Dreams of A Diplomat: Area Studies

by Just Juan
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“For all of the challenges we see here in the United States, it’s arguably worse in South America” – Dr. Kevin Funk

For the better part of the past 4 months, I’ve been moving my way through Spanish Basic for S-2/R-2 Skills. Next week is my final evaluation and everything is tracking toward me accomplishing the S-2/R-2 required to pass the course. I’ll worry about that next week. Yesterday, I wrapped up a complementary course to the Spanish I’ve been studying: Andean Republics & Southern Cone: Language Integrated. A bit more concentrated than that the Western Hemisphere Regional Overview I took in the gap, the course provided an overview of Spanish-speaking South America—the Andean Republics and the Southern Cone—in a manner that is aimed to enhance my job performance and experience by making me more aware of, and sensitive to, the subregion’s historical, political, socioeconomic, and policy issues. Over the 6 weeks, my colleagues—the ones also headed to South America—and I were exposed to (1) the histories, societies, and cultures of Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay, and Venezuela; (2) the subregion’s governments and economies; (3) the evolution of United States policy toward Spanish-speaking South America; and (4) the current political, social, economic, environmental, security, and COVID-related challenges.

To start the course, we familiarized ourselves with the dynamics of Integrated Country Strategy (ICS)…the 4-year strategic plan that articulates whole-of-government priorities in a given country while also incorporating higher-level planning priorities. The ICS for Andean Republics, particularly that of Colombia and Ecuador, were very intriguing. On Day 1, we had a session on African descendants in South America with Dr. Judith Anderson from the City University of New York’s Borough of Manhattan Community College. It was enlightening as we learned about the checkered history of race-based inequalities in South America for Blacks on the continent and how they have been alternatively erased from and incorporated into the rolls as citizens. Following up on that, we learned about the colonial roots in South America. I gained a great sense of context with regards to the outcomes of European colonialism and how it still shapes the region today.

The War on Drugs was definitely a hotbed topic of discussion in the course. I’ve watched all 3 seasons of Narcos on Netflix and I’m a big fan of Maria Full of Grace. I thought I knew a great deal about the drug culture coming out of Colombia but I wasn’t close. The extent, nature, causes, and consequences of the drug trades in South America—not just in Colombia—are far-reaching and the tenets of American drug policy are very important as a result. We learned about migration in the region and the systemic and unrelenting violence against women and Blacks. I was actually pretty horrified at some of the stories of how people of color were “disappeared” in certain countries within the Andean Republics and Southern Cone. I was absolutely appalled at the rate of femicide and how it does go unchecked. For as bad as relations are here in the United States as it concerns Black Americans, I don’t think there will ever be a day and time I would rather suffer the fate of my South American brethren.

Aside from the aforementioned topics, we covered how China is becoming a major player in South America and how the U.S. had somewhat of a meddling past in the affairs of those nations. We spent a great bit of time on the economics of the region, the tensions in the Amazon, and classism.

I thought it was a great course. It definitely opened me up to a lot of South America’s history that I didn’t learn in World History 9 as a freshman in high school. Perhaps the most incredible piece of history I gathered from the course was the September 11th attack. No, not this attack but rather the attack that led to the death of Chilean President Salvador Allende and the ascension of the ruthless Augusto Pinochet. All in all, I think the Andean Republics & Southern Cone: Language Integrated course was well worth it.

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