Unpacking Latin America

Unpacking Latin America is a monthly podcast hosted by Professor Vicky Murillo on the exciting research produced by Columbia scholars about Latin American history, culture, and politics, which helps our understanding of the contemporary challenges of the region. It is produced in English and selectively in Spanish.

Available on Spotify and SoundCloud.

Political Scientist Sarah Daly on the legacies of Latin American Civil Wars

Political Scientist Sarah Daly discusses the legacies of Latin American civil wars tracing them to the current levels of high criminality and voters’ preference for security even at the expenses of civil liberties. She discusses the impact of violence in Colombia, including this year presidential election, and the power concentration by President Bukele in El Salvador as examples of these processes. 

Lawyer and Philosopher Silvio Almeida on Structural Racism in Brazil and in the U.S.

Lawyer and philosopher Silvio Almeida discusses structural racism in Brazil in comparison with the US emphasizing the role of social movements in mobilization and production of knowledge within racialized state institutions, such as the judiciary, the legislature, and the police.

Historian Caterina Pizzigoni on the Story of the Conquest for the Indigenous People of Latin America

Historian Caterina Pizzigoni discusses the story of the Conquest for the indigenous people of Latin America. The demographic catastrophe it unleashed was followed by the continuity of everyday life in villages of sedentary populations. This contrasts with great disruption for those who were not peasants or lived in areas with gold and silver. She explains the rights and duties assigned by the Crown to indigenous peoples, as well as their resistance to the imposition of new gender roles and their adaptation of religion. She ends with the new challenges created by Independence on the indigenous populations of the region.

Sociologist Marcelo Medeiros on Conditional Cash Transfer Programs in Latin America

In this episode Marcelo Medeiros discusses conditional cash transfer programs addressing the role of conditionality on their political support and their positive effects on reducing poverty. He also elaborates on the limits of their technocratic design around 3 areas: First, he emphasizes how their fiscal conservatism made them shrink in the face of negative shocks that increased their need. Second, he points on the insufficiency of technocratic support and technical evaluations to avoid the dismantling of the largest regional conditional cash transfer programs by presidents Bolsonaro in Brazil and Lopez Obrador in Mexico. Finally, he discusses how the bureaucratic infrastructure created to target chronic poverty was inadequate to address the impact of shocks on a population that moved temporarily into poverty. 

Economist Mauricio Cardenas on Climate Change and Policy in Latin America

In this episode, Mauricio Cardenas discusses the impact of climate change and policies to reduce emissions in Latin America, based on his recent book on Climate Policies in Latin America and the Caribbean. He discussed the costs of climate change to countries in the region as well as the lessons on areas where different countries have move forward. He points to different opportunities, such as the electricity sector, as well as challenges, such as weak state capacity to monitor regulatory goals, especially in the agricultural frontier, and the need to compensate consumers who would pay higher costs for the energy transition. He concludes with a discussion of US incentives to collaborate with the region regarding climate change. Listen on Spotify. April 29, 2021

Anthropologist Nicholas Limerick on Covid-19 and Indigenous Organization in Latin America

Nicholas Limerick discusses in this episode the dramatic effects of lack of schooling in Latin America during the pandemic as well as the role of indigenous organizations, especially CONAIE, in providing information in indigenous languages to fight Covid-19. He emphasizes how indigenous organization was crucial for the establishment of bilingual education and the teaching of Kitchwa in Ecuador. He further discusses how the teaching of Kitchwa in Ecuador has involved its standardization in a way that is not necessarily recognized by those speaking the language at home. Finally, he discusses the role of the Ecuadorian indigenous movement in the presidential election of this year and his perspectives on the runoff election of April 11th. Listen on Spotify. March 16, 2021

Cultural Studies Scholar Graciela Montaldo on Gender and Feminism in Latin America

Graciela Montaldo discusses the strength of the feminist movement in Argentina and its political impact on the legalization of abortion, emphasizing its cultural dimensions and the strength of its diversity and intersectionality. She reflects on gender domination as a crucial political construction and its cultural interpretations from a domestic understanding of gender violence, questioned by the feminist social movement #NiUnaMenos, as well as the constraints on female voice in the public space in the early 20th century. Listen on Spotify. January 19, 2021

Attorney and Diplomat Julissa Reynoso on the Biden Presidency in Latin America

Julissa Reynoso, chief of staff of the future First Lady Jill Biden, discusses here the impact of the Latino vote on the election and new directions for the new administration in Latin America. She emphasizes the diversity of the Latino vote and, on foreign policy, points to changes on immigration policies, the need to foster economic options for the population in the region, to tackle climate change, and to foster hemispheric cooperation. Listen on Spotify. November 18, 2020

Anthropologist Claudio Lomnitz on Forced Disappearance and Security Militarization in Mexico

Claudio Lomnitz discusses in this episode the plight of the more than 70,000 disappeared or missing people in Mexico and their search by family members. This search does not confront a strategic plan but a complicit and weak state, which contributes both willingly and unwillingly. He further talks about Mexico’s violence as a symptom of government incapacity and its links to the militarization of security, which has continued under the presidency of Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador. Listen on Spotify. October 19, 2020

Filmmaker Frances Negrón-Muntaner on Puerto Rico and Latin America

Frances Negrón-Muntaner draws connections between Puerto Rico and Latin America based on a common history of hierarchies and coloniality and will discuss how the Puerto Rican society both in the island and in the Diaspora learned to self-organize in response to catastrophes seeking to replace the absence of by the federal state. She will also discuss how the current discussion on race and ethnicity highlights the hierarchies embedded in the Latinx and Latin American population and will tell us how her search for answering the question of Puerto Rican coloniality brought her to a career that transcends disciplinary boundaries. Listen on Spotify. September 10, 2020

Economist Jose Antonio Ocampo on COVID19 and Latin America

Jose Antonio Ocampo discusses the economic consequences of COVID-19 in Latin America, the new epicenter of the pandemic. He describes the dramatic effect of quarantine on employment and production, which are heightened by uncertainty on the future of trade and commodity prices. He also points to the emergence of new social policies reaching not only the poor, but also the vulnerable population as an important consequence. Listen on Spotify. May 31, 2020

Epidemiologist Silvia S. Martins on Spread of COVID-19 in Latin America

Silvia S. Martins, director of the Substance Use Epidemiology Unit at Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health, talks about the patterns of COVID-19 spread across Latin America and the importance of timely responses while emphasizing the challenges for the large vulnerable population of the region. She discusses the importance of faster and more coordinated health responses to the pandemic while highlighting the impact of unified as opposed to contradictory messages to the population. Listen on Spotify. April 1, 2020

Political Scientist Eduardo Moncada Discusses Urban Violence and Extortion in Latin America

Eduardo Moncada, assistant professor of political science at Barnard College, discusses his book on urban violence in Colombia as well as his recent work on extortion, a pervasive phenomenon that deprives citizens of basic public security in Latin America. He talks about its linkages to migration North and to the emergence of vigilantism seeking justice where the state does not provide it. Listen on Spotify. February 28, 2020

Economist Miguel Urquiola on the Role of Competition on Educational Outcomes

Miguel Urquiola, chair of the Department of Economics at Columbia University, talks about the role of competition on educational outcomes in a region where education coverage is larger than expected for the income level of Latin American countries, but where performance is lower than expected. In evaluating the experiences with competition and choice at different educational levels, Urquiola highlights that education markets do not always work as expected. Listen on Spotify. February 3, 2020

Historian Nara Milanich on Paternity, Family, and Inequality

Historian Nara Milanich talks about the shift from cultural to biological definitions of paternity thanks to DNA testing and how such testing could either be used to recover kids stolen by military dictatorships or to halt migration at the US-Mexico border. She also explains age-based violence suffered by migrant children in Central America. She discusses how family law was used in nineteenth-century Chile to preserve social hierarchies. Listen on Spotify. December 9, 2019

Interview with Journalist Daniel Alarcon

Daniel Alarcon is a professor of broadcast journalism at Columbia University and creator of Radio Ambulante, an award-wining Spanish-language podcast. We talk about how growing up in a Peruvian household in Birmingham, Alabama shaped his work in both Spanish and English. We talk about doing radio in Spanish and writing novels in English as well as the origins of Radio Ambulante. Listen on Spotify. November 11, 2019

Interview with Ethnomusicologist Ana Maria Ochoa

Ana Maria Ochoa talks about ethnomusicology and the connection between nature, sounds, and humans in defining what is music. She talks about how humanity and sound are defined contextually and she describes how she worked with written archives of sounds from the colonial era in Colombia and how the way we ‘record’ sound shapes our listening. Additionally, we talk about her work with Colombian indigenous filmmakers and the inter-disciplinary collective she convened to work on politics, environmental justice and aesthetics at Columbia University. Listen on Spotify. September 23, 2019

Feature Podcasts

Writing Home

An outgrowth of the popular “live” Critical Caribbean Feminisms events, which since 2015 have been bringing together established and emerging writers from the Caribbean and its diasporas, WRITING HOME is an ode to the Americas very literally writ large. Each episode features an exceptional contemporary cultural actor in conversation with hosts Kaiama L. Glover and Tami Navarro and aims to trace the geographies of resistance that ground our feminist practices of diaspora. The beauty, humor, and hope that animate these encounters are a welcome antidote to the heartbreak of the present moment.

Episodes Available at https://www.writingho.me/.