Latin American Attitudes to the U.S.

The United States’ relationship with Latin American has long been a fraught one, not least because the country historically regarded the entire hemisphere as being under its sphere of influence, subject to military interventions, orchestrated coups, and support for dictators.

But as The Economist reports, since the mid-1990s, following the end of the Cold War — and with it, most U.S. meddling — as well as the sweep of democracy and economic growth across most of the region, sentiments have warmed up quite a bit. Continue reading

Bolivia’s Remarkable Neo-Andino Style

While there remains tens of millions of people of indigenous descent throughout Latin America, much of their culture has been forgotten, deliberately repressed, or socially marginalized by the Spanish-influenced mainstream. Thankfully, a vast corpus of native languages, customs, folk beliefs, music, and visual art remains influential in many Latin American countries, and in some cases are even thriving. But architecture was generally absent from the long list of indigenous influences that, to varying degrees, remain prevalent (knowingly or not) in Latin American culture.

Hence my surprise, and subsequent delight, at a recent article in Remezcla that explores a fascinating new architectural movement in Bolivia inspired by the indigenous Aymara (who make up the majority of the country’s population, yet have long been marginalized). Centered in the sprawling metropolis of El Alto, which is located over 13,000 feet above sea level, this Andean or “Neo-Andino” style is like nothing else I have ever seen, combining modernist geometric patterns with the ornate and colorful motifs of the Amarya.

The leader of this eclectic architectural revolution — the “Aymara version of Michelangelo”, as some publications have called him — is a mostly self-taught forty-one-year-old architect named Freddy Mamani, who was inspired to “inject some color” into El Alto’s drab cityscape. The popularity of his style, especially among the rising middle class, reflects a cultural renaissance among indigenous Bolivians, who until recently were largely marginalized both socially and politically despite their numbers.

Remezcla has an illuminating interview with Mamani, whose works have already been the subject of a book, song, and several news reports, and can be seen in other cities in Bolivia, as well as in Peru and Brazil. It is great to see something new emerge in a global architectural scene that has largely become monocultural, with cities across the globe adopting more or less similar Western modernist motifs. It is even more exciting to witness a resurgence in one of the world’s richest and hitherto repressed cultures. As more Latin Americans of indigenous descent finally get their due economic, social, and political opportunities, we can expect to see more of their long-neglected culture gain a platform.

One of the Deadliest Wars in History You Never Heard Of

One of history’s deadliest conflicts in proportional terms is the little known War of the Triple Alliance, also known as the Paraguayan War, fought from 1864 to 1870 between Paraguay and an alliance of Argentina, the Empire of Brazil, and Uruguay.

Resulting in over 400,000 deaths in total, it is Latin America’s deadliest war, though it caused the most suffering for Paraguay: in addition to losing a large chunk of its most resource-rich territory, the country may have lost 60 to 90 percent of its total population, including 70-90 percent of males. Continue reading

The Murder Capitals of the World

According to a report by the Mexican NGO Citizens’ Council for Public Security and Criminal Justice (CCSP-JP by its Spanish acronym), the majority of the world’s most murderous cities — 42 out of the top 50 — are found in Latin America. A chart by The Economist breaks down these grim results in stark visual terms.

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El Salvador’s capital, San Salvador, home to around 1.8 million people, has seen its murder rate double in just one year to 1,900; the small Central American country subsequently beats neighboring Honduras as the country with the world’s highest murder rate. Latin America’s largest country, Brazil, accounts for 21 of the world’s most homicide-plagues cities, up from 14 just five years ago, when the report first began.
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Brazil’s Difficult Gamble With the Amazon

With most of the world’s largest rainforest located within its borders, Brazil is center stage in global debates and efforts regarding environmental preservation. As an in-depth and visually stimulating NPR photo essay shows Continue reading

What Ails Puerto Rico

For better or worse, Puerto Rico rarely enters American public consciousness these days. But in recent weeks, the U.S. territory of around 3.5 million people has suddenly garnered considerable media attention from its massive fiscal and economic problems, namely in the form of $72 billion in debt — an unfathomable amount of money for any jurisdiction of its size to pay back.

While officials and analysts debate the island’s options, many are rightly looking at the structural and political problems — namely its status as a U.S. territory — as the underlying causes for this looming crisis (along with the local government’s corruption and mismanagement, to be sure). As a recent article from the New York Times observes. Continue reading

The Confederates of Brazil

Nostalgia for the “Old South” is alive and well not just in the southern United States but, in of all place, Brazil (and to a lesser degree other parts of Latin America). That is because thousands of Confederates opted to leave the country to continue keeping their culture and practices alive in places where slave-based agriculture persisted.

As an interesting piece at Vice reports, the legacy of these southern transplants persists to this day:

For miles around the graveyard, unfiltered sun beat down on sugarcane fields planted by the thousands of Confederates who had rejected Reconstruction and fled the United States in the wake of the Civil War—a voluntary exile that American history has more or less erased. Their scattered diaspora has gathered annually for the past 25 years. The party they throw, which receives funding from the local government, is the family reunion of the Confederados, one of the last remaining enclaves of the children of the unreconstructed South.

Almost everyone had come to the festa dressed as an American—in jeans and boots, Johnny Cash T-shirts and camouflage. Visitors haggled at a booth stocked with Southern paraphernalia: aprons, quilts, commemorative glasses, a used copy of The Autobiography of Malcolm X. An amplified voice called the crowds to pull their chairs up to the main stage—an enormous concrete slab with a flag painted across it and the words XXVI FESTA CONFEDERADA emblazoned at its top. The mayor of the nearby town Santa Bárbara d’Oeste surveyed his assembled constituents and welcomed the state representatives in attendance. “It’s the first time I have the honor being here as mayor,” he beamed, leaning over the microphone as descendants in homemade hoop skirts and sewn Confederate grays standing behind him hoisted flags up long, thin wooden poles. “But I’ve been here many times as a spectator, a fan.” The banners of São Paulo, Brazil, Texas, the United States, and the Confederacy flapped languidly in the breeze. “North American immigration has helped build our region, has helped build Santa Bárbara d’Oeste, has helped build the city of Americana,” he proclaimed. “That’s what we celebrate today.”

By and large, the thousands of Texans and Alabamans and Georgians who sailed to Cuba and Mexico and Brazil failed. They folded into cities and set up doomed plantations on rain-forest plots. But not the town of Americana. Led by an Alabaman colonel, its settlers introduced cotton and turned the town into an industrial textile powerhouse. For generations their children spoke English with a drawl. Today the city of 200,000 boasts Latin America’s largest cowboy-rodeo arena. The festa brings it great pride

It is a long and intriguing read, which also touches upon Brazil’s struggle to come to terms with its own history of slavery (which was outlawed only in 1888) and its continued fight against the practice of de facto slavery, which mostly involves the invisible migrant workers from neighboring Bolivia, Peru, and Paraguay (a familiar problem in America).

Sunrise at Bolivia’s Famous Salt Flats

The Salar de Uyuni of Bolivia is famous not only for being the world’s largest salt flat — at 10,582 square kilometers (4,086 sq mi) — but for the incredibly surreal landscape it offers, especially after it rains.

This is vividly seen in the photo “Salar De Uyuni Sunrise” by Hideki Mizuta, which was National Geographic‘s Photo of the Day for December 18th.

Salar De Uyuni Sunrise (Hideki Mizuta - National Geographic)

The photographer’s account to Nat Geo:

“No wind, no sound—it was a very calm morning,” writes Hideki Mizuta, a member of our Your Shot community who captured this image at Bolivia’s Salar de Uyuni. “I joined a sunrise tour at 2 a.m., first seeing a star-filled sky, and then early in the morning, around 5 a.m., this scene appeared through the window of the car. I ran out in a hurry. It was an amazing view that I couldn’t put into words. I thought, I want this scene all to myself, and walked away from people and took this photo in absolute silence.”

Here are some other captivating shots (courtesy of Wikipedia except when otherwise stated):

Salar de Uyuni (Night), Bolivia II

Salar de Uyuni (Night), Bolivia

This otherwise unknown salt flat tucked away in Bolivia’s southwest mountains is something from another world. See more unusual photos of it here, or do a quick Google search: unsurprisingly, a lot of enterprising photographers, travellers, and artists have taken advantage of this great opportunity for a memorable photograph.

Mexico’s Unknown African Heritage

The first known successful and self-governing black community in the Americas was the town of San Lorenzo de los Negros de Cerralvo, which was established in Mexico in the 17th century by Gaspar Yanga, a leader of a slave rebellion. A former member of the royal family of Gabon, he successfully led a band of revolting slaves near Veracruz around 1570, fleeing to the difficult terrain of the highlands, where they built a small colony. The community grew for more than 30 years as a haven for other fugitive slaves, surviving off the land and by raiding caravans.

In 1609, the Spanish colonial government tried to retake the territory, but despite its superior numbers and weapons, failed in the face of the maroons’ effective guerrilla tactics and superior knowledge of the area. After seven years of stalemate, the Spanish agreed to Yanga’s terms: the community would remain part of the empire but be subject to self-rule, just as any other municipality. An independent community of blacks — let alone one of former slaves — was virtually unheard of at the time. This unique town was fully established by 1630, and remains to this day under the name of its founder, Yanga.

This wouldn’t be the last time that blacks played a prominent role in Mexican history. Several of the country’s revolutionary leaders and founding fathers, such as José María Morelos, were of African (and for that matter indigenous) descent. One of them, Vicente Guerrero, would actually serve as one of Mexico’s earliest presidents, and one of the Western Hemisphere’s first black heads of state. Though his term was brief, he managed to rebuff Spain’s efforts to reconquer Mexico, and issued a proclamation abolishing slavery on September 16, 1829.

To learn more about Mexico’s unique black heritage (and for that matter Peru’s), check out the following excellent documentary series from PBS: