Enhancing Zapotec Language Revitalization through Discussion

By Julia Nee

A mother dekerneling corn, submitted by a Zapotec language learner as part of a Photovoice project where students were asked to take a picture of “what speaking Zapotec means to me.” (Photo courtesy of Julia Nee).

In Teotitlán del Valle in southern Mexico, there are many people who desire to use and promote Zapotec, the indigenous language currently spoken by about 3,600 of the town’s 5,600 inhabitants. Although oppressive historical, political, and economic forces have pushed some Teotitecos to shift towards Spanish monolingualism and the opportunities for social and economic advancement that proficiency in Spanish offer, both parents and children continue to fight for the right and ability to learn and use the Zapotec language. As an elementary school student of Zapotec explained, using the language is an important part of maintaining cultural continuity across generations; speaking Zapotec “[es] respetar lo que nos dejaron los antepasados, por eso quiero seguile hablando y enseñarles a mis hermanos.

To support community desire for the continued and strengthened presence of Zapotec in the community, I have been collaborating with the municipal government, community language committee, and public library in Teotitlán to host Zapotec language camps for kids in August and January each year. We use a communication-based instructional approach in the classroom paired with excursions around town to carry out task-based learning where students engage in Zapotec conversations with native speakers using the language we’ve practiced in the classroom. For example, in one lesson, students learn the names of local plants and animals and how to ask questions like, “What’s that?” and “Where is the lizard?” before taking a hike to the top of the nearby mountain Picacho with their parents and Zapotec speakers where they complete an “I Spy” activity, locating and naming the plants and animals we’ve been discussing in class.

Picacho mountain, with Teotitlán’s Catholic Church and pre-Hispanic temple in the foreground. (Photo by Julia Nee).

These days, language revitalization initiatives like those in Teotitlán are being developed around the world, but the theories of language learning and teaching, as well as methods for evaluating student learning within the unique contexts of language revitalization, are still being developed. One place where those involved in developing and implementing language revitalization projects come together to share ideas is the International Conference on Language Documentation and Conservation (ICLDC), hosted at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa. With the support of the Center for Latin American Studies’ Indigenous Languages of Latin America (ILLA) Travel Fund, I was able to present the work that we have been doing in Teotitlán at ICLDC in 2019.

This year, ICLDC had a special focus on the topic of “connecting communities, languages & technology,” which brought experts on language documentation, language revitalization, and technology together into the same space to see how projects from different fields could enhance and support one another. I attended a talk by Mary Hermes, Melissa Engman, and Kevin Roach whose groundbreaking approach to language documentation included conversational participants wearing GoPro cameras on headbands, allowing researchers to not only hear the language used, but also to track participants’ gaze as they spoke with elders and engaged with their physical surroundings. In a workshop led by Dr. Wesley Leonard, Dr. Megan Lukaniec, and Adrienne Tsikewa, I engaged with other language activists to think about the ways in which technology could be reimagined in order to overtly work towards decolonization through language revitalization. We discussed practices like transforming the individualistic nature of interacting, for example, with a smartphone app, into a format like augmented reality that could facilitate intergenerational, interpersonal communication such as might happen between elders and children in traditional contexts. Another talk, by Carmen Jany, addressed considerations of how to deal with code-switching between Spanish and Mixe (another language of southern Mexico) in the process of documenting and revitalizing the language in a way that both validated the language of code-switchers and worked against an overall shift to Spanish language dominance.

The author presenting the Zapotec language camp at ICLDC 6. (Photo courtesy of Julia Nee).

In addition to presenting work on Zapotec, I was able to co-present (alongside Andrew Garrett, Edwin Ko, Zachary O’Hagan, and Ronald Sprouse) new developments in UC Berkeley’s California Language Archive, which houses a wide range of archival materials, including collections on 65 Latin American languages (see the slides from our talk here). Our new user interface allows researchers to curate their own archival collections incrementally, making the process of archiving more efficient and timely. By presenting this new system at ICLDC, we were able to raise awareness and promote the sustainable archiving of documentation on endangered languages so that language activists and researchers of the future will have access to these precious resources.

After four busy days of exchanging ideas, I felt reinvigorated to continue my research on best practices for language revitalization in Teotitlán. The feedback I’d received on the language camps has given me new directions to explore and new methodologies for language teaching that I will be able to use to more effectively engage young Zapotec language learners. Thanks to the support of the ILLA Travel Fund, I have a new set of tools that I learned through the ICLDC conference which I can use in the development of the next Zapotec language camp, planned for August 2019.


JULIA NEE is a PhD candidate in the Linguistics department, with a Designated Emphasis in Indigenous Language Revitalization. After finishing her BA in linguistics at the University of Chicago, she moved to Oaxaca, Mexico to teach English before returning to the U.S. to continue her education. During her time in Mexico, she began to study Teotitlán del Valle Zapotec, an indigenous language spoken outside of Oaxaca City. Her research now centers on language documentation and revitalization within the Zapotec community. 






Posted in Berkeley Student, Indigenous Languages of Latin America Travel Fund, Mexico | 2 Comments

El Sueño Mexicano: Returning Migrant Youth’s Adaptation Experience in Mexico

By Adriana Ramirez

Downtown Oaxaca, Mexico by night. (Photo by Eduardo Robles Pacheco).

Mexican migration in the U.S. is typically perceived to come from the South, as migrants pursue the “American Dream” in the North. My research focuses on the children of migrants who have no agency in their own migration to the U.S. Even at a young age, some of these children form an understanding of their undocumented status because of small signifiers; their parents always get their social security card from a local store, or a coyote coaches them what to say when crossing the border.  I study how the designation or lack of legal citizenship and cultural citizenship influence the identity and belonging of Mexican returning migrant youth through a comparison case study of U.S.-born and Mexican-born youth that “returned” to Oaxaca, Mexico.

The question for migrant youth becomes, “What will my future be in the U.S.?”  Some of the youth I met in Oaxaca this summer, supported by a Tinker Foundation and CLAS-funded research grant, did not dare to “dream” of any future in the U.S. They accepted that their future would be very similar to that of their parents; their employment options limited to the informal sector, like babysitting or domestic work. Yarely[1] stated,“La verdad no pensaba en mi futuro allí, yo pensaba en que trabajo iba yo hacer. Luego más cuando decían que era más difícil para un migrante.” (“Honestly, I did not think of my future there, I thought about what job I was going to do.  Even more so when they said that it was more difficult for a migrant.”)

On the other hand, some took AP or honors courses, climbed to the top of their classes, and received offers from top universities in the hope that they would join their classmates in college. However, they soon realized the “American Dream” was not created for them. This became clear to Julian when he was stopped by immigration officers at the airport and deported to Mexico the following day without any of his belongings. He was getting ready to begin college on a full scholarship, and had received many national awards for his art throughout high school. Like Julian, Manuel described the moment he realized this shift, “I was right on the border and I’m like, ‘Well, this is, this is it for me.’ And looking back I had a dream that hadn’t even started, I’m leaving back a life that I didn’t begin…I took my last breath, and crossed the border [to the Mexico side]. Sad, but knowing that [pauses] that something is going to be waiting for me in the other side [Mexico].” The physical U.S.-Mexico border reflects Manuel’s identity being caught between both cultures and countries, and his “crossing” into a new reality and alternative dreams.

A market in Oaxaca, Mexico. (Photo by Eddy Milfort).

Many students in the U.S. come from mixed status families. Parents’ immigration status has an impact on these youth’s lives and futures in the U.S. Laura, U.S.-born, said her father’s deportation affected her mother’s financial situation, so the only way for Laura to attend college would be to return to Mexico so her father could help with finances. All U.S.-born migrants that I interviewed except for Laura “returned” to Oaxaca when they were less than ten years old. Unlike most of the Mexican-born migrants I interviewed, they did not speak much English nor remember much about life in the U.S. Thus, they were better able to integrate into their new communities in Mexico, but avoided telling people of their U.S. citizenship for fear of being seen as “other.”

Many U.S.-born middle school students in Oaxaca continued to pursue the “American Dream” by planning to return to the U.S. for their high school and college education. They preferred to wait until after middle school to return because English language classes, the only English preparation they would have before migrating back to the US, begins in middle school. Among the older U.S. citizens in Oaxaca there was a strong Mexican identity, and the “American Dream” had little appeal to them. However, both U.S.- and Mexican-born respondents experienced different degrees of double consciousness. [2]

A gathering place outside of a Oaxacan high school. (Photo by Adriana Ramirez).

Both Mexican-born and U.S.-born migrant youth arrive in a country that is supposed to feel like home. For some, this is the country where they were born, for others it is where they have spent most of their lives, or where their family lives. After arrival, the challenge becomes how to incorporate and transform their identity to make sense of themselves in a new context. In Oaxaca, migrant youth dealt with two layers of belonging: feeling and being perceived as Mexican as well as Oaxacan. For many this meant learning or greatly improving their Spanish and/or Zapotec, knowledge and mastery of colloquial terms and albur (double meaning), history, music, and food, among other things. For those who spoke English at home while living in the U.S., incorporation and reconstructing their identity was a greater hurtle because their lack of Mexican or Oaxacan cultural citizenship classified them as gringos. Especially for these returning migrants, forming friendships and high school clubs with other returnees became a crucial part of their adaptation and incorporation process in Oaxaca. Some stated celebrating U.S. holidays like the Fourth of July and Thanksgiving in Oaxaca and continued to speak English with their families and friends.

The majority of these students continue to be caught between both worlds, and to develop a double consciousness similar to what they experienced in the U.S. Even so, these students and returnees are taking an active part in shaping their new environments by becoming English teachers, opening art galleries that welcome global artists, developing progressive ideas about gender roles, and highlighting the complex racial relations not only between the U.S. and Mexico, but within Mexico as well.

[1] Names have been changed to protect the respondent’s identity.
[2] W.E.B. Du Bois. 1903. “Of Our Spiritual Strivings.” The Soul of Black Folks. New York: Modern Library, pp. 7–15.


ADRIANA RAMIREZ is a second year doctoral student and instructor in the Department of Sociology at UC Berkeley.  She studies migration with an emphasis on Mexico; return migration, youth migration, citizenship, and belonging. 





Posted in Berkeley Student, Mexico | Leave a comment

The Quechua Alliance: Promoting and Celebrating Quechua and Andean Culture in the United States

By Ana Lucía Tello

Attendees of the fourth annual Quechua Alliance Meeting. (Photo courtesy of Quechua at Penn).

Spoken by 8-10 million people in the Andes, Quechua is the most widely spoken indigenous language in the Americas, yet it is still considered endangered. As scholars Kendall King and Nancy Hornberger argue, “data from a range of sources indicate that a contraction of Quechua domains and a gradual cessation of intergenerational transmission of the language are well underway”.[1] According to Marcial Mamani, a native Quechua speaker from Coporaque, Peru, his children refuse to learn the indigenous language to avoid being bullied at school. Even though in Marcial’s hometown, older generations keep their native language alive, children speak mostly Spanish, since it is considered more prestigious.[2]

Aiming to promote and celebrate Quechua and Andean culture in the United States, the Quechua Alliance organizes an annual event with cultural activities, workshops, presentations, and discussions. The one-day gathering is open not only to the academic community, but to all Quechua language enthusiasts. Thanks to the Indigenous Languages of Latin America (ILLA) Travel Fund from the Center for Latin American Studies at UC Berkeley, I attended the 2018 Quechua Alliance Meeting, held at the University of Pennsylvania on November 17th, 2018. Being my first time at the event, I was thrilled by the overwhelming response to it: attendees included entire families, community leaders, college students, and professors from all over the country. Representing the Bay Area, there was the academic community from UC Berkeley, Stanford University and Saint Mary’s College of California.    

Lis Arevalo and Florencia Orlandoni’s workshop on Quechua testimonio. (Photo by Ana Tello).

The 2018 Quechua Alliance Meeting opened with the q’oa, that is, a ceremony honoring the Pachamama or Mother Earth. In Quechua and Andean culture, it is a tradition to perform a ritual offering and request of the Pachamama the first Friday of every month and on special occasions. It is considered an act of reciprocity with Mother Earth. The q’oa was followed by a series of workshops and presentations, which took place at three separate rooms.

First, I attended Emily Thompson’s presentation on her English-Quechua-Spanish dictionary, which she worked on for over six years with Odi Gonzales and Christine Mladic Janney. Thompson, who currently works at UC Berkeley CLAS, discussed the challenges of providing English and Spanish equivalents to complex Quechua concepts such as pacha. Then, I listened to Jermani Ojeda’s presentation on short radio programs in Quechua. Through podcasts, Ojeda shares stories of the lives of Andean communities, and celebrates a medium -the radio- that has played a fundamental role in communities where writing is secondary. Finally, I participated in Lis Arévalo and Florencia Orlandoni’s workshop on Quechua testimonio. They displayed excerpts from Gregorio Condori Mamani’s autobiography as well as discussion questions, and participants reacted to the experiences with messages and drawings.

After these sessions, attendees enjoyed lunch while listening to the music of hip hop artist Liberato Kani. Through his music, Liberato Kani celebrates Quechua language and culture, and protests against the long history of exclusion and violence against indigenous populations across the Americas. Afternoon activities included a homage to Elva Ambía, founder of the Quechua Collective of New York, and a panel with special guest Mirian Masaquiza, UN official of the Secretariat of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues.

Mirian Masaquiza, UN official of the Secretariat of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues speaks at the Quechua Alliance Meeting. (Photo courtesy of Quechua at Penn).

Participating in the 2018 Quechua Alliance Meeting motivated me to continue my studies of the language and helped me to find new resources. Even though I have been very fortunate to receive grants that have allowed me to make progress with the language, practicing it during the academic year has been challenging due to the limited resources on campus. However, attending the event gave me the opportunity to connect with people interested in both Quechua language and Andean culture, and to learn from their experiences. Finally, being a graduate student with teaching responsibilities, the 2018 Quechua Alliance Meeting introduced me to new methods and pedagogies in language teaching.

A story on the 2018 Quechua Alliance Meeting was included in Ñuqanchik, the first news show in Quechua broadcasted in Peruvian television.

[1] King, Kendall A, and Nancy H. Hornberger. “Introduction. Why a special issue about Quechua?” International Journal of the Sociology of Language, no. 167, 2004, pp. 1-8.
[2] “El quechua muere de vergüenza”. El Comercio, 6 November 2010, http://elcomercio.pe/peru/665065/noticia-quechua-muere-verguenza-peru. Accessed 15 May 2012.


ANA LUCIA TELLO is a PhD student in the department of Spanish and Portuguese at UC Berkeley. Ana Lucía holds an MA in Spanish from the University of Virginia and a BA in Hispanic Literature from the Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú. Her main research interests include
capitalism, labor, and resistance in indigenous communities, and memory and performance, especially in the Andean region.






Posted in Berkeley Student, Indigenous Languages of Latin America Travel Fund | Leave a comment

A tempestade perfeita de Bolsonaro no Brasil: do eleitor indignado ao voto na ultradireita

Por Carolina Botelho

Read this entry in English here.

Manifestação todos com Bolsonaro. (Foto por Gabriela Felin).

A vitória de Jair Bolsonaro na disputa à presidência da República no Brasil surpreendeu muitos analistas em todo o mundo. Ainda candidato, o ex-capitão do exército fez uma campanha com elogios à ditadura militar brasileira e à tortura, criticou movimentos sociais, grupos de minorias e desdenhou de diferentes conquistas dos direitos civis e sociais dos últimos trinta anos. Como candidato a vice-presidente, escolheu o general do exército Hamilton Mourão, que poucos dias antes do pleito fez declarações públicas de que seria a favor de um “auto-golpe”, caso fosse necessário.

Atualmente, muito se discute sobre a emergência e o fortalecimento de uma suposta onda conservadora em diferentes países do mundo, tendência esta que teria contribuído para a vitória de lideranças de ultradireita também no Brasil. No entanto, não recorrerei a esse fenômeno para analisar a vitória de Bolsonaro. Proponho neste artigo chamar atenção para algumas questões que merecem destaque e que repousam sobre o ambiente político e econômico do Brasil nesta ocasião. Recorro também à ideia de que essa eleição, tal como qualquer outra, é um fenômeno amplo e multidimensional, portanto possui muitas explicações. Utilizarei, principalmente, resultados de pesquisas de percepção do brasileiro do monitoramento Pulso Brasil, da Ipsos Public Affairs. Também serão citados alguns dados complementares do Instituto Ideia BigData, Datafolha, Ibope, IBGE, Tesouro Nacional, Banco Central e Banco Mundial.

Presidente Jair Bolsonaro durante uma sessão plenária. (Foto por Edilson Rodrigues/Agência Senado).

Candidato da mudança?

Jair Bolsonaro não é um político inexperiente, nem novo no Congresso, mas conseguiu catalisar para si a indignação e as frustrações de milhares de brasileiros impactados pela crise política e as graves consequências de um cenário de catástrofe econômica.

A trajetória parlamentar do ex-capitão do Exército é longa, sempre aliada a políticos tradicionais no Brasil. Embora tenha atravessado um longo período no parlamento, a sua produtividade legislativa tem pouco destaque. Ao longo dessas quase três décadas, apesar de fazer uma campanha eleitoral baseada num discurso anticorrupção e pró-segurança pública, teve escasso trabalho parlamentar, aprovando apenas dois projetos de lei em defesa de categorias militares, das quais faz parte. Nada mais se encontra em sua produção legislativa, nem em defesa do combate à corrupção, tampouco a respeito de políticas de segurança pública. O trabalho pouco significativo permitiu que passasse incólume na agenda política brasileira.

Apesar disso, observando em retrospecto a trajetória política do ex-capitão e a despeito do discurso baseado em um compromisso moralizador para a sociedade e contra a corrupção, esteve filiado ao longo de sua trajetória como deputado a partidos muito afetados por denúncias de corrupção, como PP (onde esteve de 2005 a 2016, o partido com mais denunciados e condenados na operação Lava Jato, tendo entre seus expoentes Paulo Maluf), PTB (do deputado Roberto Jefferson, condenado na Lava Jato), além de partidos como PSC, PFL, PPR, PDC e PPB (antiga sigla do atual PP). Foi somente em 2018, no limite do prazo para se candidatar à disputa presidencial, que se filiou ao atual partido, o PSL (Partido Social Liberal).

Por que então Bolsonaro conseguiu capitalizar para si o discurso da mudança e contra a corrupção já que sua trajetória como parlamentar esteve ligada a partidos condenados em processos judiciais de corrupção, sem falar nas denúncias da imprensa sobre seu acúmulo pessoal de bens? Sugiro em seguida algumas informações que merecem ser destacadas e que respondem a essa questão.

Plenário do Senado Federal durante sessão deliberativa ordinária. (Foto por Jonas Pereira/Agência Senado).

Cenário pré-eleitoral

O Brasil vive, há quatro anos, um longo período de grave crise econômica, com alta taxa de desemprego e um pronunciado desequilíbrio fiscal. Acompanhando uma queda do PIB mais longa e profunda que a da Grande Depressão, o desemprego disparou em 2015 e 2016, no segundo mandato da presidente Dilma Rousseff, sucessora de Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, ambos do mesmo partido, o PT. Lula completou seu segundo mandato em 2010 com recorde de popularidade e conseguiu que Dilma fosse eleita. Ela seria reeleita em 2014, mas sofreria impeachment em 2016 por infringir regras fiscais, após perder popularidade e apoio parlamentar devido à recessão e aos escândalos de corrupção que atingiram a petroleira estatal, membros de seu governo e o ex-presidente Lula, que seria preso em abril de 2018. O vice-presidente Michel Temer, do PMDB, que acompanhara Dilma na chapa duas vezes eleita, assumiu o poder em maio de 2016. Sua agenda de reformas econômicas foi interrompida por novos escândalos de corrupção e, enquanto o PIB iniciou uma lenta recuperação (cresceu 1% em 2017), o desemprego cedeu pouco, mantendo-se ainda ao redor de 12%. Temer ostenta um recorde de impopularidade quase imbatível no mundo: o percentual que o considera ótimo ou bom é tão baixo quanto as margens de erro das pesquisas de opinião.

Em 2014, iniciou-se no Brasil, por parte do Ministério Público, Polícia Federal e Judiciário, uma série de investigações e operações de combate à corrupção, lideradas pela Operação Lava Jato. Essa operação foi responsável por investigar e condenar uma série de lideranças políticas dos partidos tradicionais, com destaque para PP, PMDB e PT, mas atingindo também PSDB, PTB e muitos outros dos mais de 30 partidos em atividade no país. Para agravar mais o mal-estar da população, a segurança pública piorou de forma bastante acentuada. Em 2017, houve no Brasil cerca de 60 mil homicídios. Numa compilação realizada pelo Banco Mundial em 2017, entre outros 181 países, 94,5% possuem taxas de homicídios por cem mil habitantes menores que a brasileira. A sociedade, cada vez mais prejudicada pela crise econômica e indignada com as denúncias de corrupção que vinham à tona, já dava sinais de que esperava por mudanças.

Presidentes Dilma Rousseff e Michel Temer durante a posse de Dilma Rousseff. (Foto por Jefferson Rudy/Agência Senado).

Percepção do brasileiro sobre os políticos e o rumo do país

As pesquisas sobre percepção do eleitor no Brasil convergiam para direções parecidas. Mais de 80% dos brasileiros passaram a considerar a presidente Dilma como “ruim” ou “péssima” em outubro de 2015, contrastando com 20% menos de um ano antes. Os principais problemas citados pelos brasileiros eram o desemprego e a corrupção, seguidos pela violência e a preocupação com a saúde pública. Assim, a permanência da Operação Lava Jato “custe o que custar” foi defendida por 90% a 96% dos entrevistados na pesquisa e em todos os levantamentos realizados de 2016 a 2018.

O brasileiro demonstrava insatisfação com o governo, assim como uma descrença e falta de identificação com os políticos eleitos. Ainda sim, Lula, mesmo preso, liderava todas as pesquisas eleitorais até um mês antes das eleições, quando Fernando Haddad foi anunciado em seu lugar como candidato do PT. A popularidade de Lula não foi totalmente transferida a Haddad, mas a rejeição ao PT foi.

Nos monitoramentos que vão de 2017 ao período pré-eleitoral, mais de 90% dos entrevistados afirmam que os políticos atuais não os representam. Nem mesmo os políticos em que os próprios entrevistados votaram nas últimas eleições os representam segundo mais de 80% dos respondentes. Além disso, 55% dos entrevistados não votariam novamente no mesmo candidato em que votaram nas últimas eleições para presidente, 63% afirmavam que a corrupção é o tema que mais os angustia e 30% pretendiam votar em algum candidato fora da política tradicional nas próximas eleições para presidente.

Enquanto as instituições políticas são alvo de ampla rejeição, as que gozam de maior credibilidade – ainda que limitada perante o que se observa mundo afora – são a Igreja (61%), os militares (46%) e os juízes (42%). Os sentimentos predominantes sobre o futuro do país, que eram de “otimismo” ou “entusiasmo” para 60% dos brasileiros na primeira eleição de Dilma, já haviam se convertido em “revolta” ou “preocupação” de quase 80% às vésperas de seu impeachment, chegando a 90% no governo Temer. Se em 2010 mais de 80% dos pesquisados consideravam certo o rumo que o país vinha tomando, os que viam um rumo errado chegaram a 93% em 2015 e a 95% um mês antes das eleições de 2018.

Com Lula fora da disputa eleitoral e incapaz de transferir seus votos a Haddad, os monitoramentos realizados em pesquisas de percepção dos eleitores revelavam que a maioria das pessoas pedia mudanças no sistema político. Sendo assim, as candidaturas deveriam passar por novos entrantes, ainda não conhecidos, ou por políticos reconhecidos como “fichas limpas”.

Além dessas questões, há ainda duas que merecem investigação mais ampla por parte de pesquisadores e que foram muito importantes para a vitória do ex-capitão: o apoio de lideranças evangélicas e a influência de fake news sobre determinados grupos da população.

Sobre a primeira, Diniz Alves (2018), com dados DataFolha, estimou que a vantagem Bolsonaro sobre Haddad no segundo turno foi de 11 milhões de votos entre os evangélicos, maior que a diferença no total de eleitores. Em outras palavras, Haddad venceu entre os não evangélicos e seria eleito se a minoria crescente de evangélicos o tivesse apoiado em proporção semelhante à do restante do eleitorado. Bolsonaro também obteve maioria em uma forte polarização geográfica e socioeconômica, perdendo apenas nas regiões mais pobres.. Em um país com 5.570 municípios, nos mil de maior IDH Bolsonaro venceu em 97%, enquanto o segundo colocado venceu em 98% dos mil municípios de menor IDH.

Há ainda algo inédito nas eleições brasileiras. Bolsonaro tinha direito a muito pouco tempo de propaganda oficial na TV, mas passou a ser intensamente exposto via noticiário após sofrer um atentado e firmar aliança com um líder evangélico proprietário de um canal de TV e outras mídias. Além disso, pesquisadores, integrantes de organizações da sociedade civil e representantes do governo federal discutiram a influência dos conteúdos enganosos ou “fake news” no processo eleitoral. Embora a TV ainda seja o meio de comunicação mais utilizado pelos eleitores para se informarem, o aplicativo WhatsApp é muito popular no Brasil e foi o principal veículo disseminador de notícias falsas durante as eleições.

O próprio Tribunal Superior Eleitoral (TSE) criou um conselho consultivo de especialistas para discutir essas influências no processo eleitoral, embora inócuo em termos práticos. Uma pesquisa do IDEA Big Data apontou que a maioria dos eleitores de Bolsonaro acreditou em um inexistente “kit gay” supostamente distribuído às crianças quando Haddad era ministro da Educação, em uma inexistente fraude das urnas eletrônicas contra Bolsonaro ou em outras fake news, como a que associava Haddad a incesto. Mesmo após o TSE proibir Bolsonaro de propagar essas fake news, o candidato e seus apoiadores continuaram (e continuam, mesmo terminada a eleição) disseminando alguns desses conteúdos.

Uma pesquisa publicada por Hunt Allcott e Matthew Gentzkow no Journal of Economic Perspectives  concluiu que as fake news tiveram influência desprezível nas eleições presidenciais americanas de 2016. No entanto, de modo geral, os eleitores brasileiros têm menos escolaridade e acesso a informação do que os americanos. A utilização do aplicativo WhatsApp também não se assemelha entre um lugar e outro. Seria interessante um aprofundamento de pesquisas como essas para o caso brasileiro, com a mensuração da influência do aplicativo sobre diversos grupos. Finalmente, seria também importante verificar uma possível conexão entre variáveis como renda, educação, utilização do WhatsApp e voto evangélico nessas últimas eleições.

A tempestade perfeita

A vitória de Bolsonaro foi viabilizada por uma combinação de fatores simultâneos. Em primeiro lugar, o líder das pesquisas eleitorais, Lula, estava preso por corrupção e seu substituto na corrida eleitoral não herdou toda a sua popularidade, mas sim toda a rejeição a seu partido

Apesar de ser deputado federal há quase três décadas em partidos políticos com graves denúncias e condenações por corrupção, Jair Bolsonaro saiu vitorioso nas eleições presidenciais brasileira intitulando-se o candidato da mudança e do combate à corrupção. O ex-capitão construiu um discurso eficiente e capitalizou a indignação de parte expressiva dos eleitores. Sua narrativa foi certeira ao mirar naquilo que a sociedade demandava: seria rigoroso com as questões relativas à segurança pública, combateria de forma enérgica a corrupção e devolveria ao cidadão o ambiente propício para a retomada do emprego no Brasil. Finalmente, ao adicionar o apoio de parte expressiva dos evangélicos e com uma campanha recheada de notícias falsas encaminhadas por seus apoiadores pelo aplicativo WhatsApp, Bolsonaro beneficiou-se de uma tempestade perfeita.


CAROLINA BOTELHO é visiting fellow no Centro de Estudos Latino Americanos da Universidade da Califórnia, Berkeley. Possui doutorado em Ciência Política pelo IESP/UERJ e mestrado em Antropologia e Sociologia pelo IFCS/UFRJ. Foi coordenadora e pesquisadora de ciência política na Fundação Getulio Vargas, consultora sênior na Ipsos Public Affairs e pesquisadora no Ipea. Passou por diversos órgãos governamentais estaduais e federais como assessora técnica. Possui alguns livros publicados, como “Reforma da Previdência – a visita da velha senhora”, pela Gestão Pública,“Caminhos trilhados e os desafios da educação superior no Brasil”, Eduerj e “Brasil pós-crise: uma agenda pra próxima década”, pela Elsevier. em artigos publicados no Estadão, O Globo e Exame.






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Bolsonaro’s Perfect Storm in Brazil: From Outraged Voters to Extreme Right-Wing Votes

By Carolina Botelho


A pro-Bolsonaro demonstration. (Photo by Gabriela Felin).

Jair Bolsonaro’s victory in the race for the presidency of the Republic of Brazil surprised many analysts around the world. While still a candidate, the former army captain ran a campaign praising the Brazilian military dictatorship and the use of torture, criticizing social movements and minority groups, and voicing disdain for the country’s civil and social rights achievements in the past 30 years. As his running mate, Bolsonaro chose General Hamilton Mourão, who a few days before the election made public statements that he would be in favor a “self-coup,” if necessary.

Much debate continues about the rise and swell of a “conservative wave” in various countries around the world, a trend that may have contributed to the victory of far-right leaders in Brazil. However, I will not use this phenomenon to analyze Bolsonaro’s victory. Rather, in this brief article, I’ll focus on some issues that deserve more attention and that are intimately connected to the contemporary political and economic environment of Brazil. I also want to stress that this election, like any other, is a vast, multidimensional phenomenon, and thus, it has many interpretations. For sources, I rely primarily on the results of Brazilian public opinion polls carried out by Pulso Brasil of Ipsos Public Affairs. Some additional data will also be cited from the Instituto IDEIA Big Data, Datafolha, IBOPE, IBGE, Brazil’s National Treasury, Brazil’s Central Bank, and the World Bank.

President Jair Bolsonaro during a plenary session.  (Photo by Edilson Rodrigues/Agência Senado).

Candidate for Change?

Jair Bolsonaro is not an inexperienced politician, nor is he new to Congress, yet he managed to catalyze the indignation and frustrations of millions of Brazilians hard hit by the political crisis and the serious consequences of economic catastrophe.

The parliamentary career of the former army captain is a long one and always hand in glove with traditional politicians. Yet, even though he served in parliament for many years, Bolsonaro produced little in the way of prominent legislation. Over the course of nearly three decades, despite a campaign based on an anti-corruption and pro-public-security discourse, he has little parliamentary work to speak of: he only approved two bills which were in defense of military projects. There’s nothing else in his legislative history, nothing in defense of the fight against corruption, nothing related to public security policies. These insignificant efforts allowed him to pass unscathed on the Brazilian political agenda.

Nevertheless, regardless of the former captain’s political trajectory and despite his discourse touting a moral commitment to society and against corruption, throughout his career in parliament Bolsonaro was affiliated with right-wing and center-right parties plagued by reports of corruption: the PP (from 2005 to 2016, he was a member of this party, which had the most charges and convictions in Operação Lava Jato, including Paulo Maluf among its ranks), the PTB (the party of Deputy Roberto Jefferson, who was convicted in Lava Jato), as well as parties such as the PSC, PFL, PPR, PDC, and PPB (the former acronym of what is today the PP). Bolsonaro joined his current party, the right-wing, conservative Partido Social Liberal (PSL, Social Liberal Party) in 2018 — just in time to throw his hat in the presidential race,

So how has Bolsonaro been able to capitalize on the discourse for change and against corruption, when his trajectory as a deputy has been enmeshed with parties convicted in corruption cases, not to mention the accusations from the press regarding his personal accumulation of assets? Let’s look at some pertinent information that may answer this question.

Opposition members in the parliament during a plenary session. (Photo by Jonas Pereira/Agência Senado).

The Scenario Before the Election

For the past four years, Brazil has been experiencing an extended period of severe economic crisis, with high unemployment and a significant fiscal imbalance. In addition to a drop in GDP even longer and deeper than that of the Great Depression, unemployment soared in 2015 and 2016, during the second term of President Dilma Rousseff, the successor of President Luiz Inácio “Lula” da Silva (both of the PT). Lula ended his second term in 2010 with his popularity at a record high and helped get Dilma elected. She was re-elected in 2014, but after losing popular and parliamentary support due to the recession and corruption scandals that hit the state oil company, as well as several members of the PT, Dilma was impeached in 2016 on charges related to manipulating the federal budget. In April 2018, Lula himself was arrested on corruption charges. PMDB party member Vice-President Michel Temer, who stood as Dilma’s running mate twice in a row, took office as President of the Republic of Brazil in May 2016. His economic reform agenda was hobbled by new corruption scandals, and while the GDP began a slow recovery (growing 1 percent in 2017), unemployment barely improved, hovering at around 12 percent. Temer boasts a record of unpopularity almost unmatched around the world: the percentage that consider him to be “great” or “good” is as low as the margin of error in the opinion polls.

In 2014, Brazil’s Public Prosecutor’s Office, the Federal Police, and the Judiciary began a series of investigations and operations to fight corruption, beginning with Operação Lava Jato (Operation Car Wash). This initiative was responsible for investigating and convicting several political leaders from traditional parties, most notably the PP, PMDB, and PT, but it also affected the PSDB, PTB, and many others from the more than 30 parties active in the country. At the same time, public safety has deteriorated sharply, another grave concern for the Brazilian people. In 2017, there were some 60,000 homicides in Brazil. A 2017 World Bank review of 182 countries revealed that 94.5 percent have homicide rates lower than Brazil. Increasingly distressed by the economic crisis and outraged by allegations of corruption that continued to surface, the population was already indicating that they was ready for some changes.

President Dilma Rousseff and Michel Temer during her swearing in ceremony. (Photo by Jefferson Rudy/Agência Senado).

Brazilian Opinions About Politicians and the Future of the Nation

The opinion polls of the voting public in Brazil converged in similar directions. More than 80 percent of Brazilians viewed President Dilma as “bad” or “terrible” in October 2015, contrasting with 20 percent who held this poor opinion of the president less than a year earlier. The main problems cited by Brazilians were unemployment and corruption, followed by violence and public health concerns. The need to continue Lava Jato “no matter what it cost” was defended by 90-96 percent of those surveyed in all polls conducted from 2016 to 2018.

Brazilians were dissatisfied with the government; they neither trusted and nor identified with the politicians currently in office. Nonetheless, despite his imprisonment, Lula continued to hold a lead in all the polls until a month before the election, when Fernando Haddad was presented as the PT candidate in Lula’s stead. However, while former president’s popularity did not totally transfer to Haddad, sentiments against the PT did.

In polls carried out in 2017 and 2018, more than 90 percent of respondents agreed that the politicians currently holding office did not represent them, and more than 80 percent did not feel represented even by the politicians that they had voted for in the most recent elections. In addition, 55 percent of respondents would not give their vote to the same candidate that they had voted for in the last presidential election; 63 percent said that corruption was the subject that most worried them; and 30 percent wanted to vote for a candidate outside of the traditional politics in the next presidential election.

While political institutions are widely rejected, the Church (61 percent), the military (46 percent) and judges (42 percent) are ranked as most credible. The predominant feelings about the country’s future, which were “optimism” or “enthusiasm” for 60 percent of Brazilians under Dilma’s first term, had turned into “disgust” or “worry” for nearly 80 percent on the eve of her impeachment, and 90 percent expressed these negative feelings under the Temer government. While in 2010 more than 80 percent of those surveyed agreed with the course that the country was taking, those who objected to the nation’s current trajectory was as high as 93 percent in 2015 and 95 percent a month before the 2018 elections.

With Lula out of the presidential race and unable to transfer his votes to Haddad, public opinion polls showed that most people were calling for changes to the political system. Such sentiments paved the way for new candidates: either complete unknowns or politicians who offered a “clean slate.”

In addition to these issues, there are still two concerns deserving more extensive study by researchers that were very important for Bolsonaro’s victory: the support of evangelical leaders and the influence of “fake news” on certain groups of the population.

With regard to the first issue, Diniz Alves (2018) used DataFolha data to estimate that in the second round, Bolsonaro’s lead over Haddad was 11 million evangelical votes, which was greater than the difference in total voters. In other words, Haddad won among non-evangelicals and would have been elected if the growing minority of evangelicals had supported him in a proportion similar to that of the rest of the electorate. Bolsonaro also obtained a majority with a strong geographic and socioeconomic polarization, losing only in the poorest regions. In a country with 5,570 municipalities, in the thousand municipalities with the highest Human Development Index rating, Bolsonaro won by 97 percent, while Haddad won in 98 percent of the thousand municipalities with lowest Human Development Index rating.

But there was something else totally unprecedented in the recent Brazilian elections. Bolsonaro was entitled to very little official advertising time on television, but he enjoyed tremendous exposure on the news after being seriously injured in an attack and when he signed an alliance with an evangelical leader who owned a television channel as well as other media outlets. In addition, academic researchers, members of civil society organizations, and representatives of the federal government have discussed the influence of misleading information or “fake news” in the electoral process. Although television is still the most widely used means of communication with voters, the WhatsApp social media platform is very popular in Brazil and was the main disseminator of fake news during the election.

The Tribunal Superior Eleitoral (TSE, Superior Electoral Court) even created an advisory council to discuss these influences on the electoral process, although this group of experts is powerless in practical terms. A poll carried out by IDEA Big Data showed that most Bolsonaro voters believed in a nonexistent “gay kit” supposedly distributed to children when Haddad was Minister of Education, an electronic ballot fraud against Bolsonaro that never happened, and other fake news, including stories claiming that Haddad advocated incest. Even after the TSE prohibited Bolsonaro from spreading fake news, the candidate and his supporters continued (and still continue, even after winning the election) to share some of these stories.

A study by Hunt Allcott and Matthew Gentzkow published in 2017 in the Journal of Economic Perspectives concluded that fake news had a considerable influence in the 2016 presidential elections in the United States. However, in general, Brazilian voters have less formal education and less access to information than the U.S. population. The use of WhatsApp is also very different in the two countries. It would be interesting to explore this research further in the case of Brazil, measuring the social media platform’s influence on several groups. Finally, it would also be important to verify a possible connection between variables such as income, education, use of WhatsApp, and evangelical votes in these recent elections.


An anti-Bolsonaro protest in 2018. (Photo by ideasGraves).


The Perfect Storm

Bolsonaro’s victory was made possible by a simultaneous combination of factors. Most importantly, Lula, the leader in the election polls, was arrested for corruption, and his replacement in the presidential race did not inherit his widespread popularity, but did have to shoulder the rejection of their party.

Despite being a federal deputy for nearly three decades as a member of political parties that faced serious charges and convictions for corruption, Jair Bolsonaro emerged victorious in the Brazilian presidential elections by calling himself the candidate of change and the fight against corruption. The former army captain constructed an efficient discourse and capitalized on the indignation of a tremendous number of voters. His narrative zeroed in on the demands of the Brazilian population: he would be rigorous on issues related to public security, he would fight corruption with all his might, and he would make sure that citizens could once again enjoy an environment that brought jobs back to Brazil. Finally, with the support of many evangelicals and a campaign packed with false news shared by his supporters through the social media platform of WhatsApp, Bolsonaro harnessed winds of a perfect storm.


CAROLINA BOTELHO is a visiting fellow at the Center for Latin American Studies at UC Berkeley. She has a PhD in Political Science from IESP/UERJ and a master’s degree in Anthropology and Sociology from IFCS/UFRJ. She was a coordinator and researcher of political science at Fundação Getulio Vargas, a senior consultant at Ipsos Public Affairs, and a researcher at IPEA. She has also worked as a technical advisor for various state and federal government agencies in Brazil. She is the author of several books, including Reforma da Previdência – a visita da velha senhora (Gestão Publica, 2015) and Caminhos trilhados e os desafios da educação superior no Brasil (Eduerj, 2016). She has written for various Brazilian periodicals, including Estadão, O Globo, and Exame.






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History and Archaeology among the Ch´ol: Ethnographic Dialogues in Northern Chiapas, Mexico

By Esteban Mirón Marván

Professors at the UIET in Oxolotán after a workshop on Classic Maya archaeology led by the author. (Photo courtesy of Esteban Mirón Marván).

Archaeologists in the Maya region have exploited the heritage and history of the contemporary indigenous Maya peoples for more than a century. For the last eight decades federal institutions in the Mexican state have monopolized the control of the archaeological heritage; when Mexico narrates its history through archaeology, it picks certain aspects of the indigenous material history that tend to the monumental, that fit into a monolithic and evolutionary narrative that erases the diversities of many peoples and many time periods. This also aims to attract an international and domestic market of heritage tourism, an extractive industry on which today´s descendants of the archaeological Maya participate only at the margins, preserved as part of the exotic scenery.

My current academic interests belong to the field of critical heritage studies, with a focus on the contemporary Maya Ch’ol people and their relation with archaeological heritage and archaeological practice. The main questions in my research are about how they conceive and narrate their own past, how they feel and represent themselves as a part of the millennia of history implicitly acknowledged by anthropology, as well as in the archaeological, epigraphic, historical, linguistic, and socio-cultural disciplines. To answer these questions, I engage in ethnography with the Ch’ol population of northern Chiapas, Mexico. My long-term objective is to start a process of decolonization of the Mexican practice of archaeology, towards more inclusive discussions about the national historical narratives and the indigenous rights that are granted by the Mexican Constitution and international agreements, but almost completely ignored by archaeologists, anthropologists, and their institutions.

Participants in the Workshop: Herramientas para la sustentabilidad lingüística en Chiapas, CELALI, San Cristobal de las Casas. (Photo courtesy of Esteban Mirón Marván).

Thanks to the Indigenous Languages of Latin America (ILLA) Travel Fund from the Center for Latin American Studies at UC Berkeley, I was able to travel to Chiapas at the beginning of this year and meet in person a network constituted by Ch´ol people and institutions I have been fostering over the last two years. I had the opportunity to give a workshop on January 14, 2019 about Classic Maya archaeology in the Palenque region for professors of the Universidad Intercultural del Estado de Tabasco, a university designed to host multilingual undergraduate studies for indigenous populations in the southern state of Tabasco. It was a great opportunity to get involved with native Ch´ol academics and to know more about their interests in research and education.

I also had the opportunity to attend the workshop: Herramientas para la sustentabilidad lingüística en Chiapas (Tools for linguistic sustainability in Chiapas), organized by the CELALI, Carol-Rose Little (Cornell University), and Sophia Walters (National Geographic Fellow) in San Cristobal de las Casas on January 17, 2019. Here, a group of scholars, artists, and cultural managers discussed different tools for language preservation. Although I am not a linguist, this congress allowed me to meet a community of academics, which includes several Ch’ol scholars, engaging in discussions about the preservation of Indigenous languages in Chiapas. They are producing tools to enhance indigenous memory, and this workshop represented a fruitful setting for questions of my dissertation, as well as an opportunity to keep learning, to listen to, and to speak in lakty´añ: the Ch’ol language.


ESTEBAN MIRÓN MARVÁN  is a PhD candidate in the department of anthropology at UC Berkeley. He has worked in archaeological projects in the Palenque Maya region of northern Chiapas for 16 years, focused on the study of foodways and ceramics of the Late Classic in the Northwestern Maya lowlands. Esteban is interested in contemporary indigenous views of history and the decolonization of archaeological practice in Mexico.






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Brazil’s Response to the Hepatitis C Epidemic

By Elize Massard

A doctor prepares her notes in Pernambuco, Brazil. (Photo by Pan American Health Organization).

Approximately 700,000 people worldwide, die every year from complications of hepatitis C (HCV virus). In 2017, the World Health Organization proposed a plan to eliminate HCV as a public health emergency by 2030. This is possible thanks to new direct-acting antiviral drugs (DAAs), which are innovative medicines that allows for cure rates exceeding 90% and with fewer side effects than older HCV treatments.

However, the price of these drugs is prohibitive in many countries, requiring creative strategies to guarantee adequate access. Brazil is at the forefront of responding to the hepatitis epidemic. In a recent article published by the New England Journal of Medicine, we discuss the country’s strategy of combining evidence-based treatment protocols with innovative initiatives for local production of generic DAAs in a context of conflicts over pharmaceutical patents.

Download a PDF of the full article here.

This article originally appeared in The New England Journal of Medicine on February 14th, 2019.

ELIZE MASSARD is a visiting fellow at the Center for Latin American Studies at UC Berkeley. Elize holds a PhD in social policy from the University of Edinburgh and is an assistant professor of public administration at the São Paulo Business School (FGV). She is currently working on the emergence and consolidation of an ambitious set of policies to align health commitments with pharmaceutical industrial development in Brazil, and the political economy of pharmaceutical regulation in Latin America. Her research is geared toward impact in Latin America, namely the improvement of governments’ institutional capacity and health policies. She has acted as a technical consultant for several United Nations agencies on monitoring and evaluation of social protection projects.






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La región no tan transparente

Where the Air Is Not so Clear

By Jimmy Mahady

Mexico City traffic by night. (Photo by Sapdiel Gómez Gutiérrez.)

The people of Mexico City are used to watching the mountains surrounding the city fade into the smoggy afternoons. The snow-capped volcanoes give way to a grey haze that envelops their days. The high-altitude air strains under the weight of the pollution, and the world feels a little more sluggish. People check the air quality like they check the weather report, and millions of evening jogs or bicycle rides are regularly foregone because of the persistent pollution. It is yet another reminder that humans the world over struggle to be good stewards of our shared resources, especially those we consider to be freely accessible and infinite – like the air we breathe.

Supported by a Tinker Foundation and CLAS-funded research grant, I came to Mexico City this past summer for the first time to explore ways that decision-makers could structure investment in vehicle electrification (e.g., electric buses, cars, and associated infrastructure) with an eye to addressing environmental justice challenges. Environmental justice, broadly speaking, is the idea that all people, regardless of identity or background, have a right to clean, safe, and resilient air, water, and surrounding ecosystems along with a right to participate in decision-making processes that affect these shared resources.

In the United States, environmental justice is strongly tied to the significant and consistent correlation between low-income and minority communities bearing the brunt of environmental pollution from both stationary and mobile sources. For example, polluting factories and congested highways in urban areas are frequently located in or adjacent to low-income and minority communities, exposing them to a disproportionately high share of pollution and burdening them with a large share of the pollution generated by society’s economic activity.

Night falls over Mexico City. (Photo by Jimmy Mahady.)

The research team I collaborated with in Mexico City and UC Berkeley decided to approach the challenge of addressing environmental injustices through the lens of electrification of vehicles, a burgeoning technology with the double benefit of significantly reducing atmospheric pollution and improving access to transportation services for individuals within reach of transportation networks. The research team applied a State of California methodology for identifying communities at a socioeconomic and environmental disadvantage to generate a geospatial ranking of the most burdened areas of Mexico City. Our hope is that the map will serve as a tool for decision-makers in Mexico to prioritize investment in vehicle electrification in areas of cities with the worst pollution and highest levels of poverty and marginalization. We will also make the methodology available for continued work both in Mexico City as well as for application in other cities in Mexico that struggle with these parallel challenges.

It was a great pleasure to work with sharp, talented individuals at the Institute for Ecology and Climate Change (INECC) and the Mexico/US Binational Energy lab. I think we were able to, in our own small way, build robust bridges of understanding that stand in defiant contrast to the human rights abuses that were committed by the United States at the border during my time in Mexico. I was consistently impressed by my Mexican colleagues’ generosity and kindness, and hold their thoughtful commitment to their research in high esteem.

Mexico City itself is a bustling beauty. Its museums and pyramids remind you of the splendor and sophistication of pre-Columbian Mexico. The streets are lined with rich, intense food born of an age of tragic and vibrant exchange. If you wander around long enough, you’re bound to stumble upon cobblestone boulevards lined with eighteenth century houses stitched in ivy and draped in bougainvillea. There is a pervasive sense of honesty in interaction, and the people are warm and boisterous.

Mexico City from above. (Photo by Ramsés Espinoza.)

My hope is that, some day in the future, when the last veil of the smog lifts, the people of Mexico City will recall that efforts taken to clean up their air were informed by an environmental justice perspective. That vulnerable communities who stood to benefit from targeted investment and engagement the most were not given short shrift. The technology exists for us to achieve this goal within my lifetime. The question facing us now is not whether, but how quickly and justly, we will clear the skies again.


JIMMY MAHADY is a second year Master of Public Policy Student at the Goldman School at UC Berkeley. He has worked on climate, energy, and transportation policy in Uruguay, Mexico, and the U.S. for the last five years. His interest areas include transportation electrification, carbon pricing, electricity markets, and environmental justice.  





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A New Abnormal

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Originally Published by The Bulletin of Concerned Scientists

Editor’s note: Founded in 1945 by University of Chicago scientists who had helped develop the first atomic weapons in the Manhattan Project, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists created the Doomsday Clock two years later, using the imagery of apocalypse (midnight) and the contemporary idiom of nuclear explosion (countdown to zero) to convey threats to humanity and the planet. The decision to move (or to leave in place) the minute hand of the Doomsday Clock is made every year by the Bulletin’s Science and Security Board in consultation with its Board of Sponsors, which includes 15 Nobel laureates. The Clock has become a universally recognized indicator of the world’s vulnerability to catastrophe from nuclear weapons, climate change, and new technologies emerging in other domains. 

To: Leaders and citizens of the world 

Re: A new abnormal: It is still two minutes to midnight 

Date: January 24, 2019 

Humanity now faces two simultaneous existential threats, either of which would be cause for extreme concern and immediate attention. These major threats—nuclear weapons and climate change—were exacerbated this past year by the increased use of information warfare to undermine democracy around the world, amplifying risk from these and other threats and putting the future of civilization in extraordinary danger.

In the nuclear realm, the United States abandoned the Iran nuclear deal and announced it would withdraw from the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF), grave steps towards a complete dismantlement of the global arms control process. Although the United States and North Korea moved away from the bellicose rhetoric of 2017, the urgent North Korean nuclear dilemma remains unresolved. Meanwhile, the world’s nuclear nations proceeded with programs of “nuclear modernization” that are all but indistinguishable from a worldwide arms race, and the military doctrines of Russia and the United States have increasingly eroded the long-held taboo against the use of nuclear weapons.

On the climate change front, global carbon dioxide emissions—which seemed to plateau earlier this decade—resumed an upward climb in 2017 and 2018. To halt the worst effects of climate change, the countries of the world must cut net worldwide carbon dioxide emissions to zero by well before the end of the century. By such a measure, the world community failed dismally last year. At the same time, the main global accord on addressing climate change—the 2015 Paris agreement—has become increasingly beleaguered.The United States announced it will withdraw from that pact, and at the December climate summit in Poland, the United States allied itself with Russia, Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait (all major petroleum-producing countries) to undercut an expert report on climate change impacts that the Paris climate conference had itself commissioned.

Amid these unfortunate nuclear and climate developments, there was a rise during the last year in the intentional corruption of the information ecosystem on which modern civilization depends. In many forums, including particularly social media, nationalist leaders and their surrogates lied shamelessly, insisting that their lies were truth, and the truth “fake news.” These intentional attempts to distort reality exaggerate social divisions, undermine trust in science, and diminish confidence in elections and democratic institutions. Because these distortions attack the rational discourse required for solving the complex problems facing humanity, cyber-enabled information warfare aggravates other major global dangers—including those posed by nuclear weapons and climate change—as it undermines civilization generally.

There is nothing normal about the complex and frightening reality just described.

The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists Science and Security Board today sets the Doomsday Clock at two minutes to midnight—the closest it has ever been to apocalypse. Though unchanged from 2018, this setting should be taken not as a sign of stability but as a stark warning to leaders and citizens around the world. The current international security situation—what we call the “new abnormal”—has extended over two years now. It’s a state as worrisome as the most dangerous times of the Cold War, a state that features an unpredictable and shifting landscape of simmering disputes that multiply the chances for major military conflict to erupt.

This new abnormal is simply too volatile and dangerous to accept as a continuing state of world affairs.Dire as the present may seem, there is nothing hopeless or predestined about the future.

The Bulletin resolutely believes that human beings can manage the dangers posed by the technology that humans create. Indeed, in the 1990s, leaders in the United States and the Soviet Union took bold action that made nuclear war markedly less likely—and that led the Bulletin to move the minute hand of the Doomsday Clock far from midnight.

But threats must be acknowledged before they can be effectively confronted. The current situation—in which intersecting nuclear, climate, and information warfare threats all go insufficiently recognized and addressed, when they are not simply ignored or denied—is unsustainable. The longer world leaders and citizens carelessly inhabit this new and abnormal reality, the more likely the world is to experience catastrophe of historic proportions.


Former California Governor Jerry Brown is the New Executive Chair of the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists. 

Edmund G. Brown Jr. (Executive Chair) is the Executive Chair of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists’ Boards and he just completed his fourth term as Governor of the State of California in 2019. He began his career in public service in 1969 as a trustee for the LA Community College District and became California Secretary of State in 1970 and Governor of California in 1974 and 1978. After his governorship, Brown lectured and traveled widely, practiced law, served as chairman of the state Democratic Party, and ran for president. Brown was elected Mayor of Oakland in 1988 and California Attorney General in 2006; he was elected to a third gubernatorial term in 2010 and a fourth term in 2014. During this time, Brown helped eliminate the state’s multi-billion dollar budget deficit, spearheaded successful campaigns to provide new funding for California’s schools, and established a robust Rainy Day Fund to prepare for the next economic downturn. His administration established nation-leading targets to protect the environment and fight climate change. Brown attended the University of California, Berkeley, and earned a JD at Yale Law School.


To read the rest of the Bulletin, go to: https://thebulletin.org/doomsday-clock/current-time/

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Unraveling the Development and Evolution of Transparency in Butterflies

By Aaron Pomerantz

The author at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI) in Gamboa, Panama. (Photo courtesy of Aaron Pomerantz.)

How does an animal become invisible? Enter the paradox of the glasswing butterfly. As the name implies, these butterflies have transparent parts of their wings, engendering a common notion that they are “invisible” to avoid predators. However, these butterflies can also have striking orange and iridescent patterns on their wings. Numerous other species are known to mimic the glasswing butterfly’s wing patterns, highlighting the fact that these butterflies are in fact toxic, as they sequester noxious chemicals called pyrrolizidine alkaloids. Their bright colors serve as a warning signal to would-be predators such as birds.

Let’s take a step back to consider where color in butterfly wings comes from in the first place. The primary unit for color in Lepidoptera (insects that include butterflies and moths) is the wing scale cell. The underlying mechanism for a particular color is due to either pigmentation from a biochemical pathway, or to the physical architecture of scales manipulating wavelengths of light, known as structural color. To better understand processes underlying structural scale modifications, my work focuses on a unique coloration strategy: wing transparency in butterflies and moths. Numerous species of Lepidoptera develop wings that allow light to pass through so that objects behind them can be distinctly seen, which has led to the common belief that these species are “invisible” in the context of camouflage to go undetected by predators.

However, my lab and collaborators hypothesize that transparency is a much more complex coloration strategy, playing a role in visual communication through light polarization and iridescence. This form of terrestrial transparency also entails challenging optical requirements whose morphological, physiological, and genetic mechanisms remain virtually unknown.

A glasswing butterfly. (Photo by Aaron Pomerantz.)

To investigate the development of transparent species endemic to the Neotropics (the tropical terrestrial ecoregions of the Americas and the South American temperate zone), it was critical to obtain living specimens at various life stages. Furthermore, experiments in developmental biology often require access to tissue at precisely known time-points. With the support of a Tinker Foundation and CLAS-funded research grant, I turned my sights to the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI) located in Gamboa, Panama. Nestled in a small sleepy town in the rainforest, STRI has recently been upgraded to a building with state-of-the-art molecular laboratories.

My goal at STRI was to raise glasswing butterflies, then investigate and experimentally manipulate pupal wings at various developmental stages in order to identify cellular and cytoskeletal scale modifications. I was able to collect and establish a colony of glasswing butterflies at the local insectary. Under the auspices of the laboratory at STRI, I performed dissections of pupal wings and stained wing tissue with fluorescent markers to visualize nuclei and scale cytoskeletal modifications. Additional tissue was preserved for downstream genomic and RNA experiments.

A glasswing butterfly. (Photo by Aaron Pomerantz.)

Results thus far indicate that glasswing butterflies become transparent by modifying the size and shape of their scales. This results in more light passing through to the membrane of the wing, which harbors anti-reflective nanostructures. This has been a critical step in experiments investigating the development of transparency, including gathering material for studying the expression and function of genes involved in scale development. The results from this project and future work on the established colony can now feed into comparative analyses with our physicist and evolutionary biology collaborators and provide insight into the development and evolution of terrestrial transparency.

My questions remain: Are glasswings transparent to avoid being seen? Are they bright to show off warning colors? Or perhaps a bit of both? It would be interesting if the dual nature serves to avoid a certain kind of predator under reflected light. Or do glasswings show ultraviolet colors as a warning? These would be invisible to humans, but clear as day to other animals such as birds, many of which contain opsins in their eyes that are capable of detecting UV. Either way, they are a beautiful group of butterflies, and this is a beautiful scientific mystery to (attempt to) solve.


AARON POMERANTZ is a PhD Candidate in the Integrative Biology department at UC Berkeley. Aaron holds an MS in Molecular Biology from the University of Florida and a BS in Entomology from UC Riverside. He is interested in how butterflies are able to produce such an incredible array of colors through the use of both pigments and nanostructure formations in their scales.





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