Concentration Camps in Northeast Brazil: 1915/1932

By Laura Belik

The author inside of former train station at Campo do Patú, in Senador Pompeu, CE. (Photo courtesy of Laura Belik.)

The concentration camps in Northeast Brazil hold what one might call hidden histories. Built between 1915 and 1932, the camps were perceived as a form of aid towards groups who were migrating from inland Brazil to Fortaleza (Ceará’s capital) as refugees from droughts. While meant for quarantine and isolation as opposed to forced labor or extermination, the living conditions within these guarded spaces were still questionable. Highly influenced by the desires of the elites, who were afraid of the impoverished masses invading their capital city, these constructions worked as barriers masked in humanitarian speech. Out of seven concentration camps that were built, today only one remains partially standing, and has since become a symbol of resistance.

Supported by a Tinker Foundation and CLAS-funded research grant, I traveled to Ceará to find out more about these camps. Buried within the ruins of what was once such a significant part of Ceará’s (and Brazil’s) history are not only the physical camps themselves, but their stories, which are little known across the country. Although the subject has previously been touched upon by scholars, the emphasis on its importance was made clear through the works of Professors Kênia Sousa Rios[1] and Frederico de Castro Neves[2]. While Neves relies on previously existing bibliographies – finding the sparse moments when the Camps are mentioned through seminal works of local historians, Rios’ archival research and detective work builds on Neves’ research, bringing to light a series of contradictions these spaces represent as physical and moral barriers to access to the city and as an example of the power and dominance of class division in Brazil.

A visit to the Archives at Secretaria de Cultura do Estado. (Photo by Laura Belik.)

Beyond these works by Neves and Rios, one key question remained for me: What were the spaces of the concentration camps like? As an architect, the importance of understanding their physical aspects and organization is essential, and has been the main challenge of this research. Very little visual documentation exists of Cearás’ camps, and the construction of these refugee areas have not prevailed through time. On top of that, there is also the issue that each of the seven locations functioned differently. Nevertheless, what they all have in common is precisely their ephemerality. The architecture of the camps per se was described as fragile, with constructions made with sticks, mud, and provisional covers.

While the ruins at the Açúde do Patú in Senador Pompeu are considered to be the only remaining physical evidence of the camps, the standing construction was actually originally built by a British company as the foundation for a local dam in the early 1900’s. The barracos (shacks) that were used by the flagelados (refugees from the droughts) in 1932 are long gone.  The uses of the original spaces changed and adapted as they were transformed into facilities of the camp that housed more than 16,000 people over the course of a year[1], but the areas where the refugees stayed were precarious and temporary, thus, they did not survive through time.

The ruins we see today represent the palimpsest of those times. Current efforts by the Secretaria da Cultura do Estado (Department of Culture of Ceará State) to recognize the remaining spaces as landmarks and cultural heritage sites raises questions around material and immaterial (intangible) importance and preservation.  Since 1982 there has been an independent annual pilgrimage to the area praising the “souls of the dam” (almas da barragem) called the “Drought Walk” (Caminhada da Secas), which gathers over 10,000 people in an event that mixes political and religious motifs. The popular acceptance of the ruins as a space for memory brings to light discussions of values and representation, as well as emphasizes the historical importance and consequences these spaces still hold in nordestinos’ lives today.

Remaining walls from the hospital facilities at Campo do Patú, Senador Pompeu. (Photo by Laura Belik.)

Considering the scarcity of visual documentation and physical evidence of the camps, different research methods must be considered in order to restore the camp’s past. Although there are not many people focusing on the specific topic, interdisciplinary collaboration and exchange define the study of these spaces. In this sense, field research has proven to be an essential part of this quest, especially for building community.  For example, as I would ask permission to look into public archives, the archivists in return asked that I donate my photos and part of my findings to update their files. Historians, geographers, architects, filmmakers, local activists, amongst others are on the same path trying to reconstruct and raise awareness of a hidden past and its effects on Brazilian society.

It is hard not to think about how certain political, social, and economic strategies from over one hundred years ago prevail in the country’s current governance as well. The ephemerality of its construction contrast directly to the stability of social casts. As we continue to produce similar spaces of exclusion, are the concentration camps over, or simply masked and transformed?

[1] Kênia Sousa Rios. Isolamento e Poder: Fortaleza e os campos de concentração na Seca de 1932. (Fortaleza: Imprensa Universitária da Universidade Federal do Ceará /UFC, 2014)
[2] Frederico de Castro Neves. “Curral dos Bárbaros: Os Campos de Concentração no Ceará (1915-1932),” Revista Brasileira de Historia. V. 15, Número 29. (1995): 93-122.

 

LAURA BELIK is a PhD Student in Architecture- History, Theory, and Society at UC Berkeley. Laura holds an MA in Design Studies from Parsons- The New School (New York) and a BA in Architecture and Urban Planning from Escola da Cidade (São Paulo- Brazil). Her main research interests are urbanism, politics of space, urban democracy and Latin America. Laura’s current work is related to the urban and constructed environment and its influence in social and political life.

 

 

 

 

Posted in Berkeley Student, Brazil | Leave a comment

A Missed Opportunity for Democrats in the Border Wall Showdown

By Elizabeth Oglesby

A version of this article originally appeared in The Hill on December 13th, 2018.

“Mexico only” sign at the U.S.-Mexico border crossing. (Photo by Noah Jacquemin.)

This week’s Oval Office sparring between President Trump and Democratic congressional leaders, over border wall funding and the possibility of a government shutdown, made for great political theater. In reality, both sides got what they wanted. Trump got a get-tough photo op that can be replayed on Fox & Friends, while House and Senate Minority Leaders Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) got Trump to own the shutdown.

But are their positions so far apart? Trump wants his wall, or at least the simulacra of a wall. The Democratic leadership wants the status quo. Both positions are untenable.

As Trump descends into what the Washington Post called a “bottomless Pinocchio” of falsehoods about the border wall, Pelosi and Schumer are missing a key opportunity to launch a broader critique of immigration and border policies. The moment is auspicious for such a critique, and not just because of the Democrats’ electoral gains. The brutal public displays of Trump’s border crackdown, including tear-gassing children last month at the San Ysidro port of entry, have exposed the destructive failings of our border strategies, failings that were decades in the making.

Ocean border fence in San Diego County, California. (Photo by Tony Webster.)

The immediate issue is the federal budget deadline of December 21. Trump wants $5 billion in revenue for his wall, but he doesn’t have the votes to overcome a Senate filibuster. Democrats are offering $1.6 billion in additional funding for “border security,” which includes enhancing and extending the border wall that already exists (although not the concrete buffer Trump wants). Viewed within the context of the entire federal budget, and the nearly $4 billion a year already spent on border security, there is not a lot of daylight between these two proposals.

Trump is half right when he asserts that border wall construction continues apace. More than 700 miles of border barriers exist, including bollard-style steel walls, double chain-linked fences, barbed wire, infrared cameras and drones, guard stations and light poles. Much of this was constructed under President Obama. Trump has been putting into place plans to extend the barriers.

In July 2018, more than 2,500 scientists in the United States and Mexico signed a letter decrying the waiver of federal and state environmental laws to build the wall, saying this “threatens more than a century of binational investment in conservation.” Current plans to make way for the wall include demolishing the National Butterfly Center in Mission, Texas.

Trump’s real victory in Tuesday’s meeting was to get Pelosi and Schumer to repeat the mantra of “border security.”

Pelosi (to Trump) “I’m with you. I’m with you. We are going to have border security.”

Trump: “We need border security. I think we all agree that we need border security. Is that right?

Schumer: “Yes, we do. We do.”

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.). (Photo by Senate Democrats.)

When Schumer advocates continuing the status quo in the name of an ill-defined notion of “border security,” it reinforces two false and damaging framings of the border and immigration. The first is what researcher and former Border Patrol agent Chris Montoya calls the “border threat narrative,” the spurious idea of the southern border as a place of danger. The second is the failed doctrine of “prevention through deterrence,” a strategy to obstruct undocumented immigration begun in the 1990s by President Bill Clinton and continued by George W. Bush, Obama and now Trump.

Montoya poured over Border Patrol and other law enforcement data to conclude that Border Patrol agents enjoy one of the safest law enforcement jobs in America. The number of Border Patrol agents has increased 500 percent since 2000, even while undocumented immigration across the southern border is at a 40-year low.

The true danger, asserts Montoya, lies in the “idea of a dangerous and violent border.” This idea, based on skewed data and hyperbole, moves public discourse about the U.S.-Mexico border and the alleged threat it poses, leading to bad policy.

The policy of “prevention by deterrence” goes back to the Clinton-era Border Patrol strategy to seal off urban entry points, thereby using the harsh Arizona desert as a weapon against migration. Subsequent administrations continued this strategy and added different components, such as deporting people to unfamiliar cities, family detention, and most recently, family separation. But decades of research, from the University of Arizona and elsewhere, shows that ratcheting up punishment against migrants as a form of deterrence doesn’t stop migration. It simply redirects it.

White crosses with the names of those who have died crossing the US border on the Mexican side of the fence in Nogales. (Photo by Jonathan McIntosh.)

The current decline in unauthorized immigration across the U.S. southern border is mostly a reflection of declining rates of Mexican immigration (which, in turn, is related to changing economic and demographic conditions in Mexico). Yet, deaths in the desert have continued at high rates, as migrants, mostly Central Americans now, follow the more treacherous routes. At least 7,000 people have perished in the border desert since 2000, most from heat exposure and dehydration.

Despite the border crisis narrative pushed in Washington, here on the border one finds a different perspective. As southern Arizona business leader Jaime Chamberlain told Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen during her visit to the border last May, “It’s very sexy and grabs headlines to talk about border security. But when people talk to me about border security, I live in a very safe community in Nogales,” adding that the concerns of local businesses are focused more on how to increase cross-border trade and communication.

Rather than repeat the mantra of “border security,” we need a deeper national conversation about our border policies. In addition to humane asylum policies, we need progress on comprehensive immigration reform. We also need to de-escalate the decades-long border militarization that harms communities and ecosystems and reinforces a false narrative of border danger. Not all of this can be achieved in the current political context. But top Democrats like Pelosi and Schumer aren’t trying hard enough to articulate a different vision for the border. They could start by listening to the concerns of border communities.

 

ELIZABETH OGLESBY is an associate professor of Latin American Studies andGeography at the University of Arizona. She is co-editor of “The Guatemala Reader: History, Culture, Politics” and  “Guatemala: The Question of Genocide.” She earned her MA in Latin American Studies and her PhD in Geography at UC Berkeley. Read more of her work from The Hill here.

 

Posted in Mexico | Leave a comment

Ortega Uses Somoza’s Manual to Silence Critics

By Carlos Dada

This article originally appeared in Spanish in El Faro on December 18, 2018 and was translated to English by Delia Neyra.

The Nicaraguan police closes the media company directed by the country’s main journalist, Carlos Fernando Chamorro, in an offensive against the critics of Daniel Ortega’s regime. Exiled from their editorial offices, the journalists of the magazine Confidencial and the television program Esta Semana work from where they can to continue denouncing a regime that today has more political prisoners than that of dictator Anastasio Somoza.

Carlos Fernando Chamorro appeared at the Faustino Ruiz Police Complex to demand an answer after the confiscation of Confidencial and Esta Semana. December 15, 2018. (Photo by Carlos Herrera/Confidencial.)

The Nicaraguan journalist Carlos Fernando Chamorro arrived at Managua’s judicial complex Monday afternoon to file an injunction. Three days had already passed since police agents entered by force and settled into the offices of Confidencial magazine and the television programs Esta Semana and Esta Noche, all directed by Chamorro.

Thirty reporters, from the international press and the few independent media channels that remain in Nicaragua, supported Chamorro’s arrival. The stood in front of riot police who were under command of the same officer who, on Saturday morning, had ordered the forced evacuation of Chamorro and the majority of these same journalists from the National Police headquarters.

“I come armored with the morals of my parents, Pedro Joaquín Chamorro and Violeta Barrios de Chamorro. That is what protects me to be here,” said Chamorro, when asked if he feared for his security. For those who know a bit of Nicaraguan history, the phrase was poetic, irrefutable, and forceful.

Chamorro is one of the most recognized figures in Nicaragua. His father, also a journalist, was assassinated by henchmen of the dictator Anastasio Somoza in 1978. At that time, the elder Chamorro was director of the newspaper La Prensa and an inflexible critic of the dictatorship. His assassination unleashed massive protests against Somoza, which led to the downfall of the dictator.

Shortly after the crime, Carlos Fernando joined the Sandinista lines and directed the newspaper Barricada. He was Vice Minister of Culture in the first government of the revolution and left power after the electoral triumph of his mother, the liberal Violeta Barrios de Chamorro.

Since the return of Daniel Ortega to the presidency in January of 2007, Chamorro has become the main example of independent and critical journalism in his country, recognized internationally and harassed by political power. Ortega and his party, the Sandinista Front, happy to boast internationally that freedom of expression exists in their country, have purchased some of the main television channels in recent years, the same ones that their children now control; and have created their own media system. They had already hounded Chamorro’s two media channels, but they were never able to shut them down. Until now.

Carlos Fernando Chamorro, his wife Desirée Elizondo, and other journalists who showed up with them at the Faustino Ruiz Police Complex to demand an answer after the confiscation of Confidencial and Esta Semana, were evicted by a group of riot police who beat them. December 15, 2018. (Photo by Carlos Herrera/Confidencial.)

The occupation, without a judicial order, of the Confidencial and Esta Semana facilities, as well as the confiscation of their equipment, give an account of a new chapter of the crisis that has affected Nicaragua since April of this year. A chapter in which the president Daniel Ortega has decided to attack, with or without supporting law, media and organizations that are critical of his government. Ortega has decided to grab hold of Somoza’s manual to silence the opposition. He, who was a political prisoner under the Somoza dictatorship, now has more political prisoners than Somoza. The number of people who have died due to the violence in this crisis, almost all attributed to his paramilitary and police forces, already exceeds 350.

Last week, the Assembly cancelled the legal registration of nine non-governmental organizations, among them the Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights, the main processing center for reports from victims of the repression unleashed by Sandinista security forces and paramilitary groups since April 18th, when a student protest marked the beginning of this crisis. More than 350 people have been assassinated since then, and the prisons controlled by Ortega now contain 567 political prisoners, according to these organizations.

Protected by the parliamentary vote, the majority pro-Ortega, the Ministry of Governance proceeded to seize the property of these organizations. But the media channels directed by Chamorro were not among them, as they are private companies, not NGOs. In spite of this, the editorial offices of Confidencial are now occupied by heavily armed police that prohibit the entry of journalists.

On Thursday night, uniformed agents invaded the facilities and took all of the equipment: more than 20 computers, television cameras, audio equipment and all the documents they found, including invoices, receipts, and the archive. The following night they returned, expelled security guards, and prohibited access to journalists and employees. Since then armed police agents stroll the halls or watch television on the only screens that were not taken.

Exiled from their editorial offices, the journalists, administrators, and producers of Esta Semana and Confidencial have continued their work from where ever possible: their homes, borrowed computers, a hotel room on the only two computers they were able to save, or the studios of Channel 12 where they have limited access.

On Saturday, from a hotel room, reporters and editors met to agree on the contingency plan, how to continue publishing without an office and without equipment. They’re still doing it. “The editorial office is in the soul, in the brain of the journalists,” said Chamorro in front of the courts when they asked if the occupation of the offices put at risk the production of information. “We will continue working from wherever we can.”

On Sunday night, from another hotel room, the journalists Wilfredo Miranda and Néstor Arce uploaded the program Esta Semana to Youtube and Facebook in addition to the television transmission on Channel 12.

“Our offices are occupied illegally by the National Police, as a consequence of the repressive escalation of the dictatorship,” said Chamorro in the opening of his Sunday program Esta Semana, recorded in a studio that Channel 12 had obtained for them. Next, he recounted the last offensive of the Ortega apparatus, including the closure of seven non-governmental organizations. One of them is the Center of Investigations for Communication, CINCO, whose board of directors includes Chamorro, but whose facilities are found elsewhere, far from the offices taken by the police.

On Saturday night, another television channel, 100 por ciento Noticias, opened its news with the headline: “Carlos Fernando Chamorro, his wife and journalists accompanying him, are assaulted by the police.” That morning, Chamorro arrived at the doors of Confidencial, accompanied by relatives and journalists who covered the facts, to request documentation that supported the occupation of their offices and to explain to the armed agents that their occupation was illegal. On the other side of the bars, the agents suggested that he ask for explanations directly from the main office of the National Police. Chamorro went there and reiterated his complaint. In response, nearly fifty riot police came out to violently evict everyone who accompanied him. The video, in which one can see the riot police hit the journalists, immediately made it to social media, was the front page of the main newspapers, and was an omnipresent image on the few television channels outside of state control.

“This is not an attack only on Esta Semana and Confidencial,” said Chamorro in his program. “This is an attack on the citizens, on their right to be informed. It is an attack on the freedom of the press, on the freedom of expression and on free enterprise.”

On Sunday night, Miranda and Arce watched the repeated images of the beating that they received from the riot police on television. Néstor Arce still has traces of those blows. Various journalists of Confidencial, especially Miranda, have been the object of attacks on social media during the last few days. They have received threats and their picture has circulated in pages of supporters of the president Daniel Ortega. “I do not go out much anymore,” says Miranda, upset because these attacks against him impede him from reporting on the streets. But what he cannot report today, others do.

On Monday, the thirty journalists that covered Chamorro’s arrival at the courts arranged to meet nearby an hour. They walked together, thirty of them, to the door. A motorcyclist stopped in front of them and took out a cell phone to take pictures of them. The response was unanimous: thirty photography, video, and cell phone cameras pointed back at the motorcyclist. They photographed him too. The scene repeated itself some minutes later, when a riot policeman also took out his cellphone. The journalists formed a line, not much different to the one of the agents, and pointed with their cameras. Nobody moved until Chamorro and his wife left. Then, everyone walked in line back to the same parking lot and left in various vehicles in a caravan. If Ortega has achieved anything, it is consolidating the unity of an incipient union of independent media.

Police maintain control of Confidencial and Esta Semana facilities. December 15, 2018. (Photo by Carlos Herrera/Confidencial.)

The President’s Motives

Last weekend, while the police were closing organizations and the media, President Ortega was asking for help in Havana. He met with the presidents of member countries of ALBA (Venezuela, Cuba, and Bolivia) to respond to the Nica Act, the law passed by the United States Congress that foretells individual sanctions against members of the Nicaraguan government and limits international financial activities in the country, including access to loans from international financial organisms. Ortega accused Washington of interference and received the backing of his counterparts in Cuba, Venezuela, and Bolivia.

Little is left for the Nicaraguan president. The deterioration of his relationship with the United States is occurring alongside the end of his honeymoon with the Catholic Church, and even with the conspiracy that he maintained for a decade with big business. Since the brutal repression unleashed by Ortega against student protests in April and the widespread demonstrations of May and June, the main corporate labor union has distanced itself from the regime.

The closure of the NGOs and of Confidencial, moreover, has provoked strong criticism of the regime by the UN, the OAS, the European Union, various Latin American governments, and journalists from all over the continent. The commander is being left on his own.

“Ortega is a man who enjoys accumulating,” says Sergio Ramírez, the Nicaraguan author and winner of the Cervantes Prize. “He has more than 500 political prisoners, now the closure of all these organizations and media channels. He believes this allows him to negotiate, to stay in power by yielding all of these tokens he is accumulating. He thinks it is possible to return to the status quo that existed before April 18th. But this is impossible. This crisis has a magnitude of such delegitimization, of anti-democracy, of repression, of illegality, that cannot be resolved by returning those pieces. Neither is it resolved with a foreign invasion. The only exit is a political negotiation.”

In this recently opened chapter of a now long and profound crisis, the aggressions against Chamorro and the journalists of Confidencial confirm that the regime is no longer open even to a simulation of the rule of law. It is no longer necessary. Ortega, with Somoza’s manual in his hand, confronts the crisis with censorship, imprisonment, and repression. Carlos Fernando Chamorro follows in his father’s footsteps – the journalist critical of, and uncomfortable for, the dictatorship. Protected by his historical legacy, he is today the great model of Nicaraguan journalism. To touch him is to touch all. This is why journalists from all independent media in the country stand by him. They also protect him.

On Monday the 17th, Carlos Fernando Chamorro and his wife Desirée Elizondo went to the Judicial Complex of Managua to present a Writ of Amparo (Photo by Fred Ramos.)

CARLOS DADA is the founder and director of the news website El Faro, which has become a reference for independent and high quality journalism in Central America since 1998 and is known for its investigations of corruption and violence. Dada has reported from various conflict zones including Iraq, Venezuela, Mexico, Guatemala, and Honduras. His work has been published in Latin America, the United States, Bosnia and Spain. In 2011 he won the Maria Moors Cabot Prize for Latin American Reporting.

DELIA NEYRA is a fourth year doctoral student and instructor in the Department of Spanish and Portuguese at UC Berkeley. She studies 19th and 20th century Nicaraguan literature. 

 

Statement on Nicaragua

Center for Latin American Studies and Graduate School of Journalism

December 20, 2018

We are deeply concerned about the growing repression, arbitrary detentions, and state-sanctioned violence in Nicaragua. In addition to ongoing violence, the silencing of dissenting voices and the press must end. A free press is vital for a decent society and essential for a democracy. 

This past week, armed police stormed the headquarters of one of Nicaragua’s top independent media outlets, Confidencial. Officers seized computers and occupied the premises. Confidencial’s Director, Carlos F. Chamorro (who was a visiting scholar at UC Berkeley 1998-99 and 2006-7) stated, “We have been in this regime’s sights for many years. They have attacked us, they have pressured us, they have intimidated us and they have spied on us, and the only conclusion I can draw is that they are now moving towards what they consider the coup de grâce.” Chamorro continued, “It is a blow and a warning.”

Along with governments and human rights organizations around the world, we urge the Government of Nicaragua and all other actors to return to democratic principles. We stand firmly in solidarity with the people of Nicaragua, who are demanding justice and peace. 

Declaración sobre Nicaragua

Centro de Estudios Latinoamericanos y Escuela de Postgrado de Periodismo

20 de diciembre, 2018

Estamos sumamente preocupados sobre la represión creciente, detenciones arbitrarias y violencia autorizada por el estado en Nicaragua. Además de la violencia en desarrollo, el silenciamiento de las voces y la prensa discordantes debe terminar. Una prensa libre es vital para una sociedad decente y esencial para una democracia.

Esta semana pasada, policías armados atacaron la sede de uno de los principales medios de comunicación independientes de Nicaragua, Confidencial. Oficiales incautaron computadoras y ocuparon las instalaciones. El director de Confidencial, Carlos F. Chamorro, (quien fue un investigador visitante en la Universidad de Berkeley, California en 1998-99 y 2006-07) declaró: “Hemos estado en la vista del régimen por muchos años. Ellos nos han atacado, nos han presionado, nos han intimidado y nos han espiado, y la única conclusión que puedo deducir es que ellos ahora están acercándose a lo que ellos consideran el golpe de gracia. Chamorro continuó, “Es un golpe y una advertencia.”

Sumado a gobiernos y organizaciones de derechos humanos alrededor del mundo, instamos al Gobierno de Nicaragua y a todos los demás actores a regresar a principios democráticos. Nos solidarizamos firmemente con el pueblo de Nicaragua, quienes están demandando justicia y paz.

 

 

Posted in Nicaragua | Leave a comment

NAFTA’s Dark Holidays

By Harley Shaiken and Representative Sander Levin (D-MICH.) 

A version of this article originally appeared in The Detroit Free Press on December 7th, 2018.

Presidents Peña Nieto, Trump, and Trudeau with the recently signed USMCA at the G20 Summit in Argentina earlier this month. (Photo courtesy of Presidencia de la República Mexicana.)

General Motor’s surprise announcement the Monday after Thanksgiving that it would
eliminate 14,000 jobs and shutter 5 plants sent traumatic shock waves across the industrial Midwest and into Canada, putting a dark cloud over the holiday season. While
these changes will affect autoworkers today, they will undoubtedly be felt by all working
Americans in the months and years to come.

Less than a week after the announcement, the leaders of Mexico, Canada, and the United States met in Buenos Aires for a ceremonial signing of a revised North American Free Trade Agreement (Nafta). Despite glittering new protections for investment, the GM layoffs and plant closings underscore why Nafta remains unpopular in industrial areas and beyond. The new Nafta—renamed the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) in an attempt to avoid any association with the old one—still falls short on protecting workers, jobs, and wages in all three countries.

Scare tactics, like the President’s threat to terminate Nafta regardless of the consequences, won’t fix the problem and will likely only lead to the defeat of it’s replacement.

GM emphasized it was idling three mega assembly plants—Hamtramck, Lordstown, and Oshawa—for market reasons. They said that the plants build slow-selling cars at a time the market is clamoring for SUVs and pickups. True enough, but GM is spending billions to build new hot-selling SUVs and pickups in expanded plants in Mexico, not the idled plants in Michigan, Ohio, or Ontario. The issue isn’t shifting consumer preferences, but where new production is located.

An abandoned auto factory in Wayne County, Michigan. (Photo by Thomas Hawk.)

Suppressed wages in Mexico create a magnetic attraction for new investment. Workers
in the U.S. are being discarded, families separated, and communities torn apart in large
part because production is moving where labor rights are restricted and wages are rock
bottom. The problem isn’t Mexican workers or manufacturing but rather a distorted
trading relationship under Nafta. The gains bypass Mexican workers at the same time that
U.S. and Canadian workers are left out in the cold.

The old Nafta accord made investing in Mexico more like investing in Ohio, but locked in
a dysfunctional and corrupt labor system that insures suppressed wages. USMCA—Nafta for short—is inadequate to allow workers to share in the gains.

The labor rights language is vague at best and enforcement remains anemic to non-
existent. There is no assurance of dismantling a strangling structure—unique in a
democracy—-of thousands of so-called protection agreements that only protect the
employer and phantom labor organizations that leave workers without representation.

The flip side of suppressed wages is diminished purchasing power in Mexico and a fierce downward pressure on wages and jobs in the U.S. Each assembly plant job supports 7-9 jobs in direct suppliers and in the community from nurses to school teachers. Moreover, when the highest paid industrial workers are hammered, the impact ultimately is felt across labor markets and regions. The danger is locking in a damaging status quo for another quarter century.

A United Auto Workers strike in the Midwest. (Photo by Joe Brusky.)

Despite world class quality and productivity, autoworkers average $2.70 an hour in state-of-the-art assembly plants in Mexico, in part because it’s nearly impossible to form an independent union. In comparison, senior UAW workers earn close to $30 an hour in the U.S. in highly competitive and profitable firms. Mexico ranks at the bottom for manufacturing wages in 37 countries surveyed by the Conference Board for 2016, above the Philippines, and below China.

Not surprisingly, automakers have committed $25 billion of new investment to Mexican
operations—$5 billion from GM alone—in the last decade.

The problem isn’t new investment, but a toxic combination of high productivity and suppressed wages that distorts trade. The U.S. ran a $66 billion trade deficit with Mexico in Motor Vehicles and Parts through September 2018, about as much as with Japan, Germany, and South Korea combined.

Overall GM produced 700,000 SUVs and pickups in Mexico through October 2018–more than half its U.S. production in this highly profitable segment—including many of its hottest selling models formerly made in the U.S. and Canada.

The Mexican context is different today. Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO), the new
reform-minded Mexican President, has said he is committed to higher wages and improved rights for Mexican workers. Nonetheless, the forces against change are
formidable, from powerful, corrupt unions to corporations that benefit from suppressed
wages. A key lesson from Nafta is that leverage for reform evaporates as soon as ratification takes place.

The recently inaugurated President of Mexico, López Obrador, officially affiliates with his party, MORENA. (Photo by Eneas De Troya.)

At this point, it is urgent to renegotiate Nafta— not simply rename it. Two things are
essential: stronger enforcement for labor reform and linking ratification to demonstrated
change on the ground, especially in export sectors. Both these moves could support and accelerate the new Mexican government’s own reform efforts.

Labor reforms lay the basis for healthy economies, a broadly shared prosperity, and
democratic societies. To realize the benefits of trade, workers, and communities, not
just investors, should be able to share in the gains across the continent.

Sander Levin is a senior member on the House Ways and Means Committee. Harley Shaiken is a professor at the University of California Berkeley specializing in labor and the global economy. 

 

Posted in Mexico | Leave a comment

A Man Who Sought A Better Tomorrow

By Steve Weissman

Stan Ovshinsky working in his lab in the 1950s. (Photo courtesy of Stanford R. Ovshinsky).

The Center for Latin American Studies (CLAS) has appropriately honored Stan Ovshinsky many times in the past. What additional insights can we garner from the beautifully written new biography, The Man Who Saw Tomorrow: The Life and Inventions of Stanford R. Ovshinky? What room still remains for valuable reflection?

I begin, as others might, by adding what I know personally about Stan, based on my own experience, to the image of the man that emerges from telling his full story. I spent quality time with Stan on about six different occasions. They were all in his later years. It was clear from the outset: This was an individual of great skill and exceptional intellect who was willing to harness his talents for no lesser purpose than to carry our civilization safely and joyfully into an indefinite future. While the full biography explains his building blocks, influences, opportunities, and challenges, to know him was to see how those elements produced exceptional results.

Navigating a gauntlet of health problems and financial challenges, Stan pushed to the very end in an effort to produce a source of solar power so inexpensive that it would become ubiquitous. When federal and private funders balked at supporting his efforts to prove his concept and demonstrate production capability, Stan drained his own savings to rent a small research facility, furnish it with equipment, and hire the appropriate experts to run rigorous tests. To anyone who would listen, he would talk about the hydrogen cycle – his vision of using hydrogen-fueled solar radiation to generate electricity with photovoltaics and then use that electricity to separate hydrogen from water. Hydrogen could be used to fuel our lives without producing harmful waste. He was passionate, driven, and serious about the endeavor.

Stan Ovshinsky shows his thin-film solar panel as he speaks at UC Berkeley in 2008. (Photo by Jim Block).

In many ways, Stan was exceptional. But what makes his story so important is how it can help us reflect on the experiences of so many other innovators.

Because of Stan’s story, we know about the pathway that led us to flat screen monitors, nickel metal hydride batteries, energy-efficient switches, solid-state memory storage, and thin-film photovoltaics. His story also makes me wonder about the minds and stories behind many other things – effective adhesives, atomic clocks, voice-recognition software, high-end chocolate, mass-produced fabrics, pizza delivery robots, rubber stamps, electron microscopes, LED streetlights, digital animation, refrigeration, and the silent light switch — to name a few.

These objects – wondrous and large, whimsical and small – improve our lives and contribute to our health and security. Maybe it is easier to think that various people – some of whom may never had envisioned themselves as creators – were minding their own business one cloudy afternoon when suddenly they experienced an epiphany and TA-DA! a great new thing popped out. But of course, that’s not the way it happens.

Unrolling thin-film solar panels on a Los Angeles roof. (Photo courtesy of Energy Conversion Devices, Inc).

Perhaps it is the story of Stan as “parable” that brings up the important basics that drive and equip the many unsung scientists and inventors. Three factors jump to the surface that I believe ring true across the board:

Lesson #1: It usually takes a village. Stan did not become successful by locking himself away from his community. His innate gifts and extraordinary intellect were reinforced by a librarian who allowed the young Stan to take home as many books as he wanted, a barber who encouraged Stan’s visits to his chair to evolve into philosophical debates, and a supportive brother and father. Throughout his career, Stan surrounded himself with promising young engineers and scientists, as well as current and future Nobel laureates. Most striking in Stan’s case was his exceptional partnership with his wife Iris, who was also a prominent scientist. Not all creative output derives from someone who is literally married to their work, but great success often becomes possible only by being open to working with the right collaborators.

Lesson #2: Eyes on the prize. Stan lived for 90 years and never stopped working. No doubt, there were more quiet days than glamorous ones. Great strides require faith in the long-term results and dedication to staying with the project. One thing Stan did was to create a poster illustrating the elements of the hydrogen cycle. This wasn’t just a sign of dedication to certain technological advances. It was evidence of someone who knew why he got up in the morning, put on that three-piece suit, and went out in the world to do battle. He knew how to save our civilization and was dedicated to getting the job done. He stood for something. I have to think that a long-term vision and the passion to realize that vision are critical to success.

Lesson #3: Open mind, open heart. Stan was willing and able to look for combinations of factors that would produce important new ideas. This required courage, boldness, and a willingness to sacrifice in pursuit of the greater good. It also required great intellectual generosity. To Stan, the ideas were more important than the glory. By sharing his thoughts freely and inviting the best minds to join him, he was able to make magic happen. Sometimes it came in the form of his own creations, but other times it was derived from others who could take his ideas to the next level.

CLAS Chair Harley Shaiken, President of Chile Ricardo Lagos (2000-2006), and Stan Ovshinsky at Ovshinsky’s plant in Michigan in 2009.

Recently, the International Panel on Climate Change doubled down on its expression of the urgent need to act boldly and quickly to reduce greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. At its essence, that is what Stan Ovshinsky’s work was all about. He made it clear that many of the solutions are readily at hand – if only we would dedicate our efforts to deploying them. Yet the growing urgency suggests that there is still a critical need to find new combinations and invent new solutions. The need to come together – to offer each other our intellectual generosity, our open hearts and minds – could hardly be greater.

Think of Stan and all of the less-honored men and women who have contributed so significantly to the quality of our lives. Think of the scores of men and women throughout the world who are capable of helping us move forward, together. Stan’s myriad ideas and plans are available to help along the way, but the very best solutions may be yet to come. Let’s get to work.

 

STEVE WEISSMAN is a lecturer at UC Berkeley’s Goldman School of Public Policy, as well as the
co-creater and former Director of the Energy Law program at UC Berkeley School of Law,
where he also taught numerous energy law and policy courses. He came to UC Berkeley from
the California Public Utilities Commission where he was an administrative law judge as well as
policy and legal advisor to three different commissioners.

 

 

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Climate Threats and Opportunities in Aguascalientes, Mexico

Student Research Series:                                                                                                          UC Berkeley graduate students reflect on their fieldwork

By Julia Branco

A City Council meeting in Aguascalientes, Mexico. (Photo by Julia Branco).

Funded in part by a Tinker Field Research grant from the Center for Latin American Studies, I spent two months in Aguascalientes, Mexico learning about climate threats in the region. I worked with local researchers at the Centro de Investigación y Docencia Económicas (CIDE) as part of a multi-year interdisciplinary pilot project to make climate science more accessible and relevant for local policy making. The goals for the first part of this study were to gather specific concerns and ideas of vulnerable communities in Aguascalientes and to produce a systematized process for co-producing community-relevant climate research.

Aguascalientes has a semi-arid climate characterized by high temperatures, low rainfall, and water scarcity, which makes it particularly vulnerable to climate change. Studies show that areas with warmer climates may experience longer and more severe droughts, causing such areas to become drier in the long-term due to an intensification of the hydrological cycle.[i] Consequently, warmer temperatures will likely exacerbate the existing lack of water available in Aguascalientes and cause other challenges, impacting rural and urban communities alike.

A stream in Aguascalientes, Mexico. (Photo by Genevieve Johnson).

It is important to pay attention to the environmental consequences of how mid-sized cities like Aguascalientes (with a population of approximately 887,000) grow, because cities this size will experience the most growth by 2050. Aguascalientes is one of the most densely populated cities in Mexico’s north-central region, with 108.2 people per acre.[ii] Though its growth has been characterized by sprawl (from 1970 to 2010, the city’s population grew by 369% while its surface area grew by 608%),[iii] this growth pattern has environmental consequences as urbanization eats up proximate ecological sites with important environmental functions like air quality and microclimate regulation, water filtration, and aquifer repletion. Furthermore, services have failed to keep up with this pattern of growth. For example, 38% of the municipal transportation system’s units operate below required standards, which contributes to the high rate of motor vehicles in Aguascalientes, putting it in 5th place nationally for car ownership and in turn exacerbating local Co2 emissions.[iv]

As a first step to my research, I reviewed development plans at the state, municipal, and city levels to better understand the environmental and social context of climate adaptation. I focused on the extent to which the plans analyze the impact of rising temperatures and rainfall locally, the level of citizen participation in the plans’ development, and how robust mitigation and adaptation strategies were. My co-researchers at CIDE and I then used in-depth interviews to explore issues of climate adaptation with both government officials, who were developing and implementing adaptation strategies, and communities in rural and peri-urban areas that have a higher level of climate vulnerability.

Asparagus under drip irrigation in Aguascalientes, Mexico. (Photo courtesy of Water Alternatives).

According to our interviews and document reviews, the most significant climate issues in Aguascalientes are water scarcity and rising temperatures. Aguascalientes extracts almost double the volume of the natural recharge of its aquifers, all of which were already in deficit in 2013. Farmers are feeling this impact, as rising temperatures exacerbate water scarcity and unpredictable rain patterns shorten the harvest season. Some have started adapting by choosing different crop varieties, while others have sought part-time employment in different industries. Furthermore, given inadequate city infrastructure and the growth of unregulated residences in flood prone areas, a large number of areas are at risk of flooding in the face of severe rain. Moreover, while development plans attempt to assess these risks and plan accordingly, many of the indicators used are based on interpolated data at much larger scales, with variables that are not relevant to the region. Thus, even when strategies are formed and implemented, they are often misguided and inefficient.

Most notably, our interviews revealed that political will is a major limitation to more sustainable development practices and prioritization of adaptation policies. There is limited citizen awareness of climate threats and a lag in climate polices in Aguascalientes. This disconnect points us to important challenges for our study. How do we engage citizens in climate research when the culture of participation doesn’t exist? How do we make this study relevant when there is such limited awareness of the gravity of climate change? And finally, how can whatever method we devise for involving communities in climate research serve and incentivize local governments and communities to collaborate on future adaptation planning?

Downtown Aguascalientes, Mexico. (Photo by Julia Branco).

It is projected that by 2040 the population of the city of Aguascalientes will be 1,310,823, which will put additional pressure on its natural and capital resources and require a concerted effort to deal with climate threats.[v] The challenge of adaptation is significant, but we hope that our research will help bridge both the gap in local information and in citizen participation in urban and environmental planning processes. In the next stage of our study, we will analyze what local communities revealed about their barriers to adaptation. We believe that this analysis will inform a new protocol to facilitate citizen involvement in climate adaption and policy creation, and guide climate data collection that is relevant for local communities.

[i] Dai A (2013a) Increasing drought under global warming in observations and models. Nat Clim Change 3(1):52–58; Seager R, Naik N, Vecchi GA (2010) Thermodynamic and dynamic mechanisms for large-scale changes in the hydrological cycle in response to global warming. J Clim 23(17):4651–4668
[ii] Plan Estatal de Desarollo 2016-2022. DR. Gobierno del Estado de Aguascalinetes, 2017
[iii] Programa De Desarrollo Urbano De La Ciudad De Aguascalientes 2040 Ciudad Que Evoluciona: Instituto Municipal De Planeación, Implan, 2015
[iv] Plan De Desarrollo Municipal 2017-2019. Aguascalientes, El Corazón De México. H. Ayuntamiento del Municipio de Aguascalientes. Primera Edición, Marzo de 2017
[v] Programa De Desarrollo Urbano De La Ciudad De Aguascalientes 2040 Ciudad Que Evoluciona: Instituto Municipal De Planeación, Implan, 2015

Julia Flor Branco is a Masters student in the City and Regional Planning department at UC Berkeley. Her interests are in environmental planning and housing issues in the U.S. and Latin America. Her research has been supported by a Tinker Field Research Grant from the Center for Latin American Studies.

 

 

 

Posted in Berkeley Student, Mexico | Leave a comment

A North American road to the middle class

By Harley Shaiken and Representative Sander Levin (D-MICH.) 

This article originally appeared as an op-ed in The Hill on September 28th, 2018.

A man in Nikes walks in Buenos Aires in front of “NAFTA” graffiti. (Photo by Woody Wood.)

Now that Canada has joined a revised North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), renamed the US-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), we must not lose sight of the central problem that any new accord must address: the outsourcing of U.S. industrial jobs to Mexico’s system of suppressed wages. There have been efforts by some to dismiss or downgrade this issue and by others to focus on less central concerns relating to trade with Mexico. Any new agreement that fails to directly and forcefully address this issue of labor rights will only lock-in the status quo for many more years to come.

For proof, you need look no further than San Luis Potosí, an emerging hub of industrial production in central Mexico. Eight hundred workers there make tires at a state-of-the-art Goodyear plant. But here’s where the promise for prosperity takes a detour around most Mexicans. These workers have a compliant union and a so-called “protection agreement.” They earn about $1.50 an hour for a 9-hour shift with anemic benefits, hardly a route to the middle class.

On April 24, they walked off the job because of dangerous conditions and a promised raise that wound up being only 50 cents a day. That’s right, 50 cents a day! Fifty-seven leaders were promptly fired. One of us (Rep. Levin) met with fired leaders last month in San Luis Potosí and heard their disturbing grievances.

Down the road, 1,500 workers at a Continental Tire plant have an all-too-rare independent democratic union. They earn almost five times the Goodyear wage—$6 an hour—for an 8-hour shift, with far more generous benefits.

Mexican workers today can’t make a free choice between these two alternatives. They risk being fired and blacklisted or far worse. The overwhelming majority of the tens of thousands of labor agreements in Mexico are “protection agreements”, which are signed by an organization controlled by the ruling party of the government and which workers have never seen, signed or voted on. The result isn’t simply low wages, but an entrenched industrial policy of suppressed wages.

Let’s not forget the flip side of suppressed wages is low purchasing power, which not only harms workers and their families, but throttles economic growth. Moreover, in a highly integrated economy, suppressed wages in San Luis Potosí push down on wages in Akron, Indianapolis and Long Beach, and provide a magnetic attraction for new investment.

An abandoned factory in Indianapolis. (Photo by Chris Ley.)

NAFTA was supposed to change all this when it went into effect in 1994, but instead it supercharged the problem. Trade has soared since then, but labor rights promises evaporated before the ink on the agreement was dry. Instead, NAFTA locked in a dysfunctional labor system for the next quarter century that’s led to an $80 billion trade deficit with Mexico in the auto sector.

Mexican workers have produced more and earned less under NAFTA. Manufacturing productivity rose by 60 percent between 1994 and 2011—an impressive achievement—while real wages dropped 20 percent and continue to slide. This was not necessary to compete in this key sector with China, but rather to lure industry from the U.S. to Mexico.

Mexicans overwhelmingly elected a reform-minded government this July that offers the promise of restoring rights for Mexican workers, thereby helping to protect conditions for workers in the U.S. and Canada. The new president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, doesn’t take office until Dec. 1 but a new Mexican Senate, which his party dominates, has already been seated. On Sept. 20, the new Mexican Senate unanimously ratified ILO Convention 98 on the “Right to Organize and Collective Bargaining”, which the International Trade Union Congress (ITUC) has hailed as a “major victory for Mexican Workers.”

Although this move is a positive sign, much remains to be done. Mexico passed a constitutional amendment last year outlining important new rights for workers but the critical implementing legislation went backwards in the previous Senate. New legislation has yet to be drafted in the new Senate and what will happen once this takes place is unknown. While intentions are clearly good, absent clear benchmarks and effective enforcement, large elements of the status quo once again could be locked in for decades, especially given the buzz saw of opposition to real change from entrenched interests.

It is therefore imperative that any new NAFTA agreement provide clearly for the prompt termination of the tens of thousands of protection contracts now in place in Mexico starting with the critical auto sector, ensure that all workers can have real representation at the bargaining table, and provide a transparent, enforceable process for carrying out these vital objectives.

The new agreement needs to lay the basis for a growing continental middle class with independent unions vital for vibrant democratic societies across North America. History has shown that an important way to protect U.S. workers is to protect Mexican workers and the other way around. We need a North American road to the middle class, not expanded exit ramps.

From left to right: Gladys Cisneros of the Solidarity Center, Professor Harley Shaiken and Professor Emerita Beatriz Manz of UC Berkeley, and Representative Sander Levin in Mexico City.

Sander Levin is a senior member on the House Ways and Means Committee. Harley Shaiken is a professor at the University of California Berkeley specializing in labor and the global economy. They recently returned from Mexico.

 

Posted in Mexico | Leave a comment

The Migrant Caravan and the Midterms

This entry originally appeared as a Letter to the Editor in the October 23, 2018 issue of the New York Times.

Readers argue that the G.O.P. is stoking fear and demonizing immigrants rather than taking steps to actually address the issue.

By Beatriz Manz

Military controlled displaced people’s camp in Guatemala, 1983. (Photo by Beatriz Manz.)

Re “Trump Escalates Use of Migrants as Election Ploy”:

To the Editor:

While President Trump continues to demonize migrants from Central America, why do we so seldom hear about the causes of this migration north? During the wars in the 1980s, the United States government spent billions of dollars in support of murderous dictators while creating devastation that left tens of thousand dead, millions displaced internally, more than a hundred thousand refugees in Mexico and shattered societies. The lasting legacy is violence, corruption and impunity.

Instead of rebuilding what we destroyed, the Trump administration now threatens the little aid those countries get, reportedly $500 million last year.

Common sense would tell us that what Central American countries need is economic aid. The overwhelming aid that Central America is getting now is billions of dollars every year from remittances sent by immigrants. This aid is all that stands in the way of social and economic collapse.

The United States is at full employment, and these immigrants are clearly contributing to this strong economy. We have a moral responsibility to aid innocent victims of disastrously misguided previous policies. If diminishing immigration is the goal, there is no better way than rebuilding these societies starting now.

Beatriz Manz
Berkeley, California.

BEATRIZ MANZ is Professor Emerita at the University of California, Berkeley, and served as Chair of the Center for Latin American Studies (CLAS) from 1992-1998 as well as Chair of the Ethnic Studies department from 2006-2009. Her research is focused on contemporary Mayan communities in Guatemala. She has had a long-term interest in human rights and justice and has been involved with several international, governmental, and non-governmental institutions, such as the UNHCR, UNDP, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, Oxfam, and the Center for Justice and Accountability.  

 

 

 

Posted in Guatemala | Leave a comment

Susan Meiselas: Berkeley and Beyond

By Lesdi Goussen

A postcard from Susan Meiselas’ 2018 exhibition at SF MOMA depicting her photograph “Las balas (The bullets)…” (Photo by CLAS staff).

On the eve of the inauguration of her retrospective exhibition “Mediations”- currently on view at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art- Susan Meiselas travelled back to Nicaragua where she took the image “SOS Nicaragua: The bullets…” in June of 2018.

Depicting a graffitied cement wall with the words “SOS Nicaragua,” next to an unknown man with a t-shirt over his face who writes, “las balas (the bullets)…” in bright orange spray paint, the image confronts us with an ad-hoc, self-proclaimed call for help that is unfolding and unfinished. Like the phrase “las balas…”, which is left to be translated by an ellipsis, Nicaragua finds itself in a precarious present that is characterized by omissions, disappearances, and silence. Reminding us of the many images that Meiselas took of the Nicaraguan Revolution in the late 1970s, this image stands at the crosswords of history. I chose this image, as Meiselas did, to illustrate the ongoing dedication that is at the core of her practice – as a mediator, an activist and ultimately, as a photographer.

In this context, the Center of Latin American Studies and the Arts Research Center had the pleasure of hosting Susan Meiselas on the UC Berkeley campus for a series of talks and events perambulating her retrospective exhibition at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

Susan Meiselas joins Berkeley students and faculty for lunch at CLAS. (Photo by CLAS staff.)

The first of these events took place on a Friday afternoon in the Center of Latin American Studies where faculty and students from across the campus gathered around a table for an intimate and informal lunch with Susan Meiselas. During our lunch hour, the topic of Nicaragua was immediately foregrounded. Having recently returned from Nicaragua, Meiselas spoke openly about the current social and political crisis taking place in country, and the ways in which today’s conditions relate back to her work in the late 1970s.

Infuriated by the lack of media attention that the Nicaraguan crisis has received in the United States, Meiselas explained the purpose of converting her photograph, “SOS Nicaragua: The bullets…” into a postcard that was meant to be disseminated and circulated at her exhibition. For Meiselas this was a small but calculated effort to bring awareness and visibility to the repression that the Nicaraguan people are again facing.

In the days that followed, the topic of mediation was further elaborated on during a film screening and conversation between Susan Meiselas and the Nicaraguan writer and poet Gioconda Belli at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

Commencing with Meiselas’ film, made in collaboration with Marc Karlin, Voyages centers the photographer’s voice through a thread of narrated letters that were written during her time in Nicaragua in the late 1970s. The juxtaposition between Meiselas’ photographs and letters capture her emotional processes as she beings to think critically about her role as a photographer in a country at the precipice of war.

Setting the tone for the conversation that followed, Voyages took on new valence in the context of Nicaragua’s contemporary crisis. Responding to the film, Gioconda Belli began by remarking on the temporal and emotional dissonance one experiences when coming to terms with the ultimate failure of the revolution- seen today in the guise of the Ortega-Murillo regime. With several Nicaraguan viewers in the audience- including myself- the tone of room was melancholic and full of disillusionment.

With no knowing how today’s crisis will pan out, Belli spoke not only of grief and mourning but also of resistance. She reminded us of the many ways in which the Nicaraguan people continue to speak out, fight back and resist dictatorial violence, despite the terror that grips the country. During the conversation, Belli thanked Meiselas for her ongoing efforts to represent and document a history that may very well have been lost. For Belli, Meiselas’ mediation sets the precedent for a type of solidarity that makes oneself an active participant, included – to some degree – into the body politic of resistance.

Iterations of Susan Meiselas’ “Molotov Man” at SF MOMA, 2018. (Photo by Torbak Hopper.)

After a weekend in San Francisco, Meiselas joined us once again on the Berkeley campus, where she gave a talk about her retrospective exhibition, “Mediations,” through the Arts Research Center, co-sponsored by the Center for Latin American Studies.  While the topic of Nicaragua had been centered in the preceding days, Meiselas spoke broadly about her larger body of work included in the exhibition. Spanning the breadth of her career, “Mediations” includes work from her carnival strippers series from the 1970s, to the civil wars in Nicaragua and El Salvador in the late 1970s and early 1980s, as well as her ongoing work on the Kurdish genocide.

Joined by UC Berkeley Professors Natalia Brizuela and Leigh Raiford, Meiselas spoke candidly about her discomfort with labels and expectations around documentary photography. As signaled by the title of her exhibition, the concept of mediation lies at the core of Meiselas’ practice. Suspended in the in-betweenness of difference, Meiselas’ work is informed by the ongoing process of negotiating her role as an American photographer whose privilege, ability, and fluidity allow her take up a position that is unachievable for her subjects. As part of this reflexive positionality, Meiselas elaborated on the politics of seeing and the ethics surrounding visuality present in her work. As Meiselas puts it, “The ethics of seeing, are the ethics of caring.”

Susan Meiselas presents at UC Berkeley. (Photo by CLAS staff.)

Tied in with these critical perspectives is her relentless commitment to places and people, as she continues to go back to the sites in which her images were taken. For Meiselas, this is much more of a relationship than an objective imposition, or documentation of an event or subject.

“SOS Nicaragua: The bullets…” underscores the type of relationship and commitment implicit in Meiselas’ work. It is through this type of engagement that we are able to see the insidious ways in which history has iterative tendencies- as not to become disillusioned but rather remember the work we must continue to do, as we negotiate our positionalities and bear witness to our times. I would like to thank Susan Meiselas for giving us an access point into this conversation- especially today, as the situation in Nicaragua continues to precariously unfold.

 

LESDI GOUSSEN is a PhD student in the History of Art department. She studies mid-20th century Latin American art in a transatlantic context, focusing on the exchanges taking place between Latin America, Europe, and the United States. Framed within this context, her work primarily looks at the development and dissemination of Central American aesthetics from the 1950s through the aftermath of the Central American crisis in the 1990s, a time marked by armed conflict, US intervention, and revolutionary struggle within several countries. Working alongside a range of fields, Lesdi’s research interests include women of color feminisms, Latinx studies, postcolonial theory, and decoloniality.

 

 

 

Posted in Nicaragua | Leave a comment

Corra pro Abraço: A Harm Reduction Approach to Challenging the Punitive and Racialized Management of Poverty in Brazil

By Maria-Fátima Santos 

Corra program operators and participants in Salvador, Bahia. (Photo courtesy of SJDHDS/GovBA Photo Collection.)

A Pioneering Harm Reduction Program in Bahia State

Entirely coordinated by Black women since its inception in 2013, Corra Pro Abraço (Corra) is one of the first state-funded harm reduction programs in Brazil. Literally translating as “Run to the Embrace,” the program’s mission is to support drug users, people living on the streets, and youth who live or circulate in spaces impacted by high rates of violence. Established in the Northeastern state of Bahia, Corra is funded by the state’s Secretary of Justice, Human Rights, and Social Development (SJDHDS) and operated in partnership with CRIA—a non-profit organization based on a pedagogical model of art and education. Operating both on the streets and in central city courthouses, Corra takes a unique harm reduction approach to engaging with vulnerable populations that challenges the dominant logic of state institutions that penalize poverty, vulnerability, and ethno-racial marginality.

I first came into contact with “Corra” (as many community members fondly call it) through my research in Salvador, Bahia, where I was conducting field observations in the city’s Núcleo de Prisão em Flagrante—the courthouse where all those arrested em flagrante (“in the act”) in the city are taken to a judge to determine whether they will be released or held in confinement until summoned for trial. Corra program operators have a permanent office in the courthouse and play a crucial role in structurally challenging a judicial process that presumes the association of social vulnerability and poverty with criminality.

The association of blackness with criminality is especially glaring within the courthouses of Salvador, home to the largest population of Afro-descendants outside of Africa. The overwhelming majority of defendants who face trial identify as black or pardo (“mixed race”), as does the majority of Salvador’s population overall. In stark contrast, however, these defendants face a courtroom of legal authorities—from prosecutors, to defense attorneys and judges—who are predominantly white or lighter skinned.

Corra program operators and participants in Salvador, Bahia. (Photos courtesy of SJDHDS/GovBA Photo Collection.)

Poverty and its intersection with other markers of social marginality—unemployment, substance abuse, and homelessness—increase the risk of pre-trial confinement. Those who cannot prove they have a fixed residence face a high chance of being kept in jail for months before being summoned to trial, even in the cases of alleged offenses that are non-violent or when individuals are arrested for possessing drug quantities more consistent with use (the latter no longer punished with prison time if actually convicted). However, the presence of Corra within the actual courthouse where these bond hearings are held has proposed an alternative: in some cases, judges may decide to release the defendant on the condition that they are connected with Corra Pro Abraço.

Comprised of teams of social workers, educators, sociologists, medical practitioners, psychologists, and legal advisors, Corra facilitates understanding and access to a network of basic services and resources in the areas of health, education, social services, and justice. Additionally, operators draw from methodologies and expressive mediums in the areas of art and education as means of individual and collective social transformation. Through music, theater, and creative workshops, the program’s mission entails crucial political work: to foster individual and collective empowerment among members to understand and insist on their “right to have rights.”

The program takes a unique harm reduction approach to engaging with vulnerable populations and facilitating access to those whose marks of social stigma have systematically denied them access to basic social services. As the director of Corra’s Núcleo de Prisão em Flagrante, Lucinéia Rocha, explains, “We understand that several different forms of social vulnerability are tied to drug use and abuse, so we start from a perspective that considers harm reduction to be as much about enhancing individuals’ access to services as it is about direct engagement related to the drug. In addition to the work we do in the courthouse and on the street, we also run workshops in the Casa [the program’s “home” building]. Some workshops are specifically on drug abuse, but we also have sections on human rights, racism, gender, and sexuality, in ways that bring this content to a political discussion and familiarizes them with our networks. We recognize that there is no way to actually reduce harm without talking about access and human rights.”

Corra program operators and participants in Salvador, Bahia. (Photos courtesy of SJDHDS/GovBA Photo Collection.)

Coordinators recognize Corra’s many social achievements in just a short time, while also pointing to daily struggles in destabilizing the dominant association of social vulnerability with criminality. “For those who are on conditional release prior to their trial date, they still have to show up to the courthouse every month to sign their name and get updated on the status of their case. Many of our program participants are afraid that if they show up they will automatically be put behind bars, others literally do not have enough money to pay for the bus ticket to get there, or they do not have the clothes that are recognized as appropriate for entering a courthouse. But, if they don’t show up, then the judge will order that they be put in pre-trial confinement…There are many barriers to accessing ‘real justice.’ We reach out to our networks, in this case the public defender, and they speak with the judge. Some judges have come to respect our work and listen to our concerns, but others…well, they just don’t want to hear it.”

Amidst a social context in which the majority of citizens consistently demand harsher responses to crime, the program poses both a direct and structural challenge to the harms done to socially vulnerable populations, who are perceived as “criminals,” while in fact they are among those most directly impacted by the pervasive violence in the region.

Violence, drugs, and the punitive management of poor and black Brazilians

As of 2018, amidst the 50 most violent cities in the world, Brazil was featured more than any other country, with 17 cities making the list.[1] National and international human rights organizations persistently emphasize concerns of widespread violence characterized by disputes tied to organized crime, police abuse, and extrajudicial mass killings in poor urban neighborhoods, gruesomely violent prisons, and legislation that provides significant protection to the army’s unlawful killing of citizens. Poor, black, and socially disadvantaged urban communities comprise those most directly impacted by the violence that plagues the region.

Corra program operators and participants in Salvador, Bahia. (Photos courtesy of SJDHDS/GovBA Photo Collection.)

Illicit narcotics commerce and militarized enforcement of anti-narcotics legislation are among a complex constellation of factors that have shaped Brazil’s sky-high rates of violence, which are also shaped by political instability and corruption, the organic relationship between the state and organized crime, and a deeply entrenched history of state institutions treating the poor and black citizens as enemies.

Backed by political discourses associating soaring rates of violence with organized crime, Brazil’s expanding and militarizing police forces have aggressively—and very selectively—targeted narcotics possession in particular. Brazil has since seen its most accelerated incarceration boom, with a dramatic increase in the percentage of those incarcerated under allegations of drug trafficking. With 683,000 individuals behind bars in 2018, Brazil incarcerates more than any other country in Latin America, and ranks third largest worldwide (surpassed only by the U.S. and China). One third of arrestees are confined for drug-related offenses, and among incarcerated women more specifically, violations of Brazil’s Drug Law comprise a staggering 65 percent of arrestees. [2]

Incarceration has proven to be a blatantly ineffective tool for remedying the violence associated with illicit narcotics commerce. Instead, it has actively contributed to reinforcing the association of criminality with poverty and marginalized ethno-racial groups. The majority of those arrested for alleged narcotics distribution are neither the primary operators nor benefactors of highly lucrative illicit drug markets. Instead, those flooding dismal and overcrowded jails and prisons are addicts, “drug mules,” or low-level street dealers trying to support their own addiction, and who come from the most socially disadvantaged segments of Brazilian society. [3]

Corra program operators and participants in Salvador, Bahia. (Photos courtesy of SJDHDS/GovBA Photo Collection.)

Importantly, Brazil’s 2006 National Drug Law revoked prison time as punishment for illicit narcotics use for the first time in the country since the 1940s. This law opened up the possibility to develop alternative and non-punitive initiatives for illicit drug users. However, few programs exist to actually provide such alternatives for the poor and socially marginalized, who are systematically denied access to basic social services and continue to be thrown behind bars under allegations of narcotics trafficking.

In reality, scholarship has shown that illicit narcotics commerce successfully operates through a complex and interdependent relationship between powerful Brazilian comando organizations and the state, [4] which simultaneously incarcerates the citizens it neglects.

Among the glaring exceptions to the Brazilian state’s punitive approach to the poor and marginalized Brazilians is Corra Pro Abraço. Corra presents a generative model for understanding the complex conditions of social vulnerability, structurally challenging the punitive logic of the state, and embarking on both the practical and subjective work involved to transform the relationship between marginalized citizens and the state.

Corra program operators and participants in Salvador, Bahia. (Photos courtesy of SJDHDS/GovBA Photo Collection.)

For more information on Corra pro Abraço, please contact comunicacaocorra@gmail.com

[1] Mexico Citizen’s Council for Public Security’s Annual Ranking. 2018.
[2] Departamento Penitenciário Nacional (DEPEN). 2014. Levantamento Nacional de Informações Penitenciárias. Brasilia: Ministério da Justiça.
[3] Boiteux, L. 2011. “Drugs and Prisons: The Repression of Drugs and the Increase of the Brazilian Penitentiary Population,” Systems Overload-Drug Laws and Prisons in Latin America. Amsterdam/Washington: Transnational Institute/Washington Office Latin America, pp. 30-8.
[4] Arias, Enrique Desmond. 2006. Drugs and Democracy in Rio de Janeiro: Trafficking, Social Networks and Public Security. University of North Carolina Press.

Maria-Fátima Santos is a PhD candidate in the Department of Sociology at the University of California, Berkeley. Her research focuses on the state, violence, law, and development and transnational drug control in Latin America. Her MA research studied a state-wide initiative to modernize the prison system of Brazil’s Espírito Santo State and its implications for understanding the features and functions of incarceration in Brazil. Her dissertation research turns to analyze the work of public defenders in criminal drug courts, which reveals the workings of Brazil’s criminal courts at the ground level. She was previously a Berkeley Empirical Legal Studies Fellow at the Center for the Study of Law and Society, and her research has been supported by the Center for Latin American Studies (CLAS), Institute of International Studies, U.S. Fulbright, and the Social Science Research Council. Contact: fsantos@berkeley.edu

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Berkeley Student, Brazil | Leave a comment