Casa News: Tacos Trucks on Every Corner

In case you missed it: mapmaking as empire-building, QBs protesting police impunity, and tacos on every corner…

If borders matter, then so do maps. Did you know that Palestine is not labeled on Google Maps? Read more on the importance of mapmaking in territorial and cultural conflicts.

The California legislature voted this week to give California farmworkers overtime pay for any work over 8 hours a day or 40 hours a week. Let’s hope Governor Brown signs the bill into law.

49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick refused to stand for the national anthem before a football game in protest of the oppression of people of color in the U.S. It’s inspiring when athletes actually use their power for good, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s defense of Kaepernick is worth a read. We stand [sit?] by Kaepernick’s decision. More info from SI and Jacobin on Kaepernick’s protest.

Trump met with Enrique Pena Nieto, Mexico’s president, this week. While we already wonder why Pena Nieto would take a risk like that with his already embarrassing approval ratings, more disturbing was Trump’s immigration speech from the same day. This NPR fact check sets Trump straight. Now if only he actually cared about facts.

And finally, this.

In case you were wondering, here’s what might happen if there really were #TacoTrucksOnEveryCorner. (Aside from everyone gaining 15 pounds and being 15% happier.)

What You Don’t Hear About the Death of Berta Caceres

Berta Caceres

Berta Caceres, a major Honduran indigenous activist and human rights defender, was assassinated early Thursday morning. Caceres was a founder of the Council of Indigenous Peoples of Honduras (COPINH) and a winner of the Goldman Environmental Prize for her work to fight against the Agua Zarca dam. The dam, funded by Sinohydro, one of many Chinese companies investing major funds in the region, was to be built without the consent or consultation of local communities. Caceres’ important organizing work helped prevent the dam’s construction.

Caceres’ death has been widely reported in American media, and many such reports rightly condemn the violence that is currently endemic to Honduras. The country has been ranked as the world’s most dangerous country for environmental activists, and the United Nations reports that it has the world’s highest murder rate. Sadly, Caceres was not even the first indigenous rights activist associated with Agua Zarca dam to be killed. In 2013, fellow organizer and COPINH member Tomás García was killed by an army officer in a peaceful protest against the dam. While it is right to mourn the death of an important human rights figure like Caceres who fought for indigenous rights and self-determination, what goes unsaid in many reports is the role of the United States in Honduran violence. Americans should be wary of condemning Honduras before taking a look at the United States’ own role in that country’s crisis.

As Caceres’ and García’s deaths attest, human rights conditions in Honduras have worsened seriously since the 2009 coup against President Mel Zelaya. The coup was led by General Romeo Vasquez, an alumnus of the School of the Americas (or the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation), a U.S. Army institution infamous for having graduated some of Latin America’s most brutal dictators and officers, and for training its students in techniques such as torture and counterinsurgency. Yet after the coup in 2009, Washington did not call for the return against democratically-elected Zelaya, but rather backed elections under the new repressive regime, which put Porfirio Lobo in power.

Since the coup, the Honduran police force has faced widespread reports of police corruption and death-squad style killings. However, despite these and other increasing human rights violations in the past several years, the U.S. State Department has continued to funnel millions of dollars into the nation through the Central American Regional Security Initiative (CARSI). Between 2008 and 2012, at least $50 million dollars went to Honduras from the United States. And in 2016 a proposed Central American aid package will send $1 billion to the region, some of which will go to Honduras. One of CARSI’s priorities is to “build the capacity of law enforcement and the justice sector to serve citizens and to address regional threats.” As such, much of this monetary aid has supported and will continue to support the militarization of law enforcement – the same law enforcement accused of multiple human rights problems. If the results of U.S. investment in Honduran law enforcement are death squads and police corruption, the United States needs to seriously reconsider this “aid.” The United States cannot continue to subsidize a Honduras that criminalizes the defenders of human rights while enabling police and military impunity.

Berta Caceres played an important role in the self-determination of Honduran communities, and if the United States denounces her murder, we should also stop promoting state violence through law enforcement that leads to instability and further human rights abuses. Furthermore, if Americans are disturbed by high immigration from Central American countries like Honduras, they should consider why so many people are fleeing their homes, and question the United States’ support of the military coup that led to such increasingly dangerous conditions. Loudly denouncing Honduran human rights violations is futile and hypocritical if we do not also denounce and change U.S. policies that contribute to a climate that allows such violations to occur.

Chinese Investment in Latin America: A New Kind of Development?

It’s widely known that China has invested enormously in Africa in recent years. What might be less common knowledge is that Chinese investment in Latin American infrastructure and development projects has also grown at breakneck speed over the past few years. And in January 2015, Chinese President Xi Jinping pledged that China would invest $250 billion dollars in Latin America in the coming ten years. Yet this investment has often supported controversial projects such as a transcontinental railroad, the polemical $50-billion Nicaraguan canal, as well as mining, dams, and other projects.

One such project is the Chinese-owned Las Bambas copper mine in Peru. As I scanned my Los Angeles Times this morning, I was surprised to find the article “Blood in Peru at a China-owned mine,” by Jonathan Kaiman, which tells of the death of Beto Chahuallyo, a Peruvian killed by police while protesting the Las Bambas mine. In fact, Kaiman writes that labor organizers and protesters against Chinese-backed resource extraction and energy projects in Honduras, Ecuador, and other parts of Peru have been killed by police or mysteriously disappeared in the past two years.

While these deaths are horrible enough already, there is also an eerie historical echo in these stories. Latin American protesters have lost their lives fighting foreign development for over a hundred years. In perhaps the most famous incident, the Colombian banana massacre of 1928, Colombian workers striking for better working conditions in U.S.-owned United Fruit banana plantations were murdered by machine gun fire. Indeed, ever since the colonial period, outside economic powers have come to Latin America to extract resources—from gold and silver to copper and nitrates, to fruit and sugar—with little or no respect for the wishes of Latin Americans themselves.

Yet Chinese President Xi describes his plan for massive investment in Latin America as South-South cooperation, characterizing it as a program of mutual aid between developing countries, without the involvement of developed countries. This seems to cast the program in a different light than earlier investment programs by the U.S., for instance—two developing countries should be on the same side. Yet while China’s low per-capita income may prevent the nation from being described as a developed country, China also has the world’s second-largest economy, after the United States. And this investment pattern of resource extraction—in the Peruvian case, copper mining—for the benefit of China, and at the expense of Peruvian workers, seems to echo earlier investment patterns in Latin America by Europe and then the United States. Is this really South-South cooperation, or is it a yet another version of the Latin American story of colonialism and neo-colonialism, direct investment that produces dependency? Who actually benefits from Chinese investment in Latin America?

 

Not only is the historical pattern of such investment striking, but so are the actual words Kaimain uses to describe the development program associated with the Las Bambas mine in “Blood in Peru.” Kaiman states that the mine, which opened under Swiss ownership, “has boosted the local economy and helped modernize the region.” He further describes Nueva Fuerabamba, a new town built for people displaced by the mine, as “a model of progress, with freshly-paved roads, 441 sturdy houses, a health clinic, running water, and three churches.” This contrasts with Challhuahuacho, a “ramshackle” town on the outskirts of the mine. It is in Challhuahuacho where protester Beto Chahuayllo was killed by police during a protest against the Las Bambas project last September.

I would like to scrutinize the language of progress and modernization with which Kaiman describes Nueva Fuerabamba, especially juxtaposed against Challhuahuacho. “Modernizing the region” and “model of progress” are terms that have been used to describe Western settlements in Latin America since at least the 19th century. This was when such terms replaced the earlier description of Europeans coming in with their “civilizing” mission—one main justification of colonization. However, the fact remains that such “civilizing” and “modernizing” settlements brought slavery, massacred and oppressed indigenous peoples, and imposed outsider values on already existing communities across the American continents.

Given this history, we should beware of the rhetoric of modernity. While a health clinic, running water, and new houses may very well benefit the new residents of Nueva Fuerabamba, what else is implied when the new, Chinese-invested town is described as “progress” and the old one as “ramshackle,” when residents of the old town are those who are dying in protest? Did the residents of Nueva Fuerabamba have a say in their relocation? Are they active agents in their “modernization,” or are they recipients of an outside plan for their supposed benefit? Were residents of Challhuahuacho offered relocation, and would they have wanted it? Who is the relocation really benefiting—those few Peruvians who are offered new homes (while many more are not offered new homes, yet must still accept the mine) or the Chinese investors profiting off copper extraction? While Kaiman recognizes that the mine has “brought little benefit to many others who live near it”—such as Beto Chahuayllo, the murdered protester—he still calls the new Chinese-funded mining town a “model of progress.” Progress on whose terms? Whose modernization? The perception of native Latin Americans as backward, underdeveloped, and stuck in the past has persisted from colonization until today, but we need to question this perception before repeating it.

Chinese investment in Latin America is a major change from past investments in Latin America in one important way: China is not the West. The new investment is coming from Asia, not from Europe or North America. This does open the possibility of South-South cooperation and a different kind of development in Latin America, perhaps one more to the benefit of Latin Americans themselves. However, the patterns of Chinese investment in Peru and other Latin American countries seem to follow earlier patterns of resource extraction and development that benefit the investor to the detriment of Latin American nations themselves. And not only does the structure of the investment echo the past, but the very rhetoric of progress used to describe such projects also recalls earlier processes of outsider investment in the region. Let us question this recycled rhetoric and this recycled plan for outside-imposed development. Can foreign investment ever genuinely improve Latin American conditions? Is there a way for Chinese investment to step outside the pattern of investment that only benefits China but not the national pueblo? Perhaps Latin Americans themselves must find a way to shake off their neo-imperialist investors and create the change they need from within.