The Committee on United States-Latin American Relations, a Cornell-based organization focused on promoting social justice in the Americas, will commemorate its 50th anniversary this weekend with a variety of panels, discussions and lectures.
Since its founding in 1965, CUSLAR has impacted a variety of communities, from teaching Spanish language classes to local Ithaca families to resettling political refugees from Chile to Ithaca.
Bill Rogers, who was Cornell’s current University chaplain, founded CUSLAR with several Cornell students in 1965 against a backdrop of political unrest. At the time, the United States government often intervened in the politics of Latin American countries, involving itself in the CIA-backed coup in Brazil in 1964 and in the Dominican Republic’s stifled revolution in 1965, according to the committee.
CUSLAR harnessed existing campus unrest to educate the community further on the relationship between the United States government and Latin American countries. According the newsletter, Cornellians were “incensed” by the United States government’s support to authoritarian regimes.
Since its inception, CUSLAR has continued to deal with political issues between the United States and Latin America.
According to Tim Shenk, CUSLAR’s coordinator, the committee and Friends of Chile helped to resettle dozens of political prisoners in the 1970s to the Ithaca area after a Chilean coup against the Unidad Popular, or Popular Party Government, which was led by elected socialist President Salvador Allende. The committee also led delegations in the 1980s to Nicaragua after the fall of its dictatorship, communicating directly with the Nicaraguan people.
Last spring, the organization led a trip to Washington D.C. to lobby Congress, intending to convince legislators to denounce a 2002 Paraguayan massacre. The program has also partnered with Cornell University to organize eight week study abroad programs focusing on global health and systems of care in the Dominican Republic.
While CUSLAR has remained active at Cornell since its inception, Shenk said many of the issues the committee deals with have shifted away from the controversies of direct government intervention to current economic disparities in the Latin American region.
“Now I think decisions that are affecting the region are not being made as much by elected representatives but rather by the private sector, changing our strategy,” Shenk said.
Shenk said that while relations between the United States and Latin America are no longer peppered with such overt instances of political interference, government interference is still evident.
“A lot, in terms of the economic structure, hasn’t changed,” Shenk said. “You have to look deeper under the surface to see what is going on, there is that continuity as well as change.”
While CUSLAR has made many notable accomplishments in the last 50 years, Shenk said he believes its most lasting impact may be its alumni.
“Our legacy, I think, is our people,” Shenk said. “And one of the things that I’m really excited about for this weekend is that we will have a lot of people in all stages of their life … who are making significant contributions assisting Latin America and around the region in human rights and in teaching and scholarship.”
Many past members of CUSLAR continue to stay involved in the field, including Alicia Swords, CUSLAR board member and professor of sociology at Ithaca College.
“It is through CUSLAR that I had first hand connections to get to know community and international leaders from Latin America, whose work both inspired me and helped me understand the realities of the world I knew I wanted to be involved in,” Swords said.
The organization continues to bring new interns into the community, drawing students who may one day continue the legacy of those who came before them.
“I hadn’t had the opportunity to learn a lot about Latin America through school, but through our pre-departure seminar and my experience in the Dominican Republic I’ve become very interested in Latin American history,” said CUSLAR student intern Julia Smith ’15, who hopes to pursue a career in global public health after graduation.
Smith, in addition to her normal duties, is helping to prepare for the 50th anniversary celebration this weekend, which many alumni are returning to Cornell to attend.
At the anniversary celebration, CUSLAR members and alumni will convene to commemorate its past accomplishments and discuss what is on the horizon for the organization, Shenk said.
The events will take place this Friday from 5:30 to 7 p.m. in Barnes Hall Auditorium and Saturday from 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. in the Founders Room of Anabel Taylor Hall.