Nicaragua: El Güegüense – An Indigenous Satire of Colonialism

Source:  TeleSUR
26 November 2015

el gueguense nicaragua“El Güegüense o el Macho Ratón” is one of the oldest of the handful of literary works from popular indigenous culture that have survived from Latin America’s European dominated colonial era. Essentially a piece of street theater conceived in the indigenous Nahualt language, it combines music, dance, dialogue and masquerade portraying the interaction of an indigenous merchant with a Spanish colonial official. Written in Spanish and Nahuatl, the work has been passed on for over three centuries. The music of the piece was finally recorded in the 1940s.

Two interpretations

The dialogue allows two alternative interpretations of the storyline. From the perspective of the Spanish colonizers, the indigenous merchant is a fraud and scoundrel seeking to advance his family’s interests by fooling the Spanish official into betrothing his daughter to the merchant’s son. From the point of view of the resisting indigenous people, far from being a treacherous fraud, the merchant in fact expresses the legitimate resistance of indigenous people to arbitrary taxation by the Spanish occupiers.

Just a few years ago UNESCO wrote on its Intangible Cultural Heritage web site that “Despite its popularity, El Güegüense is in danger of declining in popularity, and possibly disappearing, due to the country’s difficult economic situation, insufficient support for performers and a diminishing interest among young people.”

The current Sandinista government has reversed that state of affairs, deliberately prioritizing the work’s propagation as an important part of recovering Nicaragua’s national cultural identity and resisting the facile, superficial homogeneity relentlessly promoted by powerful North American and European corporate media.(Photo: President Daniel Ortega)

Nicaragua’s institute of culture

Luis Morales Alonso nicaragua.jpgLuis Morales Alonso, Co-Director of Nicaragua’s Institute of Culture, explains, “El Güegüense is an icon of our nationality. It’s an ancient work of theater, a comedic dance, that dates from the end of the 17th Century or the early 18th century. The original versions were composed in a mixture of Spanish and Nahuatl. It’s theme is the rebellious reaction of our indigenous people against the dominion of the Spanish invasion. For us it represents a point of reference for our people’s resistance to the different kinds of invasion, colonialism and subjugation that have been imposed on us.

Its various characters and performance have persisted over the centuries, most currently in the city of Diriamba during the January religious feasts dedicated to the martyrdom of San Sebastian. el gueguense nicaragua 4.jpgIt is performed in the streets as a comedy ballet accompanied by music that mixes European or Spanish instruments with indigenous instruments, for example, the native whistle and drum with the violin and Spanish guitar. It includes masquerade using wooden masks, some representing Spanish characters but danced by indigenous players and others representing the work mules.

The story

It’s the story of a merchant selling his silks and cloths, his covers and hats, his slippers and shoes, a thousand items sold in Nicaragua. And he finds himself in a town with a Spanish governor and sees that the governor has a beautiful daughter and so the Güegüense wants to marry one of his two sons to the governor’s daughter. And the sequel plays out via dialogue in which the Güegüense – which in our country means the huehue, the wise old man – starts to mock the Spanish official, pretending to be deaf, answering at cross purposes, answering with double meaning and all that is very funny for us. It is satire. But it has a deep content in political and social terms and for that reason it represents one of the bastions of our indigenous people’s struggle.”

el gueguense nicaragua 3.jpgAltogether, El Güegüense has 14 characters, El Güegüense himself and his two sons, the Spanish governor, his sheriff, a clerk and an assistant; the governor’s daughter and two chaperones and the four mules, called machos. As can be seen in photographs or videos of the play, the costumes are very striking, colorful and ornate. As spectacle, El Güegüense combines not just dance and music but also the ornate craft work of its masks that give the piece powerful and picturesque plastic folkloric effects.

UNESCO recognizes El Güegüense

But all that spectacle is reinforced by a very beguiling plot with great resonance in Latin America and the Caribbean. It was this unique combination of spectacle with social and political significance that lead UNESCO in 2005 to name El Güegüense as a work belonging to the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

Luis Morales notes, “We feel very proud that 10 years ago the UN declared this foundational work of Nicaraguan literature, the comedic ballet, El Güegüense part of Intangible Cultural Patrimony of Humanity. That in itself constitutes a launch pad so that people around the world can become familiar with this cultural expression of our people, which is so rich culturally, combining literature, dance, music, theater, the skilled plastic art of the craft work, all those beautiful masks, the costumes, the choreography.

Representing the struggles of the Latin American people

“So it really makes us proud that UNESCO has given Nicaragua’s El Güegüense the status of being part of Humanity’s Patrimony. And we know that his work of ours has a similar importance to other foundational cultural works of peoples across North, Central and South America who also represent the struggle of our populations, of our indigenous peoples who stood up to Spanish domination and European domination in the centuries prior to the 19th Century.

And even still in the 20th Century we confronted new forms of domination and colonization and this has to be recognized in all of Latin America because this represents Latin America. The joy, the vivacity, the heroism of our peoples is all there in El Güegüense and we think it really does represent the feeling of the peoples of Latin America and the Caribbean.”

A tradition of people’s street theatre

el gueguense nicaragua 2

That feeling itself is a fundamental impulse towards freedom and independence for which works like El Güegüense are absolutely indispensable reference points as part of the region’s cultural inheritance. Luis Morales Alonso points out that the characters of El Güegüense derive from “an ancient tradition of theater that commands our attention, a tradition of people’s street theater which can be found repeated among all the peoples of our America. We have incredible expressions of it in Bolivia, Peru, in Venezuela, Ecuador, Panama, in Guatemala, each one with their masks, their ornate craft works, the beautiful, colorful costumes, and all that typifies our peoples.”

Nicaragua’s cultural heritage under President Ortega

daniel ortega 6Under President Daniel Ortega, Nicaragua’s Sandinista government has made a priority of teaching Nicaragua’s cultural heritage. In Managua, in the former National Assembly, now the Palace of Culture, the Institute of Culture has a very attractive permanent exhibition dedicated to El Güegüense containing related works of art, in particular works by the distinguished Nicaraguan artist Carlos Montenegro. The Institute of Culture works very closely with the Ministry of Education and sees that work as essential to reinforce the role of El Güegüense as part of Nicaragua’s cultural identity.

“We have a great many activities with our schools and in this way, our new generations, our young people in their centers of study get to know this work, study it and perform it. Our government of national unity and reconciliation gives tremendous importance to this through the Institute of Culture and the Ministry of Education to promote familiarity and enjoyment of this dance comedy El Güegüense…

“Because it’s a work in which a local native makes fun of foreign authority, in this case the authority of Spain and through its theater manages to embody the aspirations of our peoples to a better life. That is seen in the theme of the marriage to the Governor’s daughter, but also in the mockery of the Governor himself. It is a very attractive work best expressed in the verses where El Güegüense utters satirical contradictions in his own burlesque way. That’s attractive to us because we Latin Americans are very joyful. Despite all the difficulties, for example the natural disasters we suffer as a result of not taking care of our Mother Earth, we face things with stoicism, with heroism, with joyfulness, with music and with dance.”

Source:  El Güegüense – An Indigenous Satire of Empire

Evo Morales at COP21: Capitalism is the Biggest Climate Threat

Source:  TeleSUR
30 November 2015

evo morales at cop21.jpgBolivian President Evo Morales advocates for system change in order to effectively address climate change at the Paris Cop21 climate summit. | Photo: ‏@jmkarg

The Bolivian president brought with him to the Paris climate talks a plan written by social movements to save “Mother Earth.”

Bolivian President Evo Morales once again blamed capitalism for environmental destruction, during his speech during the opening plenary of the COP 21 Climate Change Conference in Paris, France.

Morales called capitalism “the formula that has destroyed our species” and delivered a manifesto to save Mother Earth and life.

“On behalf of the social movements, I came here to raise the proposals agreed to at the last Climate Summit II held in Cochabamba, Bolivia, last October.”

He added that “today we have a unique and historic responsibility with Mother Earth. Let us express our concern for the dramatic effects of climate change that threaten Pachamama.”

Source:  Evo Morales at COP21: Capitalism is the Biggest Climate Threat

UN conference on climate change begins in France

France will chair and host the 21st Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP21/CMP11), from 30 November to 11 December 2015. The conference is crucial because the expected outcome is a new international agreement on climate change, applicable to all, to keep global warming below 2°C.

world leaders at cop21.jpg
French President Francois Hollande (centre) poses for a photo with fellow world leaders during the opening day of the World Climate Change Conference 2015 (COP21) at Le Bourget, near Paris, on Monday. | Photo: Reuters

Civil society, relegated largely to the sidelines, is stressing the urgency of reaching a meaningful, just, and binding deal. Several high-profile delegates began addressing the audience at the COP21 conference in the town of Le Bourget, about 65 miles north of Paris Monday morning. And in the meantime, amid intense security measures coming just two and half weeks after the deadly terror attacks in Paris that claimed the lives of 130 people, the 147 world leaders began addressing the plenary.

The opening follows huge marches around the world demanding that leaders take concrete steps to combat climate change. While 40,000 people will be in attendance with some 3,000 journalists, along with scientists and exhibitors.

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World Bank: Climate change could push 100 million into extreme poverty

Source:  Independent
November 9 2015

climate change 2.jpgClimate change could push more than 100 million people into extreme poverty by 2030 by disrupting agriculture and fueling the spread of malaria and other diseases, the World Bank has said in a report.

UN climate summit in Paris

Released just weeks ahead of a UN climate summit in Paris, the report highlighted how the impact of global warming is borne unevenly, with the world’s poor woefully unprepared to deal with climate shocks such as rising seas or severe droughts.

“They have fewer resources and receive less support from family, community, the financial system, and even social safety nets to prevent, cope and adapt,” the Washington-based World Bank said.

How to help poor countries — and poor communities within countries — deal with climate change is one of the crunch issues in talks on a global climate accord that’s supposed to be adopted next month in Paris.

The demand for climate finance to developing countries

Those who say that rich countries aren’t doing enough to help the poor said the report added emphasis to demands for billions of dollars in so-called climate finance to developing countries.

“The statistics in the World Bank report are suitably shocking and I hope they force world leaders to sit up and take notice,” said Mohamed Adow of Christian Aid.

“The Paris deal needs to support the poor and vulnerable communities to cope with unavoidable climate crises better, and to be more resilient to a changed climate.”

Emissions of global warming gases

Despite pledges to rein in emissions of carbon dioxide and other global warming gases, climate change isn’t likely to stop anytime soon.

Carbon emissions are expected to rise for many years as China, India and other developing countries expand the use of fossil fuels to power their economies.

But efforts to protect the poor, such as generally improving access to health care and social safety nets, and targeted measures to upgrade flood defences and deploy more heat-tolerant crops could prevent most of the negative consequences of climate change on poverty, the bank said.

With the absence of  such good developments, “climate change could result in an additional 100 million people living in extreme poverty by 2030,” the report said.

Stephane Hallegatte, one of the authors, told The Associated Press that one of the unique features of the report was that instead of analysing the macro-economic impact of climate change it was based in part on surveys of 1.4 million people in 92 countries.

Three major factors that push people into poverty

“When we ask people why they fall into poverty there are three major factors,” he said. “Agricultural shocks, including an increase in food prices; natural disasters such as floods, droughts, storms; and health issues, including malaria, diarrhoea.”

The report referred to studies showing climate change could result in global crop yield losses as large as five percent by 2030 and 30 percent by 2080. It also referenced studies showing warming temperatures could increase the number of people at risk for malaria by 150 million.

Mr Hallegatte said the “hotspots” for climate impacts on poor people were sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.

The US and other countries have collectively pledged to scale up climate financing to developed countries to $100 billion annually by 2020 to help them adapt to climate change and reduce their emissions.

Developing countries are calling for commitments beyond 2020 in the Paris agreement but rich nations are reluctant to make firm promises, in part due to budget uncertainties.

A recent report by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development estimated climate finance flows to developing countries reached $62 billion in 2014.

Source:  World Bank: Climate change could push 100 million into extreme poverty

Extreme Poverty Down to Just 4.9 Percent in Venezuela

Source:  TeleSUR
17 November 2015

Under the PSUV socialist party government, extreme poverty in Venezuela has been reduced from 21% in 1998 to the resent level of 4.9% .  In the region extreme poverty varies with a high of 53 percent.

maduro 700000th home.jpg
In April 2015, President Nicolas Maduro (2ndR) gave away the 700,000th home built by the Bolivarian Revolution. Now over 800,000 have been built. | Photo: AVN

In spite of Venezuela’s economic turbulence in 2015, the government has managed to reduce extreme poverty to 4.9 percent thanks to social investment and initiatives, the vice president for social development, Gladys Requena, announced Monday.

IN DEPTH: The Truth Behind Shortages in Venezuela

hugo chavez 30When former President Hugo Chavez was elected in 1998, 21 percent of Venezuelans lived in extreme poverty. Since then, under Chavez’s same PSUV socialist party government, a variety of government “missions,” or initiatives, have bolstered living conditions for millions.

IN DEPTH: Chavez’s Legacy

The housing mission, for example, between 2011 and 2015 has provided 800,000 low-income families with new homes, while it was reported that the 12-year-old health mission has completed over 700 million free appointments to date.

Social projects

The spending on social projects has continued in spite of international opponents to the wealth redistribution project of the PSUV’s “Bolivarian Revolution” waging an economic war on Venezuela, which has driven up inflation and smuggling.

venezuela extreme poverty vs inflation.jpgThe vice president of planning, Ricardo Menendez, highlights that the Bolivarian Revolution has achieved a reduction in extreme poverty (orange bars) in spite of the inflation (blue bars) caused by the economic war. | Photo: AVN

Poverty eradication 

Speaking at a Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) ministers meeting, Venezuela’s vice president, Jorge Arreaza, said that his government’s goal is to eradicate extreme poverty within the coming years.

The continuation of this trend under the PSUV will depend, in part, on Venezuelan parliamentary elections Dec. 6.

World Bank statistics from 2012 show that the regional average for those living under US$1.90 per day stood at 5.6 percent. However, individual country statistics varied greatly from over 53 percent in Haiti to almost 19 percent in Honduras to 0.3 percent in Uruguay. At that time the World Bank and the Venezuelan national statistics agency put Venezuelans living in extreme poverty at 9.2 percent.

Source:  Extreme Poverty Down to Just 4.9 Percent in Venezuela

Ecuador: Correa Calls for International Climate Justice Court

Source:  TeleSUR
27 November 2015

The Ecuadorean president said he would also stress the concept of “climate justice” at the upcoming COP21 climate summit.

rafael correa climate justice.jpgEcuadorean President Rafael during a speech at the University of Poitiers, France, Nov. 27. 2015. | Photo: Ecuadorean Presidency

Ecological debt

Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa called Friday for the creation of an international climate justice court where developing countries would be able to hold wealthy countries accountable for what Correa described as an “ecological debt.”

Correa said lower-income countries that are rich in biodiversity and forests, such as Ecuador, should receive compensation from polluting countries for mitigating the impact of climate change by preserving the environment.

RELATED: Ecuadoreans Tackle Effects of Climate Change

​“Generally, countries that pollute are the rich and strong countries,” said Correa during a speech at the University of Poitiers, in France. Before becoming president, Correa was a distinguished university professor.

This is not the first time Correa has championed the concept of an “ecological debt” from rich to poorer countries.

Shortly after first arriving to power, the government of President Rafael Correa asked the international community to contribute 50 percent of the value of a portion of the oil reserves in Ecuadorean Amazon, an estimated US$3.6 billion, to refrain from extracting the oil. Ultimately, though, just over US$100 million was pledged. Of that only US$13.3 million was actually donated, forcing the government to abandon its plan not to extract oil from the Amazon.

RELATED: Ecuadorean State Oil Company Wins Environmental Prize

Climate justice

Correa is in Paris ahead of the COP21 climate change summit, where, in addition to representing his country, he will also speak on behalf of the 33 countries of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States in his capacity as the president pro-tempore of the bloc known as CELAC.

“If we fail to achieve binding agreements, this could be the beginning of the burial of our civilization,” warned Correa.

The Ecuadorean president said that in addition to the creation of a new climate court, he will stress the concept of “climate justice.”

Historical injustices

Underpinning the idea of climate justice is that efforts to address climate change must take into consideration historical injustices.

Lower-income and developing countries find themselves in the difficult position of working to develop their economies while facing pressure to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Meanwhile, developed countries were able to freely contaminate the environment as they became industrialized economies.

In addition, the countries of the global South are seen as those more likely to be forced to confront the effects of climate change, such as rising sea levels and changing weather patterns.

ANALYSIS: COP21 – A Climate Summit Without Marches

Before departing for Paris, the Ecuadorean president said he was skeptical a deal could be brokered at COP21.

“We don’t have great expectations, because at the end of the day everything is a question of (who wields) power. The world is governed by power, not justice,” said Correa on Wednesday.

COP21 is set to begin on Nov. 29, one day earlier than previously scheduled. President Correa is scheduled to speak on Nov. 30.

Source:  Ecuador’s Correa Calls for International Climate Justice Court

Panama: First Indigenous Poetry Anthology, A Weapon of Struggle

Source: TeleSUR
16 November 2015

panama indigenous people.jpgIndigenous writers and poets hope the new anthology will prompt Panama’s Culture Ministry to allocate more funds to preserve indigenous heritage. | Photo: EFE

The new anthology contains ode to revolutions, ancestors and heroes, lands and struggles.

Using art as a way to reclaim their identity

The first anthology of indigenous poetry was launched in Panama on Sunday in what the authors say is using art as a way to reclaim their identity and redefine Panama.

In a country where well-over 90 percent of the indigenous population lives in conditions of poverty or extreme poverty, the “First Anthology of Indigenous Poetry” is seen as part of a larger struggle for dignity and cultural survival, according to the poets.

“For us it is very important to preserve culture, identity, the struggle for the land, territory, natural resources. All of this is very important to us. This is why we have to mention it in everything; be it in poetry, in oratory, drawings, paintings,” Mani Gueuigdinapi, the book’s editor told HispanTV.

Odes to revolutions, ancestors and heroes

As such, the anthology contains odes to revolutions, ancestors and heroes, land and struggles authored by 14 different poets from the Indigenous Guna and Ngäbe-Buglé communities.

ANALYSIS: Dignifying the Indigenous Figure through Performing Arts

“Never has there been a compilation of so many poets like this. It is important for the history of Panama, and it is important for Guna youth to see that they also have poets,” said writer and poet Aristides Turpana.

Indigenous heritage

Meanwhile, the indigenous writers and poets hope the book launch can turn into an opportunity to push Panama’s Culture Ministry to allocate more funds to preserve and diffuse its indigenous heritage.

Panama’s indigenous populations have historically been displaced from their lands and subjected to conditions of mass poverty as a result of systemic racism. In 2010, a U.N. report said that “the persistence of racial discrimination and its historical causes have led to the marginalization, poverty and vulnerability of Afro-Panamanians and Indigenous peoples,” adding that “there is no general provision prohibiting discrimination based on race or the criminalization of acts of racial discrimination.”

Source: Panama: First Indigenous Poetry Anthology, A Weapon of Struggle