Monthly Archives: February 2015

Community members affected by the Barro Blanco dam attending a meeting in May 2011. Photo: Richard Arghiris

A dialogue table to discuss the future of the controversial Barro Blanco commenced yesterday (February 20) in Tolé, Panama.

The meeting is being attended by High Level Government Commission, the UN, and representatives from the indigenous Ngäbe communities impacted by dam in the hope that an agreement over the future of project, which is already 90 percent complete, can be reached.

On February 9, the chancellor and vice-president of Panama, Isabel de Saint Malo, announced that the National Environmental Authority (ANAM) was suspending the construction of the 28 megawatt dam because it had violated the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA).
This followed plans announced by the affected communities that they would be blocking the Inter-American Highway during Carnival — the action was abandoned after the government’s announcement.

In a press release, the vice-president stated: “The government will guarantee the respect and rights of the communities as well as legal certainty.”

Absent from the dialogue table was GENISA, the Honduran-owned company responsible for the megaproject. In a press release, the company stated that it had not received an invitation from the government but would like to be part of the discussions.

In 2007, the Panamanian government granted GENISA a concession to construct the dam on the River Tabasará in western Panama. The project will  create a reservoir, inundating 258 hectares of land which will displace six households, a school, and farmland as well as destroying hectares of forest. The communities, who have been struggling to get the project cancelled for years, will also lose the use of the river for fishing.

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The glitz and pomp of Cancún’s corporate-sponsored Zona Hotelera — a resort development so bold and glassy it earned the grandiose nick-name of ‘The Glistening City’ — merely represents the shiny outer shell of a much grittier and less pretentious destination. Downtown Cancún (or Cancún Centro) is a sprawling and tireless urban powerhouse that began life in 1970 as a collection of humble workers’ shacks. Built as part of the so-called Cancún Master Development Plan, the city grew up in parallel to the raucous tourist zone of public imagination.

Today, the city of Cancún is a vast transport and residential hub complete with its own schools, hospitals, plazas, and municipal buildings. According to the 2010 census, it is home to 628,306 inhabitants — a figure that represents a near doubling of the population from a decade ago. Like any large and haphazard city, Cancún suffers the challenges of a straining infrastructure, poverty, and crime. But it also enjoys a sense of community and camaraderie that will be familiar to anyone who has spent time exploring Mexico. Few package tourists ever make it beyond the sterile cloisters of the Zona Hotelera and their impression of Cancún remains one of carefully engineered artifice. By way of contrast, I present this short video — a brief collection of impressions from the mundane and everyday places where Cancún’s inhabitants work and play.

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Located in Nicaragua’s most remote and disconnected province – the North Atlantic Autonomous Region – the diminutive settlement of Waspam is the centre of the Miskito universe. Perched on the edge of the mighty Rio Coco, the town receives itinerant traders and travellers from villages scattered up and down the river banks. This short video clip, featuring music from Miskito musician Li Lamni, was shot on take-off from Waspam.

Believed to have originated with the Nahua, Huastec, and Otomi peoples of central Mexico, the Danza de los Voladores is a very ancient ritual dating to the Pre-Classic era of Mesoamerican civilization; a formative phase of development commencing more than 4000 years ago.

It consists of one musician time-keeper and four dancers or ‘flyers’ who ascend a thirty metre pole, tie ropes around their waists, and then spiral back down to earth. In ancient times, participants wore elaborate feathered costumes to resemble eagles or other birds. One myth suggests the ritual originated during times of drought when five men sacrificed themselves to earn the favour of the gods of rain. The present-day version of the danza does not involve sacrifice, has been significantly simplified, and is maintained chiefly by the Totonacs of Veracruz.

Today, metal poles have replaced tree trunks, but the dance remains laden with symbols, including multi-coloured streamers representing rainbows and mirrored hats symbolizing the sun. The rotations of the flyers correspond to ancient calendars (13 rotations x 4 = 52, the number of years in a Mesoamerican century). The dance group featured in this video comes from the Totonac town of Papantla. They perform for tips every day on the plaza in Playa del Carmen.