As new incidents of violence against women continue to make headlines in the United States, most recently dealing with fraternities in the University of Virginia and the past of famous comedianBill Cosby, the situation in land-locked Bolivia is just as grim.
President Evo Morales has supported new initiatives that will protect and empower women, but how successful they will be is debatable given an ongoing wave of horrific crimes.
Today, November 25, is the International Day of Violence Against Women, and neither the United States nor Bolivia can brag about meaningful achievements in terms of gender equality.
Numbers and Responses
The Bolivian head of state is not blind to the hardships Bolivian women face, and wants to not only protect them via legal means but also change the country’s machista culture. His goal is to “enforce family rights and help eliminate the patriarchal model.”
Initiatives to counter violence against women in Bolivia are, sadly, very necessary.
Bolivia’sCentro de Informacion y Desarrollo de la Mujer(CIDEM) reported that 169 women were murdered between January and September of this year. Out of that number, 103 cases fall under Law 348, passed last year and which carries a 30-year prison sentence for individuals found guilty of femicide.
One of the most appalling of these crimes occurred in early November when the body of a four-year old was found in Santa Ana de Moseten, a town located in the La Paz department. She had been raped and then asphyxiated to death. A 16-year-old young man was arrested – he declared himself guilty of not only murdering the girl but also of the murder of an eight-year-old girl in October.
It seems that even the possibility of a 30-year prison sentence has not deterred criminals and psychopaths from carrying out violent attacks against women in the Andean country.
Meanwhile, the Oruro department, which borders Chile, also has some tragically high numbers. Between January and October of this year, there were 1,592 reported cases of violence against women. Some 70 percent of them were threats and insults while the rest were physical aggressions.
In spite of generally pro-gender equality initiatives, I would be remiss to not acknowledge that the Bolivian head of state has sometimes linked some bizarre facts together regarding the situation ofBolivian women.
Most memorably, the president declared that soap operas have a negative effect on gender equality as they, according to Morales, promote teenage pregnancy, infidelity and that acts of violence in TV (i.e. men against women) are imitated by the youth. He is also known for occasionally making sexist comments in his speeches and meet-and-greet ceremonies.
In 2011, he called for his male supporters to “flirt with” indigenous Amazonian women in order to convince them to support an unpopular government project. The head of state has apologized for his remarks, saying that he says them because of the “trust and familiarity” he has with his nation’s population.
Certainly, while it is good that a head of state is friendly towards his people, rather than behaving like a despot, Morales’ “jokes” are unacceptable given the violence his female citizens have to endure.
In my research, I tried to find some positive news about the situation of Bolivian women. For example, it is an encouraging development thatfemicidenow carries a 30-year prison sentence.
Moreover, gender equality in the country’s government and armed forces have achieved some important milestones: in 2013, for the first time the Bolivian Army promoted a woman to the rank of General. Meanwhile, out of 37 Senators in Bolivia’s congress (it has a two-chamber system), 19 of them are women (14 belong to the ruling MAS party while 5 are members of the opposition).
Those are the good news as they represent encouraging numbers and barrier-breaking developments. The bad news is that a high number of female Senators and harsher prison sentences have not halted the wave of violence against women.
Renowned actorBenicio del Toro will produce, and maybe star in, an upcoming HBO series about the life of Hernan Cortes, the (in)famous Spanish conquistador. While details aboutCortesare still scarce, there will be considerable discussion in the coming months regarding how Cortes, and the Aztec Empire that he conquered, will be portrayed.
Del Toro is an accomplished actor, but playing a real-life historical figure who had a critical role in the shape of an entire nation and region may be his most challenging role yet.
Hollywood and history
Corteswill be produced and directed by Martin Scorsese, known for his films cinematic masterpieces such asRaging Bull, Taxi DriverandThe Wolf of Wall Street. As for del Toro, he will be an executive producer but according toDeadline he “is interested in starring as the [conqueror of the Aztecs].” No word yet on who will play the other major roles of Moctezuma, the leader of the Aztec Empire, or Malinche, a local woman who became Cortes’ interpreter and aide.
Hollywood has always had an interest in pre-Columbine cultures, as prominently displayed by recent depictions of the region’s rich past. For example, the controversial Mel Gibson directedApocalyptico, and Harrison Ford’s iconic Indiana Jones traveled to the Peruvian Andes and Amazon inIndiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Additionally, the Starz seriesDa Vinci’s Demonsdepicts Leonardo da Vinci voyaging to South America to meet the Incas.
In other words, it was only a matter of time before a series focused on a Latin American empire, especially one as emblematic as the Aztecs.
Walking a fine line
The upcoming HBO series already has a star-studded production team, but a question remains as to how the series will be structured, including the portrayal of Cortes’ complicated life, including the eventual the conquest of the Aztec Empire.
I asked a literature teacher from Jalisco about her thoughts regardingCortesand she summarized her concerns well, “I just hope that the shows does not portray Cortes as a hero, nor the Aztecs as dumb.”
Indeed, one constant concern about series that portray historical events is that the producers may take too many artistic freedoms in order to increase viewership. Historical inaccuracies or exaggerations are obvious worries. For example, one major criticism ofApocalypticowas that it conjured “pedigreed, but insidious stereotypes: the romantic savage – proud, primitive for most intents and purposes manly, and above all timeless and unchanging.”
Hence, the upcoming HBO series will have to walk a fine line regarding how it portrays both the Spanish conquistadors as well as the Aztec empire. The conquest of the Aztecs is a turning point in the history of the region; hence it must be approached with historical and cultural sensitivity.
There were plenty of major incidents throughout the war between the conquistadors and their local allies against Moctezuma’s forces, and it will be interesting how they will be depicted. Moctezuma originally welcomed Cortes as a friend when the Spanish arrived in 1519, but the conquistador eventually turned against him.
Another notable event was La Noche Triste, when the conquistadors fled Tenochtitlan, the Aztec capital. Finally, one example of a bloody incident is the massacre of Cholula, with Cortez and his forces killing some five to six thousand (mostly) civilians that were still loyal to the Aztecs. HBO programs have no problem exposing gore and violence, but real-life massacres, even though they occurred five centuries ago, are still a sensitive issue.
As for casting, del Toro will likely make a fine Cortes. It is worth noting that this is not the first time that he has portrayed a historical figure. He recently played the notorious Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar inParadise Lost, and he was the Cold War revolutionary Ernesto “Che” Guevara inChe.
There is no word yet whether Mexican (or Central America) actors and actresses will be selected to play major roles such as Moctezuma, Malinche, or other prominent figures like Moctezuma’s wives Tlapalizquixochtzin and Teotlalco. InApocalyptico, Mel Gibson utilized a combination of locals (the movie was filmed in Mexico and Guatemala), though the actor who had the main role was notably not Mayan, but rather a “Native American of Cree, Comanche, and Yaqui descent.”
Given the transcendental importance of Cortes’ arrival to the Mexican Empire, hopefully del Toro and Scorsese will give Mexican and Central American actors an opportunity to have prominent roles in this major production.
HBO has enjoyed vast success with shows such asOz,VEEPandGame of Thrones. Nevertheless, a series based on real life events is a different type of beast, and while the series will probably be a masterpiece given the quality of the individuals involved, HBO must also be aware of not hurting sensibilities. The conquest of an empire is not something to address lightly.
As 2014 comes to a close, a new report by an Australian non-governmental organization, the Walk Free Foundation, provides grim estimates about modern slavery: over 35 million people are enslaved throughout the world. Moreover, this NGO states that there are over1 million 200 thousand enslaved peoplethroughout the Americas.
Latin American governments are not fully blind to this problem, since not a week goes by without media outlets reporting how regional security agencies have busted yet another a human trafficking ring. Nevertheless, basic human decency calls for more to be done.
TheWalk Free Foundation providesan in-depth analysis of modern slavery, comparing the estimated number of modern slaves in relation to a country’s local population. The report also analyses how well governments are doing in terms of combating human trafficking.
For example, Iceland is performing better than any other country, as there are “only” an estimated 23 people in slavery, which translates to 0.007 percent of the small island’s total population. On the other hand, the highest culprits of modern slavery are India (with 14 million), China (with 3.2 million) and Pakistan (with 2.1 million).
As for how Latin American and the Caribbean states are positioned in the report’s rankings, the results are mixed. The Western Hemispheric nation that finished worst on the list is Haiti, with some 240 thousand enslaved people, or over 2.3 percent of its population.
As for Latin American states, Mexico fared worst, with an estimated 270,000 modern slaves (unlike Haiti, this is only 0.2 percent of the total population). Mexico performed even worse than Brazil, with 160 thousand; Colombia, with 110 thousand; and Peru with 66 thousand.
In a somewhat ironic development, the Western Hemisphere state that performed best, after Canada and the U.S., was Cuba – the Caribbean island has an estimated four thousand modern slaves, or 0.03 percent of the population.
Regional countries likePeruand Colombia are not oblivious to the problem of modern slavery. For example, just this past September, the Peruvian congress approved setting a 15-year prison sentence for individuals guilty of human trafficking.
Meanwhile, Colombian local industries have taken matters into their own hands. Industries like Cafe Montes and Colina have teamed up with the Colorado-based Fluid Coffee Bar and Novo Coffee to support the education of teachers and students in rural communities. The goal is to prevent young Colombians from being persuaded by false promises so they will not fall in the hands of human traffickers.
Regarding the fate of the victims of human trafficking, the response is broad. In Peru, drug trafficking and illegal mining are the major reasons for internal human trafficking. Meanwhile in Colombia, drug trafficking is a major cause.
In both countries, a security concern is that young victims will wind up in the hands ofguerilla movements, which are known for utilizingchild soldiers. Unsurprisingly, young women are a preferred demographic by human smugglers as they are often forced into sexual service.
Nevertheless, one obvious problem when it comes to cracking down on human trafficking is that this is not a centralized network by any means. For example, last October the Peruvian police arrested a trafficking ring made up of Bangladeshis and Nepalese who utilized Peru as a transit country to smuggle their compatriots into the U.S.
The method was fairly simple: a citizen from one of these Southeast Asian nations would arrive to Lima, be told how to travel to neighboring Ecuador or Colombia, and then from there continue their voyage to the U.S. According to the Peruvian media, each person reportedly paid $17 thousand USD for this voyage.
Colombia is also a transit nation. “Because of its geographical location [with the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans on each side,” Colombia is used as a stopover for South Americans and Africans who are attempting to reach Europe and the U.S., explains theColombian dailyEl Tiempo.
By keeping these last two examples in mind, we can argue that the estimated number of modern slaves in Colombia and Peru according to the Walk Free Foundation may not be close to reality, given that both countries are also transit nations. Hence, there may be an unaccounted number of foreign victims currently stuck in both countries.
When it comes to modern slavery, bothColombiaand Peru do not face the tragically high numbers found in India, China, or even Haiti. Nevertheless, this does not mean that there are not tens of thousands of Colombians, Peruvians and smuggled persons from other developing nations living as slaves in both countries.
Both the Peruvian and Colombian governments continue to crack down on human trafficking, and they should be commended for this. Nevertheless, it is a shame that as 2014 ends, more steps have not been taken. The fact that over 35 million individuals live deprived of their liberty and treated as a commodity is a failure of humankind.
Blueberries (arándanos in Spanish) are becoming Peru’s prime berry-export as the Peruvian Association of Exporters (ADEX) has announced that between January and July of this year, the Andean state exported four times the amount of blueberries it exported during the same period in 2013. Although the fruit is not a staple of Peruvian cuisine, a diversification of agricultural exports is always a positive development for any country.
The history of blueberries in Peru is both interesting and brief. The fruit was introduced to Peru in 2007 and by 2012 only some 300 hectares of blueberries were cultivated, according to a 2012 commentary in PortalFruticola.com. An October 2012 article in the website of the Peruvian radio stationRPPexplains that in that month, a blueberry parcel was installed in Pichupampa, a community located in the Sayán district, north of Lima. The parcel was one of 18 that Sierra Exportadora (a Peruvian company) was planting in order to foment the production of blueberries throughout the country.
Máximo Jiménez, a Sierra Exportadora expert on berries, explains that Peru’s climate allows it to grow blueberries year-round, which can help the Andean country beat other regional producers, namely Argentina and Chile, two states that produce less blueberries in September and October. Chile is currently South America’s foremost blueberry exporter, followed by Argentina and Uruguay, but Peru seems to be on the path of overtaking them.
In 2011, Peruvian blueberry exports totaled a pitiful US$84 thousand. However, production has exponentially grown as exports soared to over US$13 million in 2013; the berries were mostly exported to the U.S. and the Netherlands. Hence, it is no surprise that even in 2012 there were predictions that “Peru can become the leading exporter of berries (blueberries, raspberries, and strawberries) and cherries in the Southern Hemisphere.” It appears that this year Peru will surpass its 2013 milestone. According toADEX, blueberry exports (namely of the gongapa and pushay varieties) from January to July of 2014 reached $5.6 millionUSD, an impressive 408% increase compared to the same period last year.
It is no surprise that more Peruvian farmers want to grow blueberries, given their high profitability; nowadays blueberry crops can be found in regions like Lima, La Libertad, and Ancash, among others. The renowned Peruvian daily El Comercio explained in a December 2013 article that more than 3,000 hectares are used to grow different types of berries and cherries (including blueberries) and this momentum will likely continue.
Nevertheless, it is not all good news for Peru’s agricultural sector. Currently there is an El Niño climate phenomenon, which has produced a drought causing disastrous consequences on the agricultural sectors of several Latin American countries such as Costa Rica, Guatemala, and parts of Colombia. As for Peru, Lima’s Chamber of Commerce announced this past April that agricultural exports will fall between two to four percent this year due to El Niño. Products that will particularly suffer from this weather phenomenon include asparagus, mango, avocado, and grapes. It is unclear if blueberries will suffer from El Niño; as previously mentioned, the production of these berries has actually increased in the first seven months of the year as compared to 2013, but this could certainly change if El Niño worsens in the final months of 2014.
While Peru continues to successfully export staple-goods like coffee, potatoes, and quinoa, the blueberry market has, in the span of only a couple of years, made an important niche for itself. Since Peru’s climate helps the growth of blueberries and export revenue has now reached over US$13 million, Lima would be well advised to support farmers who choose to grow them. Additionally, President Ollanta Humala must ensure that Peruvian blueberry farmers are protected from any adverse effects that El Niño may cause.
Blueberry consumption in the U.S. and Europe is growing, which means that these small berries could be the key to a golden future for Peru’s agricultural sector.
In a very bizarre turn of events, several Floridians have been arrested for feeding homeless people in Fort Lauderdale. The draconian law that prohibits feeding the homeless in public places is an initiative to boost tourism to the city and support local businesses, but it is now under fire for its immorality.
Sadly, poor and homeless people are treated as ghosts, not only in Florida, but throughout Latin America.
The law in this South Florida city states that feeding zones must be 500 feet away from residential property, and food-activists must seek permission from owners of nearby buildings. The goal is to protect tourism, as the city’s economy is dependent on it. Amidst much opposition from enraged citizens, Mayor John Seiler has come out on local TV in support of the law that got the feeding volunteers arrested–arguing that the feedings need to be done in an orderly manner, following the law.
Nevertheless,90-year old veteran Arnold Abbotthas defied this ruling, and has continued to feed the homeless, which he has done for over 23 years, according to him. His story quickly went viral after he was cited a second time for his charitable actions.
Latin American ghosts of homelessness
A government’s relationship with its homeless and poor citizens is complicated. Certainly, there are plenty of government-sponsored initiatives that provide assistance to people in need, but there are also several citizen-created initiatives.
Case in point are the famous “comedores populares” (communal cafeterias) in Peru. These were created in the 1960s by poor people who came together to improve their living conditions; the goal of thecomedoris to cook large quantities of food that can feed a small community. The Peruvian government and donor institutions have supported thecomedores, which can now be found throughout the country.
As for government-sponsored social programs, one worth highlighting is MiBono. This a program that was started by the Guatemalan government in 2012 via which the state gives poor families 300 Quetzales every month, with the condition that this money must be utilized for health and educational purposes. According to theGuatemalan dailyPrensa Libre, some 757,000 poor families benefit from this initiative.
However it seems that for every positive initiative a government carries out, there are several others that impact poor and homeless people.
This was most recently demonstrated in Brazil, as the government expelled thousands of poor citizens living in favelas (shantytowns) and throughout unoccupied buildings in order to “clean up” the cities that hosted the recent FIFA World Cup. According to reports, some 250,000 poor Brazilians lost their homes in the twelve cities that hosted this global event.
Unfortunately, these initiatives will continue for the foreseeable future as theBrazilian cityof Rio will host the 2016 Summer Olympics. Just this past April, some five thousand poor Brazilians were forced by police to leave an unused lot, including an abandoned building, in which they had set up their improvised homes.
Who to Help?
Poverty in Latin America cannot be discussed without addressing racial issues as indigenous citizens tend to occupy the lower echelons of society. Hence, discrimination against poor people in the region is a type of racism as well.
Ironically, even a well-intentioned action can quickly become bizarre and even racially insensitive. This was most prominently demonstrated in late 2012 in Mexico, when a driver took a picture of a poor little girl that was begging for money. The fact to keep in mind here is that the girl was white and blonde. The child’s photo quickly went viral, with Mexican authorities interviewing the child’s parents as people pondered whether the girl had been kidnapped, as her parents were darker-skinned than she was.
The speed with which authorities and people in general discussed the child’s situation sparked a debate about racism in Mexico. According to recent statistics, there are some six million families that live in poverty in Mexico but public outcry only started when people saw a white child begging, whereas darker-skinned begging children are an everyday occurrence and hardly a source of discussion.
A similar situation occurs in Peru, which experienced a major demographic shift due to the civil war of the late 1980s and early 1990s – the conflict forced thousands of people from the Andes to migrate to Lima in order to escape the violence. These essentially internal refugees started their lives all over again, and had to live in shacks on the outskirts of major cities – these areas are known aspueblos jovenes(young towns) – and beg for money or carry out low-paying jobs, such as vending in the streets, to survive. This situation has prompted a new kind of racism in Lima and other major cities that is deeply tied to socioeconomic reasons.
What Ft. Lauderdale can learn about its homeless problem
The recent incident in Florida has brought to light once again how authorities treathomeless citizens.As for Latin America, incidents occur on a regular basis that highlight the issue of poverty, such as poor people losing their homes in Brazil to improve the country’s image before major sporting events, or a begging (white) child in Mexico.
Latin America in general has enjoyed years of economic growth, but millions of people remain ghost citizens because of their socioeconomic status; lets hope that Ft. Lauderdale is not leading the pack in ignoring homeless citizens in the United States as well.