Current members and alumni of CUSLAR, referred to as cuslareños and cuslareñas, gathered in Barnes Hall Auditorium Sept. 25 to attend a panel discussion marking the organization’s 50th anniversary.
CUSLAR, the Committee on U.S.-Latin American Relations, is a Cornell-based group of students, activists and scholars that aims to facilitate conversation for justice and mutual understanding across the United States, Latin America and the Caribbean.
The discussion, “Toward a New Internationalism,” featured speakers including Raymond Offenheiser, president of Oxfam America and a member of CUSLAR from 1973 to 1977; Fidel Santana, a sociologist and candidate for the presidency of the Dominican Republic; and Shailly Barnes of Kairos: Center for Religious, Rights and Social Justice at Union Theological Seminary.
CUSLAR was founded in 1965 with an educational mission in opposition to the U.S. military invasion of the Dominican Republic. Throughout its history, CUSLAR has initiated and carried out many diverse projects. CUSLAR lectures, panel discussions, education exchanges, research programs and film screenings have provided opportunities for intercultural dialogue among students, faculty and the general public.
Perhaps most notably, CUSLAR took leadership in the resettlement of Chilean political refugees when they had to flee their homeland in the 1970s after the coup d’etat that overthrew Salvador Allende and marked the beginning of Augusto Pinochet’s military dictatorship. The inspiring story of resettlement recounted in CUSLAR’s publication “History is Ours” illustrates how much a university-based organization with minimal resources can accomplish.
The panel and reception also looked forward. Panelists and members of the audience contemplated contemporary issues, new developments and emerging challenges that the peoples of the region face and reassess the committee, its mission and its role in today’s evolving conditions. Joel Gajardo, CUSLAR coordinator from 1974 to 1978, said, “Today we find continuity in the fight for our cause in the youth.”
Through hardships and obstacles, the organization has persevered due to the continued dedication and enthusiasm of its members. The deeply rooted sense of community is central to CUSLAR which, in the words of Gajardo, is a group of people who “dream dreams together.”
Panelists introduced by the CUSLAR coordinator Tim Shenk included founding member Cornelia Butler Flora, M.S. ’66, Ph.D. ’70, emeritus professor at Iowa State University, and former coordinators Gajardo, Mary Jo Dudley, director of the Cornell Farmworker Program, and Hannah Wittman, M.S. ’02, Ph.D. ’05, associate professor, University of British Columbia. They shared memories of their engagement with the organization and each speaker reflected on the influence CUSLAR exerted in their lives and in the complicated political and cultural history of the region.
The reception was followed on Sept. 26 by a discussion on “Social movements in the Americas.”
Giorgi Tsintsadze ’17 is a writer intern for the Cornell Chronicle.