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MA Spanish: Latin American Studies Funded Research

Patricia Montilla Keeling:
2016 Recipient of the Jack Child Graduate Award for Summer Research

Picture of 2016 Jack Child Award recipient Patricia Montila-Keeling.

In June of 2016, I traveled to Cuba thanks to the Jack Child Research Award.  While in the program I have developed a great interest in studying the island, and after President Obama's unprecedented announcement on December 17 of 2014 ordering the normalization of full diplomatic relations, I decided it was important to study how the thaw in relations would impact small Cuban entrepreneurs in direct contact with the tourist industry.  My research focused on studying the way in which social and economic relations in Cuba are being transformed to be able to receive the large number of tourists. Particularly, the study analyzed within the context of paladares --privately owned small restaurants usually set up in a family home --the emergence of protocapitalist structures in Cuban society to take advantage of state policy changes and respond to the inflow of American tourism.

While in Havana, I conducted several interviews with Cuban entrepreneurs, economists, and journalists.  This experience allowed me to listen to their perspectives with respect not only to the increase in the number of American tourists after Obama's announcement, but also regarding the economic and social transformations that are happening in response to the recent changes.  I also had the opportunity to attend Havana University's "Facultad Latinoamericana de Ciencias Sociales" (FLACSO) monthly meeting known as "El balcón latinoamericano".  This was very valuable for my study because the most recent research findings regarding the private sector in Cuba were discussed by Cuban scholars during the presentation.  I am very thankful for this grant not only because I learned how to conduct academic research independently, but also because I had the chance to study a very historic moment between EEUU and Cuba relations.  This research is for my Qualifying Paper (QP) to attain my Master's degree and my goal is to publish it in the near future.

Greg Davis: 2015 Recipient of the Jack Child Graduate Award for Summer Research

Greg Davis

It was my great pleasure to receive the Jack Child Graduate Award for Summer Research. With the grant I was able to travel to Quito, Ecuador, stay with a local family, and travel around the city and country to carry out my research. The focus of my research looked at how the current political environment in Ecuador interacts with the both the idea and practice of freedom of expression among the population and in the media. The majority of my work consisted of inter-views with journalists, government officials, academics, NGO activists, and a few ordinary citizens.

My stay in Quito was especially interesting as it came during a time of political upheaval, which began to really heat up just two days before my arrival. In addition to my interviews, I was also afforded the opportunity to see just how Ecuadorians express their discontent on the streets. I attended both demonstrations and their rival counter demonstrations. To best see the point of view of the government, I also witnessed the President speak to a large contingent of his supporters in the main plaza outside the presidential palace, as well as at his weekly television and radio broadcast in a small town outside of Quito. My time in Ecuador was both enriching and worthwhile. It gave me the opportunity to get close to the people and develop a profound understanding of Ecuadorian politics and society, as well as improve my Spanish skills.

Alexandra Vranas:
2015 Recipient of the Jack Child Graduate Award for Summer Research

Alexandra Vranas

 I spent four weeks in Santiago, Chile doing archival research through the Jack Child Summer Research Award. My research centered on the beginnings of the student movement in Chile, especially the development of the Federación de Estudiantes de La Universidad de Chile, a student group that has been greatly involved in Chilean civil society and national politics since 1906. Focusing on the period between 1927 and 1931, this historical moment (in which the students led a movement that overthrew the dictator Carlos Ibáñez) marked a turning point for the Federación: the students became increasingly politicized, gaining an official voice in government, while they also became national heroes, sparking the creation of the mythical university student in Chilean popular culture.

While working at the Archivo Nacional and the Biblioteca Nacional, I looked at a wide variety of primary sources—everything from newspapers and official documents to literary magazines and testimonies from student participants. I also had the opportunity to speak with a couple of local historians who led me to different collections within the archives. The staff at the archives and library also provided invaluable support, teaching me how to navigate a very different system for retrieving books and documents. The project was an amazing opportunity to carry out independent research, and to be able to work with the primary sources and a variety of Chilean scholars has given me a deep and nuanced understanding of my topic.

Judi O’Brien: Recipient of the Robyn Rafferty Mathias Research Fund

When I began the Master's in Spanish and Latin American Studies at American University, I knew that I would pursue a research project in the area of drug policy in Latin America. Drug policy reform is an area of particular interest to me, in part because of the devastating societal impact of the illegal narcotics trade and prohibitionist policies on Latin America. Coincidentally, in December 2014, Uruguay's progressive president Jose Mujica signed law 19.172, the Marijuana Production, Sale and Consumption Regulation Act. 

Consumption of marijuana in Uruguay has been a constitutional right since 1974, however cultivation, purchase and sale of cannabinoids remained illegal. Citizens were therefore caught in a legislative disconnect which could result in prosecution and jail. The 2014 legislation was intended to rectify the discrepancy, and create safe and legal avenues for accessing marijuana. To prevent marijuana from becoming an object of commercial profit, the design of the law allows people to home grow marijuana, to purchase marijuana grown by government contractors for sale in pharmacies, or to form "cannabis social clubs" to collectively grow and harvest marijuana.

Through two generous research grants from the Robyn Rafferty Mathias research fund, I traveled twice to Uruguay to research the new law. There I met with government officials and legislators who drafted the new policy, members of the board of directors of the newly created Cannabis Control and Regulation Institute, as well as members of one of the country's first legal cannabis clubs. The cannabis club "Cultivando la Libertad, Uruguay Crece," invited me along to meet club members, and visit the location where the club is growing and harvesting the marijuana to be shared among its 45 members.

The goal of my research, which I will present as a Qualifying Paper for graduation, will be to contrast the stated aims of the legislation with the roll out, and the experience of a cannabis social club as they begin to interact with that bureaucracy to exercise this newly legal conduct.