My second scholastic year brought about my political awakening, particularly regarding social development and human rights in Latin America. In my Peru/Latin American History class, the final project was to organize a group of peers and choose a subject to present to the rest of the school population in our gym. Since the course was mandatory for all Grade 10 students enrolled in the American High School Diploma, all my friends shared the same task - we were able to work together even though we did not share the same class period. What a great deal! The group consisted of the usual suspects: Glen Swanson, Alejandro Alves, Sebastian “Crack” Olivares, William Erickson and I. Terrorism was a topic we had been schooled on extensively by the events of the Japanese Embassy, the local media and CNN En Español – this used to be an excellent Latin American news channel before it became a watered down version of the US parent network – so we decided to delve in to “Terrorism in Latin America.”
|Probable outfit for presentation, minus the slippers|
I don’t think any group of students worked so tirelessly and passionately on a subject as we had in the history of Roosevelt’s Peru/Lat fair. We dissected Colombia, Nicaragua, Mexico and Peru – arguably some of the more experienced countries in terms of the nature of this conflict. We broke each country down into specific regions of activity attempting to understand their theatres of operation and social conditions. Glen even made a GI Joe reproduction of guerrillas and security forces in a tropical war zone. I wanted to know the original platform of these movements and compare them to current activities to ascertain any possible legitimacy. I remember burning stocks of midnight oil, researching guerrilla movements, urban terrorism and some of the big leftist leaders they swore allegiance to. I wanted to make sure my knowledge was extensive to be able to answer any possible questions that could come my way. I began to differentiate Marxists, Marxists-Leninists, Maoists, the whole nine yards. Being a good American High School student, I became a great admirer of Ernesto Guevara – better known in some circles as El Che – particularly for his passion in struggling for better conditions and welfare for all inhabitants in his beloved Latin America – not to mention his pragmatism.
I was not one who would deface an American flag or stand before the UN Security Council to denounce the spectre of Yankee imperialism. What I could tell was the difference between "people" and "politics". The latter had a way of shaping people’s lives and many people continue to overlook this today, dismissing the subject, boasting, “Politics don’t apply to me.” You have pretty much surrendered your most basic democratic right if you truly believe this statement. I didn’t buy into this from the tender age of 11. As the modern day Rome, the USA during the Cold War went to many lengths to defend its interests within their “backyard” - as they so often dubbed Latin America in our classes in Roosevelt. They supported governments (military dictatorships and other illegitimate mandates) that oppressed its citizens to live under conditions never witnessed in most contemporary industrialized nations, only to support a minuscule and all-mighty privileged national elite. Anti-Communist self-branding went a long way on your local public checking wired from the US treasury back then. In many countries, the poor had no chance of social betterment and I had a minimal bird’s eye view of their living conditions. It was heart breaking. It is true in many of these countries that the only substantial political change could have come through revolution, as the interests of the many could never be considered by the reigning few. Someone had to listen and understand that their glasshouse was not indestructible. Their political institutions were not even close to what we enjoy and take for granted in the so-called “developed” world.
The best part of the project was not only the A on the report card. I was proud of everything I learned throughout the project along with all the team effort put into our presentation. Sorry for being so corny but it will always be the truth. Our buddy Crack managed to get us an interview with the head of security in the company his father, Uncle Vince, worked for in Lima. This man had been a Peruvian military paratrooper who fought in the front lines against the Shining Path. Perhaps he could have been suffering from post-traumatic depression or anxiety, but it did not cloud his very valuable insight. He told us that most of these groups’ intentions from the get-go are noble yet they prey on the uneducated that are easy to mold into a “freedom fighter” as recruits. The example he suggested was: “If you are poor, your family is starving and some people come to you asking you if you want to be a hero for your country, feed your family by taking a machine-gun, who wouldn’t become a guerrilla?” He mentioned that fighting in these types of conflicts makes you become quite jaded and most people end up forgetting the purpose of their struggle, swearing by empty slogans and pointless violence.
|Left to right: Alejandro, Me and Crack|
After the many years of living in a continent I adored as my own, I felt a sense of respect for the people and a duty towards them. I had witnessed so much about this region which people back home would not even hear about on the evening news – very rarely is there anything newsworthy in the eyes of the Canadian media happening in Latin America. Not many people I knew back home could grasp what it was like to have people close to them kidnapped and held as hostages, had to have their cars routinely checked for explosives, keep armed security to protect their homes and their precious lives. I hoped that after completing my school sentence and returning to Canada, I would be able to get an excellent blend of life experience and high quality education in Political Science to one day help in strengthening institutions and human development. Latin America had so much to offer to the world and change could not be possible always through armed revolution or terrorism, but there needed to be a revolution of the global consciousness. People deserved to have a shot at making something of themselves in their own country and all rights had to be universal not to serve a few.