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Today’s Reminders of Environmental Devastation

July 17, 2012 Comments off

In depressing environmental news, over 700 dead penguins have been washing up on the beaches of southern Brazil across the last month.

Meanwhile, in still more reminders of the very real and devastating impact human actions are having on the environment, the effects of long-term  deforestation will continue to be felt, with a new study suggesting that, even if deforestation were halted today, at least 38 species of mammals, birds, and amphibianswill go extinct in the area in the years and decades to come.

And it’s not like these processes won’t impact humans. Among other things, deforestation in the Amazon has led to a 50% increase in malaria among people “because mosquitoes, which transmit the disease, thrive in the right mix of sunlight and water in recently deforested areas.”

Protests In Chile Over a Proposed Fishing Law

July 12, 2012 Comments off

In an attempt to deal with overfishing in an industry that makes up 5% of Chile’s export economy and nearly 14% of its workforce, Chile’s Congress is considering a law that would establish quotas (among other things) in an attempt to revitalize the (probably-doomed) industry. However, the law is facing significant opposition from small-scale fisherman who have taken to the streets to protest a law that they say favors industrial fishing companies even while it destroys their own livelihood. The protesters have erected blockades and marched in several port-towns, with some demanding a meeting with the  Minister of the Interior to address their concerns as artisanal fishers. In spite of the opposition from small-scale fishers, the Minister of Economy, Pablo Longueira, described the law as one that “Chile needs.” While overfishing is indeed a very real and extremely serious issue facing not just Chile but all of the world’s oceans and fisheries, it is not clear that the current law, which does appear to structurally give more power and leeway to larger businesses, is going to solve these problems.

[UPDATE added by Scott Dempsey Crago]:

This is an incredibly important topic,as the privatization and regulation of natural resources in Chile for the gain of multinational corporations has continued to hurt local industries and indigenous communities like the Mapuche. Many of these protests against neoliberal expansion have been met with overt violence, with the Chilean government labeling such movements as acts conducted by ‘terrorists” and “anarchists” as means to discredit an validity in these claims. For further reading, please see here. Mapuexpress is an excellent source for stories that remain absent or highly skewed in Chilean news

Indigenous Struggles in Brazil

July 3, 2012 Comments off

A few stories on indigenous rights from Brazil worth highlighting here.

First, in tragic but unsurprising environmental news, a new report suggests that the extremely controversial Belo Monte dam is to blame for the death of thousands of baby turtles. The site continues to face major opposition not only from environmental groups, but also from indigenous peoples whose livelihoods are threatened, and a group of indigenous protesters has even occupied the construction site in the past week, bringing construction to a halt.

Meanwhile, another group of indigenous protesters in Brazil set fire to a police station in the northern state of Pará after a judge ordered the release of four men suspected of murdering an indigenous man. The violence may not have just been a random act, however, as Pará is one of the areas where wealthy landowners continue to employ people to kill indigenous people who try to protect their lands from being taken over by ranchers; indeed, many people have died in these struggles over the past decade, including high-profile cases like that of American citizen Dorothy Stang, and land activists continue to face threats and even murder even while their killers rarely face trial.

Around Latin America

June 25, 2012 Comments off

The events in Paraguay this weekend were particularly exceptional and important, but there were many other things going on throughout Latin America that are worth noting.

-Bolivia is going through its own domestic strife, as police have gone on strike over pay. The strike quickly spread throughout the country and could lead to the type of confrontation that left 19 people dead in a similar strike in 2003. With police striking, the Bolivian government has mobilized the army to fulfill police functions and patrol the streets. This is the second police strike in the region this year – in February, police in Brazil went on strike right before Carnaval, also demanding higher pay.

-In Argentina, truckers went on a one-day strike demanding higher pay, a tactic that was successful for the truckers. However, they have also announced another one-day strike this week to demand a reduction in taxes.

-While Mexico has made a number of high-profile arrests (and at least one possibly mistaken identification in an arrest) of drug cartel leaders in recent weeks, a new report says that Mexico lags behind Colombia and even Guatemala in seizing criminals’ actual assets, calling such seizures “nearly null” in Mexico. Meanwhile, “intern” over at Just the Facts breaks down nicelyhow July’s presidential election may impact the drug trade in Mexico.

-On the other end of the drug trade debate, Uruguay’s government is set to submit a bill that would legalize marijuana.

-The Rio+20 environmental summit wrapped up last week, though with little concrete change or improvements in sustainable development; rather, “everybody” was “unhappy” and the conference agreed to future conferences. That said, Rio Real was in Rio de Janeiro and had some interesting on-the-ground observations, as did Lucy Jordan, who provided “A Brazil Perspective on Rio+20.”, and Lisa provides a layperson’s view on living in Rio in the midst of the summit.

-In El Salvador, a gang truce reached its 100th day, with homicide rates dropping significantly in that period.

-Indigenous peoples in Venezuela are demanding Germany return a 35-ton boulder that is (ironically) a part of a “global peace project” but that is also a sacred object to the Pemon peoples.

-Tropical storm Debby formed in the Gulf of Mexico this weekend. This marks the first time since 1851 that there were four tropical storms that had formed before July 1.

-An investigation into the death of General Alberto Bachelet, the father of former president Michelle Bachelet and a military official who was loyal to president Salvador Allende after his overthrow and suicide in 1973, has found that the former general most likely died from heart problems aggravated by the torture the Pinochet regime forced him to endure. Meanwhile, the Chilean courts also ordered an investigation into the 1976 assassination of US citizen Ronni Moffitt in Washington DC. Moffitt died in a car bomb that also killed exiled Chilean human rights and anti-Pinochet  dictatorship activist Orlando Letelier.

-Uruguay’s Minister of Economy, Fernando Lorenzo, said that the country is worried about the economic impact of the Euro zone’s ongoing instability might have on countries like Uruguay. The admission serves as an important reminder that, despite recent regional economic successes, Latin America is still somewhat dependent on the economic strength of Europe (and susceptible to economic troubles there).

-Finally, Brazil is set to raise the price of gasoline for the first time since….2008.

On the Amazon’s Reach into All Aspects of Life

June 8, 2012 Comments off

When one mentions the Amazon, a large, forbidding jungle often pops into people’s minds, thanks in no small part to reports and popular imaginings of the Amazonian basin that date back at least to the first accounts of Spanish and Portuguese explorers in the region. However, the Amazon is much more than a massive jungle or river basin; indeed, while its environmental importance to the world cannot be overstated, it is much more complicated than a simplistic treatment as some exotic foreign place allows. The Amazon’s impact spreads beyond environment or biology to affect economics, business, politics, and society itself. To wit, I give you these four stories from just the past week:

Clearly, this is quite a variety of stories here, ranging from national politics transnational economics, from biology to environmental engineering . At the same time, the ways in which these stories are phrased can lead to some confusion, particularly with regards to the last headline, which by the very way it’s structured seems to provide some positive news when compared to the first three stories. Taken together, it’s easy to see how people can find it difficult to understand the complexities of the Amazon. After all, based on the stories above, people who have illegally deforested have been pardoned (thus suggesting that those who work to destroy the forest will not be punished as severely as the law threatens); hundreds of species of birds are increasingly facing a risk of extinction, something that would absolutely affect biodiversity in the region; major corporations are indirectly contributing to deforestation; and yet, deforestation rates have reached a “record low”? That is a confusing picture indeed.

But that’s the problem with reports on deforestation in the Amazon reaching “record lows”; the important part is not that the rates are low, but that deforestation is still going on at rates that damage the ecosystems and pose very real environmental problems for humans the world over in the years and decades to come.  Yet just the tone of the headline conveys some small sense of hope (perhaps false, perhaps not), creating no small amount of dissonance between the tone of the first three headlines and the fourth.

Still, if one wants to understand just how complicated the Amazon is and how little we still understand about its past, present, and future, one need not look much further than not look much further than those headlines to understand just how complex the Amazonian basin is and just how much it affects not only biodiversity, but business, politics, culture, and societies in South America and beyond.

Around Latin America

May 16, 2012 1 comment

-Carlos Fuentes, the world-renowned Mexican author and intellectual, passed away yesterday at the age of 83. If you haven’t read  The Death of Artemio CruzTerra Nostra, or Where the Air is Clear, do yourself a favor and go do it now.

-Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff used Mother’s Day to announce new programs to help low-income families who have children. The programs will aid 18 million people via the Bolsa Familia program.

-Spanish company Repsol has announced its intentions to sue Argentina in US courts and to go before the World Bank to contest the recent appropriation of YPF, which Argentina nationalized in late-April.

-In an issue that affects the Americas and the rest of the world, a new report suggests that humans are consuming at a pace faster than the earth can sustain, with biodiversity decreasing by 30% throughout the world and by 60% in some parts of the world.

-In what appears to have been an assassination attempt, a bomb attack in Bogota left at least two people dead and another 39 wounded, including former Minister of the Interior Fernando Londono, the apparent target of the attack.

-A Guatemalan mother who says her child was stolen from her and given up for adoption to a US couple plans to sue  in order to have her child returned to her after the State Department refused to help the woman.

-Argentina’s Vice President Amado Boudou is facing charges of embezzlement and corruption in an investigation that could see the presumed heir to Cristina Kirchner banned from politics for life.

-Tensions between Argentina and Uruguay have increased recently over the dredging of the Rio de la Plata, with allegations of meddling and concerns over competition fueling the disagreement.

-Finally, the Guatemalan version of food trucks in the US sounds delicious.

Around Latin America

December 27, 2011 1 comment

-In a remarkable transformation, Cuba has expanded its free-market reforms beginning on January 1 of the coming year. Changes include laying off state workers, reducing restrictions on private enterprise, and allowing certain types of workers to become self-employed and to charge their own rates.

-Mexican authorities have arrested five police officers who were captured on video torturing a detainee.

-The United States has begun considering creating a national park in southern Colorado’s San Luis Valley. The park would set aside land that Hispanic people historically settled when it belonged to colonial Spain and then Mexico. The valley is a beautiful area, and is home to the Great Sand Dunes National Park, where the largest sand dunes in the United States (at over 700 feet in height) sit nestled up against the base of 14,000+ foot tall peaks. The area is remarkably beautiful and unique, and a national park here would be a wonderful, wonderful thing.

-Argentina and China entered an agreement of support over claims to islands, with Argentina supporting China’s claim to Taiwan and China supporting Argentina’s claim to the Malvinas/Falklands Islands.

-Bolivia extradited ex-soldier Luis Enrique Baraldini to Argentina for his role in human rights violations, including torture, during the military dictatorship of 1976-1983, during which time Baraldini served as chief of police in the province of La Pampa.

-Colombia’s murder total for 2011 dropped by 544 to 13,520 on the year (up to Christmas Day), marking the lowest number of violent deaths in the country since 1984.

-A new report out of Peru says that climate change has melted the glaciers in the country twenty years faster than previously expected, which will have a profound effect on access to and availability of water for Peru in the coming years.

-Brazil fined Chevron another $5.4 million for an oil spill in early November. Brazil had already previously fined the company $28 million and had also filed a lawsuit for $10.6 billion against the company.

-Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez replaced General Hugo Carvajal, the military intelligence chief and one of the top advisers to Chavez.

-Chile’s Supreme Court ordered Chilean newspaper La Tercera to compensate thirteen readers who suffered severe burns when following a recipe for churros that the paper had published several years ago.

Around Latin America

October 26, 2011 2 comments

-Women throughout Central America and Mexico are pushing back against infringements on their rights. In Nicaragua, women are fighting back fighting to protect the rights of rape victims, combating social attitudes towards the crime of rape, and even preparing to go before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in order to bring attention to the ongoing sexual violence in a country that recently downgraded rape to a “crime of passion.” Likewise, women in Mexico are mobilizing against the increasing threats and incidents of domestic and sexual violence against women. And in Guatemala, women are also mobilizing to challenge the government’s and society’s failure to punish those who commit acts of violence against women.

-Guatemalan authorities have captured former president Óscar Mejía, who, as president of the country from1983-1986, ruled over a period that saw ongoing human rights abuses and state-sponsored murders of civilians in the country’s civil war. However, it appears Mejia may be too ill to stand trial.

-Speaking of human rights, Uruguay’s Senate voted 16-15 to revoke the country’s 1986 amnesty law that pardoned torturers and human rights abusers from the country’s military dictatorship of 1975-1983. The law now goes to Uruguay’s Chamber of Deputies, and should it pass, Uruguay can finally begin the pursuit of justice for some of the regime’s surviving human rights violators.

-The UN General Assembly has once again voted - by a margin of 186-1, with 3 abstentions – for the U.S. to lift its embargo on Cuba. Or, as Boz succinctly put it, “Breaking: Ineffective UN General Assembly will vote again for ineffective condemnation of ineffective US embargo on Cuba, changing nothing.”

Finally, a number of stories from Brazil:

-In a different type of human rights, Brazil’s top appeals court has upheld the legality of gay marriage in the world’s 5th-largest country.

-Brazilian indigenous groups have released seven hostages that they took in their protests against a dam in the state of Mato Grosso, which would flood their  homeland.

-Given its economic stability and growth, it is of no surprise that Brazil has become a major player in providing aid to countries throughout the world.

-Finally, FIFA has agreed to respect Brazilian laws that provide half-price tickets for those over 65 in ticket-sales for the World Cup in 2014. However, FIFA also seems to be digging in on respecting Brazilian laws that also provide half-price tickets to public events for students. As FIFA Secretary General said, “But at the same time we want to be certain that we don’t have lots of different communities having access to half-price tickets, whether they are blood donors, students, ex-players and so on.” Stay classy, FIFA leadership.

Intro to Agri-Cultura, ‘Burque Farming

October 23, 2011 Comments off

After about a month and a half on the job, I think it’s time to give a little run down of what I’m doing and how it relates to Latin America and themes discussed on this blog.

Technically, I work at the Rio Grande Community Farm (RGCF) in Albuquerque’s North Valley.  The farm is unique in that it is a 50 acre non-profit, organic endeavor on city owned Open Space in the heart of a major urban area.  In addition to growing food for Albuquerque Public Schools, farmers markets, and local businesses, the farm maintains the Open Space, and provides a wildlife habitat, including migratory birds such as sandhill cranes which are now just beginning to arrive.  The farm is worked by approximately 15 Americorps members.  I am sort of one of those.  There are many complexities and layers to what I actually do, however, and it can get confusing.

Unlike most of RGCF’s Americorps interns, I have an off-site placement.  What this means is that I spend most of my working hours not at the RGCF in the North Valley, but rather with the Agri-Cultura Network in the city’s heavily Hispanic and mostly lower income South Valley.

The Agri-Cultura Network is a collaboration of three community based organizations in the South Valley using organic farming as a way to preserve land and water for agriculture and provide viable economic activity while producing healthy food for the broader Albuquerque community.  The three organizations include the La Plazita Institue, e-merging communities, and Valle Encantado.  Individuals associated with La Plazita seek to leave behind destructive lifestyles, such as gang membership and prison sentences, through the exercise of traditional values, such as growing food, in backyards and on land leased from urban Open Space.  e-merging communities is a local indigenous organization that stresses harmonious livelihoods through the practice of backyard gardening in the homes of members of the Red Wolf Band.  Finally, Valle Encantado practices sustainable, organic farming in the heart of Albuquerque’s historic Atrisco Land Grant neighborhood.  Together, these organizations work to enrich the city’s South Valley and the broader metropolitan area through sustainable agriculture that celebrates the area’s rich cultural and agrarian heritage (thus the hyphen in the name Agri-Cultura).

Agri-Cultura works closely with the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), which is a Quaker organization dedicated to promoting peace and justice.  AFSC won a Nobel Peace Prize for their efforts in 1947.  The Agri-Cultura Network also works with the South Valley Economic Development Center (SVEDC), which serves Albuquerque’s low income South Valley as a small business incubator by offering affordable office space and a community kitchen.  An example of how all this comes together is that on Monday and Tuesday mornings, I help the farmers with each of the three affiliated organizations in their harvesting, in the afternoons I help with the marketing and distribution office work, and on Wednesdays I help wash sometimes as much as 200 pounds of salad in the SVEDC community kitchen, salad which was pooled from each of the three groups and is destined for Albuquerque Public Schools.  Through such collaboration, the Network is able to benefit Albuquerque communities by providing training and living wages for growers, as well as healthy food for city schools, restaurants, and markets.

So what does all this have to do with Latin America?  In a typical day, I may work with an indigenous immigrant from central Mexico in a backyard plot growing traditional crops such as tomatoes, chiles, and squash, as well as salad mixes, taking note of the traditional, local methods for dealing with pests such as squash bugs (for some, though limited success, plant after the Fourth of July and spread Cottonwood tree ashes around the stalk of the plants).  Several hours later, I may work on one of the old Spanish land grants with a farmer who speaks Spanglish and hails from one of the old Nuevo Mexicano families that now has major streets named after them (i.e. Candelaria), and who maintain their acequia water rights, despite politicians’ frequent interest in taking it for more “useful” purposes.  Through working with farmers, social workers, and anthropologists in the South Valley, I have been thinking often about how little we Latin Americanists see of Latin America in our own city as we spend our hours in the libraries, cafes, and microbreweries of Academia.  This work also points to the utterly ridiculous notion that artificial political boundaries actually demarcate history or our conception of Latin America.  LA’s Pico-Union, Chicago’s Pilsen, New York’s Jackson Heights, Miami’s Little Havana, and Albuquerque’s South Valley and Westgate are each as deeply interwoven in the histories and cultures of “Latin America” as any Central or South American village or capital.  Sometimes you just need to stick your fingers in the dirt of Land Grant soil or wash chiles in the barrio as Reggaeton blasts out a truck’s speakers to fully appreciate the complexities of boundaries in our world.

More to come…

Around Latin America

October 10, 2011 Comments off

-Mitt Romney, in an attempt to address what American foreign policy would look like if he were president, spoke on Latin America recently. It shows a remarkable level of ignorance about any of the realities facing Latin America, its place in the world, or U.S.-Latin American relations in the 21st century. As Greg puts it, “we can only hope that if he is elected he will ignore the region or that this is just red meat for the Republican base that he won’t actually follow.”

-With massive public support for educational reform, Chile’s university students have rejected reopening negotiations with the Piñera government. Students broke off the talks last week after citing government “intransigence” in listening to their demands. Much like Brazilian student movements in the 1960s and beyond, the Chilean student protests, now entering their fifth month, are providing a powerful reminder of how university education and student mobilizations can define a government and transform both official policy and public opinion.

-Also in Chile, a controversial dam project that would build five dams along two rivers in the southern part of the country has made its way all the way to the Supreme Court. Lower courts have rejected lawsuits that challenge the dam’s construction. Opponents claim the dam will cause irreparable environmental harm, will hurt the Chilean economy by concentrating almost all of the power supplies in the hands of only two companies, and that the dam project is outdated and irrelevant to the current energy needs of Chile.

-The city of Linares, Mexico, finds itself patrolled by soldiers and state police after the city’s entire police force was investigated for “corruption and possible ties to organized crime.” However, as Shannon O’Neil at LatIntelligence points out, the pay Mexican police receives directly impacts issues of violence and corruption.  Unsurprisingly, the better police are paid, the fewer homicides there are, as police can enforce the law rather than turning to drug cartels to earn a livable income.

-I wrote yesterday on the personal and broader social memory struggles Argentines face over the ongoing discovery of children of the Disappeared who were kidnapped from their parents during Argentina’s military dictatorship and adopted by military officers or supporters of the regime. Lillie points to another powerful story from a child of the Disappeared that’s worth reading in its entirety.

-Mike over at Central American Politics points to the major problem in recent UN reports that homicides have rapidly increased in Central America in recent years. To wit: “If your headline is UN study: Homicides soar in Central America, you need to write about more than El Salvador and Honduras.”

-Five Salvadoran military officers accused of murdering six Jesuit priests in 1989 during El Salvador’s civil war are free after the Salvadoran Supreme Court refused to detain the men. Spain indicted the men in absentia for the murders of the priests, five of whom were Spanish.

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