150 years ago, Argentina’s African population was deliberately decimated. Today, the few Afro-Argentines remaining reckon with a trauRead More
Millions of people in Peru lack access to safe water and sewage services. But Abel Cruz Gutiérrez has a solution. Gutiérrez, president of the "Peruvians Without Water" association, uses an ingenious system of "fog catchers" to make water accessible to residents of Lima's low-income neighborhoods. The fog catchers resemble large rectangular sailboat sails, which are composed of nylon nets that trap microdroplets of water. The nets are set up along the foggy areas of coastal Peru and are connected to pipes, which collect the water for larger storage tanks. Residents can then use this water as irrigation for crops or to raise animals. And while the water isn't currently drinkable, Gutiérrez is working on a solution to that as well.
The annual Free Land protest takes on a new sense of urgency under Bolsonaro’s far-right government.
Last week, more than 4,000 indigenous people from over 300 tribes across Brazil gathered in Brasilia to set up camp in front of government buildings for three days of cultural celebrations and protest.
While the Free Land protest is an annual event, it has taken on a new significance this year under president Jair Bolsonaro and his far-right government’s encroachment on the rights of native people and their territories. Al Jazeera writes that according to The Articulation of the Indigenous People of Brazil (APIB), the central organizer of the gathering, this year the event occurs in a "very grave context".
Recently, Bolsonaro promised to stop the development of new indigenous reserves, and to revoke the protected status of established land reserves. Bolsonaro has even gone so far as to publicly question the need for indigenous reserves at all.
The Guardian writes that among the new far-right government’s projects is a movement to enable commercial farming and mining on indigenous reserves. One of the reserves targeted is the Yanomami territory, Brazil’s largest reserve which already experiences threats from illegal gold miners.
“We are defenders of the land, we are defenders of the Amazon, of the forest,” Alessandra Munduruku, one of the representatives of the Munduruku tribe told the Guardian. “The white man is [...] finishing off our planet and we want to defend it.”
Instead of directly handling the demarcation of Brazil’s indigenous reserves, the government has given the project to the agriculture ministry, a branch controlled by the farming lobby, a powerful organization which has been known to oppose indigenous land rights (Guardian). Joenia Wapichana, the first indigenous congresswoman in Brazil, told Al Jazeera that during her time in office she had become aware of just how deeply the government was to indigenous rights. “The government is completely anti-indigenous,” she said, “[Jair Bolsonaro] is only open to those who defend mining and land grabbing, which is his intention.”
After days of encampment outside government buildings, indigenous groups began their annual march last friday. Protestors wore body paint and feathered headdresses, while beating beating drums and holding bows and arrows (Reuters).
The Guardian writes that last week Bolsonaro’s justice minister Sérgio Moro, requested the presence of Brazil’s national guard at the event, foreshadowing possible clashes with protestors. While Moro said that the guard would be working to “secure the public order and the safety of people and patrimony,” the guard said in a statement to Al Jazeera that it would use force “if necessary” to protect the “safety of the patrimony of the Union and its servers.”
In response to growing concern, the APIB released a statement saying that “our camp has been happening peacefully for the past 15 years to give visibility to our daily struggles. [...] We are not violent, violence is attacking our sacred right to free protesting with armed forces.”
In a statement to Reuters, David Karai Popygua, a native person from the state of Sao Paulo, summed up what is at stake for protestors. “Our families are in danger, our children are under threat, our people are being attacked,” he said. “In the name of what they call economic progress they want to kill our people.”
EMMA BRUCE is an undergraduate student studying English and marketing at Emerson College in Boston. While not writing she explores the nearest museums, reads poetry, and takes classes at her local dance studio. She is passionate about sustainable travel and can't wait to see where life will take her.
The Brazilian government has earmarked a vast tract of Amazonian land for mining. The so-called “Renca” reserve sits in the last great wilderness area in the eastern Amazon and contains lots of unique rainforest wildlife. The controversial decision to allow mining has since been rewritten to clarify that development cannot take place on indigenous lands that lie within the “Renca”, and then put on hold by a federal judge, pending support from congress.
Protected areas such as the Renca are under threat right across the Amazon, and many have already been downsized or downgraded. Conservation is undermined by chronic underfunding of the national environmental protection agencies, the devolving of environmental enforcement to regional states that cannot cope, and by rural violence so severe that Brazil leads the world in assassinations of environmentalists.
The result of all this is an Amazon where 90% of logging is illegal and deforestation is increasing, where unprecedented wildfires burn each summer, and where large vertebrates are now going extinct for the first time since the Pleistocene.
Brazil says mining and logging will boost national economic growth. Yet people in the Amazon remain some of the poorest and most marginalised in South America, and there is little evidence this kind of development has enhanced their quality of life. For example, the municipalities of Eldorado dos Carajás, Marabá, and Paraupebas, all of which surround large mining operations, have a human development index lower than that of Libya, a country stricken by civil war. And the construction of the controversial Belo Monte dam resulted in the regional capital of Altamira attaining the highest per capita homicide rate in all of Brazil, equivalent to 25 murders a day if scaled to a city the size of London.
Why has development failed Amazonians?
First, the companies driving the change are generally big multinationals based either in and around Rio and São Paulo (1,700 miles away) or abroad. Despite some municipal taxes, only a tiny portion of the profits remain locally.
Development, as currently practised, also favours the wealthy over the poor. When protected areas are downgraded the chief beneficiaries are landholders who are able to log or mine their territory. Other social groups aren’t so lucky. Some are even actively attacked – either directly, as occurred in the assassination of ten landless movement squatters in a large Amazonian farm, or through legal changes, such as the downgrading of the rights of quilombolas, historical communities descended from African slaves, and indigenous peoples.
Brazil’s ongoing “car wash” corruption scandal has led to allegations of worrying links between large development projects in the Amazon, such as the Belo Monte dam, and the diversion of state funds to political parties. If the purpose of development is political gain, there can be little hope for regional citizens.
Are there alternative ways forward?
Both Amazonian people and forests would benefit if we stopped evaluating development schemes solely in terms of the profits they could generate. This sort of narrow, economic assessment cannot truly capture the value of the Amazon’s forests: how do you put a price on conserving unique species, or mitigating global climate change?
The forests of the Renca are some of the most dense and slow-growing in the Amazon basin. Even deforesting just 30% of the area would effectively emit more than four billion tonnes of CO₂ into the atmosphere – equivalent to Brazil’s entire fossil fuel emissions over the past ten years. Unless climate change forms part of the decision making process in the region, Brazil will fail to meet its international commitments such as the Paris agreement.
Development must also secure constitutional rights for everyone, not just those of the elites. Brazil currently has so called “differentiated citizenship”, where in practice there is a gradation of rights among citizens, depending on their race, social class or region.
Local action is often the only defence against the expansion of mining or dams. Recent examples of a grassroots success include the Munduruku indigenous people, who are forcing various concessions by resisting megadams on the middle Tapajós River. Another example is the practice of “counter-mapping” among indigenous peoples which entails them mapping their own territorial boundaries to defend their land from industrial agriculture, mining, dams and logging. These alternative approaches are the best way forward in the Renca too. Instead of opening up the area for mining multinationals, Brazil should recognise the rights of local people and empower them to lead decision-making. Brazil nut harvesting is already big in the local economy and, along with ecotourism and carbon-payments (being effectively paid to not chop down a forest), could deliver sustainable development, while leaving the minerals in the ground.
JOS BARLOW is a Professor of Conservation Science at Lancaster University.
ALEXANDER C. LEES is a lecturer in tropical ecology at Manchester Metropolitan University.
ERIKA BERENGUER is a Senior Research Associate at University of Oxford.
JAMES A. FRASER is a Lecturer in Political Ecology at Lancaster University.
JOICE FERREIRA is a researcher in Ecology at Federal University of Pará.
THIS ARTICLE WAS ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED ON THE CONVERSATION
Even in a country where crisis has become the norm, the past month has been eventful for Venezuela.
On April 3 Juan Guaidó, the Venezuelan National Assembly president who is leading an effort to remove President Nicolás Maduro from office, was stripped of his parliamentary immunity. Arrest seems increasingly likely. Guaidó’s chief-of-staff was jailed on March 22, on charges of organizing a “terrorist cell.”
Two days later, two Russian military planes carrying 35 tons of unspecified equipment and 100 soldiers landed at the international airport in Caracas.
Meanwhile, three blackouts left over 90 percent of the country in the dark. Since water pumps need electricity to run, neighborhoods and families were forced to organize water rationing systems or fetch water from polluted rivers and streams.
Maduro blames the blackouts on “sabotage” by Guaidó and the United States. The opposition blames government corruption and neglect of Venezuela’s energy grid.
These extraordinary events may give the appearance that armed conflict is on the horizon. But having researched Venezuela for over 25 years, I believe a prolonged deadlock – and deeper human suffering – is the more likely result.
Each side in Venezuela’s political struggle has powerful international backers.
Guaidó has been coordinating with the Trump administration since before assuming the interim presidency, and Trump has made regime change in Venezuela a foreign policy priority. Over 50 countries now recognize Guaidó as Venezuela’s legitimate president.
Maduro’s government retains important support from Cuba, Turkey and China – though China, which has loaned Venezuela some $60 billionover the last 12 years, has diminished its public backing of Maduro.
Russia has become Maduro’s most important ally. The Russian military equipment and personnel sent in March will likely help maintain and operate Venezuela’s sophisticated Russian-made S-300 air defense system, which protects the capital and key military bases from air attack.
The missile defense system may have been damaged in recent power outages, or left understaffed by desertions from Venezuela’s military.
In a March 29 press statement, White House national security adviser John Bolton called Russia’s military assistance to Venezuela a “direct threat to international peace and security in the region” that will “perpetuate the economic crisis that has destroyed Venezuela’s economy.”
Russian officials retorted that the deployment is part of a prior bilateral arms trade agreement with Venezuela.
“The United States is present in many parts of the world and no one is telling it where it should or shouldn’t be,” said Russian President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov at a March 28 Kremlin press conference.
Regime change stalled
Venezuela’s opposition coalition and its allies in the U.S. appear to have thought that global rejection of Maduro’s re-election and Guaidó’s assuming the interim presidency – coupled with threats of a U.S. military invasion and sanctions on Venezuelan oil – would lead Venezuela’s armed forces to turn against Maduro. That would then usher in a democratic transition.
Recent events have shown that this strategy was simplistic.
More than 500 Venezuelan soldiers have defected to Colombia and Brazil. But most have stayed loyal, as have the generals who hold high positions in Maduro’s government. And Maduro has shown himself quite adept at using dispersed violence to discourage dissent.
Despite President Donald Trump’s repeated mentions of a “military option” for dealing with Venezuela, it’s become clear in recent weeks that the U.S. has no actual plans for military action. Indeed, it does not have significant military assets in position near Venezuela.
Venezuela’s armed forces are the fifth most powerful in Latin America, according to Global Fire Power, which ranks military strength. It has around 200,000 troops, a volunteer militia, plus paramilitary forces and a fleet of Russian Sukhoi fighter jets.
The presence of Russian troops in Venezuela further complicates any plans for U.S. intervention. Russia is a nuclear power, so incurring Russian casualties is probably too big of a risk for the U.S. to take.
Adam Isacson, a defense expert at the Washington Office on Latin America, a human rights organization, suggests that removing Maduro by force would not only kill thousands of people on the ground, it would likely require tens of thousands of U.S. troops to occupy Venezuela for years in order to stabilize it.
Outside of south Florida, where some 200,000 Venezuelan exiles are clamoring for Maduro’s ouster, few Americans would have an appetite for such a prolonged operation.
U.S. economic sanctions – which are now targeting Venezuelan oil – appear to be hurting the Venezuelan people more than Maduro’s government.
That will only make a democratic transition more elusive. Depriving the Venezuelan government of cash and credit will impede it from fixing the electrical grid by preventing the purchase of new equipment. And without electricity and water, Venezuelans, who in their vast majority oppose Maduro, will be concentrating on survival rather than protest.
Working for peace
An international effort led by the European Union, Uruguay, Ecuador and Costa Rica is seeking to negotiate new elections. Calling itself the International Contact Group, this coalition has sent technical teams to Caracas twice to meet with the Maduro government and the opposition.
The International Contact Group has not actually found much interest on either side.
The opposition and its allies in the Trump administration still believethat their strategy of political pressure and economic punishment will lead to the government’s collapse. Maduro, it appears, thinks he can hunker down and wait out the storm.
There is one glimmer of hope.
After years of political wrangling over humanitarian aid, on March 29 the International Committee of the Red Cross announced that it had brokered agreements with both the Maduro government and the opposition. They will allow the Red Cross to distribute food and medicine to Venezuelans, who have suffered severe shortages of both since 2015.
The United Nations estimates that 94 percent of Venezuela’s population now lives in poverty, and a quarter of its people urgently need humanitarian assistance.
The Red Cross deal shows what can be achieved with “satellite diplomacy” – that is, negotiations that engage with rival factions independently rather than requiring them to meet face to face.
This is significant. It is the first time that this diplomatic technique has succeeded in Venezuela’s conflict.
In the best-case scenario, the humanitarian aid agreement will stick. And it could serve as a model for how international actors can facilitate a democratic transition in Venezuela.
DAVID SMILDE is a Professor of Sociology at Tulane University.
THIS ARTICLE WAS ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED ON THE CONVERSATION
Torres del Paine National Park is in Chile’s Patagonia region and known for its beautiful mountain ranges, icebergs and glaciers, and golden pampas, which are the grasslands that shelter wildlife such as guanacos. Some of its most iconic sites are the 3 granite towers from which the park takes its name and the horn-shaped peaks called Cuernos del Paine.
And why the lights were flickering in the first place.
The streets are littered with planks of wood and broken glass from storefronts destroyed by looters. The smell of rotting food from useless refrigerators fills the air of the city’s neighborhoods. At the local hospital, groans can be heard from patients in pain without medicine and the dead appear to be multiplying.
This was Venezuela for six days in the lucky towns, and eight days in cities on the edge of the electric grid such as Maracaibo. The city of Maracaibo, about 200 miles west of Caracas, regularly experiences power outages as a result of its high energy consumption and position on the power grid.
The country’s economy has struggled throughout the past few years, and hyperinflation plagues Venezuelans’ day to day lives. Food is often scarce, and basic items such as toiletries can be costly. According to United Nations statistics, three million Venezuelans have left the country since 2014 when the economic crisis started to worsen. The blackout highlighted the systemic nature of Venezuela’s problems.
Venezuelans all over the country didn’t just lose power- they also lost the assurances that come under living in a country with rule of law. Storefronts were plundered as food became an even greater concern in a country already going hungry. “The shop owners were trying to defend their stores by opening fire, not to kill, but I think there were many dead,” Omar Chavez, a citizen of Maracaibo, told New York Times. “No one was controlling this mob.”
In Caracas, citizens resorted to drinking the heavily polluted water of the river that runs through the capital. Without electricity, hospitals had problems running equipment and suffered from shortages of medication. Citizens of the oil rich country lined up around blocks waiting for gasoline.
The blackout, while a nightmare for the citizens, has become a political battlefield for the two men who claim to be in charge of the country. Maduro, the unpopular incumbent, was first elected in 2013. In 2014, oil prices plummeted worldwide and Maduro failed to deal with the economic catastrophe that followed. Most of the county wants him out of office; according to a Gallup survey, 3 out of 4 Venezuelans view the government as corrupt. However, last May, Maduro was reelected. Many citizens claimed this election was an obvious fraud and took to the streets in protest.
Enter opposition leader Juan Guaido. In January 2019, Guaidó declared himself interim president on the grounds that the elections were rigged. Guaidó, as leader of the National Assembly, would become interim President if the role of President was vacant. The European Union and most of Latin America recognized Guaidó as the President of Venezuela. President Trump also threw his support behind Guaido, tweeting: “The citizens of Venezuela have suffered for too long at the hands of the illegitimate Maduro regime.” The US’ recognition of Juan Guaidó as the interim president led Maduro to call Guadió a Washington puppet intended to undermine Venezuelan sovereignty.
Maduro also claimed the blackout was the result of American cyber sabotage. He called the blackout an “electric war” started by “US imperialism.” But Venezuela has had problems with power since before Maduro came to the presidency. In 2010, Hugo Chavez called an “electricity emergency” after a drought caused water levels at the Guri Dam, a major hydroelectric plant, to fall dangerously low. Localized power cuts are normal, and electricity rationing comes as no surprise to the citizens. Experts say that this blackout was due to a key section of the country's national grid being taken out, possibly by a bush fire. The power system of Venezuela has also suffered from neglect as a result of years of underinvestment in infrastructure. The highest positions at Corpoelec, the state owned power company, are occupied by government loyalists. In reality, the power grid is run by soldiers instead of technicians.
Many skilled engineers have joined the three million Venezuelans who have fled to countries where lunch doesn’t cost a month’s salary. More are due to leave soon, as the power still flickers on and off. According to a Gallup survey, 36% of remaining Venezuelans said they would leave if they could. This number has more than doubled from the 13% who reported they would leave before Maduro took office.
Those who stay will have to deal with the aftermath of the devastating blackout. Pharmacies have few supplies, and grocery store shelves are sparse. In Maracaibo alone, vandals destroyed 562 businesses. Pharmacy owner Marianela Finol spoke to El País after the blackout. He compared the power outage to a natural disaster. “I feel like a tornado has passed,” he remarked. His pharmacy, robbed by a mob of strangers, remains in splinters.
EMILY DHUE is a third year student at the University of Virginia majoring in media. She is currently studying abroad in Valencia, Spain. She's passionate about writing that makes an impact, and storytelling through digital platforms.
The Earth is about 71 percent water, 95 percent of that water unexplored. Every few years, animals emerge from the depths that force the scientific community to rewrite its rhetoric on oceanic life. With climate change upsetting the environmental landscape these occurrences may become more common. In January scientists found what could be a new species of orca off the coast of Cape Horn in Chile. The animals are said to share a common ancestor with the Orcinus orca that we often see in movies and documentaries, and the two have coexisted for thousands of years, a testament to how little we know about the deep.
Orcas, commonly called killer whales, are not whales at all, but the largest species of dolphin. They are found in virtually all of the world's oceans and seas and are widely considered to be apex predators, surpassing even the great white shark. For years, captive orcas have performed at water parks for the amusement of spectators, a practice that has become increasingly unpopular with the release of the documentary Blackfish. Now their wild counterparts facing their own challenges the form of climate change, which alters the weather patterns in an area and redistributes the animals that live there.
Scientists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) were drawn to Cape Horn by reports from the local fishermen who were allegedly losing their catches to the orcas. Upon arrival, they found a group of 30 individuals who spent three hours investigating the scientists while they themselves were being filmed. These “Type D” orcas were first documented in 1955 when a pod washed up on a beach in New Zealand. The animals live in the subantarctic region, home to some of the stormiest waters on the planet, which makes them near impossible to study. Thanks to climate change, however, these waters are warming at an alarming rate, and it could have an effect on the orcas themselves or the food they eat. In addition to physical analysis, NOAA scientists were able to collect skin and blood samples. Type D orcas have rounder heads and narrower fins than their more commonly known cousins. At around 25 feet, they are also a bit smaller, and their white eyepatches, a defining characteristic of orcas, are almost non-existent. The animals’ blood is still being analyzed, but experts believe that when the test results come back the Type D Orca will be the largest undescribed animal left in the world—at least, for now.
JONATHAN ROBINSON is an intern at CATALYST. He is a travel enthusiast always adding new people, places, experiences to his story. He hopes to use writing as a means to connect with others like himself.
When we think of civilization, we think in Western terms: skyscrapers, factories, and automobiles. But as we progress, there is a growing need to live in tune with the natural world. While our affinity for the environments may seem relatively new, some civilizations have lived in such a way for centuries. The forests of Peru are home to 15 “uncontacted” tribes, groups who live in voluntary isolation and reject all connections to the outside world. However, the reverse is not true. Industrialization and deforestation threaten to take large pieces of territory from these indigenous peoples.
In December of 2017, the Congress of the Republic of Peru approved the construction of a road that would run along 172 miles of Peru’s eastern border with Brazil before connecting with the Interoceanic Highway, a 1600 mile stretch that links the two countries. The road was pitched as a way to jumpstart the economy in an area of Peru that was cut off from tourism and trade, but activists are worried. Clearing a way for the road would decimate 4 national parks and violate 5 protected areas belonging to the indigenous tribes. Activists also predict that the road will be a catalyst for more development, both legal and illegal. Drug traffickers are always looking for new opportunities to expand, and a road through the Amazon would provide just that.
Some smaller encounters are equally devastating to relations between the outside world and the indigenous tribes of the Peruvian forest. In April 2018, Sebastian Woodroffe, a Canadian scientist who traveled to Peru to study hallucinogenic medicine, was killed in an apparent lynching after he was accused of killing 81-year-old Olivia Arévalo, a local shaman to the tribal village of Victoria Gracia. Authorities launched an investigation after videos surfaced on social media of Woodroffe being dragged along the jungle floor by assailants. They later exhumed Woodroffe’s body from an unmarked grave. The incident has proven to be disastrous to public perception of the tribes.
When asked why they choose to remain isolated, members of these tribes often point to encounters their people had with colonists in the past and the violence and disease that resulted. Today, history seems to be repeating itself as modern society reaches further into an untouched and irreplaceable ecosystem.
JONATHAN ROBINSON is an intern at CATALYST. He is a travel enthusiast always adding new people, places, experiences to his story. He hopes to use writing as a means to connect with others like himself.
Renata Flores is a 16-year-old singer from Peru who is using her voice to save an ancient Incan language. Though Quechua is the second-most spoken language in Peru, native speakers have suffered from discrimination and social stigma for generations, and today, many young people aren’t learning the language at all. But with her powerful vocals to covers of pop songs by Michael Jackson and Alicia Keys in her native tongue, Flores is sparking a renewed celebration of Quechuan language and culture.
Deep within the Peruvian Andes, next to the Ausangate Mountain, is home to one of the most magnificent geologic features in the world, The Rainbow Mountains of Peru. While viewing the Rainbow Mountains, you are seeing millions of years of history and all the complexities that are associated with geologic weathering & erosion. The peak of the Rainbow Mountains stands at 16,520 feet.
Each color within the mountain represents a different mineral that is present within the soil & rock. National Geographic ranked the Rainbow Mountains as one of the 100 areas you must visit before you die. Our guides were from Flashpacker Connect.
In this short film, you will be taken on a journey through the incredibly varied landscapes of this imposing continent, South America.
One year of travel, nine countries, countless hours on busses, motorbikes, and cars. Hundreds of thousands of images taken. 30TB of data used, 5 months of editing. The time-lapse film features South America like it has never been before with images from Brazil, Venezuela, Guyana, Colombia, Argentina, Chile, Peru, Bolivia and Ecuador.
A year ago, Yury Sharov was asked to go to Rio with a couple of musicians from London to make a music video for their song, capturing their holidays on the IPanema beach. After the video was done, Yury had a lot of material that was not used and decided to make this short video about all the sides of Rio.
The Atacama Desert is a virtually rainless plateau in South America, covering a 600-mile (1,000 km) strip of land on the Pacific coast of South America, west of the Andes mountains. According to NASA, National Geographic and many other publications, it's the driest desert in the world.
Venezuelans used to be among the happiest people on the planet.
In 2012, they voted themselves into fifth place in a global Gallup survey on happiness. In 2013, this South American country ranked 20th out of the 156 countries included in the United Nations’ annual World Happiness Report, which assesses well-being worldwide based on measures like wealth, life expectancy and corruption.
My home country used to be a prosperous, cheerful place. People were proud to be from Venezuela – a place known for its friendly citizens and beauty queens: Venezuela has produced six Miss Worlds and seven Miss Universes.
Not anymore. This year, Venezuela plunged to 102nd place of 156 countries in the World Happiness Report. By comparison, Denmark topped the list and the United States came in 18th.
Venezuela has changed dramatically in recent years.
President Nicolás Maduro – who was elected to succeed the popular late leader Hugo Chávez in 2013 – has turned out to be a kind of King Midas in reverse. Everything he touches seemingly turns to garbage.
Once poor people are now starving. On average, Venezuelans have lost 24 pounds each since food shortages began in 2015.
Meanwhile, the middle class is disappearing. According to the labor union UNETE, 75 percent of Venezuelan workers no longer earn enough to support their families.
Fleeing these unbearable living conditions, thousands of Venezuelans have begun pouring across the border into neighboring Colombia and Brazil every day.
Maduro has systematically persecuted his opponents, sending them to jail or into exile. The regime has also used the state apparatus to boost its electoral prospects, trading food for votes, suppressing turnout in dissident districts and crushing anti-regime protests.
As a result, this wildly unpopular president is running for reelection without meaningful opposition and is likely to win.
It’s hard to be happy under a dictatorship.
Many Venezuelans have lost any hope of political change. Maduro has crippled Venezuela’s independent institutions, stacking the Supreme Court with loyalists and stripping the National Assembly of its legislative powers. Freedom of speech is long gone.
And if all that’s not bad enough, the 2018 Miss Venezuela pageant has been suspended after allegations of prostitution among its contestants.
MIGUEL ANGEL LATOUCHE is an Associate Professor at Universidad Central de Venezuela
THIS ARTICLE WAS ORIGINALLY POSTED ON THE CONVERSATION
Lake Titicaca in Peru is a lagoon made up of approximately 70 man-made islands. The central island serves as a hub, home to over 500 residents. Living afloat isn’t for everyone, but the Uros, a small South American tribe, have created and maintained this unique lifestyle for many years. The platforms are made using dried reeds and can be moved away from the mainland at any time. Home to the old and the new worlds, Lake Titicaca is a floating paradise welcoming visitors from around the globe.
In Venezuela, women are confronted with a culture of increasingly enhanced physiques fueled by beauty pageants and plastic surgery. The culture makes it so women feel pressured to be beautiful at any cost. For many in Venezuela, beauty means perfection, and despite economic struggles the country faces, women of all social classes seek out plastic surgery.
Traditional handwoven fabrics embody the living history and heritage of the Peruvian highlands. Intricate textile patterns with expressive names such as Mayu Qenqo (meandering river) or Pumac Makin (puma footprints) tell tales of the geography and events of the Andean region and its history over thousands of years.
“Weaving is part of how we communicate our history to younger generations and the rest of the world,” Rosemary tells me, as she runs her fingers through alpaca thread in her home. Her fervour is palpable, as she explains how skilled weavers have passed ancient knowledge from old to young, generation after generation.
For years, hand-woven fabrics have embodied the living history and culture of the Peruvian Highlands. Textile patterns with expressive names like Mayu Qenqo (Meandering River) or Pumac Makin (Puma Footprints) tell tales of the events in the Andean region, as well as its diverse and chaotic landscape and sacred history spanning thousands of years.
As I made my way through the thundering mountains that so gracefully embrace the Sacred Valley, I listened with fascination to the ancient — yet living — stories about Quechua customs that my driver Elvis was reciting. He proudly told me the history of his land and the people who have inhabited it since pre-Columbine times. The ambition and scale of his tales matched any Western classic, despite never being written down.
“Manco Capac was the first and greatest of all the Inca — son of Inti, the Sun, who brought him up from the depths of the Lake Titikaka to rule from the great city of Cusco, the navel of the Earth.”
We take an unexpected left turn off of the main road, and start to approach Piuray Lagoon, as Elvis continues with his story. “Manco Capac had two children, a girl and a boy. Then one day Inti asked Manco Capac to go and find his children so that they could spend the sunset together. Yet when he went looking for them, he found in their place two lagoons; the Huaypo Lagoon (his son) and the Piuray Lagoon (his daughter).”
“These two lagoons,” explains Elvis, announcing our arrival, “represent the duality and balance of the sexes in modern day Quechua culture.”
In 1528 the Spanish colonisation of the Inca Empire destroyed and eradicated all written records of Incan culture, which was the only palpable account of Quechua customs and folklore. Now, the only original testament is found between the threads of intricate textile designs handwoven by indigenous communities of the Puna (Andean highlands).
Right up until the present day, Quechuan communities from the Peruvian highlands have been the keepers of tradition and the sustainers of an ancient yet arduous way of life. They work in absolute harmony with the Peruvian mother earth, whom they call Pachamama. Their unique weaving practices and patterns date back to pre-Columbian civilisations, and continue to be a great symbol of Quechuan cultural identity.
Reaching a small village near Piuray, we meet Mariana, a young girl with innocent features wearing a traditional montera (hat) and iliclla (black shoulder cloth) paired with a colourful vest and skirt. Walking beside her llama, Mariana explains how the women of Chinchero proudly wear their hand woven textiles and clothing on a daily basis, to differentiate the identity of their community from others in the highlands.
The region of Chinchero, at 3,780 meters above sea level in the province of Urubamba, is home to several Quechua communities. The men farm the land and harvest potatoes, barley, and quinoa to feed their families and sell at nearby markets, while the women raise llamas and alpacas to obtain textile fibres to weave. Alpaca and llama threads are lanolin-free, making them soft and insulating, regardless of the climate.
Women like Mariana spin on simple drop spindles and weave their colourful yarn on traditional back-strap looms while tending to their flock of alpacas or letting their family’s food cook over a fire, just as their forebears did before them for centuries. “I started playing with wool and spindles when I was very young. Then, around the time I was six years old, my older sisters started teaching me simple weaving techniques and patterns through observation and repetition,” explains Mariana.
Chinchero has traditionally relied on farming for financial sustainability, yet in the recent years, demographic and social changes have forced these small communities to find new ways to sustain themselves. Competition with large agricultural corporations means that local farmers can no longer rely on farming to financially support their families. Indigenous women who used to weave just to serve their family have now had to increase their production and sell textiles in local markets.
“They want to change Chinchero,” explains Concepcion, a weaver and mother of two. “The government has seized some land to make an international airport and to build big hotels that cater to the growing tourism that is overwhelming the city of Cusco [50km away from the village of Piuray]. This is changing everything for our communities, forcing us to give up our ancient way of life, which will soon be unsustainable in competition with the growing demands of tourism.”
The women of the Chinchero region are regarded as the keepers of tradition and the cultural identity of their community. Concepcion’s daughter Felicia, at the tender age of 7, is already learning the elaborate process of weaving through her mother and the women in her family.
By the 1970s, as a result of the exponential growth of tourism in the Sacred Valley, mainly due to the popularity of Machu Picchu, many Quechua weavers started to change their production. They began using artificial aniline dyes instead of natural ones and making simple patterns on more homogenised non-traditional fabrics to keep up with the increasing demand from tourism. These new textile designs no longer reflect the ancient weaving traditions of the communities, and their culture and identity are now sadly at risk of being lost and forgotten.
The balance between financial sustainability, quality of life, and sustaining the heritage of the Quechua people is a delicate one. Back in Rosemary’s home, she explains, “It is not only a cultural art form, but an integral part of our social organisation and economic situation.” She goes quiet for a while, before returning to the fibres on a drop spindle.
Today, although few in number, there still exist communities that remain largely unchanged in the face of globalisation. In a visit to some of the less transited areas of the highlands, I discovered villages that are winning the battle to preserve their customs, despite the increasing difficulties they face. They hold firm against the alluring tide of modernity, passing down knowledge from older to younger generations, from mother to daughter.
It is my hope that they will continue do so, whilst also benefitting from better access to healthcare and education, for many years to come.
THIS ARTICLE WAS ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED ON MAPTIA
Documentary photographer and writer, specializing in human rights, with a particular focus on issues of identity, migration and social exclusion. www.martatucci.com
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