Friday, September 30, 2016

A Look at the 'Communitarian Nation of Moskitia'

The Miskitos, some 150,000 to 200,000 strong, share the region with several other indigenous groups, as well as English-speaking Afro-Nicaraguans and some Spanish-speaking mestizos. In general, the east is culturally opposed to the rest of the country: Creole English and indigenous languages are more widely spoken than Spanish, and Protestantism (with strong indigenous and African elements) is more widespread than Catholicism. Moskitia’s would-be leaders claim that their new country will be ethnically inclusive, but its political structures are to be based on Misktito traditions. Hector Williams, head of the movement, goes by the indigenous title of Wihta Tara, or Great Judge.  -from GeoCurrents
 By Sabrina Hernández

In the Sept. 15 issue of NotiCen we covered the land conflict in in the Río Coco Arriba sector of Nicaragua’s Región Autónoma de la Costa Caribe Norte (North Caribbean Coast Autonomous Region, RACCN). Here, the Miskito communities are trying to defend their lands from mestizo settlers from western Nicaragua who are pushing further and further into the region to exploit its valuable hardwoods, clear forest space for cattle ranching, and in some cases, even set up clandestine drug-trafficking outposts.

To put the conflict into perspective, it is useful to learn more about the history and evolution of the Miskito communities As a Latin American Studies graduate student, learning new things like this is, in a nut shell, why I am here. So, I did a little bit of digging and here is some of what I learned: Diverse Origins

While Spain was conquering most of the hemisphere in the 16th century, the eastern regions of both Honduras and Nicaragua remained untouched until the 17th century. Prior to contact, the region was inhabited by numerous small indigenous groups, but with the turn of the 16th century, the region saw increasing interaction with English, French, and Dutch buccaneers, traders, and settlers. In addition to English interactions, the coastal indigenous populations were receptive of African slaves who had either escaped or shipwrecked into the region. The culmination of these diverse interactions resulted in the Miskito Creole English that is spoken by some today in addition to a native Miskito language and Spanish spoken by smaller populations.

Involvement with the Contras 
In the 1980s, Miskito support was highly sought after by both the Sandinistas and the Nicaraguan government. At that time, the Miskitos has formed guerrilla forces that engaged in armed struggle against the government. In an attempt to sway the Miskito, the government passed a statute that gave autonomy to the Miskito in September 1987 which was effective in quelling Miskito resistance. A series of LADB articles in 1987 document the different strategies employed by both the Nicaraguan government and US government to attain control of the Miskitos.

Independence Movement 
Located on the eastern coast of both Honduras and Nicaragua, a drive to the Miskito coast takes about 20 hours in car from Managua. Driving to El Salvador or neighboring Costa Rica would be quicker than accessing the remotely located and sparsely populated Moskito Coast. It might seem like traveling to another country, in 2009, the Miskito announced their declaration of independence from Nicaragua. The Communitarian Nation of Moskitia, who no longer recognizes the authority of the Nicaraguan government, comes replete with their own flag, national anthem, a lawyer, and an extensive list of grievances. Separatist action was spurred by a combination of dissatisfaction with President Daniel Ortega - both as the leader of the Sandinista’s in the 1980’s and as sitting president of Nicaragua - and exploitation of raw material in their jungle territory. The Nicaraguan government has given the Miskitos a degree of autonomy but has not recognized the Miskito communities as a separate nation.

Environmental and Health Concerns 
In a region that experienced upwards of 80% unemployment in 2009, lobster diving serves as an industry that offers employment and a means of survival for many Miskito along the Atlantic coast. However, commercial diving in and of itself is controversial not just because of the dangers of over hunting the lobster population, but the dangers inherent in diving itself. Hundreds of Miskito divers have died and an estimated half of the Miskito population live with injuries, including paralysis, from decompression sickness, a condition created by ascending too rapidly back to the water’s surface.

To highlight this dangerous activity, a movie, "My Village, My Lobster," was made in 2013 to bring attention to a law passed by the Nicaraguan government that will ban commercial diving, which would bring dire economic consequences for the Miskito. "The bulk of the film examines the hard lives of Miskito divers who work on commercial boats, going out for 12-day stretches into deeper waters. The boats have been heading out farther and farther, meaning divers have to plunge deeper and deeper to pick up the clawless spiny lobsters from the bottom," said an article in National Geographic.

The 'White Lobster'
According to an article in Time magazine, dated April 14, 2011, life has improved for some members of the Miskito community with the arrival of the "white lobster" on the Mosquito Coast. "White lobsters — also known as bendiciones de Dios or godsends — are packages of cocaine and other drugs pitched overboard by narco-smugglers fleeing Nicaraguan Coast Guard patrols," said the Time article.  "With that valuable cargo, several tiny outposts on the country's Mosquito Coast have morphed into international logistics hubs for transnational drug shipments headed in every direction."

Friday, September 16, 2016

Will a Woman Be Elected to Fill These Shoes? (Of UN Secretary General)

Susana Malcorra (Photo: UN)
By Sabrina Hernández

With the end of Ban Ki-moon’s term drawing near, election of the ninth secretary-general is underway. The early candidates included two women from the Latin American and Caribbean group, Susana Malcorra of Argentina and Christiana Figueres of Costa Rica. See  our coverage in the LADB News Service. Figueres has since withdrawn from the race.

Malcorra is one of four women who remain in the running for the post. The others are Irina Bokova of Bulgaria, Helen Clark of New Zealand, and Natalia Gherman of Moldova. No woman has previously served as UN secretary-general.  An important factor in the decision is an unwritten rule of “regional rotation," which would give the upper hand to the Eastern European group as it is a region that has yet to see UN leadership. Gherman and Bokova would both fill the gender and regional roles.

Christiana Figueres (Photo: UN)
So what does the UN Secretary-General do? Well, per the United Nations, the Secretary-General is “equal parts diplomat and advocate, civil servant, and CEO, the Secretary-General is a symbol of United Nations ideals and a spokesman for the interests of the world’s people, in particular the poor and vulnerable among them.”

Yikes! Add to this whopper of a job description the 1 for 7 Billion campaign (referring to one candidate to represent 7 billion people), and the magnitude and weight of this position can begin to be fully understood. Though broadly defined and open to interpretation, it is clear that whoever is elected later this year will have to stand at the forefront and work to address a hefty load of issues that will necessitate strategic leadership, managerial know-how, and efficiently and effectively navigate a plethora of priorities established by the UN’s member states.

Javier Pérez de Cuéllar (Photo: UN)
The 'poet' secreatary-general
A member of the Latin American and Caribbean group has previously held the leadership of the UN, with Javier Pérez de Cuéllar of Peru serving as secretary-general from 1982 to 1991 by A trilingual poet and grandfather, many were uncertain that Pérez de Cuéllar possessed the firm hand believed necessary for the job, which is to serve an emphasis on “world hunger and disease, abuses of human rights, the scourge of war, and the ultimate threat of nuclear catastrophe,”

One of Pérez de Cuéllar's most notable contributions during his tenure was in his home region of Latin America. He personally  became involved in negotiations between the government and guerillas in El Salvador on a peace pact, which brought to an end 12 years of violent civil war in a time of chaos for the region. (Read our coverage in LADB).

 Because of his achievements, some have called Pérez de Cuéllar the "greatest:" secretary-general who has served in the post. However, the recognition was not enough to convince the people of Peru to vote him in as president in South American country's 1994 election

In Pérez de Cuéllar we see a model for what it means to be an effective and esteemed secretary-general. In trying to get a solid grip on this expansive and often vague job description, the next secretary-general should not forget the lessons of those who held the seat before but also bring a fresh perspective and ideas to the table. Four of the nine remaining candidates are women, potentially bringing a new perspective to the job.

Friday, September 2, 2016

Ni Una Menos Fights Violence against Women Throughout Latin America.

By Sabrina Hernández

Ni Una Menos, a civic movement calling attention to the high incidence of sexual violence and femicide, has gained traction in Peru, a country that ranks second in Latin America for the number of incidents of sexual violence with 10 femicides a month  Ni Una Menos organized a massive march on Aug, 13 to bring attention to the issue. (See Aug. 26 edition of NotiSur)

 An estimated 50,000 people showed up and footage of the demonstration in Lima can be seen here:

In Peru, several controversial rulings by judges in domestic violence cases served as the impetus for this call to action and effort to bring the matter of violence against women to the center of the national debate.

Impunity and violence against women is an issue that I tracked very closely during my years in California. I was still back home in the San Francisco Bay area, when a judge handed down an an appallingly paltry sentence to a Stanford University swimmer convicted of rape this past summer.

No matter what country, this is an issue that merits attention, and Ni Una Menos has managed to raise consciousness about the problem not only in Peru, but also throughout Latin America.  Here are synopses of how the organization and local activists have worked to address gender violence in various countries in the region.

Argentina  On June 3, 2015, a Ni Una Menos protest was held in the streets of Córdoba to demand an end to femicides and other types of violence against women. Thousandsof people took to the streets to demand an end to gender-related killings and relative impunity for the perpetrators of gender-related violence. This was only one of several protets in Argentina that year. According to The Huffington Postmore than 300,000 in Buenos Aires alone marched for Ni Una Menos, joining protestors in other cities. By some estimates, Argentina averages one femicide per 30 hours,  up from an estimated one death per 40 hours in 2008. But these are just estimates. One of the demands of protestors is that the government collect and release accurate statistics on femicide. Another focus of the protest is aimed at prevention; protestors interviewed made mention of the importance of educating men how to treat women.

Mexico  In July of 2015, Mexico held its own march against femicide and the violent killing of women and girls. The country, beleaguered by gender related violence, sees six women killed each day, which places it among the world’s worst countries for violence against women. The culmination of these coordinated protests has led the government to issue “gender alerts.” This alert, the government’s recognition of a serious and systemic problem, will signify that “urgent action” is necessary to prevent the killing of women and to work towards the resolution of the countless open and languishing investigations. As of July, 2016, the federal government has activated a gender alert in 33 municipalities in the states of Mexico, Morelos, and Michoacan. While women see the gender alerts as a step forward, they believe much more needs to be done in Mexico. On a Sunday in late April, of this year tens of thousands of women in 27 states marched through the streets of major Mexican cities to demand an end to domestic violence, harassment of women, and femicides. Organizers dubbed the campaign Primavera Violeta (Violet Spring), an effort to bring attention to the many ways in which women are accosted in Mexico. Read more in SourceMex, May 11, 2016

Bolivia  Activists have led protests to redress a staggeringly high incidence of gender related violence perpetuated by a patriarchal culture that views women as property of men. Bolivian government has taken a considerable action compared to other countries plagued with gender violence.  In 2013, Bolivia passed Law 348 which was designed to guarantee women a life free of violence and prevent partner violence and punish abusers. Recently formed within the Bolivian police is the Fuerza Especial de Lucha Contra La Violencia (FELCV) whose job is to prevent, investigate and combat violence against women and girls. While Bolivia is leading the way with good laws and legal framework, cultural mentalities lag behind and many women find that lack of services and societal pressure to remain quiet makes the process of reporting incidents to be stressful and life-threatening, according to the daily newspaper El Comercio.

Colombia  A new law on femicide was implemented on July 6, 2015. In Colombia, an average of one woman is killed every two days and protesters who gathered on Sept. 16, 2015r attribute that high number, in part, to Colombia’s macho culture and a lack of awareness among women about their rights. Experts now argue that the prosecutor’s office needs to change the way cases of femicide are identified and investigated in order for this new law to begin to chip away at the problem, according to Colombia Informa.

Brazil  With the Rio Olympics in full swing, protestors gathered to condemn the rampant sexual violence that plagues the country. In few other countries can the systemic and institutionalized nature of the problem be as outwardly visible. A high profile rape case involving the Party of Social Christians leader, Marcus Feliciano, serves to illustrate the true depth and extent of the problem in Brazil,  Ani Hao wrote in the online news site Broadly. This protest, in large part motivated by the sexual assault of four women in the Olympic Village, marks a year of intense activism against gender related violence and femicide. Brazil has been tail spinning into political, economic, and social crisis and June 1, 2016, marked the largest feminist mobilization in Brazil’s history in light of a gruesome sexual assault of an adolescent girl by at least 30 men, most of whom, have not been punished. In March 2015, Brazil finally codified a law against femicide, thanks in part to intense feminist activism.