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February 20 2014

January 29 2014

Putting Faces on the Mysterious Disease Killing Nicaraguan Sugar Cane Workers

Photo by Ed Kashi, used with permission.

Photo by Ed Kashi. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

An epidemic of fatal Chronic Kidney Disease (CKDu) is killing sugar cane workers at alarming rates in Nicaragua, and photojournalist Ed Kashi has set out to document their stories to “draw attention and resources that could help save lives.”

Kashi explains in his Indie Voices funding campaign:

We’re infatuated with sugar. But where does our beloved sweetener come from? and who tended the crops? More importantly, how does sugar affect them?

In Nicaragua, which exports 40% of its sugar to America, the average life span of men who harvest sugar cane is 49 years. At the root of these early deaths is an epidemic of fatal Chronic Kidney Disease (CKDu). In the town Chichigalpa, often called the “Island of Widows,” 1-in-3 men, mostly cane workers, are in end-stage renal failure. This fatal disease is not only a public health crisis, but also a social injustice. The cause of this epidemic is unknown, which is why we are launching this documentary project.

Photo by Ed Kashi. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

Photo by Ed Kashi. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

The New York Times recently featured Kashi's photographs in their blog LENS. In a post about the project, David Gonzalez writes:

What he encountered when he arrived in Nicaragua was troubling: There were daily funerals and increasing evidence that younger workers were falling ill. A former Sandinista commander who had spent the last 20 years in the cane fields died a month after Mr. Kashi photographed him. Mr. Kashi also learned how the kidney condition was killing workers in parts of India and Sri Lanka, where large-scale mechanization had yet to be introduced.

Gonzalez concludes by quoting Kashi about his goal for this project:

“How do we use visual storytelling to not only tell the tough stories but also offer some amount of light?” he said. “That’s why in my practice my goal now is to humanize and maintain the dignity of my subjects and open people’s eyes so they will at least learn, and maybe also take action.”

Photo by Ed Kashi. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

Photo by Ed Kashi. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

Kashi wants to return to Nicaragua to capture more videos and photographs in order to “generate education, support, and community awareness.”

Ultimately this material could be utilized in local information and outreach programs to address problems confronting the workers and their families, to stimulate conversation within Nicaragua, to facilitate the development of community-lead solutions, and to expand the network of people willing to take a stand.

Worldwide print and digital media outlets would draw on the work to raise awareness of this growing health issue in an industry whose product is consumed by nearly everyone on earth: sugar. Furthermore, I will make my work (images and film) available to La Isla Foundation, and any other advocates working to raise awareness of the issue, support affected families and eliminate this growing work place hazard.

You can see more of Kashi's photographs and contribute to his campaign for the documentary project “The Island of Widows” on Indie Voices. You can also follow him on Twitter and Facebook.

To learn more about this disease, visit this video post where we feature the work of another photojournalist, Esteban Félix from the Associated Press, who received the Gabriel García Marquez Prize for Journalism [es] for documenting this disease affecting Central American sugar cane workers.
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November 26 2013

Global Voices Partners With Fundación MEPI

Global Voices has launched a new partnership with Fundación MEPI, an organization that promotes regional investigative projects in the Americas.

MEPI was founded in 2010 in Mexico, where news outlets’ lack of financial resources and attacks against journalists have stifled investigative reporting. In response to these challenges, MEPI seeks to promote freedom of the press and support “the development of the next generation of reporters in Mexico and Central America.”

Fundación MEPI

The MEPI website further explains:

The contemporary reader needs to understand how governments, public actors and agencies really work. It is these explanations that provide citizens of a democracy with the insight required to make informed decisions and procure a free and fair government. But the cost of producing quality information is rising and with the use of technology, so too is competition. With the help of donors, supporters and partners, Fundaciòn MEPI is committed to producing regional and cross-national investigations that use technology to illuminate corrupt practices, sleight of hand and impunity.

As part of their mission, MEPI aims to “link stories between the United States, Mexico and Central America and help explain transnational movements to readers across the globe.” MEPI's vision matches Global Voices’ mission to “build bridges across the gulfs that divide people, so as to understand each other more fully.”

Global Voices and Fundación MEPI will exchange content regularly. Sometimes we will break down their long-form investigations into series. We kick off this partnership with the article Machismo and Old Prejudices Keep Mexican Rape Victims Silent, which is also available in Spanish.

November 21 2013

VIDEO: “They work to die”, Mystery Disease Killing Central American Sugarcane Workers

Workers who cut sugarcane and other crops in the coastal lowlands of Central America are being hit by a mysterious disease:

From Panama to southern Mexico, laborers are coming down with kidney failure at rates unseen virtually anywhere else in the world. Families and villages are being devastated by the loss of nearly entire generations of men.

Since 2000, chronic kidney disease has killed more than 24,000 people in El Salvador and Nicaragua, the two countries that are by far the worst-hit by the disease.

Rigorous scientific investigation has only just begun in the communities hit by the epidemic, and relatively few facts have been established, but scientists are coming up with what they believe to be a credible hypothesis. They say the roots of the epidemic appear to lie in the grueling nature of the work performed by its victims.

Esteban Félix, a Peruvian photographer from the Associated Press, documented the effect of the epidemic in Chichigalpa, Nicaragua, one of the most affected communities.

Thanks to his work, Félix received the Gabriel García Marquez Prize for Journalism [es] this year in the Journalistic Image category.

In this video, edited by Alba Mora (@albamoraroca) with music by Dan Bality, Félix tells the stories behind the photos that he took during his stay at Chichigalpa. In his own words, Félix summarizes:

Uno trabaja para vivir, pero en realidad esta gente trabaja para morir.

Some people work to live, but here, people work to die.

Bitter Sugar: A Mystery Disease from Alba Mora on Vimeo.

November 18 2013

#BlogsNi: Nicaraguan Blog Carnival Focuses on Identity

Blog carnival Nicaragua

Nicaraguan bloggers will be sharing their ideas and reflections about identity [es] throughout November 2013:

#BlogsNi is here, everyone is invited. Text, images, videos, audio and everything, everything in your blog.

The carnival will finish with a free and open event called ‘Encuentro de BlogsNi 2013′, which will include conferences and workshops at the Xabier Gorostiaga auditorium in the Central American University (UCA) on Saturday, November 23.

Bloggers [es] are sharing their posts on Twitter with the hashtag #BlogsNi [es].

You can also follow the carnival on Facebook [es].

November 14 2013

PHOTOS: Humans of Latin America

“She laughed, laughed and laughed while she waited for inter-provincial transportation. Tiraque, Cochabamba”.
Photo by Mijhail Calle for Humans of Bolivia, used with permission.

Inspired by photographer Brandon Stanton's blog Humans of New York (HONY), professional and amateur photographers across the world have created blogs and Facebook pages where they collect images and stories of people from all walks of life –and Latin America has not been an exception.

Stanton's idea has inspired Latin American photographers who want to showcase their country or city through portraits of its diverse people.

This is a brief overview of some of the “Humans of…” projects in the region.

Humans of Buenos Aires

“Come and visit me whenever you want. I'm sorry I can't offer you mate [local beverage] but I have no place to heat up water.” Photo by Jimena Mizrahi, used with permission.

Freelance photographer Jimena Mizrahi started Humans of Buenos Aires in May 2012, and her Facebook page has attracted over 11,000 likes.

Her project also caught the attention of a city official, which resulted in the first Humans of Buenos Aires exhibition. The Argentina Independent reports that “the exhibition ‘Micro historias del Microcentro’ featured displays of portraits of individuals who live or work in the city’s central business district”.

Jimena told The Argentina Independent that she does Humans of Buenos Aires “not only because I simply love interacting with people, but because each of these interactions is a lesson. Every person is a world.”

“-I can't believe it! A woman cab driver!
-Of course, do you think that women can't be taxi drivers? It's time to stop being surprised when women do things that aren't common for their gender, there aren't things for men or women.”
Photo by Jimena Mizrahi, used with permission.

Humans of Colombia and Humans of Bogotá

“A Wayuu girl, daughter of a restaurant owner in Uribia.”
Photo by Gábor Szentpétery, used with permission.

Humans of Colombia was created by designer Maurent Roa and architect Gábor Szentpétery. During their travels the couple met Mauricio Romero, who has joined the project and contributed some photographs. While traveling, they also noticed that many people didn't know much about Colombia or had a negative perception of the country; with this project they aim to show a different side of Colombia.

“The idea is to represent Colombia through its people because ethnic diversity in Colombia is incredible. It is a mixture of Amerindians, Spanish and African descendants, and that's what we want to show the world,” Maurent explains.

“Carmen Lorena grew up on a coffee plantation estate about three hours from Bogotá, but she thinks the city life is not for her, she prefers the countryside where she will stay after finishing her studies.”
Photo by Mauricio Romero, used with permission.

“What is your perception of love, and your favorite way to love?”
-”I think that love is everything, it makes up everything that surrounds us and I'd say that my favorite way to love is…breathing”.
Photo by John Cardona, used with permission.

For more photos from Colombia, you can also visit Humans of Bogotá, a page created in August 2013 by John Cardona and Jonathan Arévalo.

John and Jonathan are motivated by the response they've received, and by the chance to meet new people and hear stories that they can show the world through their page. They say that this movement “shows how we can all identify with someone, no matter how far they live.”

“One wish?
-Safety in all of Bogotá.
-Tranquillity and peace”
Photo by John Cardona, used with permission.

Humans of Bolivia

“In Sipe Sipe – Cochabamba, the man said ‘take this abroad'. Then he began playing his charango.”
Photo by Mijhail Calle, used with permission.

Created on November 3, 2013, Humans of Bolivia is one of the newest Facebook pages to mirror Humans of New York in the region. Estelí Puente and Mijhail Calle want to create the same empathy they saw in the New York project and similar projects like Humans of Amsterdam, “the feeling that humanity is formed by individuals with their own stories.”

Although Mijhail takes most of the photographs, they are reaching out to other photographers who can share images from different parts of Bolivia. “This dynamic is also allowing us to create a space to share and discuss the role of the image and photography in the construction of our identities, so for now it looks like this will be more than a series of portraits. We want it to be a reason to reflect about ourselves,” Estelí explains.

“There are not many amauta women, it's hard to be one, but I am. Now I'm part of the union”.
Photo by Mijhail Calle, used with permission.

Humans of Honduras

“My biggest desire is for politicians to turn a blind eye to the colors of their parties, and for their focus to be solely on the betterment and unity of their country. This is the only way in which Honduras will be able to move forward.”
Photo by Claudia, used with permission.

Claudia Elvir and Daniela Mejía “invite you to get to know Honduras through its people” on their Facebook page Humans of Honduras.

Claudia started following Stanton's blog and was impressed by how he not only “captured impressive photographs, but also used them to capture the humanity behind each portrait, and how each photograph told a story that resonated in the hearts of the readers.”

Her friend Daniela conducts the interviews. Claudia and Daniela want to change the violent and negative image that the world has about Honduras, and they also want to change the way Hondurans see their own country.

Through their photographs and interviews, Claudia and Daniela hope to show that Honduras is a country “full of hard-working people, people with dreams, ambitions, joys and sorrows just like in every corner of the world.”

“I asked him to smile and very amiably he said, ‘I would like to, but in this job you have to be serious.’ and with that he demonstrated how appearances are deceiving.”
Photo by Claudia, used with permission.

Humans of Guatemala

“Slow but steady! Yes, it´s a long way to go, but I will make it.”
Photo by Elmer Alvarez, used with permission.

Elmer Alvarez had already been taking photographs of people around Guatemala before starting the Facebook page Humans of Guatemala in September 2013. Wendy Del Aguila, who now writes the captions, told Elmer about Humans of New York and he felt motivated to start a similar page about Guatemala.

Elmer and Wendy seek to capture “spontaneous moments of these extraordinary people reflecting their smile, passion, curiosity, hard work, shyness, kindness and most important their uniqueness!”

La Teacher-

La Teacher-”Let Your Smile Change The World”
Photo by Elmer Alvarez, used with permission

More “Humans of…” projects

“Every morning Don Pedro has opened his taqueria in this small village for two years. He has the usual clients and he gives out free tacos to all the minibus drivers who stop their minibus near his stand. “
Photo by Humans of Mexico, used with permission

The image above comes from Humans of Mexico, a page created in March 2010. Also from Mexico, Humans of Mexico City seeks to create a “photographic census of Mexico City. One street portrait at a time.”

Humans of Costa Rica, a page created in July of 2013, has more than 1,700 likes.

In Brazil, the Humans of Rio de Janeiro Facebook page is one of the most active in the region, and has over 9,000 likes.

Some Facebook pages -like Humans of Nicaragua, Humans of Panama, and Humans of Santiago, Chile- ask users to contribute photographs to the project. Others -like Humans of Quito, Humans of Lima, Humans of Peru, and Humans of Asunción- have been created less than a month ago.

Have we missed any “Humans of…” projects from South or Central America? Let us know in the comments!

November 13 2013

#ReformáÉsta: Daniel Ortega Looks to Reform Nicaragua's Constitution

Mildred Largaespada [es] from the blog 1001 Trópicos [es] writes that Nicaraguan president Daniel Ortega “wants to reform the country's political constitution in order to be forever re-elected, among other issues in which he also wants absolute power.”

In a post [es] dedicated to President Ortega, Mildred concludes:

We don't want to be his women. Nor his men. Nor his children. Nor his people. We don't want only his laws, nor simply the god, Holy Virgin, saints or angels that he dreams up. We don't want to cross ourselves with his prayers. We don't want our country to be only his. Nor our past, present and future. Nor that of our sons and daughters. We don't want his padlocks. We don't want him to tell us how and when to breathe, who to talk with, what to think, what to say. If he wants to live constrained for the rest of his days, let him tie himself up.

Twitter users are sharing their reactions with the hashtag #ReformáÉsta [Reform This].

September 17 2013

Russian Warships in Nicaragua Rekindle Territorial Disputes

San Carlos, Rio San Juan, Nicaragua. Photo by Daniel Fajardo Valenti on Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)

San Carlos, Rio San Juan, Nicaragua. Photo by Daniel Fajardo Valenti on Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)

The presence of two Russian warships in Nicaragua's pacific port of Corinto has heightened tensions between Colombia and Nicaragua over a longstanding maritime boundary dispute which had been resolved by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague back in November 2012.

The ICJ's resolution has also set the stage for recent diplomatic conflicts that include Costa Rica and Panama, reviving old territorial and annexation disputes in the region.

The origin of the dispute between Nicaragua and Colombia is the San Andrés Archipelago, and the Providencia, Quitasueño and Santa Catalina keys, all of which are close to the Nicaraguan coast. After considering a claim filed in 2001 by Nicaragua, the ICJ upheld Colombia's sovereignty and expanded the maritime territory of Nicaragua around the archipelago, as a way of offering a middle ground solution. The decision has sparked a discussion about expansionism in the region, national pride, and the role of the ICJ.

Colombia’s government has not been forthcoming about accepting the ICJ ruling and has said it will seek remedy, since the decision supersedes sovereign and fishing rights. The government has further claimed that the ICJ pronouncement has permitted Nicaragua to start illegal oil exploration activities [es] within its territory.

The dispute with Colombia is part of a series of boundary claims that Nicaragua has engaged in, including the dispute over the San Juan River boundary with Costa Rica and the supposed claim over Costa Rica’s Guanacaste province.

In August 2013, Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega had already hinted in a speech before army forces that Nicaragua might seek a ruling from the ICJ to regain possession of Guanacaste.

The speech caused widespread indignation in Costa Rica. As a result, Costa Rica's President Laura Chinchilla issued a communique on August 15 [es], where she refers to Nicaragua as an “adversary country” that has already in the last 2 years “invaded parts of the northern” territory, and calls the ICJ's approach a “foolish ambition.”

On September 9, 2013 Colombia formally announced the repudiation of the ICJ decision, which it considered invalid without a formal treaty between self-governing states; and President Santos expressed his willingness to enforce Colombia's sovereignty with these words:

Lo que vigilé como marino y lo que defendí como ministro lo voy a proteger, hasta las últimas consecuencias, como presidente.

Those areas that I patrolled as a sailor and later defended as a Minister, I am willing today to protect, as President, to the very last consequences.

Santos went on to mention the “expansionist ambitions” of Nicaragua, which were affecting not only Colombia but Costa Rica, Panama and Jamaica.

In August, two Russian warships arrived in Nicaragua's pacific port of Corinto. Last week, following the communique by President Santos, regional online media was set abuzz by the declarations of the captains of the ships released on YouTube, saying they were ready to defend Nicaragua in any eventuality, should it be required.

The presence of the Russian ships in the Pacific coast is seen as a warning that Nicaragua could be willing to escalate its border disputes, including the San Juan River controversy.

San Juan River, Nicaragua

San Juan River, Nicaragua

The tensions between Costa Rica and Nicaragua arise against the backdrop of a planned inter-oceanic canal to be built by a Hong Kong company, with the participation of the Chinese government, converting the San Juan River into a broad commercial waterway. The San Juan Canal is planned to compete with the Panama Canal in sea freight.

According to the boundary treaty signed in 1858, the San Juan River belongs to Nicaragua, but the navigation of the river for commercial purposes is shared and no exclusive rights of cabotage should exist.

Not only sovereignty and national pride are at stake, it seems, but also a huge and profitable project and a political legacy: A conflict over such a notorious public issue could help Costa Rica's President Chinchilla, who finds herself struggling with declining approval ratings and a looming election that may throw her party out of government in February 2014.

In the YouTube video [es] uploaded August 19, 2013 by “canalestrellatv,” two Russian navy officers who speak excellent Spanish are heard expressing the following views:

Rusia y Nicaragua son dos países amistosos. Si es necesario apoyar, y existe la decisión política, nosotros vamos a apoyar.

Russia and Nicaragua are two friendly countries. If it is necessary to support Nicaragua, and the political decision is made, we will support them.

In the same video, Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega is seen waving from the deck, escorted by a Russian official, and then the officers go on to describe the kind of weapons the ships carry.

The discussion on Twitter has been controversial and instructing, with a pause to think about regional brotherhood and to congratulate each other on their shared celebrations of independence on September 15:

It is regrettable that we act patriotic only this time of the year…

While others reflect on the meaning of the symbolic passing of the torch of liberty and independence between Nicaraguans and Costa Ricans in Guanacaste:

Torch smooths political conflict between Costa Ricans (ticos) and Nicaraguans (nicas).

But only days before, the tone of discussions on Twitter was different altogether, with many users commenting on the supposed intentions on both sides to snatch away territory, and on the supposed help that other countries in the region were providing. Opinions have sometimes been posted in outright crude ways:

Colombia, Panama, Costa Rica have the intention to steal the ocean from Nicaragua, but the three thieves won't be able to.

One user jokingly compared the supposed coalition against Nicaragua to the Trio Los Panchos, an old and defunct music group, and incisively pointed out the relationship of the maritime conflict and the canal:

The Trio Los Panchos united against Nicaragua; Costa Rica because of the San Juan, Colombia because its faraway ocean and Panamá because of the new canal

The perception of the role of Nicaragua goes from that of a victim of antagonist forces in the region to that of an aggressive local power that uses whatever means available to impose a territorial and legal agenda:

Nicaragua has been a victim of the Colombian expansionism and of the opportunistic Costa Ricans!

Nicaragua is a nation of double moral standards that resorts to bullying and takes advantage that Costa Rica has no army and invades it!

One post pointed out that Costa Rica supporting Colombia against Nicaragua in the ruling about the San Andrés Archipielago, out of fear of the expansionism that this could trigger, would set a precedent for other territorial disputes. In the case of the San Juan River, an ICJ decision could favor Costa Rica, forcing the future administration into a difficult position:

If Costa Rica supports Colombia, would it disregard the ruling that favors Nicaragua in the boundary and environmental damage case?

Finally, Francisco Álvarez de Soto, a former Sub-secretary of Foreign Affairs of Panama, proposed that the way to go is to discuss the pretensions in a regional forum like the SICA (Central American Integration System) summit, as solution to the impasse that might result in an escalation of diplomatic faux-pas and misunderstandings that have spread to the public and social networks in the weeks before:

Territorial claims of Nicaragua against Costa Rica should be discussed at the SICA summit. Panama should support Costa Rica.

It is clear that one way or another the conflicts in the region will have an impact beyond the immediate presidential elections and the battle of claims and speeches. It might also reignite old boundary conflicts that were resolved (but apparently not settled) in the last century.

September 04 2013

Derailment of ‘La Bestia’, Another Tragedy in a Broken Immigration System

Migrants on

Migrants on “la Bestia”. Photo by Peter Haden on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

This post is part of our series on Latin America: Migrant Journeys in collaboration with The North American Congress on Latin America (NACLA). Stay tuned for more articles and podcasts.

On August 25, 2013 a cargo train derailed in southern Mexico killing 11 Central American migrants who were hitching a ride on top of the freight cars. At least 250 Central Americans were estimated to have been riding on the train before it derailed, injuring another 18 migrants.

Each year thousands of Central Americans hitch rides on northbound Mexican freight trains for a chance at reaching the U.S. border in search of work and a better life. Migrants often ride the trains to escape Mexican immigration officials who scour buses at checkpoints in search of Central Americans to deport.

Known among migrants as ‘la bestia’ (the beast), the Mexican train offers Central Americans an alternative way of reaching the U.S., but it is a route fraught with dangers. Gangs and corrupt Mexican officials maraud the train lines and extort or kidnap migrants, oftentimes capturing and forcing them to work for organized crime groups.

While train derailments of la bestia are common, the biggest challenge, which many migrants passing through Mexico face, comes from the gangs who prey upon their vulnerable situation. For most Central American migrants, the vast majority of whom come from Honduras, currently the country with the world’s highest murder rate, their experience with gang-related violence often begins before they even leave their countries of origin.

In the last year, I had the opportunity to volunteer at a small migrant shelter in Mexico City. Last March, we received a Honduran woman at the shelter, named Juana Morelos, who was traveling on la bestia with her seven-year-old son. Juana left Honduras because a local gang who extorted money from a small store she owned began making death threats on her family when she could no longer afford to pay them off. Afraid for her life, Juana fled from Honduras with her son and started hopping Mexican freight trains north towards the U.S. border.

Juana and her son spent several months in Mexico City, during which I gave her a crash course in basic English, before she and her son continued their dangerous journey towards Texas. When Juana finally arrived at the U.S. border, we received news at the shelter that she had tried crossing with a coyote [people smuggler] and was deported. I was concerned about Juana’s safety, but once I heard she had arrived at the border, where the threat of kidnapping often increases, I became even more terrified.

Juana reached the border two months after the “Gang of 8” senators released their proposal for a new comprehensive immigration reform bill, which passed in the Senate last June, and includes an increase of 3,500 Border Patrol agents and 4.5 billion dollars to add new surveillance systems, aerial drones, and the construction of more fencing along the U.S.-Mexican border. Instead of addressing the reasons why Juana and the hundreds of migrants on board the Mexican train that derailed last week migrate north to the U.S., the current immigration reform bill offers them a closed door in their attempt to flee violence largely caused by America’s consumption of illegal drugs.

The current immigration reform bill greatly resembles the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA), which legalized almost three million undocumented migrants in the U.S. and quintupled the number of Border Patrol agents to almost 22,000. Today, an estimated 11 million people live in the U.S. without legal residency, signifying that IRCA did little to solve the problems which force people to migrate in the first place.

While visiting a small town in the central Mexican state of Querétaro this year, I met an 81-year-old man, named Jose Ramírez, who gained U.S. citizenship through IRCA. As a young man, Ramírez would spend half of each year doing farm work in the U.S. and return home to visit his wife and children. When crossing the border became more costly and dangerous, Ramírez could no longer justify returning to Mexico as often, so he moved his entire family to Florida. The increase in border security over the last half-century that was supposed to keep people like Ramírez out of the U.S. became exactly what motivated him to resettle his family to Florida.

While it’s true that many people from Mexico and Central America enter the U.S. without authorization and settle permanently, it doesn’t mean that they want to. Like most men and women from small town USA, Latin American migrant workers often come from rural areas where locals value home and family. If you offered most residents in rural America a job that paid up to seven times their current income, but that involved relocating to a foreign country with a different language, and risking your life by walking through a desert to get there, most would probably opt to stay home. But for people like Juana Morelos, lack of economic opportunities and violence caused by the drug trade often leave them with no choice.

Increasing security along our southern border will keep many future immigrants out of our country, but it won’t stop them from trying to enter it. During my research on migration in Mexico over the last year, I met many Mexicans who worked decades in the U.S. with fake documents just to save enough money to buy land and start a business back home. What if instead of investing billions of dollars in drones and fences, we used some of that money to partner with the Mexican government and create loans for these would-be entrepreneurs to start small businesses and employ their neighbors?

A truly comprehensive immigration reform bill should also include a plan to decrease the violence in Central America which forces many locals to migrate. Honduras and El Salvador currently have the highest murder rates in the world. This violence is mainly caused by cartels that have begun using Central America to smuggle drugs into the U.S.

Photos of migrants standing alongside the overturned train at the site of la bestia derailment last week are an easy story for media outlets seeking a gripping response from their readers or viewers. But the train accident is just one incident in a vast chain of violence and increasing danger which follows migrants from Central America to the U.S. border. It’s an issue which many U.S. politicians currently want to solve by militarizing the southern frontier, but just like when IRCA became law 25 years ago, the real problems that must be addressed remain far away from the U.S. border.

Several days after Juana was deported, she and her son tried crossing the U.S. border again. Back at the shelter in Mexico City, one of Juana’s relatives told me that his time they made it safely to Houston.

As the House prepares to vote on immigration reform later this year, thousands more migrants, like Juana and her son, continue to enter the U.S. with smugglers. If the current immigration reform bill passes the House, it will offer citizenship only to undocumented immigrants who entered the U.S. in 2011 or earlier. Without a change of focus on how our nation approaches immigration in the future, the derailing of la bestia will continue to be just a small incident among a much greater tragedy, and Juana and her son will become part of the next generation of undocumented immigrants forced to live in our shadows.

Some names in this story have been changed to protect the identities of those involved.

Levi Bridges is a journalist and Fulbright Scholar based in Mexico City. He writes at and tweets @levi_bridges.

June 20 2013

Inter-oceanic Canal Project Leads to Doubt and Rejection in Nicaragua

The announcement that the Nicaraguan government has granted a concession to the Chinese company HK Nicaragua Development (HKND) to build an inter-oceanic canal has caused controversy and discussion in all areas of Nicaraguan society, and to date there are more questions than answers.

The President of Nicaragua, Daniel Ortega, signed the law granting the concession – the law of the Statute of the Great Inter-oceanic Canal, or Law 800 [es] – on June 14, 2013, sparking discussion in the country's blogging and Twitter community. Some users have shown their support for this initiative, but most of the reactions on the internet were of discontent.

The programme De Humo TV prepared a report on the subject, explaining what the canal project consists of and the environmental impact it could have on the country.

Although the law for the construction of the canal has been passed, feasibility studies have not yet been conducted, and environmental impact studies on effects of the construction are pending.

Blog La Nicaragua Linda [es] shared an opinion article by Nicaraguan politician Edmundo Jarquín:

Como todos los nicaragüenses, quisiera que el canal por Nicaragua sea factible, porque sería una palanca poderosa para impulsar el desarrollo del país, pero no son pocas las razones que cuestionan la realidad del anuncio.

En primer lugar, su factibilidad. El propio asesor ambientalista de Ortega, y principal científico nicaragüense, Jaime Incer, salió al paso del anuncio de Ortega diciendo: “Un estudio medianamente serio, descartaría su posibilidad”.

Like all Nicaraguans, I would like to believe that a canal through Nicaragua is feasible because it would be a powerful lever for promoting the country’s development, but there are many reasons to question the validity of the announcement.

Firstly, its feasibility. Ortega’s environmental assessor, and principal Nicaraguan scientific advisor, Jaime Incer, deviated from Ortega’s announcement saying: “a reasonably serious study should rule out the possibility”.

The matter of expropriation of lands through which the canal would pass and the invasion of indigenous territory on the country’s Atlantic coast has also been discussed by Nicaraguans. The blog Bitacora de un nicaragüense [es] shared:

Primero: las comunidades indígenas, su forma de vida, su forma de propiedad, y todos los derechos especificados otorgados por el estado bajo el estatuto de autonomía; a las que no se ha consultado y dada la posibilidad de expropiación ha de hacerse sin dilación…

Segundo: El daño medioambiental será indudable, todo proyecto tiene esa carga, están los derivados de la mera construcción como el despale de reservas de la biosfera, de la destrucción de zonas de reproducción de fauna como es el caso de las tortugas marinas que además se encuentra en peligro de extinción, de la reconducción de agua dulce para la funcionalidad del canal mismo que puede dar lugar a desecación de cuencas hídricas agredidas por el proyecto. Luego, el peligro a largo plazo es la contaminación irreparable de nuestras cuencas por vertidos de sustancias nocivas, como los hidrocarburos, en especial de ese inmenso patrimonio que es el lago Cocibolca; sin menospreciar el nocivo efecto que tendrían los sonares en la fauna del gran lago.

Tercero: De ponerse en marcha el proyecto se estaría violando la ley general del agua, especialmente en lo que se refiere a la condición actual del Cocibolca en el que se especifican sus usos y su protección en el Título VII; de la protección de las aguas; queda recogido del siguiente modo:

Artículo 97.- Es responsabilidad del Estado con la participación de los Gobiernos Municipales, Asociaciones de Municipios, Sector Privado, Organizaciones No Gubernamentales y población en general, la protección, conservación y destino de las aguas del Gran Lago de Nicaragua o Cocibolca.

First: Indigenous communities, their way of life, their form of ownership, and all specified rights granted by the State under the Statute of autonomy, have not been consulted and given the possibility of expropriation this should be done without delay…

Secondly: Environmental damage will be unavoidable, every project has its burden, there are by-products of construction like clear-cutting of reserves of the biosphere, the destruction of wildlife breeding areas, for example of sea turtles that are also in danger of extinction, of the renewal of fresh water for the functionality of the same canal that can result in drying of water catchment areas harmed by the project. Next, the long-term danger of irreparable contamination of our waterways, especially of the immense heritage area of Lake Cociboca, by dumping harmful substances such as hydrocarbons, not forgetting the harmful effect sonar would have on great lake’s wildlife.

Thirdly: Starting the project would be a violation of the general water law, especially in what refers to the current condition of the Cocibolca which specify its uses and its protection in Title VII; protection of waters which is outlined as follows:

Article 97 – The protection, conservation and destination of the waters of the great Lake of Nicaragua or Cocibolca is the responsibility of the state with the participation of municipal governments and associations, the private sector, non-governmental organizations and the general population.

Foto compartida por Mildred Largaespada en Facebook.

“Ortega – Seller of Our Heritage” Photo shared by Mildred Largaespada on Facebook.

Rodrigo Peñalba [es] also wrote about the project on his blog. Rodrigo pointed out, among other things, the history of the company's spokesman:

El grupo HKND, responsable del proyecto del canal (por cuya licencia pagarán solo U$100 millones de dólares a Nicaragua por una concesión de hasta 100 años) estrenó sitio web. Ahí podemos conocer a su vocero: Ronald Maclean-Abaroa.

Maclean-Abaroa es un político boliviano, 4 veces alcalde de La Paz, ministro de información durante el gobierno de Hugo Banzer, candidato presidencial de ese mismo partido en el 2002. En el año 2000, mientras era parte del gobierno, se aprobó la ley 2029 que privatizó los recursos hídricos, desencadenando fuertes protestas nacionales. Por ejemplo, esta ley permitía a la empresa aguadora cobrar hasta por recoger agua de lluvia para uso personal. [...]

¿Si este es el vocero, qué podemos esperar de sus jefes en HKND con licencia para cambiar la ley?

HKND, which is responsible for the canal group project (whose license will pay only US $100 million to Nicaragua for a grant of up to 100 years) premiered its website. There we can meet its spokesman: Ronald Maclean-Abaroa [es].

Maclean-Abaroa is a Bolivian [es] politician [es], four times Mayor of La Paz, Minister of Information during the Government of Hugo Banzer, presidential candidate from the same party in 2002. In the year 2000, while he was part of the government, the 2029 law privatising water resources was approved, triggering strong domestic protests. For example, this law allowed the water carrier company to charge for collection of rain water for personal use. [...]

If this is the spokesman, what can be expected of their bosses in HKND licensed to change the law?

Hashtags #canalnica [es] and #canalinteroceanico [es] are being used to comment on the project on Twitter.

Azucena Castillo (@azulchena)) [es] shared a video of the “March in defense of National Sovereignty and Nicaraguan dignity”. The video [es] from YouTube user Nicarao Libertario [es], shows images of the march that took place on June 13 against the project.

El 19 digital [es], a digital government diary, published an article in favour of the construction of the canal:

Geográficamente, este canal tiene mucho sentido. Sólo son 12 millas del Pacífico hacia el lago de Nicaragua, y posteriormente de ahí se conecta al Atlántico. Pero aún se desconoce si esa será la ruta que tendrá el Canal.

Para Nicaragua, este mega-proyecto tiene mucho sentido. La construcción doblará el Producto Interno Bruto per cápita de la nación, siendo el año pasado, 3,300 dólares al año. Pero [¿]porque [sic] construir un Canal, cuando ya existe otro a poca distancia?

Buena, aquí está una razón…Existe mucha demanda en el Canal de Panamá, al punto que el average de tránsito de una punta a la otra, es de 12 días. Otra de las razones, es que los barcos más grandes que pueden transitar en Panamá son los llamados PANAMAX. Cada uno de estos barcos puede llevar 4,500 contenedores.

Pero existen nuevos barcos llamados POST – PANAMAX, de ellos, habrá un Modelo llamado TRIPLE-E, que pueden llevar más de 18 mil contenedores, o sea, 4 veces más que los barcos de PANAMAX.

Geographically, this canal makes perfect sense. There are only 12 miles from the Pacific towards the Lake of Nicaragua, and then from there it connects to the Atlantic. But it remains unclear if that is the route the canal would take.For Nicaragua, this mega-project makes a lot of sense. Construction would double the gross domestic product (GDP) per head in the nation, which last year was 3,300 dollars. But why build a Canal, when there is already another so nearby?

Well, here is a reason…There is a lot of demand for the Panama Canal, to the point that the average transit time from one end to the other is 12 days. Another reason, is that the largest ships that can pass in Panama are the so-called PANAMAX. Each of these boats can carry 4,500 containers*.

However, there are newer, POST-PANAMAX, ships, among which will be a TRIPLE-E model capable of carrying more than 18 thousand containers, or 4 times more than PANAMAX vessels.

The Nicaraguan government wishes to secure a GDP increase of 15% by 2015 and even double the economy in the year 2018. It will not be until next year, 2014, when the feasibility studies and environmental impact report are conducted, that the viability of this mega-project can be properly assessed.

*Note: The Panama Canal is currently undergoing an expansion project to allow much bigger vessels, of the “New-Panamax” size, to transit, but this will still leave some vessels unable to pass.

May 20 2013

Nicaraguans Defend Law Against Violence Towards Women

In April, a campaign called “I Support Law 779″ was launched on social networks to demand that a law protecting the physical, psychological and moral integrity of women be respected. The campaign consisted of writing a supportive phrase, taking a photo with the phrase, and uploading it with the tag #yoapoyolaley779 [es] (#ISupportLaw779).

Law 779, or the Integral Law Against Violence Towards Women [es], was approved in Nicaragua on January 26, 2012, and went into effect in June of the same year.

The law prohibits mediation between victims and aggressors, independent of the type of aggression. Starting in March, this aspect of the law has provoked religious leaders and members of the Supreme Court of Justice (CSJ) to promote reforms to the law, claiming that mediation can exist in cases where the sentence is less than five years.

The first people to gather in protest to reject said reform, by considering it unconstitutional, were the members of the Democratic Association of Lawyers in Nicaragua (Adanic), who called together their unionizers and citizenry in general to demand that the Supreme Court of Justice (CSJ) resolve the appeals against Law 779.

Foto de @AnabellZavala en apoyo a la Ley 779

@AnabellZavala [es] in support of Bill 779 (“It would be unconstitutional if Law 779 did not exist #ISupportLaw779″)

Carlos Lucas [es] writes about the law on his blog:

No es perfecta y ni siquiera revolucionaria y aunque llega algo tarde, tomando en cuenta el enorme daño físico, vidas, estado sicológico de las mujeres y sus familias, que había venido provocando su vacío, pero la puesta en marcha de la Ley 779 o Ley Integral contra la Violencia hacia las Mujeres de Nicaragua, comienza a sacudir- y más si se si aplica firmemente- nuestra forma de pensar y conceptos sobre familia, matrimonio, unión de pareja, hogar, felicidad, armonía familiar, amor, etc.

Tan es así, que sobre esta Ley 779, apenas dictada en el 2012, ya hay en Nicaragua, toda una reaccionaria conspiración contra algunos de esos avances en el tema de la violencia contra la mujer.

It is not perfect and would not even revolutionize anything and although it has arrived a bit late, taking into account the enormous physical harm, the lives, the psychological state of women and their families, which had come provoking its void, the start up of Law 779 or the Integral Law Against Violence Towards Women in Nicaragua, is beginning to shake up – and more so if applied firmly – our way of thinking and concepts of family, marriage, civil union, home, happiness, familial harmony, love, etc.

It is so much so that, with regards to Law 779, which was only enacted in 2012, there is already an entire reactionary conspiracy in Nicaragua against some of the advances in the field of violence against women.

At the start of May, Bishop Abelardo Mata made statements to the media comparing Law 779 with the Anti-Christ, adding that this new law is separating families by not permitting mediation between the aggressor and the victim. The bishop's declarations provoked reaction from the public on social networks once again.

Feminist group La Corriente [es] created a video dedicated to Bishop Mata, where four activists from the feminist movement are featured doing a parody of Yuri's song “Maldita Primavera”:

Imagen de campaña protesta contra el Obispo Mata

“Watch out! #BishopMata” Stencil created by Rodrigo Rodriguez. Protest campaign against Bishop Mata

Additionally, activists on social networks began the campaign “Watch out, #BishopMata!” Rodrigo Rodriguez [es] writes the following on his blog:

¿Es la ley 779 REALMENTE tan grave para el sistema de justicia -pensemos por un momento que nuestro sistema de justicia es bien aplicado, sólo para ejemplificar esto- y el ejercicio de los derechos humanos en nuestro país, como para compararla con el significado del anticristo, entendido desde una visión cristiano-católica como un adversario decisivo del hijo de Dios (ese ser invisible, omnipresente, todopoderoso que controla y decide nuestro destino)?

En serio… ¿en realidad es tan grave?

Is Law 779 REALLY that serious for the justice system — let's think for a moment that our justice system is well implemented, just to exemplify this — and the exercise of human rights in our country, to compare it to the meaning of the antichrist, understood from a Christian-Catholic vision as a decisive adversary of the son of God (this invisible, omnipresent, all-powerful being that controls and decides our destiny)?

Really… is it that serious in reality?

Blog 24 Pieces of Craziness published another video [es] made by the group Youths for Law 779, where they sing the same song that La Corriente dedicated to Bishop Mata:

According to the document “Why do I defend Law 779?” [es], elaborated upon by the Catholics for the Right to Choose movement:

En Nicaragua las cifras de Violencia Intrafamiliar y Sexual registradas en las Comisarías de la Mujer,han venido incrementándose anualmente de 31759 en 2009 a 34763 en 2010. El Instituto de Medicina Legal IML refleja en el 2012, la realización de 5371 peritajes, de las cuales 4726 fueron realizados a mujeres y 642 fueron realizados a hombres (en este último caso, los agresores son hombres incluidos los agentes estatales).

In Nicaragua, numbers from Domestic and Sexual Violence registered in Police Stations for Women have been continuously increasing annually from 31,759 in 2009 to 34,763 in 2010. The Institute for Legal Medicine (IML) reflects in 2012 the completion of 5371 reports, of which 4726 came from women and 642 from men (in this last case, the aggressors are men, including state agents).

Furthermore the document adds that “every year more than 80 women in Nicaragua are murdered as a result of extreme violence that is exercised against them.”

April 27 2013

#FLISOL 2013: Hundreds of Latin Americans Installing Free Software

Flisol 2013 Banner.

Flisol 2013 Banner.

From the Patagonia to Havana, hundreds of computer users across Latin America are choosing freedom over control by installing free software on their computers. On April 27th, groups of free software enthusiasts will be installing free software in dozens of cities across Latin America as part of FLISOL [es], the Latin American free software installation festival.

March 11 2013

Of Ginger and Other Delicacies

Ronald Hill, on his blog Sueños del Caribe [es], shares an episode that took place [es] in a restaurant where he saw two traders exchanging opinions about samples of ginger.

February 21 2013

Une gauche délavée s'enracine au Nicaragua

La réélection de M. Daniel Ortega à la tête du Nicaragua a confirmé l'ancrage à gauche d'une grande partie de l'Amérique latine. La récente évolution du pouvoir sandiniste, notamment sur la question des droits des femmes, éclaire cependant les écueils d'une logique conduisant parfois les forces de gauche (...) / Christianisme, Élections, Logement, Parti politique, Pauvreté, Politique, Religion, Santé, Amérique centrale, Nicaragua, Socialisme, Droits des femmes - 2012/05

December 13 2012

Latin America: Top 5 News Stories from 2012

In World Policy Blog, Global Voices contributor Robert Valencia highlights five “top stories from 2012 that will have an impact in 2013 and beyond”: the war on drugs, Hugo Chávez's re-election, the Colombia-Nicaragua dispute over the San Andrés Archipelago, the Colombian peace process, and Brazil's booming economy.

November 19 2012

Ibero-America: Free Software Assessment Report 2012

The recently released Free Software Assessment Report 2012 shows the opinion, assessment and preferences of more than 5,000 people from Spain and Latin America. The study published in its fourth edition is promoted by PortalProgramas and supported by a number of experts and collaborators [es]. The report aims to contribute to a better understanding, use and dissemination of free software in Latin America. The summary of the study can be accessed online [es] and more information can be found on the report's conclusions for 2012 [es].

November 13 2012

Blogging Contest Focuses on Child Development

The Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) has announced its first contest for bloggers, which will focus on issues related to child development:

Now is your chance to share your ideas! You can tell us about a child development success story in your country or analyze various innovative methodologies. The topic is open. In order to participate, you just have to get your creative juices flowing and share your winning idea with us.


November 02 2012

Citizen Monitoring in Nicaragua's Municipal Elections

Seventy-two hours before voters head to the polls in Nicaragua, the country is observing “electoral silence,” meaning that political parties cannot hold public gatherings until after the November 4 elections. On that date, approximately 3.3 million Nicaraguans will head to the polls to elect mayors, vice-mayors, and council members in the 153 municipalities across the country.

There have been some changes for these elections including a record number of candidates, more than 33,000, as a result of a change in the law that has increased the number of seats on municipal councils. Another change in the law has also provided more opportunities for women to participate in local government requiring that 50% of the parties' candidates must be women [es].

As has been more commonplace across the globe during an election cycle, citizens are eager to use digital technologies to play a role in monitoring and reporting the election. And in Nicaragua, a platform called “Plataforma de Observación Electoral Ciudadana Independiente” [es] (Independent Electoral Citizen Observation Platform”) is gearing up to encourage citizens to send reports via a web form, by SMS, or other social media sites, which will then be mapped using the Ushahidi platform. The team behind the project will utilize Frontline SMS to receive and process the citizen reports.

They describe the platform [es] as “a tool for democratic empowerment of Nicarguan society.” The project is organized by the citizen journalism site Huella Libre [es], in conjunction with La Brújula [es], which helped with spreading the word. The site was designed by Paulo McNally.

In addition to the direct reports to the site, they are encouraging netizens to use the hashtag #YoObservo [es] (I Observe) before and during the election day.

One of the organizers of the project, Orlando Rizo (@orlandorizo) [es], recently spoke about the plans for the platform:

Nicaragua: Nothing Goes to Waste at ‘El Gansito'

Adriana Díaz [es] and Gustavo Salinas wrote a guest post for The Nicaragua Dispatch on ‘El Gansito', a small business in Managua “that makes products out of recycled plastics and rubber.”

There is no doubt that this small business is one of the many “green jewels” we can find in Nicaragua. By mixing profit motive, sustainability, and entrepreneurship, El Gansito has set an example for others to follow in Nicaragua.

September 09 2012

Video: San Cristobal Volcano Eruption in Northern Nicaragua

YouTube's Citizentube has a playlist of user submitted videos showing the dramatic volcanic eruptions of September 8, 2012, in Nicaragua. The San Cristobal volcano, the tallest in this Central American country, erupted at 9:02 am on Saturday, releasing steam and ash and causing authorities to evacuate more than 3000 people from Chinandega.

This video shows the ash column rising while those recording wonder about protocols, if they should be evacuating the area:

In this next one, the ash column is also seen growing in the neighboring town of Chichigalpa:

In the following one, in minute 1:09 a new burst of steam and ash erupt from the volcano, causing the person recording the video to comment that he had never seen the volcano erupt with such strength:

The San Cristobal Volcano erupted at 9am on September 8, 2012 in Nicaragua. Image by Ricci Rich Silva via Twitpic.

The San Cristobal Volcano erupted at 9am on September 8, 2012 in Nicaragua. Image by Ricci Rich Silva via Twitpic.

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