Ecuador's New Constitution & a "Citizen's Revolution"

Over the weekend, Ecuadorian voters went to the polls to vote on a referendum for a new constitution. With over 90% of the votes counted, Ecuador has voiced overwhelming approval for the new document, effectively bringing a "citizens' revolution," in President Rafael Correa's words, to fruition.

The new constitution includes such social programs as maternity pensions, increased social security benefits and free education, but it also includes an affirmation of nature's rights, an issue that made headlines when the constitution was first drafted. Following are the rights extended to Ecuador's land, where perhaps they are needed most, considering the decimation of the Amazon cloud forest.

Rights for Nature

Art. 1[N2] . Nature or Pachamama, where life is reproduced and exists, has the right to exist, persist, maintain and regenerate its vital cycles, structure, functions and its processes in evolution.

Every person, people, community or nationality, will be able to demand the recognitions of rights for nature before the public organisms.* The application and interpretation of these rights will follow the related principles established in the Constitution.

Art. 2[N3] . Nature has the right to an integral restoration. This integral restoration is independent of the obligation on natural and juridical persons or the State to indemnify the people and the collectives that depend on the natural systems.

In the cases of severe or permanent environmental impact, including the ones caused by the exploitation on non renewable natural resources, the State will establish the most efficient mechanisms for the restoration, and will adopt the adequate measures to eliminate or mitigate the harmful environmental consequences.

Art. 3.[N4] The State will motivate natural and juridical persons as well as collectives to protect nature; it will promote respect towards all the elements that form an ecosystem.

Art. 4[N5] . The State will apply precaution and restriction measures in all the activities that can lead to the extinction of species, the destruction of the ecosystems or the permanent alteration of the natural cycles.

The introduction of organisms and organic and inorganic material that can alter in a definitive way the national genetic patrimony is prohibited.

Art. 5[N6] . The persons, people, communities and nationalities will have the right to benefit from the environment and form natural wealth that will allow wellbeing.

The environmental services are [sic] cannot be appropriated; its production, provision, use and exploitation, will be regulated by the State.

The constitution is not without opposition, as critics compare President Correa consolidation of power to Hugo Chavez' and Evo Morales'.

Read more about Ecuador's approval of the constitution.
And read more about the Rights of Nature in an article by

The Other Crisis

Most media and many people are, understandably, consumed by the U.S. economic crisis. Hopefully, political debates and new presidents will soon focus on the "other" crisis as well.

The "'tsunami' of hunger," writes Esther Vivas, "is no natural process, but stems from the neoliberal policies of international institutions, imposed over decades." Citing the statistic that over 850 million people are suffering from hunger in the face of a crisis only deepening, Vivas clearly and systematically breaks down both causes of and alternatives to the current policies.

To summarize: Because of the privatization of "earth, water [and] seeds," natural resources have been pillaged, and food's intrinsic meaning has shifted from nourishment to its market value. Further, decades of neoliberal policies have allowed crops to be sold at prices lower than their cost and have reduced crop diversity. Finally, the monopoly of the food distribution chain has allowed companies to dictate wholesale and retail prices, production and consumption. One of the most telling statistics is this:

In Spain, for example, the average disparity between original and purchase price is 400%, with distributors reaping the greatest benefit. On the other hand, the farmer is receiving less and less pay for his goods, and the consumer is paying more and more for his purchases.

Yet there are viable alternatives, argues Vivas. Calling for agrarian reform that addresses both production and property, she argues that farmers must regain rights to their land, seeds and water: "Returning agriculture into the hands of the family farm is the only route to guaranteeing universal access to foodstuffs." Moreover, today's failing policies must be reshaped or rejected to stabablize the system, including in such reforms food reserves for times of underproduction. We must also turn to more responsible consumption, as illustrated by this point:

Were the whole world to consume as does a United States citizen, we would require five land-locked planets just to satisfy the needs of our world population.

Read Vivas' full article on Znet, which covers these points and more in depth.

Foods of Mexico Live in New York

An interesting article came through in the New York Times today on a Mexican immigrant from Oaxaca who is growing produce on a small plot on Staten Island - much of it native to the southern Mexican state - and selling it at a farmers market in a local urban farmer's market. Although the article does not specifically mention the farmer's ethnicity, this story exemplifies the possibility of indigenous knowledges being transformed and transported to worlds outside of their places of origin.
"Mr. Juárez’s specialty is produce indigenous to Mexico, and the seeds of many of the goods he grows are from that country, though he also plants typical American produce. For generations, immigrants from around the globe have turned little corners of New York into an approximation of the countries they left behind. Since 2001, Mr. Juárez has been following in their footsteps. He is maintaining the traditions of the small farming town in southern Mexico where he grew up, and providing an anchor to home for some of the city’s quarter-million Mexican immigrants."
The unusual nature of immigrants finding land on which to produce food was made possible by the NY city-based non-profit group New Farmer Development Project. The article mentions that the land is slated to be used by another group for different purposes in the near future, leaving the families that grow there in need of new space with which to produce. It is unclear if the non-profit is still functioning (their website appears to be down at the time of this writing), or if another group will be continuing the efforts of the project.
In searching for more information on the NFDP, I came across another non-profit that could end up as a source of funding and support: the National Immigrant Farming Initiative. This group provides funding for farming projects involving immigrants and refugees. Groups like these could end up playing a key role in food production in the U.S. in the not-too-distant future. With more and more U.S. farmers leaving the field, there may be a void to fill as industrial agriculture continues to discover its limitations. The rural farming background of many immigrants to the U.S. could provide a new influx of farmers - if they only had access to the land.
Finally, it is also commonly thought that much of the local/indigenous knowledge (food use and farming practices are examples of such knowledge) that exists in rural areas (like Oaxaca) is lost or left behind when people go through the process of relocation to cities and other developed areas (like the U.S.). Here we see that it is possible to find ways to maintain traditions and traditional knowledge use even in one of the most developed places on the planet - New York City. And perhaps the greatest part of this story is the fact that by providing access to land for people who know how to farm, fresh locally produced food can become available for the residents of the city.
Read the article here.
photo courtesy of NYTimes.

"Reactionary Rampage in Bolivia"

Will the Bolivian government increase the forcefulness of its response to opposition in the future? In his article "Reactionary Rampage in Bolivia," author and NACLA contributor Forrest Hylton critiques what he describes as Evo Morales' "weak" and "ex post facto" reaction to the September 11 tragedy in El Porvenir, Pando, in Bolivia's eastern lowlands, where 30 people were killed and 40 others went missing at the hands of regional officials in league with paramilitary gangs.

To understand the government's reaction, Hylton also tries to flesh out the diplomatic crisis (the latest being the September 10 expulsion of US ambassador Phillip Goldberg for alleged coup-plotting) and the realities of Bolivia's political climate.

For the benefit of US readers, Hylton uses an analogy that makes clear the internal dynamics playing out in the eastern lowlands. While acknowledging its limitations, Hylton compares the situation to the North/South dynamic in the US:

It may be helpful for U.S. readers to consider Bolivia’s eastern lowlands as analogous to Dixie. In the 1950s and 60s, working with governors and mayors of states and localities, white supremacist paramilitary groups terrorized African Americans. The campaign of terror was intended to preserve a status quo that benefited a tiny class of wealthy white landowners, against which the federal government—under Eisenhower and Kennedy—hesitated to act.

Imagine, though, that African Americans had comprised an overwhelming majority of the U.S. population, that Kennedy was Black, and that he had come to power on the back of serial insurrections led by African Americans. Imagine that, in response, white supremacists not only massacred Blacks, but also blockaded roads, blew up oil pipelines, and burned and looted federal government offices and installations.

Hylton then goes further back to the secessionist movement in the 1800s, comparing the mobilization of wealthy, white slave-holders to the wealthy, white minority in Bolivia challenging Morales' government.

While an overthrow is not likely by this wealthy minority, Hylton argues, the opposition nevertheless can make governing the country unstable and therefore difficult to govern. Read the full article here.

Image: LA Times

Hurricane Ike and Cuba

An email from Vicente "Panama" Alba, who is in Cuba, tells the reality of the situation on the small island in the Caribbean. Much of what has happened there has gone unreported in the U.S. media, so this will give you a more accurate, albeit a more sad, picture:

Cuba has been, and continues to be, devastated by Hurricane Ike. The only thing, and without question the most important thing, that hasn't been devastated is the will and determination of the Cuban people to surpass this disaster and go forward.

There's lots of information circulating in the international press about the extent of damages. But there are perhaps a few things that haven't, and it's these I want to briefly mention to give you an idea of the extent of damages.

There's not one province that has gotten off easy. More destruction, less destruction - but all fourteen provinces and the special municipality of Isla de la Juventud have suffered from Hurricane Ike. And some have suffered a double impact, especially Pinar del Rio, which is still -
as I write this - under Alarma Ciclonica (Hurricane Alarm) due to the intense rains and tropical storm winds that are still hitting the province. All of the province's 14 municipalities are suffering, but the two municipalities of Los Palacios (south) and Las Palmas (north) have taken the brunt of both Gustav and Ike.

The eye of Ike has left Cuba, but the body is still kicking strong. Imagine: as of about 4pm, it's slowly growing in size and intensity. Sustained winds of 150 kph. Still category 1 but category 2 starts at 154 kph sustained winds. Its bands of tropical storm winds and rains extend 335 km (radius) covering all of Pinar del Rio with rains reaching to the western part of Camaguey province in central Cuba. And we're being told to brace for another 12-24 hours of rains. In Habana, we're still getting occasional gusts up to over 80 kph. All western coastal areas have been evacuated due to inundations. Last night, for instance, ocean waters penetrated two km inland in the Batabano area, on the central southern coast of Provincia Habana.

Lots of "firsts", but for which no one will get a ribbon:
As of 4:30 yesterday afternoon, over 2.5 million people - or almost 21 percent of the country' s population of some 12 million - have been evacuated. And the number is slowly growing, as rivers that have never flooded before leave their banks, fattened by torrential rains, and dams that are fill and spilling over contribute even more to the flooding. 2.5 million! In the 17 years I've been in Cuba, including through many hurricanes, I don't remember that many people ever being evacuated before. That's an immense undertaking involving organization, coordination and cooperation. Significantly, over two million of these people were able to get shelter in the homes of family and friends, yet another indication of the incredible solidarity that is an everyday functioning part of Cuban society.

The damage to food crops as well as export crops is extensive. In Villa Clara, some 70% of plantains - all kinds - have been knocked down, with maize, papaya and yuca also seriously affected. In Holguin, plantain, yuca, vegetables and beans have been affected. In Santiago de Cuba, damages to plantain, yuca, maize, plus sugar cane has been burned by the winds. Lots of coffee beans have fallen off trees and, weather permitting, they'll try to save what they can. In Ciego de Avila, a strong producer of plantains for the entire country, the greatest damage has occurred in the agricultural sector, in particular - but not only - to the plantain crops. In Cienfuegos, plantain and sweet potato are affected, as well as vegetables and citrus such as grapefruit and oran ge. The one crop that hasn't been affected is malanga - a tuber kind of like potato. And they're trying to recuperate coffee beans that have fallen on the ground in the Escambray Mountains. The same in Baracoa and Maisi, both in Guantanamo, which are key (actually, the main) coffee-producing areas in Cuba.

Housing has been seriously affected everywhere. For example, preliminary reports from Holguin indicate that over 150,000 houses have been affected, of which 37,000 have been totally destroyed. The province of Las Tunas says that nothing like Ike has ever hit the province during the last fifty years. In some municipalities, 80% of the housing stock has been affected. I can't even begin to estimate how many hundreds of thousands of houses have been either damaged or destroyed on a national scale! The final numbers are bound to be high.

And the rains! That's the most serious part of Ike right now, even more than the winds. In the Escambray, over 500 mm has fallen in some areas. Some communities are still incomunicado due to roads blocked with trees. But before Ike arrived, experienced personnel, including health specialists, had been sent to these mountain communities, along with additional food stocks, in anticipation of such problems, as Hurricane Fay, which affected Cienfuegos just before Gustav, had already affected electricity networks in the Escambray. The beautiful area of Las Terrazas, in Pinar del Rio - which many of you have no doubt visited, got over 400 mm of rain in the last 24 hours, as have many other areas in the province - and elsewhere in the coutnry. Pinar is completely without electricity. Vinales and many other areas are completely incomunicado. To the imapct of Gustav is being added the impact of Ike. Some people in Pinar del Rio were even asking if Ike is returning, as they're without communication or up-to-date access to information and the rains seem worse than before!

Everywhere in the country, dams are full and overflowing, causing inundations - still - in low zones, which are fully evacuated. In Las Tunas, before Ike passed, the province was experiencing a drought, with dams only 50% full. Now, all dams are spilling over. A first: the Bulgara Dam in Camaguey, built 22 years old, has NEVER been full, but now, after Ike, it's full and spilling for the first time since it was constructed. And this story is repeated everywhere.

Also, for the first time since it was built, the carretera central, Cuba's main central highway, has flooded. For those of you who know Cuba, the flooding covers a 3.5 km length at Aguada de Pasajeros, where the central highway - that is the main road link between west and east, crosses with the main highway from Cienfuegos in the south to Matanzas in northwest, is so full of water that all traffic has been stopped, and it's anticipated that it'll be closed for at least three or so days. This has never happened before and the images are impressive! Flooding has been caused by overflowing rivers in the area, that have never flooded like this before now.

One bit of very good news, though, to come out of Cienguegos is that the new "more hurricane proof" houses that were built to replace coastal settlements that had been completely demolished by Hurricane Dennis (2005) were able to withstand Ike. This is very good news indeed!

Jose Rubiera, the head of Cuba's weather forecast department, was asked if Cuba has ever had a hurricane that has touched every part of the country as has Ike. He replied that Hurricane Dennis (2005) entered Granma and then blasted up the centre of Cuba, but that the eastern part of Cuba has never had a hurricane as strong as Ike. Flora (1963) also affected a great part of Cuba, especially the east, but it was more rain than wind - unlike Ike which has been both plus heavy coastal inundations.

Assistance is coming from everywhere, both inside and outside the country. Examples: Santiago de Cuba has sent brigades to help Baracoa and Holguin. Camaguey, which has brigades in Pinar del Rio who went there after Gustav, has told those brigades to stay put and continue to help reconstruction efforts in that sister province. Camaguey, which has gone at least 25 years without being hit by a hurricane of this magnitude and which says they don't have the same experience confronting t hem as does Pinar, has reached out a very substantial hand of solidarity to los pinarenos.

And from overseas. You already know about the assistance from Russia: food, huge tents, construction materials. And $500,000 from poor little Timor Leste. Mexico is offering aid in housing and electricity. Uruguay is making a call to the international community to help Cuba with foods, medicines and construction materials. Brazil is putting together an interministerial Assistance Group to help both Cuba and Haiti. After Gustav, solidarity and offers of help were already coming from China, Venezuela, Bolivia, Argentina, Spain, Brazil Mexico, Guatemala, the Cayman Islands, Peru, Santa Lucia, etc.

Cuba, that has the will and determination, will indeed need a great deal of material assistance for their reconstruction efforts. As Cubans themselves, as well as the authorities, no corner within the country is too isolated, no loss too great, to not get the necessary response. Tonight, on Mesa Redonda (Round Table) on TV, we'll be getting more detailed information about the extent of damages in the different provinces. They're still preliminary, since there are still so many areas incomunicado. But information is already coming in.

I started this email at 1:30pm. It's now 4pm. At 1:30pm, my area finally got electricity back. But many parts of the city are still without electricity. Calle 23, that main street in Vedado, has lots of tree limbs down a nd lots and lots of electrical wires. We're still having high gusts of wind. It's too dangerous for linemen to go up the posts, so full repairs will still take a while. Then, at 2:30pm - only one hour to try to get my fridge cold again so that food won't spoil (everyone has this same concerrn) - a torrential storm began. Lightning and very loud thunder. I had to shut down the computer as my dining room window was leaking terribly because of the angle of the rain and the force with which it was falling. My two kitties, Mariposa and Luisito, were terrified! The electricity has gone out again and I'm finishing this up and sending it out on battery. So once again, I don't know when I'll be sending the next one. It's important that you know, though, that whereas Ike's eye has left, we're still very much under the winds and rains of this hurricane. It's immense!

Oh!!! The energy has just come back on - at least in this area! Not sure for how long nor how stable, but I'm powering up my computer again! Until the next heavy downpour, that is...

Vicente " Panama" Alba

Stop Irradiation of Your Food!

Had this passed on through a Public Health listserv:

In another example of the FDA prioritizing industry interests over consumer safety, the agency recently announced that it will allow fresh spinach and iceberg lettuce to be treated with ionizing radiation. What's worse, consumers may find it impossible to avoid irradiated greens if the FDA also succeeds in eliminating labeling requirements.
Ask Congress to step in and protect consumers.

Irradiation is an impractical, ineffective and very expensive technology. Very little testing has been conducted on the safety and wholesomeness of irradiated vegetables, and from the small amount of research that exists, we know treating lettuce or spinach with the equivalent of tens of millions of chest X-rays can ruin its flavor, odor, texture, color, and nutritional value.

Allowing spinach and lettuce to be irradiated simply masks unsafe production practices, while supplying lower quality, less nutritious and potentially hazardous food. Ask Congress to step in and protect consumers.