The Latin American Diaries |

The Ethiopic Ocean and Luiz Felipe de Alencastro’s New Perspectives on the South Atlantic


by Marília Arantes Moreira, Research Student, Institute of Latin American Studies

I recently met up with Brazilian historian Luiz Felipe de Alencastro in Paris to discuss his latest article, “The Ethiopic Ocean – History and Historiography 1600−1975”, published in 2015. In a café, with Oscar Niemeyer’s French Communist Party headquarters standing behind him, he also had much to say about ongoing projects on South Atlantic Studies as a new cultural area of knowledge. [1]

The Ethiopic Ocean

Alencastro is known for his influential and prodigious output, especially the books “História da Vida Privada” (1997) and “O Trato dos Viventes” (2000), in which he explained Brazil’s formation outside of its territory in light of its crucial role in the bilateral slave-trade network with Africa. Embedding Brazil in a global context, he revealed how economic geography imposed political conditions on colonisation.[2]

Recently, The Transatlantic Database has enabled a revision of his books with new quantitative approaches: “as those were commercial relations, everything was taken into account”, he notes. From 1550 to 1850, 95% of all slave ships docked in Brazil: “This oceanic continuum is stronger than the continental idea of South America”. [3]

In “The Ethiopic Ocean”, Alencastro explores the core of traditional interpretations of Atlantic History, introducing a Brazilian point of view. He utilises the term “Ethiopic Ocean” as a geohistorical aggregate for comprehending the subequatorial seas of western and eastern Africa, considered as “an ocean in it’s own right” in the Sailing Age, and as a means of reasserting a complexity that modern cartography was unable to offer. Since 1850, with geopolitical transformations, another ocean has been shaped. As underlined in his article, “significantly, the American Cyclopaedia (in 1873) designates North Atlantic as the ‘Atlantic Proper’.” [4]

Alencastro relates his immersion in the study of whalers while a Visiting Professor at the University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth, in 2012. Averse to driving, he sometimes waited at New Bedford Whaling Museum rather than the bus stop on his way back home. After coming across their accurate maps and charts, including one showing whale concentrations (above), he re-read the “wonderful work” Moby Dick (1851) and realised that those sailors also knew what the slave traders had realised: the North Atlantic is shorter than the South: “It is all about the thermic equator, located 10 degrees above Senegal.”

The Anticyclone of Capricorn that governs Southern currents and naval routes was key to exploration of Africa. Like Jesuit Padre Antonio Vieira’s sermons, it seemed to justify transmigration as “singularly favoured and assisted by God”, morally validating slave trafficking as a stage in the evangelisation of African bodies and souls that would be converted in Portuguese colonies.[5]

Alencastro's representation of the maritime dynamics of the Ethiopic, with cyclons and anti-cyclones, hand-drawn during our interview

Maritime dynamics of the Ethiopic, with cyclones and anti-cyclones (drawn by Alencastro during interview)

Yet, the purpose of Alencastro’s article is not to explain the South Atlantic (as previous essays did), but rather to compare traditional historiographies, demonstrating how this phenomenon was interpreted differently. His deep historical analysis of Portuguese, Brazilian, Belgian, British and North-American literatures, as well as the Annales School, shows how this geographic zone was only dimly perceived – and underestimated. Yet “Brazil and Africa cannot be merely footnoted”, he argues.[6]

The idea of writing a genealogy of South Atlantic history came after Harvard’s International Atlantic World Seminar, 2004, in a talk with the Director Bernard Baylin, concerning the “The Idea of Atlantic History” (2005).[7]  However, “the debates on Atlantic History started in the 50’s, in France; they weren’t invented by Baylin”, Alencastro underlines.[8] “When Braudel said the Atlantic is ‘a space which borrowed its past and was hastily constructed’ as I show in the article’s epigraph, he was denying that Pierre Chaunu did the same in ‘The Mediterranean’, because he couldn’t give an idea of the whole in his essay.” [9]

But Braudel didn’t even recognise the significance of the bilateral trade in Pierre Verger’s “monumental” thesis, Flux et reflux de la traite de nègres entre le golfe de Bénin et Bahia de Todos os Santos, du XVIIe au XIXe siècle (1968), even though he supervised it.  Alencastro points out that even Verger had also neglected Angola’s significance to Brazil, which went far beyond Bahia: “now numbers are proven by the Database.” [10]

While in charge of the Sorbonne’s Brazil and South Atlantic Studies Centre (2000-2104), he organised conferences gathering specialists on Namibia, Angola, South Africa, alongside other Southern Atlanticists. A book is on the way, as well as a denser version of “The Ethiopic Ocean”. Encounters are giving rise to new projects, such as a Centre of South Atlantic Studies at Fundação Getúlio Vargas in São Paulo, to expand the concept’s use to contemporary South-South relations.

Alencastro redefined the South Atlantic as a network instead of system after realising that, differently from the Indian Ocean or the Caribbean, it depended on the Eurocentric system. As the slave trade was interrupted, the network collapsed. So did communication between Africa and South America, for more than 120 years. Relations were only revived after 1975, with the independence of Angola and Mozambique.

Another point is that “The Ethiopic Ocean” isn’t purely maritime. For example, it includes Minas Gerais leather for rolled packs of exported tobacco. Silver from Potosi, via Buenos Aires and Rio de Janeiro, was the currency used in exchanges with China. Nevertheless, São Paulo, Pará, Maranhão and the Amazon belong to another geographical pattern.

The chronology (1550-1850) delineates a continuum of the same colonial matrix, the slave trade period. It suits the long durée definition, but “not in a Braudelian way”. Considering historic ruptures, Alencastro thinks independence in 1822 “didn’t change things much. It is true that the first export destination for Brazilian goods became Liverpool instead of Lisbon, but Luanda remained the second most important port of Brazilian traders because of the slave trade.” Moreover, “what held the provinces together after independence was these relations with Angola, managed by the Braganza dynasty of Brazil – the only ones with the diplomatic ability to comply with both the British and the slave owner’s demands.”

The “Opening of Brazilian Ports” (1808), part of the Royal Navy’s offensive across the whole South Atlantic, is another deceptive symbol of Europeanisation, argues Alencastro. “In fact, that’s when Africanisation occurs.” After 1815, Brazilians and Cubans appropriated abandoned British and North American schemes all over Africa, constituting a significant episode of displacement. Would that make any sense with Marx’s idea of the “dark side of Capitalism”? “Yes. The British abolished the slave trade, but kept buying commodities made by slave hands.”

To Alencastro, Brazil didn’t become a nation until the five million Africans got there, victims of the Atlantic slave trade. “If the majority of the population is black and there were none, then Brazil was not yet born.” Brasileiro wasn’t a demonym until 1850. When legal union was complete, there were 6.5 Africans for every Portuguese or white descendent in the country.

Clearly, intellectual debates on Atlantic History remain unresolved, not least concerning Eurocentric bias and openness to new perspectives. And though Baylin once declared “he knows nobody poetically enraptured by the Atlantic World” (referring to Chaunu and the Mediterranean), when I came across “The Ethiopic Ocean”, I for one couldn’t help falling in love with it.



[1] Luiz Felipe de Alencastro, Emeritus Professor at Université de Paris-Sorbonne, and Professor at the School of Economics of São Paulo — FGV.

[2] Alencastro, Luiz Felipe de, “O Trato dos Viventes: Formação do Brasil no Atlântico Sul, Séculos XVI e XVII”: Companhia das Letras; São Paulo, 2000. And História da vida privada no Brasil, Volume 2. Império : A corte e a modernidade nacional . São Paulo: Companhia das Letras, 1997.

[3] The Transatlantic Database (completed and organized by D. Eltis, D. Richardson, and others);

[4] Alencastro, Luiz Felipe de, “The Ethiopic Ocean: History and Historiography – 1600-1975” (In Portuguese Literary & Cultural Studies, n. 27, 2015, p. 1-79), p. 46.

[5] Alencastro, Luiz Felipe de, Op.Cit. p. 7.

[6] Bailyn, Bernard, “The Idea of Atlantic History”, Itinerario 20 (1996): 19-44.

[7] As Professor Leslie Bethell observed, from 260 papers produced in six years of Harvard’s seminars, only nine referred to Brazil.

[8] Bailyn, Bernard, The New England merchants in the seventeenth century. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1955. See also, Massachusetts shipping, 1697-1714; a statistical study, Cambridge; Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1959.

[9] Braudel, Fernand. Pour une histoire sérielle: Séville et l’Atlantique (1504-1650) [Pierre Chaunu, Séville et l’Atlantique (1350-1650)]. In: Annales. Économies, Sociétés, Civilisations. 18ᵉ année, N. 3, 1963. pp. 541-553.

[10] Verger, Pierre. Flux et reflux de la traite de nègres entre le golfe de Bénin et Bahia de Todos os Santos, du XVIIe au XIXe siècle: Paris, 1968.

Travelling to do a PhD: The role of international postgraduate students in networks of information circulation


by Jose Luis Guevara Salamanca, Research Student, Institute of Latin American Studies

I am writing this post one year after arriving in London. Having finished my undergraduate studies in 2005 in Colombia I began looking for a place abroad where I could develop my scholarly career. Eventually, in 2011, after six years in academic publishing, I took a Master’s in History in Colombia, and then in 2015 I began my PhD here at ILAS.

From the beginning I have been interested in the history of books, and during my PhD I have been able to relate this topic to questions about the legitimacy of knowledge, the roots of public policies on science and technology in Latin America, and how my personal experience fits into global networks of knowledge production and information circulation that have driven particular projects by scholars new and old.

For many British scholars the idea of coming to the UK to study the history of the book in Peru and Colombia seems strange. But the biggest surprise to me was not their posture, but rather how I took for granted that I would go abroad to do my PhD. Why did this seem the next logical step in my career? Clearly the main reason is that accumulation of capital and knowledge had created an imbalance in scientific and academic development between Colombia and the UK. Consider alone the concentration of books that Bloomsbury provides for the students of UCL, the School of Advanced Study, SOAS, and other institutes and members of the University of London.


A reading room at Senate House library, Bloomsbury

However, this vision only reproduces the traditional scale of centre-periphery explanations, which basically rely on an economic perspective to study the relations (and perhaps hierarchies) between different places[1]. In my research there is an ongoing battle to separate myself from perspectives that reduce cultural and social variables to the flows of capital, thereby hiding the networks that allow us to identify global organisations that challenge the metropole-colony understanding.

In this struggle for intellectual independence a question emerges: is it possible that after more than 200 years of independent history Latin America has not created its own, original corpus of knowledge? I have heard many explanations of why Latin America has not produced a school of thought distanced from European roots, with an underlying frustration about never becoming a place where knowledge is produced instead of reproduced. Could it be a lack of PhD programs in universities? The absence of a strong conversation among our scholars? A public policy that cannot free production of knowledge from “dependency” on Europe?

Two trains of thought split off from this issue. The first one relates to the common binary explanation in which “first world academia” is opposed to “third world academia” because of the obvious resource imbalances and the dependency of the latter on the former. The second, meanwhile, sees the circulation of information and knowledge as a global network that connects different geographies beyond the developed economies.

In the first case, voices from different parts of the world have gradually achieved global recognition[2] since the midpoint of the twentieth century, emerging from former colonies of the Imperial European enterprises. As such, oppositions like “developed world” and “emerging economies”, or “first world” and “third world”, can be understood as euphemisms for colonizer and colonized.[3] This is especially true where mechanisms of legitimacy of knowledge – rankings, databases, avenues to scholarly publication – work more in terms of the market than of scientific progress. However, this dichotomy only creates a dual vision that disempowers knowledge producers outside of the major centres. These producers, of course, already suffer from a lack visibility within a largely Anglophone system which reinforces the idea that “discoveries” happen in specific places[4].

The second case tells a different story, albeit one that provides as many questions as answers. An understanding of how information circulates outside of the bipolar world demands a broader view encompassing materials, channels, translations, deviations, influences, interests, global contributions to knowledge production, and meanings achieved by readers as active participants in the reproduction of information. Instead of telling a story of isolated creators blessed by “genetically unique cleverness”, this view underlines the connections, borrowings, influences and multiple ways in which the world of scholarship is linked. One of the ways in which geographically separate academic arenas encounter each other is through PhD students themselves. Although we come here to learn, in many cases we have an ongoing research career in our countries.  And because of the nature of our economies and our growing academic sectors, many students already have some experience of publishing, teaching and researching. We carry our own methods, questions, interests, and passions along with us on our research voyages.

For Colombian scholars the PhD is sometimes considered the summit of an academic career. It comes, especially in the social sciences and humanities, after lengthy research projects at undergraduate and Master’s level.[5] Reaching the required language proficiency for a PhD in a non-Spanish speaking country can also represent a significant and time-consuming challenge. Some scholars spend years looking for funding, studying languages and completing relevant exams and applications. This idea of the PhD as the pinnacle of one’s career is also shaped by the fact that once in post at a Colombian university, academics have to split their time between research itself, administrative tasks and teaching courses, many of which do not fit their area of expertise. Thus, later research lacks the luxury of time afforded by the PhD.

In the UK, meanwhile, the PhD dissertation is considered the beginning of a scholar’s academic life. The publication of the thesis as a monograph helps to position the researcher in a given field and that process turns the young scholar into an author: he or she knows how to respond to the publisher’s expectations, how to rewrite a text for a more general audience, and how to sell the idea of the project within a particular collection or series. This training in the communication of science and knowledge is part of the PhD process, allowing for insertion of the scholar into particular networks of information dissemination.

To come to the UK is to take part in a process of dissemination that flows in many directions – not only from Europe or North America to the rest of the world. Perhaps we have been too focused on showing how the “centre” spreads around the globe rather than how different geographies nourish each other. Gone are the days when audiences, readers, students and consumers were understood as passive agents in the processes of circulation of goods and texts, for new advances in the study of consumption, readership and education have shown how meaning changes in the process of circulation and how the practice of reception has come to define the production of knowledge itself.



[1] Peter Burke works on this perspective on his book, A Social History of Knowledge: From Gutenberg to Diderot, Kindle edition (Cambridge, UK : Malden, Mass: Polity, 2000). Effectively, this author locates the center-periphery approach into the geographical explanation of circulation of knowledge, this strengthens the idea that behind those geopolitical explanations exist an specific way of understand the space, also position geography in the middle of this debate.

[2] Authors like Samir Amin, Edward Said, Dipesh Chakravarti, Sanjay Subrahmanyan, Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, Walter Mignolo and Jorge Canizares Esguerra have become widely known.

[3] Many of those voices have been gathered in academic trends that have searched for rewritte the colonial history like the postcolonial studies, decolonial studies and subaltern studies. However, many of this alternatives have been born in Southeast Asia, for that reason they tell the story of colonialism from the experience of the British Empire. A few steps ahead have been done for Hispanic American colonies in the work edited by Mark Thurner and Andrés Guerrero, After Spanish Rule. Postcolonial Predicaments of the Americas (Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2003).

[4] Examples could be found in the difficult access to works in Chinese and Japanese history because of the lack of use of English. Sanjay Subrahmanyan, Writing History ‘Backwards’: Southeastern Asian History (and the Annales) at the Crossroads. Studies in History, 10(1994), 131-145. Even many of the works in Latin American history written in Spanish are absent from certain networks of circulation because of the language barrier.

[5] Although this is changing because the years to get an undergraduate diploma have been reduced considerably in recent times.

Thinking Inside the Boxes: The Latin American Political Pamphlets Collection at Senate House Library


by Christine Anderson (Latin America Research Librarian) and Julio Cazzasa (Special Collections Cataloguer), Senate House Library

arg_polpamOn 23 February 2016, Senate House Library will be hosting “Thinking Inside the Boxes“, a series of talks about its extensive Latin American Political Pamphlets Collection, which documents some of the most troubled years of twentieth-century Latin America.   The event, featuring Anthony Pereira (KCL), Guillermo Mira (Salamanca), Vinicius Mariano de Carvalho (KCL), Thomas Rath (UCL), Anna Grimaldi (KCL), Thomas Rath (UCL) and Aquiles Alencar (British Library), hopes to demonstrate the relevance of these documents across a number of research topics and contexts.  But we invite all researchers and postgraduate students to consider consulting the archive in their own research.

The majority of the collection consists of the former holdings of the Contemporary Archive on Latin America (CALA), which from its inception in 1976 sought to build up a combination of academic and ‘alternative’ sources of information for the use of students, teachers, researchers, solidarity and human rights committees, journalist, development and volunteer agencies, television programme producers, trade unionists and the like.  It maintained contact with documentation and educational centres in Latin America and beyond, housing of rare materials jeopardised by political developments in the region.  This ensured that its collections were uniquely rich in their depth of coverage.

guate_polpamBy 1981 however, the archive faced an irretrievable funding situation and was forced to close.  Originally its collections had been destined to be divided between Latin America Bureau, the Institute for Race Relations, the CARILA Latin America Resource Centre, and the Nicaraguan Ministry of Planning, but these organisations were unable to organise the retrieval of the material before CALA’s closure.  The Institute of Latin American Studies stepped in as “the only institution involved which had the will and the means to save this material in time and to house it.”

Since then the original collections have been augmented by fresh donations and the re-classifying of political ephemera within the main library stock, but with the amalgamation of new material the Institute has sought to maintain the onus of the original CALA collection.

In 2003 the University of London Vice Chancellor’s fund agreed to provide the money for a joint project between ILAS and the Institute of Commonwealth Studies (ICOMM) aiming to improve access to and use of their collections of political ephemera.  This has involved the creation of item-level catalogue records on the School of Advanced Study Library Catalogue (SASCAT) and the uploading of collection-level archival descriptions to both the Archives Hub and AIM25 databases.

chile_polpamAlthough the collection (which consists mainly of items in Spanish, Portuguese and English) covers every country in Latin America, it is particularly strong in certain areas.  There are currently around 140 boxes of materials. The Chilean boxes, for example, are mostly concerned with the build-up to and the aftermath of the 1973 coup, including election posters for Salvador Allende and pamphlets written by apologists for the Pinochet regime.  In addition, there are many contemporary and obscure items produced by leftist opposition groups in the 1970s.

Another strength of the collection is its coverage of human rights bodies in Central America in the late 1970s and 1980s.  Much of this material came as a result of the links between the Latin American organisations and solidarity and support groups in this country. A similar situation pertains for countries like Argentina and Brazil.

The Latin American political ephemera collections have an impressive variety and depth, and they hold a great deal of material that is either difficult or impossible to obtain elsewhere.  They are open for reference purposes to all researchers and postgraduate students, and anyone wishing to consult them or just to get further information should feel free to contact us here at Senate House Library.

Christine Anderson (Latin America Research Librarian):
Julio Cazzasa (Special Collections Cataloguer):

The Venezuelan Elections and Gasoline-Fuelled Citizenship


by Dr Amy Penfield, ILAS Stipendiary Fellow 2015-16

On the morning of Monday 7th December, I was greeted with news reports of the Venezuelan ruling socialist party’s (PSUV) landslide defeat in the previous day’s parliamentary elections, accompanied by images of jubilant crowds celebrating on the streets of Caracas. Hailed as the long-awaited end to Chavismo and of the divisive Bolivarian Revolution, one would be forgiven for taking the results to signify a change in government. Indeed, with the opposition alliance Democratic Unity Roundtable (Mesa de la Unidad – MUD) now holding a two-thirds ‘supermajority’ in the National Congress, they possess the power to make significant changes to government spending and legislation, as well as to potentially re-write the constitution and initiate a recall referendum against the current president, Nicolás Maduro. The election results were broadly reported as a response to widespread discontent with President Maduro’s administration and the severely debilitated economy.

Figure 1: MUD supporters celebrating the election results. Reuters/

Figure 1: MUD supporters celebrating the election results. Reuters/

Petro-citizenship and the lurking devil

Despite the outward appearance of a dramatic shake-up of parliamentary powers, as Tinker Salas and Silverman have noted in their analysis for The Nation (December 8th 2015), grievances over dubious democratic processes, food shortages, poor currency management, and rising crime rates often mask the true origins of Venezuela’s on-going and inherent instability: a dependency on oil. Tinker Salas and Silverman argue — as did Coronil in his classic study of the Venezuelan oil industry, The Magical State (1997) — that the Venezuelan economy has been ‘addicted to oil’ since the birth of its petroleum industry in 1908. All ensuing regimes, regardless of political ideology, are buttressed by the petro-dollars that make up the bulk of state revenues (currently accounting for 97% of export revenues), and are entirely at the mercy of its characteristically volatile price. Alongside illusions of ‘dazzling development projects that engender collective fantasies of progress’ (Coronil 1997: 5), the famously branded ‘devil’s excrement’ (el excremento del diablo) was found to be the shrouded begetter of political corruption, criminality and greed, a phenomenon more commonly known as the ‘resource curse’. These observations are as relevant today as in 1997, when Coronil’s book was first published, and reveal why a number of observers aren’t so optimistic about the opposition’s capacity to offer up remarkable remedies to widespread discontent amidst a backdrop of plummeting oil prices.

Aside from assisting in the illusions of state leaders, oil is also woven into processes of subject formation among citizens who harbour a sustained sense of entitlement to the benefits of oil wealth, a dynamic described by Coronil as an intimate relationship between the social body and the natural body of the nation. The late Hugo Chavez’s Bolivarian Revolution was exemplary in bolstering this imaginary of the social-natural dyad through its endeavour to channel the nation’s oil wealth into endogenous development projects, free education and healthcare, and subsidised food for the entire population (i.e. not just the country’s elite).

Figure 2: A local ‘Mercal’ in a Venezuelan frontier town. This state-run chain of shops was set up under Chavez’s government, and provides subsidised food and household essentials for poor neighbourhoods. Photo by the author.

Figure 2: A local ‘Mercal’ in a Venezuelan frontier town. This state-run chain of shops was set up under Chavez’s government, and provides subsidised food and household essentials for poor neighbourhoods. Photo by the author.

Oil is political, gasoline is personal

So, what does the future hold for these erstwhile beneficiaries of Venezuela’s prolific oil wealth? And what do the election results signify for those who might not have been celebrating the outcome so joyously? My own fieldwork in Venezuela between 2009 and 2011 explored indigenous people’s experiences of Bolivarian socialism and political inclusion, as one of the disenfranchised populations targeted for the petroleum-funded socialist initiatives. During this time, it became clear that abstractions of oil wealth for certain poor communities did not feature centrally in burgeoning notions of citizenship, nor to local-level comprehensions of rights to the ‘natural body’ of the nation. What became paramount in daily performances of citizenship was rather the ubiquitous derivative of oil — gasoline — which the entire population encounters daily as the tangible manifestation of oil and its omnipotence.

The political potency of gasoline in Venezuela is due in part to its extremely low price, the result of a subsidy introduced in the 1940s when Venezuela was emerging as one of the world’s main suppliers of oil (currently, for example, 120 litres of gasoline can be bought for only US$0.01). Since the subsidy was introduced, Venezuelans have viewed cheap gasoline as a birth-right, perhaps even more so than the dispensation of petro-wealth in the form of national development and social provisioning. This is so much the case that it is difficult to imagine a successful attempt to raise the price of gasoline, even amidst regular threats to do so (see Miroff 2014; Baverstock and Strange 2014). Indeed, price hikes might very well be applied if it weren’t for the shadow of El Caracazo looming over any who dare take this fateful step.[1]

Figure 3: News article following the Caracazo riots.

Figure 3: News article following the Caracazo riots.

In a situation strikingly similar to the current hardships experienced in Venezuela today, falling oil prices in the 1980s led to an economic crisis and the subsequent decision to remedy this through increased gasoline prices under neoliberal reforms. The price adjustments brought about a wave of protests, riots, and a violent military crack-down on the 27th February 1989, known as El Caracazo, that left hundreds dead. It is clear to see, then, that whatever happens to the price of petroleum, and to the management of the somewhat abstract wealth accumulated from the sale of oil, subsidised gasoline is treated with great caution in recognition of its fundamental role in well-being and livelihood. It is, in this sense, a tangible manifestation of the nation’s oil wealth, and of Venezuelans’ rights to that wealth.

Gasoline-fuelled citizenship

Meanwhile, for the indigenous population of the country, daily encounters with gasoline are even more intimate and central to well-being, not least so for the Sanema, with whom I conducted anthropological fieldwork. For my hosts, the dual nature (the natural and social body) of the petro-state is experienced first and foremost in their direct and intimate interaction with huge quantities of subsidised gasoline, which is woven into every aspect of their practical and moral lives. This process of becoming ‘permeated with gasoline’, as it were, is related in no small part to the recent co-option of indigenous peoples into state building objectives.

Figure 4: Indigenous boys siphoning gasoline from one barrel to another. Photo by the author.

Figure 4: Indigenous boys siphoning gasoline from one barrel to another. Photo by the author.

The Venezuelan State’s interest in Amazonian territories began in the early 1970s with a plan to utilise the rich resources of southern regions — named the ‘Conquest of the South’ (la conquista del sur) — predominantly with the aim of building infrastructure that linked the Amazon regions to the rest of the country. This development of the south was a process that was later taken on by Chavez’s regime after his election in 1998, through an accelerated inclusion of indigenous peoples into the Bolivarian Revolution. For the first time in Venezuelan history, the indigenous population gained considerable recognition, most notably in changes to the 1999 Venezuelan Constitution which introduced a section devoted to native peoples, and which included clauses that espouse rights to collective land ownership, native education and health practices, and prior consultation for natural resource extraction in their territory. Notwithstanding this multi-ethnic vision, however, Chavez simultaneously directed attention to indigenous people’s history of exclusion and consequently promoted their equal incorporation into criollo-standardised [2] initiatives such as the hallmark communal councils, neighbourhood-run development projects that formed the backbone of Bolivarianism.

Figure 5: The outboard motor, one of the most common political gifts bestowed in Venezuelan Amazonia. Photo by the author.

Figure 5: The outboard motor, one of the most common political gifts bestowed in Venezuelan Amazonia. Photo by the author.

From the perspective of my indigenous interlocutors, gifts and the direct supply of funds for these communal council projects figure prominently in descriptions of their motivations for migrating northwards, embarking on regular trips to the cities, and participating in political activities. The Bolivarian Revolution played a central role in accelerating regular and extended movements in Amazonia due to gifts of outboard motors and other machinery, profuse political events in the cities, and frequent paperwork errands. This process of political inclusion thus resulted in a new rapid and regular mobility that was facilitated by their newly obtained gasoline-guzzling outboard motors, which in turn required large and regular supplies of evanescent gasoline. Exacerbating this process was the government mandated monthly cupo (quota) of gasoline supplied to each indigenous community, an endowment that sustained their dependence on gasoline-run machinery, which again impelled them to regularly travel to the cities in order to procure the quota. We can see how such circular movements to the cities are self-perpetuating since one literally needs gasoline to get gasoline. Indigenous peoples, then, were swiftly embedded in a circulatory system of citizenship and dependency through gasoline.

Holding steady amidst change

It is easy to see that even amidst rhetorical powers of oil and the ever-looming threat that its volatile price ultimately determines (or indeed homogenises) the fate of political regimes; the price of gasoline, on the other hand, remains far more constant, and much more reliable. Cheap petrol has endured both neoliberal and socialist regimes. For the time being, then, many Venezuelans’ sense of citizenship remains sufficiently stable despite the ostensible overhaul in political power within the National Assembly.

So, while Venezuelan elites might view themselves as ‘stewards of oil wealth’ (see Tinker Salas and Silverman 2015), the country’s poor and indigenous populations channel their rights and citizenship through a more prosaic materialisation of the petro-state: gasoline. Hence, we might do best to look for a solution to Venezuela’s ‘addiction to oil’ in the more mundane daily encounters with this valuable energy source.

Figure 6: Indigenous community travelling to the city in their gasoline-powered canoe. One man wears a jackets proclaiming "Indigenous socialist warrior at your service!” Photo by the author.

Figure 6: Indigenous community travelling to the city in their gasoline-powered canoe. One man wears a jackets proclaiming “Indigenous socialist warrior at your service!” Photo by the author.


[1] Others have suggested that Maduro fears raising the price of gasoline, as it would have knock on effect for many other products (see Hetland 2015).

[2] Criollo is the local term used for non-indigenous Venezuelans or people of mixed heritage.


References cited:

Baverstock, A. and Strange, H. (2014). “Venezuelans fume as Government signals end to ‘free’ petrol”

Coronil, F. (1997). The Magical State: Nature, Money, and Modernity in Venezuela. Chicago, University of Chicago Press.

Hetland, G (2015). “The End of Chavismo? Why Venezuela’s Ruling Party Lost Big, and What Comes Next.”

Miroff, N. (2014). “Venezuela nears end of the road for gasoline subsidy.”

Tinker Salas, M and Silverman, V (2015) “’Democracy, as usual,’ in Venezuela.”

Reconsidering Tristán Bauer’s “Iluminados por el fuego” (2005)


by Dr Niall Geraghty, ILAS Stipendiary Fellow 2015

Iluminados_por_el_fuego-314900268-largeOn the 4th of November 2015, the Argentine Embassy in London organised a screening of Tristán Bauer’s semi-fictional film of the Falklands-Malvinas conflict, Iluminados por el fuego [Enlightened by Fire] (2005). Present was Edgardo Esteban, author of the memoir on which the film is based, who introduced the film and took part in a discussion panel following the screening.[1] Also in attendance were several ex-servicemen from the UK who had served during the Falklands-Malvinas conflict and who participated throughout the discussion. Having had the opportunity to listen to the unique responses of those who participated in the conflict itself, I felt that perhaps now was an appropriate time to reconsider the film’s significance for those who, like myself, have no direct experience or memory of the conflict whatsoever.

Iluminados por el fuego follows the character Esteban Leguizamón in the days following his friend Alberto Vargas’s attempted (and ultimately successful) suicide attempt. Both men had served together during the Falklands-Malvinas war and the re-emergence of Alberto in Esteban’s life brings back powerful memories of the conflict. Indeed, the film’s narrative is largely composed of flashbacks which recount Esteban and Alberto’s experiences during the war, interspersed with scenes from the present where Esteban and Alberto’s partner, Marta, accompany Alberto until his eventual death. The film concludes with Esteban’s return to the islands.

The film features the popular actor Gastón Pauls in the starring role and proved particularly successful, garnering many awards on the international festival circuit. However, in its narrative and its style, the film can seem a little too familiar. The problem is perhaps that, for an audience with no direct experience of the Falklands-Malvinas conflict, Iluminados por el fuego exists in a rather saturated field and consistently draws upon the familiar motifs of the war film genre. It would appear that, as Bernard McGuirk laments in his analysis, the film demonstrates that the ‘tropes of the war film are, in the end, but few. As are the modes of depicting the plight of returned veterans on the street’ (2007: 271).

Indeed, even the film’s inclusion of the ‘notorious practice of the estaqueo, a horrific brand of punishment in which soldiers were staked to the wet ground for hours at a time, very often in sub-zero temperatures’ (Maguire, Forthcoming), all too readily creates a link to José Hernández’s El gaucho Martín Fierro (1872). The central character in Hernández’s poem is, like the characters in Bauer’s film, a conscript abused by his military superiors and estaquiado while fighting for the patria on a contested frontier. The danger that emerges from this type of overfamiliarity is twofold: first, it may appear that the portrayal of the conflict relies on cliché; and second, that the ‘deployment of cliché […] widespread in war writing’ frequently obscures ‘its subject, concealing it from view rather than illuminating it’ (2011: 140), as Catherine McLoughlin argues in her comprehensive study of the literature of war.

It is inescapable, however, that the veterans present at the screening in the Argentine Embassy praised the verisimilitude of both the film’s battle scenes and its depiction of the suffering of those ex-combatants returned to civilian life. It would appear that for this audience, Iluminados por el fuego was all too familiar for a rather different reason. With this in mind, one is perhaps reminded of the words of Keith Douglas who, considering the poetry of the First World War as he participated in the fighting of the Second and sought to record his experiences in verse, would contend that:

“there is nothing new, from a soldier’s point of view, […] hell cannot be let loose twice: it was let loose once in the Great War and it is the same old hell now. The hardships, the pain and boredom; the behaviour of the living and the appearance of the dead, were so accurately described by the poets of the Great War that every day on the battlefields of the western desert – and no doubt on the Russian battlefields as well – their poems are illustrated.” (Cit. Piette 2007: 122)

Watching Iluminados por el fuego with this particular audience certainly led me to reconsider one important sequence of shots contained in the film as an attempt to reconcile these two interpretations of the film’s overly familiar feel: that the film runs the risk of becoming generic and clichéd, and that the film is genuinely reminiscent of a soldier’s lived experience.

Early in the film, following Esteban’s initial flashbacks to his departure from continental Argentina on his way to fight in the Falklands-Malvinas, the film’s linear narrative is interrupted by a sequence of shots drawn from contemporary news bulletins.

The sequence opens with General Galtieri addressing a vast crowd in the Plaza de Mayo at the outbreak of hostilities with his famous words ‘Si quieren venir, ¡que vengan!’ [‘If they want to come, let them come!’]. The sequence then moves through an unsurprising and very familiar series of rather stock images: an aircraft carrier with a Harrier jet taking off, artillery firing, images of the Argentine junta, of Margaret Thatcher, and other instantly recognisable scenes.

The sequence is, in and of itself, another instance of a rather overused technique to situate an audience in a particular time period. Moreover, in a film that seeks to avoid all ambiguity in its exegesis, it is rather unsurprising that the sequence is immediately absorbed into the film’s narrative: the archival footage is interspersed with three close-ups of Esteban’s face which reveal that he too is watching the same footage.


In the first of these shots (above) the camera faces Esteban directly and is backlit so that only the silhouette of his profile is visible. The camera pans round so that Esteban’s profile appears to move across the screen from right to left.


The second shot (above) is a perfect inversion of the first: Esteban’s profile moves from left to right across the screen, and this time the camera shoots from behind his head, so that the audience is watching the archival footage through Esteban’s glasses. In the final image (below), the camera returns to its original position and directly faces Esteban, signalling the end of this interruption in the narrative.


This sequence of shots represents the only moment in the film when the distance between audience and character is eliminated and they occupy the same subject position. Yet, if the sequence constitutes a moment of closeness between the audience and Esteban, it equally pushes them apart. For the audience with no direct experience of the war, these images essentially constitute the visual memory of the conflict. For Esteban, however, they may well be familiar, but they cannot constitute a visual representation of the war as he remembers it. Therefore, this sequence of shots actually marks the point at which the audience and Esteban essentially interchange subject positions: Esteban reviews the very matter from which collective memory of the conflict is constructed (but of which he is less familiar because when they were first transmitted he was fighting on the islands); just as the audience will subsequently view the images from his personal memory which are alien to them (as they have been excluded from that same collective memory). And the visualisation and incorporation of this alien memory into the collective memory was, of course, Bauer’s original intention while making the film.

As is now well established, following the defeat in the Falklands-Malvinas war, the Argentine combatants were subject to a strict pacto de silencio [pact of silence] which prevented them from ever speaking of their experiences on the island. It is in response to this omission from the historical record that Bauer made his film. As he has stated:

“I had to film the hidden defeat of the Malvinas: the failure of the military and the human tragedy that has been kept quiet. We Argentines have been converted into accomplices in covering up and hiding a reality about which we wanted to know nothing.” (Cit. McGuirk 2007: 269)

It is for this reason that McGuirk comments that ‘Iluminados por el fuego was to seek some balance in revisiting substantially the 1982 conflict and in coming to terms with a complex, conflict-torn and unresolved present’ (2007: 268). That this situation still continues today, and the important contribution made by the film, is emphasised when one recalls that it was only this year that the abuse of Argentine conscripts at the hands of their superiors was confirmed following the release of some 700 military documents related to the war (BBC 24/09/2015, BBC 14/09/2015).

In discussing cliché, Anne Carson argues that ‘[w]e resort to cliché because it’s easier than trying to make up something new. Implicit in it is the question: Don’t we already know what we think about this? Don’t we have a formula we use for this?’ (2008: 178). In the case of Iluminados por el fuego, however, it would appear that cliché is employed to a rather different end. Where the incorporation of archive footage certainly serves to remind the viewer of what we already think we know of the conflict, Bauer, in fact, mobilizes a series of clichéd tropes and images to expose to the audience that the formula they use to interpret the conflict is incorrect. Cliché becomes the very means through which the historical record is corrected. The over familiar and clichéd narrative ultimately encourages the viewer to reassess the war and consider it with others where the human cost and tragedy of armed conflict are at the forefront of collective memory. And revealing the human side of the conflict was precisely the task which Edgardo Esteban stated was an important motivation for writing his memoir from the outset. In this regard, the film is undoubtedly a faithful adaptation of the original text.


[1]. The panel was organised and chaired by Professor Bernard McGuirk (University of  Nottingham) and featured Stuart Urban (Director and writer of the movie, An Ungentlemanly Act, 1992), Jeremy McTeague (Communications Executive, Falklands-Malvinas veteran, and author of ‘Who Cares About the Enemy?’ 2009), Tessa Morrison (Institute of Modern Languages Research), and myself, in dialogue with Edgardo Esteban. The present article is a revised version of the comments I made during the discussion.



BBC News, ‘Argentine Conscript Speaks of Falklands Abuse by Superiors’,  (24/09/2015) <> [Accessed 11/11/2015]

———, ‘Argentine Falklands War Troops Tortured by their Own Side’,  (14/09/2015) <> [Accessed 11/11/2015]

Carson, Anne, ‘Variations on the Right to Remain Silent’, A Public Space, 7 (2008), 179-87

Maguire, Geoffrey, ‘Between Victims and Veterans: Remembering the Malvinas and Framing Nationalism in Julio Cardoso’s Locos de la bandera (2004) and Tristán Bauer’s Iluminados por el fuego (2005)’, in La Guerre de Malouines: Trente Ans Après ed. by Michael Parsons and Diana Quattrocchi-Woisson. (Forthcoming)

McGuirk, Bernard, Falklands-Malvinas: An Unfinished Business (Seattle: New Ventures, 2007)

McLoughlin, Catherine Mary, Authoring War: The Literary Representation of War from the Iliad to Iraq (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011)

McTeague, Jeremy, ‘Who Cares About the Enemy?’, in Hors de Combat: The Falklands-Malvinas Conflict in Retrospect, ed. by Diego F. Garcia Quiroga and Mike Seear. (Nottingham: Critical, Cultural and Communications Press, 2009), pp. 53-61

Piette, Adam, ‘Keith Douglas and the Poetry of the Second World War’, in The Cambridge Companion to Twentieth-Century English Poetry, ed. by Neil Corcoran. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007), pp. 117-30


Beyond Good Business: the gender-based discrimination behind the extraction of natural resources


by Camilla Capasso, Latin American Mining Monitoring Programme

Máxima Acuña, by Alexander Luna for Guardianes del Agua

Máxima lives in Peru, in a house by the Blue Lagoon of Celendin in the Andean region of Cajamarca. Like most campesinos of her community, Máxima and her family are subsistence farmers and herders. The mountainous area in which they live is not only their home but also the main source of livelihood. In 1997, when deposits of gold and copper were found beneath two of the lakes in the area, Máxima’s entire life came under threat. As Minera Yanacocha began its operations, police officers confiscated all of Maxima’s possessions, threatened her family and beat her on a number of occasions.

Máxima’s situation is neither unique nor limited to Peru. The violation of human rights and the impact that unregulated extraction of natural resources has on the lives of rural and indigenous people has become a matter of serious concern in several parts of the world. In this scenario, however, the specific impact that resource extraction policies and practices have on women are still largely unexamined.

The rush for mineral resources, as well as the introduction and expansion of large-scale industries can change the gendered dynamics within a society, either resulting in new opportunities for development, or emerging tensions from changing routines. The nature of mining activities and the environment of most mining companies, for instance, makes men more likely than women to enjoy new opportunities and benefit from the sudden inflow of economic revenue. This, along with forced displacement, can result in deep social and cultural changes as in the fragmentation and polarisation of communities, that tend to have a more negative impact on women.

The increase in gender based violence is one example; the large influx of men that is brought by extractive projects into the community can create security issues for women by exacerbating an already discriminatory context, or by inciting the traffic of sex workers.

Although policy-makers have recognised the need for new forms of legal intervention, a gender-neutral approach to human rights is still largely in use. In the case of forced displacement, for instance, the gender aspects of rehabilitation remain mostly unexamined due to the assumption that men and women experience these processes in the same way.

The protection for women’s rights in mine-affected areas is embedded into much broader and thorny discussion on business and human rights. In an interconnected and globalised world, where for example a British company can operate in West Africa or a Canadian enterprise can develop in Latin America through local subsidiaries, the question of human rights obligation and territoriality remains a grey area. This is particularly challenging for victims attempting to access remedy and demanding accountability for business-related violations, as there are very few legal frameworks to date that would transcend jurisdiction.

Representatives of the "Frente de Mujeres Defensoras de la Pachamama" in Ecuador

Representatives of the “Frente de Mujeres Defensoras de la Pachamama” in Ecuador

The 2011 UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs) is an attempt to bridge this gap, in order to prevent and address the risk of adverse impacts on human rights linked to business activity. Establishing three pillars, the UNGPs outline both the States’ and the corporation’s role in integrating/promoting human rights in the context of business operations: the State’s duty to protect human rights, the corporate responsibility to respect human rights, and access to remedy for victims of business-related abuses.

“No one can deny that the UNGPs provide the most authoritative reference point on business and human rights” – affirms International human rights lawyer Andrea Schemberg – “They are proving influential in at least three ways: influencing high level policy norms and legislation in the international and domestic contexts; changing business practices; and changing the expectations of stakeholders (states, NGOs, investors, consumers, and businesses with respect to their business partners)”.

Despite providing an important benchmark for addressing business-related violations, many challenges remain for the implementation of the UNGPs. Firstly as a non-binding treaty, victims of violations have little to hold on to in order to protect their rights. This power imbalance is strongly felt by individuals like Máxima, who, as women, are disproportionately affected by resource extraction policies and practices worldwide, and who face a number of additional barriers stemming from their gender, class and ethnic background.

Drawing on the UNGPs, on the 26th of October 2015, the Latin American Mining Monitoring Programme (LAMMP) will present an international conference entitled “Beyond Good Business: Advocating for Women’s Rights in the Context of Natural Resources Extraction and the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights” (info and registration here, hashtag #beyondGB). The event aims at exploring the big-picture and the day-to-day challenges faced by women impacted by the extraction of natural resources worldwide. While creating a web of support, the event will also raise awareness on the issue, promote women’s rights and empowerment, and seek to offer concrete solutions to be fully implemented into the UNGPs. Human rights activists, academics, lawyers and representatives of mining corporations will join the discussion through a series of panels that will both expose the issues affecting women impacted by the extraction of natural resources, and explore strategies to prevent and mitigate the abuses.

LAMMP“I hope the conference will enable all participants to have a fruitful sharing of their experiences and efforts to protect their lands/communities from extractive and destructive projects” – Filipino human rights defender Jane Lingbawan Yap-Eo told LAMMP -“Hopefully this event will result in a shared agreement between the parts that could be addressed to like-minded institutions, concerned governments, and the United Nations bodies”.


For more info on the event and to register, visit the Beyond Good Business website
For more info on the Latin American Mining Monitoring Programme, visit and @InfoLAMMP
Camilla Capasso tweets at: @CamillaCapasso

Economics Research on Latin America: A Personal Viewpoint from China


by José R. Sánchez-Fung, Assistant Professor in Economics at University of Nottingham China (Ningbo) and Associate Fellow of ILAS

JR Sanchez-FungI am currently a full-time member of the economics faculty at the University of Nottingham’s Business School in Ningbo, China. I moved to Ningbo last year after teaching economics for over a decade at Kingston University in London. Parallel to the post at Kingston, in 2008 I became an Associate Fellow of the University of London’s Institute of Latin American Studies (ILAS). The association with ILAS derives from a long-term research agenda concentrating on the economy of my native Dominican Republic and on other Latin American countries.

Colleagues and friends tend to ask the same question following the move to Nottingham-Ningbo: Do your academic research activities benefit from being in China?

Given my interest in emerging markets and developing economies, it turns out that being in China positively affects what is called the research environment. What follows illustrates the situation with three examples relating to the development of topics in my ongoing research agenda.

My arrival in Ningbo coincided with the final stage in the process of organizing an ILAS-INTEC-sponsored workshop on the Dominican Republic’s economy, held on 7 November 2014 at the University of London’s Senate House[1]. Operating from China provided a unique perspective while revising my own work and subsequently editing a selection of the contributions for publication in Ciencia y Sociedad – a scholarly journal based at INTEC in the Dominican Republic. Particularly, analyses about the expected recovery from the economic crisis affecting the advanced economies since 2007-2009 crucially depend on China’s performance. And that, in turn, affects prospects for economies around the globe including the Dominican Republic.

Book chapter coverMonetary policy, and particularly central banks and their policies, is a key topic in my research agenda. Thinking about monetary policy in the Dominican Republic and in China actually involves many common elements. And that should not be surprising as both are developing economies. For example, in contrast to what happens in advanced, open economies, like the United Kingdom, in China and in the Dominican Republic the central bank pays more attention to fluctuations in the exchange rate. I have published articles about monetary policy in China and in the Dominican Republic, and remain active in the field; a working paper published in 2015 by the Bank of Finland contains preliminary findings from estimating the impact of monetary policy on inequality in China. So, following how the People’s Bank of China implements monetary policy on a day-to-day basis and from a local perspective adds a welcome perspective to my research activity.

Another project I have been working on during the past year is the analysis of the relationship between aggregate economic performance and pollution of the natural environment -as measured by the volume of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions- in the Dominican Republic.  As noted in my work on the topic, fostering the conditions to attain economic growth and development is a chief objective for governments across the world. However, in pursuing that goal close attention has to be paid to the limits imposed on the pace of economic growth and development by numerous factors, including the possible adverse impact on the natural environment and the policies needed to reverse the damages.

The University of Nottingham campus in Ningbo

The University of Nottingham campus in Ningbo

The Dominican Republic is an interesting case to study given that it has been successful in implementing policies to preserve the natural environment. Concomitantly, as is well known, dealing with pollution is a pressing topic in China and for that reason my research has provided fruitful opportunities to discuss similarities between the two countries. In that regard, in 2014 I was invited by Fudan University in Shanghai to discuss preliminary findings concerning the existence of an environmental Kuznets curve for the Dominican Republic. I also discussed the investigation in Ningbo at a research event organized in 2015 by the University of Nottingham Business School’s Department of Quantitative and Applied Economics.

Academic research demands perseverance, in addition to tangible and intangible factors that can positively contribute to building a fruitful research programme. The research environment is a vital element to consider. In my case, China is providing an encouraging setting from which to carry out academic research and the prospects for the future are positive.


[1] INTEC: Instituto Tecnológico de Santo Domingo, a leading higher education institution in the Dominican Republic (



Ciencia y Sociedad (2015) Forthcoming, October-December, volume 30, number 3, pages 459-646. Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. [RD ISSN 0378-7680]

Mehrotra, Aaron, and José R. Sánchez-Fung (2014) China’s monetary policy and the exchange rate, Chapter 9 in: Brada, Josef C., Paul Wachtel and Dennis Yang (Eds.) China’s economic development, Palgrave Readers in Economics, Palgrave Macmillan, UK.
[ISBN 9781137469953]

Sánchez-Fung, José R. (2015) Estimating environmental Kuznets curves for developing countries: The case of the Dominican Republic. Mimeo, University of Nottingham, Department of Quantitative and Applied Economics, Business School, Ningbo, China.

Sánchez-Fung, José R. (2015) Estimating the impact of monetary policy on inequality in China. Bank of Finland BOFIT Discussion Papers, no. 17/2015. Helsinki, Finland.

Exploring Whiteness in a Black-Indian Village on Mexico’s Costa Chica


by Laura A. Lewis, Professor of Latin American Anthropology at University of Southampton and Visiting Fellow at Institute of Latin American Studies

During the early colonial period, Mexico had one of the largest African slave populations in Latin America. Today, there are numerous historically black communities along the coast of the states of Guerrero and Oaxaca – a region known as the Costa Chica. Towards the end of the 16th century, the Spanish Crown granted tracts of land in the region to several conquistadors who had quelled local Indian resistance. These conquistadors brought to the coast cattle for ranching, and – in the colonial vernacular – blacks and mulattoes, both free and enslaved, to work as cowboys, in agriculture, and as overseers, including of Indian labor.

As time went on, two ethnic zones developed: the foothills and highlands of the Sierra Madre del Sur mountain range at the Costa Chica’s northern edge held Indian communities, while the zone closest to the coast became an ethnic mix that included Indians drawn willingly or unwillingly into the colonial ambit. On the coast, blacks, mulattoes and Indians worked together for Spaniards. Indians also taught blacks and mulattoes native healing, agricultural techniques and local building styles. Because demographics tilted towards African-descent males, informal and formal unions between them and Indian women were common. By the middle of the 17th century, many coastal belt villages were Afro-Indigenous.

One such village was San Nicolás Tolentino, Guerrero, historically a ranching outpost for Spanish and, after Independence, for white ranchers. Today, San Nicolás’s majority residents identify as black-Indian or what they call moreno. Over many years I conducted ethnographic fieldwork focused on race and place there. Part of my research explores how San Nicolás’s moreno residents negotiate Mexico’s national mestizaje ideology, which rests on the belief that the Mexican nation is embodied in the mestizo of European/white and Indian descent. This form of mestizaje, which is both racial and cultural, is notable for its denial of blackness. However, San Nicoladenses do not simply favor a “black” and “Indian” mixture that reflects their moreno identities. Instead, they mimic the national form of mestizaje by placing Indians at the heroic center of the Mexican nation, as in this Independence Day celebration when Indians defeat Spaniards during a mock street battle to take their country “back.”


Indeed, as in the above street battle, and as a challenge to national mestizaje ideology, many festival practices and everyday discourses exclude whiteness from local space and identity construction. For instance, during festivals whiteness is often mocked by Carnivalesque figures, who don white masks to play lewd and aggressive roles. The village’s agrarian conflicts – and villagers’ narratives of those conflicts – feature white antagonists; and locals claim more generalized white oppression from the government, the “rich,” and commercial interests. No whites have lived in the community since the 1950s, when several white traders were murdered.

In July one year I attended San Nicolás’s annual festival for Santiago, the white patron saint of Spain whose iconography reflects his roles as “defender” during the Spanish Reconquest of the Iberian Peninsula and as conqueror during the Spanish conquest of the Americas. The highlight of San Nicolás’s festival centers on a cat and several roosters, which are hanged from crossbars in the central plaza while young men on horseback gallop back and forth below them, pulling at the roosters’ heads and a medallion hung around the cat’s neck. Whoever kills a rooster gets to eat it, and whoever kills the cat wins a cash prize.


In a festival for a white saint who represents both Catholic fealty and a colonialist conquest ideology not embraced locally, commentary that challenges whiteness is perhaps more hidden than in historical narratives and everyday discourse. But while the significance of the the cat and roosters was not immediately obvious, I eventually came to understand them as part of this commentary too.

For instance, San Nicoladenses would routinely tell me that – in contrast to other festivals – the one for Santiago was distanced, as it was “not from here.” “It’s Spanish,” one woman explained. Eventually I learned further bits: along with the roosters, a man said, the sacrificed cat is always male. Killing the animals, he told me, in a nod to colonial history, “was like the Inquisition. You know – decapitation and paying a fine.” Someone added, “cats are very proud.” Finally, when the animals were said to “represent Spanish haughtiness,” it all seemed to make sense. Now I have come to understand this as another example of white defeat, this time by young men using the equestrian skills their ancestors long ago learned as slaves and servants of Spaniards. As an elderly resident of San Nicolás once exclaimed to me, “Very few whites have come and gone from here without problems!”

The Latin American media is ignoring climate change at its peril


by Javier Farje, Journalist, TV Presenter, Consultant, and former Editor of Latin America Bureau

In 2009, on the eve of the Conference of the Parties 15 (COP 15), in Copenhagen, the World Bank published a revealing document. Entitled Low Carbon, High Growth, Latin American Responses to Climate Change, the document stated in no uncertain terms that global warming was a danger for the region. The report contained a stark warning. ’The “unequivocal” warming of the climate system – it says – reported by the IPCC is already affecting Latin America’s climate’. This important book contains a wealth of information. From the Andean mountains to the sub-tropical forest of the Amazon; from the planes of Argentina to the beaches of the Dominican Republic, climate change is punishing the continent with the melting of glaciers which affects entire communities who depend on the water those iced summits provide; the increase of malaria due to the upsurge of temperature; the droughts and floods that have affected the agricultural output of the southern plains, the increase of rain and the Central American region, with its bursting rivers washing away entire towns.


Laguna Glaciar, Bolivia


In the same year of the publication of the World Bank’s report, The Konrad Adenauer Foundation of Germany decided to carry out an exercise. Between 15th February and 15th March of 2009, The Foundation monitored the news coverage of the most important newspapers in Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Mexico, Peru and Venezuela. Despite the fact that 2009 was a very active year in relation to climate change, owing to to the high expectations about an agreement in Copenhagen, the coverage of global warming had an average share of 0.60% of the total bulk of news in those newspapers. And there were sources galore to give good exposure of climate change and its consequences for the region. The World Bank report was only one of the many publications related to climate change released that year. Furthermore, most Latin American governments, especially those countries ruled by left-wing presidents (Bolivia, Venezuela, Ecuador, Nicaragua) had politicised the issue of climate change in terms of the North-South divide and that merited good coverage of the issue.

Perhaps the country whose media comes out worse in this situation is Brazil. This is particularly serious because Brazil is one the top ten greenhouse gas global emitters. They are responsible for almost 70% of the total emissions of those gases. The coverage of climate change issues in the two most important media organisations in the country, Folha de Sao Paulo and O Globo, between 1996 and the present time, is abysmal, to say the least (Time to Adapt, by Mike Shanahan). Those two giants of Brazilian media consider that climate change is an environmental story, with 36% of its coverage as a ‘green issue’, and only 19% of the same coverage is related to the economic consequences of global warming. And less than 2% of their coverage deals with the impact on climate change in poor people. This is a staggering statistic because there is plenty of evidence that there is a direct link between climate change and poverty in Brazil. In Low Carbon… a map with data provided by all Brazilian municipalities clearly shows that, in those regions where climate change is rampant, mainly in the north of Brazil, poverty has increased.

In Mexico, two of the most important newspapers, La Reforma and El Universal (Schmidt, Ivanova & Schaffer) have increased their coverage of climate change since 2005, but mainly due to a national debate related to the production of biofuels. Mexican media tend to give a great deal of importance to ‘uncertainty’ about the link between climate change and meteorological phenomena, despite plenty of scientific evidence that there is a direct link between the intensity and frequency of hurricanes and rains and global warming. The publication of the IPCC’s 4th and 5th assessment reports in 2007 and 2014 respectively was totally ignored by Televisa, the biggest TV conglomerate in Mexico. The IPCC’s assessment reports are the most important documents dealing with the current state of global warming and its consequences for the planet. And Mexico has been the subject of significant analysis in those reports.

Peruvian media, mainly the second biggest newspaper in the country, La República, is critical of the government’s policies in relation to the inadequacies in fighting climate change. Bolivian media, which is mainly owned by the opposition to the government of Evo Morales, ignores climate change mainly because the president blames global warming on the capitalist system and the right-wing media does not want to be seen as siding with the government on its ideological anti-capitalist crusade.

In some Central American countries like Honduras, the media tends to ignore climate change. The British think-tank Panos interviewed a group of Honduran journalists a few years ago. They concluded that climate change is not editorially important for editors and media owners. They tend to rely on CNN for their coverage of climate change-related issues without bothering to conduct their own investigations. A group of activists and scientists in the Dominican Republican told the author in a programme for the Spanish-speaking network Hispan TV, that the increase in sea levels has caused the disappearance of beaches and coastal towns. They bitterly complained that the Dominican media is not interested in the problem. The World Bank has published a report that states that the Dominican tourist industry is in danger of disappearing within the next 50 years because of high sea levels and the impossibility to keep its holiday resorts safe from such increases. And yet, once again, the Dominican media shows no interest.

La Barquita, Dominican Republic, which has suffered from regular flooding in recent years

La Barquita, Dominican Republic, which has suffered from regular flooding in recent years

All in all, the coverage that Latin American media gives to climate change leaves a lot to be desired. The Centre for Science and Technology Policy Research of the University of Colorado Boulder, in the USA, monitors the trends in the media all over the world. Since 2004 to the present day, Latin American newspapers perform poorly in relation to the rest of the world. Indeed, Latin America has the worst record of climate change coverage, worse even than the media in the Middle East, which, for obvious reasons, has other priorities.

There is another element that helps to explain this lack of interest. Climate change does not sell. This is particularly acute in the case of television. Tacky reality programmes, ill-educated so-called chat show presenters and soap operas generate advertising, the retreat of Andean glaciers or the change in agricultural patterns as a result of climate change don’t.

The IPCC has stressed the role media plays in exposing the dangers of climate change and holding governments to account. Indeed, climate change constitutes a goldmine for investigative journalism in particular in Latin America. And the IPCC’s assessments and reports are a unique source of information to investigate the human consequences of climate change; and more than ever, universities and think tanks make their material widely available to the public. Furthermore, many of the people affected by climate change have been denouncing their situation without getting much attention from the media. These changes will severely damage the economic growth of the region. The dangers faced by the region as a result of climate change will be devastating. The complete melting of the Andean glaciers, the rise in sea levels affecting the coasts in the region, droughts and rain, entre communities devastated by meteorological changes caused by climate change are some of the examples where Latin American media organisations could devote resources to a comprehensive new type of investigative journalism. But the Latin American press is so far failing to grasp the seriousness of the situation. The region cannot afford such irresponsible complacency.

PS. On a positive note, a group of Venezuelan journalists formed in 2009 a network called Journalism on Climate Change.The network is growing. Not all is lost.


(n.b. this post was originally published via Linked-in)

Galeano’s Open Veins Continue To Bleed: The Latin American Development Legacy


by Jo Morley, Postgraduate Student on the SAS Human Rights Consortium MA in Understanding and Securing Human Rights

RIP GaleanoApril 2015 brought the news that Eduardo Galeano, whose seminal book The Open Veins of Latin America established him as one of the region’s most prominent writers, had died. Leaders from all over the Latin American continent paid tribute to ‘a maestro of the liberation of the people’ (Bolivia’s Evo Morales). Brazil’s Dilma Rousseff said ‘May his work and example of struggle stay with us and inspire us each day to build a better future for Latin America’. Since its publication in 1971 Open Veins, a chronicle of centuries of economic exploitation and underdevelopment has sold more than a million copies worldwide (Democracy Now, 14th April). Galeano wrote that:

‘Latin America is the region of open veins. Everything, from the discovery until our times, has always been transmitted into European – or later United States – capital, and as such has accumulated in distant centres of power. Everything: the soil, its fruits and its mineral rich depths, the people and their capacity to work and to consume, natural resources and human resources’. The continent is ‘painfully aware of the mortality of wealth which nature bestows and imperialism appropriates…Development develops inequality’.


Hugo Chávez presents Open Veins to Barack Obama

Galeano’s death is an opportunity to reflect on the colonial legacy, imperialist development doctrines, and the failures of the neoliberal experiment that continue to burden Latin America to this day. Many authors comment that experience in Latin America highlights the ‘failings and abuses of development’ (Mowforth 2014) and the ways in which development policy has been used politically to justify what Gustavo Esteva refers to as the ‘new colonial episode’.

While Galeano and others have argued that the intention of the development age was Western capitalist domination and access to the natural resources of the rest of the world (Mowforth, 2014 p.2), today we cannot ignore that poverty in the region was cut by nearly half during the last decade, according to a 2014 report by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). This may be attributed somewhat to the rise of the so-called ‘Pink Tide’ and ‘Leftist’ governments in Latin America (namely Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia and Brazil and Argentina), some of whom have challenged the neoliberal policies imposed on them and who brought changes in social policies, moving to address poverty and inequality mainly through nationalisation and state-ownership of natural resources.

At the international level too, policy has moved towards human rights-based approaches to sustainable development and the fulfilment of access to economic and social rights. Within development agencies that have adopted a human-rights based approach, debate continues about how much focus should be placed on the role of both states and non-state actors including development agencies and multinational corporations (MNCs), and to consider their accountability. Many development agencies are now involved in service-delivery, capacity building and advocacy for rights as well (Gready and Vandenhole, 2014).

These international developments have been informed by a body of Development literature from authors including Amartya Sen, William Easterly, Joseph Stiglitz, Paul Collier and Jeffrey Sachs. Highlighted in this literature are the unequal power dynamics within international development institutions and the limitations that they place on governance issues and on establishment of just and fair policies. In light of this it is easy to see why international financial institutions (IFIs) continue to impose economic development models focused on the extraction and exploitation of the region’s human and natural resources on Latin American countries. These policies promote plantation agriculture, privatisation of water and sanitation, large-scale energy and mining development, timber extraction and many other projects seen to embody ‘development’. Multiple examples from across Latin America demonstrate that local social and environmental concerns are subordinate to economic concerns, both for governments trying to leverage economic growth out of their natural resources  and for MNCs and IFIs seeking to consolidate forms of neoliberal governance (Sawyer and Gomez, 2014).

According to Martin Mowforth (2014) globalisation over the last two decades, predicated on a Western capitalist model of neoliberal economic development, has been imposed with such violence as to be rendered ‘unbearable to many of the region’s population, as well as unjustifiable’. According to the UNDP in 2014 38% of the Latin American population remains ‘vulnerable’ to falling into poverty, with 200 million people earning between $4 and $10 per day. The UNDP also acknowledged that the region lacks social protection, which could hinder poverty reduction.

As the international community negotiates the final content of the Sustainable Development Goals, the lessons of Latin American development policies, their impact on the region’s perpetual inequality, and the violent conflicts that continue to characterise development projects in Latin America (Mowforth, 2014) should all be considered in creating protections for the most vulnerable and the most marginalized. Only then will it be possible to realise Ban Ki Moon’s vision for the post-2015 development agenda: ‘A life of dignity for all’.



  • Gready, P., Vandenhove, W. (eds) (2014) Human Rights and Development in the New Millennium. Rutledge. London.
  • Sawyer, S., Gomez, T. (eds) (2014) The Politics of Resource Extraction: Indigenous Peoples, Multinational Corporations, and the State. United National Institute for Social Development. Palgrave macmillan, New York.
  • Galeano, E. (1971) The Open Veins of Latin America: Five Centuries of the Pillage of a Continent. Serpent’s Tail. London
  • Democracy Now. ‘Remembering Eduardo Galeano, Champion of Social Justice & Chronicler of Latin America’s Open Veins’ Democracy Now. 14th April 2015.
    Available at:
  • Oleanga, M. (2014) ‘Poverty in Latin America: One-Third of Region’s Population At Risk of Falling Into Poverty’. Latin Post. 27th August 2014. Available at:
  • Mowforth, M. (2014) The Violence of Development: Resource Depletion, Environmental Crises and Human Rights Abuses in Central America. Pluto press. London.

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