Posted by: studentgroup | October 26, 2010

Villanova Student Group Learns about Nicaraguan History

For the Water for Waslala student group’s second general body meeting, we invited Professor Lowell Gustafson from Villanova University’s Political Science Department to address our group.

Dr. Gustafson gave us a comprehensive history of Nicaragua and other parts of Latin America.  We were amazed to learn just how much Nicaragua’s challenging past has ultimately led to the current water crisis (still) facing its people today. Beginning in colonial days and progressing through modern times, Dr. Gustafson traced the history of Nicaragua from Spanish rule in the 16th century up to the 19th and 20th centuries where American interests greatly swayed the course of Nicaragua’s economy and culture.  Dr. Gustafson highlighted American-Nicaraguan relations into three historically significant stages.

  1. In the 19th century, Americans–imbued with nationalist sentiments–were still trying to define their borders.  Nicaragua was an attractive,
    Nicaraguan Canal Cartoon

    From Wikipedia, a 1895 cartoon advocating U.S. action to build the Nicaragua Canal

    potential territory to add to the United States. One American, William Walker, led private military expeditions throughout Latin America and even usurped the Nicaraguan leadership and became president for a short period.

  2. As trade with Asia became more popular and profitable, a possible canal building expedition was proposed to run through Nicaragua.  Construction would have began in 19th century.
  3. In the 20th century, widespread fear of the Bolshevik Revolution motivated Americans to take a strong interest in Nicaragua.  As Latin America, and especially Nicaragua, was so poor and so close to American shores, the American government exerted significant influence over Nicaraguan rule in order to curb the Soviet threat.

Adding a another dimension to his talk, Dr. Gustafson spoke about Catholic Social Thought and its influence in Latin America. He noted that the Church has too often sided with the privileged, but one exception was Bartholome de Las Casas, who criticized the Spanish for their brutal imperialist techniques and called for a reinterpretation of the Gospel from the experience of the enslaved natives.  This was an example of Liberation Theology in action, which was another movement that swept through many regions of Latin America.  Dr. Gustafson clarified that the guiding factor in Liberation Theology is the premise that God is on the side of the oppressed.  He offered tales from the Book of Exodus as an example, where God leads his people to earthly salvation.

Overall, Dr. Gustafson’s talk gave our student group a more clear vision of Latin American history and also a renewed sense of hopefulness in the possibility of positive change.

Thank you, Dr. Gustafson, for supporting WfW and coming to speak at our student meeting!

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