This Week in Latin American History (12-18 May 2013)
Sunday, May 12 Former President Jimmy Carter visits Cuba (2002). Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter became the first U.S. President to visit Cuba since the 1959 revolution that placed Fidel Castro in power. Carter held talks with Castro but was also permitted unfettered access to Cuban dissidents. He also addressed the Cuban population in Spanish in an uncensored television and radio address in which he called for an end to the U.S. embargo on the island and called on Castro to hold free election, improve human rights, and allow greater civil liberties.
Photo caption: Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter visited Cuba in 2002 and called upon Fidel Castro to adopt democratic and human rights programs.
Monday, May 13 U.S. declares War against Mexico (1846). After Texas' successful revolution for independence from Mexico, the United States granted the region statehood and offered to pay Mexico compensation for the region, a gesture that Mexico considered a declaration of war. Both sides mobilized their militaries to the disputed border along the Rio Grande and Nueces River and it wasn't long before two patrols confronted each other. Reinforcements rushed to the area resulted in larger battles and, as word reached Washington of the actions, calls for a declaration of war rang out. On May 13, 1846, Congress agreed with President Polk's request for war although other representatives (including Abraham Lincoln and former President John Quincy Adams) saw the war fever fueled by slave issues and American expansionism. The war would rage on for 18 months in places as afar as the California coast, the Texas border, and the Gulf of Mexico, until finally U.S. forces successfully marched inland to Mexico City and captured the capital.
Photo Caption: Nearly 30,000 men died during the Mexican American War from 1846-1848 during dozens of ferocious battles.
Monday, May 13 Brazil abolishes slavery (1888). Brazil’s 18th and 19th century economy was heavily dependent on slavery from the African slave trade. Historians estimate Brazil imported four to five million slaves, more than any other country in the Western Hemisphere. Approximately 35% of the slaves seized in Africa ended up in Brazil. Portugal banned slavery in 1761 but the practice continued in its colonies until well into the 19th century. Finally, on May 13, 1888, Brazil passed the Lei Áurea or Golden Rule and consequently abolished slavery in the country. Brazil was the last nation in the Western world to abolish slavery.
Photo Caption: More African slaves, by some estimates as many as five million, were transported to Brazil than any other region of the world.
Monday, May 13 Vice President Nixon attacked in Caracas (1958). Venezuelan students angry at government corruption and economic ineptitude were easily moved to violence upon U.S. Vice President Richard Nixon's arrival in Caracas on May 13, 1958. Nixon represented the Dwight Eisenhower administration that had overthrown the Arbenz government of Guatemala and had decorated former Venezuelan dictator Perez Jimenez with the Medal of Honor for his assistance in the Guatemala coup. When Nixon and his wife tried to move drive through Caracas on their way to a ceremony at Simon Bolivar's tomb, they were met by thousands of angry students who pounded on their vehicle, spat on the couple, and hurled bricks through the windows of the car. Secret Service agents threw their bodies on the sedan to shield the couple inside. Nixon barely made it to sanctuary at the U.S. Embassy and, for a while, it looked as if the mob was intent on storming the diplomatic building. Back in Washington, President Eisenhower ordered a U.S. Marine rescue mission to head south immediately but luckily Venezuelan military forces arrived to protect the U.S. Vice President. Nixon cut short his fact-finding trip and returned to the States immediately.
Photo Caption: Vice President Nixon’s motorcade is surrounded by angry Venezuelans during an official visit to Caracas in 1958.
Monday, May 13 Gang Attacks on Police in Brazil (2006). One of Brazil’s most notorious gangs launched coordinated attacks and prison revolts against Brazilian police units. Thirty people, mostly police, died in 55 simultaneous attacks. The attacks were blamed on the gang First Capital Command, known by its Portuguese initials as the P.C.C. The group was formed after the 1992 massacre at Carandiru Prison. The gang took action after it learned of a plan to transfer gang leaders to a remote prison in order to reduce their influence.
Photo Caption: Gang members from the First Capital Command, P.C.C. in Portuguese pose. The P.C.C. launched a series of attacks against Brazilian police officials in Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo in 2006 to disrupt a plan to transfer its imprisoned members to remote sites.
Tuesday, May 14 Paraguay Independence Day (1811). Following the loss of Spanish authority in the region as a result of French-Spanish conflict in Europe, Paraguay was inspired to fight back against Spanish authorities. May 14 marks the first day of a two-day celebration that commemorates the start of the war of independence in Paraguay.
Thursday, May 16 U.S. Marines land in Dominican Republic (1916). U.S. concerns over stability near its new Panama Canal plus Theodore Roosevelt's imperial ambitions resulted in a U.S. threat to intervene in Dominican Republic national politics if the country could not resolve its own problems. On May 16, 1916 the U.S. did that: landing Marines on the island to establish a military government and forcibly correct the instability on the island. The American military government successfully implemented many institutional reforms including reorganization of the tax system, expansion of primary education, creation of a nation-wide police force, and the construction of a national system of roads. The occupation force also met fierce resistance in some of the rural parts of the country and guerilla warfare raged on until 1924 when the Marines pulled out.
Thursday, May 16 Sendero Luminoso attacks in Peru (1985). Sendero Luminoso Group marked the fifth anniversary of its organization with a wave of bombings, including the U.S. Ambassador's residence and the Chinese Embassy in Lima, Peru.
Thursday, May 16 Pablo Rayo Montano arrested in Brazil (2006). Montano was one of the most-wanted drug lords in the world, accused of shipping 70 tons of cocaine to the United States. On May 16, after being on the run for almost ten years, he was arrested in Sao Paulo, Brazil as part of an international sting operation orchestrated by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA). According to the DEA, Montano was the mastermind behind a 21st century drug trafficking organization that had links to the FARC, AUC, and ELN in Colombia. He allegedly controlled all aspects of the cocaine trafficking process including production, international smuggling, wholesale distribution and money laundering. Montano primarily relied on maritime transshipment originated on both the west and northern coasts of Colombia and utilized fast boats, fishing boats, submersibles, and containerized cargo vessels to transport the narcotics to the U.S.
Photo Caption: U.S. Coast Guard officials examine narcotics onboard a “go-fast” speedboat in the Caribbean, one of many shipments of cocaine coordinated by Pablo Rayo Montano before his capture in 2006.
Friday, May 17 Argentina Navy Day (1814). Celebrated annually to commemorate the naval victory over Spanish loyalist forces in the River Plate (Rio Plata), the battle was a critical victory on the road to Argentina’s eventual independence. On May 17, 1814, Guillermo Brown challenged a larger Spanish force sailing from Montevideo, Uruguay and, after cutting off their retreat to Uruguay, managed to separate and defeat the Spanish flotilla. Five Spanish ships were burned, two others were captured, and the remainder of the Spanish fleet surrendered later. Argentine forces lost four men and one ship. Guillermo Brown was awarded the rank of Admiral because of this victory and remains one of the greatest naval heroes in the history of Argentina.
Saturday, May 18 45 Chilean soldiers die in blizzard (2005). Forty-five military conscripts died from exposure when caught outside by a massive blizzard during a military exercise. The storm was described as the worst in decades. Hundreds of other soldiers were able to shelter in refuges in the area.
Saturday, May 18 Creation of the Sendero Luminoso (1980). Although the Sendero Luminoso (or Shining Path in English) had been originally organized as a Marxist student movement in the late 1960s, May 18, 1980 marked the first violent act of the terrorist organization. On the eve of the 1980 presidential elections, the group burned ballot boxes in the Peruvian town of Chuschi. The group would grow to become the largest Marxist insurgent group in South American and fought against the Peruvian government from 1980-1992. The group is responsible for 27,000 deaths including government representatives, foreign tourists, and peasant farmers. The latter eventually grew weary and alienated of the group’s vicious tactics and extreme ideology. Mostly dormant since leader Abimael Guzman’s capture in 1992, the group has seen a resurgence recently in the highlands of Peru. The U.S. Department of State still lists them as a Foreign Terrorist Organization.
Photo Caption: Members of the Sendero Luminoso in rural Peru shortly after the group’s establishment in 1980.
Information collated by Professor Pat Paterson, CHDS. Comments are welcome by email to Patrick.email@example.com.