Power Centers of Latin America
This is a collection of places that we have visited over many years. We recognize these places to be vested with various forms of power that affect the lives of Latin Americans. We do not imply that this collection is representative or exhaustive, because power is diffuse and nebulous. We only hope that this diverse collection helps people become more aware of the many aspects of power.
Photo 01: Palacio de Justice, Lima, Peru (photo credit: Pablo Verdin)
The judicial arm of the government is supposed to uphold the laws of the land. It is rather unfortunate that when the judiciary discharges its functions properly, no one ever hears about it. Instead, one only hears about the bad aspects. Exhibit 1: On November 6th, 1985, the M-19 guerillas took over the Palace of Justice in Bogotá, and the ensuing firefight saw 12 supreme court judges killed, including the president of the court. Exhibit 2: When Peru's President Alberto Fujimori sought to have a constitutional amendment to permit him to run for another term, the supreme court justices who blocked him were removed from office, thus casting doubts about the independence and integrity of the judiciary system.
Photo 02: Palacio Nacional, Zócalo, Mexico City. (photo credit: Deborah Levy)
The Palacio Nacional, in which the Presidential Office is situated, is located on the east side of the Zócalo, the main square in the heart of Mexico City. On Independence Day, the president appears on the balcony over the central portal and recites the Grito de Dolores, the speech that Miguel Hidalgo used to incite the insurgency in 1810 and the enormous crowd responds with roars of Viva Mexico!
Photo 03: Miraflores lock, Panama Canal (photo credit: Nitzia Thomas)
The story of the Panama Canal is first of all a saga of human ingenuity and courage: years of sacrifice, crushing defeat, and final victory. Then the story becomes power struggles to gain and retain control and hegemony over a strategically invaluable asset. You can see a live-camera shot here.
Photo 04: Reforma, Mexico City, Mexico (photo credit: Roland Soong)
This palatial building does not house a government agency. Rather, it is the home of the newspaper Reforma. An important countervailing force against political shenanigans by the traditional power elite has been the fourth estate --- the media.
Photo 05: TV Globo's production studio at Jacarepagua, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil (photo credit: Samantha Merton)
The media are supposed to be independent watchdogs. But it can be a power in and of itself, by creating and changing public opinions, including swaying political elections. One of the most potent forces in Brazil is the TV Globo network, the producer of popular telenovelas as well as the most important news programs where most Brazilians get their information from.
Photo 06: Centro Bursatil, Mexico City (photo credit: Ellen Peterson)
In this age, economic power means much more than military might. Stock market events may have greater impact on the national well-being than anything else, and individual citizens may have a sense of helplessness as to how these events can affect their lives materially.
Photo 07: Casa Rosada, Buenos Aires, Argentina (photo credit: Roland Soong)
The Casa Rosada in the Plaza de Mayo is the seat of the executive branch of the government. President Sarmiento had it painted in pink, which was achieved by mixing beef fat, blood and lime, and it has been in that color ever since.
Photo 08: Casa Rosada, Buenos Aires, Argentina (photo credit: Roland Soong)
This is the side of the Casa Rosada that faces the Plaza de Mayo, from which leaders address the masses from the balcony. The Plaza de Mayo is the scene of many landmark events in the history of Argentina: the first mass rally to celebrate independence, the 1945 workers' demonstration organized by Eva Perón to protest against her husband's detention, the aerial bombing of the rally to defend the Perón administration from the impending military coup, the Malvinas war before and after, and the Easter Sunday 1987 rally to defend democracy.
Photo 09: The Familia Duarte crypt, the Recoleta cemetery, Buenos Aires, Argentina (photo credit: Pablo Verdin)
Not all power centers are grandiose or ostentatious. This is the tomb of Eva Perón, which belongs to her father's family. Her resting place is in a supposedly unrobbable grave under six feet of concrete, with a black crypt marked simply "Eva Duarte" and the inscription "Volveré y seré milliones" ("I will return and be millions"). Evita continues to haunt Argentine politics from here.
Photo 10: La Fortaleza, San Juan, Puerto Rico (photo credit: Deborah Levy)
This small medieval-style fortress was originally built to protect Spanish settlers from attack by the local Carib tribe. Overlooking San Juan Bay, this fortress proved not easy to defend and was taken over twice by invaders, once by the Earl of Cumberland in 1598 and once by the Dutch General Bowdoin Hendrick in 1625. This is now the official residence of the governor of Puerto Rico, and is advertised as the oldest Governor's Mansion in the Western Hemisphere still used. Its designation as a World Heritage Site confers historical prestige to its occupant.
Photo 11: Evangelical church, Caracas, Venezuela (photo credit: Deborah Levy)
Not all power belongs to men. In recent years, there have been a tremendous surge of evangelical Protestantism in Latin America. Organizationally, the protestant churches are different from the established Catholic order, with less emphasis on hierarchical supervision and greater emphasis on local self-determination.
Photo 12: Panama Viejo, Panama City (photo credit: Nitzia Thomas).
Still, we should always put into perspective that the creations of men may crumble to dust some day, and that our little vanities are but temporary illusions ...
(Return to Zona Latina's Home Page)