Three students awarded Michael Baptista Essay Prize

Caren Weisbart, Charis Kamphuis, Rolando Aguilera and Sharon Baptista,

The Centre for Research on Latin America & the Caribbean (CERLAC) at York University has announced that the Michael Baptista Essay Prize for outstanding scholarly papers has garnered three winners this time around, instead of the usual two.

At the graduate level, student Caren Weisbart of the socio-legal studies program was chosen for her paper, “Beyond Recognition: Alternative Rights-Realizing Strategies in the Northern Quiche Region of Guatemala“, while Charis Kamphuis of Osgoode Hall Law School was chosen for her paper, “Foreign Investment and the Privatization of Coercion: A Case Study of the Forza Security Company in Peru“.

At the undergraduate level, Rolando Aguilera of Osgoode won for his paper, “Impunity on Trial: The Case for Repealing El Salvador’s Amnesty Law“. The papers must touch on topics of relevance to the area of Latin American and Caribbean Studies.

Caren Weisbart, Charis Kamphuis, Rolando Aguilera and Sharon BaptistaThe essays were nominated by York faculty members and evaluated by two committees of CERLAC Fellows, a separate committee for each level of prize. The awards recipients were fêted at an awards luncheon March 30 attended by Sharon Baptista, widow of the prize’s namesake, as well as representatives of CERLAC.

Aguilera’s paper was hailed as providing an “excellent and up-to-date overview of the debates around amnesty within the transitional justice literature and then situates the issue within one particular context, El Salvador.” In the words of one evaluator, “This is an example of excellent research strongly rooted within the ethical consideration of struggles for peace and justice … [The author] is to be congratulated.”

As noted by one of the evaluators, there is a certain elegance at the thematic level in the sharing of the prize between the two graduate-level winners. “Kamphuis and Weisbart’s papers almost read as complementary texts, with Weisbart turning to consider alternative strategies in the face of the kinds of obstacles that Kamphuis so eloquently sets out.”

Weisbart’s paper was said to be a “thoughtful, well-written and sophisticated piece of work … displays a particularly insightful analysis of contemporary political economy and cultural politics in Guatemala … [developing] a convincing and theoretically grounded analysis of alternative forms of indigenous mobilization and their relationships to contemporary neoliberal projects of domination and exclusion.” The evaluators also found it to be “a superb essay, imaginatively written and a joy to read,” and “most commendable [in] its attempt to situate the study both historically, as well as within broader theoretical debates on rights and freedom….”

At the same time, Kamphuis’ paper was hailed as “thoroughly researched [and] meticulously developed” which “convincingly demonstrates the troubled entanglements of local and international law regimes, the Peruvian state and multinational corporations.” The paper “very successfully and lucidly weaves together an analysis of three complex actors (security firms, mining corporations and the state) and three fields of law/regulation (public international human rights law, private international investment law, and voluntary corporate social responsibility arrangements)” and carries this “challenging intellectual project to a cogent conclusion,” wrote the evaluators.

All three of these prize-winning papers are available online as part of CERLAC’s Baptista Prize-Winning Essays Series.

All of the nominated papers represent high-calibre scholarly work at their authors’ respective levels of study, and merit recognition as worthy of candidacy for this prize. The other undergraduate papers nominated for the 2011 prize were: Meganne Cameron’s “Searching for Measures of Corporate Accountability and Social Responsibility: Goldcorp’s Activities in Guatemala and the Use of Shareholder Proposals to Influence Corporate Behaviour”; Galiatzo Flores Montoya’s “Los poemas-sones de Nicolas Guillen Lo revolucionario músico-poético en Motivos de son”; and Ajit Singh’s “American Convention on Human Rights Articles 46(1)(A) and 46(2)(C): Achilles Heel or Trojan Horse?”

The other graduate-level nominees were: Priscila B. Becker’s “Indigenous Land Rights in Brazil: A Comparison Between the Letter of the Law and Its Application”; Maria Alejandrina Coates’ “Violence and Virtuality; Representing the Colonial Wound in Video/ Media Art”; Natalie McDonald’s “Brain Drain and Brain Circulation in the Caribbean”; and Latoya Lazarus’ “This is a Christian Nation: Religion, Gender and Sexuality in the Jamaican Constitutional Process”.

The Michael Baptista Essay Prize was established by the friends of Michael Baptista and the Royal Bank of Canada. This $500 prize is awarded annually to both a graduate and an undergraduate student at York University in recognition of an outstanding scholarly essay of relevance to the area of Latin American and Caribbean Studies, from the humanities, social science, business or legal perspective.

The Michael Baptista Essay Prize and Lecture are named in honour of Michael Baptista, in recognition of the areas central to his spirit and success: the importance of his Guyanese/Caribbean roots; his dedication to and outstanding achievement at the Royal Bank of Canada; and his unqualified drive and love of learning.

For more information about the call for nominations for the 2012 prize, visit the Michael Baptista Essay Prize website.

York faculty members who wish to nominate a student’s essay for this prize, should contact CERLAC at