Spanish Professors Attend Conference in Rio

North Park Spanish professors at the LASA 2009 conference

CHICAGO (July 22, 2009) ­– Samba, bossa nova, breathtaking vistas of bays and beaches—all proved tempting distractions to the work of LASA 2009, the Latin American Studies Association international conference in Rio de Janeiro in June. More than 6,000 academics from many disciplines—history, economics, commerce and trade, political science, literature, women’s studies, sociology, agronomy, journalism, and more—gathered for four days at the Pontifícia Universidade Católica under the organizing theme of “Rethinking Inequalities.” North Park Spanish professors Cherie Meacham, Lorenzo Florián, and Linda Craft attended as presenters and researchers.

Highlights of the conference were two key plenary addresses. One, entitled “Beyond the War on Drugs: Reducing Harm to Users and Fighting Organized Crime,” featured Diego García Sayán, former minister of justice and foreign relations of Peru and vice president of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. The other major speech was by Nobel Laureate in economics Joseph Stiglitz of Columbia University. Stiglitz addressed the current world economic crisis and its implications for Latin America.

For Craft, Florián and Meacham, LASA offers a chance to reconnect with people and ideas and to renew their energies and passions for Latin America. Outside their fields of literature and linguistics, they were able to touch base with the academics researching the impact of fair trade on small farmers. They were also able to hear updates from the National Security Archives, researchers who bring to light foreign policy decisions by the U.S. government in its past dealings with Latin America, especially in Chile and Central America. This year, a session chaired by John Dinges of Columbia University (former New York Times investigative reporter in Latin America), was of special interest, as he will be speaking at North Park University this fall. According to Dinges, the current economic crisis is a good time to be rethinking the role of media. In a democracy, he notes, the problem is not repression but corruption. The best journalism gathers evidence in a systematic way and analyzes it, fulfilling its watchdog role. It is independent of political power and provides a forum for public debate.

Craft presented the paper “Las fronteras franqueables de Claudia Hernández” as part of a panel, “Apocalyptic Blues in Turn-of-the-Century Central American Women Writers.” Hernández’s surreal short stories grow out of what is known as the Central American “pos-guerra” or post-war, referring to the period since the signing of peace accords in the 1990s. Since then, another kind of violence has taken over—that of narco-traffickers, gangs, and savage organized criminals. The utopian dreams of national liberation of the war years have disappeared and a general paranoia has taken hold.  Neo-liberal economic policies and the currents of globalization have further destabilized the region, exacerbating inequalities and forcing millions to emigrate in search of work. Literature being written in such a climate is understandably dark and disturbing.

In addition to attending sessions on linguistics, Latin American music, and politics, Florián visited two universities in Brazil: the Fundação Armando Avlvares Penteado (FAAP) in São Paulo, and the Pontifícia Universidade Católica (PUC) in Rio de Janiero. Both offer an excellent opportunity for North Park students interested in foreign study.

Meacham presented a paper on a Costa Rican literary work demonstrating the evolving and flexible nature of testimonial literature, adapting itself to meet the demands of the new millennium to defend justice and shape the future, rather than merely record a painful past. She will use these insights in a course she teaches in the fall on Latin American resistance literature. She will also use information she gained in traveling throughout southern Brazil in a course she will be teaching on Latin American cultures.