Democracy & Citizenship in 20th Century Latin America

May 19, 2017 - 4:00 pm

Room C197 (The Graduate Center, CUNY)

Democracy & Citizens 20th Century Latin America May 19, 2017

New Dynamics in the Western Hemisphere

Archive Wars and Democratic Aspirations in Guatemala

Kirsten Weld, Harvard University
Guatemala’s long civil war (1960-1996) is often remembered, not inaccurately, as a time of unyielding state repression. Yet it was also a time of democratic aspirations, in which generations fought, against all odds, to make their country more just and humane. Using struggles over citizen access to state archives as its entry point, this talk traces a genealogy of grassroots challenges to authoritarianism and state violence. Though the uneven results of those struggles attest to the ongoing solidity of Guatemala’s structures of domination, they also speak to the power and endurance of alternative visions.

The “People” in Venezuelan Politics: Crisis and the Constitution in the ’90s
Julie Skurski, The Graduate Center, CUNY

Electoral Reform and the 1940 Cuban Elections
Ilán Ehrlich, Bergen Community College
Cuba’s 1940 elections represented the first time in sixteen years that all political parties were allowed to participate. This followed closely on the heels of several other democratic shoots and sprigs. One of the candidates competing for Cuba’s presidency in 1940 was Fulgencio Batista – who had dominated the island’s politics as its military chief since 1934. His chief rival, Ramón Grau, opted to rely on his personal popularity and reputation for probity. Grau had ruled briefly as provisional president in 1933 and issued a raft of decrees which had endeared him to many Cubans. Grau and his fellow Auténticos hoped their novel electoral strategy, which eschewed money out of both necessity and belief, would yield fruit. Even Auténtico candidates who counted personal wealth, such as Eddy Chibás, refused to spend money on his congressional campaign. In the end, though, this strategy proved a failure and served as an important lesson for both Grau and the Auténticos.

Moderator: Samuel Farber, Brooklyn College, CUNY

Kirsten WeldKirsten Weld (Ph.D., Yale University), a historian of modern Latin America, is John L. Loeb Associate Professor of the Social Sciences in the Department of History at Harvard University. Her first book, Paper Cadavers: The Archives of Dictatorship in Guatemala, analyzes the last half-century of Guatemalan history by focusing on the politics of archival access and knowledge production; it won the 2015 WOLA-Duke Human Rights Book Award and the 2016 Best Book Prize from the Latin American Studies Association’s Recent History and Memory Section. Her current book project, for which she was a Fellow of the American Council of Learned Societies in 2014-2015, examines the impact and afterlives of the Spanish Civil War in Latin America.


Julie SkurskiJulie Skurski (Ph.D., University of Chicago) came to the Graduate Center in January 2009 from the University of Michigan, where she taught in the departments of anthropology and history, and served as Associate Director of the Doctoral Program in Anthropology and History. Her interests lie in the subjects of historical anthropology, race, gender, postcolonialism, popular religion, and Latin American, Caribbean, and Atlantic studies. Her books include States of Violence (2005), co-edited with Fernando Coronil, and Anthrohistory: Unsettling Knowledge, Questioning Discipline (2011), co-edited with Coronil and others. Skurski is now at work on Civilizing Barbarism: Nationhood, Masculinity, and Mestizaje in Early Twentieth-Century Venezuela.


Ilán EhrlichIlán Ehrlich (Ph.D., The Graduate Center, CUNY) is Assistant Professor of History at Bergen Community College. His book, Eduardo Chibás: The Incorrigible Man of Cuban Politics (Rowman & Littlefield, 2015), is a political biography that explores the role of messianism and charisma in defending democratic institutions. During the 2008-2009 academic year, Dr. Ehrlich was a dissertation fellow at the Leon Levy Center for Biography.


Samuel FarberSamuel Farber (Ph.D., University of California) is an emeritus professor of Political Science at Brooklyn College of CUNY. He was born and raised in Cuba and has written numerous books and articles about the country. His most recent books include The Politics of Che Guevara: Theory and Practice and Cuba Since The Revolution of 1959. A Critical Assessment published by Haymarket Books in 2016 and 2011.