Tag Archives: Latin America and the Caribbean

Rural communities in the Peruvian Amazon are confronting the coronavirus on their own

By Anna Heikkinen

San Roque community in the Peruvian Amazon region has taken strict measures
to protect their community members from Covid-19. Photo: Anna Heikkinen

Indigenous and peasant communities across the Peruvian Amazon region have taken the management of the coronapandemic in their own hands. Many have blocked access to their villages and tightened surveillance over their territories to protect themselves from the Covid-19. 

Over the past eight weeks, the peasant community of San Roque in the Peruvian Amazon region has followed rigid measures to avoid the spread of coronavirus.

“Since the president of Peru declared a state of emergency for the coronavirus on March 16th, we decided to begin with strict control in our community. We blocked the road three kilometers away from the village and formed security groups. Now each of them has their own guarding turns to restrain access to our community”, tells Genrry Lopez Ruiz, head of San Roque community’s social aid commission, in a phone interview at the end of April.

The rural Amazon area is one of the most vulnerable regions in Peru in front of Covid-19. Access to sanitation, potable water or health care is among the lowest in the country. Moreover, deforestation and extractive activities, such as oil drilling and mining, are exposing the Amazonian populations to elevated levels of environmental contamination

Before the Covid-19 outbreak, the tropical regions across Latin America were struggling with another severe health threat: dengue. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), in 2019 the continent saw the highest record in dengue cases in history with over 3 million infected and over 1,500 deaths.  In the beginning of February 2020, the Ministry of Health of Peru declared a state of emergency due to an extending dengue epidemic in the Amazonian departments of Loreto, Madre de Dios and San Martín.

The community of San Roque is located in the department of San Martín, one of those regions with the highest number of dengue cases in Peru. Recent experience with the dengue has increased worries among the community members over their safety.

“In February, we had two persons infected with dengue. They were people outside of the community who had come for some temporal forestry work. Now we are very strict with whom we let in. Anyone who enters the community is sprayed throughout with disinfectants. It is harsh, but we do it to protect our community”, Lopez Ruiz tells. 

San Roque has a small health care center that is shared by its 1,300 inhabitants. According to Lopez Ruiz, until now the health care has been working properly, as none of the community members has yet been infected by the Covid-19.

“During the pandemic, we have received some help from the government but there could be more. We are used to managing things on our own, as we say, the community never sleeps. We have worked hard to develop our health care and sanitation long before the coronavirus. Now our only worry is that we are running out of plastic gloves, masks and Covid-19 tests. There is not much left and without proper equipment there is a risk that the virus will spread”, Lopez Ruiz tells.

In San Roque, most of the people receive their livelihoods from small-scale agriculture. During the pandemic, the families have sustained themselves mostly with self-cultivated products such as cacao, peanuts, plantains and corn. There is also a strong tradition of sharing foods and other items among the community members. 

“There hasn’t been any panic in San Roque during the coronavirus. We have always been well organized and we have our fields that feed us. Now in the cities people are losing their minds for the fear of running out of food. Before the coronavirus outbreak, the rural people were forgotten in our country. Nobody cared about us. Now suddenly the Peruvian small-farmers have become really wanted. I hope this change in mentality will last even when the virus will be tackled”, Lopez Ruiz ponders. 

 Anna Heikkinen is a doctoral researcher in Development Studies at the University of Helsinki. Her current research focuses on water governance, climate vulnerabilities and socio-environmental conflicts in Peru.

The “Forgotten” Essentials: Mexican and Central American Farmworkers during the Covid19 pandemic

By Violeta Gutiérrez Zamora

Mexican laborers harvesting chillies in British Columbia, Canada, 2019. Photo: Mariana Elizabeth Gutiérrez Zamora

Governments around the world have ordered everyone to stay home amidst the COVID-19 pandemic except the workers deemed as essential to keep running our societies. Farm laborers are among them. Many of the now recognized as essential workers, however, receive low-wages and are hired under precarious conditions. Farmworkers, employed as pickers and packers in the industrial food and agricultural sector, are often from the most marginalized sectors of the society in which they work. For instance, it is well-known that for decades in the USA and Canada, immigrants from Mexico and Central America bear the brunt of farm labor. A few weeks ago, after years of derogatory comments about Mexican and Central American immigrants, the USA federal government had recognized immigrant farm workers’ critical role in feeding the country. However, such recognition did not mean concessions for their working conditions.

The stories of Mexican and Central American farm laborers and their migration to the USA and Canada cannot be detached from? the conditions of poverty, insecurity, unemployment and exploitation in their own countries. In the last decades, the expansion of the large corporate agribusiness model in Mexico and Central America and the commodities boom inaugurated by the NAFTA agreement and followed by CAFTA promised to alleviate the high rates of poverty and support agricultural producers in rural areas. However, rural monetary poverty and financial insecurity have persisted, despite its reduction between 1990 and 2014.  According to the FAO and CEPAL  reports published in 2018, the percentage of rural population living in poverty was 77% in Guatemala, 82% in Honduras, 65% in Nicaragua, 49% in El Salvador, and 45% in Mexico.

Until now, the Central American and Mexican rural populations are not among the most affected by COVID-19. But their governments have already categorized farm laborers as indispensable to avoid crops rot and food shortages. They ‘will not stay at home’ and can continue working. The worry among farm laborers is that the agricultural enterprises will leave the most vulnerable groups without financial support (including those with chronic diseases, +65 years old and pregnant women). Already, in San Quintín Baja California (one of the most affected states in Mexico), farmworkers union representatives are urging that enterprises take measures to avoid COVID-19 transmission among workers in the farms.

The provision of food to the people in the cities, like Mexico City, Guatemala, San Salvador, and Tegucigalpa but also of Los Angeles, New York, Vancouver, and Montreal, heavily depends on the forgotten but essential Mexican and Central American farm laborers. However, their future working and living conditions seem unpromising. The harsh conditions in which farm laborers work are not necessarily improving: minimum wages, lack of access to health security, insufficient sanitation infrastructure, and high exposure to pesticides and other chemicals.

The several crises produced by COVID-19 may create another layer of vulnerability for farmworkers in economic, environmental, and health terms. However, this pandemic and its socio-ecological impacts may also raise more profound questions on the ecological and human costs of industrial food production and the supply chain that feed global populations. Hopefully, it also nurtures the expansion of more ethical and sustainable food production systems, in which farmworkers from all Latin America have better working conditions.

Bio: 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.

Not everyone has the privilege to wash the hands: Covid–19 and unequal access to water in Latin America

By Anna Heikkinen

Santiago de Chile, February 2020. Chile is experiencing a severe mega drought for the tenth consecutive year. Marginalized urban neighborhoods across Latin American megacities are extremely vulnerable in front of Covid-19 as water scarcity deepens. Photo: Anna Heikkinen

Water has become a vital weapon in the battle against coronavirus. Since the prorogation of Covid-19, the World Health Organization (WHO) announced “washing your hands frequently” as a principal protective measure to slow down the transmission. Unicef further instructed to wash the hands throughout under running water with soap for at least 20 seconds – the time it takes to sing “Happy Birthday” twice.  Social media feeds soon went viral on videos of singing people, obeying their civic duty to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

Meanwhile in Latin America many people have been asking – how to follow these protective measures if there is no water? 

According to Inter-American Development Bank (BID), 34 million people in Latin America and the Caribbean lack access to potable water and 106 million have deficiencies in basic sanitation. In 2017, the countries with major pitfalls in basic sanitation were Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Haiti, Mexico, Peru and Venezuela. 

The conditions to follow hygiene are not equal for everyone even within the countries in Latin America and the Caribbean. A UN/WHO joint program report shows that there is a deep gap between basic drinking water services and sanitation between urban and rural regions. In 2015, 68% of the rural population lacked safely managed sanitation and 75% had deficient potable water services. Moreover, poor urban neighborhoods in Latin American megacities often suffer from severe difficulties in access to adequate quality and quantity of water. 

In Peru’s capital of Lima, 700,000 people living in the poorest regions of the city are facing the coronavirus without proper access to clean water. In the absence of municipal water services, residents of the peripheral districts must buy water from tank trucks. The cost of tanked water per cubic meter can be up to ten times higher than in the wealthier parts of the city connected to the municipal water network. In January 2020, the investigative journalism platform, Ojo-Público, ordered a quality analysis of tanked water in one of the remote districts of Lima. The analysis revealed high quantities of fecal bacteria, lead and other substances posing risks for health. 

Besides water pollution, climate change is posing further pressure on water supplies in Latin America. Prolonged droughts and other extreme weather events have become more common, deepening water scarcities in many parts of the continent. In the middle of the coronavirus crisis, Mexico announced a state of emergency due to extreme droughts.  Meanwhile Chile is struggling with mega droughts for the tenth year in a row. Currently in Mexico over 10 million and in Chile thousands of households lack daily access to potable water. Rural and poor urban populations and indigenous people are in the most vulnerable position in losing access to clean water as the droughts intensify. 

While climate change is aggravating water scarcity across Latin America amidst coronavirus, the roots of the problem lie elsewhere. In many Latin American countries water is distributed highly unequally between different sectors and groups of society. Water use is often prioritized for economically productive activities such as extractive industries, export agriculture and forestry or prosperous urban neighborhoods. This means that during crises like climate change or coronapandemic, there will always be water for those who can afford to pay for it. 

Latin America is one of the most unequal regions in the world. The income gaps and access to basic services between different groups of people are steep. Covid-19, together with climate change, have shed light on these deeply rooted inequalities, including unequal access to water. Now for many, luxuries such as following the hygienic guidelines of washing the hands to prevent spread of infectious diseases, are out of research. Without thinking of new ways for more just and equal water management – the coronavirus risks leaving Latin America with an even more profound water crisis. 

Bio: Anna Heikkinen is a doctoral researcher in Development Studies at the University of Helsinki. Her current research focuses on water governance, climate vulnerabilities and socio-environmental conflicts in Peru.

The historical and current issues at stake during COVID-19 epidemic in Brazil

By Mariana G. Lyra

“The romanticism of the quarantine is a class privilege!” Photo source: unknown from the Internet

Brazilians are fighting COVID-19 by facing current and historical issues. The numbers of registered cases and deaths are not so high, compared to the world ranking or considering that Brazil has a population of more than 220 million inhabitants. At the moment I am writing this piece, there are 2,024,675 COVI-19 cases around the globe, 615,406 only in the United States, followed by Spain with 177,633 cases. Brazil appears on the 14th place, with 25,758 people infected. The devil, however, is in the details.

The Washington Post editorial from the 13th of April is emblematic: Brazil currently has the worst leader in the world to deal with the pandemic. According to the editorial, Mr. Bolsonaro is putting the Brazilian population at risk by having a recurrent discourse that is, at the same time, minimizing the effects associated with the pandemic and misleading how Brazilians should prevent contamination. Critics on how the Brazilian president is dealing with the COVID-19 situation have been signaled before by The Guardian editorial, remembering that Facebook and Twitter have deleted Bolsonaro’s posts about the pandemic due to its harm to the overall users. The posts were about unproven remedies and attacking the practice of physical distancing. The NGO Human Rights Watch considered that Bolsonaro is sabotaging the Health Ministry and the Governors’ regional efforts to manage the pandemic, putting the Brazilian at grave risk.

The historical context of social inequality in Brazil, also reflected in other Latin American countries, deepens the risk. For example, in times of remote learning and access to information, 42% of the households in Brazil have no computers. Almost half of the population has no access to proper sanitation or water. More than 10% of the population is unemployed and 38.4 million Brazilians have an ‘informal’ job, the ones which are the first to face the economic consequences of the pandemic.

Adding to this context, while the USA and Europe are fighting with each other to buy more and more health supplies and equipment such as masks and breathers, poorer countries in Latin America and Africa are left out queuing for a few months to get those items. In Brazil, it has been hard to grasp the real dimension of the problem due to the lack of tests. Brazil is testing 296 people per million inhabitants, while the USA is testing 8 866 people per million. In other words, the actual numbers in terms of infected people would be up to 15 times bigger than the official ones, and projections are estimating Brazil to be the second most infected country in the world, behind the USA.

The exponential rise of infected people in Italy, Spain, and the USA teach other countries how fast health systems can collapse. Brazil has in average one hospital bed per 10 000 inhabitants in the public system. The lesson from Italy and China indicates the need for 2.4 hospital beds per 10 000 people in the epidemic peak, more than double of the Brazilian capacity.  With cuts on the annual budget, the health system in Brazil has a perilous capacity to deal with COVID-19, and units are lacking equipment, supplies, and even soap and water in some cases.

Without top-down clear directives, the citizens are self-educating themselves on how to fight the pandemic and organizing independent initiatives to help marginalized communities. Groups are providing water bottles and liquid soap to the most vulnerable ones, such as homeless and regions of big cities with a notorious incidence of drug trafficking and drug use in public. The following weeks will reveal progressively how severe the situation in Brazil is. Most likely the future will repeat the lyrics of that Chico Buarque’s old song – another unfortunate page of our history.

Mariana 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.

ESDLA Blog Special Issue: Latin America and the Caribbean in times of Covid19

Latin America and the Caribbean and the Covid19. The screenshot is taken from the “COVID-19 Dashboard by the Center for Systems Science and Engineering (CSSE) at Johns Hopkins University (JHU)“.

The novel coronavirus pandemic (covid19) has caught the Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) region in a very particular moment of its entangled history. Since last fall, mass protests and demonstrations were springing in the whole region, most of them in South American countries. Regardless of political ideologies, the common denominator of the protests was the reaction of several sectors of the society against accumulated grievances and overt inequalities, besides the restriction of democratic rights that were revindicated by workers, environmental, feminist, peasant, indigenous and afrolatinx movements through the rural and urban continuum. However, there is no such thing as a unique “Latin American experience”. Each nation-state, place or circumstance shows different societal and ecological challenges.

This special issue from the ESDLA blog brings different perspectives on the current juncture of the Covid19 pandemic in the LAC region. This set of perspectives does not pretend to establish a final word of what is happening all over LAC. Far from that. Instead, the issue brings some reflections on issues of environment, society, and development amid the pandemic by Latin American scholars or with interest in the LAC region, based in Finland.

The special issue will have the following contributions mostly reflecting on cases in Brazil, Peru and Chile, Colombia and Mexico: 

Mariana G. Lyra: The historical and current issues at stake during COVID-19 epidemic in Brazil

Anna Heikkinen: Not everyone has the privilege to wash the hands: Covid–19 and unequal access to water in Latin America

Germán A. Quimbayo Ruiz: When urban and ecological injustices meet pandemic: The Covid19 in urbanized Colombia

Violeta Gutiérrez Zamora: The “forgotten” essentials: Mexican and Central American farmworkers during the covid19 pandemic 

Anna Heikkinen: Rural communities in the Peruvian Amazon are confronting the coronavirus on their own 

Paola Minoia: Ecuador: The Covid-19 health emergency cannot be a justification for making public education for the economic crisis

More contributions will come soon.

[Last updated: 8.5.2020]

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We hope that these contributions and reflections allow a broader view of the constant and changing challenges posed by the Covid19 pandemic in the LAC region.

ESDLA-Blog Team and contributors, Finland, April 2020.

Activities Winter-Spring 2019

Hi! Moi! ¡Hola! Olá!

After a break in our blog site, we are back reporting about relevant academic activities regarding the environment, society, and development.

Let’s begin with a research seminar that kicked off the year with a pertinent topic, which is the relationship between scholars, research, and civil society action. The past 29 to 31 of January, it was held at the University of Eastern Finland, in Joensuu, the research seminar “Science & activism: The role of environmental movements in transformations to sustainability”, organized by the Institute for Natural Resources, Environment and Society (LYY) University of Eastern Finland (UEF), the project Collaborative remedies for fragmented societies – facilitating the collaborative turn in environmental decision-making (CORE), and ALL-YOUTH Strategic Research project (2018-2023). The aim of the event was to share ideas and discuss the role of activism, in its various forms, in transformation towards sustainability. The seminar covered a broad perspective on activism. Within the context of sustainability transition, the seminar approached challenges and benefits of combining activism and science, the role of environmental movements, citizen engagement in policy processes and scientific research, co-production of knowledge, analyses of the driving forces behind resistance and conflicts. You can see more detail information, abstracts, and paper presentation from key-note speakers and presenters in the LYY network webpage.

Three keynotes were commissioned for the seminar. Maija Faehnle, senior researcher in the Programme for Sustainable Urbanisation at Finnish Environment Institute SYKE, opened the seminar with her presentation about solving complex problems where activism is seen as a challenge and opportunity for collaborative governance. The second keynote was on charge of PhD Mariana Walter, postdoctoral researcher at the Institute of Environmental Science and Technology (ICTA) in Autonomous University of Barcelona (UAB), who presented a perspective on radical transformations to sustainability, covering resistances, movements and alternatives, and related with the network of scholars and activists for environmental justice ACKnowl-EJ, including the Environmental Justice Atlas initiative. Finally, in the third keynote Marta Conde post-graduate research associate at Universitat Pompeu Fabra and Associate Researcher in UAB, who presented experiences of counter-expertise and co-production of knowledge in the interface between science and activism. Likewise, there were held presentations covering experiences from Finland, Catalonia, France, and Bangladesh, which as such covered different intersections between science and activism. Members of the ESDLA group at UEF, Mariana Galvão Lyra and Germán A. Quimbayo Ruiz, also took part with presentations in the seminar addressing the main topics of the event and related with their doctoral research projects, in Brazil and Colombia, respectively.

A spot from Mariana Walter’s keynote at the Science&Activism seminar in Joensuu. (Photo credit: Germán A. Quimbayo Ruiz)

At the end of a long and intense two-day seminar, some of the participants took part in a “world café” on environmental collaboration and conflict resolution focus on young people was led by the ALL-YOUTH Strategic Research project team. In the third day, Mariana Walter and Marta Conde gave open lectures on the Mining, environment, and society –course at UEF, covering as well items such as The Environmental Justice Atlas as a tool for activism and research, and initiatives in resistance to mining projects. The seminar finished with a visit to Koli National Park, where participants had the chance to meet one of the most iconic Finnish national landscapes.

Coda: ESDLA group suggests taking a look at the blog of the CORE project.

Sosiologipäivät ESDLA session

Sociology Days conference’s logo (Caption from http://sosiologipaivat.fi/2019-annual-conference/)

ESDLA group is hosting a session on Sosiologipäivät 2019 in Turku, the next March 29th. Postdoctoral researcher Tuula Teräväinen and Professor Juha Kotilainen are coordinating the Working Group #39: Environmental governance and social inequalities. Researcher and doctoral student, Germán A. Quimbayo Ruiz, will be also there presenting. More information about the conference and working groups here: http://sosiologipaivat.fi/2019-annual-conference/working-groups/

ESDLA contribution to ENTITLE blog

Caption from https://entitleblog.org

Our ESDLA group member, Germán A. Quimbayo Ruiz, was recently invited to report on his latest research paper in the Collaborative Writing Project on Political Ecology ENTITLE. The post is titled: “Political ecologies of urban nature in Bogotá, Colombia”. The referred publication was published in the Journal of Political Ecology.