2013. “Clemente Pereda: el gran ayunador; Entrevista a Clemente Pereda Berríos,” Exégesis: Revista de la Universidad de Puerto Rico en Humacao 26:73 (2013): 40-48. “On Kristeva’s Fiction,” Journal of French and Francophone Philosophy 21:1 (2013): 60-82. “Peacemaker: The Foraker Act and the Poetry of Evaristo Ribera Chevremont,” Revista de Estudios Hispánicos 47:2 (2013): 199-221.

Faculty News


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Tom Bogenschild (Latin American Studies, Global Education Office) chaired a panel in November 2013 at the CIEE conference in Minneapolis entitled “Credit Wars: Integration and Dis-Integration in the Study Abroad Curriculum.”

Celso Castilho (History) presented a paper in February 2014 at a Rice University Symposium “Race and Nation in the Age of Emancipations: A Symposium on the Atlantic World.” The title of the paper is “Narrating Abolition, Making Blackness: Race, Republicanism, and Political Belonging in Recife, Brazil 1888-1889.”

Paula Covington (Latin American Studies) attended the Feria Internacional de Libros in December 2013, which took place in Guadalajara, Mexico.

Tom Dillehay (Anthropology) received several grants including a National Science Foundation grant for research on Mapuche Polity Development in Chile; a National Geographic Society grant for research at Monte Verde, Chile; a CONICYT grant for cultural patrimony grant in Chile; and a National Science Foundation grant for analysis of data from Huaca Prieta, Peru.

Earl Fitz (Spanish and Portuguese) presented “Sexuality and Humor in Clarice Lispector’s Denunciation of the Brazilian Dictatorship: The Case of‘A Via Crucis do Corpo” in October 2013 at the Rocky Mountain Modern Language Association in Vancouver, WA.

Elizabeth Heitman (Center for Biomedical Ethics and Society) presented ways to integrate education on research ethics and scientific integrity into the graduate science curriculum to the administration of UNAM (National Autonomous University of Mexico) on December 4–7.

Jane Landers (History) traveled to Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic in October 2013 to present a paper entitled The First Maroon Wars in the Americas: Hispaniola in the Sixteenth Century,” at the Association for the Study of the Worldwide African Diaspora conference. In October 2013, Landers served as historical consultant and was interviewed for the PBS documentary The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross.

Graduate Student News

Ashley Larson (Latin American Studies) presented a paper in January 2014 at the Atlantic World Research Network conference “Atlantic World Foodways: The Carolina Lowcountry, Africa, Italy, and Spain.” The title of the paper was “Serving A National Myth: Visions of Gastronomy in Gilberto Freyre’s Brazil.”

Matthew Layton (Political Science) was awarded the Fulbright-Hays Doctoral Dissertation Research Abroad Fellowship in order to continue his dissertation research on the politics of conditional cash transfer anti-poverty programs in Latin America.

Will Young (Latin American Studies) and Laura Sellers (Political Science) collaborated with Professor Elizabeth Zechmeister (Political Science) on a project and coauthored paper, which will be presented at the Midwest Political Science Association meeting in April. Their presentation is entitled “The Middle Class, Insecurity, and Democracy in Latin America.”

Chelsea Williams (Latin American Studies) gave a talk in November entitled “Why Does it Matter? Same-Sex Marriage in Mexico” at University of Maryland’s Latin American Studies Center’s VII Graduate Student Conference on Latin America and the Caribbean.

Alumni News


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Alexa Remis (M.A. 2008) is currently a third-year law student at the University of Texas School of Law in Austin where she also serves as the administrative editor of the Texas Law Review. She spent last summer as a summer associate at Gibson Dunn in Washington, D.C., and she currently interns at the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Austin. Upon graduation, Alexa completed a yearlong clerkship with Judge Gregg Costa in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas before starting her law degree.

Brittany Jenkins (M.A. 2011) completed her M.A. at Columbia and is working toward her Ph.D. in sociology, concentrating on law and society, at Northwestern University. She is a part of the Comparative Historical Social Science Interdisciplinary Workshop that stresses the importance of placing social science in a historical context, where she continually meets historians and the Latin American Studies cluster.