The constituent parties of the Frente Amplio. Image: Wikipedia
20 December 2017
Dear LAB Supporter and Friend,

The ghosts of elections past, present and future

Across the world, polls this year have been confounded as elections yielded surprising results (not least, for those of us in the UK, in the 2016 referendum on EU membership and the general election in 2017). These results have led many analysts to identify strands of nationalistic populism, disenchantment with traditional politics and parties, and elements of xenophobia and misogyny. At the same time, however, more radical left positions (represented in the UK by Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour Party) made unexpected gains, yet could not win power.

Many of the same phenomena are evident in Latin America. Centre left governments which had adopted or accommodated orthodox neo-liberal policies, have lost power in Brazil, Argentina and now Chile (for an early analysis, in Spanish, see Pedro Santander on alai.net).
Meanwhile, presidential elections are due in July 2018 in Mexico. Nick Caistor maps the field for us (Read more). In Brazil, where elections are due in October 2018, discredited parties are busy changing their spots (names and logos) in what Jan Rocha calls ‘the chameleon race’ (Read more).

Chaos still reins in Honduras where the ‘official’ result (victory for the incumbent, President Juan Orlando Hernández, with 42.5% of the vote) has been rejected by the opposition as manifestly fraudulent, and even the OAS has called for new elections. Mark Weisbrot analysed the situation on 1 December (Read more). Jesuit priest and human rights defender Fr Ismael Moreno has termed this an ‘electoral coup d’état’ (Read more). Wilfredo Méndez of Christian Aid’s Honduran partner CIPRODEH warned: “if Juan Orlando imposes himself on the basis of fraud, human rights violations will increase” (Read more).

Divide and rule: mining company style

In Argentina, a leading glacier scientist, known as a defender of the environment has been indicted for, allegedly, providing a flawed analysis of the Andean glaciers above San Juan province which allowed mining companies to obtain licences and which led in turn to a series of cyanide spillages from the El Veladero complex, part-owned by Barrick Gold. Strangely, the community organisation Asamblea Jáchal No Se Toca is backing the prosecution. Max Nathanson tells the story for Mongabay. LAB’s Tom Gatehouse (who visited the area in late 2016) comments: “It is hard to understand why AJNST is backing this indictment, which seems unlikely to favour anyone other than the mining companies. Clearly it is the companies who are responsible for the cyanide spills.” (Read more).

Migrants and marginal communities

In Rio de Janeiro, thousands of people live in favelas and smaller areas of housing built on public land. Their battle for legal rights to the land and urban services are documented for LAB by Jennifer Chisholm (Read more).

Migrants everywhere are among the most exploited people. Haitians in the neighbouring Dominican Republic (which makes up the larger portion of the island of Hispaniola) have always been vulnerable, but especially so since a 2013 constitutional ruling which removed citizenship rights from thousands of children born in DR to Haitian parents. ‘Voluntary returns’ and forced deportations are on the increase, in often inhumane conditions, as denounced by Christian Aid partner Centro Bono (Read more).

At Santa Elena de Uairén/Pacaraima, on the Venezuelan border, however, the situation is more complex: is the stream of people crossing into Brazil made up of those ‘fleeing dictatorship’ as much of the western press claims, or Venezuelans selling petrol and other commodities which command premium prices across the frontier? Pedro Marin of Revista Opera visits the twin towns to examine the complex reality (Read more).

LAB’s David Lehmann has been to the cinema to watch two films: Cabros de Mierda, by Chilean director Gonzalo Justiniano is set in the Santiao población La Victoria, during the Pinochet dictatorship. The over-simplified drama is marred by the presence of the ‘good American’ saviour (Read more). El Mensajero, directed by Jayson McNamara, is a much more serious chronicle of the life of Robert Cox who edited the English language newspaper Buenos Aires Herald during the worst years of Argentina’s Dirty War and emerged as a courageous reporter of human rights abuses (Read more).

LAB in 2018
We plan to publish two major books in the course of next year:

Amazon Besieged – by dams, soya, agribusiness and land-grabbing by Mauricio Torres and Sue Branford tells the story of the assault on the Tapajós basin and its tributary river, the Teles Pires, as Brazil’s vast soya megafarms in Mato Grosso and Pará attempt to create vast road, rail and river highways to ship their product to the sea.

Voices of Latin America – ed. Tom Gatehouse & the LAB team is the culmination of two year’s of LAB work, collecting interviews and testimony from social movement leaders and activists across the region. Tom provided ILAS’ Latin American Diaries with a taste of what the book will contain, (Read more).

Looking ahead to 2019, we are already starting work on Overburden: community resistance to mining in Latin America by Tom Gatehouse.

Very best wishes to all of our readers for Christmas and for 2018.

The LAB Team

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