By Karsten Paerregaard*
A ceremony at Mount Huaytapallana during the Andean New Year. / Photo by Karsten Paerregaard.
Peru – one of the countries in the world most vulnerable to climate change – is experiencing a surge in religious ceremonies highlighting the plight of its rapidly shrinking glaciers, but the increased attention has downsides as well. Peru has 70 percent of the world’s tropical glaciers, which provide most of the country’s fresh water and have been integrally linked to the identity of the Andean people since the Incas. They are rapidly shrinking, however. Mount Huaytapallana, a 5,500-meter-high glacier about 300 kilometers east of Lima, has shrunk 50 percent over the past quarter century – with profound implications for life throughout much of Peru. Shamans in the region, whose ceremonies and offerings have long constituted a critical means of regulating the relationship between society and nature in the Andes, are reviving the practices to draw attention to this environmental crisis.
- Most participants in ceremonies on Mount Huaytapallana come from Huancayo and other nearby cities in the central highlands, hoping that Huaytapallana will listen to their prayers and bring them good fortune. The Andean New Year on June 24, one of the most spectacular events, attracts more than a thousand people. They offer food, drinks, candles, and cloths that are burned while the shamans say prayers to Huaytapallana in Quechua. The event reminds people of the suffering that global warming is causing to the mountain.
- In the southeastern highlands, Mount Ausungate attracts even bigger crowds. Around the feast of Corpus Christi each year thousands of pilgrims walk up to a sanctuary to pay tribute to an image called Señor de Qoyllur Rit’i (the Lord of the Snow Star), declared an Intangible Heritage Site by UNESCO in 2011. The image represents Christ, who according the local legend revealed himself at the sanctuary in the 18th century, but it is also a religious relic of a pre-Columbian tradition of worshipping Andean mountain deities. Dance groups from eight communities of pilgrims, known as naciones, play music and dance around the clock, and men dressed as bears climb the nearby glaciers of Ausungate to set up crosses and until recently set off fireworks. An estimated 50,000 visited the sanctuary last year.
The glaciers are symbols of both the country’s indigenous past and the damage that global climate change is inflicting. The growing participation in Andean ceremonies with religious overtones reflects the deepening concern for the profound social, economic, and spiritual implications of the environmental degradation. It is fueled by a search for alternative answers to problems that global climate change is causing in Peru and that the country’s governments so far have failed to provide. The surge in interest also, ironically, is cause for concern. According to the regional government of Junín, responsible for the protection of Huaytapallana’s environment, visitors leave more than four tons of trash on the mountain every year. The commercialization of the offering ceremonies makes it difficult to hold the shamans accountable for participants’ activities. At Qoyllur Rit’i, Peru’s Ministry of Culture is in charge of preserving the pilgrimage according to Andean traditions, enhancing people’s awareness of Ausungate’s cultural importance, but pilgrims’ presence on the glaciers remains an issue of continuous dispute. Shamans and environmentalists are a potentially powerful alliance, but even mitigating the environmental impact of activities by people concerned with climate change is not a simple matter.
February 6, 2017
* Karsten Paerregaard teaches in the School of Global Studies at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden. He has participated in a CLALS project, funded by the Henry Luce Foundation, on Religion and Climate Change in Cross-Regional Perspective.
Posted by clalsstaff on February 6, 2017
Efraín Ríos Montt testifying at his genocide trial | Photo by the Guatemalan government | public domain
The decision of Guatemala’s highest court to overturn the guilty verdict in the trial of former dictator Efraín Ríos Montt – found guilty of genocide and crimes against humanity – has raised serious questions about whether, as many had hoped, the country’s elites will ever allow justice, national reconciliation, and democracy to move forward. What was a clear victory for many in and outside of Guatemala has evolved into a massive setback, at least for now. For the victims and survivors of the atrocities, the trial was the first time that their tragic stories got an open and respectful hearing. For the noble prosecutors and judges who pursued the case despite personal risk and beat back repeated maneuvers by Ríos Montt’s defense team to derail proceedings, it was a solid validation of their commitment to build rule of law. For Guatemalan society, it meant unprecedented public discussion of the past – and the symbolism of the condemned dictator being taken away by bailiffs promoted closure. For the international community, it proved that persistence could help a country with chronically weak and politicized institutions become the first in the world to put a former head of state on trial for genocide. But now the outcome is cloudy.
From the beginning, the long-term impact of the trial would depend on the followup. Immediately after the verdict was issued, President Pérez Molina, a former military commander, set aside his vehement denials that genocide occurred and said he respected the court’s verdict. But he conditioned issuance of an official government apology, as ordered by the court, on the exhaustion of all defense appeals – which could take years – and was noncommittal in responding to the court’s call for more investigations of people involved in the atrocities. While he personally has immunity from prosecution, allegations of his own activities during the Ríos Montt period would obviously be problematic for him. The powerful business organization CACIF, long aligned with the military, rejected the verdict and began mobilizing resistance to further investigations. Even moderate politicians, such as former Vice President Eduardo Stein, criticized the genocide ruling and calls for more investigations, apparently fearing that more ethnic groups will stake claims. Like other dictators facing justice, Ríos Montt has already suffered a supposed health problem requiring that he be moved out of prison and into a military hospital – leaving observers wondering how much of his 80-year sentence he would serve.
The U.S. Government supported the trial process and proclaimed it a victory for Guatemalan judicial institutions. But it appeared cautious on next steps even before the upper court overturned the verdict (on which U.S. comment is lacking). Ambassador at Large for War Crimes Issues Stephen J. Rapp who visited Guatemala last month and gave the trial a push, and U.S. Ambassador to Guatemala, Arnold Chacon, attended some proceedings. The U.S. Embassy pledged its continued support to “credible, independent, transparent, and impartial judicial processes,” but its statement also suggested a lack of enthusiasm for more. “In these moments it is significant to remember that Guatemala, as a country, was not on trial, but rather two individuals, one of whom was absolved and the other convicted,” it said. It added that “now is the opportunity to advance to real reconciliation” – a prospect that appeared premature even before the upper court action. Neither the prosecution nor defense spoke much during the trial of Washington’s direct or indirect role in the 1980s violence – a situation that U.S. policymakers may prefer to continue. If so, it’s a far cry from the position taken by President Bill Clinton, who during a visit to Guatemala in 1999 apologized for American support for security forces that committed “violent and widespread repression.
Posted by clalsstaff on May 23, 2013
By Rob Albro
President Humala inaugurating electric power in the rural district of Moro – Ancash Photo credit: Presidencia Perú / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA
As a candidate in Peru’s 2006 presidential election, one-time military coup plotter and current president Ollanta Humala presented himself as an anti-business socialist and nationalist happy to be a member of the “family” of left-leaning Latin American governments led by Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez. In his second successful bid for office in 2011, Humala sharply changed direction and embraced a combination of pro-business and anti-poverty measures reminiscent of Brazil’s center-left Lula. Humala’s shifts are a sign of the times in the Andean region: a non-ideological search for how best to build democracies and grow national economies, while effectively redistributing wealth.
Driven by its mining sector and a commodity export boom, Peru’s economy has tripled in size over the past decade and is currently one of the best performing in the world. Foreign investment is flooding in, particularly to mining, hydrocarbons, and big infrastructure projects – and Humala is now considered an “investor darling.” While backing off electoral promises to nationalize water, electricity, mining and other sectors, Humala has created a new Ministry of Development and Social Inclusion and increased the budget for social redistribution and welfare measures to Peru’s poorest by 50 percent. So far Humala has channeled the budget surplus of Peru’s export boom, including successful negotiation of a $1.1 billion increase in mining royalties in 2011, toward reducing the nation’s poverty rate by 29 percent. And yet, at present there are more than 250 ongoing social conflicts in Peru, and Humala’s government has been accused of failures of “consultation,” often by grassroots and indigenous protestors opposed to Peru’s mining policies. In response Humala has reshuffled his cabinet multiple times. Skeptics suggest that his approval rating – currently 60% – will last only as long as the boom enables his top-down social spending.
Humala’s presidency suggests the limits of viewing current regional leaders through a comparative Chávez-or-Lula lens. Arguments over the best conditions for “foreign direct investment” in the region often miss the different conditions under which it occurs or purposes to which it might be put. Humala’s pragmatism demonstrates how distinct parts of government need not reflect a single unifying ideological or normative idée fixe. Liberal democratic institutions and market freedoms increasingly coexist alongside alternative policies of social redistribution as a part of democratic enfranchisement in the Andes. When conflict has broken out, however, Humala’s government has been willing to forego consultation with local communities to insure the economic resources it needs to continue its redistributive policies. The challenge for him to achieve the best balance between competing democratic priorities will continue. Humala’s government is an opportunity to explore new democratic institutions in Latin America, as with a recent CLALS research project on participatory democracy.
Posted by clalsstaff on April 19, 2013
American University professor Todd Eisenstadt has turned the conventional story about indigenous peoples in Mexico upside-down. In Politics, Identity and Mexico’s Indigenous Rights Movement,* Eisenstadt presents evidence that Mexico’s indigenous peoples are at present not best characterized exclusively by the pursuit of communitarian ethnic goals and the defense of their collective rights and autonomy. Rather, he shows that indigenous people are often preoccupied with their socio-economic conditions and struggles over land tenure and ownership, more than with ethnicity, and in ways largely comparable to non-indigenous Mexicans.
For at least a decade after the Zapatista revolt exploded onto the world stage in 1994, indigenous concerns and critiques of the state helped shape national Mexican politics and public debate. The 1996 San Andrés Accords underscored the Zapatistas’ analysis of the limits of liberal citizenship and of the negative consequences of neoliberal state policies. Now, in late 2012, indigenous political possibilities in Mexico appear very different. The government has still not ratified the Accords; Mexico’s center-left has failed to capture the presidency; and the neoliberal policies of the Calderón administration promise to continue with the PRI’s return to power. Indigenous social mobilization has been fragmented since the early 2000s. Localized conflicts have flared up over government efforts to privatize land for outside investment and development, but these have not led to larger-scale indigenous mobilization. The Zapatistas’ “Other Campaign” has had little impact, and they did not participate in the recent presidential elections. As regular teacher strikes and the attention generated by the spectacle of the “#YoSoy132” anti-electoral fraud student movement have made clear, the national center of gravity of social protest no longer turns on an indigenous axis.
Eisenstadt’s book sounds a skeptical note about the possibilities for ethnically-based indigenous mobilization in Mexico. His research underscores that Mexico’s development model does not adequately address the needs of ordinary Mexicans – including of indigenous peoples – at a moment when we should expect more of the same from the Peña Nieto (PRI) administration that takes office on 1 December. He documents the shift away from primordialist accounts of indigenous identity to friction over control of economic resources – a shift from ethnicity to class – that is seen in some other Latin American countries. While countries such as Bolivia have actively incorporated indigenous nationalisms into state policy and law, Mexico appears headed in the other direction. This divergence illustrates the elusiveness of the ongoing search for the best balance between collective and individual rights in Latin American countries with large indigenous populations.
* Politics, Identity, and Mexico’s Indigenous Rights Movement
by Todd A. Eisenstadt
Cambridge University Press
Posted by clalsstaff on October 25, 2012