Journalism in times of Covid-19: Representations of Latin America in Finnish Media

We share the recording from our virtual roundtable held on Friday, May 14th, 2021. This roundtable was a continuation of the collaboration that ESDLA seeks to establish with researchers and the public in Finland and the Nordic Countries interested in Latin America.

Thanks to all the people who participated. But if you miss it, you can find the recording here:

Information about the roundtable:

Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, journalists have the challenging task of gathering and distributing accurate and reliable information. This task becomes more critical and demanding when journalists create international news coverage of distant crises. In recent months, Brazil, Mexico, and other Latin American and the Caribbean (LAC) countries have been in the sights of world journalism due to the rise in the numbers of contagion, deaths, and the different responses and strategies of the governments in turn. In this round table, we have invited several Latin American researchers based in Finland to discuss how the Finnish media has displayed the consequences of the pandemic in LAC countries. How can specific representations affect popular ideas and normalize preconceptions of such distant crises? What is the role of social science researchers in creating more accurate and reliable information, and what are their limitations? Join us in the discussion!

Participants:

Nadia Nava Contreras is a project researcher at the John Morton Center for North American Studies at the University of Turku, where she is part of the Cubaflux project that investigates urban visual transformations in Post-Deténte Havana. She is also a doctoral candidate in political history at the University of Helsinki. Her dissertation investigates diplomatic encounters and mutual imaginaries in the relations between Mexico and Finland during the 20th Century.

Florencia Quesada Avendaño, PhD, Docent is a trained historian, currently Adjunct Professor in Latin American Studies at the University of Helsinki. She has been a researcher and lecturer in Global Development Studies, World Cultures, and at the Helsinki Collegium for Advanced Studies (HCAS), UH. Quesada’s research interest includes cultural urban and architectural history, sustainable tourism, socio-spatial segregation, and urban violence in Central America.

Leonardo Custódio is an Afro-Brazilian postdoctoral researcher at Åbo Akademi University and coordinator of the Anti-Racism Media Activist Alliance (www.armaalliance.com). He is also coordinator of the Activist Research Network and editor-in-chief of raster.fi, website of the Finnish Anti-Racist Research Network. Custódio is co-editor of “Research Traditions in Dialogue: Communication Studies in Europe and Latin America” (2020, Media XXI) and author of “Favela Media Activism: Counterpublics for Human Rights in Brazil” (2017, Lexington Books).

Germán Quimbayo Ruiz is from Bogotá, Colombia. He recently finished his Ph.D. in Environmental Policy at the University of Eastern Finland, Joensuu. His work and research focus on environment/society relationships and their interplay with urbanization and socio-ecological inequalities, exploring their role in spatial planning practices in defense of commons such as biodiversity. Before his Ph.D. studies, he worked with local environmental organizations and institutions in Colombia.

Mariana Galvão Lyra is a sustainability researcher and consultant. Currently, she is a project researcher at the business school of the University of Eastern Finland. Her main research interests are sustainable science, stakeholder management, company-community conflicts, and activism against mining projects, especially in developing countries. In particular, she is interested in shedding light on the groups fighting for social and environmental justice.

Violeta Gutiérrez Zamora is a sociologist and Ph.D. candidate at the Department of Geographical and Historical Studies of the University of Eastern Finland. In her research, she focuses on rural organizations, community forestry, feminist political ecology, and eco-governmentality in Mexico.

The Colombian uprising: Environment, society, and the ‘narcoparamilitary’ state on a global pandemic

By: Germán A. Quimbayo Ruiz

This blog post is dedicated to the memory of all victims of state violence and police brutality in Colombia, their families, and communities.

Demonstration at the ‘Héroes’ monument on May 15, 2021, in Bogotá (Photo by Andrés Cardona).

At the moment of publication of this blogpost, Colombia is completing more than 20 days of a National Strike (Paro Nacional) amidst the third and worst wave of the Covid-19 pandemic. Colombians have been on the streets challenging not only a far-right government administration but their actual violent and very unequal social and economic model, which has proven to be more harmful than a pandemic. The current Iván Duque’s government administration, commanded de facto and via Twitter by former president Álvaro Uribe Vélez, has only reinforced such a model. Duque’s administration tax and healthcare reform proposals were only the igniters of the social discontent. Although both reform proposals are temporally withdrawn and former Minister of Finance, Alberto Carrasquilla, has quit due to the protests, the Paro Nacional has always been meaning beyond that. The country has a century-long overdue social awakening.

According to the most recent figures, 72.9% of Colombians (total population: 50 million inhabitants) live in poverty (42,5%) and extreme poverty (30,4%) conditions, with hunger, without health and a terrible education, 25.4% just survive, and only 1.7%, almost 3 million Colombians, are the most privileged. Accumulation of wealth and dispossession by a narco-state, are reasons that explain Colombia is between poverty and misery. The country is transiting in an economic recession already in the making before the pandemic and worsen by its precarious management and a terrible vaccination plan.

The Colombian government expended more budget in militarizing the country during the coronavirus pandemic, in times when peace, reconciliation, economic, humanitarian, and healthcare support should have been the priority. Colombia is the second country (behind Brazil) with the highest military spending in the Latin American and the Caribbean region with 9.2 billion dollars, with historical and large participation of U.S. military and police aid. This situation is aligned with the lack of full implementation of the 2016 Peace Agreement and its progressive rural reforms by the current administration. The current government and its political allies have also been attacking the transitional justice system which is seeking the truth after decades of armed political conflict. Moreover, in terms of security, confrontations and armed violence have been reactivated in several regions, including in the most important port city, Buenaventura. The systematic killing of social and environmental activists and former FARC rebels are also important reasons that explain the social discontent.

Colombia was already in a social uprising before the pandemic (Paro Nacional 2019), but the imposition of one of the most restrictive sanitary measures and quarantines (including curfews) in the world, put a halt to the uprising. Yet, in September 2020 there were some demonstrations that included manifestations against police brutality all over the country that were, unfortunately, marked by more police brutality, with particular and dramatic implications in the Bogotá metropolitan area after the killing of lawyer Javier Ordoñez. Since April 28th, 2021, the Paro Nacional manifested in a multitude of social discontent and political awakening, that, however, have been ferociously attacked by the (para)militarization of cities, the escalation of state violence, and police brutality that has extended to thousands of police violence cases that include around 40 people killed, hundreds of arbitrary detentions and abductions, and a dozen of cases of gender violence and sexual assault. The Paro Nacional committee, protesters and different political sectors reclaim as an imperative to set a police reform and dismantling of the heavy militarized anti-riot unit ESMAD, responsible for several killings and human rights abuses towards civilians still in impunity. Though this type of state violence has been the rule for many in the countryside and the urban marginalized for decades, this time has been unprecedentedly disproportionated against an extended part of the population. Human rights violations have been particularly brutal at night and the turn of the days during the first two weeks in the city of Cali but extended in several other cities and towns including the capital, Bogotá.

To write these words holds up personal grieve and pain, but, at the same time, a certain light of hope I have never seen before. As we discussed in a recent webinar held on May 14 about Finnish media representations on LAC in Covid-19 times organized by ESDLA, there is a morbid attraction in both Finnish and international media and audiences (outside Latin America) about social turmoil and violence based on preconceptions, ignorance, prejudice or even racism. Yet stories of resistance, resilience, and political innovations amidst humanitarian urgencies are less covered. For instance, in these ongoing protests their creative and peaceful character (even outside the country) have been stated, in a country where dissent and difference have been deadly stigmatized and persecuted for decades, even from state and private actors. The use of social media (Twitter, Instagram, etc.), the role of independent media, and NGOs have been key not only to dismantle the pro-government and propagandistic corporate media that demonizes and help to criminalize the right of social protest, but also to be a counter tool to denounce and report constant human rights violations by state and paramilitary forces. Likewise, social media and crowdfunding have been fundamental to support protesters.

On the other hand, in times of planetary climate emergency, there has been very little mention among media and reports on what is the role of the environmental issues in the Paro Nacional. This is extremely important given the megadiverse character of Colombia and the unfortunate trend of the killing and harassment of many environmental defenders who struggle against the national society and economic model. For instance, Colombia has not ratified yet the Escazú Agreement (a broken promise from the Paro Nacional 2019), which represents a light amidst the threatening of environmental activists in the Latin American and the Caribbean region. Moreover, it is (un)surprisingly that after more than two weeks of demonstrations and several human rights violations committed by the state and the police, the government of Iván Duque presents a bill to strengthen the investment of those who intend to exploit gold in an important and strategic ecosystem in the north-east Colombian Andes: the Santurbán Páramo.

Colombia has prominent environmental activist figures like Francia Márquez (who is a candidate for the 2022’s presidential election), Isabel Zuleta, or Francisco Vera, who are representatives of the diversity of Colombian environmental movements (Indigenous, Afrocolombians, peasants, urban movements, children and youth) whom like many others in the “Global South” are often overshadow over their counterparts in the north. A Colombian set of environmental organizations in its National Strike’s official declaration, pointed out eight points that the Colombian government must address: 1) to protect the life of environmental activists and defenders; 2) to ban to the aerial aspersion (using chemicals like glyphosate) of illicit coca crops; 3) to put a halt on a high rocketed deforestation of the Amazon rainforests; 4) to set a moratorium of several mining and extractive megaprojects; 5) banning of fracking prospections and projects; 6) to abide to the right of prior consultation, and local referendums for the developing of those extractive projects; 7) to guarantee of water as a human and ecological right; and 8) to require the de-escalation of megaprojects of all kinds (hydropower, infrastructure, tourism, etc).

In Colombia, a far-right narco-paramilitary regime is challenged by a generation that has lost everything even the fear, and do not want to continue living in such an overt corrupt and oppressive regime and build a new future. A generation that is led on the streets and territories by an impoverished but brave youth at the forefront of the Primera Línea, who are only armed by masks, helmets, sticks and hand-made shields cared by their mothers and community (mostly women). A generation that even has finally started to contest structural racism, internal colonialism, and patriarchy. Statues of conquistadores and colonizers have been dethroned, and monuments and streets have been re-signified. The Colombian Minga also worth mention as an example of resistance when the notion of ‘decolonize’ became an academic token instead of a practice.

On the streets and different territories, democratic institutions are being rethought to overcome extreme inequalities amidst many limitations and the state terror. In the heat of the protests and the warm that brings the assemblies, mingas, or the communitarian pots (ollas comunitarias) that feed the Paro Nacional, local solidarity is the base of this new awakening (‘Despertar’) after years of accumulated grievances. Colombians do not want to keep counting martyrs and unnecessary killings and, instead, seek finally a way of social and environmental justice that has been denied on several attempts towards reconciliation. Struggles for the commons in Colombia seek to rethink democratic institutions through dissent and for the public common’s sake. Therefore, this ongoing awakening need caring attention and international solidarity, since the government administration has never genuinely listened nor meant in doing so, as many are afraid of.

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Bio: Germán is from Bogotá, Colombia. He recently finished his Ph.D. in Environmental Policy at the University of Eastern Finland, Joensuu. His work and research are focusing on environment/society relationships and their interplay with urbanization and socio-ecological inequalities, exploring their role in spatial planning practices in the defense of commons such as biodiversity. Before his Ph.D. studies, he worked with local environmental organizations and institutions in Colombia. (gquimbayo@gmail.com).

 

UEF Public Examination: German Quimbayo Ruiz doctoral dissertation –video–

Our ESDLA researcher Germán A. Quimbayo Ruiz defended his doctoral dissertation “Reterritorializing conflicting urban natures: Socio-ecological inequalities and the politics of Spatial Planning in Bogotá” on March 12th, 2021.

We are gladly sharing in this post the record of the public examination event that had around 60 persons following online. The Opponent in the public examination was University Researcher, Docent, Florencia Quesada Avendaño of the University of Helsinki, and the Custos was University Lecturer Juha Kotilainen of the University of Eastern Finland. More information about Germán’s doctoral dissertation can be found in this press release.

Member of ESDLA, Mariana Galvão Lyra, interviewed by Helsingin Sanomat

Our colleague and member of ESDLA, Mariana Galvão Lyra, was interviewed by the Finnish journal Helsingin Sanomat (HS) on the Covid-19 situation in Brazil.  In the HS article, Mariana explains that the collapse was expected in Brazil’s highly unequal society. President Jair Bolsonaro ’s depreciation of the pandemic has only made things worse.
The article’s contextualization draws on this Special Blog Issue on Covid-19 in Latin America. It also follows the terrible current situation in Brazil.

Collective efforts are needed to tackle environmental conflicts and socio-​ecological inequalities in spatial planning in Bogotá

An ecologically restored urban wetland by a collective effort in Bogotá. Photo: Germán A. Quimbayo Ruiz.
An ecologically restored urban wetland by a collective effort in Bogotá. Photo: Germán A. Quimbayo Ruiz.

In his doctoral dissertationM.Sc. Germán A. Quimbayo Ruiz argues that the environmental conflicts related to spatial planning and urbanization open opportunities to create more just spaces to rethink planning as a collective political task aiming for more democratic practices, and not only as of the duty of planners. By analyzing the environmental conflict cases such as profit-driven urbanization over protected areas, quarrying activities, or the impact of landfills in urban-rural areas over the last three decades in Bogotá, Colombia, the dissertation analyzes spatial planning practices embedded in Bogotá’s socio-ecological inequalities. The public examination of Quimbayo Ruiz’s dissertation will take place on Friday, 12 March 2021, at 12 noon and will be live streamed. The public examination will be in English.

Quimbayo Ruiz’s prompts on his previous experience as a practitioner and activist, to document environmental conflicts related to spatial planning in Bogotá. Through interviews, participant observation, content analysis of documents, and relying upon ecological and social science traditions, Quimbayo Ruiz’s research found that in recent decades there have been conflicting visions around urban nature in Bogotá, which together have triggered socio-ecological inequalities and new possibilities for urban politics to overcome them. Moreover, Quimbayo Ruiz argues that environmental conflicts do not correspond to a ‘lack’ or ‘absence’ of planning. Instead, they correspond to the consolidation of a city model that deepens segregation and inequality and is promoted by sectors of political and economic power. Nevertheless, this research also shows that political practices in planning processes around nature are constantly shaped, disputed, and negotiated along with social and non-human actors. Such practices have been mobilized through knowledge in ecology and law by (multiclass) social organizations and various citizen sectors that have flourished from the 1990s to the present, coinciding with the positioning of environmental imperatives on the neoliberal urban agenda.

‘Environmental conflict’ as a territorial process and not as an outcome

In this research, the key question is understanding the dialectic between conflicts and spatial planning. Quimbayo Ruiz’s dissertation shows that the idea of nature in Bogotá’s planning consists of a diversity of narratives, practices, and local governance techniques, where there is a complex interplay of both social and non-human actors. Such an interplay is territorial and framed in a volatile and fragile democratic setting simultaneously placed at one of the most biodiverse metropolitan regions globally. The often negative notion of ‘conflict’ is key to understand this case, and it should be re-casted in a more positive light to find productive ways to address environmental issues and inequalities. A conception of planning that transcends the dualisms of state and society and instead, immersed in conflicting visions of nature, may afford new opportunities to understand the democratic practices fostering just urban ecologies. The mobilization of urban nature advocacy in Bogotá through individual and collective political mobilization, driven by continuous learning and reform, has always addressed the question of who urban space should be for. Planning practices are unavoidably political and embedded in conflicting values and dissent around nature.

Socio-​ecological inequalities should be addressed to achieve just urban ecological transitions

The current land-use and planning tools in Bogotá (and elsewhere) urgently need to address urbanization without traditional politico-administrative boundaries of zoning polygons, or which perpetuate nature-society dichotomies. This dissertation demonstrates how urban and spatial planning processes are a source of environmental conflict, and how are related to several socio-ecological inequalities as such. One of the study’s recommendations is the further analysis of the kinds of social exclusion and constitutive ecological effects produced by environmental conflicts and dispossessions. Consideration of such exclusions is key for assessing territorial vulnerabilities to climate change, as well as cultural valuations of nature for climate change adaptation, but such a consideration remains scarcely documented in research on urbanization. The Bogotá case can therefore also shed light on concerns around urban nature and spatial planning elsewhere.

The doctoral dissertation of M.Sc. Germán A. Quimbayo Ruiz, entitled Reterritorializing conflicting urban natures: socio-ecological inequalities and the politics of spatial planning in Bogotá, will be examined at the Faculty of Social Sciences and Business Studies. The Opponent in the public examination will be University Researcher, Docent, Florencia Quesada Avendaño of the University of Helsinki and the Custos will be University Lecturer Juha Kotilainen of the University of Eastern Finland.

Dissertation online

Post-pandemic LAC: Pathways towards ecological and just futures in Latin America and the Caribbean

Still from the Zoom meeting.

In this post, we share the recording from our virtual Zoom event held last 17.11.2020, exactly one year later the earliest infection case of the SARS-Cov-2 was identified. You can find the recording here:

We hope to keep going this discussion in the close future, especially to exploring alternatives to overcome the current juncture amidst not only the pandemic, but the ongoing climate emergency and economic crisis in the region. We thank the participants at the event (around 24!) for their interest and hope that the ones who could not attend enjoy this recording.

CoVid-19 in Cuba: Reflections on Inequalities, Scarcity, and Alternatives

By Nadia Nava Contreras

Picture: Graffiti in Centro Habana, January 2020 by Nadia Nava Contreras

Images of Cuban medical brigades landing in Italy and the British cruise ship disembarking on the island after being refused entry to other Caribbean ports made the headlines on global public discussions on Cuba’s responses to the CoVid19 crisis. The government’s assertion on its success to combat the virus accompanies the equation, getting appraisal in academic circles. Simultaneously, the Revolution opponents use scarcity and energetic dependency to point out the unfeasibility of the Cuban model: the U.S. embargo is not the one to blame; it is “The Castros,” it is communism.

Trapped in between polarizing views, Cuban people have slowly opened globally visible spaces of discussion, thanks to the recent expansion of internet use (2014). Cuba’s slow-paced demotic turn —the increasing visibility of the ordinary person in the media— provides a window to look at how Cubans have experienced the CoVid-19 crisis. I want to call attention to two matters dominating discussions on internet platforms such as YouTube and Twitter: the inequalities propelled by the dual-currency monetary system and scarcity. For the last few years, Cubans have feared the advent of a second “special period,” the deep economic crisis that followed the socialist bloc’s collapse. The global pandemic has created the perfect storm for a similar scenario.

The dual-currency system originated in 1994 when the National Bank of Cuba introduced the Convertible Peso (CUC) to replace transactions in U.S. dollars. The transition was completed in 2004. From the start, it became evident that Cubans with access to CUC had a clear advantage over those without.  Most people get salaries in CUP (Cuban Peso), amounting to around 25 CUC in 2020.1 A minority with a job in the service sector (waiters, taxi drivers, tourist guides, etc.) or with an entrepreneurial license can access CUC more easily. Remittances also guarantee the constant flow of “better” money.

In 2019, the Cuban government announced the opening of stores operating exclusively in MLC (“Moneda Libre Convertible” or freely convertible currency). Through an electronic card charged with U.S. Dollars, Euros, Mexican Pesos, Swiss Francs, or other coins, citizens could purchase electronic appliances, homeware, and even cars. Officials defended the decision as the best way to capture foreign currency necessary for imports and other financial operations. The process was documented by journalists, but also by Vloggers and YouTubers like Frank Camallerys and Pedrito el Paketero. The latter interviewed people on the streets, getting replies commonly present in other social media forums: “that is for people who have family in the Yuma (U.S.),” “I don’t get paid in foreign currency.”

In January 2020, before CoVid-19 made it to the Cuban news, the island’s economic prospects were already pessimistic. For Carmelo Mesa-Lago, this is the result of 1)a substantial cut of economic trade and aid from Venezuela, 2) the hardening of U.S. sanctions by the Trump administration, 3)the predominance of central planning in the economy. For Cubans’ everyday lives, the economic crisis translates into a rise in prices and scarcity of essential products. Even during the pandemic’s peak on the island, goods like soap were nowhere to be found.

During a fieldwork visit to Havana last January, queues outside supermarkets were a common sight. Yet, some habaneros I talked to remained somehow hopeful: the slow but steady growth of private businesses such as cafeterias, restaurants, bars, was a good source of income to many, either through entrepreneurship or employment (the emergence of the private sector in Cuba is also recent). The CoVid-19 crisis changed everything dramatically because most of those establishments depend on tourism. Initially, the government tried to promote Cuba as a CoVid-safe destination, taking advantage of the island’s medical sector’s solid reputation. The proposal awoke strong animosities on social media, and in the end, Cuba closed its borders. Tourism revenue plummeted. Reopening businesses during the late Summer did not improve the situation. Most Cubans cannot afford services initially designed for internationals. A shutdown of remittances is also likely. The government announced U.S.’s latest sanctions would force Western Union offices’ closure on the island, affecting those who receive money from abroad enormously.

However, what puzzles many Cubans to the point of anger is their government’s doing: when CoVid restrictions eased and supermarkets reopened, many were converted to MLC stores. Inaugurated in 2017, those supermarkets sold mainly imported goods at CUC prices, something already inaccessible for most. The new alternative limits, still more, access those same imports. Cubans have also denounced the lack of goods in CUP/CUC stores, contrasting with a better offer in MLC ones. If the dual-currency system was already the inegalitarian paradox of the Cuban model, MLC stores have added a brand new layer.

Scarcity may not be new for Cubans, and neither is it weak purchase power. A Cuban proverb states, “Cubans do not live from a salary; Cubans live from el invento.” An umbrella term for survival alternatives that rank from informal/black/grey market economies to remittances, upcycling, and favors, el invento has limits. Over the last years, the country has tried to steer apart from its historical trajectory as a sugar/tobacco economy to diversify crops. Mesa-Lago has suggested that for Cuba to survive these convulse times, the Vietnamese model could work: food self-sufficiency. Finding alternative sources of energy is also a “must.” Agricultural produce often spoils in the fields due to lack of transportation means. The cruel face of tourism also manifests in scarcity: lemons were easier to find in agromarkets once they did not end up in tourists’ mojitos.

The internet overture has enabled the visibility of Cubans that want to find sustainable and alternative solutions for their country’s development. One remarkable example is El Enjambre,” an independent Podcast discussing current issues created in 2019.  Undoubtedly, those voices have always existed, but they did not resonate so loudly. Many proposals often go beyond the socialist/capitalist dichotomies and require extensive social participation. Outsiders, need also to listen to those voices, to escape from the same dichotomies and accept that Cubans citizens are the ones with solutions to their problems.

1 25 CUC equals 22 euros as of November 2, 2020.

Nadia Nava Contreras, M.A. is a project researcher at the John Morton Center for North American Studies, University of Turku. She is part of the CUBAFLUX project, financed by the Kone Foundation, where she investigates the impact of Cuba’s Digital Revolution in Havana’s urban configuration.  

Resuming ESDLA Blog Special Issue and invitation to event on LAC in times of Covid19

After a long break, we are resuming our special issue with Nadia Nava Contreras’ collaboration focusing on Cuba. So many things and events have had happened during 2020 regarding the pandemic since our latest post was published, therefore, we take the chance to invite all readers to our event related to the Covid-19 pandemic theme with environment, society and development issues in Latin America and the Caribbean, where Latinamericanist researchers in Finland will put together and make a balance on the situation during this year. The event will be on November 17, 2020, 4.00 – 6.00 p.m. (GMT+2:00 Helsinki time) via Zoom. More info here. Welcome! Bienvenidxs!

 

 

Mobilizing in times of social distancing: activism and protests in Brazil during the COVID-19 pandemic

By Mariana G. Lyra. 

“Shot to death or infected to death – are these the options for the favela???”

Source: Jotamarquesrj

Mobilization is the glue that puts together activists around a cause; they all care and prompt actions in hopes of change. Even though online activism has been growing a lot for the past couple of years, recent times saw waves of protests on the streets all over the globe.

The Arab spring, the 2013 June journeys, or the Confederations Cup riots in Brazil, the independentist movement in Catalunya, and the Hong Kong protests are just some of the examples. These movements have in common the combination of online and offline activism, displaying several tactics and actions when fighting for their causes, however making use, especially, of massive and constant protests on the street. These agglomerations are the main image media brought out of these protests, combined with the violent repression from the police and authorities.

Now, in 2020, with the coronavirus pandemic, the WHO orientation is so that people should avoid crowded places and maintain at least one meter of physical distance from others to reduce the chances of being infected or spreading COVID-19. This recommendation, however, has continuously been ignored by many in Brazil.

Since March, at the beginning of the pandemic, Brazilians have gathered in protests constantly, and with different motivations. Bolsonaro’s supporters have been organizing anti-lockdown car protests, claiming the need to keep the commerce open and against other restrictive measures like it happened in the USA and Spain. At the same time, acts against the national congress have been organized in Brasilia, the capital of Brazil, gathering thousands on the streets. The demonstrators have counted with the support of president Jair Bolsonaro, who, ignoring the medical orientation of isolation due to a suspicion of infection, went to the acts to take selfies and salute the protesters. 

Health professionals have also protested in the past 1st of May, workers’ day, in Brasilia as a tribute to the colleagues who have died on duty during the pandemic. The protesters wore masks, medical coats and held crosses on their hands.  

This past Sunday (31st of May), however, the blockades of protesters supporting and rejecting Bolsonaro’s government, gained new momentum. Brasilia had a pro-Bolsonaro demonstration, as it has lately been happening every Sunday, counting with a ride-horsing and handshaking from Bolsonaro himself.  São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, and Belo Horizonte have had protests against and supporting the current president of Brazil.

In São Paulo, the protest pro-democracy, and against Bolsonaro, the military dictatorship and fascism, was led by several associations of football fans.  It ended up having a violent confrontation between activists and the police.  Apparently, it all started when Bolsonaro supporters holding fascist flags from European groups got closer to the other protesters, arousing them.

Brazil is now the second country with most people infected by the coronavirus and has recently registered more than a thousand related deaths in a period of 24 hours. What could be the motives prompting citizens to risk their health amidst a pandemic?

It is hard to precise it, but some cues might be on triggers coming from multilevel context influence. First, it is relevant to note, as I also said in a previous post in this blog, that Bolsonaro’s measures and responses to the pandemic have been polemic and heavily criticized internationally, but also domestically.  As a consequence, the last poll on the public opinion about Bolsonaro’s government hit a rejection record. This news was celebrated by the opposition, which quickly put up an online campaign with the hashtag #somos70porcento (“we are 70%”), suggesting that most Brazilians are now against Bolsonaro.

Second, the police in Rio de Janeiro have shot and killed a minor during confrontations with drug dealers. Locals are claiming there was no confrontation and more children were killed during the police operation that day. The pandemic has not stopped the violence in marginalized areas. A recent analysis published by The New York Times shows the long history of police brutality in Rio. Moreover, poor and black people have been affected the most during the pandemic in Brazil. They have precarious access to health and sanitation, and are also severely impacted by the economic shrink that came as a consequence of the lockdown measures.  

Hence, last Sunday protests in Rio had also an antiracist connotation. This feature is fueled by the historical and current violence against black and poor people in Rio, and in line with a series of other protests around the world following the United States anti-racist protests that sparkled due to George Floyd’s death. Floyd was a black man brutally killed by a white police officer after gasping for breath. The event was recorded and then widely spread online. The United States is seeing a wave of protests against racism that is comparable to the ones that happened due to Martin Luther King’s murder.  

The timing could not be worse in terms of health risks for the activists. The urgency on the anti-racist protests in Brazil, however, has always been there. The number of infections and deaths due to coronavirus reflects the high social inequality present in Brazil. Black and poor Brazilians are dying five times more than ‘white’ ones. Also, the prompt motivations to resist and join struggles are usually encompassing risks, including death threats, especially in Latin America, where violence is common during protests and conflicts.

As for the pro-democracy protests, the timing and window of opportunity to push for more democracy and rights perhaps could not be better. With this new push, campaigners against Bolsonaro aim at impeaching him from duties. They are afraid that measures towards a military dictatorship are in course at the moment and are orchestrating countermoves. 

Protests are thus likely to continue as lives will remain being lost due to the pandemic and violence in Brazil. The urgency to refrain the virus spread does not seem bigger than the urgency demonstrated by the activists last Sunday on the streets.

Mariana G. Lyra is an environmental policy researcher and doctoral student at the University of Eastern Finland. Her main research interests are extractive industries, local conflicts, and social movements. In particular, she is interested in shedding light on the groups fighting for social and environmental justice.

The COVID-19 pandemic and socio-ecological crises: What is the future for community forestry?

By Violeta Gutiérrez Zamora

Community Forestry workers in the Southern Sierra of Oaxaca (2017). Photo: Violeta Gutiérrez Zamora

 

Mexico, like other countries in Latin America, is facing fast-rising numbers of COVID-19 cases and death tolls. Since March 31st, the federal government implemented several restrictions on economic activities considered as “non-essential,” among them the forestry sector. For rural communities that make a living out of their forest resources, the measures have meant a drastic decline for families and communities’ incomes. In an online press conference in mid-May, various actors involved with the forestry sector reported that the 70% decline in the domestic wood market and the plummet of ecotourism were already hitting community forest enterprises (CFEs). Although COVID-19 has not widely spread among rural communities, for many, the socio-economic consequences are already impacting their livelihoods.

In the Mexican environmental arena, CFEs have been a critical element to build up strategies for supporting people’s livelihoods, managing forest ecosystems sustainably, reducing, and avoiding deforestation. CFEs emerged in the 1980s after a wave of mobilizations against forestry concessions granted to private and state companies. With the suspension of concessions, several communities started to build their CFEs as a way to acquire more control and technical knowledge over the use of forest, and the economic benefits derived from timber production. Since then, they have settled wood and non-wood productive ventures like timber and charcoal production, wooden furniture manufacturing, sawmilling and water bottling plants, and ecotourism projects. The difference between private enterprises and CFEs resides in their core principles. While private enterprises raison d’etre is to turn and maximize profit, CFEs are drive by a sense of community responsibility. As such, one of the main objectives of CFEs is to invest their profits in the provision of public services that would otherwise be difficult for community members to obtain, such as employment, health care, education, and basic rural infrastructure.

The CFEs’ success, mistakes, and failures have a direct impact on the human populations that depend on them and, therefore, on the dynamics of forest ecosystems. The enormous responsibility that CFEs and the rural communities have in terms of biodiversity conservation and populations well-being is often unacknowledged and receives low remuneration. As I have argue elsewhere, CFEs and community forestry as a model confront critical limitations when neoliberal environmental policies aim to transform them, or at least treat them, as private enterprises to compete in the free-market. While the link between biodiversity loss and emerging infectious diseases such as COVID-19 is more evident, the critical role that CFEs have in biodiversity conservation needs further consideration and responsiveness from the state and the society in general. In this sense, the strategies of economic ‘reactivation’ promoted by the federal and state government need to rethink how to support CFEs and rural communities as a question of socio-ecological care and collective well-being rather than plain productivism.

Moreover, in the last four weeks, amidst the pandemic, other emergencies like forest fires have required prompt action from the communities the forest service at federal and state levels in Michoacán, Guerrero, Oaxaca, Chiapas, Quintana Roo, and Yucatán. CFEs and the forest service workers, trained to manage fires, have become another group of essential workers for avoiding the spread of wildfires frequently caused by human action.

During last years, forest fire seasons have become harsher, longer, and with higher intensity across the globe. According to fire data from MODIS shared by Global Forest Watch, forest fires alerts in Mexico in 2019 were the highest since 2001. This year forest fires alerts in the country seem to maintain a lower tendency than last year. However, in personal conversation with a community authority in the Southern Sierra of Oaxaca, he complaint that when calling for support for fighting forest fires, the response from the Oaxaca state government is often sluggish. Despite the austere conditions in which CFEs and the environmental sector are, several workers from the companies, and the forest service along with community members have been fiercely working to manage the current wildfires, demonstrating once more how essential their work is.

In the near future, the environmental sector may suffer a further reduction in their already low budget (about 1.2 billion EUR for 2020). The cuts have already impacted the support community forestry received from the federal environmental agencies. CFEs and other governmental and non-governmental actors involved also need to rethink and reformulate strategies to confront the environmental debts and future emergencies related to people’s health, the oncoming economic crisis, the risks of violence, and the various vulnerabilities that climate change creates for the forest. Any strategy for socio-ecological transformations requires that the needs of rural communities and the CFEs are heard and placed as a priority. More than ever, the pandemic and the socio-economic crisis lead us to reconsider new strategies for socio-ecological adaptation and transformation where people can recognize future contingencies but also reformulate in common other senses of our coexistence between us and with the forest. 

Violeta Gutiérrez Zamora is an environmental policy researcher and Ph.D. candidate at the Department of Geographical and Historical Studies of the University of Eastern Finland. In her research, she focuses on feminist political ecology, eco-governmentality, rural organizations and community forestry in Mexico.