Cultural anthropologist Sarah Hill, associate professor at Western Michigan University, published an article in the Boston Review detailing the work of cultural anthropologist Sidney Mintz of the Johns Hopkins University. [See also: In memoriam, below]. Mintz is lauded as the founder of “food anthropology” with the publications of his landmark book in 1985, Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History. Hill writes: “…at the heart of Sweetness and Power lies an understanding of the history of capitalism in the Atlantic world that goes far to explain slavery’s enduring legacy.”
Can planet Earth be saved?
In an article in The Atlantic, several U.S. experts, including cultural anthropologist Elizabeth Moreno, assistant professor at Oregon State University, offer reasons for despair and hope about the future of our planet. Her reason for despair: “As an anthropologist working alongside indigenous communities in the United States, it’s hard not to see climate change as another wave of violence inherent in the colonial ideal. Colonized geographies like communities in Alaska, small nation states in the Pacific, and large nations in sub-Saharan Africa all share the heaviest burdens of a rapidly changing climate…These burdens are all part of climate injustice…I [also] despair because…climate change needs alternative cultural models for framing problems and non-Western solutions.” On the side of hope: “The rest of the world is talking back…. It’s going to be an interesting century.”
Cultural anthropologist Barbara Rose Johnston offers an inside view on Counter Punch of a commitment from the Government of Guatemala to make reparations related to the Chixoy dam.
She has worked long and hard to push for this:
“The Government of Guatemala has finalized a legally-binding commitment to repair the human rights damages associated with forced displacement, violence, and related abuses accompanying the construction and operation of the internationally-financed Chixoy Hydroelectric Dam. This historic action provides the legal means and financial commitment to launch the first-ever formal reparation mechanism that explicitly addresses the varied injuries and immense impoverishment resulting from internationally financed hydroelectric dam development.”
Johnston is an environmental anthropologist and Senior Fellow at the Center for Political Ecology, an independent environment, health and human rights research institute based in Santa Cruz, California.
Barbara Rose Johnston, Senior Research Fellow at the Center for Political Ecology, Santa Cruz, CA, will address hydrodevelopment and its connections to crimes against humanity with reference to Chixoy dam in Guatemala.
When: Wednesday, October 23, 2013, 5:00-6:30pm
Where: 1957 E Street NW, Lindner Family Commons, 6th Floor
George Washington University, Washington, DC
Mark Schuller, assistant professor of anthropology and NGO development leadership at Northern Illinois University, contributed an article in The Haitian Times in response to the question: What’s going on in Haiti? How is the progress, after three and a half years and billions of dollars?
After a recent trip there, he comments that it’s particularly difficult to respond: “…when you get off the plane, there are signs of progress. The airport has been renovated. The roads around Port-au-Prince are being repaired. For those in bright t-shirts on their way to the provinces, travel times have been considerably reduced. Stopping en route in a guarded, air conditioned restaurant or supermarket offers the appearance of relative affluence with customers stopping to inspect shelves full of packaged imported food. If one has the funds, a private vehicle and the inclination to go to a night club or restaurant in the affluent Pétion-ville, the trip home is safer…”
Schuller considers the president of Haiti, Michel Martelly, who as a popular musical performer was known as “Sweet Micky,” and says that “…as head of state, he is performing progress (as noted anthropologist and artist Gina Athena Ulysse puts it)”..and: “The performance appears to be working..” given positive reviews from development agencies, NGOS, foreign governments, and some members of Haiti’s poor majority who have gotten jobs.
The Ixil came under the spotlight after a Guatemalan court found former dictator Efrain Rios Montt guilty of genocide on May 10 for the scorched-earth policies used against them during his rule in the 1980s. The conviction was annulled 10 days later following a trial that did nothing to change their lives of the Ixil people.
Byron Garcia, a social anthropologist who has worked in the area for a decade and who now lives in the Guatemalan capital, said Ixil Maya live in the same poverty as always: “People have been relegated to less productive places, places where you can’t grow food, to the mountains made of stone…The young people who can, sow plots of land. And when they can’t, they migrate.”
And, further, he said that victims feel a need to tell their stories, to be heard, to be indemnified, to find the bodies of their loved ones and be able to bury them. [Blogger’s note: the Daily Mail article includes some amazing photographs]. Continue reading “Anthro in the news 7/8/13”→
Victoria Sanford, professor of cultural anthropology at the CUNY Graduate Center, published an op-ed in The New York Times arguing that it is too soon to declare victory in Guatemala given the evidence that the current president, the former military commander Otto Pérez Molina, may have been involved in the same mass killings for which General Ríos Montt has now been convicted.
Nonetheless, she states that the conviction of former Guatemalan dictator Efraín Ríos Montt on charges of genocide and crimes against humanity is of monumental significance:
“It was the first time in history that a former head of state was indicted by a national tribunal on charges of genocide. It offers hopes to those similarly seeking justice in El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua.”
• Culture and technology
CBS published a video interview with Intel’s cultural anthropologist, Genevieve Bell. Bell discusses the role of cultural anthropology in understanding people’s needs and preferences related to technology, people’s time patterns, social relationships, and more.
• Go directly to jail: Prison sentence for Guatemalan dictator
Many major news media covered the sentencing of former Guatemalan dictator Efrain Rios Montt to a landmark 80 years in prison for genocide and crime against humanity. ABC News quoted Victoria Sanford, a cultural anthropologist at Lehman College, City University of New York, who noted that genocidal massacres occurred before and after Rios Montt, “but the bulk of the killing took place under Rios Montt.”
Sanford has spent about 50 months in Guatemala and participated in excavations in at least eight massacre sites. Several of the articles quote Helen Mack, a noted human rights activist, and sister of Myrna Mack, who was murdered in Guatemala in 1990 for her work on behalf of indigenous human rights .
• What would Paul Farmer say?
Time magazine carried an interview with medical anthropologist, medical doctor, professor, and health activist Paul Farmer, prompted by his new book, To Repair the World, a collection of his speeches including some of his commencement speeches.
The lead question is: “Are you ever tempted to tell graduates, ‘I could have saved thousands of lives with the money you spent on your degree?'”
Paul Farmer responds: “I don’t think of it that way. I think, Here’s a chance to reach out to people who probably are unaware — as I was at their age — of their privilege and to engage them in the work.” He was also interviewed on the Diane Rehm show.
“As an anthropologist and president of the American Anthropological Association (AAA), I was especially gratified to hear President Barack Obama acknowledge the discipline of anthropology and support its scientific integrity. In a speech at the 150th anniversary of the National Academy of Sciences, President Obama said:
‘And it’s not just resources. I mean, one of the things that I’ve tried to do over these last four years and will continue to do over the next four years is to make sure that we are promoting the integrity of our scientific process; that not just in the physical and life sciences, but also in fields like psychology and anthropology and economics and political science — all of which are sciences because scholars develop and test hypotheses and subject them to peer review — but in all the sciences, we’ve got to make sure that we are supporting the idea that they’re not subject to politics, that they’re not skewed by an agenda, that, as I said before, we make sure that we go where the evidence leads us. And that’s why we’ve got to keep investing in these sciences.'”
“Violence in Africa begins with greed — the discovery and extraction of natural resources like oil diamonds and gas — and continues to be fed by struggles for control of energy, minerals, food and other commodities. The court needs the power to punish those who profit from those struggles. So do other judicial forums.
At a summit meeting here last week, leaders of the African Union proposed expanding the criminal jurisdiction of the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights to include corporate criminal liability for the illicit exploitation of natural resources, trafficking in hazardous wastes and other offenses.”
• Legal decision in Guatemala that genocide is genocide
According to an article in The New York Times, a Guatemalan judge ordered Efraín Rios Montt, the former dictator, and his intelligence chief to stand trial on charges of genocide and crimes against humanity in connection with the massacres of highland Maya villagers three decades ago.
President Otto Pérez Molina, a former general, says he does not believe that the killings during the war amounted to genocide. A UN truth commission determined that the military had carried out “acts of genocide,” including in the Maya-Ixil villages during the war, in which 200,000 people died. As a legislator until last January, Mr. Rios Montt was protected from prosecution. Prosecutors filed charges when his term expired, but his lawyers’ appeals delayed the case.
Scholars of Guatemala said that a number of factors combined to get the case to court, including the tenacity of the attorney general, Claudia Paz y Paz, and successful efforts to appoint more independent judges.
Victoria Sanford, an anthropology professor at the City University of New York who has written about Guatemala’s civil war, is quoted as saying: ”For Rios Montt to be tried breaks the wall of impunity … It says genocide is genocide and it is punishable by law.”
As context, the article points out: The National Football League brought in more than $9 billion in revenue in 2012, and tickets to its showcase event, this weekend’s Super Bowl, range from $850 to $1,250, and even more trough the online resale market. Meanwhile, corporations advertising on Sunday’s game paid a record $3.8 million (U.S.) for a 30-second slot. The NFL is the undisputed king of cash among North American pro sports.
But as the money piles up, so do lawsuits and workers compensation claims filed against the league and its teams by former players, who say they suffered irreversible brain injuries while playing in the NFL, and that the league and its teams never informed them about the lasting effects of football’s repeated head trauma.
Duke University cultural anthropology professor Orin Starn wonders if the legal action will lead to similar efforts to raise awareness among football players and fans: “Football is in the same situation; they’ve got a product that’s hazardous to your health,” says Starn, who specializes in the anthropology of sport. “It should come with a warning label stamped on the helmet. America is in massive denial about the blood cost of football.”
An article in the Economist (“A national shame,” August 27, 2009) points the finger of blame at the Guatemalan government for the current high rates of childhood malnutrition in Guatemala, especially among the indigenous Maya people (August 29, p. 33). With almost half of its children malnourished, Guatemala is the sixth worst-performing country in the world on this measure.
Guatemala is not the poorest country in Latin America by any means. Other low-income Latin American countries such as Bolivia have reduced child malnutrition. So, the article says, government failure is to blame. The government is to blame for Maya victimization during the decades-long civil war and, now, for failure to put in place a progressive tax structure that would help improve life for impoverished Maya by providing schools and health care. The many very rich people in Guatemala City don’t seem to be listening.
But shouldn’t the finger of blame also point northward to the United States? The genocide and sustained trauma suffered by the Maya during the civil war have to do with hemispheric imperialism as well as state government failure (for more detail, see Jennifer Schirmer’s profile of human rights violations during the country’s civil war, The Guatemalan Military Project). The United States owes a huge debt to the indigenous peoples who suffered so much and who continue to be economically insecure in their own homeland. What does the Obama administration have in mind for Guatemala?
The Economist article says that the high rate of child malnutrition in Guatemala is a matter of national shame. That’s only partly right. We in the United States should be hanging our heads in shame and thinking of how to make things better for the people that our imperialism harmed so deeply.