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Accusations Fly after Shootout at Razed Villa Papa Francisco Site

The Metropolitan Police, backed by the National Gendarmerie evicted hundreds of families and bulldozed the area last week. (Photo by Patricio Murphy)

The Metropolitan Police, backed by the National Gendarmerie evicted hundreds of families and bulldozed the area last week. (Photo by Patricio Murphy)

The Buenos Aires government has accused the Federal Police and National Gendarmerie of failing to respond to calls for help made by the city’s police force during a shootout in Villa Lugano this weekend.

In the early hours of Saturday morning, a group of around 100 people, some armed with guns and others with rocks and molotov cocktails, clashed with Metropolitan Police near the site where Villa Papa Francisco was cleared a week earlier.

Today, the city government has said that security forces under the authority of the federal government did not respond to calls for support during the clashes, in which seven city police officers were injured.

“The confrontation lasted around an hour,” said Deputy Mayor María Eugenia Vidal in an interview with Radio Mitre earlier today. “The Federal Police arrived when it was all over. The Gendarmerie was not there. They asked for help, and none came.

“It’s a miracle that none of the officers were killed,” added Vidal, who claimed that the occupiers were led by mafia groups that sell plots to impoverished people. “This was not a group of families trying to retake the land,” she said.

After the incident, which began late Friday night and continued into Saturday morning, National Security Secretary Sergio Berni said it marked the “inevitable and predictable consequences of a terribly managed eviction by the city government”.

Berni questioned the city government for not evicting groups suspected of belonging to drug gangs from the area near Villa 20 at the same time as the families occupying the territory.

The land in Villa Lugano, south Buenos Aires, had been occupied by informal settlers since 24th February, was cleared in a joint operation by the Metropolitan Police and National Gendarmerie. Around 700 families were evicted and their precarious homes demolished by bulldozers.

Various political and human rights organisations have denounced the eviction, calling it a form of collective punishment, and saying that the operation – which has left around 1,800 homeless – would not resolve the city’s social housing crisis, which sees 163,000 living in the capital’s shantytowns.

Posted in News From Argentina, Round Ups Argentina0 Comments

Dams and Deforestation: The Human Contribution to Natural Disasters

Dams and Deforestation: The Human Contribution to Natural Disasters

As the southern hemisphere Spring approaches, widespread areas of the Río de la Plata basin are still picking up the pieces after suffering a winter of heavy flooding. During June and July, at least 360,000 people in southern Brazil, northern Argentina, Paraguay, and Uruguay were evacuated after several of the region’s major rivers broke their banks, causing some of the worst floods in decades.

Disaster hit after heavy downpours in June around the triple border between Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay – an area already soaked by months of unseasonably high rainfall – caused a surge in the region’s key tributaries.

The town of El Soberbio, in Misiones province, was hit hard by flooding after the Uruguay River burst its banks (Photo: Sofia Schiavoni)

The town of El Soberbio, in Misiones province, was hit hard by flooding after the Uruguay River burst its banks (Photo: Sofia Schiavoni)

Over 190 municipalities in southern Brazil declared a state of emergency as the Paraná, Iguazú, and Uruguay rivers overflowed, killing a dozen people and affecting around 50,000 more. In Paraguay, the country worst affected, a quarter of a million people were displaced along the banks of its eponymous river, which cuts 537km from north to south. This included 88,000 from mainly impoverished and informal riverside settlements in the capital Asunción, where many remain in temporary shelters today. Finally, as the swell moved downstream towards the Río de la Plata, thousands more were evacuated in Argentina’s north-eastern provinces and, to a lesser extent, parts of Uruguay.

Though the emergency situation has now eased after a relatively dry and warm August for much of the region, thousands of families remain stranded after their riverside homes were destroyed. And with river levels still well above normal in many areas, the full extent of the damage to infrastructure, livestock and crops has not yet been calculated.

More Prone

A wet autumn and freakish storms in June – some areas received more than three times the average monthly rainfall in just a few days – are widely accepted as the principal cause of the recent floods. However, several NGOs and environmental groups say it is human activity – namely rampant deforestation and the construction of huge hydroelectric dams on major rivers – that has left the region more prone to devastating floods when such rainfalls occurs.

“The jungle acts like a sponge,” explains Manuel Jaramillo, investigator at Fundación Vida Silvestre. “Water that hits leaves on a tree 20 or 30 metres off the ground trickles more slowly down branches and trunks and can filter into the ground. If the earth is bare, or cultivated year round – as is the case mainly with soy – it is quickly saturated with rainwater, which then runs into streams and rivers.”

The Atlantic Forest in Alto Paraná (Photo courtesy of WWF Paraguay)

The Atlantic Forest in Alto Paraná (Photo courtesy of WWF Paraguay)

According to Vida Silvestre, the Bosque Atlántico, or Atlantic Forest (also known as the Selva Paranaense or Mata Atlantico), once covered an estimated 500,000km2 of land in Brazil, Paraguay, and Argentina. After decades of unchecked deforestation, mainly to clear land for soy production and cattle ranching, only around 7% of the original forest remains today. Not only does this make the area less absorbent and more vulnerable to landslides, but the excess run-off also carries top soil and sediment into the rivers, adding to the overall increase in water levels.

Concerns over the environmental impact of human intervention in forests and rivers are not new, says Hernán Giardini, coordinator of Greenpeace Argentina’s Forests campaign. Yet little has been done so far to control them.

“Deforestation in important river basins has repeatedly caused flooding in Argentina,” he says. “There was Tartagal [in Salta] in 2009, and in Santa Fe in 2007, where the local university reported a direct link with deforestation in the north of the province. These incidents keep on occurring, and we argue that they are not just down to natural causes but have been influenced by man.

“It is not about a lack of scientific information, but of political will.”

The Agri-Boom

The expansion of the agricultural sector has been a feature of economic development in the Southern Cone countries in recent decades. Driven by elevated market prices and the proliferation of genetically modified seeds, the territory used to plant soy has doubled in Argentina since the turn of the century, with Paraguay and Brazil experiencing a similar story.

Seduced by rising export revenues and pressured by a powerful lobby, governments in the area have shown little appetite to place stringent restrictions on the large agribusinesses that dominate the sector.

“The three countries see in investment in agricultural and livestock a means of development for a poor region, but in reality this implies serious environmental and social problems. It’s a problem because the same countries favour greater production by any means, even at the cost of the trees and the people that live there,” says Giardini.

Illegal deforestation in Salta (Photo courtesy of Greenpeace Argentina)

Illegal deforestation in Salta (Photo courtesy of Greenpeace Argentina)

There has been new legislation introduced in the last decade to protect native forests: figures show that the 2009 ‘Forest Law‘ in Argentina and to a lesser the 2004 ‘Zero Deforestation Law’ in Paraguay have had a significant impact in slowing the rate of deforestation in some areas, especially in the Bosque Atlántico, though Jaramillo notes that this is also partly due to there being so little forest left.

Moreover, even when improvements are made in some territories, they are often undermined by limited scope or weak enforcement. In Paraguay, the Zero Deforestation Law applies only to the eastern part of the country, where WWF Paraguay says it has reduced deforestation by as much as 90%. In the west, however, deforestation in the Gran Chaco forest remains among the highest in the world, with 236,000 hectares cleared last year alone, according to Guyra, a private, non-profit environmental organisation.

In Argentina, too, the progress has been uneven. Earlier this year, Greenpeace Argentina launched a new campaign denouncing the provincial governor of Salta for issuing decrees that would allow the deforestation of 120,000 hectares in territory protected by the national Forest Law. Greenpeace says around 400,000 hectares of the Gran Chaco forest have already been cleared since the law was approved in 2009. “There is a clear decision at the provincial level not to comply with the law, and a clear decision by the national government not to pressure the regional authorities to do so,” says Giardini.

Dam Politics

The other major man-made contribution of increased flood risks, according to environmental groups, are the large hydroelectric dams that line major rivers. Together, the Iguazú and Uruguay Rivers have nearly a dozen large-scale dams either in operation or under construction, having a major impact on the natural water flow.

According to Jaramillo, who is based in Misiones, after the heavy rains in June led to rising water levels in dam reservoirs, the energy companies were obliged to open their flood gates to prevent damage, sending a surge of water that can have devastating consequences further downstream. It was this that led to water smashing a new dam under construction (Baixo Iguazú), causing the Iguazú river swell to 37 times its normal volume and forcing authorities to close access to the Iguazú Falls for several days.

“There are many issues that result in the dams having a negative impact on the local population, even if they are not directly responsible for the flooding,” says Jaramillo. This includes the creation of massive reservoirs in forested areas: building one of the world’s largest dams, Itaipú, on the Paraná River involved flooding an area of 1350km2. “Changing the surface of the earth from one that can absorb water to one that contains water itself has a big effect [on drainage].”

The debate over the environmental impact of hydroelectric dams, which ostensibly represent a clean and renewable source of energy, is arguably even more contentious. In the search for energy self-sufficiency without carbon emissions, many South American countries have turned to large hydroelectric power projects, accepting the environmental and social impact on local wildlife and communities that are displaced by reservoirs.

Paraguay already generates enough hydroelectric power to satisfy its entire energy needs through its huge bi-national dams with Brazil (Itaipú) and Argentina (Yacyretá), both of which lie on the Paraná River. Meanwhile, Brazil and Argentina are moving forward with projects for two dams (Garabí and Panambí) on the Uruguay River, dams that Jaramillo says would have made the recent flooding much worse by slowing the discharge of excess water towards the Río de la Plata.

Even aside from environmental concerns, recent research suggests that these mega projects are not even a viable economic solution for developing countries. A data study published earlier this year by Oxford University revealed that building large dams typically take nearly a decade with cost overruns of around 90%. The report highlights that the Itaipú Dam, one of the largest in the world, cost 240% more than budgeted, while Yacyretá took nearly three decades to complete and was shrouded in so many murky political and business dealings that it became known as “a monument to corruption”.

It can take decades of full operation for these dams to recover the initial outlay, during which time the project remains vulnerable to economic or political crises that affect energy markets. The economic life of a dam can also be cut short if excess sediment carried in rivers – itself a symptom of deforestation – gradually fills up the reservoir and reduces the dam’s capacity to generate energy over time.

The Itaipú Dam from the air. Recent research from Oxford University claims the dam, one of the biggest in the world, may never recover the full costs of its construction. (Photo via Wikipedia)

The Itaipú Dam from the air. Recent research from Oxford University claims the dam, one of the biggest in the world, will never recover the full costs of its construction (Photo via Wikipedia)

Though Yacyretá now produces around 20% of Argentina’s electricity needs, Jaramillo says the communities in Misiones most affected by the dam’s haphazard construction do not see the benefits because the energy generated is not suitable for the local power infrastructure.

“The energy produced by flooding rivers in Misiones goes to feed cities like Rosario or Buenos Aires,” he says. “It would be more logical and useful for the development of the local economy to use smaller hydro projects to generate energy for local residents and industry but without affecting large areas of land or involving astronomical constructions.”

Preparing for the Future

According to forecasts from the Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change (IPCC), rainfall anomalies (positive or negative) will be larger for tropical areas of Latin America, while the frequency and intensity of weather extremes is likely to increase. The region is already bracing itself for the possibility of an El Niño event later this year, which meteorologists say could lead to above-average rainfall and accentuate the threat of extreme downpours in the Spring and Summer months.

A man uses a boat to travel around his neighbourhood in El Soberbio, Misiones (Photo: Sofia Schiavoni)

A man uses a boat to travel around his neighbourhood in El Soberbio, Misiones (Photo: Sofia Schiavoni)

As the probability of recurring natural disasters like flooding and landslides rises, considering how human activity can exacerbate the damages caused has never been more important. Even more so as Argentina plans to increase its output of grains by 60% before the end of the decade, a programme that Greenpeace’s Giardini says could further undermine the Forest Law.

Moreover, estimated 412 large dams are planned or under construction in the Amazon basin alone, according to a report released in Lima a few months ago. The study concluded that this “hydroelectric experiment on a continental scale” could lead to the “end of free-flowing rivers” and “ecosystem collapse”.

“It’s a big challenge,” says Jaramillo, who nevertheless remains optimistic. “A lot of forest cover has been lost, but we have managed to reduce the rate of deforestation and create more awareness. The challenge now is to work closely with the political sector.

“We believe it is still possible to revert the situation, so that in 50 or 100 years the Bosque Atlántico still exists and society learns to live in harmony with the forests while also obtaining the necessary resources for genuinely sustainable development.”

Posted in Environment, Social Issues, TOP STORY0 Comments

Ecuador: Officers Sentenced to Prison for Attempting to Kill President

The unrest on 30-S started with police protests at proposed salary cuts (photo/Presidencia de la República del Ecuador)

The unrest on 30-S started with police protests at proposed salary cuts (photo/Presidencia de la República del Ecuador)

Six police officers were sentenced to 12 years prison by a court in Ecuador yesterday, weeks after being found guilty of the attempted murder of President Rafael Correa during the 2010 police uprising.

The officers had been found guilty by the courts on 1st August, and received the maximum sentence permitted for the crime of attempted murder of the president.

The six were found guilty of shooting at Correa outside the police hospital during a military operation to rescue the president after a 12-hour siege. As he escaped, Correa’s vehicle received a hail of bullets, while one of his bodyguards was shot and killed. “You can see these people in videos with guns, with their faces covered and ready to shoot at the president,” declared prosecutor Gustavo Benítez in the trial.

30-S

On 30th September 2010, police protesting changes to benefits revolted, going on strike, blocking roads, and taking over the main airport in Quito. Correa visited the main barracks to negotiate with the leaders of the rebellion, but was injured after a tear gas canister exploded near him.

Police then surrounded the hospital in which Correa was receiving treatment, leaving the president trapped for several hours until loyal military troops broke him out. Clashes on the streets led to 10 deaths and over 270 injuries.

The revolt was immediately condemned as an “attempted coup” by the Union of South American State (Unasur).

Earlier this year, an investigation into the events of ’30-S’ concluded that the incident was support by political and economic opposition. Oscar Bonilla, member of the commission, said: “Those responsible were political actors, military organisations, sectors of the police and members of the Armed Forces that joined the action, and real local powers links to international groups who also planned the events from outside of the country.”

Posted in News From Latin America, Round Ups Latin America0 Comments

Marches, Roadblocks Cause Transport Chaos Ahead of General Strike

Coastguard officers look on as the opposition CTA union stages a roadblock on Puente Pueyrredón (Photo: Paula Riba/Télam/ddc)

Coastguard officers look on as the opposition CTA union stages a roadblock on Puente Pueyrredón (Photo: Paula Ribas/Télam/ddc)

A series of roadblocks and marches have caused transport chaos today in parts of Buenos Aires and its surrounding areas. The disruption comes a day before several major unions hold a 24-hour general strike, which is set to cause further headaches for commuters on Thursday.

The opposition faction of Central for Argentina Workers (CTA) umbrella union, which began an extended 36-hour strike at midday today, organised roadblocks on major highways and key access points to the capital this morning.

Some of these since been lifted, though pickets remain on Av General Paz, and the Ricchieri highway, causing delays in travel to Ezeiza airport.

The opposition CTA leadership, headed by Pablo Micheli will lead a demonstration in front of the National Congress this afternoon. The demands of the union include scrapping income taxes on salaries, an end to the dismissal of workers at industrial factories, and the suspension of external debt payments pending an audit to determine the its legitimacy.

Meanwhile, two separate protests aimed at the Buenos Aires government today have added to the transport disruption in the centre of the city. The Federation of Cartoneros and Recyclers marched to the City Ministry for Environment and Public Spaces to protest against proposed changes to rubbish collection.

At the same time, social organisations and residents of Villa Lugano have gathered on Av 9 de Julio near the Obelisco in protest at the razing of the Barrio Papa Francisco slum on the weekend.

General Strike

Wednesday’s chaos comes just hours before the start of a 24 hour general strike held by opposition factions of the General Workers Confederation (CGT) led by Hugo Moyano and Luis Barrionuevo.

The strike will heavily affect transport, with all services on overground trains, the subte B line, and domestic flights suspended. Buses will be running a partial service: the Road Transport Union (UTA) – which governs the majority of urban and intercity bus lines – has decided not the join the strike, but the rival Bus Drivers Union (UCRA) has said it will, and could disrupt other services. Taxi drivers will be working.

Other services to be suspended include non-emergency treatment at hospitals, rubbish collection (this evening), banks, petrol stations, postal services, and affiliated bars and restaurants. Many schools in the city and province of Buenos Aires will also be closed as several teachers’ unions join the strike action.

For more information and updates of the strike and how it will affect you tomorrow, follow us on Facebook or Twitter.

Posted in News From Argentina, Round Ups Argentina0 Comments

Brazil: 31 People Rescued from Slavery in São Paulo

Those rescued were forced to work 15 hours a day in unhygienic and unsafe conditions (photo via SRTE/SP)

Those rescued were forced to work 15 hours a day in unhygienic and unsafe conditions (photo via SRTE/SP)

Authorities have rescued 31 people found working in “slave-like conditions” in the centre of São Paulo. The 19 Bolivian and 12 Haitian nationals were discovered in two textile workshops after a tip off from the dressmakers’ union.

According to the Regional Superintendence of Work and Employment in São Paulo (SRTE-SP), the 12 Haitian and two Bolivian victims found in one of the workshops were forced to work up to 15 hours a day for two months in unsafe and unhygienic conditions. They slept on old mattresses or on the floor and were not given sufficient food supplies. Those who complained about not being paid were denied food rations. The SRTE-SP added that this is the first time that Haitians have been rescued from slavery in the city.

In the other workshop, in which a 15-year-old pregnant girl was among the 17 Bolivians rescued, food was stored with cleaning products or on the floor. Faulty and exposed wiring also created a fire hazard, according to the SRTE-SP press release. The workers received R$700 a month, less than the minimum wage in Brazil, and had their IDs confiscated to prevent them from leaving.

The workshops produced items used by Brazilian clothing brands, As Marias and Seike, which have been fined, according to authorities. A spokesperson for As Marias told local NGO Reporter Brasil that the company had outsourced production to a third party and was unaware of the workers’ conditions.

“Slavery is a crime and a national disgrace,” said SRTE-SP superintendent Luiz Antonio Medeiros. “In São Paulo we are introducing harsher punishments for companies that use slave labour in their chain of production.” Medeiros claimed that from now on, guilty companies will be entered onto a blacklists and have tax benefits removed. According to the Labour Ministry, there are currently 609 companies blacklisted for subjecting workers to slave-like conditions.

Those directly responsible for holding workers in slave conditions, meanwhile, could face up to eight years in prison.

Posted in News From Latin America, Round Ups Latin America0 Comments

The Last Shout: Fashion is Dead, Self-Sufficiency is Born

The Last Shout: Fashion is Dead, Self-Sufficiency is Born

This is an exclusive English translation of an article that originally appeared in Periódico Mu No.78.

In her latest book ‘The Politics of Appearances’ sociologist Susana Saulquin analyses the social, labour, and political consequences of the end of fashion. It’s a true revolution that has changed all paradigms. How has it affected both hallmark labels and sweatshops? What role do social networks play in the construction of these new dynamics? What are the new values that dictate what the trends are? And how do ethics impact our decisions about what we wear? The battle upon us: the organic against the transgenic. Who is winning?

Sociologist Susan Saulquin's latest book - her fitfh - talks about her theory of the future and anti-fashion.

Sociologist Susan Saulquin’s latest book – her fitfh – talks about her theory of the future and anti-fashion.

Frenchwoman Gabrielle Bonheur once said, “fashion is in the sky, in the streets, in ideas, in the way that we live, in whatever is happening.” She said this to explain how to best interpret the impact of the Second World War on the wardrobe. Her interpretation created an empire that was baptised with her nickname, Coco, and the surname of the father who never recognised her, Chanel. Today, her tombstone is a golden logo and the company, one of the most noteworthy victims of the European financial crisis, had a growth rate of zero throughout 2013.

In the middle of this paralysis, the company received a piece of startling news concerning its main source of income: scarcely a month ago, the scientific committee advising the European Union deemed that the legendary fragrance Chanel No. 5 contains allergens and recommended the absolute prohibition of 12 of its 20 components.

Just like that and without hyperbole, Chanel became water.

Chanel’s agony represents good news, however: the spirit of its creator is alive and kicking. The sky, the street, and the ideas of this epoch have given birth to ways of being that escape the pressures of fashion.

To understand this, we need to abandon Paris -and not just metaphorically- and journey to Olivos. There, in a house next to the presidential residence, sociologist Susana Saulquin challenges all labels. She doesn’t strike you as 71 years old, nor does she have the look of a militant leftist, nor does she brag about her academic achievements, nor take interest in the media limelight.

Saulquin is something more important: she is a practical woman. Existing paradigms have turned this virtue into a description of do-it-yourself champions, but Saulquin reclaims its true value: practice makes theory. Hers is summarised in her latest book, ‘The Politics of Appearances’, but for decades she has also battled from the trenches of the public university in order to analyse fashion politically and socially. From these observations of trends, processes, protagonists, and movements, Saulquin brings us good news: fashion is dead.

Photo by Lina M. Etchesuri

Photo by Lina M. Etchesuri

We’re not talking about Oxford Pants, Mao-neck shirts, or animal print. We’re talking about the symbolic production of property and subjectivities.

What Saulquin tells us is very serious and very uplifting: fashion did not die a natural death, we killed it. How? There was a revolution, and it was ours.

Appearances and Models

Saulquin’s autopsy of fashion’s exquisite corpse reveals the following:

1) The fashion industry that has been in place for over 150 years died because the bases it was built on became unnecessary.
2) This phenomenon is part of a wider set of more complex changes that have subverted all social paradigms.
3) In the middle of this wider shake up, a new power hierarchy has arisen in the world of appearances.
4) Up until recently, and for over a century and a half, fashion was considered a necessary instrument of social integration and cohesion. As a consequence of the deep social changes currently occurring, fashion -seen as a collective conscience- has lost its privileged position and its practices are becoming more driven by individualities not truly autonomous, but imbued with many global connections.
5) Throughout the 20th century, fashion was a vehicle of an ideology that stressed the obsession with production, promoted and glorified the importance of maximum consumption, was sceptic of cultural identities, and homogenised objects, bodies, and images. To sustain this system, the fashion industry strictly followed the mandate of the trends set by the specialists at the centres of production of meaning, standarising the shapes, colours and textures of each season.
6) These dressing codes are acquiring new meanings. Among the most obvious causes, new technologies have caused great changes in social relations. There has been a re-definition of social bonds, which Saulquin encapsulates with a phrase of the French poet Arthur Rimbaud: “I is another.”
7) The matrix of fashion development responded to the functional demands of economics: everything that you wear today will be out of fashion tomorrow. And you will buy what’s new. Today’s paradigms, on the contrary, are based on two principles: simplification and sustainability. This is the soul of this revolution on the social level: the substitution of aesthetical values for ethical ones.
8) In order to reaffirm people power and their social bonds, it is necessary to move away from accelerating production and voracious consumption. Such a movement also changes the production system, as it prioritises a different way to make things, one which should be efficient, stable and sustainable, driven by responsibility and social conscience.
9) For these reasons, the codes of mass consumption, that were driven by excess and wastage, based on the fundamental premise of fashion -to produce and consume new garments each season- are being redefined.
10) In summary, the part of fashion that has died is its authoritarian and disciplinary dimension. And what is being redefined is its system of production.
11) We have thus recovered the intimate, original, and primary ceremony of creating our own image (in other words, of self-sufficiency). Hence, fashion becomes freer, more tolerant, and more democratic.

When and how did all of this happen?

At the same time and in the same place as everything changed. September 2001, in New York, with the attack on the Twin Towers. December 2001, in Argentina, with the shout, “Away with them all!”. September 2008, in Europe, to the beat of the indignados.

What happened in these moments and spaces? We were stripped of everything. And so, naked and shouting, we discovered both alone and together other possible futures.

“A possible explanation,” Saulquin tells us, “is that, as a consequence of the power of communication through social networks, we have found a new way of being and of perceiving the world, which was immediately echoed in the world of appearances, which then began to yield great transformations.”

Neither Victims nor Fashion

Saulquin has her own rules to detect the truly new:

One, that it is a curiosity.
Two, that it spontaneous.
Three, that it is a trend.

She applies it in everything that she observes: from [Marcelo] Tinelli’s [television] programme to the street markets of Lima or Medellin, to mealtime conversations, academic conferences, and digital technologies. “I have more magazines about new technologies than I do fashion magazines,” says Saulquin, showing where her social outlook is currently taking her.

Those responsible for productions that are artisanal, artistic, and self-sufficient, sold in fairs and social economic spaces. (Photo by Lina M. Etchesuri)

Those responsible for productions that are artisanal, artistic, and self-sufficient, sold in fairs and social economic spaces. (Photo by Lina M. Etchesuri)

Are you declaring the death of fashion?

The authoritarian part of fashion. The dependency on trends that come out of the centres of production of mening like Paris, London, New York, or Tokyo, which impose on you ways of dressing that have a disciplinary twist: “this is in fashion.” That is disappearing. And it’s disappearing because it doesn’t make sense, because fashion doesn’t have the social role of generating appearances anymore. At the moment, fashion has a much more tolerant dimension, which expresses a more individualistic society.

Self-centred?

No, I don’t use the term individualistic in the narcissistic sense, because within this individualism there are millions of people. That’s what, for example, digital society or social networks express. Where this is leading us remains unclear, but what is certain is that fashion is losing its privileged role as creator of appearances.

Is it the end of a dictatorship?

In terms of its strong disciplinary capacity, yes; as that projection of authoritarianism that used to tell you how to dress and how to behave. It is clear that there is now a greater tolerance, that even expresses itself in sexual matters. In this respect, at the start of the 21st century there was a clear ideological change. The 20th century ideology was based on aesthetics, in the importance of growing productivity, which gave way to industrialism and consumerism. At the start of the 21st there was a change, as ethics were wedged in.

In what way?

The ethics of individual behaviour. The beliefs that underpin this century are expressed in a type of consumption that is a lot more ethical, based on awareness of both human and natural resources. Society always makes the changes needed to guarantee its survival. And currently, its survival depends upon a concern for nature. And within this context, concern for human resources. In today’s textile industry we know that often its worst aspects are its conditions of production: sweatshops are an example of this. Now we have a spotlight focusing on them, showing how the labels produce. And this spotlight has been placed by the people who should be consuming these products. So the labels are going to have to start paying attention to these things, because the effects of losing their reputation are very big, and they can’t minimise or hide their practices any longer. It’s a reality which I don’t know these labels are ready to confront, because their goal is to continue to organise their production based on achieving a strong economic dividend, a goal which is divorced from all other contexts.

What kind of responsibility did the labels have in this death?

An enormous responsibility. The labels emerged around the years 1958 and 1960 and since then have expanded their social significance to unimaginable extremes. It is often said that labels created a modern aristocracy. For example, a Louis Vuitton purse grants you an air of nobility.

How did they lose this crown?

These labels themselves killed the goose that laid the golden egg. Fundamentally the emergence of marketing fragmented fashion’s trends. In its desire to control everything, it ended up fragmenting everything. And if there are many trends, in the end there is no real trend. Marketing killed the marriage Fashion represented: we all felt part of something, part of a very strong, specific aesthetic paradigm. The first symptom of this end was the emergence of urban tribes: but everyone’s part of an urban tribe now. Now there is a really strong sense of independence.

Self-sufficiency?

Yes, with the strong intervention of social networks. Identity is always a construction in the search for who you are, what everyone else expects of you, and what you aspire to be. Our individual identities are built within that triangle. It’s a game that we play by building an image, an appearance. The current change is represented here in that labels don’t intervene in that game anymore, but the other, the others, those to whom we constantly ask: “do you like it? do you like me?”. That’s what Facebook and Twitter express.

Where do you see images in this new paradigm?

Everywhere. And in each person who dresses exactly as they please. In the opennes that is characteristic of this new style, which is still being built. The aesthetics of the 21st century still aren’t clear. Because this century is very new, but also because this process entails a great deal of participation. It’s a condition of this new paradigm. And it’s expressed not only in how people dress, but also in how those clothes they wear are produced. Take for example the strategies of crowdfunding, groups that organise themselves to finance products. Another example: there are new groups of designers who use social networks to see what people think about the designs they are currently creating, or to sell the designs in advance. And then they only manufacture what they have already sold, which on the one hand allows them to save or concentrate resources, but also allows people to have an influence of what that designer should or should not produce.

What other characteristics of this new paradigm have already been defined?

Without a doubt, sustainability will become very important. Another characteristic: simplicity in design. Comfort is a very important paradigm. We are simplifying. If you observe those cultures with a strong sense of spirituality, their quintessential garment is the tunic, which expresses the stripping back of the worldly. I don’t mean to say that we’re all going to end up with tunics, but that it’s expressive of simplicity and today that’s increasingly valued: what’s loose, comfortable, noble. In principle, this is causing us to put into context things that we didn’t use to question. For example, men have been wearing suits for only 160 years of our history. And we view suits as intrinsic to employment. But today we are seeing work move away from the centre of our lives, giving room to values such as creativity, imagination, and the ability to make changes. So it’s logical that the suit -so related to work throughout the industrial era- is totally out of place in this new social reality.

So we’re talking about an important change in paradigm, that affects the totality of the capitalist mode of production?

That’s right. I’m not a Marxist, but I’m convinced that we have to change our system of production. With this system of production, that has hyperextended fashion and consumption, the next century will not eventuate. It cannot. It’s an unfeasible economic model that produces poverty, inequality, no future. And we’re at tipping point. You can call the new paradigm socialism, co-operativism, reciprocity, or whatever you want, but what is certain is that we are coming towards a change in the production model.

Your book makes mention of one of the symptoms of this change and suggests that it was born in Argentina: the factories recuperated by their workers.

Do you realise what that means? Something marvellous. I feel that this is what’s new: the co-operatives, working together, thinking about profound change like that. Because if you were able to change organisational structures of production to make them more humane, why can’t you imagine resources that are more ethical? Why can’t you ask yourself if the only way of making jeans is indeed by using cotton, the production of which is so harmful for the planet? Why not make them using more noble materials, like phormium? These changes happen little by little, but are very profound and daily. And that’s what I have faith in. That and the discrediting of other means of production. And so this new reality becomes clear: we can’t go on like this.

So sweatshops will be no more?

They will be no more. This has to be understood by Zara and all of those labels that are accustomed to big profit margins through their enslaving methods of production. They must understand that, since 2006, those practices were exposed to everyone through the fire in a sweatshop in the neighbourhood of Flores that cost six people their lives. Since then a sort of social criminalisation of these methods has emerged and that is something that nobody can ignore. It happened with furs and now it’s happening with sweatshops. Social condemnation is a very effective device, very strong, it draws a clear boundary. They are changes that drag the whole system of production towards more ethical methods…. But the brands are terrible: they don’t want to see these changes and continue to utilise sweatshops, to guarantee their exploitation of profits and people. They do it here, in Bangladesh, everywhere.

Paola and Eleonora, the people behind Chiri, a different form of production that is now a brand (Photo: Lina M. Etchesuri)

Paola and Eleonora, the people behind Chiri, a different form of production that is now a brand (Photo: Lina M. Etchesuri)

The New Rainbow

You also talk about a notable change in the colour palette: it’s becoming more Latin American?

Without doubt. It’s true that the colour palette is always linked to the nature of each place. In this way Argentina is expressed by sky blue, browns, grey. We’re not Brazil, but now we’re accepting that we’re part of a larger area: Latin America. This partially came though the crises that have befallen Europe and the West, and partially because Latin America is in a process of renewal. What is coming is, very possibly, being conceived of right here, right now in Latin America. And that is something that fashion already realises.

Where do you see new aspects of design emerging?

In technology. There is a fundamental change generated by 3D printers. Because of their cost, they also allow a different scale of production. I don’t mean at a house-to-house level, but in terms of small working groups. This totally changes the paradigms of the [Henry Ford] style of mechanical production, because it allows for an artisanal system of production. And if you change the scale, you change the meaning. Already, you don’t need an industrial system to produce, and so serial production has lost its social significance. It is no longer necessary socially, and it doesn’t dictate social production. What is occurring now is semi-artisanal production. And that changes everything. Everything. Just one symptom: in its boom-time, industry caused the social value of artisanal production to be extremely low. Now the artisanal has a very high social value. It’s a new status symbol.

So there’s nothing more antiquated than the red carpet…

It doesn’t mean anything. Red carpet is ridiculous. It’s the place where you show, show and show, and where you’re obliged to look, look, and look. It’s so detached from reality because current value is in the search for authenticity, creativity, imagination. And this is something that people find in public spaces, be they real or virtual.

How do you avoid the fads that conspicuous consumption generates?

It’s difficult. It’s the toughest battle. The fashion industry is always generating new fads, and it used this to make it commercially viable. We have to be very alert in this new society that is emerging, because what fashion expresses is a strategy common to all those running the old system: they mutate, change their suits, disguise themselves, do whatever is necessary to guarantee their supremacy. The only way that we can guarantee what the new fashion industry will look like is to ensure that the critical mass of creators, producers and people that sustain it grows ever larger. This and the discrediting of those who exploit is what can make the difference. I hope that there will be a change, but it will be difficult. It will cost us our heads, symbolically speaking. It will be a very tough battle to disarm this circus.

You have a trench: the public university. How do you see the battle from there?

Very badly. It’s totally politicised, but in a bad way, because it’s a politics that only fights for power – within that dynamic the university has lost the place it once had, and with that its perspective. I studied sociology at the University of Buenos Aires in the ‘60s, so you can imagine that I’m not criticising politicisation in itself. But the university is not indifferent to what is happening outside of its four walls. In a position like mine, devoted to the analysis of the production of design, of textiles, the impact that economic policies have is clear. Neoliberalism was a disaster and we saw from our trench was how the young designers fell like flies, and how the big brands have sucked them up…

Like vampires…

Exactly. But that experience now forms part of the current process, which is different. The change now comes from the other side: that of the people. Now those people are looking for something else.

What do you mean?

Experiences and sensations. You don’t want to dress to be seen, but to feel something interesting. And you can find this feeling in a texture, it’s true, but it’s stronger if you find it when you feel part of an ethical change. Those ethics that connect you with everything: the social network, nature. It expresses a fundamental question: why do you dress? Before it was to compete, to distinguish yourself, to show, to belong. Now it’s something else. It’s something emerging very gradually, but which is producing increasingly profound changes.

Could we summarise that the future possibilities will be resolved by the two paradigms that are clashing today: the organic and the genetically-modified?

Yes. Today those two paradigms are 50/50. One is sold to you by laboratories with the message that human beings have to aspire to be a perfect machine, and that implies pushing back death. They are already talking about how life will last for 13 decades, or 130 years. And this promise has an important impact on the possibilities of the future. On the other hand, I see that the craziness over eternal youth has already passed, because it raises true monsters, very ugly. And we must not forget that being natural also means aspiring to have a better life, not just more years, but better ones. In that sense, the promise of an [organic] future isn’t that different, it could even supercede the GM one. I don’t think that in the future we will be a fantastic society, but it will be different. Whether it is better depends fundamentally on our commitments to ethics. On profoundly understanding that all that we do influences everything. That’s the most revolutionary thing that we can do today.

Translation by Cameron McPhedran

lavaca logolavaca.org is a communications co-operative founded in 2001, and produces a web page, monthly magazine MU, and radio programmes that can be reproduced freely. Our home is the cultural centre ‘MU Punto de Encuentro’, at Hipólito Yrigoyen 1440, Congreso, Buenos Aires.

Posted in Fashion, TOP STORY0 Comments

President Presents Bill to Pay Bondholders Under Local Law

President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner announces debt  swap plan (Photo: Presidencia/Télam)

President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner announces debt swap plan (Photo: Presidencia/Télam)

President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner has announced plans to create domestic payment channels for holders of its dollar-denominated bonds and circumvent a US court ruling preventing credit payments. The proposal will also include an offer for bondholders to swap their titles for ones of identical value issued under Argentine law.

Argentina has been in a ‘technical default’ since 31st July after failing to make a credit payment to bondholders that entered into debt restructurings in 2005 and 2010.

Though the US$539mn payment had been deposited on time, New York Judge Thomas Griesa ordered trustee Bank of New York Mellon (BoNY) to retain the funds until Argentina reaches a settlement with vulture funds seeking full repayment on defaulted debt from the country’s 2001 crisis.

According to the proposed bill, which the president presented in a televised broadcast last night, BoNY would be replaced as the trustee bank for exchange bondholders by state-run Banco Nación. The bank would be able to make payments to bondholders via a special account at the Central Bank.

The bill also states that exchange bondholders could choose individually or collectively to swap their existing bonds for new state bonds for the same nominal value governed by Argentine law.

The new law will also create a special account for the bond holdouts, which represent 7.6% of the total defaulted debt from 2001, to deposit payments on the same terms as those who accepted the restructurings. This, informed, President Fernández, would represent a profit of 300% for the vulture funds leading litigation against Argentina.

“Let no one say that Argentina refuses to pay. The Argentine government refuses to be extorted.” said the president, who admitted she was feeling nervous due to the “great injustice” facing the country.

Reactions

The bill was sent to Congress immediately after the president’s tv address, with deliberations in committee expected to begin in the next week.

Economy Minister Axel Kicillof said today that the main purpose of the law was to complete payment obligations locally because they were obstructed in New York. “If the Bank of New York adheres to what Judge Griesa says, Argentina will present the possibility, if they want, for bondholders to be paid here,” said Kicillof. “It is not a compulsive change of jurisdiction, but a method of ensure Argentina can continue to meet its external debt obligations.”

Head of the opposition PRO, Buenos Aires Mayor Mauricio Macri, was quick to announce that his party would vote against the legislation. “It’s like saying that, in our view, the German goalkeeper committed a penalty in the World Cup final, therefore we don’t recognise Germany as World Champion and we invite them to play a rematch here in Argentina with [local judge] Oyarbide as referee,” said Macri in a press conference earlier today.

Argentina’s benchmark restructured bonds fell around 2% in early trading this morning. Bloomberg reported that JP Morgan released a note to clients calling the president’s announcement “a bucket of cold water” for those expecting a relatively swift resolution to the debt problem at the start of next year.

Economists in the US noted that some investors and banks may be reluctant to enter into a deal with Argentina for fear of being held in contempt of court by Judge Griesa, who has previously said any swap agreement would be illegal.

Posted in News From Argentina, Round Ups Argentina3 Comments

Chile: Congress Dismantles Pinochet’s Electoral Legacy System

Chile: Congress Dismantles Pinochet’s Electoral Legacy System

The hall “The Thinkers” of the national congress in Chile’s legislative capital Valparaiso was crowded until late Wednesday night when members of Congress’ lower house approved a bill to reform the country’s dictatorship-era polling system.

After almost eight hours of intense debate, the proposed electoral reform was approved with 86 votes in favor and 28 votes against. The bill will now go to the Senate.

Deputies celebrate a vote in favour of electoral reform in Chile (photo courtesy of Government of Chile)

Deputies celebrate a vote in favour of electoral reform in Chile (photo courtesy of Government of Chile)

This is a key step forward for President Michelle Bachelet’s center-left government. It succeeded in pushing the bill thanks to the support of center-right and independent representatives.

“This is a change we have been waiting for about 25 years,” says Fidel Oyarzo Saldago, Political coordinator at Television Nacional de Chile. He has covered Chilean politics for the past 40 years and hailed the day as “historic”.

President Bachelet described the bill as “a huge step” towards “better politics.” “This [reform] is not abstract. Citizens’ interests will be now better represented in the Parliament, because there are going to be more and more candidates,” she declared.

In 2013, after winning the biggest landslide since Santiago’s return to democracy, President Bachelet committed to advance her program of constitutional reforms including changing the polling system.

End of the “Binomial” System

Chile is the only country in the world to use the “binomial” system.

General Augusto Pinochet created it toward the end of the 1973-1990 military dictatorship to guarantee that right-wing parties keep power after the return to democracy.

By electing the top two finishers in each district, this polling system ensures that the two main coalitions take nearly all the Congress’ seats. In other words, it prevented any bloc from gaining a significant majority, while minor parties, such as the Communist party, were thus marginalised from the Congress.

For the 2014-2018 congressional term, the Nueva Mayoría – a center-left coalition – controls 56% of the Chamber of Deputies whilst the Alianza por Chile – right wing – holds 41%.

The new system would be based on moderate proportional representation. The approved bill would also increase the size of the lower house from 120 to 155 and senators’ seats from 38 to 50.

In addition, the law aims to improve female representation because election slates must not have more than 60 percent of candidates from either gender.

“The law will expand the political landscape,” explains Carola Delgado Ureta, who is in charge of public information of the vice presidency of the Chamber of Deputies.

“It is a more participative and more democratic law. It is an opportunity for real change,” she adds.

Yet, Ivan Moreira, Vice President of Chile’s right-wing Independent Democratic Union party and Senator of the Lagos region in the south of the country, does not entirely agree.

“I personally prefer the old system because it created democratic stability but the left wants this change,” he says.

“At the same time, I agree that it is important to change the system.”

Posted in News From Latin America, TOP STORY1 Comment

Argentina vs Vulture Funds: Wishing Won’t Make It So

Argentina vs Vulture Funds: Wishing Won’t Make It So

Last Thursday, President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner made a televised speech in which she blasted the vulture funds yet again, then told the nation how the case could be ended with one stroke of a pen.

Not her pen, unfortunately. President Obama’s, who she said has the power to veto a court decision if it compromises the United State’s relationship with another country.

President Fernández was citing an article by veteran investigative journalist Greg Palast that appeared in The Guardian on 7th August and was quickly picked up by media outlets in Argentina and all over the world (The president even later posted a translated version of it on her own web site).

Palast’s solution is straightforward:

“Obama could prevent vulture hedge-fund billionaire Paul Singer from collecting a single penny from Argentina by invoking the long-established authority granted presidents by the US constitution’s “Separation of Powers” clause. Under the principle known as “comity”, Obama only need inform US federal judge Thomas Griesa that Singer’s suit interferes with the president’s sole authority to conduct foreign policy. Case dismissed.”

“Indeed, President George W Bush invoked this power against the very same hedge fund now threatening Argentina. Bush blocked Singer’s seizure of Congo-Brazzaville’s US property despite the fact that the hedge fund chief is one of the largest, and most influential, contributors to Republican candidates.”

Great news! If only Obama will act, the default will be reversed! Except that – no. This kind of presidential intervention in an ongoing judicial proceeding, under such circumstances, is not remotely possible.

In fact, there is no “Separation of Powers” clause in the US Constitution. Oops. There is a concept of ‘comity’, but it means something very different. Oops again.

A bit of background: though Congress traditionally defers to the president regarding foreign policy, he does not have, as Palast claims, “sole authority” over its conduct. Treaties and ambassadorial appointments must be ratified by the Senate, for example, and Congress has the right to deny funding for foreign adventures if it does not agree.

As for dismissing the case, there is no mechanism for an executive override of a court decision. At best, the administration could file a legal brief on behalf of a party, which it already did in 2012, voicing strong support for Argentina. In an extreme case, he could issue an Executive Order, but given that Argentina’s case is proceeding along established legal guidelines, there is no basis to do so, and it would surely be overturned on appeal to the Supreme Court.

And as for Palast’s statement that President George W Bush “invoked this power against the very same hedge fund” – he did no such thing. The case was settled in a UK court, and though there were several parallel lawsuits in US courts, there is no sign of direct intervention by the White House. (I contacted Greg Palast for comment on these points, but he did not respond.)

Even if President Obama wanted to, there is not much he can do to help Argentina's case against vulture funds (Photo: Victor Carreira/enviado especial/Télam)

Even if President Obama wanted to, there is not much he can do to help Argentina’s case against vulture funds (Photo: Victor Carreira/enviado especial/Télam)

I’ve been an admirer of Palast in the past, but on this topic, he seems to have strayed into magical thinking. While I support Argentina in their struggle against the vultures, Obama’s signature will not cause this case to disappear. For all their moral and human failings, the vulture funds have won key court decisions and hold all the legal cards – especially in the US.

Argentina’s suit at the International Court of Justice is, similarly, no more than a publicity stunt, since the US has already said it does not recognise the Court’s jurisdiction. Even if the Bank of New York wished to abide by an ICJ decision, it could not do so.

President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner deserves better advisers, who will stop her, next time, before she gives a speech based upon demonstrably false pretenses. In their defence, the Guardian column was also republished, without challenge, by media all over the world. But wishing that it were true will not make it so.

Argentina may decide to negotiate with the vultures, or to wait them out, but there is no quick fix coming from Washington DC.

Posted in Opinion, TOP STORY1 Comment

Brazil: Presidential Candidate Eduardo Campos Dies in Plane Crash

Brazil: Presidential Candidate Eduardo Campos Dies in Plane Crash

Eduardo Campos (photo via official Facebook page)

Eduardo Campos (photo via official Facebook page)

Presidential Candidate Eduardo Campos has died after the light aircraft he was travelling in crashed in the coastal town of Santos earlier today.

Campos is among numerous fatalities after the private jet carrying him crashed in bad weather in a residential area at approximately 10am.

The candidate for the Partido Socialista Brasileiro (PSB) was travelling from Rio de Janeiro to the town of Santos, some 80km from the city of Sao Paulo, as part of his campaign.

“The whole of Brazil is in mourning,” said President Dilma Rousseff in an official press release. “Today we lost a great Brazilian, a great colleague… we were always clear that our political differences were less than the mutual respect that characterised our relationship.”

Rousseff today decreed three days of national mourning, during which she will suspend all of her own campaign activities.

An economist graduate, Campos, who turned 49 three days ago, was governor of Pernambuco for seven years. He left the position earlier this year to run in the presidential elections to take place on 5th October.

According to latest opinion polls, Campos was third favourite behind incumbent Dilma Rousseff and opposition senator Aécio Neves, with around 10% support.

Official guidelines state that Campos’ PSB party now has 10 days to decide on a replacement candidate. This could include Campos’ running mate and candidate for vice president, Marina Silva, who was not travelling on the plane.

Posted in News From Latin America, Round Ups Latin America0 Comments

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