Latin America- The reality behind the fiesta

Latin lifeIt has being two years now since we were commercially introduced to Latin America and the world went loca for all things Latino. The guys wanted Ricky Martin's boyish looks and the girls wanted the figure of supermodel Giesle and dance moves of Jennifer Lopez.

Such was the explosion that Marie Claire magazine delicated their July 2000 issue to all things Latin and Oprah Winfrey held a special show to discuss the phenomena with guest stars Jennifer Lopez and Ricky Martin in which she stated "don't you all wanna be Latino right now!"

Hot like a Louis Vuitton speedy bag and trendy like a cosmopolitan cocktail, a part of the world that was rarely talked about suddenly became centre stage.

When people thought of the word Latin, the images that came to mind were sexy, sensual, exotic and glamorous. But behind the much celebrated Latin America exists a very different world. The one pledged by dire poverty, harsh military regimes, unequal land ownership and racial conflict. Many simply fail to understand that most states in Latin America are third world countries where most of the population live well below the poverty line. Mexico city is the most populated city in the world while neighbours Brazil has the biggest divide between rich and poor and carries the largest third world debt.

The continent that was conquered by the Spaniards (except from Brazil which was ruled by the Portuguese) has faced discrimination and repression under their foreign rulers.However the departure of the Spaniards and Portuguese seems to have brought no avail as foreigners and citizens of European heritage continue to hold a large share of Latin American's wealth.

In 1919, half the land in Mexico was owned by 10% of the population and despite numerous attempts since then to introduce reform, change has being slow and agrarian reform continues to be one of the hottest topics in Mexican politics.

The population of some states such as Guatemala and Cuba have being victims of harsh military regimes by their own governments. In order for the government to protect itself from the threat of being overthrown from power they didn't hesitate to give orders to the military to assassinate those who they saw as a threat including their own citizens.

One of the biggest upset in Latin America history took place in Guatemala in 1982, when a village community was attacked and hundreds were killed by their own military. Their supposed crime was harbouring guerillas (a government opposition group). and women were raped, children were shot and huts were set alight while people were still inside. It was later discovered that a local landowner made a false claim to the military in order to attain the residing land of the villagers, an occurrence that wasn't uncommon.

In Cuba General Pinochet was recently extradited to face war charges for his time in government, under which thousands of Cuban's were killed and many more are still missing. These incidents along with many others are key in highlighting the fact that Latin Americans have not only faced harsh treatments from foreign powers such as Britain, the USA, Spain and Portugal but also from their very own governments.

Although race is an issue in the whole of Latin America, Brazil is at the centre of the race war due to the importing of slaves to work in plantations and an increasing number of immigrant settlers from Europe. Those with European heritage or Western background are often celebrated at the expense of those with an African background.

Most shocking of all however is the extent of the poverty and even more suprising is the way the rich and poor live together. It is uncommon to see an elderly man who has travelled for miles with a donkey to Mexico city from the countryside to use the telephone box, while a young businessman drives past him in a Mercedes Benz.
It is such now that the wealthy no longer acknowledge the poor and turn a blind eye to the beggars and children working on the streets. As the gap between rich and poor widens and the fight to drop the the third world debt continues, the hidden Latin America looks set to remain hidden.

By Esohe Ebohon

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