3 April 2020
Dear LAB Supporter and Friend,
In the past fortnight, as the Covid-19 virus took hold in Europe and began to make major inroads into the populations of the Americas, LAB has attempted to keep up with the extraordinary transformations being wreaked in all our societies. We lack the resources of the major news organisations, but we have a strong and growing team of volunteer correspondents across the region, who supply us with articles, especially focusing on the poorer, more marginal and indigenous groups in society, whose stories are often ignored by the mainstream media.
We could tell more of these stories if we had more resources. LAB is still staffed and maintained entirely by volunteers, working at home. If you think this effort is worthwhile, THIS LINK is where you can donate to LAB, and if possible set the donation to repeat monthly or annually. A big thanks to all who have already done this.
For more articles on all the themes in this newsletter, please see LAB’s Facebook page
Life will continue after the pandemic is over, and many of the same issues will remain pertinent, some even more acute. Naomi Klein in her excellent book The Shock Doctrine (which includes a superb chapter on the ‘Chicago Boys’ experiment in Chile) described ‘disaster capitalism’ – how the predatory wealthy and large corporations exploit major social crises to extend their dominance. So, in Latin America today we can expect to see more land seizures, more mega-mining, more oil and gas exploration (with climate change concerns conveniently eclipsed), more privatized utilities, more corporate capture of public services. Conversely, though, such disasters spur a vast upturn of social solidarity and human compassion. The question for us all is how to grasp and nurture this moment of courage and creativity, as new forms of human organization emerge to make the world a better place. This is discussed in a fascinating article by Duncan Green, a former researcher-writer for LAB and now Senior Policy Adviser to OXFAM and a Professor at LSE.
LAB is continuing to publish articles on other, non-virus related themes.
Bolivia: Christina Klingler asks whether women will be able to retain and defend the equalities they gained under the 2009 constitution. The country currently faces the paradox of having a woman as interim president who has a profoundly conservative agenda.
Chile: Jessica Rothwell examines the country’s dysfunctional Water Model, established under the Pinochet dictatorship, which handed this vital resource over to private speculators. Efforts at reform have been blocked by wealthy senators and those allied to the large companies who now monopolise water resources. With constitutional reform on hold, it may be a while before any change is possible.
Brazil: Dan Baron reports on a project with the Pataxó indigenous people in Bahía, which built a monument, the Five Bows, in 2000 to the ‘Other 500 Years’, to question the celebration, ordered by then president Fernando Cardoso, of the ‘Discovery of Brazil’. In December 2019 Dan receives a phone-call from Ikhã, daughter of the Pataxó chief, to tell him that one of the bows has been damaged by a falling tree. They determine to repair it.
In Cabelo Seco, Marabá, Pará, where Dan lives, Nego, son of a fisherman and washerwoman, describes in a poem, ‘Record’, the drought which has beached his canoe, at the confluence of the Tocantins and Itacaiunas rivers, and left the forest far more vulnerable to fire.
LAB has established a series of blog-posts from our Brazilian partner, Agência Pública, founded in São Paulo in 2011 by women journalists. Pública is the first non-profit agency for investigative journalism in Brazil. LAB is translating selected articles from their website. The latest, ‘Women of Virtue’, reports on the attitude of Brazil’s evangelical churches towards the women who comprise the majority of their members.
In Colombia, LAB partner Christian Aid has been promoting its Ten Years project, working to tackle violence and build peace alongside the Peace Accords. We published the first of four posts describing the experience.
In a recent open letter to mark the 31st anniversary of the Internet, Tim Berners-Lee raised the issue of online abuse of women, writing that he is “seriously concerned that online harms facing women and girls – especially those of colour, from LGBTQ+ communities and other marginalised groups – threaten that progress”. He named a Colombian NGO, Fundación Karisma, which has established the ‘Alerta Machitroll’ project to empower women to stand up to internet abuse. Robert Eveson describes their work.
Emily Gregg updated our Covid-19 regional overview on 24 March. Meanwhile she has had to find a way of returning home to the UK from Arica, Chile. We hope to prepare another update in the next few days.
Indigenous and Quilombo communities are the most vulnerable to the virus, especially where miners and loggers may bring the infection:
- The first case confirmed of an indigenous person in the Brazilian Amazon contracting the disease.
- The threat to Quilombos near Porto Trombetas, Pará, Brazil from a nearby mine.
- Young people in Cabelo Seco, Pará, are teaching social distancing through street theatre.
- Indigenous communities in Ecuador are warning visitors away and some are fleeing to the forest.
Brazil confronts twin catastrophes, says veteran LAB correspondent Jan Rocha – the virus and the president. Bolsonaro is probably the world’s most implacable virus-denier, claiming that if he himself were to catch it, it would be no more than a gripezinha – a minor cold, and urging Brazil’s cities and factories to stay open. The contrast between Argentina and Brazil is highlighted in an account of a flight from Buenos Aires to Rio.
Argentina has implemented much more stringent measures, according to LAB correspondent Franziska Reiffen, placing Buenos Aires under curfew. One urgent problem, however, is shortage of money – how small businesses and the self-employed are to survive, as one of her interviewees graphically describes.
Venezuela faces a catastrophe as a collapsed economy and a desperately weak health service struggle to cope. The Trump administration has made things incomparably worse by ramping up the already draconian sanctions and declaring President Maduro a ‘narco-terrorist’ with a price on his head. Venezuelan scientist Victor Álvarez has called for the formation of a coalition government with both Maduro and opposition leader Guaidó, and for the US to suspend sanctions.
Costa Rica’s government actions have been firm and pro-active, but the country is very exposed, both by the stream of migrants, notably from Nicaragua (whose government is in complete denial) and from its dependence on tourism. Katie Jones reports from tourist destination Liberia, in Guanacaste province.
If you can contribute any news, testimony or insights about particular countries, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
The LAB Team