After Extended Delay, Senate Approves Disaster Relief Funds for Puerto Rico

PUERTO RICO: Yesterday, the Senate approved long-overdue disaster relief funds for Puerto Rico. The $19.1 billion aid package, which overwhelmingly passed with an 85 to 8 vote, ends a six-month stalemate between legislators from rival parties and President Donald Trump, benefiting millions of Americans who suffered from natural disasters like wildfires, floods, and hurricanes over the last eighteen months. The bill does not include funds for a border wall, as originally petitioned by Trump.

Puerto Rico will receive a little over $1 billion in disaster relief from the aid package more than a year after Hurricane María devastated most of the island. $600 million are meant to bolster its food stamp program and $300 million will be dedicated to improving infrastructure ravaged by María. Experts estimate that it would take over $139 billion to “fully recover” from the deadliest hurricane in Puerto Rican history.

HEADLINES FROM THE WESTERN HEMISPHERE

NORTH AMERICA

MEXICO: Today, Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard will present an “integral development plan” for Central American nations to White House officials. Ebrard is in Washington, D.C., to meet with the administration’s senior advisor Jared Kushner and the acting Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security Kevin McAleenan. Mexico proposes that the U.S. funds seven projects in Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras that aim to address the structural issues that drive immigration north. The tentative budget surpasses $10 billion.

THE CARIBBEAN

CUBA: The island’s railway network has begun a major overhaul that seeks to modernize its historic infrastructure. This past Monday, 80 Chinese-made passenger wagons were delivered to the island. A total of 240 railway cars, priced at $150 million, will be given to Cuba over the next months. The project involves restoring 2,600 miles of tracks, refurbishing old train stations, and resuming trips between the town of Holguín and Havana, a route that has not operated since 2006.

DOMINICAN REPUBLIC: The Chinese Embassy in Santo Domingo has publicly denounced the United States for allegedly attempting to meddle with Sino-Dominican relations. The criticism comes as a reaction to a comment made by the head of the U.S. government’s development finance institution, who questioned whether relations with Beijing had yielded positive results for the Dominican Republic. The Chinese Embassy said the comments were “offensive and untrue.” The Dominican Republic established diplomatic relations with China just recently on May 1, 2018, inviting substantial Chinese investments since then.

CENTRAL AMERICA

EL SALVADOR: After an unsuccessful plenary in the Salvadoran legislative chamber yesterday, a bipartisan group of congressmen will meet today to revise and re-draft a new proposal for an amnesty law. If passed, the bill would soften punishments for former guerrillas and members of the Salvadoran military who were engaged in civil conflict between 1980 and 1992. Congressmen from the leftist FMLN and right-wing ARENA parties, who collectively hold 60 of 84 seats in the legislature, only need a simple majority to pass the blanket pardon to individuals who committed war crimes.

COSTA RICA: The country registered a drop in murders and an increase in gun seizures this year. Homicides in the first quarter of 2019 are at their lowest point in five years, whereas 34 more weapons have been confiscated this year than in 2018. Yesterday, President Carlos Alvarado issued a new decree that toughens penalties for illegal gun carrying. Costa Rican individuals caught without a gun license will face 4 to 8 years in prison.

THE ANDES

COLOMBIA: Yesterday, a group of civil society organizations presented a report that lambasts the governments of the U.S. and Colombia, plus their respective security forces, for having worsened post-conflict conditions for people living in the Colombian countryside. The report is particularly critical of President Iván Duque’s failure to protect community leadersOver 230 community leaders have been murdered in Colombia since Duque assumed office in August 2018. Known as Indepaz, the civil society group demanded that Duque resumes talks with the National Liberation Army (ELN), the last remaining guerrilla group in the country.

SOUTHERN CONE

BRAZIL: On Tuesday, the Brazilian government filed a landmark lawsuit against two tobacco companies. The first of its kind in Latin America, the case seeks to prosecute Philip Morris and British American Tobacco for 26 tobacco-related diseases in order to recover the accumulated treatment costs for patients affected over the last five years. Yesterday, a spokesperson for the American multinational tobacco company Philip Morris said that courts in Brazil have found, over the last twenty years, that “tobacco manufacturers are not liable for smoking-related damages.” Nicotine dependence causes 429 deaths per day in Brazil, according to the national health authorities.

CHILE: Scientists are concerned that climate change is accelerating fractures on the ice field in Chile’s Southern Patagonia. The 12,000-kilometer ice field split in two, and researchers who visited the site in March are worried that events like this will continue to occur as temperatures continue to rise on the southernmost part of the continent. On Wednesday, Chilean publication El Mercurio reported that a 208-kilometer ice block fractured off the ice field, the second largest ice mass in the world after Antarctica.

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It’s My Podcast and I’ll Cry If I Want To

Five years ago, Latino USA producer Antonia Cereijido was only an intern and still in college when she did what a lot of people do when they’re not sure what their life will look like after graduation: she cried in the bathroom.

After wiping her eyes and returning to her desk, she tried to comfort herself by calculating how many other Latinos had cried at the same time she had. According to a German study cited by Wikipedia, the average woman cries between 30 and 64 times a year, and the average man cries between 6 and 17 times a year. Using those statistics and the fact that there are around two million Latinos in New York City, she did some multiplying and dividing and reached the (totally unscientific) number 646. But then she worried: What if Latinos cry at a different rate? What if they cry more than the average?

This set Antonia off on a seriously lachrymose investigation into the cultural history of Latinos and crying. On the way she spoke to Jaime Camil, a Mexican actor and star of the television show Jane the Virgin, who began his career on telenovelas, a format that was basically built around dramatic scenes with lots of tear shedding. She also spoke with Tom Lutz, the author of Crying: The Natural and Cultural History of Tears, who shared his knowledge and research. NPR Code Switch reporter Adrian Florido breaks down the importance of ranchera music and in particular its power to make people cry. And, Maria Hinojosa shares her own very personal history with tears.

Featured image of telenovela memes by Antonia Cereijido.

This podcast was first released on February 9, 2018.

New Report Details How Thousands of Immigrants Suffer in Solitary Confinement

The Intercept partnered with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) for an investigation that sheds light on the thousands of migrants who suffer in solitary confinement. The report titled “Solitary Voices,” found that more than half of the reviewed 8,488 U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) cases where solitary confinement was used lasted more than 15 days, and in 187 of these cases, detainees lasted more than six months in solitary confinement.

“Ellen Gallagher, a whistleblower who previously served as a policy adviser for Homeland Security’s Civil Rights and Civil Liberties office, believes that ICE has violated its own policies requiring a search for less restrictive measures before detainees are placed in prolonged solitary confinement,” The Intercept said in a press release.

Solitary confinement could amount to torture and should only be used in very exceptional circumstances, United Nations experts say. The investigation found that ICE uses isolation as a “go-to tool” rather than the last resort. “People were being brutalized,” Gallagher told the reporters behind the story. This is her first time going public.

Incident reports found that detainees were placed in solitary confinement from 2012 to early 2017, which added up to millions of hours of people being held in isolation. For some of the detainees, they were placed in what at least one person called the “suicide room,” after alleged suicide attempts.

“They take off all your clothes and they put you in a cell that is more terrible,” one detainee, Dulce Rivera, described.

ICIJ also published an infographic of the findings from a review of more than 8,400 reports of incidents of solitary confinement. It found that ICE used solitary confinement for offenses described as minor such as “consensual kissing,” as well as “to segregate hunger strikers, LGBTQ detainees, and people with disabilities.”

Journalists involved in the The Intercept-ICIJ story were Spencer Woodman, Maryam Saleh, Hannah Rappleye, and Karrie Kehoe.

Brazil’s Top Court to Rule on Criminalization of Homophobia

BRAZIL: Amid fears of persecution against the country’s sexual minorities, the Federal Supreme Court (TSF) will rule today whether homophobia and transphobia can be penalized by law. The debate had been at a judicial impasse for seven years until it was reactivated on February 12. It is already known that four out of eleven TSF judges will vote to approve the use of the Racism Law on cases that deal with discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. Yesterday, the Justice and Constitutional Commission of the Brazilian Senate approved this same measure, noting that punitive sentences could range from one to three years in prison.

President Jair Bolsonaro has been an outspoken critic of the LGBTQI+ community, saying that Brazil “must not become a gay tourism paradise.” A recent report by a Brazilian nonprofit counted over 140 deaths caused by homophobia or homophobic attacks in 2019 alone.

HEADLINES FROM THE WESTERN HEMISPHERE

NORTH AMERICA

U.S.-MEXICO BORDER: Immigration officials acknowledged that a sixth underage migrant, a 10-year old Salvadoran girl, died under their custody last year. The case, which remained unreported until yesterday, details that the unnamed girl had a “history of congenital heart defects” and entered under the care of an immigrant facility in San Antonio in a “medically fragile” state on March 2018. The child would die on September 27, 2018 in a hospital in Omaha, Nebraska.

UNITED STATES: Yesterday, two Congressional committees passed bills that aim to address the ongoing Venezuelan crisis. A bill requesting to grant Venezuelans with Temporary Protection Status (TPS) was submitted by a group of 23 Democratic Senators and Marco Rubio (R-Fl.). TPS emphasizes the “nation’s commitment to supporting a safe democratic transition in Venezuela so that individuals can safely return home soon,” said the lawmakers in a joint statement. The Senate also passed the Venezuela Emergency Relief, Democracy Assistance, and Development (VERDAD) Act, which would provide the country with $400 million in humanitarian aid.

THE CARIBBEAN

HAITI: Resident physicians at Haiti’s largest public hospital have gone on strike to protest unsanitary and unsafe working conditions. The State University of Haiti Hospital (HUEH) in Port-au-Prince has experienced chronic medicine shortages since its partial collapse in the wake of the 2010 earthquake. Although France and the United States pledged monies to reconstruct the general hospital, the new HUEH remains unfinished. The Haitian government is expected to compensate the doctors-in-training with 9,000 Gourdes per month (around $100) but have not disbursed payments to residents in the last six months. Today, the strike enters its fourth consecutive day.

CENTRAL AMERICA

NICARAGUA: national strike has been called by the opposition to continue pressuring Daniel Ortega’s regime to give in to their demands. Members of the Ortega administration have threatened domestic banks with sanctions if they join the 24-hour general strike that begins today. Yesterday, a statement released by an association of private Nicaraguan banks said that they would remain open throughout the national strike. Called by the National Unity Blue and White (UNAB), the national walk-out is expected to cost Nicaragua between $15 and $20 million.

COSTA RICA: A rare meteorite that crashed in a Costa Rican town might yield information on the origins of our solar system, scientists said yesterday. Allegedly the size of a washing machine, the meteorite disintegrated as it entered the atmosphere, landing on a private residence in Aguas Zarcas on April 23. The two-pound rock, known as a “mud ball”, is rich in organic compounds and water according to researchers at Arizona State University (ASU). The ASU team said that the event represents the first carbonaceous chondrite meteorite to be recovered, analyzed and catalogued since 1969.

THE ANDES

VENEZUELA: Health Minister Carlos Alvarado addressed the World Health Organization (WHO) during a general assembly yesterday, blaming economic sanctions for the dire public health conditions in Venezuela. Alvarado stated that the country has begun relying on the assistance of Cuba, China, Russia, Turkey, Palestine, and Iran to counteract medicine and equipment shortages. The Venezuelan opposition and representatives from the Maduro administration have begun talks in Oslo in an attempt to resolve the sociopolitical unrest through diplomatic means.

PERU:  An international airport near Machu Picchu has become a controversial issue in Peru. On Tuesday, the Peruvian Ministry of Communications received specific proposals from the governments of South Korea, Turkey, Spain and Canada to jointly develop the Chincheros Airport in the city of Cusco. On the other hand, tour operators, archeologists, and locals have petitioned to stop the multi-billion-dollar project in order to preserve ancestral Inca land. Chincheros is already under construction and is expected to be completed in 2021.

SOUTHERN CONE

CHILE: Yesterday, a carbon monoxide leak killed 6 Brazilian tourists in an apartment in central Santiago. According to local sources, the victims are four adults and two minors from São Paulo who had been renting an Airbnb for a week in the Chilean capital. Ezequiel Gerd Chamorro, Brazilian Consul in Chile, said that he personally went to the six-story building upon receiving an emergency call from one the victims. Authorities found the six bodies in the apartment, which registered high levels of carbon monoxide that could be attributed to the building’s heating system. Yesterday, Santiago registered its lowest temperature in 50 years.

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Misreading the Story of Climate Change and the Maya

EDITOR’S NOTE: The opinions expressed in this piece are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of Latino USA.

By Kenneth Seligson, California State University, Dominguez Hills

Carbon dioxide concentrations in Earth’s atmosphere have reached 415 parts per million—a level that last occurred more than three million years ago, long before the evolution of humans. This news adds to growing concern that climate change will likely wreak serious damage on our planet in the coming decades.

While Earth has not been this warm in human history, we can learn about coping with climate change by looking to the Classic Maya civilization that thrived between A.D. 250-950 in Eastern Mesoamerica, the region that is now Guatemala, Belize, Eastern Mexico, and parts of El Salvador and Honduras.

Many people believe that the ancient Maya civilization ended when it mysteriously “collapsed.” And it is true that the Maya faced many climate change challenges, including extreme droughts that ultimately contributed to the breakdown of their large Classic Period city-states.

However, the Maya did not disappear: Over 6 million Maya people live mainly in Eastern Mesoamerica today. What’s more, based on my own research in the Northern Yucatan Peninsula and work by my colleagues throughout the broader Maya region, I believe Maya communities’ ability to adapt their resource conservation practices played a crucial role in allowing them to survive for as long as they did. Instead of focusing on the final stages of Classic Maya civilization, society can learn from the practices that enabled it to survive for nearly 700 years as we consider the effects of climate change today.

Adapting to Dry Conditions

The earliest villages in the Maya lowlands date as far back as 2000 B.C., with several large cities developing over the following 2,000 years. A combination of factors, including environmental changes, contributed to the breakdown of many of these large Preclassic centers after the start of the first millennium A.D.

Beginning around 250 A.D., populations once again began to grow steadily in the Maya lowlands. This was the Classic Period. Laser mapping has shown that by the eighth century A.D., sophisticated agricultural systems supported city-states of tens of thousands of people.

Available evidence suggests that although the climate remained relatively stable for much of the Classic Period, there were occasional periods of decreased precipitation. Additionally, each year was sharply divided between dry and rainy seasons. Maximizing water efficiency and storage, and timing the planting season correctly, were very important.

If the rains did not come as expected for a year or two, communities could rely on stored water. However, longer droughts stressed their political hierarchy and complex inter-regional trade networks. The overarching key to survival was learning to adapt to changing environmental conditions.

Plate with Maize God imagery, Mexico, 600-900 A.D. (Photo via Wikimedia)

For example, the Maya developed ever more elaborate terrace and irrigation networks to protect against soil runoff and nutrient depletion. They engineered intricate drainage and storage systems that maximized the capture of rainwater.

They carefully managed forests by monitoring the growth cycles of particularly useful trees. And they developed fuel-efficient technologies, such as burnt lime pit-kilns, to sustain environmental resources.

An experimental burnt lime pit-kiln, modeled on ancient pit-kilns excavated in the Northern Lowlands. (Photo by Kenneth Seligson via CC BY-ND)

Coping With Megadroughts

Available data indicate that a series of particularly intense droughts, lasting anywhere from three to 20 years or more, hit the Maya lowlands in the ninth and 10th centuries A.D. Archaeologists are still debating the exact timing, intensity, impact and location of these droughts. For instance, it appears that not all areas of the Maya lowlands were affected equally. As of now, these “megadroughts” do appear to line up with the final centuries of the Classic Period.

One main consequence was that people moved around the lowlands. Dramatic population growth in certain areas suggests that local communities may have absorbed these migrant groups. There also is evidence that they adopted new resource conservation practices to mitigate the additional stress of supporting larger numbers of people.

Decline and Breakdown

During the ninth and 10th centuries A.D., many of the larger Classic Maya city-states fell as a result of several interrelated long-term trends, including population growth, increasingly frequent warfare and an ever more complex bureaucracy. Declining rainfall made a risky situation worse.

In the end, several population centers did experience relatively rapid final abandonment events. However, different areas experienced breakdowns at various times over a period of more than two centuries. Calling this series of events a collapse overlooks Maya communities’ ability to persevere for generations against mounting challenges.

We can see similar patterns in several other well-known civilizations. Ancestral Puebloan communities in the U.S. Southwest, formerly known as Anasazi, developed intricate irrigation networks to farm a naturally arid landscape starting around the beginning of the first millennium A.D. When rainfall began to decline in the 12th and 13th centuries A.D., they reorganized into smaller units and moved around the landscape. This strategy allowed them to survive longer than they would have by remaining in place.

Angkor, the capital of the ancient Khmer Empire located in modern Cambodia, developed very complex irrigation networks starting in the ninth century A.D. to manage annual floods. Increasingly irregular annual rain cycles over the course of the 13th and 14th centuries A.D. stressed the system’s flexibility. Difficulty in adapting to these changes was one factor that contributed to Angkor’s gradual decline.

All Societies Need to Be Flexible

Many observers have drawn parallels between disastrous climate shifts in the past and the fate of modern society. I believe this perspective is too simplistic. Current scientific understanding of climate change is not perfect, but modern societies clearly know a lot about what is happening and what needs to be done to avoid catastrophic warming.

However, they also require the will to tackle critical threats. The Classic Maya proactively addressed climate challenges by adapting their ecological practices to a changing environment. This helped many communities survive for centuries through waves of intense drought. Their experience, and the persistence of other ancient civilizations, shows the importance of knowledge, planning and structural flexibility.

Maya woman in Chichicastenango, Guatemala, photographed in 2014. (Photo by Stefano Ravalli, CC BY-SA)

There also is an important difference between natural climate stresses on ancient societies and the human-induced challenge we face today: Modern humans can have a far greater impact on the survival of future generations. The Maya could only react to climatic conditions, but we know how to address the causes of climate change. The challenge is choosing to do so.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

OAS Demands Nicaragua Release All Political Prisoners by June 18

NICARAGUA: Yesterday, the Organization of American States (OAS) set June 18 as the deadline for President Daniel Ortega’s government to release all political prisoners in Nicaragua. Convened upon the request of the Canadian delegation, the special session took place at the OAS headquarters in Washington, D.C., following the murder of Nicaragua-American activist Eddy Montes on May 17.

A former U.S. Navy veteran, Montes was incarcerated at La Modelo prison for seven months without facing any charges. The fatal incident, which the Nicaragua government alleges was a riot instigated by prisoners as the International Red Cross visited the facilities, also resulted in 17 inmates becoming injured. On Monday, the Ortega administration released 132 prisoners back into house arrest. However, the Inter-American Court on Human Rights (IACHR) says that over 500 people “remain deprived of their liberty” in Nicaragua. The OAS also demanded for “free and transparent elections” to be held soon in Nicaragua.

HEADLINES FROM THE WESTERN HEMISPHERE

NORTH AMERICA

MEXICO: The director of the country’s public health system resigned yesterday. Germán Martínez Cázares, head of the Mexican Institute of Social Security (IMSS), said on his resignation letter that “pernicious meddling” has hindered the system’s ability to provide services to the Mexican population. Martínez Cázares recommended that the IMSS be “subject to a comprehensive reform” geared towards the needs of users. President Andrés Manuel López Obrador accepted Martínez Cázares’ resignation and said yesterday that he “has options” for a new IMSS director.

MEXICO: The Mexican Commission of Refugee Assistance (COMAR) has reached out to the United Nations for funding assistance as the country grapples with a historic influx of Central American migrants. Operating with a $1.2 million budget, COMAR has a 48-person staff nationwide and is now being tasked to process twice as many asylum applications than in 2018. Additionally, the United States has returned around 6,000 migrants awaiting court hearings for their asylum applications back to Mexico. U.N. funding would allow COMAR to open new offices in Tijuana, Monterrey and Palenque. Another immigration agency, the National Migration Institute, intends to build a new shelter near the country’s southern border with Guatemala.

THE CARIBBEAN

PUERTO RICO: Nike will not release a Puerto Rico-inspired sneaker following condemnation from a Panamanian indigenous group. Created in honor of the Puerto Rican Day Parade, the sportswear brand withdrew their ‘Puerto Rico’ Air Force 1 model after the indigenous Guna community accused them of copying a traditional multicolored design known as ‘mola’. The shoe was set to be released to the public in June, but the Gunas alleged that Nike did not request permission to use the mola design in their product, thus prompting its withdrawal.

CENTRAL AMERICA

EL SALVADOR: Yesterday, the Salvadoran antitrust authority rejected Mexican telecommunications company América Móvil’s bid to acquire Telefónica’s local unit in El Salvador. Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim, owner of América Móvil, secured a $648 million deal to control the Spanish carrier’s operations in Guatemala and El Salvador. Although being unable to complete the purchase due to lack of regulatory approval in El Salvador, Slim, who already finalized the deal in Guatemala, vowed to try again and file the necessary paperwork later in the summer.

THE ANDES

PERU: A new road blockade is underway at Las Bambas Mine in the indigenous Fuerabamba community of southern Peru. The community has been demanding compensation from the copper mine, operated by Chinese giant Minmetals through its local subsidiary MMG Limited, since February this year. After a prosecutor imprisoned three lawyers representing indigenous communities near the mine and the roadblock ended on April 7, protests resumed yesterday after Las Bambas authorities declined to provide the $28 million requested by Fuerabamba representatives.

VENEZUELA: This past month, oil output in Venezuela hit 15-year low. The latest statistics for the month of April show that the embattled country produced an average of 830,000 barrels of crude oil per day, down from a mean of 1.2 million barrels at the beginning of 2019. This marks the lowest production numbers since 2003. Venezuela has dropped down to the fourth-largest oil producer in the region, behind Brazil, Mexico, and Colombia. The last remaining foreign multinationals in the country’s oil industry, like Spain’s Repsol, have begun phasing out their operations in Venezuela.

SOUTHERN CONE

BRAZIL: Yesterday, Amnesty International issued a statement condemning Jair Bolsonaro’s administration for its “anti-human rights agenda.” Titled ‘A Brazil for Everyone’, the open letter states that the current regime has not respected the rights of indigenous peoples and has failed to protect the lives of vulnerable sectors of the populations by enacting legislation that damages the country’s social fabric. Jurema Werneck, executive director of Amnesty’s Brazil program, said that the measures proposed and adopted by the Bolsonaro administration “raise many concerns” for the future of human rights in the country. 

ARGENTINA: The trial of former president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner began yesterday in Buenos Aires. Fernández de Kirchner faces 12 cases, including money laundering and financial wrongdoing. The left-leaning senator, seeking office as vice president to her former chief of staff Alberto Fernández in the upcoming Oct. 27 elections, criticized the trial as “an act of persecution” via Twitter.

The next hearing will take place on Monday, May 27.

Lila Downs on Her New Album ‘Al Chile,’ Social Justice and Staying True to Her Message

Mexican singer-songwriter Lila Downs recently released Al Chile, her latest album where she pays tribute to food, women, the diversity of Mexican culture and migrants. The project balances joy, fiestas and pain as Downs sings about struggles in the U.S.-Mexico border in the cover of Manu Chao’s “Clandestino,” and joins Norah Jones for the soft lullaby “Dear Someone”—dedicated to one of Jones’ friends who committed suicide.

While these stories are heart-wrenching, the album’s backdrop features lively cumbia tunes and collaboration with Mexican bandas, traditional genres that Downs is known for. She said it’s an album “from the waist down.” The singer worked with producer Camilo Lara for the project, and enlisted over 200 musicians.

Latino USA sat down with Downs to talk about the new album, the diversity of Mexican music, and what keeps her inspired to stay true to her social justice message.

Latino USA: What can you tell us about Al Chile?
Lila Downs: Well, I would say that it’s about saying things “al chile,” which means “directly.” Or spicy as well, I think it carries that meaning. And for men it carries another meaning. I love to do projects that teach me about a particular area that I want to know more about, so this one is about chiles and the variety of chiles we have in Mexico. There are 68 species and [cooking with them] goes way back in time. And I think it also is about character and personality.

Musically, the album is about banda and cumbia. So it’s much more tropical and much more Afro and also Indigenous. And it was great fun. There are over 200 musicians on the album.

LUSA: What was that like working with so many musicians?
LD: We did it in phases. So we started doing the base. We did the musical structure first with a couple of bands who are kind of more like vintage bands from the 70’s and 80’s, also Conjunto Costa Azul de Rigo Tovar, and La Sonora Tropicana, and artists very influenced by Colombian cumbia. And then we went to Oaxaca and recorded some traditional bandas that have big metal sections and snare drums and also bass drums. Then we went to a place called Juchitán in the isthmus and recorded a band of Zapotec children.

LUSA: That sounds amazing, and seems like you had a lot of fun working on this.
LD: We did. We really enjoyed crossing cultures, you know, because within a country, as it happens in many Latin American countries, one area is completely different from another.

In the case of Mexico, even the languages are changing. So that is always a learning experience.

LUSA: When speaking about this album in a press release, you said that some albums are from the heart, and others are from the waist down, and this one is from the waist down. Was that intentional?
LD: It kind of wasn’t. I knew that I wanted to do an album about bandas and I knew Camilo Lara, the producer, like 20 years ago. Because we worked together at EMI and he was in A&R, and then he started doing music as well. So I loved the idea of going into the studio or going out to the field and recording people in their natural circumstance. Because of my anthropologist side, I wanted to have that this time, and Camilo was really into that. So we came back from the from the campo, from the pueblos, the villages that we visited and then did he did his thing in the studio and that made it have the urban flavor and also the rural flavor.

LUSA: You did a cover of Manu Chao’s “Clandestino” for the album. You come into it as a woman and also mentioned the current situation in the U.S. and on the border in the song. Can you talk about the decision behind that?
LD: Yeah, I think that in the more recent migrations, we have seen the woman figure in a very important way. And also the stories about the children looking for the mommies here. And so that has been an issue. They invited me to participate in the Lantern Tour. We did a show here in New York, where Jackson Browne was at. And a few other singer-songwriters, and we supported these detention centers in the sense that you know making people aware of the fact that they are in very difficult conditions. It’s unbelievable. And I think that that’s why I thought I need to find a strong migration piece or write one myself. And this time around, I decided to do “Clandestino.” We asked permission from Manu Chao and he gracefully let us do this slightly different version.

LUSA: This is something you’re known for—bringing social justice into your music. What is the role of an artist in general, when it comes to urgent issues that are happening in our current political landscape?
LD: Well, it’s a difficult issue because when you think of people like Sam Cooke, who did decide to go with his politics. He paid dearly for it—with his life. And I think sometimes there are those of us who feel that we have to fight for a cause and that it’s not enough to just sing a pretty song, you know. And I guess that’s been my turn as well. In Mexico, we’ve had some difficult situations with the violence and with the disappearance of students. And so I’ve written songs about this as well, and I have paid a price for it.

LUSA: Can you talk a little bit about what that price has been?
LD: Well, first of all, there’s censorship of course. But then some people do threaten your life. And then you think about your family and you think, well, this is starting to become about me. And then you think maybe I should just stop talking about it for a while. And I’m not going to give up though (laughs), that’s for sure.

LUSA: What inspires you to continue, even when you’re facing threats or when your family might be put in a precarious situation?
LD: I think there are so many issues that need to be addressed, and so you go elsewhere and, you know, the last album I worked on was about women and women’s issues, and that also had some problems with some people. But you just have to mix it up and figure it out, so that you’re happy as well, because who wants to be a bitter and sad all the time? That’s not really my personality. I’m already too sad naturally so I need to pick myself up, and that’s what this album is about really, picking me up and picking up the community as well. It’s really about community organization and about how fiestas in Latino communities are about everybody pitching in. And I find that to be such an amazing philosophy.

Fifth Guatemalan Youth Dies Under CBP Custody in Last Six Months

U.S.-MEXICO BORDER: A 16-year-old boy became the fifth Guatemalan minor to die under the custody of U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) since December 2018. Carlos Gregorio Hernández Vásquez was detained at the U.S.-Mexico border near Hidalgo, Texas and processed as an unaccompanied minor. After spending five days at a CBP detention facility in the neighboring town of McAllen, Texas, Hernández Vásquez passed away after reportedly falling ill with influenza A. The Guatemalan teen was supposed to be transferred to a 1,400-person detention center in Brownsville, Texas, before being found unconscious at the CBP Weslaco border station.

HEADLINES FROM THE WESTERN HEMISPHERE

NORTH AMERICA

MEXICO: President Andrés Manuel López Obrador is seeking U.S. and Canadian support to implement a comprehensive immigration plan in Central America. López Obrador “does not want the Mérida Initiative, nor helicopters mounted with machine guns,” but rather a cooperative development plan aimed at addressing structural issues in Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. The recently-elected president has ordered his foreign minister, Marcelo Ebrard, to follow-up on a U.N. roadmap for boosting economic performance in the Northern Triangle presented yesterday.

MEXICO: Yesterday, the López Obrador administration vowed to prosecute corrupt judges allegedly on the payroll of a drug cartel with regional presence. Speaking on behalf of the president, the head of Mexico’s Intelligence Unit at the Finance Ministry Santiago Nieto promised to finalize the investigations into high-profile graft cases involving cabinet members from current and past administrations. Recently, the U.S. blacklisted a judge and former governor over having alleged links to the Gulf Cartel.

THE CARIBBEAN

REGION: Yesterday, the first tropical storm of 2019 was recorded in the Caribbean. Known as Andrea, the storm marks the first named climatological disturbance in the Atlantic for this season, even before the hurricane season has officially begun. Andrea formed close to the island of Barbuda, but is expected to dissipate by tomorrow, posing no threat to the U.S. mainland.

TRINIDAD AND TOBAGO: A ship transporting around 20 Venezuelan migrants sank near Trinidad and Tobago at the end of last week. According to Venezuelan civil authorities, the small boat called Ana María departed from the coastal state of Sucre on Thursday night and was reported to go missing on Saturday evening. This is the second maritime tragedy in less than a month. Twenty-one Venezuelan migrants went missing on April 26 after a makeshift vessel capsized only miles away from the twin-island shore.

CENTRAL AMERICA

NICARAGUA: Yesterday, 100 prisoners were released to house arrest throughout many Nicaraguan cities. Facing charges of conspiring against “public security and peace,” the formerly incarcerated prisoners included three human rights activists. Today, the Organization of American States (OAS) will review the sociopolitical conditions of the country in an extraordinary session. The meeting is expected to liberate more prisoners currently detained in Nicaraguan prisons.

THE ANDES

VENEZUELA: President Nicolás Maduro has proposed an early vote to elect members of the National Assembly. As it stands, the vote is set to take place next year, but Maduro’s proposition did not offer a new earlier date. During a pro-government rally held yesterday in Caracas, Maduro accused opposition leader Juan Guaidó of allowing a U.S.-backed coup in Venezuela. Carlos Vecchio, appointed by Guaidó to serves as diplomatic liaison with Washington, met yesterday with U.S. authorities, describing his meetings as “very positive” towards a peaceful resolution.

BOLIVIA: A football referee passed away yesterday following a collapse on the field as he officiated a match. 31 year-old Victor Hugo Hurtado collapsed at the beginning of the second half of the game between Always Ready and Oriente Petrolero of the Bolivian First Division, apparently after having suffered a heart attack. The match took place at the El Alto Municipal Stadium, located at over 3,900 meters above sea level. Yesterday, President Evo Morales sent his condolences, saying that Bolivian football is “in mourning.”

SOUTHERN CONE

BRAZIL: Last Saturday, a group of seven masked gunmen opened fire on a group of 11 revelers congregating at a local bar near Belém in the state of Pará. Six women and five men were killed after being ambushed by three cars and one motorcycle. Police will investigate whether there is a link between the massacre and drug trafficking in the region.

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In Chile, Case of Two Professors Facing Discrimination for Speaking Out on #MeToo Causes Stir in Academia

EDITOR’S NOTE: The opinions expressed in this piece are solely those of the authors and do not reflect the views of Latino USA.

By Hillary Hiner, Assistant Professor, History Department, Universidad Diego Portales.

This article was originally published in NACLA. Read the original article here.

When professors Vania Figueroa and Karina Bravo, respected neuroscientists hired at the newly created Chilean public, regional university, Universidad de O’Higgins, began to speak out about facing harassment from their colleagues, university administrators told them their contracts would not be renewed. The case has shaken the Chilean academic community to its core and women academics and researchers, especially, wonder if they could be next. But the professors and their allies are not giving up their fight to equal treatment in the workplace.

This case of discrimination comes amid a wave of feminist student uprisings in Chile, which spread across the country last May. Students throughout the country occupied universities, and classes were put on hold for months at a time. The demands of these feminist students generally focused on putting an end to the sexual violence and sexual harassment that many women and LGBTQIA+ students face on Chilean campuses. These protests began to rise over a relatively short time, and built upon the many years of strong student activism since the large 2011 mobilizations for free, quality education.

In the wake of this activism, feminist student assemblies and confederations formed, calling for the passage and implementation of anti-violence protocols in their universities, which essentially did not exist in Chile up until this point. However, while feminist students have been quite successful in drawing attention to violence and harassment within universities and developing these anti-violence protocols, much work remains to be done. In particular, women academics and researchers in Chile today lack protections and continue to face unbridled sexism in the university.

This is particularly clear in the case of the two well-known feminist neuroscientists and leaders of the group Red de Investigadoras (Network of Female Researchers, RedI), Dr. Karina Bravo and Dr. Vania Figueroa. In 2017, Bravo and Figueroa were hired to work as academics at a newly-founded regional university in Chile, the Universidad de O’Higgins in Rancagua, about an hour south of the capital city of Santiago. Both academics had, up until that point, sterling academic credentials, with completed Ph.Ds., prestigious fellowships and scholarships in Chile and abroad, scientific publications, and had won numerous competitive research grants administered through the state system, CONICYT. Additionally, both women had leadership positions within the RedI, which meant that they frequently participated in academic debates on the university, STEM fields, and gender in the media and made regular visits to Congress and other state institutions. However, once Bravo began to speak out about the workplace harassment that she was experiencing, the respect and accolades quickly began to wane.

Shortly after her hiring in 2017, Karina Bravo, a neuroscientist specialized in the effects of the anti-depressant fluoxetine on central chemoreception, felt that there was a different type of behavior exhibited towards her, one lacking professional respect. Being a relatively young woman neuroscientist was very difficult, and in Bravo’s case soon led to harassment.

“There was professional and gender-based discrimination. From the moment I started there, they began harassing me, for being ‘young,’ for example. They explicitly did not value my abilities,” she said.

When her daily interactions with her superiors became an almost torturous affair, Bravo knew that she had to do something, even if it ended up seriously affecting her own career in the process. After many failed conversations with her superiors, and unfulfilled promises to better the situation, Bravo filed a harassment complaint in June 2018, she told me.

Vania Figueroa, a fellow neuroscientist who studies how dietary fatty acids influence cellular communication, testified on Bravo’s behalf during the internal investigation that followed Bravo’s complaint to the school. She felt that this was her moral and ethical duty, despite knowing that doing do could also potentially harm her own academic career. All of this came to a head when, in December 2018, both Figueroa and Bravo were informed that their contracts at the Universidad de O’Higgins would not be renewed. The university claimed they were firing Bravo and Figueroa for “a lack of scientific and academic productivity.” However, their productivity had been evaluated by the very academics that they had denounced for harassment, a clear conflict of interest, and was not based on any independent evaluation.

Figueroa and Bravo questioned their illegal firing and the arbitrary conditions under which it took place, immediately suing in Rancagua courts for unfair termination. They also brought their demands to the Chilean House of Representative’s Women and Gender Equity Commission in December 2018. In this capacity, the provost (or rector) of their former university, Rafael Correa, was asked to testify about the case on January 7, 2019. When asked directly about the criteria used for their expulsion from the university, Correa stated, as quoted in a Chilean newspaper in January, “their evaluations showed me that we are talking about two academics that didn’t have the will or the capacity, although I would say more the will because the capacity they did have, to be able to rise through the academic ranks and have an academic career at the Universidad de O’Higgins.”

Gloria Montenegro, a renowned Chilean botanist, denounced Correa’s patronizing remarks in a response in El Mostrador, another Chilean newspaper.

“I have been very worried about [Correa’s] statements,” she wrote in the February article. “Although the belief persists that academic institutions are merit-based and fair, cases like those of Dr. Bravo and Dr. Figueroa remind us that this is not always the case for women. There is evidence that explains that the scarce presence of researchers in some universities is due to the accumulative effects of hostile work environments, evaluation bias due to gender stereotypes and institutional structures that disadvantage women in academia.”

Her words confirm the unfair and blatantly sexist parameters of the large gender gaps that appear in Chilean academia, even more so in STEM fields. According to the NGO Comunidad Mujer (Women Community)which published a 2017 report about women in STEM, between 2007 and 2017, 81 percent of all first-year students in “hard science” and engineering departments and 53 percent of students in life science departments in Chile are men. According to this same report, Chile is last among OECD countries in terms of women who manage to graduate from college in STEM careers, accounting for only 19 percent of total graduates. At the same time, women only represent 22.7 percent in the elite researchers that make up CONICYT’s STEM study groups —that help to select individuals for prestigious grants in their fields— and also only make up 23.9 percent of all STEM academics in top Chilean universities. All this should be no surprise considering that academics must have the “will” to withstand double or triple shifts as primary caregivers of children and the elderly, as Correa put so scathingly, and to work for lower wages in lower-prestige positions requiring a large amount of administrative and “care” work, according to a CONICYT report. According to another Comunidad Mujer study, in 2017 Chilean women did 6.6 hours of unpaid care-work per day, while Chilean men only did 3.2, for example.

Furthermore, on April 5, 2019, a CONICYT resolution formally ended an investigation under Figueroa, which was focused on the effects of omega-3 fatty acids on pregnant women, funded under a national grant project that seeks to introduce brilliant new scientific talent into research universities. Because Figueroa completed her yearly report but the university refused to sign it, the Universidad de O’Higgins was found at fault and is therefore required to refund the totality of the project’s resources to CONICYT, this decision also unfairly punishes Figueroa, who told me that she was emotionally “devastated” by this decision.

Figueroa is currently awaiting a response from the Rancagua courts in response to her firing. “The professional and health costs of making this public for me have been tremendous,” she says. “I’m still unemployed, even though I have applied to many jobs. It is almost impossible to revert the damage that the Universidad de O’Higgins has done to my professional career.”

In universities in Chile and throughout the world we are confronting an important moment of reflection, bolstered by the “Me too” (“Yo te creo” or “Yo también“) moment. Many women and LGBTQIA+ academics, researchers, undergraduate, and postgraduate students, and university employees have only recently begun to raise their voices and call out the harassment and violence present at our universities.

“We are not the first and, unfortunately, we will not be the last to have to endure this type of situation, but it is only when we can make visible the invisible barriers that we face that we can begin to dismantle them,” said Figueroa. “We are tired, fed up, with abuses of power, nepotism, favoritism, and patriarchal logic within universities. We want to say once and for all: ‘¡basta! (enough!).”

For this same reason, many among the Chilean academic community are energetically denouncing the case of Drs. Figueroa and Bravo. Fellow women academics, including Gloria Montenegro, have written letters to the editor or op-ed columns to show support; feminists, academics and students have held protests and there have been feminist funas (collective “calling outs” of injustice) at the Universidad de O’Higgins, denouncing what happened to the professors. Additionally, a petition is circulating (in both Spanish and English) to show support for their cause, in hopes of pressuring the Chilean government into providing Figueroa and Bravo with some type of legal or academic restitution for what has happened to them. Among their calls are for Provost Correa’s resignation and the reinstatement of their contracts.

It is high time for academics across the Americas and beyond to consider what Figueroa and Bravo’s case says about the status of women and LGBTQIA+ academics and our ability to organize and make demands concerning living without violence and harassment in our university settings. Undoubtedly, the most affected academics are those that have only recently been able to enter into academia in the Americas who are also most vulnerable and exposed to harassment and violence—Black, Indigenous and other racialized women academics; women academics who come from poor, working-class, or immigrant backgrounds; and LGBTQIA* academics. This is particularly the case in the context of a global atmosphere that is, unfortunately, trending towards dangerously racist, xenophobic, anti-feminist, and anti-LGBTQIA+ discourses. In order to resist, we must come together. Only in our collective strength can will challenge and resist the violence that permeates universities and beyond.

Colombian Army Chief Issued Order to ‘Increase Combat Kills’

COLOMBIA: An article published in the New York Times on Saturday details how Colombia’s army chief has ordered to “increase combat kills” through any means necessary, even if the strategy results in more civilian casualties. As a response, Defense Minister Guillermo Botero launched an investigation into General Nicacio Martínez Espinel, who is accused of promoting extrajudicial executions in Colombia.

The article has prompted widespread backlash from the Colombian right-wing. Yesterday, the article’s author Nicholas Casey left Colombia following threats against him made by Senator María Fernanda Cabral for the Democratic Center (CD) party. Senator Cabral implied on Twitter that Casey had been paid off by Colombian guerrillas to write the article.


Casey also reported that security forces have experienced a 33 percent increase in combat kills during the first quarter of this year.

HEADLINES FROM THE WESTERN HEMISPHERE

NORTH AMERICA

U.S.-MEXICO BORDER: President Donald Trump told Florida governor that asylum seekers at the border will not be flown to Florida, according to the spokesperson for Governor Ron DeSantis. The president’s initial immigration proposal of sending two thousand migrants to Broward and Palm Beach counties were received with alarm by local residents. However, the Trump administration will continue transferring migrants from Texas to San Diego. Around 100 migrants from the Rio Grande Valley arrived to the Border Patrol’s South Bay station over the weekend.

REGIONAL: The United States, Mexico and Canada have multilaterally-agreed to remove tariffs on steel and aluminum. Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador praised the deal, calling it a “triumph of diplomacy.” The three countries are in the process of ratifying a new trade deal, the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Trade Deal (USMCA), which will replace the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

THE CARIBBEAN

PUERTO RICO: Yesterday, the fiscal oversight board said that they will sue the retirement system’s bondholders in an attempt to recover $392 million. The board claims that the Employees Retirement System (ERS) “was never authorized” to issue bonds to the public in 2008, since they were never approved by Puerto Rico’s legislative chamber. Several vendors received payments over $2.5 million “without a valid contract,” the federally created entity alleges.

CENTRAL AMERICA

REGIONAL: U.S. Department of State have released a “corrupt list” that includes over 50 elected and senior government officials in Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras. Among these are Guatemalan presidential candidate Mario Estrada, recently detained in Miami after conspiring to collaborate with a drug cartel and plotting to kill other candidates, and former president Antonio Saca, currently serving a 10-year prison sentence for appropriating public funds. U.S. Representative Norma Torres (D-Cal.), the only Central American serving in Congress, has called the list “a sham” because it “conceals the names” of other known corrupt government officials in the region.

COSTA RICA: The ‘morning-after’ pill can now be purchased without a prescription in Costa Rica. Known commercially as Plan B, Levonogerstel will be the only accessible emergency contraceptive that can be acquired over-the-counter in pharmacies nationwide. Lawmakers and activists were able to secure its access to the public following a five-year campaign in the national legislature and in the streets. The Health Ministry approved its use in April of this year.

THE ANDES

ECUADOR: U.S. authorities arrive today in London to seize Julian Assange’s belongings at the Ecuadorian Embassy. Prosecutors were allegedly told by Ecuadorian officials to “help themselves” to Assange’s electronic equipment and other legal papers. Ecuadorian Foreign Minister José Valencia said that the country is “abiding by the standards of international law” in the process. The Embassy hosted the WikiLeaks founder for over seven years. He is now serving a 50-week prison sentence for violating bail.

SOUTHERN CONE

ARGENTINA: Former president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner announced on Saturday that she will run as vice-president in the upcoming Argentine elections. Currently a senator, Fernández de Kirchner will partner up with Alberto Fernández, a moderate Peronist and her former chief of staff. President Mauricio Macri will seek reelection on Oct. 27 amid a growing economic crisis that has made him deeply unpopular.

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