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06/05/2014 // Souvenir Seller // Palenque, Mexico

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The ancient Maya city of Palenque.

Workers’ Paradise

In Harper’s, I wrote about how Cuba—perhaps more than any other country on the planet—stands at the enviable intersection of high human development and low ecological footprint:

In Cuba today, population growth is stable, malnutrition is low, higher education is free, and most tropical diseases have been eradicated. Cubans can expect to live seventy-nine years, currently slightly outliving Americans. No other country in the world has achieved such longevity while at the same time polluting so little. The average Cuban has a 4.7-acre ecological footprint, the total amount of land area needed to grow the food they eat, produce the goods they use, and absorb the carbon they emit. For humans to avoid depleting the earth’s ecological resources, we would all have to live on about 4 acres each, according to the environmental nonprofit Global Footprint Network. As of 2011, Costa Ricans each used 5.4 acres, Norwegians almost 12, Americans nearly 17.

Check out the link above to read about rare snails on top of mountains and lush reefs at the island’s remote edge. It was one of the most stimulating stories I’ve ever written, but it was motivated by some pretty grim lines of inquiry. One of my guiding questions was along the lines of: what does Cuba suggest about the likelihood that human societies will choose to live within our planet’s ecological budget when overshooting it is so easy? I found few Cubans who were satisfied with their current level of consumption, and understandably so. Cubans make many sacrifices that us Americans would hardly accept, from forgoing air travel to creatively sourcing toilet paper.

Even some right-wing thinkers have been able to grasp some of the essence of the dilemma. “No free society would do to itself what the [climate justice] agenda requires … The first step to doing that is to remove these nagging freedoms that keep getting in the way,” says one climate denier quoted in Naomi Klein’s This Changes Everything. I think a more optimistic counterargument can be constructed, but Cuba sure is fodder for pessimism.

Latin America Is An LGBT Haven. Does The “Pink Tide” Deserve Credit?

At Alternet, I wrote about the extent to which Latin America’s left-wing governments have made LGBT rights part of their agenda for “21st Century Socialism.” The short version of the scorecard:

Strong on LGBT: Uruguay (Frente Amplio), Argentina (the Kirchners), Brazil (Worker’s Party)

Weak on LGBT: Venezuela (Chavez/Maduro), Bolivia (Morales), Nicaragua (Ortega)

Mixed: Ecuador (Correa), Cuba (Castros)

More:

Perhaps the best lesson from Latin America’s rainbow tide is this: in the countries most advanced on gay rights, activists have been able to successfully integrate LGBT issues with other social movements.

When the Argentine economy collapsed in 2001, gay rights activists took the chance to “nail themselves into this broader social justice movement that is born out of that crisis,” according to Encarnación. A resulting set of reforms in 2002 included a domestic partnership law for same-sex couples.

Uruguay has benefited from strong links between civil society and party politics. Federico Graña is himself an example, as a member of both the Black Sheep activist group and a member of the central committee of the Uruguayan Communist Party.

“It took me a lot of effort to make [LGBT rights] part of my party’s agenda,” Graña said. “We had an intense debate about how these subjects generated inequalities and how they would be related to a vision of socialism in the 21st century.”

Graña says a turning point in LGBT advocacy came around 2004, when activist groups decided they were taking too narrow an approach to their campaigns .

“In reality there exists a lot of discriminations that generate inequities and inequalities, so we believed that analyzing only sexual orientation was an error,” Graña said. “We realized that it would be impossible to analyze Uruguayan society without taking into account social class, without taking into account gender, without taking into account sexual orientation, and also racial issues.”

He credits the strong links between different civil society groups for Uruguay’s string of progressive new laws legalizing abortion in 2012, gay marriage in May 2013 and marijuana in December.

Read the whole thing here.

New Horizons

Big change in lifestyle coming up for me. On September 14th I’m getting on a plane to Peru, and I don’t know when I’m coming back.

A crew of four of us will be spending two weeks in an apartment in Lima, seeing the city and practicing Spanish. From there, I’ll head south with two friends for a two-week stay on a farm in Arequipa on Peru’s mountainous southern coast, and then onwards to Cuzco, where we will depart for a four-day hike through mountains and cloud forests on roads Incas built before the Spanish Conquest.

After that the itinerary becomes vague, but it will probably involve pushing south toward Lake Titicaca, La Paz, the Bolivian salt flats, and perhaps as far as Chile or Argentina. We’ll likely do more farming, and we’ll be on the lookout for other chances to make ourselves useful—ideally in exchange for food and housing. Read More