Friday, April 23, 2010

"Either Capitalism Dies or Mother Earth Does"

The words of Bolivian President Evo Morales set the stage for The World Peoples' Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth (CMPCC). The conference was held this week in Cochabamba, Bolivia at the behest of President Morales. The conference is a response to the binding policy failure of the Climate Summit in Cophenhagen last year. It is an effort to gather the voices of those most affected by global warming: the poor, the marginalized, islanders, indigenous peoples, etc.

The conference is split up into working groups where the concerns of all the people present can be utilized to create policy initiatives to be presented at the Climate Summit in Mexico later this year. The purpose of a "Peoples'" conference is to provide a forum for the voices ignored at Cophenhagen. The Copenhagen summit was also criticized for being too meek and laden with business interests to accurately pinpoint and deal with the causes of global warming. Many believed that the leaders of the states did not have the political will to seek out binding agreements that could curb capitalist development. The failure of world leaders at Copenhagen to answer the problems and causes posed by climate change, and the failure to even consider alternate ways of fixing this problem (cap and trade and "carbon credits" still operate within the model of economic development that is blamed for the environmental crisis: capitalism).

As President Morales puts it, at Copenhagen, "the debate was only about the effects of this climate crisis, not the causes. And the peoples' here have debated the causes, capitalism, genetically modified crops," etc. At the CMPCC the working group on "Harmony with Nature" has stated:

• Mother Earth gives life, sustaining us and all living things, satisfying our needs, guaranteeing food sovereignty and security.  We should not abuse her kindness, nor should we consider her as a resource to exploit or commodify, because she is part of our life.

(Photo courtesy of BBC News)

This excerpt from the working group's declarations is representative of the air of the entire conference. Human interactions are not separate or dominant over our natural environment. Everything we do, consume, and destroy has lasting effects. And the systems that we have in place only distance us further from our natural state which makes it easier for people to destroy natural resources and view our Mother Earth as a commodity.

The CMPCC ended yesterday, corresponding with the United States' Earth Day. However, the results of the meeting in Cochabamba have yet to be seen but some are materializing already. President Evo Morales has announced the creation of a "Mother Earth Ministry" that will "promote the planet's rights". The CMPCC has also urged the creation of an international tribunal that will hear cases against those accused of destroying the environment. South African environmental lawyer Cormac Cullinan who was co-president of the working group on the rights of Mother Earth extolled that "a lot of this declaration is about our responsibilities to Mother Earth." He goes further to say that Human Rights law tends to trump any other concerns and ignores all other creatures that live with us on this planet, and our planet itself.

This Earth Day we need to remember that every day should be Earth Day. We need to understand that a corporation changing its logo to green, or the release of ONE project that is a step in the right direction cannot overshadow the horrors still being committed in the name of resource consumption and the neglect of those sacrificed for projects for the "greater good." The "right" and "freedom" to consume endlessly is killing our planet.

Friday, April 9, 2010

The story behind the mudslides

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil has seen torrential rains over the past couple of days that have led to mudslides on the outskirts of the city. Now, this wouldn't seem like that big a deal were it not for the estimated 200 dead people. The death toll is projected to rise even further as rains continue to fall on Rio de Janeiro.

[Remains of a favela destroyed by the mudslides: Reuters]

These people were not the victims of a small town that happened to be in the way of the mudslides. These people were residences of Rio de Janeiro's favelas. The favelas are towns of poor and marginalized peoples that have sprouted up around Brazil's major cities. Large amounts of Brazil's rural peoples have moved to the cities in order to find work. When they arrive at the cities they are confronted with expensive housing and minimal opportunities for well paying work. The favelas are the manifestations of Brazil's inequalities: 10% of Brazil's population controls over 50% of the wealth in the country and almost 35% of the population lives under the Global Poverty Line of USD $2 a day.

Along with the mudslides Rio de Janeiro has seen extensive flooding in the city and in the favelas. 11,000 people have been forced to evacuate, President Lula da Silva has sent in federal troops to assist in rescue efforts and many essential city services have been canceled.

This tragedy can't be viewed as an isolated case of bad weather. The combination of the worst rains southern Brazil has seen in over 50 years, combined with the poorly built, poverty stricken, towns of marginalized peoples built along unstable cliffs and hills has lead to this tragedy. Some attribute Brazil's worsening rainy season with climate change. However, Brazil's favelas can only be confronted by answering the income and land ownership gaps in the country. This is the sad story beneath the sad story in Brazil.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Interviews: Si, Mujer and León!

On my third day in Nicaragua I had two interviews set up. The first was with Dr. Merita at “Si, Mujer” (Yes, Woman) who was the in house spokesperson/sociologist who maintained the library of information for the women's clinic and the second was with Deputy Xochitl Ocampo of the FSLN .

My Aunt Alina had a contact with a Doctor at Si, Mujer and so she passed my name and the purpose of my project along to her. Then the Doctor gave my name to Dr. Merita who is the clinic's official spokesperson. I interviewed Dr. Merita for half an hour before I had to leave for my interview with Deputy Ocampo (which we ended up being late to) but I feel as though my interview with Dr. Merita was the most important one I received in my entire time in Nicaragua. She explained that since the election of Violeta Chamorro there has not been an emphasis of gender in the politics of the country and that there has been no subsequent difference in all the administrations since. “Numbers don't mean anything when it comes to women's rights in this country” she explained to me. Not only did she feel that having quotas for female participation in elected bodies or political parties was misleading, she felt it has failed to integrate the concerns of women into the politics of Nicaragua. Instead, she pointed out the plurality of women's cooperatives and organizations that are doing the work that the government is not funding or failing to begin. She was an amazing woman and sadly I did not get any pictures of her.

"For the sovereignty of my body, decriminalize abortion!"

To interview Deputy Ocampo we met her at the National Assembly by Lake Managua. This was one of the most terrifying experiences in my life because I was at a disadvantage in the interview. Not only was she going to tell me the party line and only the good that her party is doing, but I was in her office, in the National Assembly where all of the parties do their dirty work. I stumbled during the interview because of my Spanish skills but I did manage to get her to keep talking. Dr. Wilson warned me that people may try to cut the interviews short or be unresponsive with questions and to be prepared for this. While I was not prepared I did manage to keep thinking of questions for her so as to not let her off the hook so easily. The interview lasted 15 minutes and then she allowed me to take a picture with her.

We then spent the rest of the afternoon sightseeing in Managua as it would be our last full day in the capital. We headed over to Lake Tiscapa where on top of the hill there the former Presidential palace stood but was toppled by an earthquake. Now there is a mini museum of the Revolution on top of the hill with a large black outline of Augusto Sandino that now looks down on Managua and other war relics. There is a tank that the FSLN used in it's liberation of León on display on the hill above Tiscapa. The tank was named after an FSLN fighter named “Aracely” who was murdered by the National Guard and so the FSLN stole this tank from the Guard and named it in her honor.

Afterward we left for León where my family originated from. It filled me with such a sense of belonging and pride to see a sign as we entered León that said: “Welcome to León, the first Capital of the Revolution” because León was the first city to be liberated by the FSLN and is also one of the three major cities in the country.

This will not compare to seeing pictures of my two uncles Roberto and Jorge at my Aunt Santos' home. They were murdered by the National Guard for suspicion of being possible Sandinistas. They were murdered right in front of some family members and were shot to death within hearing distance from their grandmother, who raised them. My mother says that she wanted to name my brother and me after them. While she may not have been able to do that, I will try my best to make sure that their deaths were not in vain and I will do all I can to honor their memory.

I will be dedicating my project to them.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Latin American Integration

It seems fitting to discuss Latin American integration in this blog since the topic is basically the blog's namesake. Unification and integration have been issues Latin America has grappled with since the Independence period. Whether it was with Simon Bolivar's Gran Colombia which encompassed Venezuela, Panama, Colombia, Ecuador, and part of Costa Rica or the United Provinces of Central America there have always been attempts at regional unity within Latin America.

So what of the news that a new Latin American and Caribbean system is being created? The mission of the new bloc is yet to be decided and will be discussed at another conference in Caracas, Venezuela next year. However, the bloc is already beginning to show faint forms of power dynamics. The leader of the bloc was Mexico for most of the proceedings. Mexico, Brazil, and Argentina are generally seen as the most powerful Latin American countries because of their development, resources, size, and wealth. During the meeting the group also restated it's support for Argentina's claims to the Malvinas Islands (Falkland Islands) that the U.K. currently possesses. The United States did not back up the positions of either country which was in stark contrast to the U.S. position the last time the issue of the Malvinas was brought up: President Ronald Reagan openly backed the U.K. and even offered intelligence for the U.K. war effort against Argentina.

While there are already naysayers who are calling this new bloc "toothless," I believe that this is a step that Latin America is taking away from the days of the Monroe Doctrine and rampant U.S. intervention. Latin America, for all of its differences, has a shared history. One of European conquest, domination, and conversion and not to mention the more recent history of U.S. imperialism. So, why not unite to preserve the integrity of your sibling nations? An integrated Latin America and Caribbean would have more power in international trade and would be better prepared to handle disputes between States. Increased political and social integration would also tear down the walls of nationalism, racism, and even ethnicism that exist between Latin American and Caribbean states and could promote shared human rights laws, respect for indigenous claims to land, and decrease dependence on foreign capital.

Latin America divided has been the target of vulture capitalists, politicians, and armies for long enough. It's about time they unite and maintain Latin America for Latin Americans!

Monday, February 22, 2010

The Case of "Amelia" in León

I will be spending the next couple of posts discussing my final days in Nicaragua and special cases I heard along the way. This particular case is about a pregnant woman in León suffering from cancer that has spread through her whole body. Abortion was illegalized in Nicaragua in 2006 by the administration of Enrique Bolaños, in any and ALL cases. The doctors that advise women to receive an abortion, aid in an abortion, and anyone else involved can be fined and sentenced. This case has gained national attention in Nicaragua because the State has been put on the spot. Will they let this woman, "Amelia" whose real name has been hidden to protect her identity, die in the hospital in order to protect a full abortion ban or will the government overturn the full ban and allow some abortions to save her life?

The people who have been representing Amelia in the public and telling her story have been the doctors who are treating her. When I was walking to my Aunt Alina's house on Saturday morning I happened to stumble upon a protest being staged by the group "Feminists of León" in order to bring attention to Amelia's case. I was able to hold an interview with one of the activists at the protest. They created banners and stood outside of the Hospital handing out information on the case.

Amelia's cancer has spread through her entire body and she needs chemotherapy as soon as possible. Amelia's doctors have conceded that the cancer may not kill the fetus but the child would definitely be born with serious health defects. And chemo cannot be started without dealing with the question of the pregnancy, so for now her life hangs in the balance while the politics of reproductive freedom are fought in the halls of power in Nicaragua. This hasn't stopped anti-choice bloggers from claiming Amelia's case to be a hoax of the "international abortion lobby" but I recommend staying on top of the case on your own at El Nuevo Diario and La Prensa.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Rapido, Carajo! (Faster, Damnit!)

This is going to be a quick post since our ride to Leon showed up way too early. I interviewed a female Sandinista Representative (Xochilt Ocampa pictured above) today and a FEMINIST SOCIOLOGIST WHO WORKS AT A WOMEN'S CLINIC, jackpot eh? I'm getting better at the interview process but I still get a bit nervous. It has been an amazing past couple of days. I ate at a legit lechonera and it was sooo good. I feel so out of place walking around in a damn suit with so much poverty around me but it just reinforces my anger and makes me want to keep doing what I'm doing.

The Women's Clinic was crazy, they had a LIBRARY! I was able to get over 100 pages of documents copied to bring back with me to the states. It's so amazing. Well I have to go now, but I will show some pic love before I go and tomorrow I will post longer as it will be my last night in Nicaragua.

Legit lunch.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

"We Nicaraguans live for Politics"

At about 2 pm Senor Daniel drove us to the home of Evertz Carcamo Narvaez(pictured above). This man is a Deputy in the National Assembly for the National Sandinista Liberation Front. He also happens to own one of the few Nicaraguan owned television stations, Canal 41. This was my first interview and I was terrified through most of it, it didn't help that I was ignored for a brief time either. He was working on some stuff for the channel and who was I to interrupt that? We actually had to wait around for this man for over an hour because by the time we arrived he was on his way out to lunch and he hadn't eaten at all during the day. So, I spent that time talking politics with Daniel and my mother.

After the first interview Daniel called a friend of his over at the National Theater "Ruben Dario" who ran the Public Relations department. After a 20 minute interview with her she showed us around the National Theater. Turns out the theater was one of the few buildings to survive the 1972 Earthquake that destroyed most of Managua. The theater was beautiful and had many statues and busts of the legendary Nicaraguan poet Ruben Dario side by side with images of Augusto C. Sandino, the hero who helped rid Nicaragua of U.S. Marines in 1932. She also told me the story of the three huge chandeliers inside the theater: one was donated by the Spanish in 1972 (a couple of months before the Earthquake) and then Nicaragua bought the other two. When the earthquake occurred all of the crystals fell to the ground from the chandeliers but the structures themselves stayed up. Afterwards all of the tiny crystals were picked up and placed back onto the chandeliers and so that's how they stand today.

It just so happens that at the same time we were there the contests for this year's Miss Nicaragua pageant were practicing upstairs. I didn't have my camera at this point, Senor Daniel did, and he seems to have caught some pictures of can even see the chandelier.

After the interviews we went on a crash course in sight seeing. We went to the Plaza of the Revolution where the National Palace and the National Cathedral stood; now the Palace is a museum and the Cathedral stands shattered from the Earthquake and now the home to dozens of "vagabonds" as the National Police describe them. It's several barrios that have sprung up behind the Cathedral where much poorer populations live. As we approached the Cathedral a National Police guard told us, "If you go past the statue of Sandino (which would begin to take us behind the Cathedral) I can't follow you." So we were only allowed to go so far. I managed to take a ton of photos of the place though.

We then went to see the areas of Managua that were left to ruin after the Earthquake, and it is disheartening how many Nicaraguans still live in poverty, massive poverty. It sickens me seeing my people live in a country where the channels don't belong to them, where foreign corporations squash local enterprises, and where SOO many of them are hired to protect the WEALTH OF OTHERS. You can tell when you are somewhere with money because then the houses are protected with walls and barbed wire. These are signs of a country opened up to the "hand of the market" and the subsequent cultural homicide that comes with unregulated Globalization. We passed at least 3 movie theaters today, and I saw NO NICARAGUAN MADE MOVIES being played at ANY of them. However, they were showing "Valentine's Day," that damn father movie with Travolta and Robin Williams, and they were still showing that damn movie Couple's Retreat. Now I understand why China and Canada require a certain amount of entertainment to be made within their countries.

After we made a couple stops I was only to snap pictures from the car as night fell and it wasn't exactly safe outside anymore. I did manage to get yelled at by the Army, though. As we drove by a military installation I managed to take a picture of the front gates and was yelled at and had guns shaken at me. The people in my car said that wasn't a good idea, I asked "Why not, what're they going to do?" and my mother responds, "Shoot you." It's a very different culture here. This brings me to the quote I used, it was from the Director of Public Relations I interviewed and I believe she is right.

Tomorrow I have interviews with a union leader, another Deputy in the N.A. who happens to be the leader of the Women's Caucus, and then in the afternoon I am headed to Leon. The birthplace of my family.