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Writing

I’ve written for The Atlantic, Miami Herald, Sociological Insight, Jacobin, and a number of other outlets. My work has focused on:

Climate Change, International Development and Sustainability

Workers’ Paradise. Harper’s. 2015.

The Most Dangerous Place To Be An Environmentalist. Generation Progress. 2015.

Honduras’ Five-Century War. Jacobin. 2015.

With Its Own Satellite, Bolivia Hopes to Put Rural Areas on the Grid. Inter Press Service, with Gustav Cappaert. 2014.

What Happens When The Water Runs Out? Generation Progress. 2014.

Brazil Begins To Evict Settlers From Awá Land; Will It Be Enough? IPCCA. 2014.

Climate Change Could Increase Poverty In Peru; Indigenous Peoples Respond. IPCCA. 2013.

REDD+ Agreement In Warsaw Threatens Indigenous Livelihoods. IPCCA. 2013.

Warsaw Walkout Highlights The Absence Of Urgent Climate Action. IPCCA. 2013.

Treaty Hints At End Of Reckless International Weapons Sales. Generation Progress. 2013.

Revolutionary Tourism: Cuba’s Deal with the Devil. American Way of Life. 2010.

 

Race, Class, and Inequality in American Cities

Does Michigan’s Emergency-Manager Law Disenfranchise Black Citizens? The Atlantic. 2013.

Talk about Crisis: Everyday Life in Detroit. Sociological Insight. 2013.

Number Crunch: The Arithmetic of Desperation in Detroit. Z Communications. 2013.

What ‘Ruin Porn’ Does and Doesn’t Tell Us. TheFightBack. 2012.

Making Cents: Rep Payee Clients Tackle Financial Literacy. Bread for the City. 2012.

‘East of the River’ or ‘River East’? Washington City Paper. 2010.

Students: Post-Layoff McKinley High School ‘Dreary.’ Washington City Paper. 2009.

 

Latin American Political Economy

Anxiety in Havana as US Embassy Opens. Generation Progress. 2015.

America’s Cuba: US Hostility Was Never Really About The Cold War. CounterPunch. 2014.

Why It’s So Hard For Central Americans To Get Asylum In The US. Alternet. 2014.

The road to Machu Picchu, traveled on the backs of its builders. Seattle Globalist, with Gustav Cappaert. 2014.

How Peru Is Kicking Its Coke Habit. Generation Progress. 2014.

Rainbow Tide Rising: How Latin America Became A Gay Rights Haven. Alternet. 2014.

Cuba to Drop Exit Visa Requirements. CounterPunch. 2012.

Cuban Colada Blogger. Miami Herald. 2011.

The Cuban Five and ‘El Sexto.’ Generation Progress. 2010.

 

The American Economy: Education, Labor, Poverty and Growth

Should College Athletes Be Paid? Generation Progress. 2013.

Give Free Money To Everybody. Generation Progress. 2013.

Is There Really A Shortage Of Science Majors? Generation Progress. 2013.

Nicholas Kristof Is Wrong About Poverty. Alternet. 2013.

American University Adjuncts Vote To Unionize. Washington City Paper. 2012.

The Union Forever At American University? Washington City Paper. 2012.

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Recent


With Its Own Satellite, Bolivia Hopes To Put Rural Areas On The Grid

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Versión en español aquí. Written with Gustav Cappaert. Published at IPS. (Photo: El Palomar, an agricultural community in Bolivia, one of over a thousand rural communities to which the Bolivian government plans to expand internet access with national satellite Tupac Katari 1.

EL PALOMAR, Bolivia, Jun 23 2014 (IPS) – Maria Eugenia Calle, a local official in this Andean agricultural community, recently saw the Internet for the first time.

Her hometown of El Palomar will host one of about 1,500 telecommunications centres that the Bolivian government plans to open this year in rural areas. They will be served by Tupac Katari 1, a Bolivian satellite launched from China late last year.

Socialist President Evo Morales claims that the satellite will make Internet, cell phone service, distance education programmes and over 100 television channels available to everyone in this vast, sparsely populated country.

In El Palomar’s yet-to-be-opened telecom centre, Calle and a small group of onlookers watched as a reporter booted up a computer to test the signal.

“Go to the United States. Show us the White House. Search for Toyota. Search for Real Madrid,” they suggested.

Bolivia is the poorest country in South America, and also among the least connected. Only 7.4 percent of inhabitants have access to the Internet at home, by far the fewest on the continent. Because Bolivia is landlocked, undersea fibre optic cables do not reach the country, so Bolivians settle for some of the lowest speeds and most expensive connections in the world. Hopes for the satellite are high.

“It’s a dream, isn’t it?” said Calle, 40, El Palomar’s secretary of education. “I’m happy that my children are going to be able to communicate with the United States, other countries – or here in Bolivia, with La Paz, Cochabamba,” she said.

With a population of just 10 million and a modest national budget, Bolivia is a strange fit among the 45 nations with their own communications satellite, which are typically either wealthy, heavily populated, or both. However, an increasing number of developing nations are making the investment. In the next two years, Angola, Nicaragua, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Turkmenistan and Sri Lanka will launch their own satellites.

Rural areas bring special challenges for Internet expansion. The cost of installing and maintaining equipment and training people to use new technology is higher farther from cities, said Francisco Proenza, an ICT scholar and visiting professor of Political Science at Pompeu Fabra University in Barcelona.

While the use of mobile phones has increased dramatically, the Internet has lagged behind. In rural Peru, for example, 62 percent of rural households own a mobile phone, while just 7 percent of those living in rural areas make use of the Internet

After a 2009 revision, Bolivia’s constitution guaranteed access to basic services including water, electricity, and telecommunications. In addition to the satellite, the Bolivian government has opened over 300 rural telecentres and offered incentives to telecommunications companies willing to build infrastructure in rural zones.

According to Ivan Zambrana, director of the Bolivian Space Agency, a national satellite is the most cost-effective way of providing access across Bolivia’s diverse rural terrain, which includes mountains, tropical rainforest and desert. It is also a means of protecting Bolivia’s communication infrastructure from political factors that could restrict access, like the United States’ embargo against ally Cuba.

Bolivia’s Ministry of Communications has marketed the satellite aggressively. The agency created a television advertisement, a Facebook and Twitter campaign, and an Android app to promote the project. In the months surrounding the satellite’s launch, billboards reading “Tupac Katari, Your Star” and “Communications Decolonized” were placed in major urban areas throughout the country.

“When we think of Bolivia, we don’t think of technology, we think of rural poverty, but Bolivia has changed,” said Robert Albro, an anthropologist at the American University in Washington who focuses on Bolivia.

Despite the fanfare, skeptics of the satellite argue that Bolivia’s priorities are misplaced, especially with alternatives available.

Many other countries, including neighbouring Peru, have extended access to rural areas by subsidising the use of existing satellites. Google and Facebook are each considering a fleet of low-flying drones that would provide worldwide Internet connectivity. Until now, Bolivia has spent 10 million dollars annually to lease satellite capacity from foreign providers.

To finance Tupac Katari, Bolivia took out a 300 million dollar loan from the Chinese Development Bank, which the government claims will be repaid by satellite revenues within 15 years.

“It puzzles me that countries like Bolivia are launching their own satellites,” said Heather Hudson, professor of public policy at the University of Alaska. According to Hudson, existing satellite coverage could meet rural Bolivia’s needs. “It’s like 20 or 25 years ago, when there was a wave among other countries, you had to have your own airline,” she said.

Meanwhile there are concerns about misplaced priorities. “Our priority is improving the conditions of nutrition, water and the environment,” said Isidro Paz Nina, national coordination secretary of the Movimiento Sin Miedo, a party looking to unseat President Morales in November elections. “The satellite isn’t bad, but we want people to not have to worry about suffering for lack of food.”

Delays and miscommunication have also brought frustration. “The government said that with the Tupac Katari satellite antenna, cell phones, television, the channels and all that would improve. Up until now, it hasn’t been seen,” said Victor Canabini Quispe, a 51-year-old in El Palomar. “I hope the government doesn’t deceive us,” he added.

Meanwhile, the public opening of the telecentre in El Palomar has been postponed due to delays in training a community member to run the centre and disputes over who will pay for the inauguration ceremony.

If the satellite project succeeds, it could have a big impact on life in rural Bolivia. The satellite will be a “window to the world” for children in rural areas, according to Zambrana, the Bolivian Space Agency chief. He said that many Bolivian children living in high altitude climates have never seen a tree in their lives, and will see one for the first time through satellite-delivered images.

In five years, Bolivia “will be more modern, better connected, with more educated citizens. We’re going to be a little richer – or a little less poor,” he commented.

The message is one that is resonating in at least one remote part of Bolivia – San Juan de Rosario, a small community in Bolivia’s arid southwest, and a planned telecentre site.

Gregoria Oxa Cayo owns a hotel here for tours visiting Salar de Uyuni, the world’s largest salt flats, but by necessity she lives four hours away in the larger town of Uyuni. She grew up in San Juan and her parents still live here, but she needs Internet access to run her hotel and travel agency, and there is none in the isolated desert town.

“If there was Internet here, I would live here,” she said.

The Post-Glacier Andes

Global warming-induced glacial melt is expected to eventually threaten the water supply of 80 million people in the Andes. I talked to some young people in Cuzco who are going to be around to see this happen:

Across the Andes, people are preparing for the coming increase in scarcity. Mira-Salama’s World Bank project used a three-pronged approach to climate change adaptation.

First, knowledge generation: creating climate models and trying to predict the impact of glacier retreat on important crops. They also installed high-altitude ready weather monitoring equipment in the mountains of Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, and Colombia. And finally, the Bank tried to help with “on the ground adaptation” in select Andean communities.

“We’re working with farmers [in the Santa Teresa region of Cuzco] in showcasing better irrigation practices that are more water efficient, working with them in organizing them in water associations so that they can irrigate with pre-defined schedules, working with them in finding more climate-resilient crop varieties […] and also increasing the diversity of their crops,” Mira-Salama said.

Not all communities will have World Bank help facing glacier retreat, though. As future leaders, AYP students will have to build a viable future for their communities in a glacier-parched world.

“We need to start now to make people aware of what’s going to happen, that there’s not going to be water,” Karina Jimenez Suma of Ollantaytambo said.

One idea: plant more Queyña and Chachacoma trees, which are native to the area and do not rely heavily on water.

“We can have a campaign to plant more trees in our communities, avoid wasting water, and do more sprinkle irrigation. You see very little of that [in Ollantaytambo], only a few people know about it. I think sprinkle irrigation is one of the things that can help not use much water,” Jimenez said.

Some possible solutions are more outlandish. One Chilean geologist is exploring strategies to artificially reduce glacier melting or even create new human-made glaciers.

More, including climate changes already underway, how to help from the United States, and the first completely melted glacier, at Generation Progress.

The Road To Machu Picchu, Traveled On The Backs Of Its Builders

The Inca Trail is the most popular hike in Peru. Four days, several hundred dollars, and limited space: tourists typically have to book months and months in advance to secure their spot on the trek to Machu Picchu. The memories, insights, and photos that hikers take from the trip are made possible by the group of local porters who carry most of their stuff, set up their camp, cook their meals, wash their dishes.

I hiked the trail in November 2013 with two friends. We had a great time, but were disturbed in a variety of ways by the inequality of the situation. My friend Gustav and I wrote about one facet, the colonial roots of the current porter system:

In 1552, Dominican friar and human rights advocate Bartolomé de las Casas wrote, “[Spanish settlers] used natives like pack animals. They have sores on their shoulders and backs, like much-abused beasts.”

Las Casas and his supporters inspired the Spanish crown to issue the New Laws, which outlawed the encomienda forced-labor system and forbade the “lading of Indians.” Although these laws were widely ignored, they reflected Spanish authorities’ uneasiness with using people as beasts of burden.

Five centuries later, Peru passed the Porter’s Law. The 2001 legislation limited loads on the trail to 20 kilograms (about 45 pounds), set a minimum wage of roughly $16 per day and required tour companies to provide porters with adequate food and clothing. A 2012 article in La Republica found that the law is routinely flouted, with porters sometimes forced to carry up to 40kg.

The whole thing at Seattle Globalist.