Rambling Thoughts On Latin America

José Martí's tomb in Santiago da Cuba.
José Martí’s tomb in Santiago da Cuba.

I have recently read a little about the state of New Mexico and the Zapatista Movement, active since 1994 in Chiapas, Mexico, because of a blogger I deeply respect, Eléctrica in the Desert (see my blogroll) who lives in New Mexico and cares deeply for social justice worldwide and for the people in Mexico and NM close-up. Familiar for many years that the U.S. has trained people from Mexico, Central and South America as well as co-operating, arming and financing these trained killers, I was newly moved when I learned more personally about these particularly close areas. Huffington Post in January ranked New Mexico as the poorest of America’s 50 states. The stats are antiseptic. Eléctrica tells the individual stories of real people.

I’ll be honest: a year ago New Mexico was off my radar – so many things are these days – so much misery to choose from. And Mexico was still, for me, that blasted “newcomer” to the Canada-US Free Trade Agreement that was already a bad thing when Canadian workers with good, secure jobs only had to compete, unfairly, with  American workers. In fairness, all workers in the three NAFTA countries believe that they are losing out to the other two countries. In a way we are all right. We just haven’t really twigged on to who the real winners are. Hint: ask the Occupy Movement, but first check out what Occupy New Mexico is up to.

Now the TPP looms, but I will not ramble that far…

The GTA (Greater Toronto Area) is geographically far removed from widespread suffering like that, if we don’t count (and we rarely do) the shameful plight of Canada’s indigenous.

Even working in rural Trinidad, W.I., where I taught between 1965 and 1967, I never locked my door. It was one of the more “prosperous” Caribbean islands because of its oil resources. It is crime- and drug-ridden now, a legacy of the desire to acquire some of the goodies that U.S. television, which was just becoming commonly viewed then, displayed in its popular shows. I saw considerable evidence of similar cravings among the “repressed” people of Cuba we met in our self-guided tour of that inspiring country in 2010.

But, mercifully (no… deliberately) in Cuba, there was almost no crime and no drugs due to the influence that Fidel Castro’s communist regime had over maintaining decorum there. AND…

Because Cuba could not afford to buy pesticides and fertilizer, due to the American embargo, they have led the world in moving to sustainable agriculture.

They grow their own food. What a novel, “backward” concept for today.  God help them as they allow the U.S. more and more influence over their society. They do not realize the price they will pay in disparity for these longed for goodies and “freedoms.”

And it is ironic that there is a recent surge in Cuban migration to America while literate, healthy Cubans still have an archaic, cold-war motivated, “C’mon in!” preference over Latin Americans from other places who are literally fleeing for their lives.

Oh, I’ve added a new activist magazine to my blogroll: Jacobin Magazine. Check it out!

Retro-Activism Closer to Home:

SOA Watch: Oh, yeah… In thinking about the above and my friend’s revelations about Mexico, old and NEW, I remembered this local Canadian connection to the other Americas.  A Catholic high school I taught at when I returned to teaching here in Ontario beginning in 1992 was really dedicated to social justice issues. Some staff were involved in a peaceful, American-based group, called SOA Watch.  They would go by bus to the annual November protests against the School of the Americas (the OLD euphemism for it) in Fort Benning, Georgia. I never went, but it was on my to-do-list for a while. The protestors mostly stood in protest against that despicable training school for paramilitary groups that, by terrorizing indigenous peasants, make America’s back yard safer to exploit.

Youth Corps: Toronto Diocese was a happening place from 1966-1984 due to the activism and dedication of the amazing Youth Corps, founded and shepherded by Father Tom McKillop. My family was introduced to Youth Corp’s Sharon Peace Weekends in the ’70s. Catholic GTA families would arrive at the Sharon, Ontario farm of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd on a Friday afternoon and set up tents on their grounds. The barn was the main gathering place. Led by energetic, charismatic youth ministry, we would be handed song sheets and sing secular and religious songs with a social activism connection. The most memorable song for me was a young leader named Paula leading us in Forever Young,  Joan Baez’ great hit. The song sheets changed every year. On Saturday there was always a speaker on a topic that challenged us to see the world as being in need of change. A dance on Saturday evening, a few dancing in wheelchairs, followed by a fire and candlelight ceremony after sundown. On Sunday a wonderful Mass outdoors on a gentle hillside when weather permitted. Meals cooked for everyone by involved participants. Sharon Corp weekends were inclusive from every possible aspect. Our ultra-conservative Cardinal Carter removed Tom McKillop in 1984. Pages 7 t0 26 of this article describe the heady, Youth Corps, Vatican II years.

Church: We had a pretty activist parish church in the 70’s and 80’s due to my pastor/mentor, until the local Diocesans took over from the Franciscans and started keenly recruiting the very devout, conservative types of newcomer who would ask:

Father, please come and bless my new BMW…

Peaceful civil disobedience waxes and, mostly these days, wanes… but the domination dial is set to relentless.

Nostalgia: Wistful about the hopeful signs that were much more abundant in the past, I fear for our future and hope that The Bern gathers serious momentum in the U.S. primaries

Fantasia: The front-running alternatives,  Standard Crazy or Extra-Strength Crazy, will not make the world a safer place.



In The Way Of Progress

Girl prepares to blow us a kiss at Cai Be farmers’ market in the Mekong Delta

My dander became elevated on reading an article by Doug Saunders of the Globe and Mail entitled “Frankenfoods” have moved on. When will opponents?  

In this article Mr. Saunders argues that genetically modified crops, GM crops for short, are what the world needs to feed itself. He mentions that recently the left-wing Guardian newspaper has written no less than three articles in support of GM technology and implies that those opposed to GM are dwindling in numbers and misguided or otherwise addle-brained, often right-wing, “fundamentalists”:

Opposition to biotech has been left to revanchist agrarian conservatives such as Prince Charles, a handful of fundamentalist green groups and people who believe what they read in the tabloids.

Mr. Saunders defends GM as the new way of doing things driven by altruism, not profit:

But today, the frontier of biotechnology is in the sphere of international development and public interest. The research lab facing protests last Sunday was Rothamsted, a non-profit, entirely government-funded, public-sector institute. What its scientists have created there is a strain of wheat that repels aphids, potentially ending the deadly developing-world problem of entire crops being destroyed by aphid infestation. It is one of hundreds of “pro-poor” GM initiatives designed to create a new range of crops that will allow Asian and African countries to eclipse the West in food production. That’s vitally important because the world has faced food shortages since 2008, for the first time in three decades.

This is, in my opinion, a naive argument. Continue reading “In The Way Of Progress”