By Samuel Pennifold and LANI contributors
The annual Latin American Network Initiative Congress is a testament to the hard work and dedication of LANI since its founding in 2013 to create a voice, space, and visibility for people from the Global South and Latin America inside the Institute. This year’s Congress focused on the theme From Disparities to Diversities, with a keynote speech and panel discussion on breaking the glass ceiling for women and indigenous representation in politics. The congress is designed to foster knowledge exchange and best practices among students, academics, and practitioners who share a common interest in Latin American issues. LANI has strived to achieve this through panel discussions, workshops, and conversations to promote a deeper understanding and appreciation of the region’s rich cultural heritage, complex history, common challenges and opportunities, and diverse communities. The congress was an engaging and comprehensive analysis of Latin American issues, opportunities, and identity that connected students and faculty across disciplines.
“We need experts in our region who have heard and understood the voices from our region and give those voices spaces to talk.”
The events across the two days introduced various crucial Latin American issues and how they can be taken as examples of learning for other regions, with the workshops offered being particularly insightful.
The workshop on “Gender in Transitional Justice” was moderated by Ana Balcazar and LANI’s President Alessia Mandaglio, who were joined by Mary Díaz Marquez and Dr Felipe Jaramillo Ruiz as speakers. Dr Jaramillo Ruiz opened the conversation with an insightful presentation on the adoption of a gender lens to the four pillars of transitional justice—truth, justice, reparations, and guarantees of non-recurrence—in the Colombian peace process between FARC-EP and the Colombian Government, which began in 2012 and culminated in a peace agreement in 2016. Mary Díaz Marquez, in turn, highlighted the need for a gender focus in peace and transitional justice processes, emphasising the different gendered impacts caused by war.
The two presentations set the tone for a lively and informative discussion among the participants, who were divided into groups to explore the challenges and successes related to the integration of a gender perspective into the four components of transitional justice. Participants appreciated the opportunity to delve into the subject and apply the topic to a real-world case study like Colombia with the guidance of two experts with hands-on experience in the field. They found the workshop to be a valuable way to gain insights on transitional justice, particularly concerning gender, and to exchange ideas and perspectives with fellow attendees. Overall, the workshop was a thought-provoking and informative event that left participants with a deeper understanding of the inclusion of a gender lens in the pursuit of justice and peace.
The second workshop on “A history of exploitation of natural resources and neo-colonialism in Latin America” with Dr Mauricio Lorca was moderated by Martin Eggenberger and José Daniel Reyes Silva and focused on the historical processes of mineral extraction in the Norte Grande of Chile. The workshop was centred on how mining interests throughout history have articulated with economic and social dynamics in the Antofagasta region and shaped the lives of local populations, especially the Lickanantay (Atacameño) people. Finally, the discussion focused on lithium, which is currently starting to take off as the raw material of greatest interest in the region thanks to its key role in the energy transition for the manufacture of batteries used for electromobility. The workshop ended with a short discussion envisaging lithium’s environmental impact, indigenous peoples’ rights, the possibility (or not) of “responsible mining,” and the role of the Chilean state in managing this mineral vis-à-vis the future and a Global North hungry for raw materials.
“People, especially here in Europe, see us as a fun, dynamic, and vibrant region, but they don’t see us as serious.”
Part of the mission of the congress is to highlight the Latin American region, often boiled down to a caricature image of music, football, and bright colours, as a serious and influential focus of knowledge production. This orientalizing caricature strips Latin America, like the rest of the global south, of the rightful acknowledgement of its impactful scholarship and knowledge generation. Events such as the LANI Congress work to restore this. In the middle of the closing networking event of the Congress, I had a chance to sit down and ask Carmen Mané, LANI’s anti-harassment coordinator and GISA Welfare Committee President, about why the congress was so important.
“I think of it as a metaphor for our region,” Carmen said. “People, especially here in Europe, see us as a fun, dynamic, and vibrant region, but they don’t see us as serious. And to be honest, I have seen that there are a lot of voices that are lacking in certain spaces. Even here at the Institute, sometimes I look around in a classroom, and I am the only Latino in the place, even the only black person or person of colour. I do think that it’s very important that if people are talking about our region and our needs, we have a place at the table and a space in which we can express our concerns but also give our knowledge. We are the ones who know the most about our region and what we need. But I also think we can have a good insight into what can be improved here in Europe or other places.”
Would you like to see more Latino students coming to Europe and, as you say, sharing the expertise that is there in Latin America but is often ignored by the West?
“I think we are losing a lot of young talent, to be honest, because sadly, for people in Latin America, coming here to Geneva is quite expensive, and there has been a decrease in the scholarships. From LANI, we want to encourage not only external donors but also the Institute itself to think better about the way they are redistributing the scholarships and who they are giving them to. Because they are losing a lot of good students. I’m not saying there are not enough good students at the institute. I’m just saying we lack the diversity that the Institute is always proud to promote. I have not known one single Latin student who has not had to have a side job or hustle while just to be here and to fight for their right to be here. We want to promote and also invite external companies and any institutions that want to collaborate. But also inside the Institute, which showcases how important it is to have Latin students involved, giving feedback and also sharing their knowledge.”
Do you feel like these events are working, or is there more that the Institute could do outside of increased scholarship funding?
“I think there has been some progress. To be honest, when I first started my master’s, the syllabus was not decolonized at all. I have taken a few courses in which, even though they were focusing on the global south, the authors that they were reading were all white or had this northern western background, which was sad. Gladly, at least this semester, I have seen an opening for these courses. But again, the way the Institute works makes it hard for these courses to have a bigger audience. And even last semester, for instance, I had the history of racism course, and over 60 people were interested. And we can only say how important it is to have these courses, but having only one course per year or semester is not enough. So we have to think, ‘Okay, these are transversal issues that are not only important for the students in academia, but as the Institute proudly says, they are forming young professionals.’ And these young professionals are going to international organisations, are going to work here in Geneva, or are going to work worldwide. And we need them to not be biassed. And also to have a full image of what the world is like. And what is the situation? We need experts in our region who have heard and understood the voices of our region and give those voices space to talk.”
On a diverse campus like the Graduate Institute, there are voices that need amplifying and we are grateful to LANI for providing an opportunity for the IHEID community to engage with these topics to strengthen our common knowledge and empathy. As students of the international system we must work to open up our academic horizons. You can learn more about LANI and their events via their Instagram @lani_iheid.
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