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)


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.

What The Hell Am I Gonna Do With This Shard Of Inca Pottery?

pottery cropped

Here in Cuzco, I live with a family of civil engineers. The father of the house is a civil engineer, and his two college-age sons are both studying to become the same. So a favorite Sunday activity for the family is to hop in the car, drive out to whatever project the father is currently working on, and talk shop.

A few weeks ago I tagged along on one of these trips, to a bridge being repaired a few hours out of town. I was zoning out during a conversation about different types of sand when the older son plucked an object off the ground, gave it to me, and said “Here Chris, a gift!”

He passed me the piece of pottery pictured above. “It must be Inca,” the group determined.

“Thanks,” I said. “But shouldn’t this be in a museum or something?”

Their response basically amounted to “Yeah probably, but whatever.” I guess it’s uncommon but not unheard-of to turn up something like this on a construction site.

So now I have to decide what to do with the thing.

Obviously, I’m tempted to keep it. It’s totally illegal to leave the country with such relics, though I would likely get away with it. But I don’t want to be that asshole foreigner, and if TV has taught me anything, it’s that hogging ancient artifacts can have serious karmic consequences.

I could turn it in to a museum, but most around here already have tons and tons of intact ceramics that don’t even get displayed.

I could climb to the top of a mountain and leave it there, or make some other act of homage to the people who made and used this object 500 years ago. But I would hate for that to just be an opportunity for another asshole foreigner to find it and keep it for themselves.

Or I could hang on to it and “be a good steward” of the artifact, as my historian dad proposed. I’d make careful note of where the object came from and try to use it to promote the culture of its creators. And plus, the fact that it was a gift from a Peruvian should dispel the jinxes that might otherwise come with keeping it.

This blog post is a step in the “stewardship” direction, but I’m interested in hearing your creative ideas or judgmental rebukes as well. What do you think?

11/11/2013 // Salt Pans // Maras, Peru


From Wikipedia, seems believable to me but take it for what you will:

Since pre-Inca times, salt has been obtained in Maras by evaporating salty water from a local subterranean stream. The highly salty water emerges at a spring, a natural outlet of the underground stream. The flow is directed into an intricate system of tiny channels constructed so that the water runs gradually down onto the several hundred ancient terraced ponds. … The proper maintenance of the adjacent feeder channel, the side walls and the water-entry notch, the pond’s bottom surface, the quantity of water, and the removal of accumulated salt deposits requires close cooperation among the community of users. It is agreed among local residents and pond workers that the cooperative system was established during the time of the Incas, if not earlier. As water evaporates from the sun-warmed ponds, the water becomes supersaturated and salt precipitates as various size crystals onto the inner surfaces of a pond’s earthen walls and on the pond’s earthen floor. The pond’s keeper then closes the water-feeder notch and allows the pond to go dry. Within a few days the keeper carefully scrapes the dry salt from the sides and bottom, puts it into a suitable vessel, reopens the water-supply notch, and carries away the salt.

Heavy Loads


The spectacles of the Inca Trail (pics here, here, here, and here) are made accessible by the contingent of porters that accompanies each trek group. Last month, the 16 of us tourists were accompanied by 22 men from nearby villages looking to make some extra cash. They carried tents, luggage, food and cooking supplies; they set up camp before we arrived each night and took it down after we left each morning; they cooked our food, served it, and washed our dishes.

The Peruvian government passed a law in 2001 legislating porter working conditions, a job that had gained notoriety for its vulnerability to exploitation. It’s widely believed that the law goes unenforced, though. For instance, porters aren’t allowed to be given more than 20kg each to carry, but many who my friends and I questioned on the Trail claimed that they were carrying 25 or 30kg. Porters also complain of inadequate meals and sleeping arrangements, and not getting paid the $62 per trip minimum wage established by the 2001 law.

Portering for foreigners dates back to the arrival of Spaniards in the Andes. From John Hemming’s The Conquest of the Incas:

From the outset of the Conquest, Spanish armies and expeditions had commandeered regiments of native porters, and it was manifest that this abuse contributed directly to the country’s depopulation. There were dozens of grandiose attempts to discover eldorados in the forests of the Amazon. Hundreds of Spanish lost their lives on these desperate adventures; but their native porters perished long before their European masters. ‘Some two or three hundred Spaniards go on these expeditions. They take two or three thousand Indians to serve them and carry their food and fodder, all of which is carried on the backs of the poor Indians …. Few or no Indians survive, because of lack of food, the immense hardships of the long journeys through wastelands, and from the loads themselves.’

Gustav and I have been researching the subject. More to come.

The End Of Awful International Arms Sales?

The UN’s Arms Trade Treaty aims to abolish dumb gun transfers to nasty governments. In my first piece on the international beat for Generation Progress, I evaluate how likely that is:

The ATT goes into effect once it has been ratified by 50 nations, a result expected within a few years. Eight countries have ratified the treaty and 115 have signed.

But here’s an eternal question in international law: How effective will the treaty be if signing is voluntary and signatory states are expected to police themselves?

Russia sells arms to the government of Syria, which has been widely condemned for killing civilians in its current civil war. What good is the treaty if compliance is voluntary and Russia—yet to sign the ATT—chooses to abstain?

In response, treaty proponents argue that the ATT will stigmatize reckless arms sales and give activists a tool to “expose and shame” nations that violate the treaty’s guidelines, according to Akwei of Amnesty International.

That may sound like wishful thinking, but the logic has precedent.

The 1997 Mine Ban Treaty is a similarly unenforceable piece of international law, yet it is rarely violated.

“It’s really stopped use,” Allison Pytlak said campaign manager for the Control Arms Coalition.

The only nations still laying land mines are Burma and Syria.

The ATT is more nuanced than the landmine treaty though. Landmines are now banned outright, but the ATT merely regulates the global arms market, banning transfers based on what is undeniably a subjective set of rules. Such complexity might provide cover for nations to wriggle free of their treaty obligations.

A comparable example: American law requires that the United States suspend military aid to a country where there has been a military coup. But the United States has carefully avoided calling the August ouster of Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi a “coup” and continued military aid to Egypt for several months after the military takeover.

The rest is here.