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Indigenous activist Nelson Garcia has been shot dead in Honduras


Another indigenous activist has been murdered in Honduras amid an escalating wave of repression against the relatives and colleagues of renowned campaigner Berta Cáceres, who was murdered less than two weeks ago.

Nelson García, 38, an active member of the Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organisations of Honduras (Copinh) was killed on Tuesday after a violent eviction carried out by Honduran security forces in a nearby Lenca indigenous community.

García was shot dead in the face by unidentified gunmen as he returned to his family home in Río Lindo, north-west Honduras – about 100 miles south of La Esperanza where Cáceres was murdered at home on 3 March.


Berta Cáceres Assassinated


Honduran Indigenous Leader Berta Cáceres Assassinated, Won Goldman Environmental Prize

Honduran indigenous and environmental organizer Berta Cáceres has been assassinated in her home. She was one of the leading organizers for indigenous land rights in Honduras.

In 1993 she co-founded the National Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH). For years the group faced a series of threats and repression.

According to Global Witness, Honduras has become the deadliest country in the world for environmentalists. Between 2010 and 2014, 101 environmental campaigners were killed in the country.

In 2015 Berta Cáceres won the Goldman Environmental Prize, the world’s leading environmental award. In awarding the prize, the Goldman Prize committee said, “In a country with growing socioeconomic inequality and human rights violations, Berta Cáceres rallied the indigenous Lenca people of Honduras and waged a grassroots campaign that successfully pressured the world’s largest dam builder to pull out of the Agua Zarca Dam.”

Statement from SOA Watch:

HONDURAS–At approximately 11:45pm last night, the General Coordinator of COPINH, Berta Caceres was assassinated in her hometown of La Esperanza, Intibuca. At least two individuals broke down the door of the house where Berta was staying for the evening in the Residencial La Líbano, shot and killed her. COPINH is urgently responding to this tragic situation.

Berta Cáceres is one of the leading indigenous activists in Honduras. She spent her life fighting in defense of indigenous rights, particularly to land and natural resources.

Cáceres, a Lenca woman, grew up during the violence that swept through Central America in the 1980s. Her mother, a midwife and social activist, took in and cared for refugees from El Salvador, teaching her young children the value of standing up for disenfranchised people.

Cáceres grew up to become a student activist and in 1993, she cofounded the National Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH) to address the growing threats posed to Lenca communities by illegal logging, fight for their territorial rights and improve their livelihoods.

Berta Cáceres and COPINH have been accompanying various land struggles throughout western Honduras. In the last few weeks, violence and repression towards Berta Cáceres, COPINH, and the communities they support, had escalated. In Rio Blanco on February 20, 2016, Berta Cáceres, COPINH, and the community of Rio Blanco faced threats and repression as they carried out a peaceful action to protect the River Gualcarque against the construction of a hydroelectric dam by the internationally-financed Honduran company DESA. As a result of COPINH’s work supporting the Rio Blanco struggle, Berta Cáceres had received countless threats against her life and was granted precautionary measures by the InterAmerican Commission for Human Rights. On February 25, 2016, another Lenca community supported by COPINH in Guise, Intibuca was violently evicted and destroyed.

Since the 2009 military coup, that was carried out by graduates of the U.S. Army School of the Americas, Honduras has witnessed an explosive growth in environmentally destructive megaprojects that would displace indigenous communities. Almost 30 percent of the country’s land was earmarked for mining concessions, creating a demand for cheap energy to power future mining operations. To meet this need, the government approved hundreds of dam projects around the country, privatizing rivers, land, and uprooting communities. Repression of social movements and targeted assassinations are rampant. Honduras has the world’s highest murder rate. Honduran human rights organizations report there have been over 10,000 human rights violations by state security forces and impunity is the norm–most murders go unpunished. The Associated Press has repeatedly exposed ties between the Honduran police and death squads, while U.S. military training and aid for the Honduran security forces continues.

THE AIR WE BREATHE: Dangerous contaminants found hovering over Portland


Studies find much of Portland’s air worse than rest of nation

On a hazy summer day, sometimes you can see toxic substances in Portland’s air. In some neighborhoods throughout the year, you can smell them.

Some Northwest Portland residents report they can even taste the metallic tinge that toxics leave on the palate, and they stay indoors to avoid it, even on hot days.

While toxic air can make your daily life miserable, it also can give you cancer, as eastside residents recently learned after revelations of cadmium and arsenic lurking in their air for who knows how long, much of it apparently from two small glass companies.

Over the past two weeks, many residents have been troubled by a series of maps, generated from DEQ data, showing concentrations of various toxics in the air. However, a map created for the Portland Tribune using EPA data on cancer risks, shows that almost every neighborhood has air contaminated by dangerous levels of carcinogenic heavy metals and chemical compounds.

Though that news is bad enough, it gets worse. On Dec. 17, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency released data indicating that Portland’s air-quality problems extend far beyond the neighborhoods near the glass companies.

The National Air Toxics Assessment shows that Portland’s airshed is bursting with a toxic stew consisting of dozens of heavy metals and chemical compounds, including 49 that are carcinogenic. The assessment was based on raw data collected in 2011 that took several years for the EPA to analyze and compile.

“There are hot spots here and there, but, generally, there’s an elevated risk throughout the Portland area,” says Kevin Downing, the Clean Diesel Program coordinator for Oregon’s Department of Environmental Quality.

The EPA looked at human health impacts from estimated exposure to outdoor sources ranging from tailpipes to industrial smokestacks. The agency examined the cancer risk from breathing 40 different toxic chemicals found in diesel exhaust — thought it didn’t assess the cancer risk from breathing tiny particles of soot from that exhaust. That’s because the EPA, unlike many other health and environmental agencies around the world, has determined there are no health studies that it considers suitable for estimating diesel’s cancer potency.

As a result, critics say the EPA is dramatically underestimating the deadly potency of the nation’s — and Portland’s — air.

Even so, says one of those critics, Portland Clean Air founder Greg Bourget, the EPA data still makes it clear that Portland’s toxic air is dangerous throughout the city, and is among “the worst in the country.”

Portland is a major manufacturing center and, as a port city, a destination for freight trucks, trains and ships. Its hilly geography acts as a mixing bowl that traps the dangerous compounds emitted by industry and vehicles.

Portland also is relatively compact because of its urban growth boundary, so many people wind up living close to industrial and high-traffic areas, says Corky Collier, executive director of the Columbia Corridor Association. Collier says he’s not surprised by the latest EPA data showing widespread toxins in the air over Portland, and suspects diesel emissions are a major factor.

It’s unclear how the air quality has changed since the EPA’s 2011 air sampling. But since the end of the Great Recession, traffic, manufacturing and business activity have increased.

More cancer risks here

Some cancers are caused by genetic factors, but the World Health Organization estimates that half are caused by environmental factors, like air pollution, and are preventable. The EPA estimates that Portland’s air is capable of causing between 26 and 86 extra cancers per 1 million people. In six census tracts near the city center, this cancer rate is worse than 99 percent of the country.

The EPA encourages people to use the results of its assessment “cautiously,” due to uncertainties in the data, limitations in computer models, and variations in data collection methods from location to location. Nevertheless, the database shows that the air in only 58 of the nation’s 3,200 counties is deemed capable of causing more cancer than in Multnomah County. One of them is King County in Washington. The 24 carcinogens detected in Seattle’s air are capable of causing an estimated 166 extra cancers per 1 million people. The nation’s worst air, according to the database, is found in New Orleans, where 39 airborne carcinogens are capable of causing an estimated 826 extra cancers per million people.

The database shows that while the heaviest concentration of carcinogens in Portland’s air are found in the downtown area, dangerous levels can be detected in every neighborhood throughout the city. Some of the heaviest concentrations occur along freeways, where diesel trucks belch a brew of carcinogens in their exhaust, as well as downwind from industrial polluters.

The DEQ also has prepared maps of air toxics in the area, though it factors in particulate matter from diesel as a carcinogen. Its maps also show widespread toxic air throughout the city.

Cancer is not the only health concern related to foul air. The EPA detected dangerous levels of another 17 toxics in Portland’s air, such as the acrid industrial chemical acrolein, which causes respiratory diseases like asthma. Portland’s air also is a dumping ground for low levels of lead, mercury and manganese, each of which can cause neurological and cognitive disorders in children, even at extremely small concentrations.

Neighbors target ESCO

Breathing the air in parts of Portland can be a little like drinking the water in Flint, Mich.

The EPA calculates that about 1,315 pounds of lead is dumped into Portland’s air yearly. Much of the lead enters the residential neighborhoods of Northwest Portland, including the Pearl District. The ESCO steel foundry at Northwest 25th and Vaughn Street can dump up to 207 pounds of lead into the air every year under its air pollution permit. Certain fuels and railroad locomotives also are sources of lead contamination in Portland, according to the EPA.

The air in parts of Northwest Portland violates a health-safety benchmark for lead, with unknown health impacts on residents, according to the DEQ. Many doctors believe there are no safe levels of these metals.

ESCO says that its lead emissions stem from recycling old scrap metals, which sometimes contain lead. In the near future, its emissions are likely to go down as the company closes two of its three plants, says company spokeswoman Scenna Shipley. Along with lead, mercury and manganese, ESCO releases 37 different types of toxic air pollution, according to the DEQ, including hexavalent chromium, cadmium and formaldehyde.

From 2009 to 2011, the DEQ attempted to reduce the amount of toxic chemicals in the air through its Portland Air Toxic Solutions project, which identified unhealthy levels of 14 toxic compounds in the city’s air. But after a lengthy series of meetings, studies and public hearings, the project failed to find any solutions, disappointing many residents who demanded action.

Residents of Northwest Portland have been fighting a battle against toxic air for at least 20 years. In 2012, a citizen group, Neighbors for Clean Air, led by activist Mary Peveto, reached a Good Neighbor Agreement with ESCO, requiring the company to perform “technological fixes,” Peveto says. However, she notes that the agreement did not specify how much pollution ESCO would be required to cut. Neither the agreement nor the DEQ required ESCO to stop emitting lead.

“They wouldn’t tie themselves to a reduction standard,” she says. “They agreed to take technology implementation actions. Then they agreed that we would be able to verify that each of those actions was implemented fully and was meeting intended goals. They would not agree to a number that said we are going to reduce pollution by x amount.”

All of the actions that ESCO agreed to were added to its air pollution permit, which is enforced by the DEQ.

Scenna says ESCO is still working on technological upgrades to reduce air pollution.

“We’re still actively engaged on that front through the Good Neighbor Agreement,” she says.

Chevron targeted

The Northwest neighborhood achieved a more clear-cut victory over pollution in 2001, when two residents, documentary filmmaker Sharon Genasci and her husband, Don Genasci, sued Chevron for releasing massive amounts of toxic vapors from its gasoline storage facilities near the west end of the St. Johns Bridge.

At the time, the DEQ often issued ozone alerts that warned the entire city about unsafe air caused when toxic vapors reacted with the heat from sunlight. These alerts often occurred on days that Chevron refilled its storage tanks with gasoline pumped from river barges. These gasoline transfers from barges allowed massive amounts of toxic vapors to escape. A settlement of the lawsuit forced Chevron and several other gasoline companies to control this pollution.

In addition, the Genascis won a $75,000 judgment, which they spent on monitoring the neighborhood’s air pollution. This monitoring formed the basis of a concerted campaign for cleaner air that continues to this day.

Sharon Genasci, who investigated the air pollution in an award-winning documentary, “What’s in the Air?” today says the neighborhood’s air seems “just as bad as ever,” despite the ESCO agreement.

Until the toxic air is cleaned up, she adds, Portland’s reputation as a clean, environmentally sustainable city is more myth than reality.

“It’s so ironic, so infuriating,” she says of the recent revelations about carcinogens in Portland’s air attributed to glass companies. “Those are the same emissions we were complaining about 20 years ago, and nobody lifted a finger to help us.”


In December, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency released its National Air Toxics Assessment, documenting measurable amounts of 49 carcinogenic substances in Portland’s air.

The multiyear study analyzed air samples from 2011, so some conditions have changed since then.

Here are the cancer-causing toxics the EPA detected in Portland air:

# 1,1,2-Trichloroethane, used in laboratory research

# 1,2-Dibromo-3-chloropropane, a banned pesticide

# 1,3-Butadiene, found in diesel exhaust

# 1,3-Dichloropropene, a pesticide

# 1,4-Dichlorobenzene, a pesticide

# 1,4-Dioxane, an ether

# 2,4-Dinitrotoluene, found in polyurethane foams

# 2,4-Toluene diisocyanate, found in polyurethane foams

# 2-Nitropropane, used in inks, paints, adhesives

# Acetaldehyde, found in diesel exhaust

# Acrylamide, used to manufacture various polymers

# Acrylonitrile, used to manufacture plastics

# Allyl chloride, an alkylating agent

# Arsenic compounds, found in diesel exhaust, ESCO emissions

# Benzene, found in diesel exhaust, ESCO emissions

# Benzidine, used to produce dyes

# Benzyl chloride, a plasticizer

# Beryllium compounds, found in diesel exhaust

# Bis (2-ethylhexyl)phthalate, found in diesel exhaust

# Bromoform, a solvent

# Cadmium compounds, found in diesel exhaust, ESCO’s emissions

# Carbon tetrachloride, found in diesel exhaust

# Chloroprene, used to produce synthetic rubber

# Chromium vi (hexavalent), found in diesel exhaust, ESCO’s emissions

# Epichlorohydrin, used to produce glycerol

# Ethylbenzene, found in diesel exhaust

# Ethylene dibromide, found in diesel exhaust

# Ethylene dichloride, found in diesel exhaust

# Ethylene oxide, found in diesel exhaust

# Ethylidene dichloride, a solvent

# Formaldehyde, found in diesel exhaust, ESCO’s emissions

# Hexachlorobenzene, found in diesel exhaust

# Hexachlorobutadiene, used as a solvent

# Hydrazine, used in specialty fuels

# Methyl tert-butyl ether, found in diesel exhaust

# Methylene chloride, found in diesel exhaust

# Naphthalene, found in diesel exhaust, ESCO’s emissions

# Nickel compounds, found in diesel exhaust, ESCO’s emissions

# Nitrobenzene, found in diesel exhaust

# O-toluidine, found in diesel exhaust

# PAH/POM, found in diesel exhaust, ESCO’s emissions

# Pentachlorophenol, a fungicide

# PCBs, used in coolant fluids

# Propylene oxide, used in polyurethane plastics

# Tetrachloroethylene, used in dry-cleaning

# Trichloroethylene, a solvent

# Vinyl chloride, used to produce pvc

Malaria: quinine-spiked liqueurs

Filed under: culture,disease/health — admin @ 8:47 am

Shaken with splash of malaria drug, please. The original James Bond martini is made with gin, vodka and Kina Lillet, a French aperitif wine flavored with a smidge of the anti-malaria drug quinine

As you probably know, tonic is simply carbonated water mixed with quinine, a bitter compound that just happens to cure a malaria infection, albeit not so well.

Many modern day liqueurs like Campari and Pimm’s contain quinine. And absinthe — that anise-flavored spirit with a nasty reputation — also has a history with malaria.

Absinthe gets its bitter flavor and alleged psychedelic properties from wormwood, a shrub that’s been around since the dinosaurs. Coincidentally, the most powerful malaria drug we have today also comes from a type of wormwood found in China. More on that later. Dubonnet is a French liqueur made wine, herbs and quinine. Joseph Dubonnet concocted the beverage as way to make troops take their malaria medication.

Dubonnet is a French liqueur made wine, herbs and quinine. Joseph Dubonnet concocted the beverage as way to make troops take their malaria medication.

So how in the heck did all these malaria drugs get mixed in with our mixology?

Let’s start with the classic: quinine. The bitter compound comes from the bark of the cinchona tree (pronounced sin-KO-neh) in the Andes Mountains of South America.

It’s unknown who discovered the fever-curing properties of the cinchona bark, but according to the Kew Royalty Botanical Gardens, Jesuit missionaries figured it out by about 1650, and soon it became the front-line defense for malaria in Europe (which at the time was treated with all kinds of barbaric approaches, like limb amputations and bloodletting).

By the late 1800s, the Dutch were growing the cinchona tree on the island of Java in Indonesia to meet the high-demand for quinine back in Europe, where monks and pharmacists were using the bark to make medicinal tonics. Herb liqueurs all started this way.

Apothecaries would soak the herbs and wood in alcohol to extract out the active ingredients and preserve them. Then you add a little bit of sugar to make it taste better, and you have a liqueur.

Pharmacists and chemists were making concoctions like this for just about every ailment: stomach aches, constipation, kidney stones and even alcohol-induced liver failure.

For malaria, they’d simply add cinchona to the elixirs.

Some of these quinine-spiked liqueurs are still around today, and the malaria drug gives them a characteristic bitter flavor.

There’s Lillet, a French aperitif that goes into James Bond’s famous martini: “Three parts of Gordon’s gin to one part vodka and a half measure of Kina Lillet,” he says in Casino Royale.

There’s the Italian Cocchi Americano, which is an essential component of the Corpse Reviver, one of the first cocktails designed to cure a hangover.

And, then there’s Dubonnet‚ a sweet, quinine-flavored aperitif beloved by both the Queen Mother and Queen Elizabeth II. And, in the movie The Way We Were, Barbara Streisand drank Dubonnet over ice as Katie Morosky.

Often mistaken as an ad for absinthe, the 1906 poster actually promotes Maruin Quina, a French aperitif made with white wine infused with cherries, citrus and quinine.

Dubonnet also shares historical roots with the gin and tonic. They were both concocted as a way to get soldiers to take their malaria medication. Dubonnet helped French troops in North Africa get their quinine while British officers in India cut its bitter taste with gin, carbonated water and twist of lime.

So what about absinthe?

While Europeans and South Americans were messing around with cinchona and quinine, the Chinese had an even more powerful malaria drug. Chinese doctors have been treating malaria with a tea made from sweet wormwood, or qinghao, for thousands of years. They’d soak the shrub in water and then wring it out to extract the active ingredients. In the 1960s, Chairman Mao wanted a magic bullet to stop malaria among soldiers in North Vietnam. So he enlisted top scientists to find a new malaria drug from herbs used in traditional Chinese medicine.

It took 14 years and over 50 scientists, but finally the scientists isolated a potent anti-malarial compound from sweet wormwood. It’s called artemisinin, and we still use it today.

But a note of caution‚ artemisinin isn’t found in the European wormwood used in absinthe, so a drink of that liqueur wouldn’t help with a malaria infection.

Tromelin Island

BY THE standards of boats built by desert-island castaways, the Providence was a thing of beauty. Thirty-three feet long, and made of timber from the shipwreck that had stranded them, she was simple but seaworthy. She also offered the only viable route back to civilisation for more than 200 refugees. As a first step, that meant a westward journey of 500km or so to Madagascar, where the wrecked ship had come from. If you arrive on a ship—a brand-new transport three-masted schooner belonging to the French East India Company—you cannot all leave on a raft.

Whether the castaways were on land controlled by the Company, which projected France’s imperial ambitions in the eastern hemisphere, was anybody’s guess. The charts used by the captain of the doomed ship, L’Utile, on July 31st 1761 indicated nothing but ocean for hundreds of kilometres. Coming off a fortnight of unfavourable winds, he had little time for officers fretting about a probably mythical “Île de Sable”—sandy island—in the area. At half past ten on a moonless night, a coral reef stopped the ship in its tracks. By sunrise, L’Utile had been lost. The Île de Sable, if indeed this was it, was not hospitable. It is so small that a swift walker can get round it in an hour, and so barren, bar a few bushes, that it can barely support human life. Winds and waves, rolling uninterrupted from Antarctica 5,000km to the south, batter it incessantly. More recent study has established it as the tip of a dormant volcano rearing up from 4,500m below, in the depths of the western Indian Ocean.

As they landed on the island on the night of the wreck, some of the crew supposed it inhabited. But the dark-skinned “locals” they encountered had come on the same ship, just a different part of it. Below deck 160 or so slaves had languished, men, women and children. Nearly half of them had died in the night, probably drowned under the nailed-down hatches. That still left 88, two-thirds of them men, now unshackled.

They had been a secret, albeit an open one. The captain had picked them up in Madagascar, as a bit of side business tolerated by the Company. He was knowingly flouting a French ban on slave-trading in its Indian Ocean territories—though one motivated more by concerns that a British blockade would leave extra mouths to feed on its precarious island colonies, than by common humanity.

Perhaps because of the French crew’s numerical superiority—123 had survived—the social order that existed on L’Utile carried through on land. Even the ship’s log was kept as before. It is now stored in the French ministry of defence’s archive. It continued to note the wind and weather, but also recorded the island’s new arrangements. In particular, it recounted how Barthelemy Castellan du Vernet, L’Utile’s first officer, emerged as the leader to replace the captain, shocked speechless by the crash. It was Castellan who had made the decision to scupper L’Utile by cutting her rudder in the hope that more men might be saved. The island provided fish, turtles, birds and eggs, but at first no water

Within days Castellan, whose younger brother had died in the wreck, had sentenced a man to death for stealing some of the rations that had spilled out of the ship. L’Utile had disgorged 22 barrels of flour, 200kg of beef and other provisions; the island itself provided fish, turtles, birds and eggs. But there had been little water on the ship, and none could be found on the island—until, after three days of chipping through volcanic rock, a brackish, milky liquid welled up. The men rejoiced, and the condemned sailor was pardoned. By then, though, 28 castaways had died of thirst. All were slaves.

With water assured, things got easier. Members of the crew, from cook to priest, resumed their roles on land. If tensions arose, they were not recorded in the ship’s log, which soon resumed its focus on the weather. (Entries for August: “18th and 19th: Bad sea. 20th: Calm sea.”) Using sails and fragments of L’Utile’s masts, the French set up camp on the west of the island, near a beach where one of the anchors from the wreckage protruded from the surf. The slaves huddled at the northern tip.

A ship was spotted far off on August 9th; it cannot have missed the noise and smoke from two barrels of gunpowder the castaways detonated as flares. But it continued on its way to India.

Castellan, who had sailed on slave ships before, knew there was a risk of disorder. A vessel had to be built, and quickly. But three problems arose. The ship’s carpenter had no actual woodworking skills. There were no trees on the island; all wood had to be salvaged from the wreck, much of which was submerged. And the crew was disinclined to work, all but 20 preferring the more leisurely task of bird-hunting to manual labour.

Castellan shook off the first problem: though he had no naval-architecture training, he skilfully sketched plans for the Providence. The problem of the slothful crew could be overcome with the help of the Malagasy slaves. “The slaves toiled with great zeal in this work,” according to a contemporaneous account. Nothing suggests they were coerced into it. If the white man offered the only way off an uninhabitable island, reason suggested any enmity was best left aside until after the escape.

That left the second problem, of insufficient wood. Or rather, the right kind of wood. There was enough to build a seaworthy barge with sides five feet high. But Castellan’s plans for the Providence were predicated on a 45-foot end-to-end beam underpinning the boat. L’Utile had not been that generous: the longest beam at hand was only 33 feet. Scale down a boat’s beam and length in proportion, and her capacity shrinks by nearly half.

There is no record of any discussion of which half of the stranded island community should have first dibs on this smaller boat. It is hard to imagine one was held. On September 27th 1761, two months after the shipwreck, it was the 123-strong white crew who boarded the Providence—including around 100 who had played no part in its construction. The abandoned were left with three months’ provisions and a letter recognising their good conduct: important if the slaves were to prove to a passing captain that they had not been ditched for having caused trouble.

But the most important reward they were given for their loyalty and their labour was also the most intangible: a promise that someone would come back for them. Castellan reckoned that might be possible in a couple of weeks, maybe a month if the weather turned. Whatever happened, the provisions he had left would be ample, he thought, to cover the time for the crew to reach Madagascar and return.

Weeks passed, then months, then years.

Desert island risks

“We affirm with truth that, after God, we owe our escape from that island to [Castellan] alone…we acted only to obey his counsel and orders,” the crew unanimously proclaimed after they reached dry land. It had taken just four days for the Providence to arrive in Foulpointe, a port in eastern Madagascar. The men had travelled crammed together as the slaves once had, but just one died en route. They were greeted with amazement. But here Castellan’s winning streak ended. The crew’s declaration mentions his endeavours to retrieve the slaves. “However,” it notes, “he couldn’t secure the spare sails required to do so.”

Castellan’s abilities did not extend to the political realm. Everything suggests his desire to return was genuine. But it was not shared by Company higher-ups administering the islands. His inability to secure fresh sails—an unlikely impediment, given the constant coming and going from Foulpointe, a trading hub—was only his first hurdle.

A few days’ deferment turned into weeks. As objects of curiosity, the entire crew was ordered to Île de France, now Mauritius, the local bastion of French power. By the time they arrived, on November 25th, the slaves had been stranded for two months.

Local grandees on Île de France saw no rush to intervene. The governor, Antoine-Marie Desforges-Boucher, in particular, displayed a palpable lack of enthusiasm for Castellan’s flight of mercy. Ships had suddenly become scarce, he explained, not least since L’Utile’s wreck. Once a distant threat, Britain’s navy now loomed more closely, threatening the security of supplies to the islands. And with all those delays already—not anybody’s fault, of course—was it even likely the slaves were still alive?

Historians suspect ulterior motives. Desforges-Boucher is known to have had a sideline in trading slaves. A cargo of 200 Mozambicans he had ordered were on their way to the islands. The ban on trading had helped firm up prices and boost margins. There seemed no sense in bailing out a hapless rival at the last minute, especially when the British could be made to carry the can.

Whatever the reasons, the two men ended up at loggerheads. Desforges-Boucher promised a ship once the war with Britain ended (the Seven Years’ War dragged on until 1763), while Castellan vowed not to leave the islands until the slaves had been retrieved. As so often happens, stalemate favoured the bureaucracy. While most of the crew returned home, Castellan took a position aboard a supply ship ferrying goods around the islands. He nearly scored an unlikely success: in January 1762, the captain of his new ship was amenable to a detour via Île de Sable. The plan was foiled when the Royal Navy landed on a nearby island.

By September of that year, 12 months after the Providence had sailed, Castellan realised the futility of his quest and returned to France. Yet his lobbying continued, if letters later found in various government archives are to be believed. His cause was aided by the publication of a real-life-adventure pamphlet printed in Amsterdam that turned the castaways into a minor cause célèbre. Mysteriously, a hastily added footnote even suggested a happy conclusion for the slaves: “A ship has been sent from Île de France to rescue these wretched souls.”

It was not so. The suggestion of benevolence when none was forthcoming infuriated one reader. In the copy of the pamphlet held in the French Navy archives, the erroneous footnote is annotated by hand. “It had been promised one would be sent, it has not been done as yet.” Irène Frain, a French author who has written a fictional retelling of the slaves’ fate, is adamant the handwriting is Castellan’s.

A decade later, he was still writing pleading letters. The bankruptcy of the Company in 1769—the cause of great financial hardship for Castellan—had led to new administrative arrangements in France’s Indian Ocean territories. Perhaps that explained why in 1772, for no stated reason, the secretary of the navy was now willing to back a rescue mission. Nobody knew then, more than a decade on, whether any slaves might have survived. In any event, the order was ignored for another three years.

The island they called home

A ship was dispatched in August 1775, 14 years after the original crash. It reached Île de Sable, but heavy weather prevented it from doing much more. Worse, it added a castaway to the island; one of the two men aboard a dinghy launched from the ship was left stranded there.

The expedition at least answered any remaining questions of whether the island was inhabited. Lying offshore (he could get no closer), the captain saw that a community of sorts seemed to have endured. There were 13 people in all—14, with the newly added sailor. Buildings had been erected. The anchor from L’Utile still protruded from the surf. More surprisingly for a woodless island, a plume of smoke suggested fire.

A rescue mission looked harder than expected. But the new governor of Île de France was made of sterner stuff than Desforges-Boucher. It helped that by 1776 Britain had bigger colonial problems to contend with than minor islands in the Indian Ocean; there, France ruled supreme. Still, the task required unexpected effort. Two more ships were commissioned to save the castaways, but failed.

The fourth succeeded. In November 1776, 15 years after Castellan had left, the Dauphine, a corvette captained by Jacques-Marie Lanuguy de Tromelin, at last got favourable winds. At Île de Sable a dinghy was dispatched from it. By then, the only inhabitants were seven women wrapped in clothes made of birds’ feathers. One of them—oddly, on an island with no men—held an eight-month-old baby boy.

With no pomp or ceremony, they were ferried to the Dauphine and evacuated. In the space of a morning, the island went from being inhabited and unnamed to being uninhabited and named after the man who had made it so: Tromelin Island.

Why had only seven castaways survived, when 14 had been spotted weeks before? It seems the newly marooned sailor had tried his luck as a latter-day Castellan. With the help of the now-natives, one assumes, he had salvaged whatever could still be used from L’Utile’s wreck and built his own Providence. Sails were improvised from birds’ feathers. Unlike Castellan, the unnamed sailor had taken some of the slaves: the last three men and three women. Also unlike his predecessor, he failed to reach Madagascar.

One little island an everywhere

Back on Île de France, the women were declared free and baptised. Semiavou, the mother of the child (and the only one whose name was recorded) was christened Eve. The boy was named Moïse, after the prophet who was born a slave and whose name means “drawn out of the water”.

Whatever meagre accounts of life on the island were collected—there was no great eagerness to do so—have been supplemented since by Max Guérout, a French naval researcher who calls himself an “archaeologist of distress”. With teams of volunteers, he has been on many expeditions to the island since 2006. Digging through metres of sand accumulated since the 18th century, they have unearthed a dozen buildings erected by the slaves. The stone walls are a metre-and-a-half thick to withstand the wind and make up for the lack of cement. With no materials at hand to craft a roof, the rooms are tiny. One of them had no entrance, for unknown reasons. They made unseemly accommodation: in Madagascar stones are used for tombs, not buildings.

In fact no tombs or bodies have ever been found. This makes it difficult to establish what happened to the other slaves. Of the 80 or so left behind, less than half are accounted for. Eighteen are thought to have embarked on a raft shortly after they were abandoned; with no textile sails, it is assumed they never reached land. Most of the others died early on, including some women in childbirth. Moïse, as he later became, was the only child to survive. With his light skin, it was speculated but never confirmed that he was the son of the white sailor who had arrived the year before.

The same brackish well that had saved the sailors had slaked the slaves’ thirst for 15 years. A fire started in Castellan’s day had been kept burning since then, fed with scraps of wood gathered from L’Utile. The only cloth available consisted of birds’ feathers woven together using ropes from the wreck, hence the women’s attire that had startled the sailors. Basic metalwork—copper for eating implements, lead for water cisterns—had continued at a furnace set up to build the Providence.

The women declined to return to Madagascar, where they would probably have fallen back into slavery. Their wish for a quiet life on Île de France seems to have been realised: nothing is known of them thereafter. Castellan, by then a hospital administrator in Brittany, may have heard of their rescue; his reaction was not recorded. He died in 1782. Desforges-Boucher, who stayed on the island after relinquishing the governorship in 1767, perished on the voyage back to France. Tromelin returned to France only to have his family’s estate seized in the revolution of 1789.

That the story of Tromelin Island has survived at all is largely due to one of the revolution’s central figures, the Marquis de Condorcet. He included the harrowing tale of the castaways in his pamphlet “Reflections on Negro Slavery”, published in 1781. His account is confused on the details, mentioning 300 slaves stuck on an island that was submerged by tides twice daily. But the gist of the story is damning of the behaviour of the French authorities: “Seven negro women and a child born on the island were found, the men having all died, either of misery, or hopelessness, or attempting to escape.”

The pamphlet galvanised anti-slavery campaigners, and was reissued seven years later. In only a matter of years, Desforges-Boucher landed on the wrong side of history. Debates in the new Assemblée Nationale in February 1794 decried the practice as lèse humanité, a precursor to today’s crime against humanity. The new regime abolished slavery—a decision that was never properly implemented, and ultimately reversed.

As for Tromelin Island, little happened there for the next hundred years. In 1810 Britain seized control of Île de France, and so, at least in theory, inherited its distant cousin as part of its empire. In 1867 the Atieth Rahamon, a three-masted ship carrying 10,400 bags of sugar, crashed into Tromelin, but the crew were rescued.

The island’s precise co-ordinates were established only in the 1950s. France, keen to keep some sort of foothold in the Indian Ocean ahead of the impending decolonisation of Madagascar, established a weather station on Tromelin in 1954. There is now a cluster of modern buildings—erected, with no little irony, using labourers imported from Madagascar—and a runway of crushed coral runs the length of the island.

Today the weather station needs no staff, but French soldiers fly in every other month to rotate a crew of three people. Their presence serves mainly to weaken long-standing, if half-hearted, claims of sovereignty by Mauritius. One hut doubles up as a fully-fledged post office adorned, like all French municipal buildings, with a portrait of François Hollande, the island’s nominal president. Mr Guérout and his archaeologists of distress arrive periodically to dig up some corner of the island. A plaque commemorating the betrayed slaves was erected in 2013: not far from L’Utile’s rusting anchor, still stranded in the surf, battered by the waves.

Market for natural chewing gum has been growing 25% per year

Filed under: agriculture,markets,mexico — admin @ 8:30 am

The world market for chewing gum is dominated by manufacturers of a product that is actually synthetic rubber, but there remains a demand for the real thing, luckily for some 2,000 Maya families in Quintana Roo. In fact, the production of gum made from natural chicle is seeing strong growth.

Chicle is a natural gum that has traditionally been used in making chewing gum and other products. It is collected from several species of Mesoamerican trees, including the Chicozapote (Manilkara zapota), which is the most common source in

The word chicle comes from the Nahuatl word for the gum, tziktli, meaning “sticky stuff,” although it could also have come from the Mayan word tsicte. Chicle was well known to the Aztecs and to the Maya, and early European settlers prized it for its subtle flavor and high sugar content.

Chicozapote plantations and the commercialization of chicle in the Yucatan peninsula state of Quintana Roo date back generations, although early in the 20th century Japanese interests controlled much of the market.

There was strong demand for natural chewing gum during World War II when the United States government supplied its military personnel with generous amounts of it, sourcing the product from Quintana Roo growers.

It was around that time that the Chiclero Consortium began operations, albeit inefficiently. It stumbled along aimlessly for some 50 years before state governor Mario Villanueva ordered an inspection of nearly 1.3 million hectares of Chicozapote rainforest which by then — in 1997 — had been virtually abandoned.

Villanueva was following the advice of Manuel Alderete, who also suggested he rehabilitate the consortium.

Today, Alderete is the executive director of the Chiclero Consortium, an enterprise that in the intervening 20 years has become a success story and a source of income for many of the state’s indigenous people: 70% of the company is owned by the local Maya community.

The Consortium provides a living for around 2,000 local families, many of whom have been working on the same Chicozapote farms for generations. During the last four years, sales of the consortium’s main product, natural chewing gum, have been increasing at an average annual rate of 25%, with buyers in 45 European, Asian and American countries. Paradoxically, the domestic market is their weakest.

The growth is at odds with international consumption of synthetic chewing gum, which has been declining due to a perception that it is unfashionable and concerns over its sugar content, according to the consultancy Euromonitor International.

Meanwhile, Mayan chicle producers continue to work their 1.3-million-hectare Chicozapote plantation, which has the capacity to be expanded to more than 5 million hectares; another 1,000 are expected to be incorporated into the production process this year. Its gum has also been certified as organic.

The consortium also intends to diversify by including crops naturally related to the Chicozapote tree, such as rainforest pepper (Capsicum baccatum) and RamÛn-nut, or breadnut (Brosimum alicastrum).

There is no shortage of reports offering evidence that many of Mexico’s indigenous people suffer from being sidelined and marginalized, but the story of the Mayan chicle producers is not one of them.

Prior to the overhaul of the gum-producing consortium at the end of the 1990s, farmers were left with just 45% of the value of their product. Today, they receive 85% and are beneficiaries as well of social security programs and savings funds and have access to college scholarships for their children. According to one account, failed general and former Mexican president Antonio LÛpez de Santa Anna, (he who first defeated Davy Crockett and Co. at the Alamo, only to be captured, dozing in his sleeping bag, by Texan Sam Houston a short time later) brought the idea of chewing gum to American consumers. In the 1860¥s Santa Anna was in exile in New York, when, mouth full of “chicle,” he met American scientist Thomas Adams Jr. Adams turned the idea of “chewing gum” into profit with Adams Brand “Chicklets”, established in 1876, and loathed by high-school janitors ever since.

Cavendish Bananas

A nasty and incurable fungus has spread through the banana-producing countries around the world, and it could be making its way straight toward banana heartland: Latin America, which produces 80 percent of the world’s exports, threatening to drive the most popular variety of banana to extinction. So scientists are focusing on building a better banana to withstand the fungal assault.

Bananas have reached such all-star status in the American diet that we now consume more of them than apples every year. Yet you’re probably used to seeing just one type of banana at your supermarket: the relatively bland yellow Cavendish. It has high yields, ships pretty well, and ripens slowly, making it appetizing to global food distributors.

Unfortunately, the popularity of the Cavendish might also be its downfall. A nasty and incurable fungus known as Tropical Race 4 (TR4) has spread in Cavendish-producing countries around the world, and it could be making its way straight toward banana heartland: Latin America, which produces 80 percent of the world’s exports. For a paper published in November in the journal PLOS Pathogens, researchers confirmed that the version of TR4 afflicting bananas in different countries around the globe‚ including China, the Philippines, Jordan, Oman, and Australia, appears to come from a single clone. Ever since the fungus migrated from Asia and Australia into Africa and the Middle East starting in 2013, the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization has urged countries to step up their quarantining of sick plants. Yet the Pathogens paper confirms that these quarantines, seemingly the only prevention against the spread of the fungus, which can live in soil for up to 50 years, have mostly failed. “It indicates pretty strongly that we’ve been moving this thing around,” says professor James Dale, one of the world’s experts on bananas and the director of the Queensland University of Technology’s Centre for Tropical Crops and Biocommodities. “It hasn’t just popped up out of the blue.”

The finding seems to confirm every banana grower’s worst fear: that the Cavendish will go down the same way our old favorite banana did. A century ago, Americans ate only Gros Michel bananas, said to have more complex flavor and a heartier composition than today’s Cavendish variety. Then, the monoculture fell prey to the fungal disease Tropical Race 1, or “Panama disease,” which wiped out the crop around the globe. There was nothing anything could do to stop it.

So this time around, rather than attack the fungus, scientists have shifted their efforts into building a better banana to withstand it. Dale’s research team, funded in part by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, has spent 12 years working on TR4. Three years ago, it started a trial on two very promising ideas: (1) inserting a TR4-resistant gene from a different wild banana species from Malaysia and Indonesia, musa acuminata malaccensis, into the Cavendish to create a fungus-resistant version of the popular variety and (2) turning off a gene in the Cavendish that follows directions from the fungus to kill its own cells. Dale says it’s too early to discuss the details of the trials, but the team is “very encouraged by the results” of the experiment with the wild malaccensis banana‚ which means the genetically engineered fruit seems to have successfully resisted TR4.

GMO haters would not be too happy about a rejiggered banana plant. Dale’s introduction of a different GM experiment in 2014, a vitamin-A-fortified banana meant to help deliver nutrients to impoverished Africans, was met with harsh criticism from the likes of Indian environmental activist Vandana Shiva, Friends of the Earth Africa, and Food and Water Watch. “There is no consensus that GM crops are safe for human consumption,” they wrote in a letter to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Regardless of where you land on GMOs, there is another option to consider: We could stop relying on Cavendish bananas. If you’ve ever tasted one of the dozens of small, sweet bananas that grow in regions like Central America and Southeast Asia, you probably aren’t terribly impressed with the United States’ doughy supermarket varieties. Belgium’s Bioversity International estimates that there are at least 500, but possibly twice as many, banana cultivars in the world, and about 75 wild species. The Ruhuvia Chichi of the Solomon Islands is sunset red and cucumber shaped; Inabaniko bananas from the Philippines grow fused together, giving them the name “Praying Hands”; Micronesia’s orange-fleshed Fe’i bananas are rich in beta-carotene. Elsewhere, you can find the Lady Finger banana, the Senorita, the Pink French, and the Blue Java.

But Dale doubts the global food industry will suddenly switch to one of these tempting fruits. “To change over to another variety would be quite challenging, because the growers and shippers have really been set up to use [the Cavendish] around the world.” And he points out, “Even if you did find a replacement, that’s not to say that in 20 years another disease wouldn’t come along and knock it over.”

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