Latin American Centre 50th Anniversary – Alumni Reflections
Latin American Centre 50th Anniversary – Alumni Reflections
LAC Alumni are warmly encouraged to send in their reflections for the website. Please send them to firstname.lastname@example.org
Beatriz Castro, DPhil Modern HIstory (2001), MPhil Latin American Studies (1986), Profesor University of Valle, Cali - Colombia
Pensar en el Latin American Centre es recordar dos épocas muy especiales en mi vida: primero como estudiante de Maestría 1984-86, y luego, como estudiante de Doctorado 1998-2001. LAC significa para mí un espacio donde adquirí un conocimiento amplio, diverso y riguroso sobre Colombia y sobre la región, a través de clases y conferencias, en los seminarios y en los constantes intercambios y debates que se hacían, casi siempre con presencia de especialistas invitados.
También significa para mí aprendizaje de profesores que fueron generosos al compartir sus conocimientos, exigentes en sus requerimientos e inspiradores para profundizar sobre nuevos y diferentes aspectos de las sociedades latinoamericanas. Dentro del cuerpo profesoral tengo que hacer mención especial de Malcolm Deas, no sólo por haber sido mi tutor en dos ocasiones, sino porque sus enfoques siempre han sido sui generis y críticos de los propios prejuicios europeos sobre América latina, y por su reconocida capacidad de invitar a considerar todos los problemas de una manera que permite abandonar el lugar común, a lo que M. Deas suma, hasta el presente, un conocimiento bibliográfico que, a partir de una curiosidad de bibliófilo, resulta admirable. La experiencia de estar en una biblioteca como la Bodleian se complementaba de manera sorprendente con trabajar en la propia biblioteca del M. Deas que, sobre todo para el siglo XIX, satisface y sorprende a investigadores principiantes y confirmados.
Al encontrarse LAC en St. Antony´s College me posibilitó además el encuentro de gentes de distintas partes del mundo, con las que podía compartir intereses e inquietudes y ampliar el espectro de problemas más allá del mundo latinoamericano, así como construir amistades que han perdurado hasta el presente.
Peter Siderman, MPhil (1987-1989), Managing Director of Ika Hill Partnerships Ltd.; Pilar Domingo, MPhil, DPhil (1988-1993), Research Fellow at Overseas Development Institute; Alexandra Barahona de Brito, MPhil, DPhil (1988-1993), Freelance Research at the Centre of International Relations Studies at Lisbon University
Our time at the Latin American Centre, first as M. Phil (all three of us) and later as D.Phil students (Alexandra and Pilar) was one of the happiest in our lives, not least because of the friendships formed during that period, which remain strong to this day, as shown by this joint “remembering.”
Although we each have distinct memories of our time at the Centre – and although there are lots of juicy stories, close shaves, and politically incorrectisima angles that must be left out – there are some shared experiences that are fit for a celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of the LAC. Alexandra was, along with Pam Lowden, one of “Alan’s Angels” or so those of us whose D. Phil he tutored chose to call ourselves, although it was Alan who was the Angell that led our theses to a buen puerto, not us. Pilar, tutored by Laurence, enjoyed the illuminating experience of seemingly off-the-hoof, unstructured but highly creative and reflective conversations that in the end assured the encaminamiento of her thesis.
For some of us, it is hard to separate the LAC from St. Antony’s, and the most lasting impression of the whole is the pleasure of belonging to an energetic and fun community of young scholars from all over the world. And even those of us who came from further afield (Nuffield, Linacre, LMH to name a few) thoroughly enjoyed the salsa evenings in St. Antony’s Late Bar, particularly with the Mexican contingent, which had the most expert hip-swivellers.
The afternoon talks at the Centre bring good memories of discussions on developmental economics led by Rosemary, Bolivian and Mexican and revolutionary politics, Laurence Whitehead’s arena, Chilean elections, Alan Angell’s passion, the vagaries of Colombian politics, Malcolm Deas’ territory, among many other topics.
While these were pre-internet, Skype, and ieverything days, as students we enjoyed fluid communications with Latin America, thoroughly enriching periods of field work in the region and, not least, access to fantastic resources at the LAC, including the private collections so generously shared by our Latinoamericanista lecturers, as well as within the Bodleian library system and indeed at the other Oxford colleges to which some of us belonged.
Whatever professional path we have followed after going down from Oxford, the lessons and approaches learned at the LAC, and the contacts made there, as well as the space for critical thinking have served us all really well – this has proved just as true for those going into the private sector and business, as it has our classmates who chose academia, journalism or development work. Just as importantly, to our minds, the LAC will remain as relevant to new students arriving in 2016 and beyond, as it has to all those of us who entered in the sixties, seventies and eighties.
Carol Graham, Leo Pasvolsky Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution and College Park Professor, University of Maryland
I came to the Centre to do my DPhil in 1987 – a time that the Centre was in many ways at the top of its game, and at the same time struggling with the changes that the University faced as spillover from the Thatcher era. Alan Angell, Malcolm Deas, Rosemary Thorp, and Laurence Whitehead were all there in fine form, and QEH was also a tour de force, run by Frances Stewart and deeply engaged in the debates over the social costs of adjustment. And there were countless fascinating visitors from Latin America, including Colombian presidential candidate Galan, who was in hiding due to death threats, threats that tragically became real when he returned to Colombia after his peaceful sojourn in Oxford. Scores of brilliant Chileans, such as Alejandro Foxley and Marta Lagos, came through to visit precisely at the time that Pinochet was defeated in the plebiscite and the country returned to democracy. Those were exciting times at the Centre and despite being hidden away on a remote street in Oxford, its strong linkages to many of those events were evident to all of us. At the same time, the Centre was always full of humor and times of dramatic events were no exception. I remember countless lectures from Alan on the undervaluation of the fountain pen as I typed madly away in my limited time on the Centre’s one word processor (if it was even that). I found myself quite puzzled with a country that had led one of the world’s longest lasting empires, and yet was well behind my native Peru when it came to computers, software, and telephones. And then there was the occasional slamming of the Centre door and explosive voice of Malcolm Deas complaining about the conspiracies of government and why on earth did he have to teach so many students. And then of course there was Rosemary, seemingly blissful and above all of the banter and drama of her at times zany colleagues, in pursuit of making Latin America a better place, with saint-like dedication. What a place! After the wide streets and large block buildings and the turgid political discourse of Washington, where I had been before and am again now, it is remarkable how much the experiences and intellectual discourse that emanated from a tiny house on Church Walk in Oxford changed the course of my career and indeed the way I think about the human condition. The Centre is a place that demonstrates that ideas and intellectual integrity can have a reach far beyond whatever small borders they emanate from.
Celia Szusterman, DPhil 1978, Director of the Latin America Programme, Institute for Statecraft
On 9th July 1976 I was at home waiting for my boyfriend, Augustito Conte Macdonnell to come. He was doing his military service at the Bahia Blanca naval base. He never came. I had spent two years at the University of Essex hoping to learn about the Welfare State and the NHS and perhaps, why not? embark on a career path that one day would lead me to the Social Welfare Ministry. Ezequiel Gallo, Ernesto Laclau (and Alan Knight and Lidia Lozano) were also there at the time. Endless conversations and arguments about Argentina. In September 1976 I realised there was not much future for me if I stayed in Buenos Aires. I arrived back in England not very sure of what I was going to do. Sociology seemed so irrelevant at the time. Encouraged by Ezequiel Gallo, I applied to Oxford. At the interview, I was asked why did I not stay in Essex given that Laclau was there. I replied: “precisely because Laclau is there I need to get away”. They accepted me. The next hurdle was to be accepted at St Antony’s. Malcolm Deas was not very keen. Alan Angell was on sabbatical at the time. I met the Warden at a drinks party and he asked me: “Do you think you can write a better book if you love or hate your subject?” I realised Raymond Carr expected the “hate” answer. So that’s what I replied, although not convinced. Raymond told Malcolm, who was standing nearby, "I think she can make a reasonable contribution to the College”. And that was that.
Life at College felt, coming from the horror unleashed by the Junta, almost like having reached Paradise. Even if I had to share a bathroom at 64 Woodstock Road with two men! I did not mention this fact to anybody I knew. I was too embarrassed. For the first time, after the politicisation of the University of Buenos Aires (which, although much less so, continued in Essex), at the LAC I learnt to think: to question assumptions, to avoid meaningless generalisations, to write clearly and avoid the pretentiousness of “big” words. I was proud to become one of “Alan’s Angels”… With the exception of a Venezuelan student who criticised me for criticising the government of Argentina in a foreign country, our exchanges in the Common Room every day after lunch were some of the most lively I had ever had on the current state and future of our region. A haven indeed.
Fiona Macaulay, Senior Lecturer in Development Studies, Bradford University
‘But there’s a Latin American Centre at the University. Didn’t you know that?’ said my friend, as I bemoaned how bored I was with my NGO fundraising job, and hankered after my time in Central America. The next day I pedalled furiously up to North Oxford, and my first encounter with my future supervisor, Alan Angell. In fact, I already had a connection with the Latin Americanist community in Oxford. During my time teaching at the University of León and running development projects in Nicaragua in the late 1980s, Colin Clarke had come out to visit (he was a family friend of my housemate there, who was studying Spanish with Robert Pring-Mill). We took him around to see the Sandinista sights, once memorably hitching a ride on the back of a (new) garbage truck to get to the port city of Corinto, Colin with a white hanky knotted over his thinning hair against the tropical sun. I now remember him asking me if I had thought of doing a Masters. No, I replied, I don’t think academia is for me…. I stayed five years, through the MPhil and DPhil.
For my doctoral writing up, Alan kindly gave me use of The Garage, which was very spacious. Its main downside, apart from being uninsulated, was its lack of, ahem, comfort facilities, out of hours, which meant a trek round to St Antony’s. Indeed, I burned the midnight oil so late that many people thought I lived there. I became a kind of informal concierge for the LAC, as lost students would knock on my door. But when I first joined, I was of course somewhat in awe, not just of the staff, but also of more advanced students. The Friday seminar had a three-line whip for attendance, but also a clear and hierarchical protocol when it came to the Q and A section: first the lecturers asked questions, then the doctoral students and then the lowly Masters students. But, being a feminist and noting that very few women spoke, I made a pact with my friend Sarah Howard that, no matter what, we would take it in turns, week on week, to put up our hands and say something…. I spent many seminars formulating and reformulating in my head a question or comment that I hoped did not sound too foolish.
Indeed, the seminar-based teaching provided its own challenges and entertainments. Malcolm would lecture on whatever he pleased, with no reference to the intended topic of the class. Alan Knight introduced a revolutionary North American innovation by distributing Actual Typed Reading Lists. The post-prandial afternoon seminars were the hardest to get through without nodding off, although bets were often laid as to which of the senior academics would go slack-jawed first. (Alan Angell told me a story of setting light to one eminent professor’s newspaper to wake him up. Although such naughtiness seems improbable given his Welsh Chapel propriety, one of the joys of a tutorial or lunch was hearing him gossip). Seminars on politics also often became The Alan and Malcolm show, where Malcolm would attempt to get wind up Alan Angell with the scathing phrase ‘Oh, that’s a sort of typical Oxfam analysis’. Alan, in turn, would bridle, go red, and attempt a rebuttal. Anyone who has read Malcolm’s irreverent, determinedly off-topic and hilarious entries in the St Antony’s College Record knows that LAC had its own hybrid of Evelyn Waugh and David Lodge…
But for me, most importantly, I would never have found my way to Brazil without the LAC. The first Brazilian MSc student I met, Mauricio Rands, taught me Portuguese and became later a leading PT politician. Herminio Martins conducted the class on Brazil with passion and eccentricity, when made me determined to do research there. When I suggested a comparative study to Alan Angell, he mused ‘Hmm, Argentina? Too complicated. Uruguay, too boring. Brazil – excellent!’ I appreciated being trusted to get on and find my own path to my doctoral research (‘I’m flying to Brazil next week on fieldwork, but I’m still not sure what I’m looking for.’ ‘Good, that means you’ll be more open-minded. Off you go’). Supervision consisted of many St Antony’s lunches, Alan taking me out for ice-cream in Santiago de Chile (‘I used to bring my kids’ here’). Indeed, I was one of ‘Alan’s Angels’, as Susan McRae, his wife, used to refer to all his doctoral students working on Chile, nearly all of whom lived at some point in Tom O’Keefe’s parents’ apartment in the capital.
What I remember most is how supportive the environment was. I suggested I could run a seminar series on gender issues in Latin America, and a budget appeared, allowing me to meet the main academics in the field. Rosemary made it her business to support female students, the librarians Ruth and Laura were endlessly kind and supportive (after my son was born I would leave him asleep in their office during seminars), and Elvira was always there, sympathetic, calm, ready to listen to all woes and triumphs. Happy 50th birthday!
Paul Gootenberg, SUNY Distinguished Professor of History & Sociology, Stony Brook University (New York)
In my all too brief time at St. Antony’s, 1979-81, the Latin American Centre (still in its mossy home on Winchester Road) was a hive of activity. The “dons” –Rosemary Thorp, Alan Angell, Malcolm Deas, D.C.M. Platt, Laurence Whitehead—were always exciting to see in action, not only for their brilliant questions and insights in the many seminars and symposia, but also in the model that they exemplified together as working colleagues. Malcolm’s humor and digressions, of course, were essential to keeping it all in perspective. To cultural outsiders like most of us—the motley graduate students or visitors from South or North America—there was, admittedly, an anthropological side to trying to understand the peculiarities of “the English,” or of Oxford. To their credit, these mysteries aside, they were all very decent hosts and human beings. Academically, the expectation was to jump into proactive roles in the seminars, a challenge to students lacking their remarkable backgrounds, but I think a productive one in the end in terms of growing our analytical confidence and interdisciplinary spirit. For such a small place in terms of faculty, it seemed so incredibly dynamic, setting new intellectual agendas. St. Antonys and the Centre, at risk of a pun, was at the center of it all, a global destination. Most of all, I recall a warm and intimate community of scholars and friends—some of whom have remained in and out of touch for decades—an idyllic community that I think many of us have been trying to find again, and pass along, in our own intellectual pursuits and own academic communities in the years ever since.
John King B.Phil 1973, Emeritus Professor, University of Warwick
I started the B.Phil in Latin American Studies at the Latin American Centre in October 1972. I had some Spanish but knew nothing about Latin America, an ignorance that the two-year course set out to correct.
I specialised in literature, under the guidance of David Gallagher. I must have been David’s last graduate student because he left the Centre in 1974 to take up a successful career in merchant banking. David knew everything and everybody and a tutorial would often be followed by an invitation to meet writers and critics at his house. That is a dominant memory I have of the Centre: it was a place to learn, but also to meet people from across Latin America. It was David who suggested that I work on the writer Adolfo Bioy Casares for my B.Phil dissertation.
I set off to Buenos Aires in July 1973 in search of Bioy. I had forgotten to check whether he would be there and, on arrival, I discovered that he was spending the Argentine winter in Paris. Undeterred, I went in search of his early work, which he had sought to disown, and looked out his friends. The most memorable meeting was with Jorge Luis Borges, then isolated and depressed at the return of Perón some weeks earlier. Borges in the library, Peronist supporters on the street: how to make sense of it all?
I headed back to Paris on a boat from Brazil to Lisbon. I met the only other Brit, one Constantine Benckendorff, a young Old Etonian. Constantine asked me several times if I knew any journalists. He wanted to tell me something, but was reticent, and by then I did not have any money left to get him drunk and loosen his tongue. We parted in Lisbon and it was only months later, when the news broke, that I discovered that Constantine had met the then penniless train robber, Ronnie Biggs, in a Rio bar and had been asked to sell his story. I continued on to Paris and knocked on the door of Bioy’s rented flat. He answered, dressed in towel and dressing gown – I had got him out of a shower – and we both shivered at each other: nerves on my part, exposure to an autumn chill on his part. But he graciously let me in and answered my questions.
Bioy, Borges, Perón viewed at a distance, and almost Ronnie Biggs: a memorable trip, one that made me realise, thanks to the Centre, that some sort of engagement with Latin America would be my life. Later on Alan Angell and Malcolm Deas would also open up very interesting avenues for me. But those are other stories.
Marco Palacios, Professor at the Center for Historical Studies, El Colegio de México and Adjunct Professor at the Faculty of Administration at the Universidad de los Andes
In September 1972 Alicia and I arrived for the first time at Oxford. In minutes we were amazed to see the illustrious town assembled in such a small space. Everything appeared to be at hand. Later on we realized that this was true for the University, not for the City, inclusive and receptive as the whole country was then. At that moment we couldn’t imagine that sometime later our two children would be born in John Radcliffe Hospital. St. Antony’s gave me a studentship, £750 a year, and a flat in 10 Winchester Road, close to the College and the LAC, for which I paid £5.40 a week. Someone told me that the house was probably a whorehouse in the late 19th century, a notion I've cherished since. As in our flat, the floors and stairs of the LAC squeaked and the heating did not warm enough. Except for St. Antony's new building, everything seemed warmly frozen in time; and yet, there was an atmosphere of lively conversation particularly in the LAC’s Friday seminars, animated by sherry. Oxford gave us the opportunity to enjoy an intense social life. Fellow students and dons came from around the world. Current events shaped and enriched our world view instilling new dilemmas: industrial democracy and the closed shop; the oil crisis of 1973 and the character of world capitalism; Watergate and the future of electoral democracy. Apartheid in South Africa and Cuban troops in Angola. While in the Caribbean, Central and South America military regimes -backed by USA- were toughened, dictatorships in Greece, Portugal and Spain came to an end; so, it became fashionable to talk about transitions to democracy. At the same time the UK, more egalitarian and tolerant than anything I've ever experienced, was shaken continuously by changes of government and vigorous industrial action. The footprints are there and can be recognized, as are those who we knew and were our friends, dead or alive. I did not get to escape from the LAC since I continue teaching courses on Latin American history at El Colegio de Mexico.
One vivid memory, although perhaps essentially to do with the technology of the time, was cycling through the night, and North Oxford, to let myself in the deserted Centre to use the old IBM computer there to write up my M.Phil thesis (with kind permission and requisite key, naturally). You had virtually to crank the machine into action and then insert two truly floppy, floppy discs. While not wildly convenient, it was fun in a way to sit among so many tons of writings on the region and feel that you were, in a very small way, about to add to its arsenal of stored knowledge. I got my own laptop to write the D.Phil.
The key, I think, to the richness of the experience of studying at the LAC was the mixture of formal and less formal seminars and tutorials, together with the experience of sharing the learning process with one’s fellow students. Naturally, we Europeans and other non-Latin Americans learnt much from our Latin American friends; it was also fascinating to experience their reactions to learning more of their own countries and region. It was a great demonstration of the value of rigorous empiricism combined with the honing of one’s own mental analytical tools – a process which was actually much more fun than that sounds. All this, too, set within the context of the wider internationalism of St Antony’s and the other regional studies centres.
There was always a ‘can do’, immensely friendly and constructive feeling to our relations as students with our teachers. For instance, when I asked Rosemary if she could give an ‘Economics for Idiots’ class, she was happy to oblige. But called it ‘Beginners’ Economics’, as I recall.
The combination of the mix of learning experiences both within and beyond the syllabus, the resources of the Centre and above all the quality of all the people associated with it, staff and students, made it feel that it was exactly the right place to be – the very best place to be. That, of itself, is a tremendous incentive and stimulus to learning.
Patricia Londoño Vega, DPhil 1997, Retired Professor, History Department, Universidad de Antioquia (Medellín, Colombia)
En 1990 inicié un doctorado en historia moderna en Saint Antony’s College. Como mi proyecto era sobre Colombia, buena parte de los seminarios a los que asistí tuvieron lugar en el LAC. Allí me sentí a gusto y bien acogida, por Malcolm Deas, a quien tuve la suerte de tener como tutor, por otros profesores de planta y visitantes a que tuve oportunidad de conocer, y por los estudiantes de distintos países matriculados en esa época, lo mismo que por Elvira y Ruth.
El LAC fue la base de mi vida académica en Oxford, base propicia en el pleno sentido del término a la investigación avanzada: lugar de encuentro con un buen mentor, recursos bibliográficos, un ambiente de tranquilidad y libertad, una amplia oferta de conferencias y seminarios.
Pero al evocar mis años en el LAC sin duda se impone la figura de Malcolm: la generosidad con sus alumnos, su atenta lectura, su espíritu crítico, su erudición, su sentido del humor, su pasión por los libros viejos, su excelente biblioteca personal, abierta a sus pupilos, una parte de la cual estaba atiborrada en su oficina en los bajos del LAC.
Los seminarios bajo su batuta eran una invitación a pensar críticamente, tener una visión panorámica, comparada, ajena a las modas. En mi caso personal, iniciada en el mundo de la investigación en los años setenta en una Sociología enseñada a punto de Teorías, con mayúscula, en la era de unos Marcos Teóricos mal entendidos, la experiencia resultó sumamente novedosa y estimulante.
Antes de definir mi proyecto doctoral, di vueltas y vueltas. En el despiste inicial aprecié la pedagogía flexible, poco convencional de Deas: “¿has leído este tesorito?” era una pregunta habitual en sus tutorials, y yo salía de su oficina en el LAC con un libro que aparentemente poco tenía que ver con mi supuesto tema, región o época, siempre para descubrir que su lectura me fue inspirando para escribir mi tesis, la cual tuve la alegría de ver publicada por OUP.
Paulo Drinot, Senior Lecturer in Latin American History, University College London
In the end, I spent some ten years at the LAC, on and off, from 1994 to 2004. First as an MPhil student, then as a DPhil student, later as a postdoctoral student, and finally as a ‘junior’ lecturer (a designation that only Oxford could devise), covering Alan Knight’s undergraduate and graduate teaching while he took leave thanks to a research fellowship.
As an undergraduate at LSE, I enjoyed my courses but ‘going to work’ in the morning felt a bit like ‘going to work’ - along with millions of other commuters pouring into central London. At the LAC, and St Antony’s more generally, work didn’t feel like work at all, although I’ve probably never worked as hard in my life as I did as an MPhil student (as a DPhil student, by contrast, I took it a little easy, I must admit…).
But I enjoyed it! And looking back, it was largely down to the LAC – the physical place in part (designed to make your life as a student as comfortable as it could be: endless resources, beautiful surroundings, a short commute from St Antony’s lodgings to Church Walk) but obviously primarily down to the people there - those who came and went and, especially, those who didn’t.
The irony is that in the slightly surreal world that is Oxford, the LAC was a grounded place, deeply connected to what was going in Latin America. But it was still Oxford – it was an ivory tower, of sorts. Being at the LAC was both intense and relaxed, or rather, it was intense because it was relaxed.
The intensity came from the staff of course, not because they put pressure on you as a student (though sometimes they did), but simply because of who they were, what they had done and what they were doing. I always felt (I suppose I still do) that I had to deserve to be one of their students, perhaps one day one of their peers, so I pushed myself.
But it also came from those who like me were passing through - masters and doctoral students, postdocs, visiting fellows. They added to the intensity (perhaps they felt the same way as I did about having to live up to the place), but above all they were key to creating a sense of community; a sense of shared purpose and belonging even though we all knew we would not stay long. It was, it is, a special place.
Ana Covarrubias, Centro de Estudios Internacionales El Colegio de México
I arrived in Oxford in 1989 to read International Relations. I was accepted at St. Antony’s and that was my first contact with many Latin American countries, through my fellow students. If I remember well, the LAC was then in a small house on Winchester Road. Ironically (given my nationality) the LAC was for me the first invitation to learn in detail Latin American history and politics; coming from Mexico, I had taken many things for granted. Instead, I discovered a new world, as an academic enterprise, and through all the very good friends I made during my years at Oxford. Latin America appeared to me as a wonderful universe to apply and challenge all my IR knowledge. During my second M. Phil year and my D.Phil. years the LAC was very much my home. Regular classes plus the weekly seminars were part of my routine. Laurence Whitehead, who taught the international relations of Latin America, suggested I write my thesis on Mexican-Cuban relations, and I never imagined at the time that this topic would become so important in the years that followed, and that it would mark my academic career. It is very significant to me that as I write these words the United States and Cuba have just reopened their embassies in both countries. My best years at the LAC, I must confess, were those between 2002 and 2004, when I worked there as the “Mexico’s changing place in the world” programme coordinator. I got to know all my former professors well, and I enjoyed a warm and welcoming environment. Elvira Ryan, a key person at the LAC, was extremely helpful, kind and generous; Laura Salinas gave me all her support and living tips; and Ruth Hodges introduced me into the British way of life, and shared with me all her knowledge ̶ and gossip ̶ of Oxford. All the administrators I worked with (Rachel, Jenny and Naomi) were extremely supportive of my work, and their help was invaluable to me. Laurence Whitehead was, as always, a brilliant "ideas provider” for the programme; Alan Knight’s knowledge of Mexican history was always overwhelming; and finally, Alan Angell’s sense of humour, kindness and generosity made my time at the LAC very agreeable, thinking always of that film we would have liked to produce making fun of all the absurdities in Latin American politics, and most importantly, of all the absurdities in academic life. My deepest gratitude to Oxford and the LAC for all they gave me.
Kevin Casas Zamora, Senior Fellow and Director of Peter D. Bell Rule of Law Program, Inter American Dialogue; former Vice-President of Costa Rica and OAS Secretary for Political Affairs
Of the Latin American Centre I have only glimpses, sparks that still cast light on my long sojourn at Oxford . Most of those mental images lead back to my cubicle in the basement, where for years I would spend a few hours every day chiseling away the recalcitrant marble of my thesis, and many more, happier ones, learning about the role of women in the struggle for universal suffrage in Mexico, the technical details of innovation policies in Chile or the political economy of oil in Venezuela, i.e. what my fellow D.Phil castaways were writing about with far more efficacy than me.
On occasion, like a vampire I would venture out into the world of the living and make the trek upstairs to the LAC’s seminar room, where a colorful set of Oxford dons would share with us their encyclopedic knowledge of Latin America, with passion and more than a little exasperation for our region’s inability to live up to its fabled potential. A few times, we were fortunate enough to be given tantalizing hints of the future of Latin America in that same seminar room. It was there that I first heard Alvaro Uribe muse about the impossibility of a negotiated end to the armed conflict in Colombia , with a single mindedness that makes for poor academics and successful politicians. It was there also that I attended a hair-raising session with then-candidate Hugo Chávez, which left me convinced that the political disaster he railed against with the fervor of a zealot was a mere prelude to Venezuela’s long descent into the abyss.
Even more rarely I would climb to the LAC’s upper levels, to the quarters of some of the LAC’s faculty members. I can’t remember how many therapy sessions I had at Alan Angell’s office. I do remember, however, his unfailing patience and his faith –definitely superior to mine—that my dissertation would turn out alright. And I also recall the experience of performing a veritable rain dance at Alan Knight’s office –a forbidding landscape of hundreds of piles of papers and books—in order to find a suitable place to land my feet. Listening to him was well worth the strange ritual, though.
How fortunate I was. How lucky to have spent those years at the LAC, learning not just about politics or Costa Rica, but about all things Latin American; learning about the power and rigors of free inquiry, which the LAC teaches you with unparalleled eloquence; learning from dons and fellow travelers, from supervisors and strangers, from the high and the low, the illustrious and the unknown, all summoned to the LAC to profess their perplexity and their love for our prodigious continent."
I was aiming to write this message before LAC's 18th Sep celebration but fail to do so. My goal is to congratulate you guys for the amazing work in the Centre and to say thanks once again for all the learning and friendship LAC has provide me along the past few years.
I came to know about LAC only in 2009, during the OTJR conference where I meet Leigh, so the work of both of you truly encompass the full impression I have regarding the Centre.
In these six years LAC has been a key place in my formation. Not only I learned a lot organising our join conference in 2010 (and I really mean A LOT!), but also I made meaningful connections with people that today became research partners and, many times, friends. Needless to say the semester I spend in Oxford last year was one of the most happy and productive I ever had.
I could keep on saying how important LAC has been to me and the impact it have in the things we have done while I was serving in the Ministry of Justice, but I don't want to make this message any longer as I know you have plenty to do.
I'm very sure LAC has a brilliant future ahead and I truly hope to be able to ever return a bit of all I receive from you. Please always count on me if you think I can be of any use to make things better in the Centre.
It is my greatest honour to be somehow associated to this great Latin American Centre!
So, that's it: CONGRATULATIONS and THANK YOU!