Authorities in Honduras have confirmed the murder of yet another indigenous activist, four months after the assassination of award-winning environmentalist Berta Cáceres prompted international outrage over the targeting of campaigners who oppose mega-projects and resource extraction in the Central American country.
Judicial officials said in a statement on Thursday that they had opened investigation into the murder of Lesbia Janeth Urquía, 49, whose body was found abandoned in a rubbish dump in the municipality of Marcala, about 160 kilometres west of the capital Tegucigalpa.
The statement said Urquía had suffered a severe head injury and that a possible motive for her murder was “the supposed robbery of her professional bicycle”, which she was planning to ride when last seen on Tuesday afternoon.
Urquía, a mother of three children, was a member of the Council of Indigenous Peoples of Honduras (Copinh) – the organization founded by Cáceres – and had been working to stop a hydro-electric projects in Honduras’s western La Paz department.
“The death of Lesbia Yaneth is a political femicide that tries to silence the voices of women with courage and the bravery to defend their rights,” Copinh wrote on its website. “We hold the Honduras government directly responsible for this murder.”
As measured only by the combination of present Washington, Oregon, and British Columbia statistics, Cascadia would be home to slightly more than 15 million people (15,105,870), and would have an economy generating more than US$675 billion worth of goods and services annually. This number would increase if portions of Northern California, Idaho, and Southern Alaska were also included. By land area Cascadia would be the 20th largest country in the world, with a land area of 534,572 sq mi (1,384,588 km2), placing it behind Mongolia. Its population would be similar in size to that of Ecuador, Guatemala, or Zambia.
UNHCR Global Trends report finds 65.3 million people, or one person in 113, were displaced from their homes by conflict and persecution in 2015.
Wars and persecution have driven more people from their homes than at any time since UNHCR records began, according to a new report released today by the UN Refugee Agency.
The report, entitled Global Trends, noted that on average 24 people were forced to flee each minute in 2015, four times more than a decade earlier, when six people fled every 60 seconds.
The detailed study, which tracks forced displacement worldwide based on data from governments, partner agencies and UNHCR’s own reporting, found a total 65.3 million people were displaced at the end of 2015, compared to 59.5 million just 12 months earlier.
“At sea, a frightening number of refugees and migrants are dying each year. On land, people fleeing war are finding their way blocked by closed borders.”
It is the first time in the organization’s history that the threshold of 60 million has been crossed.
“More people are being displaced by war and persecution and that’s worrying in itself, but the factors that endanger refugees are multiplying too,” said UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi.
“At sea, a frightening number of refugees and migrants are dying each year; on land, people fleeing war are finding their way blocked by closed borders. Closing borders does not solve the problem.”
Grandi said that politics was also standing in the way of those seeking asylum in some countries.
“The willingness of nations to work together not just for refugees but for the collective human interest is what’s being tested today, and it’s this spirit of unity that badly needs to prevail,” he declared.
The report found that, measured against the world’s population of 7.4 billion people, one in every 113 people globally is now either an asylum-seeker, internally displaced or a refugee – putting them at a level of risk for which UNHCR knows no precedent.
The tally is greater than the population of the United Kingdom – or of Canada, Australia and New Zealand combined.
To put it in perspective, the tally is greater than the population of the United Kingdom – or of Canada, Australia and New Zealand combined. It is made up of 3.2 million people in industrialized countries who, at the end of 2015, were awaiting decisions on asylum – the largest total UNHCR has ever recorded.
Also in the tally are a record 40.8 million people who had been forced to flee their homes but were within the confines of their own countries, another record for the UN Refugee Agency. And there are 21.3 million refugees.
Forced displacement has been on the rise since at least the mid-1990s in most regions, but over the past five years the rate has increased.
The reasons are threefold:
* conflicts that cause large refugee outflows, like Somalia and Afghanistan – now in their third and fourth decade respectively – are lasting longer; * dramatic new or reignited conflicts and situations of insecurity are occurring more frequently. While today’s largest is Syria, wars have broken out in the past five years in South Sudan, Yemen, Burundi, Ukraine and Central African Republic, while thousands more people have fled raging gang and other violence in Central America; * the rate at which solutions are being found for refugees and internally displaced people has been on a falling trend since the end of the Cold War, leaving a growing number in limbo.
“We’re stuck here. We can’t go on and we can’t go back,” said Hikmat, a Syrian farmer driven from his land by war, now living in tent outside a shopping centre in Lebanon with his wife and young children. “My children need to go to school, they need a future,” he added.
The study found that three countries produce half the world’s refugees. Syria at 4.9 million, Afghanistan at 2.7 million and Somalia at 1.1 million together accounted for more than half the refugees under UNHCR’s mandate worldwide. Colombia at 6.9 million, Syria at 6.6 million and Iraq at 4.4 million had the largest numbers of internally displaced people.
While the spotlight last year was on Europe’s challenge to manage more than 1 million refugees and migrants who arrived via the Mediterranean, the report shows that the vast majority of the world’s refugees were in developing countries in the global south.
In all, 86 per cent of the refugees under UNHCR’s mandate in 2015 were in low- and middle-income countries close to situations of conflict. Worldwide, Turkey was the biggest host country, with 2.5 million refugees. With nearly one refugee for every five citizens, Lebanon hosted more refugees compared to its population than any other country.
Distressingly, children made up an astonishing 51 per cent of the world’s refugees in 2015, according to the data UNHCR was able to gather (complete demographic data was not available to the report authors). Many were separated from their parents or travelling alone.
Indigenous Pacific Islanders in the Solomon Islands are watching their homes disappear into the ocean as climate change raises the sea level and the natural trade wind cycle physically pushes the water against their shores.
Here in North America, governments have yet to engage the problem on a serious scale as the Isle de Jean Charles Band of Indians in the Mississippi Delta watches their homes fall into the Gulf of Mexico. It will be too late to act when the expensive real estate of Manhattan Island or Miami is facing a similar fate.
Simon Albert of the University of Queensland told New Scientist, “All the projections show that in the second half of the century, the rest of the globe will reach the rate of sea level rise that the Solomon Islands is currently experiencing.”
The rate of sea level rise is measured in millimeters per year. It is accelerating, but at the current rate five of the islands in the Solomon chain have disappeared entirely since 1947, and six others have shrunk between 20 and 62 percent.
The sunken islands — Kakatina, Kale, Rapita, Rehana and Zollies — were wildlife habitat, but the only human use was by fishers. The six currently falling into the Pacific will hit humans a bit more directly. On the most populated, Nuambu, 11 families have lost their homes since 2011. Nuambu is still home to 25 indigenous families.
Albert and his four colleagues, writing in the International Business Times, detailed how they determined the current land disappearances are not part of a normal variation in sea level:
We studied the coastlines of 33 reef islands using aerial and satellite imagery from 1947–2015. This information was integrated with local traditional knowledge, radiocarbon dating of trees, sea level records, and wave models.
Because the Solomon Islands government—unlike the U.S. government—respects the customary land tenure they call “native title” and the U.S. calls “aboriginal title,” the indigenous people have been able to relocate whole villages to higher ground.
The capital of Choiseul Province, Taro, is expected to become the first provincial capital in the world to relocate because of sea level rise.
The original study on the islands disappearing was published in Environmental Research Letters. Some of the questions were addressed by the common sense but rare method of asking the indigenous people who live in the Solomons. Oral traditions helped separate natural cycles from climate change and told how long two villages relocated to the interior had been on the coast. The answer from the people who lived there was about 80 years.
The people losing their homes now are called Pacific Islanders, but if the settlers don’t pay attention and act on climate change, history will call these indigenous people the canaries in the coalmine.
The Panama Papers reportedly cover more than 40 years of Mossack Fonseca’s operations on behalf of a who’s-who list of the global elite, including numerous important politicians and current or former heads of state, international criminals and star athletes, along with any number of less charismatic but equally wealthy corporations and individuals. Close associates of Russian President Vladimir Putin appear in the Mossack documents (although Putin himself is not named), as do the father of British Prime Minister David Cameron, members of the Saudi royal family, the president of Ukraine and the prime minister of Pakistan. The Icelandic prime minister, named as a Mossack client with offshore holdings, was forced to resign on Tuesday, before apparently reversing himself on Wednesday. It’s safe to say the ripple effects of these revelations will be felt for years, if not decades. Mossack evidently created some 214,000 anonymous offshore companies for its moneyed clientele–“shell firms” with sham directors and phony boards of directors, reports the SZ, designed such that their “true purpose and ownership structure is indecipherable from the outside.” In most of these cases, “concealing the identities of the true company owners was the primary aim,” and the documents suggest that Mossack routinely engages in business practices that “potentially violate sanctions, in addition to aiding and abetting tax evasion and money laundering.” They’re just the tip of a really big iceberg. That’s true in several senses. First of all, although Mossack Fonseca is a major player in the lucrative international industry of helping the rich get richer, it’s only one company among the network of bankers and lawyers and honey-tongued advisers competing to grovel before the world’s elite caste and make safe their massive wealth. Perhaps the rich still believe they deserve to be rich, and too many of the non-rich believe it too. But their desperate attempts to hide their wealth beneath armies of lawyers and nests of imaginary companies and mailing addresses on distant islands suggest otherwise. They’re afraid that the illusion may be crumbling. They’re afraid that one of these days we’ll figure out how they got that money and decide to take it back.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
THE DIRTY 49
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
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.
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.
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.
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.”
Comunalidad as the Axis of Oaxacan Thought in Mexico (p4 of 17)
The following article by Jaime Martinez Luna originally appeared in
the anthology “New World of Indigenous Resistance: Noam Chomsky and
Voices from North, South, and Central America,” edited by Lois Meyer
and BenjamÌn Maldonado and published by City Lights. The book is a
collection of interviews with Noam Chomsky and articles written in
response to those interviews by indigenous activists and scholars. For
more information on the Academia de Comunalidad or on the First
International Congress on Comunalidad- Communal Struggles and
Strategies: Horizons Beyond Capitalism visit
The Fourth Principle
The history of Oaxaca has been interwoven with principles and values
that display its deeply rooted comunalidad. For the Oaxacan people
across many centuries, this has meant integrating a process of
cultural, economic, and political resistance of great importance.
Since the Spanish conquest individualist and mercantilist as it was
Oaxaca has responded with a form and reason for being communal that
has permitted it to survive even in the face of an asphyxiating
This historic and latent resistance is the basis for the achievement
today of having the concept of comunalidad written into the State
Education Act of 1995, as the fourth guiding principle of education.
For its transcendence, this principle requires that it be integrally
implemented so that in future generations, it becomes the foundational
knowledge and the basis for constructing all other knowledge. This
will guarantee its security and immediate identity within the current
intercultural education process.
We have not the slightest doubt that comunalidad is the
epistemological notion that sustains an ancestral, yet still new and
unique, civilizing process, one which holds back the decrepit
individualization of knowledge, power, and culture.
Based in the above, many of us as professionals who serve the
interests of the form of education that Oaxacan communities demand
consider it appropriate to lay out the set of criteria that undergird
an integrated treatment of the concept of comunalidad, seen as the
central concept in Oaxacan life.
A BRIEF HISTORY
The existence of a polytheism which sacralizes the natural world, the
absence of private property, an economy oriented toward immediate
satisfaction, and a political system supported by knowledge and work,
led the original peoples to create a cosmovision originating from the
us, from the self-determining and action-oriented collective, and,
along with this, to construct a communalist attitude which has been
continually consolidating itself despite cultural and economic
pressures from outside.
Meanwhile, the colonizers, who were educated in autocratic regimens
with a monotheistic and individualizing religion, a market-oriented
economy, and a concentrated, privatizing concept of nature, have
forced original peoples to develop strategies of resistance based in
the collective, in shared labor, and in respect for their community
elders or wise men (or seÒores naturales, natural gentlemen, as they
were called in colonial law).
With independence and the creation of the nation-state, the encounter
of these two visions did not erase their differences. The heirs of the
colonial system, criollos1 and mestizos, set themselves up as the
central power of the nascent republic, undergirded by Western values,
such as liberty, equality, and fraternity, that were constructed in
the glow of the French Revolution. The Constitution of 1857 reflects
European and North American influences; it supports private property
and declares that ecclesiastical property, and perhaps communal
property, as well, though this is unclear, are no longer held in
perpetuity. Resistance to these actions varied across the Republic.
States with lands of interest to the market felt the effects of these
laws the most; not so much Oaxaca, where flat lands appropriate for
mercantilist agriculture are scarce, and the greatest capitalist use
of plains and plateaus included livestock in the areas where private
property today is prevalent, such as the coastal region and Tuxtepec.
The same occurred in the political sphere. The majority of Oaxacan
communities and municipalities retained their self-determination,
inherited from their cacicazcos, or prehispanic forms of governance.
These managed to maintain their authority with the strategic support
of both the colonizers and the independents.
With the Mexican Revolution, there was not much change. The
contradictions played out with greater intensity in the indigenous
regions. Oaxaca stands out in its resistance, thanks to its
topography. At present, it is the state with the greatest communal
land ownership, the greatest number of municipalities, the most
peoples with distinct languages and cultures, but at the same time,
the least important state in the nation, according to government
statistics, despite its illustrious native sons Benito Ju·rez, Flores
MagÛn, and Porfirio DÌaz, in order of importance.
Presently, thanks to the ways of thinking and being of its people,
Oaxaca boasts the best preserved natural regions. It stands out in
terms of energy potential, which has made it an expansive region
coveted by private interests as lucrative terrain for development.
Globalization and privatization find in Oaxaca unlimited potential for
profit-making. It follows, then, that Oaxaca has also provided many
opportunities for resistance and a depth of knowledge to more clearly
define this process. This is demonstrated in the comunalidad which
displays itself in every dimension of life.
COMUNALIDAD AXIS OF
The world is awakening from the illusion of a universal culture shaped
by one hegemonic form of reasoning. Today it confronts the reality of
diversity, multiculturalism, and the recognition of a daily
intercultural process strengthened by increasing migration across the
planet. The individualism which was imposed on the colonies, today
nation-states, is reaching its limits in regard to the development of
equality and democracy, as it confronts the truly vibrant
epistemological proposal of comunalidad.
Comunalidad does not originate from a discourse devised in a cubicle,
a classroom, or a laboratory. It emerges as a tacit display of social
movements, which in the 1980s achieved their goal of controlling their
own development by conceptualizing their actions.
The organizing mechanisms that sustain comunalidad are not visible
outside of the social process; it is in this same social process that
they become visible. In other words, comunalidad carries on
independently of whether we conceive of it as such, or not. The
actions are a demonstration of principles and values emanating from a
historical reality, one that transcends the centuries and is being
consolidated in a concrete struggle for the liberation of peoples, as
well as their cultural reaffirmation.
Comunalidad is confronted by the individualism imposed as part of the
logic of colonialism, privatization, and mercantilism, which are
developed according to a philosophy centered in the individual as the
axis of the universe. Neither Marxism nor nineteenth-century
liberalism strays from this base. Comunalidad integrates diversity and
reproduces it within collaborative forms of work and joint
construction. In other words, we could say that predatory and now
globalized individualism is confronted by an ancient communalism
(which in the opinion of Marx, was surpassed by later modes of
production). But in reality, comunalidad is an historical experience
and a vibrant, present day set of behaviors, which is constantly
renovated in the face of the social and economic contradictions
generated by capitalist individualism.
In Oaxaca, the vitality of comunalidad as it presents itself witnesses
to the integration of four basic elements: territory, governance,
labor, and enjoyment (fiesta). The principles and values that
articulate these elements are respect and reciprocity. Comunalidad and
individualism overlap in Oaxacan thought. We are the unique result of
our own culture, but we are also colonized. Everyone displays
knowledge according to the context surrounding them; hence,
contradictions are a daily occurrence, not only of individuals, but
also of communities. This is why, due to the social processes that
Oaxaca experiences, the study and reproduction of comunalidad in all
dimensions of life is vitally necessary if we wish to transcend our
prevalent socioeconomic contradictions.
COMUNALIDAD IN EDUCATION
In the 1980s, thanks to indigenous, peasant, and social movements in
general, comunalidad was proposed as the explanatory concept of the
organizational modalities of Oaxacan society. The teachers insurgence,
as well as the commitments of various Oaxacan and Mexican
intellectuals, found in this concept a logical articulation of their
mobilizations and their teaching. The outcome was that Oaxacan
teachers managed to insert the concept of comunalidad as the fourth
guiding principle together with democracy, nationalism and humanism in
the State Education Act of 1995. That law was, of course, also a
response to fears generated in government officials by the Zapatista
uprising of 1994.
The communal vision of life transcends the labyrinth that presently
entraps indigenous education. Community-controlled education starkly
marks the boundaries that separate school-based, cloistered education
from that which the community in its entirety provides. Understanding
the presence of comunalidad in education means understanding very
specifically how to plant the seed of a civilizing process, one that
investigates and proposes a concrete pedagogy that guarantees not only
that the concept (and now guiding principle) of Oaxacan education is
understood, but also that continuous mobilizations are undertaken for
the liberation of knowledge. Now that comunalidad is established as a
principle in the State Education Act, spaces and opportunities must be
opened up which are dedicated to developing the necessary knowledge
and designing needed tools to make it a reality. This means
incorporating this knowledge and these tools into the centrally
planned state education which contradicts our realities and serves as
an obstacle to our being able to express our own experiences. By
expressing our experiences, we will be able to reproduce the
principles and values that support the reaffirmation of our cultural
This line of reasoning can and must result in the achievement of our
expectations. This leads us to the following conclusions: -It is
necessary to integrate specific, local, and regional content in the
education that is imparted throughout the territory of Oaxaca. -It is
important to strengthen our ancestral knowledge using pedagogical
agencies and tools appropriate to the task, in order to resist the
ruinous individualization of knowledge. -It is imperative that we
ground an epistemology in the everyday labor of society in order to
shape a new conception of the universe. Thinking must not be the
preserve or property of the academy. It must be the practice of all
the worlds inhabitants.
A NEW PEDAGOGY
What needs to be taught is nothing more than sharing the sharing of
anger, enchantment, routine, misfortune, pain, tenderness, joy. For
teachers, all of these words are a familiar lingo. Paulo Freire called
this the pedagogy of the oppressed, Makarenko referred to the identity
of others, Summerhill saw it as constant hilarity; thus, everyone sees
what they want to see. Everyone depends on his or her concept, context
and text. In this sense, one cannot speak of one pedagogy, but rather
an intellectual diversity that captures the world, that is not
time-bound, but if given space, that defines character and emotion.
All pedagogical technologies depend on interests of all kinds: social
interests, because they respond to the stimuli of relationships;
acquired, and in many cases, imposed values; political interests,
because they respond to governments set up by those who want to manage
the lives of the inhabitants; and economic interests, because they
respond to needs inserted from the outside, not only to those that are
All of which leads us to understand that no one can teach anyone else,
or all of us must teach each other, and with that we reproduce
intentions and resolve needs. This is what we learn from comunalidad.
Noam Chomsky affirms that our peoples face challenges, in most cases
historical challenges. Neoliberalism is neither liberal nor new, but
it is a concentration of enormous power, and it also is collapsing.
Edgar Morin shares the same view, believing that the communal is a
very significant proposal, but it must be understood, valued and
supported. The Mexican philosopher Luis Villoro is very enamored of
this perspective and agrees with the communitarian view, though he
will not be separated from his republican passion. The European
philosopher Panikkar also agrees with communitarianism; however, his
Western orientation keeps him from developing more detailed responses
to this matter. Gonz·lez Casanova continues to be obsessed with
democracy, a topic in need of debate in light of current realities.
In education, that which is communitarian is a paradigmatic vision. A
fundamental principle is to liberate the exercise of knowledge. It
must be acknowledged to be the result of everyones labor: the
so-called university-educated, bricklayers, teachers, peasants, in the
end, all of us who inhabit the natural world. I am not bothered by the
idea of knocking down schools and suppressing teachers because,
essentially, we are all teachers. Teachers are not the ones, despite
their intelligence, who should determine what we must know. They must
understand that it is each and every one of us who has to open the
door to knowledge. The collective task does not come from the outside;
it has always been within us, and also the need. Nature has obligated
us to work together, and not for the politicized notion of mass labor
embodied in the Industrial Revolution, if that is what you want to
call it, but rather for the need to survive.
AN EXAMPLE TO HELP CLARIFY
As an 8-year-old boy, my mother enrolled me in a boarding school
founded due to the initiative of L·zaro C·rdenas. The students came
from many communities, basically indigenous, a concept imposed on us
thanks to Manuel Gamio and his collection of anthropologist and
bureaucrat followers. The tale is long but its importance centers on
the the educational organization of the experience.
There was an assembly made up of all the students. Through a committee
the students organized homework and chores; even the meting out of
justice was decided in this representative way. The teachers were
simply consultants; the students determined what was to be done.
There were workshops for agriculture, textile and shoe production,
bread and food production, carpentry, ceramics, and music. The
educational process was not centered on the teaching staff but rather
in liberation and work. This is a long story, but we can understand
and summarize it in the following manner: a. An education founded in
work. b. An education based not in organization from above, but in the
participation of all. c. An educational method founded in respect for
everyone¥s knowledge, and fundamentally, respect for that which is our
CONCEPTUAL CONTEXT OF THE IDEA
In 1856, Karl Marx wrote in his Outlines of the Critique of Political
Economy or Grundisse, about the existence of communalism, basing
himself on the experiences of the Aztecs, the Iroquois, and the
Asians, both Hindu and Chinese. He discovered in these sources
distinct values and modes of organization. Yet his reflections were in
a certain respect pessimistic. He thought that these were cultures
destined to disappear. For him, industrial development made the worker
into the subject responsible for social and economic transformation.
However, in his reflections he provides elements that are consistent
with an understanding of the communal within the relationship of human
beings with territory.
This is the first reflection that I want to share with you. Communal
beings, as BenjamÌn Maldonado affirms, make sense of themselves in
terms of their relationship with the land. An indigenous person
understands himself in relationship with the land. I want to clarify
that I am not referring to the Zapatista or Magonista maxim of Land
and Liberty, but rather to a relationship with the land that is not
mercantile, a relationship of sharing and caring. That is, humans are
linked to the land not only for organic sustenance, but also for
spiritual and symbolic sustenance. In other words, the land does not
belong to those who work it, in my way of reasoning; rather, those who
care for it, share it, and when necessary work it belong to the land,
and not the other way around.
Obviously in a world ruled by the logic of the market, it is easier to
appropriate everything from nature for ourselves rather than to grasp
an entirely reverse conception of ourselves. The need to survive
causes us to view everything from a materialistic perspective; on this
subject Marx made an abundance of reflections of great importance. But
here is where the difference from indigenous thinking springs forth.
Comunalidad is a way of understanding life as being permeated with
spirituality, symbolism, and a greater integration with nature. It is
one way of understanding that human beings are not the center, but
simply a part of this great natural world. It is here that we can
distinguish the enormous difference between Western and indigenous
thought. Who is at the center only one, or all? The individual, or
everyone? The market makes everything into a product, a thing, and
with that nature is also commodified.
My second reflection is on organization. Marx respects the community
as the nucleus that integrates families, that which makes of territory
a space for social relationships appropriate for the exercise of a
necessary social organization. This necessary organization is
obligatory, not only for peaceful coexistence, but also for the
defense of territorial, spiritual, symbolic, artistic, and
intellectual values. The community is like a virtual gigantic family.
Its organization stems initially and always from respect.
Everything is done together, a practice obviously reinforced by the
policy of the Spanish colonizers of concentrating populations. Still,
it is a natural reaction, naturally linked up with the use of a common
The creation and functioning of the communal assembly perhaps was not
necessary before the arrival of the Spaniards, but for the sake of
defense it had to be developed. Once the population was concentrated,
religious societies to attend the saints (cofradÌas), and community
organizations to plan fiestas (mayordomÌas) developed, which were
cells of social organization that strengthened the ethics of the
assembly. Out of this, the communally appointed leadership roles
(cargos) originated. Someone had to represent the group, but all this
implied the need for greater consolidation for decision-making. The
Spanish governors designed the details of the colonial organizational
structure, but in one way or another over time all the new colonial
roles simply were absorbed into already-established traditional roles
and responsibilities. Centuries had to pass before the colonial cargos
that were used to control the native population were diluted and
leveled enough so that the macehuales (community members, now
comuneros) could ascend the social pyramid, and the community could
become a space of truly horizontal participation.
Today, as before, one does not receive a community cargo by empty
talk, but rather because of ones labor, attitude, and respect for the
responsibilities entrusted. Everyone knows this, having learned it
even before the age of eighteen, perhaps at ten or fourteen years of
age, when assigned the first cargo, that of community policeman
(topilillo). This gives the cargo a profound moral value that has
nothing to do with categories such as economic value, efficiency,
profitability, or punctuality, but rather with respect for the
responsibilities involved. This has created a truly complicated
political spectrum in Oaxaca. We have 570 municipalities and more than
10,000 communities. Eighty percent of these continue to govern
themselves by communal assemblies. Their representatives are named in
the assembly. For this reason, the widespread civic uprising that
occurred in 2006 in Oaxaca must be analyzed under more meticulous
parameters, a topic that will not be addressed here.
The third reflection refers to communal work. Weber, as well as Keynes
and Marx, analyzed productivity in terms of the individual. They found
in individual labor a process of value production that they explained
according to their theoretical frameworks. However, communal labor is
a different matter. To begin with, communal labor does not respond to
the drive for personal satisfaction, that is to say, it does not obey
the logic of individual survival, but rather that of satisfying common
needs, such as preparing a plot of land, repairing or building a road,
constructing a community service hall, hospital, school, etc. This
labor is voluntary, which implies that individual wages are not
received. In the urban world, everything is money-driven; you pay your
taxes and away you go. Curiously, it is said of Oaxaca that it is the
subsidized state par excellence, while what is not taken into account
is the value of communal work, which if calculated, would surpass all
the fiscal supports that we are aware of. The value of this work can
also be translated to the context of political representation. Ask
yourself how many political representatives in the city would
contribute their time if they were not paid for it!
Fifty percent of the cost involved in constructing any community
service is the cost of labor, apart from the purchase of necessary
materials. This wealth of local participation goes unnoticed by the
state and federal governments. We could say that Oaxaca lives by its
own resources without outside support, and this provides a wide degree
of self-determination. It is not a coincidence that 418 municipalities
are politically self-governed. I am referring here to what is called
usos y costumbres, a concept that for me is pejorative, yet there
is no other state in the Republic of Mexico that enjoys this self
determination. If we add to this all the communal labor, then the
situation becomes even clearer.
It is important to point out a few details. Oaxaca is the state with
the greatest number of municipalities (almost a quarter of the
country’s total). Almost 70 percent of its territory is in the
category of collective ownership, and there are seventeen indigenous
languages with thirty-seven variants of these. It is the state with
the two most biologically diverse areas in all of Mexico: the
Chimalapas and the Sierra Norte. And something almost imperceptible
but which marks the nature of Oaxaca it is the geographical
convergence of the two mountain ranges of Mexico: the Sierra Madre
Oriental and the Sierra Madre Occidental. This makes Oaxaca a wrinkled
landscape, or, as Father Gay used to say, like a crumpled sheet of
paper. It does not have plains to guarantee an elevated level of
productivity, which also explains its motley pattern of communal
organization. It was easier to produce the dye-generating cochineal
insect than corn, first, because of the geography, and also partly
because of the ease with which all of the inhabitants could
participate, both adults and children. Another reflection concerns the
fiesta. In a neoliberal context, it is the market that establishes the
rules, and it demands greater production of merchandise. In the
community there is production, but it is for the fiesta. All year long
every nuclear community cultivates its products: corn, beans, squash,
fruit, chickens, pigs, turkeys, even cattle. For what? For the fiesta.
Any urban dweller would say, what fools! They could sell them instead.
But that is not how it works. Here is the root of the difference. The
community member (comunero, or comunario as a Bolivian friend says),
does not work to sell, but for the joy derived. The little money that
she or he manages to gather is used to buy some skirts, trousers,
fireworks. Many interpret this as ignorance; I call it a connection to
the land, or spirituality. I would like to share some brief
conclusions with you.
1. The year 1994 the year of the Zapatista uprising awakened new
dreams, but in reality what it achieved was to pull away the blanket
under which we were hidden. Now here we are, reclaiming our
2. The isms are aberrations that convert themselves into authorities
that impose themselves and are not naturally born. I fear communalism
because it sounds doctrinaire. And I believe that is what we least
want for our own free self-determination.
3. Marx included in his writings a fountain of knowledge by which to
understand our social longevity, but this was covered up by his focus
on industry and the protagonist role of the worker. And we all know
how that turned out.
4. We must find in the experience of our peoples the lessons necessary
to create new conceptual frameworks. And we must not be afraid to
construct new epistemological notions that will lead us to transcend
Jaime MartÌnez Luna is a Zapotec anthropologist, early theorist of
Oaxacan comunalidad, community member of San Pablo Guelatao, Oaxaca,
and veteran community activist whose work has focused on the defense
of communal forests and other natural resources, and more recently on
traditional and activist music and the development and promotion of
NOTES 1. Persons born in Latin America of Spanish descent. 2. Persons
of mixed European and Indian descent; half-breeds. 3. Ricardo Flores
MagÛn (1873-1922) was a Oaxacan anarchist who began a revolution
against the Mexican state under the banner of Land and Liberty. Exiled
to the United States in 1904, he organized three armed uprisings
(1906, 1908, 1911). He was the only revolutionary who was inspired by
indigenous peoples, believing that their historic experience of
communal life would be the foundation for reconstructing Mexican
society after the revolutions triuph. 4. Edgar Morin is a French
essayist who has influenced education through his proposals of
transdisciplinarity and complex thought. See Los siete saberes
necesarios para la educaciÛn del futuro, available on internet at .
Luis Villoro is one of Mexicos major contemporary social philosophers
with significant contributions in the areas of epistemology and
ethical reflections on the relationship of the nation-state with
indigenous peoples. See Saber, creer, conocer (MÈxico: Siglo XXI Eds.,
2008) and Estado plural, pluralidad de culturas (MÈxico: Ed, PaidÛs,
2002). RaimÛn Panikkar is a Hindu-Catalan philosopher who reflects on
the vast distance between Western and other cultures. See: øEs
occidental el concepto de los derechos humanos? (Mexico, DiÛgenes 120,
Winter 1982) and ReligiÛn, filosofÌa y cultura (2000) on the Internet
htm. Pablo Gonzalez Casanova is a Mexican sociologist, affiliated
closely with Zapatismo, who in the 1970s proposed the idea of internal
colonization to explain the relationship of the Mexican state with
indigenous peoples. See La democracia en MÈxico (MÈxico: Ed. Era,
Serie Popular, 1978); also El colonialismo interno, (2006) on the
colonia.pdf. 5. L·zaro C·rdenas, the Marxist-oriented president of
Mexico from 1934-1940, promoted socialist education policies and layed
the foundation for indigenous assimilation (indigenismo) as public
policy. 6. Manuel Gamio is considered to be the father of Mexican
anthropology. He carried out important interdisciplinary studies and
was a functionary in postrevolutionary governments. 7. A term used to
refer to the traditional form of governance through a communal
assembly that selects its community leaders in the form of cargos. 8.
The number of languages and their variants spoken in Oaxaca is
disputed. It is commonly reported that there are between fourteen and
seventeen languages with between thirty to fifty variants, though some
say the number of variants may be as many as ninety. A language such
as Zapotec may more accurately be considered a language family, for
its variants, such as Zapotec of the Tehuantepec Isthmus and Zapotec
of the Sierra, are as different one from another as Spanish and
Italian and Portuguese. 9. Fray Antonio Gay was an early Oaxacan
historian whose work has served as the foundation of Oaxacan history.
In reality, he pirated information from other sources and made
unsubstantiated claims, such as that the Chatino people descended from
“If the world is upside down the way it is now, wouldn’t we have to
turn it over to get it to stand up straight?” -Eduardo Galeano Support
The latest in push button warfare, hypersonic weapons have launched a new arms race among the big powers–emphasis on the race.
The Department of Defense recently awarded a $44 million contract to the Miltec Corporation, of Huntsville, Alabama. A low-key defense contractor located in the heart of American rocket country, Miltec produces very fast things: hypersonic weapons for the U.S. Army. Hypersonic weapons–missiles that can go five or six times the speed of sound–promise a uniquely American answer to warfare: a purely technological, pushbutton solution to the need to kill something. The U.S. isn’t the only power developing hypersonic weapons. Hypersonic weapons are the new arms race, with the United States, Russia, India and China all racing to develop them. Some hypersonic weapons are boosted to target atop intercontinental ballistic missiles, the same missiles designed to carry nuclear warheads in a nuclear war. What could possibly go wrong? Hypersonic is the new supersonic, a frontier of speed dreamed of but not yet conquered. Hypersonic weapons travel at extremely high speeds, anywhere from 3,840 to 16,250 miles an hour. A hypersonic weapon launched from New York could reach Moscow in less than 40 minutes. (By comparison, a Boeing 777 would make the same trip in eight and a half hours.) Miltec’s contract is for development of the so-called Advanced Hypersonic Weapon (AHW). The “weapon”–a cone-shaped object with winglets–is launched on top of a repurposed Poseidon nuclear missile. Using the “boost glide” method, the weapon is boosted 60 miles high, then glides at five times the speed of sound to within 30 feet of the target. A 2011 test flew 2,400 miles–from Hawaii to the Marshall Islands–and was considered a partial success. A new test is scheduled in August, and we can look forward to another in 2019. Washington’s hypersonic obsession–part of a larger concept dubbed Prompt Global Strike–is not new. Oddly enough, it was initially conceived as a weapon for the Global War on Terror. “PGS was conceived in the early 2000s to deal with a very specific problem,” explained Brian Weeden, technical advisor at the Secure World Foundation, “how to attack a high priority, time-sensitive target such as a meeting between high-level terrorists or theft of nuclear weapons anywhere in the world.” The Army’s Advanced Hypersonic Weapon is being developed under the Prompt Global Strike umbrella. There are problems operating at such incredible speeds. Friction between air and the weapon creates temperatures of up to 3,500 degrees Fahrenheit, hot enough to melt steel. Air itself becomes an obstacle–as the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency inelegantly puts it, “Air doesn’t travel around you–you rip it apart.” Finally, traveling at speeds of up to 3.6 miles per second makes guidance, navigation, and control tricky problems. Outside of Prompt Global Strike, NASA is developing a separate system for the Air Force that straps a hypersonic weapon onto a powerful jet engine and launches it from an aircraft. This is the technology behind NASA’s X-51A Waverider, which in 2010 reached Mach 5, or roughly 3,700 miles an hour for approximately 200 seconds. Hypersonic drones, like the drones before them, are the latest innovation in push-button warfare. Both kill the enemy remotely at long distances with minimal human involvement. A hypersonic weapon operator may be a thousand miles from the weapon he or she launches, and thousands more from the target. But like drones, there is a trade-off involved, one not as apparent to the operator than to those that risk becoming collateral damage. As convenient as drone warfare has been, the distance between the operator and the target is part of the reason more than 400 civilians have been killed in drone strikes in the last decade. Used in battle, hypersonics could exact a similar toll. The United States was the first to conduct large-scale hypersonic weapons research, but other nations are racing to catch up. The U.S. has shown that such weapons are technically feasible, but in doing so has also created a situation where rivals must research their own… or risk being outclassed in wartime. “Ultra-fast hypersonic weapons may be able to reach Russian territory virtually in no time to accurately hit strategic facilities, and we shall have nothing to fight back with,” a Russian deputy defense minister told Itar-TASS in 2013. Unsurprisingly, Russia has started work on hypersonic weapons. In 2012, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dimitry Rogozin stated, “I think we need to go down the route of hypersonic technology and we are moving in that direction and not falling behind the Americans.” Russia has announced that PAK-DA, Russia’s next-generation long-range bomber, will carry hypersonic missile, and Russia plans to develop a working model by 2020. That’s unlikely; hypersonics is a notoriously tough science to master; but the declaration speaks to Moscow’s ambitions. China has also entered the hypersonic race. On January 9, China tested a hypersonic boost glide system conceptually similar to the Army’s AHW, known to U.S. intelligence as the WU-14. China is already developing DF-21D “carrier killer” missiles, ballistic missiles modified to attack American aircraft carriers and create a “no go” zone for the U.S. Navy. Both types of weapons are difficult to shoot down, and adding hypersonic glide weapons to China’s arsenal would make the U.S. Navy’s job of keeping carriers afloat much harder. Even India is developing hypersonic weapons, with the development of the Brahmos II missile. Brahmos II is expected to fly at speeds of up to Mach 7, but is limited by international agreements to relatively short ranges, making it primarily useful against ships and ground targets. The result of all this is a classic arms race. As the Russian defense minister noted, the big powers all have to either develop hypersonic weapons or risk becoming outclassed. Nuclear weapons could prove the only way for it to retaliate in-kind, and nobody wants that. Another worry with hypersonic weapons is that the launch of ICBMs carrying hypersonic weapons would–at least initially–look identical to the launch of ICBMs carrying nuclear weapons. A frightened country could be prompted to quickly retaliate with nuclear weapons. Proponents claim there are ways to distinguish a conventionally-tipped boost glide missile from a nuclear-tipped ICBM in flight, but asking a country to wait and observe the trajectory of a possible nuclear missile without retaliating, especially in a crisis, may be unrealistic. Hypersonic weapons are here to stay. Proponents claim that hypersonic weapons will eventually becomes “socialized”–that is, we’ll all get used to them and the new dangers they bring. It will be up to American people to reconcile the likelihood of innocents killed with the need for a speedy, time-critical weapon system. In the meantime, Miltec owes the U.S. Army a working missile by June 5, 2019.
I have just arrived back from Pomio, where the clear felling of the bush and subsequent oil palm planting are in full swing despite the fact that the vast majority of villagers oppose both. Villagers are powerless to stop these activities which continue even though SABLs have recently supposedly been revoked. This looks likely to have the same status as the police commissioners public order (Dec 2011) that police be pulled out of logging camp sites. The police never were removed, and it is only their continued presence, violence and intimidation that prevents villagers from setting up road blocks to protect their land, gardens and environment.
What is clear to me is that for most local villagers in Pomio the state has shifted away from them and is largely in the pockets of large Malaysian logging companies.
These companies control important governments departments and officials in crucial departments such as Lands, Forestry and the police force. The same applies to other officials in District administration, Local Level Government, Provincial Administration and national government departments. Nearly all sectors of the state have been co-opted into coercive pro-development policies that seek to privatise land and resources without villagers consent.
These logging companies were supported and gave support to the local national member for Pomio who is now in jail for corruption charges. The large funds of money these foreign companies provide at election time has transformed voting into a patron client relationship that supports local, provincial and national government politicians who support the Lease-Lease back schemes (SABLs).
Police and company directors often tell complaining villagers that the land is no longer theirs but belongs to the state which has leased it from them so as to lease it again to the Malaysian companies. The state has become the crucial intermediary in the forced process through which villagers lose control of their resources and especially their land. Much of this depends upon the production of dubious reports by the Lands Department that collects and produces lists of signatures that are highly selective in that they are not the signatures of major clan leaders and of those who represent the majority of villagers.
Through the SABLs and the Private, Public Partnerships, the Somare government created two interlocking policies that have institutionalised corruption in PNG to a point where villagers find it almost impossible to achieve forms of justice concerning the fraudulent nature of state processes that have been effectively dispossessed them of huge areas of land.
Officials in departments like forestry write reports that are not just wrong but are intentionally designed to conceal and legitimise the forced appropriation of land. For example one letter by the local forestry official concerns the late night visit of the armed riot squad to the village of Mu in 2012 where villagers were forced by police to sign English documents that they could not read. This was said to be not at all violent intimidation, but was simply the police correcting an administrative oversight. The riot squad had just gone to collect the names of villagers who had attended a recent meeting over logging, where record keeping had been poorly implemented. None of this explains the swearing and violent demeanour of the armed police and that the signatures were collected forcibly and from many who never went to the meeting. The state is not just incompetent buthas become the crucial instrument for foreign large scale capital, it is state officials who seek to manage and placate opposition to the loss of vast areas of customary local land. They produce the dodgy reports that seek to sanitise and obscure what is actually happening on the ground.
Recently RH has shifted tactics and there has been a movement away from using the violence of the riot squad to intimidate opponents. Instead there is a greater use of courts and restraining orders to prevent the organisation of protests. The cost of legal action has become another form of intimidation that is meant to penalise protesters and their leaders. The judiciary has now become co-opted into this realising a coercive development agenda that has little respect for people’s customary property rights.