This is a bumper newsletter, covering the period since 19 July. From now on, we’ll try to send shorter, monthly newsletters.
LAB’s latest book, The Past is an Imperfect Tense, by Bernardo Kucinski (author of K), translated by Tom Gatehouse, is launched via Zoom on 29 October 2020. You can purchase the book here. For a combination ticket to the online event, with the book included, click here. Serena Chang has reviewed the book for Sounds & Colours.
Do Bolivia and Chile signal hope that right-wing governments, populism and entrenched neo-liberalism are beginning to wane in Latin America? It may be too early to be sure, but these are good results.
By the time you read this, Chileans will be digesting the result of their momentous referendum. The BBC is reporting that, even more decisively than predicted in LAB’s earlier article, the ‘Apruebo’ and ‘Asamblea Constituyente’ options have won huge majorities (78 per cent for ‘Apruebo’ with 90 per cent of the votes counted). So now begins the process to draw up a new constitution (replacing the Pinochet dictatorship version of 1981) and an Asamblea of ordinary citizens to draft it. What is not clear is how the Asamblea will be elected and how it will organise the process of consultation and drafting.
Social media in Chile were full of messages urging people to vote ‘Apruebo’, including this typically Chilean video addressing the youngest voters. The left and social movements have long dominated art, literature, film and photography in Chile and across Latin America, as beautifully exemplified in the photos of Luis Bustamante; and in this podcast series from James Dean Bradford of the Manic Street Preachers, describing the influence of Victor Jara, assassinated by Pinochet’s soldiers in September 1973. However, many of the social movements and the hundreds of thousands who filled the streets a year ago to demand change suspected that the right and the traditional political parties would keep control of the process and exclude them. Hopefully the scale of the victory will make this impossible.
Across the Andes, MAS is back as their candidate Luis Arce won a decisive first-round victory in the presidential election on 18 October, his over 10 per cent margin making a second-round unnecessary. The result is a searing defeat for the forces that ousted Morales last year, in what many regard as a non-violent coup d’état, and installed Jeanine Añez as interim president. We hope to carry more articles soon, examining the result and the country’s prospects.
At its peak in the early 1990s LAB had a spacious London office and a permanent staff of at least five (2 researcher-writers, an office manager, librarian and education worker). But as funding diminished, by 2008 we had lost our office and all our paid staff. We survived, and are proud that we have been able to publish new books, maintain a lively website and social media and a more-or-less regular newsletter. And we are immensely grateful to the scores of volunteers, researchers, writers and authors who have made this possible, as well as to our wonderful publishing partner Practical Action Publishing.
Staff: our work has expanded to a point where volunteers alone cannot sustain it. Now, at last, we have been able to take on two part-time workers: Rebecca Wilson is our new Admin & Editorial Assistant, and Emily Gregg will work on ongoing development and promotion of Voices of Latin America and its website. Both appointments are temporary and part time, but we hope we will be able to extend them.
If you value LAB and its work, please consider donating and, if possible, making a regular monthly contribution. It’s easy, and will make such a difference – it will help us to make Rebecca’s and Emily’s posts secure! Just click here.
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Research Engagement & Impact: LAB is developing a new strand of work: to help academic researchers on Latin America tell the stories of the people and communities they visit and study in formats and language accessible to wider audiences beyond the university and learned journals. We have two projects under way. The first, Indigenous Brazil Violated, with Cardiff University, is looking at the challenges and risks faced by indigenous peoples in today’s Brazil. We have created a website for the project, as a subsection of LAB’s website, completed an analysis of the coverage of the issue in Brazil’s mainstream media and will add a similar study of social media. The second project, with Kings College London will produce podcasts of interviews with victims of Violence Against Women. We hope to add further projects in the coming months.
Stop press: LAB’s partner the Institute of Latin American Studies is under threat of closure by London University. Please sign the petition to halt this short-sighted decision.
Emily Gregg has continued her excellent series of updates on the effects of the Covid-19 virus in Latin America, the different policies of the various governments and their impact on local populations. The latest updates were 23 July, 6 August, 25 August and 22 October. Emily is now working on a ‘virtual’ Coronavirus chapter for our Voices of Latin America project, which will exist online for now, but become a chapter in a future second edition of the book.
In Uruguay, as Morgan Fairless argues, its exemplary handling of the pandemic could, paradoxically, help pave the way for the Lacalle Pou administration to pass new, seemingly neoliberal, legislation.
In Brazil, Colombia and other countries, ongoing mining operations have been widely held responsible for spreading coronavirus. Indigenous communities in Chile’s Atacama desert region have been forced to take their own security measures, closing roads to prevent access by outsiders.
In Argentina, communities have long been active in Chubut, against Pan-American Silver, and in San Juan, where local and federal governments are using zoning laws to favour megamineria at the expense of local communities. Kinga Harasim documents the struggles in detail.
LAB has just published the first blog post of what we hope will be a series based on the excellent newsletters of our partner London Mining Network. This one highlights the threat to the Los Cedros forest in Ecuador and efforts to bring to book the Vale and BHP mining companies as they manoeuvre to avoid compensating victims and paying taxes in the wake of the 2015 Samarco tailings dam disaster near Mariana, in Minas Gerais, Brazil.
Jaimie Brzezinski describes the local generosity of individuals and community groups in Colombia, such as the children of the Chocó Robotics Club who created PPE for staff in local hospitals. The government, he explains, seems to have been more preoccupied with its own image than with safeguarding the population and its attempts at micro-management of lockdowns have merely sown confusion; while in rural areas where the state is largely absent, even the armed groups have been imposing quarantines.
Also in rural areas, as Christian Aid reports, the population faces a second major threat as the government deploys troops to restart its controversial coca crop eradication programme, effectively invalidating earlier efforts at crop substitution.
Lily Squires describes how cut flowers for the celebrations and weddings of the UK, Europe and the US have become big business for Colombia. Like other agro-industries, conditions for workers are often dismal and wages barely above the minimum, with massive lay-offs likely as coronavirus radically reduces demand. Lily worked at a school near Bogotá which had a small programme for the children of flower workers.
In Brazil also, local initiatives show the resilience of communities, as in Rio where Jo Griffin reports on a football project helping children in the favelas survive Covid lockdowns.
The theme is repeated by Eliane Brum writing in El Pais, summarised for LAB by Francis McDonagh. ‘In the outskirts of towns and in the shanty-towns of this country there are people getting organised and fighting and creating possibilities for living despite all the forms of death.’ Her article is a ringing denunciation and a lament for what Bolsonaro is doing to Brazil and what Brazilians are allowing him to do, and she is echoed by Jan Rocha, who compares Bolsonaro to Jim Jones, the deranged evangelical pastor of Jonestown, Guyana who led over 900 of his followers to a mass suicide.
While Brazilians die of Covid (157,134 of them so far, according to Johns Hopkins University today), Christian Aid shows how shock-doctrine fundamentalists are rushing to exploit the virus by clearing forest and building power lines to facilitate mining and development. The Global Assembly of the Amazon is leading protests, including its September ‘Virtual Caravan against the climate crisis’.
It is easy to forget that Bolsonaro’s path to power was cleared in part by the Lava Jato investigations which served to discredit all opponents. Now LAB partner Agência Pública has documented the blatant interference of the US FBI in that process.
LAB council member Grace Livingstone’s book Britain and the Dictatorships of Argentina and Chile, 1973–82, is reviewed for LAB.
Nina Meghji interviewed Queer Tango teacher Edgardo Fernández Sesma, for LAB’s Voices of Latin America. She talked to him again recently about the impact of lockdown on Buenos Aires’ older residents, and the economic implications for the city’s tango community post Covid-19.
Multi-national fashion brand Benetton owns 2.2 million acres of land in Argentina, most of it in Patagonia. Carole Concha Bell interviewed Moira Millán, a Mapuche activist who campaigns for the recovery of indigenous land.
The murder in El Salvador on 16 November 1989 of six Jesuit priests, their housekeeper and her daughter has long been remembered as one of the most savage and futile attempts to sabotage the country’s peace process. Finally, one of the main perpetrators, Ex-Colonel Inocente Orlando Montano was extradited from the US and stood trial in Madrid. Francis McDonagh, writing for The Tablet and LAB, described the trial and the sentence of 133 years in prison handed down by the court.
From Venezuela Victor Álvarez writes of the battle for ownership of the country’s reserves held in foreign banks, including the Bank of England. Venezuela’s wealth is in effect being plundered by foreign interests and vulture funds, instead of being used to combat coronavirus.
In Nicaragua, the Asociación de Trabajadores del Campo is bringing young people into their programmes for agroecology, land rights, and gender equality.
Culture, Film & Books
We hope that LAB will be able to publish more articles (and podcasts and videos) in future, covering film, books, music and the arts. Rebecca Wilson will be curating some of that work and developing our partnership with Sounds and Colours. She lists some of the shorts by indigenous filmmakers (many available until mid-November) at the Native Spirit Festival.
Mafalda, heroine of the eponymous Argentinian strip cartoon, was a revolutionary, argues Camilo Ucros in an obituary of ‘Quino’, her creator.
Gianna Giordani, a new writer for LAB, describes Samichay, in Search of Happiness, a Peruvian film which documents the feelings of loss and displacement of Quechua-speaking communities. She also reviews The Name of the Son, a moving film about gender and LBTQ rights in Argentina, and has lots of new ideas for future LAB articles.
Francesca Brown, another new LAB volunteer has agreed to be our book reviews editor. Please send us any suggestions of suitable books to review.