Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Birding on the coast of Chiapas

We had a marvelous time at Lake Atitlan in Guatemala, then visited our friends in Huehuetenango before catching a ride to San Marcos near the coast, then on to Tapachula and west to Puerto Madero and Puerto Benito.  I enjoyed swimming in the Pacific (almost bath water temperature).  The local transport is 3-wheel motorcycle or bicycle with a seat in front.  Really cool, because you can see everything from your seat.

We took a very interesting motorized and pole-driven canoe ride from Puerto Benito up a shallow mangrove-lined canal and into a huge lake - there were lots of birds, some that came from Canada for the winter, including pelicans.  We were in a bio-reserve and part of the lake was blocked off from boaters.  On one side of the canal poor people live and the other side is the bio-reserve.  The canoe owners also have a cooperative for harvesting shrimp and crab.

I think these two are called Gabiotas.  He makes the red bag under this beak get really big.

We took another canoe ride in the evening because our guide told us there were crocodiles and turtles that you can only see at night.  I don't think he knew what he was talking about, but it was a moonless night and we trusted our lives to two strangers - alone in the dark on the big lake, with machetes - and an owner who was unhappy with us for our negotiating the price down to what we had paid earlier in the day.  The most remarkable part of the trip was the flying fish - several jumped right into the boat and one came within an inch of hitting me in the head!  More pictures of Puerto Madero and Benito...

The next day (December 23) we went to Puerto Arista and stayed at Jose's Camping Cabanas.  There are a few expensive tourist hotels in Puerto Arista, but Jose's wasn't quite as bad - still, it was more like U.S. prices, so we only stayed one night.  I got up at dawn and wandered around the huge yard taking pictures of birds. Later, we rented the canoe, and from the back yard explored the channel through the mangroves.  Gerry paddled while I took pictures of the birds.

This hawk has a bird in one talon. 
More pictures...

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas, Mexico

We're in the land of the Zapatistas - San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas, Mexico.  This is a beautiful, old colonial town that we visited in 2012-13 to attend 4 days of anti-systemic, anti-capitalist seminars.  
We have the privilege of doing so again for the Zapatista World Festival of Resistance, the ones we attend will be Fiesta of Rebellion and Anticapitalist Resistance in Oventic where we'll be studying Spanish from Nov 17 - 28 and the final ceremonies in San Cristobal.

More importantly, protesters in Mexico are calling for the resignation of President Pena Nieto over the police kidnapping and supposed drug cartel killing and burning of 43 students from a teachers college in the Mexican state of Guerrero in September.  Newspapers are filled with news of the protesters shutting down roads into the Acapulco airport (closing the airport) and other major highways, and setting government buildings on fire.  There are at least 16 police officers that have been injured.  Many of the protesters do not really believe that the students are dead, and all over town are posters of the men with the slogan, “Vivos se los llevaron, vivos los queremos", or “Alive they were taken, alive we want them”.  Jose Luis Abarca, mayor of the city of Iguala, and his wife Maria de los Angeles Pineda Villa were detained last week by Federal police. They are accused of ordering the September 26 attacks on the students.

More pictures

Monday, April 21, 2014

Abandoned Uranium Mine Cleanup Campaign Announced on Earth Day


Abandoned  Uranium Mining Clean Up Campaign
to be Announced on Earth Day

Former Presidential Candidate to Attend

Rapid City, SD --  Defenders of the Black Hills and Clean Up The Mines are hosting an Earth Day media event to announce a nationwide campaign for clean up of all abandoned uranium mines in the United States.

Dr. Jill Stein, who ran for president in the 2012 election as a Green Party candidate will participate in the launch event. Stein is an organizer with the Global Climate Convergence which also launches on Earth Day. The Convergence includes over 200 actions in over 50 cities and serves to unite struggles across issues to take action "to change course" given the accelerating climate crisis. Stein chose to attend the launch of Clean Up the Mines to bring attention to this unrecognized national disaster which threatens the health of millions of Americans.

More than 10,000 abandoned uranium mines (AUMs) are located throughout the U.S. primarily in the Western States, and more than 10 million people live within a 50 mile radius of an abandoned uranium mine.

“These hazardous abandoned uranium mines poison the air, land and water.  The health effects are tremendous,” said Charmaine White Face, a volunteer with Clean Up The Mines and Coordinator of Defenders of the Black Hills.  “Currently no laws require clean up of these dangerous abandoned Uranium mines.  We are letting Congress know:  It is time to clean up the mines!”  Ms. White Face concluded.

South Dakota has at least 272 abandoned, open-pit Uranium mines: 169 AUMs in the Southwestern Black Hills near Edgemont,  and 103 AUMS in the Northwest corner near Buffalo. The Northern Great Plains Region of Montana, Wyoming, North and South Dakota contains more than 2,000 plus AUMs.

WHAT:  Earth Day media event to announce a national campaign for clean up of all abandoned Uranium mines in the United States.

WHEN:  10:00 AM (Mountain Time),  Tuesday,  April 22, 2014

WHERE:  Cheyenne River Bridge on SD Highway 40, located 15 miles Southeast of Hermosa, SD.

WHO:  Defenders of the Black Hills, Popular Resistance, Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, and Veterans for Peace.  Oglala Sioux and other Tribal officials are also invited to the Event as the Cheyenne River contamination impacts Red Shirt Village which is on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.

VISUALS:  Colorful banners and signs saying, “Warning, Radioactive River” will be placed near the Cheyenne River Bridge to address the radioactive contamination of the Cheyenne River caused by AUMs.

Clean Up The Mines ( is a campaign to pass legislation through Congress to ensure clean up of hazardous abandoned uranium and other radioactive materials mines throughout the United States.

Defenders of the Black Hills ( is a group of volunteers without racial or tribal boundaries whose mission is to preserve, protect, and restore the environment in the Area of the 1851 and 1868 Treaties made between the United States and the Great Sioux Nation.


Note to Editors:  Clean Up The Mines Representatives will be available for interviews.  High resolution photos and b-roll will be available.

Clean Up the Mines                                                           

Monday, March 24, 2014

Maritsa Centeno, Yakisa Sur Indigenous Community in Matagalpa

Maritsa Centeno
Maritsa is from the Yakisa Sur community of Matagalpa.  Her son, 2 years old, wasn’t feeling well, so he and his father stayed home.
We must recognize the other (Pacific side) indigenous of Nicaragua.  History:  RAAN/RAAS were not colonized by the Spanish, but rather by the British.  This permitted the indigenous to not lose their languages because the Brits didn’t make them abandon their language, culture, or religion.  The rest of Nicaragua at the time of independence of Central America, established Spanish as the language and forbid our religious ceremonies.  The Catholic church persecuted women who performed our traditional ceremonies.  State policies and laws were passed to deprive the indigenous of their lands.  The government said after independence that 50% of indigenous land must be administered by the government because they needed to rent the land to investors and use the money to educate the indigenous.   But one year later, the government declared that the outsiders could buy the land.  That’s why many indigenous today don’t have land, especially in Matagalpa. 
Our great-grandfathers lived well before colonizers came – we became Mestizos – they don’t have to recognize us as original owners of the land.
After 1970, all of the original people of the Pacific, Central and Northern zones have re-organized themselves in the original way.  They all now have Councils of Elders and mayors who carry a baton, chiefs, and judges.  The government recognized those officials and structure, but they don’t recognize their right to the land.  The government is maintaining strict control over those indigenous structures.  They financially support candidates who support the government.  This prevents local leadership from carrying out actions in favor of the indigenous.
As proof, for example, there was a bill proposed for indigenous rights in the North, Central, and South parts of Nicaragua but those bills never become law.
In May 2010 Nicaragua approved the UN Covenant on Indigenous Peoples, but did it strictly for image – not for carrying it out.
In Matagalpa, the indigenous have the largest section of land, it’s in the humid area – there are big land owners there who are important I the government. 
Susan – my husband owns for “use and enjoyment” a title, and pays rent to the indigenous community.  Maritsa said that the bigger “owners” pay their taxes to the central government who don’t recognize our ownership – the big “owners” support the government and pay taxes.
There are some cooperatives and some state-owned farms as well.  Some are also from way back like Matagalpa Coffee Company, and there are some German, Italian, and Swiss owners.
They took half of our land and gave it to big land owners whose descendents still own the land.  Most of the farm workers are indigenous.  They gat about 80Cd per day, or about $3.
Some big farmers rent land to iindigenous farmers, who pay back 2100 weights of corn, (2000 lb) which is 1/5 of their crop, and 500 weights of beans.  This is a terrible exploitation of indigenous on their own land.
I’ve been filing claims at the local level against this exploitation and they say I’m a right-winger.  It makes my claims for rights very difficult because the close the doors on me.  I have training in standard international human rights and rights of indigenous at Leon at the National Autonomous University.  I have been working for ten years in the North, Central, and South zones on indigenous rights.  I studied the problems of these regions, and they are systematic. I also studied other areas.  For example, in Salinas, southwest of Lake Nicaragua, in the Department of Rivas, people are buying beach areas.  In Salinas del Aguadapa, the head of the indigenous group sole some of their land without permission of the Council of Elders.  When the Council of Elders went to the authorities, they got no response from the judicial system – the government supports the investors over the indigenous.
In the center of Motene, in the Urvite Las Pilas community, a man appeared with a land title from a woman who had never been there – it was for 1600 Mz along the lake.  The local authorities honored it.  This is for a tourism project.  We learned that behind him was a high ranking army officer.  We weren’t able to prove our accusation in court in Rivas, but the indigenous are appealing to the court in Grenada – they don’t want to let this person grab their land. 
In Rivas Nawas where the indigenous live, there are 3 – 5 more indigenous communities.  In Matagalpa, the indigenous people live in Sam Ramon, San Dioncia, and three other towns.  All of the people in San Ramon and San Dionicia are entirely on indigenous land.  In Leon, just the Suptiaba people have their own territory – they administer a small piece of land, but it is their original territory.
Our Matagalpa language died in 1994.  Last year the government was going to try to recover our language, but it did not come forward.
In the 1870s people used slave indigenous labor to build cathedrals and other structures.  In 1881, the indigenous of Matagalpa rose up because they were forced to build cathedrals and a telegraph line – the government reacted with massacre and held the city at siege.  They killed 5 – 8,000 Matagalpa people.
In the war against William Walker, in San Jacinto, the indigenous fought with bows and arrows, but  were not recognized for their role until two years ago – they had been put in a common grave. 
One success – inMoninpo in Masaya, in the district of Orchega, Indians had lost their land, and just had their houses – but they just got back their cemetery. 
In Jinotega, they have fought for twenty years regarding the property that was lost to the Lake Apanas dam.  They have a virgin that has her land.
Since 2007, the Matagalpa have been trying to recover our spiritual heritage – I am the coordinator for that in all of these areas.  There are two ceremonial circles in Matabalpa and one in Jinoteca.  We are working to re-establish in a more formal manner.
Last Friday, our community was visited by a United Nations representative of Nicaragua denouncing the abuse of women in agriculture in our community.
Charley talked about the Abenaki 30 year legal battle with the state of Vermont.  We have 68 acres set aside for us in trust but not in our name.  We’re trying to reclaim our heritage and culture, and looking for a ceremonial place to start ceremonies again.  We have the same history of racism as indigenous everywhere.
Question – can you file claims under laws 92 and 445?  No, those are only on the Caribbean side.  Charley – the UN specifies rights and the Interamerican court may be able to help.  Maritsa – that takes a lot of money and lawyers.  Jinoteca has started this process but it is not going very far.  Charley – this is for our children.  Maritsa – I was at first fearful to revive the spiritual customs but since 2012 we have renewed interest.  Charley - This is a correct path – who knows where it will take you.  Susan – In El Chile in Matagalps are women who tried to get weaving skills passed on, but they now weave on looms and can sell their cloth.  Maritsa – Samoza forbade cotton, weaving, fermented corn for our ceremonies, and celebration of the Goddess of corn – because the state wanted a monopoly on alcohol and the tax money.  Carlos – are they making it now?  Maritsa – very little.
Organization of women in the department of Masaya is Comisaria de la Mujer.

La Mariposa Spanish School, Eco-Hotel and Research Center

We took a tour of the Spanish School and went to the top of the hill where there is space for groups do to research.  If you walk, it is 40 minutes from the school to the research center.  At the research center, we saw a building made from rice husks / straw bales stuffed into chicken wire, then cement on the outside and inside.  During excavation for the building, they found clay pots and have built spaces inside to hold them.  The tables are made from a fallen tree.  Noel from Masaya helped with this design.

You can easily see the Masaya volcano from here.  The sulfur fumes limit the kinds of plants that grow around here.  Near the volcano live 500 people, 200 of them children – the air is so bad they really shouldn’t be living there.  There are volcanic rocks everywhere here.  There are five craters of the Masaya volcano.  The sulfur in the air is so strong that it dissolves metal including galvanized roofs, and locks (which may last only 3 or 4 months).  This eruption began in the 1700s and it’s still emitting lots of smoke – it’s in the rain water, so you can’t drink it.  It doesn’t often blow over to the research center.

The research center’s bamboo dorms hold up to 24 people.  The teachers have separate quarters.  There’s no internet, and the lights and shower are solar.  There are tanks above the showers.
They catch rainwater which goes into a big concrete box.  The outhouse holes are very deep – 20 meters – they don’t have an odor.

80% of the veggies and some of the fruit that is consumed at Mariposa is grown on-site.
Back down at the school, we see horses.  Most are rescued, but a few were born here including one baby who is only 2 months old and still nursing.  Guests ride the horses once per week.