Rise and Repeal: The dawn of real reproductive rights reform in Ireland

On September 24th, despite bus strikes and heavy rain, an estimated 25,000 people gathered in Dublin for the ‘Rise and Repeal’ march, organised by the Abortion Rights Campaign. It was the biggest ever pro-choice march in Dublin and there were solidarity demonstrations in 25 cities around the world — from New York City to Kathmandu. Many are calling this unprecedented show of resistance a tipping point in the fight for reproductive rights in Ireland.

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Thousands march in Dublin. Photo from http://thejournal.ie, Source: Sam Boal.

The law in Ireland

On the streets and in the Dáil chamber (the lower house of the Irish parliament) people are calling for one thing: the repeal of the eighth amendment. But what is the eighth amendment and what does it mean for reproductive rights in Ireland? The Eighth Amendment to the Constitution (1983) is a constitutional ban on abortion which equates the foetus’ right to life to the mother’s right to life, criminalising abortion even in cases of rape, incest and fatal or severe foetal impairment. In 2013, after the preventable death of Savita Halappanavar, the Irish legislature was forced to modify its abortion laws. Following a miscarriage, Savita Halappanavar died of septicaemia in an Irish hospital because she was denied the abortion that would have saved her life. So, Irish lawmakers passed The Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act 2013 (PLDPA), which clarifies that abortion is illegal in every circumstance except one: a risk to the mother’s life, including through suicide. However, the fact that the PLDPA fails to explain what constitutes “risk to life”, and the fear of a possible 14-year prison sentence facing those who get an abortion and healthcare professionals who assist them, means that this modification to the law has barely changed the reality for those who are in need of an abortion in Ireland.

 

10 to 12 people travel every day, others can’t

A recent Amnesty International report stated that “the government has relied on the ‘safety valve’ of women travelling to England and other jurisdictions” for abortions. According to the UK Department of Health Statistics, between 10 and 12 people living in Ireland travelled to England or Wales for safe abortions every day. As shocking as it is, this is probably a drastic underestimate as many do not give their Irish address at the clinics, to preserve their anonymity, and many travel to Scotland and other countries for abortions. Overall, Amnesty International reports that “the Republic of Ireland forces around 4,000 women each year to travel abroad in order to obtain an abortion”.

The question was brought to the forefront of public debate this August when an Irish woman who was forced to travel to England to access a safe abortion decided to make a powerful political statement out of her personal ordeal. Together with a friend who accompanied her, she used the handle @TwoWomenTravel to live-tweet the journey, tagging the Irish Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Enda Kenny in each tweet. Though Kenny failed to respond, the #TwoWomenTravel story was not ignored. Their posts got up to 2.3k re-tweets, made headlines all around the world and public figures — including the Irish Health Minister, Simon Harris — joined the conversation.

In showing the grim reality of travelling for an abortion, #TwoWomenTravel made a huge dent in the ‘out of sight, out of mind’ mentality of the Irish lawmakers. But we must also remember those who are unable to travel. This unspoken policy of out-sourcing the ‘problem’ of abortion doesn’t only affect who have to travel, it also has devastating consequences for migrants, asylum-seekers and those living in poverty. Stranded in Ireland, many have to face the options of carrying an unviable or unwanted pregnancy to term or resorting to clandestine and often life-threatening measures.

 

An important year for abortion rights in Ireland

Despite the dire situation in Ireland, there is cause for optimism. With the amazing turnout for the Rise and Repeal march, the overwhelming response to the #TwoWomenTravel story and the outcry following the censoring of the ‘Repeal the 8th’ mural in Dublin, access to free, safe and legal abortion has been a topic of public conversation all year.

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The Repeal mural, by Irish artist Maser, was removed from the wall of the Project Arts Centre following a warning notice from Dublin City Council. Photo from her.ie

The most significant thing to happen for Irish abortion rights this year was the historic United Nations ruling in June. The UN Human Rights Committee ruled that Amanda Mellet’s human rights had been violated when, after receiving a diagnosis of fatal foetal abnormalities in 2011, she was forced to decide between carrying the pregnancy to term or travelling for an abortion. It was a groundbreaking move from the UN, but Prime Minister Kenny failed to give any meaningful response. He merely announced that he would move plans for a citizen’s assembly on abortion forward. However, the ruling did spark a real response in other members of the Irish parliament. Mick Wallace TD proposed a modest bill which moved to decriminalise abortion in cases of fatal foetal abnormalities. The constitutional ban on abortion prevented this proposal from becoming anything more than symbol of resistance, but that didn’t stop it from gaining some support in the Dáil, including an important revolt from three Independent government ministers. Following the vote, Ruth Coppinger TD moved a bill for a referendum on the repeal of the Eighth Amendment, which will be brought before parliament in October. It may seem like things are moving slowly — with the process of bill proposals, parliamentary debates and votes — but this latest proposal is really exciting and many commentators are predicting a referendum on the Eighth Amendment as early as 2017.

 

What’s next and what we can do

The idea of a referendum is so exciting because there is already a huge amount of support for abortion rights in Ireland. A recent Amnesty poll shows that 87% of people want access to abortion to be expanded and that almost 60% of people would vote to repeal of the Eighth Amendment. These figures are very encouraging but, as recent events in Poland have shown, to actually achieve the breakthrough which women in Ireland need, marches and demonstrations — no matter how amazing the turnout — may not be enough. A lot of pro-choice voices in Ireland have started to consider a women’s strike, after action in Poland led to a u-turn on a proposed near-total ban on abortion there. Strike or no strike, one thing is clear to pro-choice campaigners: we all need to do everything in our power to build the pressure on parliament and keep reproductive rights at the forefront of public debate.

So, here are a few links to things we can do:

  • Sign this petition from The Abortion Rights Campaign, which calls for the repeal of the Eighth Amendment
  • Follow the direct action feminist performance group Speaking of I.M.E.L.D.A on Facebook to keep up to date with their latest news and join them on their next action
  • Buy a REPEAL sweatshirt (when they’re back in stock…) and then wear it everywhere you go. They look great and all proceeds go the The Abortion Rights Campaign.
  • Follow Women on Web, read and share their news and testimonies, smash the taboo and keep informed on pro-choice movements around the world.

By Ellioté Long

The Cultured Activist: Malian music edition

In 2012, three groups of Islamist militia seized the northern two-thirds of Mali and imposed the most strict interpretation of Sharia Law and a destructively warped version of Islam. During the occupation, which lasted for over a year, the extremists waged war against the region’s moderate Islam and its rich cultural tradition. Mosques, mausoleums and other holy sites in the legendary city of Timbuktu were desecrated and brutal punishments were instated for ‘crimes’ such as adultery, drinking or smoking. In the context of this horror, a ban on music might seem insignificant. However, music is such a vital part of Malian society that the effects of a music ban were more profound there than they would be anywhere else in the world.

Mali’s centuries-old music history began with the griot tradition, which originated in the Malian Empire and continues today. Members of this class hold a revered hereditary role as musicians and storytellers in Mali and neighbouring countries. After independence from France in 1960, Mali has produced a rich bounty of genres and a stream of internationally-renowned artists, such as Ali Farka Touré and Amadou & Mariam. But everything changed in 2012, when many contemporary musicians had to go into exile.

Four years later, many of those artists who had been living and making music in exile, such as Fatoumata Diawara and Songhoy Blues, are returning to Mali. At the beginning of this year the Bamako acoustic festival took place in the capital for the first time since 2012, and we can only hope that other celebrations of Malian music, such as the famous Festival au Désert, will follow soon and bring joy and dancing back to Mali.

Essential listening/reading/viewing:

1. This 100-track playlist from NPR and Afropop is a great introduction to Malian music. Although it admits to “only scratching the surface” of Mali’s rich music culture, it’s a good place to start. This playlist will help you get your bearings both with the old classics and contemporary artists: listen to these songs and you’ll start to sound like you know what you’re talking about!

http://www.npr.org/2013/03/13/173843328/the-mix-the-mali-100-presented-by-afropop-worldwide

2. The feature-length documentary, Mali Blues (2016), is an exploration of the country’s evervibrant music culture in the wake of the fundamentalist occupation. Mali Blues focuses Fatoumata Diawara as she prepares for her first concert in her home country, which took place back in 2015. The film will have its North American premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival in September this year, so for now we just have to look forward to its arrival in the UK.

3. Timbuktu (2014) is a touching and troubling portrait of life under the Jihadist occupation in Mali. The film centres around one family, who live in the hills outside of the city, and vignettes of everyday life in the city are mingled in with the family’s story. The film’s many strands come together to show how completely the occupation altered every aspect of life in Northern Mali.

However, with children miming a football game, without a ball, and musicians clandestinely playing in the night, the film shows us the ways in which people brought joy into their lives, despite the occupation.

4. Get tickets to see Songhoy Blues (amongst others) at the 2016 Songlines Music Awards 2016 Winners’s Concert at the Barbican this October. Their album, Music In Exile, is excellent and everyone should go and buy it, but nothing compares to Songhoy Blue’s live performances. Their set at the Roundhouse in May — which closed the day-long festival, ’Music in Exile: a celebration of music from Mali and Beyond’ — was amazing. Their energetic and playful style just cannot becontained in a CD! http://www.barbican.org.uk/music/event-detail.asp?ID=19721

Part 3: Photo series, the Cruz family

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Martina (far left), is next to heavily pregnant Daisy, 15. Miriam Cruz , Alex’s wife stands with one of her two girls, while Zaida and Roberto Cruz (far right) have four children.
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Julio stands outside his office, wearing his Alpaca coat for the cold winter months in Potosi. He commissioned a local artisan to cover the front of the building with graffiti depicting miners drilling for silver and tin; working as a reminder of the conditions, and mode of labour, he wishes to alter through his foundation ‘A New Dawn for the Children’
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Martina and Miriam, her daughter-in-law, peel potatoes they harvested from their allotment in the campo on the outskirts of the Municipal of Potosi. Biweekly, the family stay in a small hut on their plot of land while tilling their produce. Martina turns the potatoes into Papa Rellenas, a traditional Bolivian street food which she sells to miners returning home from the mountain. Miner do not usually eat within the mountain, using juice and cocoa leaves to stave off hunger.
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Martina Cruz is the matriarch of 5 children and 10 grand-children. Unlike the rest of her family, whose clothing reflects the phasing out of traditional Bolivian dress in the urban centres of Bolivia, her traditional pollera, or pleated skirt shielded the children from the dry winds as they hid in the folds of its fabric.

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A stack of receipts of payments to the miners reflects the fruits of Julio’s activism for the miners. In 2011, Julio paid a lawyer to get a law reconstituted, obliging all tour companies in Potosi to give 15% of their ticket to the mining co-operative they visit-ed. Outside of this fee, the miners receive juice, cocoa leaves and dynamite from the tourists, purchased from the miner’s mar-ket. Julio has successfully requested for tour companies to be removed from Lonely Planet, or the ‘bible’ as he calls it, through their unethical treatment of the miners.
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Grover Isaac Frafan Ortega, 24 is the father of 4 children with Zaida, his wife.

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The bare terrace of the Cruz’s home is exposed to the dry winds of the altiplano, and the temperature falls a few degrees lower than within the sheltered streets of Potosi’s Historic center. The home, built by Guillermo Cruz, Martina’s husband who Julio mined with from the age of 18, no longer lives with the rest of the family. 13 family members inhabit the two room home, as well as a litter of puppies.

This article will be on www.florahastingsphotography.com permanently. You can also find a link to the foundation’s website there when it goes live.

Part 2: Meet the miners of Bolivia seeking an education for their children

Flora Hastings, a UCL student, first travelled to Potosi, Bolivia, in 2011. After meeting Julio Zambrana, and speaking to him about his activism for the miners and the conditions of Cerro Rico mountain, she wanted to find a way to promote the foundation he planned to set up. This would provide education for the children of miners. In 2015, Flora was given a UCL Travel Grant and spoke to Julio over the course of three days in Potosi. There are not many ex-miners within Potosi who have the funds or platform to found a foundation, and Nuevo Amanecer Para Los Niños (The Dawn for the Children) needs as much exposure as possible.

Julio Zambrana and the veins leading out of Cerro Rico

 

A cloaked Incan stands at the base of the carmine coloured mountain, talking to a hatted Spaniard. The Virgin Mary’s disembodied hands frame the conic mountain, her head floating before the summit. Gold streaks suggest the divine sanctioning of the Spanish’s colonisation of Potosi’s Cerro Rico in the 17th century, when the ‘Virgin Mountain’ was painted by an anonymous artist. The oil paint is cracked, it is four centuries old. The West’s intervention within Cerro Rico today is of a mixed variety, materialising in charities as well as in exploitative foreign mining corporations. Julio Zambrana wants to provide the children of miners the vocabulary to question and re-mould this intervention through promoting and facilitating their path to a higher education.

‘How do they know about us?’ he asks when explaining why he does not work for one of the European charities in Potosi. Julio began asking these questions at the age of 20. Now an activist for miner’s rights and running an ethical tour company, he saved his wages from mining and studied history and tourism. ‘I used to sleep 3 hours, wake up at 7 and go straight to university’. He has been a passionate advocate of education since, using himself as an example to other miners who struggle to leave the mountain.

For the Cruz family, the question of education is fraught. Like many parents within the mining quarter of Potosi, the Cruz’s desire for their children to complete their education comes from a knowledge of the growing fatalities of mining life. The mountain collapses, mining equipment for co-operatives remains antiquated, Morales does not heed the calls for a growth in public infrastructure in Potosi. Education can offer a permanent vein leading out of the mountain – Julio’s foundation will provide the dynamite.

The Cruz family’s struggle into education

From the concrete terrace of the family’s two-room home in Potosi’s mining quarter, the city center feels very far away. The Northern Bolivian Quechuan dialect overtakes Spanish at this altitude, representative of the miner’s contrasting reality to the Municipal’s streets busy with tourists thousands of meters below. The Old Town of Potosi’s center is not exposed to the dry winds blowing in from the Andes. Windburned marks on cheeks are signs of those living on the margins of Potosi’s social consciousness, 4,700 m above sea level.

 

Julio used to mine with Guillermo Cruz, Martina’s husband. Living within the city center, Julio has forged documents proving that Roberto Cruz, Guillermo’s son, works at his office, allowing three of his daughters to attend the prestigious Colegio Santa Rosa in the city center. Guillermo’s daughters are a rare exception. The print of a Bugs Bunny jumper is distorted, stretched over 15 year old Daisy’s heavily pregnant belly. She is the girlfriend of Chacho Cruz, Guillermo’s son.

Above the mines, there is no El Tio to guard over the women and girls that grow up in the the mining communities, often supporting their husbands through remaining at home. The drop out rate within primary and secondary education is the highest for girls; sexual abuse, teenage pregnancy and a lack of encouragement leave many woman dependent on their partners for a living. For miners of co-operatives with no state wage or pension, their early deaths through blood poisoning or fatalities leave their families stranded in the informal sector, often scraping a living through street vending.

 

‘Chacho is the youngest, 17 years old’, Julio exclaims before ascending the mountain to their home, ‘his brothers and father never wanted him to work in the mines’. He re-enacts the dialogue between Chacho and his father Guillermo, after Chacho’s then fifteen year old girlfriend, Daisy, became pregnant:

‘I am going to work!’

‘Where?’

‘With you, Papa how old were you when you married our mother’

‘Fuck you – I was 17 years old – it’s different! I am your father and I don’t want you to be a miner, you have to study’

His mother Martina switches from Quechuan to Spanish as she tells us that Chacho has decided to leave high school, marry Daisy and become a miner like his two older brothers.

Education: a weapon against the lack of systematic change in Potosi

Education provides an escape from the poor working conditions of the mines, current and future. Chacho’s life-span within the mountain is as perilous as the foundations of the mines themselves. Through the re-privatisation of Cerro Rico in 1985, transnational companies such as Coeur Mining Inc. have managed to retain their mining operations within the treacherous top levels of the mountain.

Julio is angry, his curses ricochet between Quechuan, Aymara, Spanish and English. His hands point in many directions when he speaks; at the invisible figures that run Potosi, the owners of refineries, the over-worked teachers, the government officials. He jolts from the seat of his dim office, body erect, finding it hard to sit down when talking about the lack of government intervention in Potosi.

He’s angry at the postcards he sells in Sucre to raise money for miners that do not cover the cost of his bus ticket and accommodation. The laws he paid to get reconstituted to prevent tourists from exploding dynamite in the mines in 2008 and tour companies being legally obliged to pledge 15% of their profits to the miners in 2011. That basic educational items demanded by the miners in 2014 have not been granted by Morales’ government. State funded schools in Potosi’s lowest income areas remain under staffed, under attended and under stocked. But Cerro Rico’s mouth will not close in the near future and signs of public infrastructure seem to remain within the torn protest posters of miners.

Julio’s foundation – providing choice over default

Julio’s new foundation, Nuevo Amanecer Para Los Niños, or ‘New Dawn for the Children’ wants to push through these unideal circumstances. Educating the children of miners could mean they work in the mountain not by default, but by choice.

Beginning with the 250 families of his co-operative, Julio wishes to expand the aid of his foundation to the children of the 22,000 workers on the mountain. His foundation will begin by supplying basic materials that state schools in the mining quarter often fall short of, and miner’s can not afford to purchase; text books, pens, pencils.

His foundation’s long term goal is to facilitate and support the career paths of young adults that have graduated or are enrolled within high school, such as their running a hostel set up by Julio and working in his cafe next to his office. The jobs Julio could offer would provide a bridge to the intercity economy of Potosi, or of  the changing landscape of Bolivia, and transform the stigma that sees higher education as a preserve of Potosi’s middle class.

A steel-grated window is swallowed into a dense cave. A glinting drill extends like a welded sword, the tearing sound of stone against metal is imagined. Gaunt cheeks hover above an advert selling beer made of Quinoa. The paint is not cracked. The muriel Julio commissioned a local artist to embellish the front of his office with works as the visual prologue to the conditions he wants to see changed. The image offers a more realistic portrait of Cerro Rico than ‘The Virgin Mountain’ – painted from the inside, like Nuevo Amanecer Para Los Niños.

To see photographs of the Cruz family click here

‘Nuevo Amanecer Para Los Niños’ has been legalised by the government, and should be ready to receive donations by the end of July, 2016. There is no website as of yet, but it will be searchable through the name of the foundation. Please visit and share to spread awareness of this worthy cause.

This article will be on www.florahastingsphotography.com permanently. You can also find a link to the foundation’s website there when it goes live.

Part 1: Meet the miners of Bolivia seeking an education for their children

Flora Hastings, a UCL student, first travelled to Potosi, Bolivia, in 2011. After meeting Julio Zambrana, and speaking to him about his activism for the miners and the conditions of Cerro Rico mountain, she wanted to find a way to promote the foundation he planned to set up. This would provide education for the children of miners. In 2015, Flora was given a UCL Travel Grant and spoke to Julio over the course of three days in Potosi. There are not many ex-miners within Potosi who have the funds or platform to found a foundation, and Nuevo Amanecer Para Los Niños (The Dawn for the Children) needs as much exposure as possible.

Open and Closed Dialogues – The Miners of Cerro Rico, Evo Morales and the Plurinational Voices of Bolivia

 

Clashing conceptions of progression within Bolivia

Papa Francisco sweats with altitude sickness. In the world’s highest city, thousands of Bolivians have waited 8 hours for his hallowed wave in the August of 2015. While the Pope stands on the steps of La Paz’s main Cathedral in the colonial-style architecture of Plaza Murillo, the clock on the adjacent Congress Building ticks backwards. Evo Morales’ support was perhaps with the ticking hand, whose anti-clockwise movement is meant to help the Bolivian people rediscover their sarawi, which means ‘way’ in Aymara. Morales remained within the Cathedral as the Pope stepped outside. His skepticism towards his country’s Catholicism, a religion for him representative of the colonial past, is known. However, the noise of his absence was drowned in the warring selfie-sticks of the crowd.

This visual cacophony of the country’s national identities reflect the past and present state of Bolivian politics, and Morales own compromised position as he attempts to retain amicable relations with the West and China, while appeasing the demands of many of Bolivia’s thirty-seven indigenous groups for a greener and more localised economy.

Three terms ago, Morales was elected as the first indigenous president of Bolivia. For many Bolivians, Morales election meant the escape from the Neoliberal policies of the 1980’s and 90s, and the return to a more self-governing economy that slowed down an infrastructural transformation of the countries’ rural areas. The character of his campaign running up to his 2006 election would have opposed the building motorways to attract a growth in foreign oil and gas companies, although this stance has been relaxed progressively within his 10 years as president.

Morales tenets were committed to the previously sublimated voices of the countries many indigenous groups, which in turn meant a shunting of foreign pressure to gear the economy to a model focused on transnational trading and a privatised market. Evocative of Bolivia’s 1952 socialist revolution, where three miners were incorporated into the cabinet as representative of the worker’s rights under a newly nationalised mining sector, Morales re-nationalised three of the countries biggest mines in his first term.

Yet the meaning of progression within Bolivia is fraught. If the clock hand is moving anti-clockwise, it is still tethered to a larger structure. Wealthier regions within Bolivia, such as Santa Cruz, may see progression as encouraging private companies to invest in and expand the vast mineral resources of the country, a movement supported by the IMF, while more populist support opts for a socialist model of nationalising Bolivia’s major sectors and restricting the amount of foreign investment. It is not clear-cut, and Morales has to juggle between these conflicted interests; new balls are added, some are dropped.

 

The cost of Bolivia’s conflicting interests on the Mines of Cerro Rico

 

The labourers in Cerro Rico mines, estimated at about 22 thousand, are either part of a co-operative, contracted by the state or by private transnational companies. This clash of employment systems speaks of Morales’ own difficulty in navigating between the invested interests in Bolivia. He kept the mountain privatised after it was deemed ‘not profitable’ enough to remain nationalised in the 1980’s, leaving the co-operatives to be exploited by the private interests of U.S. companies such as Coeur Mining Inc.

Co-operatives, with no fixed salary, poor working conditions and tunnelling into the most dangerous parts of the mines, barely have time to form unions and demand more rights. in 2011, Morales deemed the co-operatives ‘anti-national’ through signing contracts with Couer’s mining company, and yet the government is fiscally pressured into allowing these private companies to invest $240 million dollars into the mountain as part of their profits go to the state – mining is Bolivia’s second largest source of income.

The dust is thick in the mines, and vision is impeded. Transparency needs to be enhanced on all aspects of the mountain. The logistical chaos of the mines prevent the enhancement of job security and an open political dialogue about the working conditions for miners. As it stands, the main dialogue between Morales and the miners is through violent protesting.

The president has not heeded many of the 26 demands from the miners’ protest in 2014, which are mainly geared towards the growth in employment possibility through the investment in public infrastructure within the region. If Cerro Rico is not going to be re-nationalised, and the top levels of the mines are collapsing in after their 500 years of exploitation, than the miners’ plea for public infrastructure is a plea for a secure future.

 

The Conditions of Cerro Rico Mines – past and present

 

Inside Potosi’s Cerro Rico, the destructive quality of the misfire of communication between the miners and Morales is visceral. Cutting streams through the heavy dust, our head lamps trace the bumpy caverns of the mines. Poor ventilation fills your mouth with crystalline silica dust quicker than words can come out. Far away vibrations rise through my feet as we stand silently at the convergence of 6 veins, listening to the explosions of dynamite as the miners furrow deeper into the mountain. El Tio, or the demonic protectorate of the mines resides on a makeshift throne in a lower level of the mountain.

Catholicism does not pierce to the farthest enclaves of the mine. Inside Pachamama or ‘the mountain that eats men’ the miners sacrifice cocoa leaves and absinthe to the Lord of the underground, protecting them from Silicosis and the mountain’s collapse. The names that attempt to humanise the mountain speak of the desire to comprehend the death toll of its ancient precincts – since the 16th century, 8 million miners have died.

Silver, tin and mineral have been extracted from the five-thousand meter mountain since the 16th century, when Spanish colonialists shipped thousands of African slaves to mine along with Incas and other indigenous groups of Potosi’s region. Through the windows inlayed within the meter-thick stone walls of the National Mint of Bolivia, where silver was hammered into coins to be shipped back to Spain bearing the mark ‘P’, the mountain today is peppered with trucks and the shacks of miners that live near the entry holes of the mine’s veins.

 

The miners of Cerro Rico

 

Julio Zambrana worked in a co-operative mine at the age of eighteen, and now runs an ethical tour group, pledging 15% of each ticket to the miners he visits. He showed me the palms of his hands, still callous from when he forgot to wear gloves as he slid down a wench into the lower levels of the mines. ‘I was not spider man or Rambo, I was eighteen’, Julio laughs.

Julio worked in the same co-operative as Guillermo Cruz, which today is composed of roughly 250 workers. Unlike Julio, who managed to attend university, Guillermo remained in the mines. His children and grandsons have become miners as well. The family of thirteen live in a two-room shack in the miners’ region, so high up the mountain that the cold bites compared to the pinch within the centre of Potosi.

Climbing up through the miners’ Sunday market, selling second-hand toys from the U.S. and China, we ascend to their home. From the family’s concrete roof, you can see the bare Andes mountains whose altiplano wind leave windburn on the cheeks of Guillermo’s ten grand-children. Martina Alejo Cruz, the grand-mother, cries as she looks North across the mountains. The mountain steals years from her family – the average life expectancy of a miner is 40 years through the scourge of Silicosis.

 

Morales needs to heed the calls of the miners

 

When Morales was elected president in 2006, many of Bolivia’s miners envisaged close government relations, replicating the MNR’s triumph (Revolutionary Nationalist Movement) after the Revolution of 1952. Morales, however, is in conversation with more voices than in the 1950’s, as his presidency is unique for the extent of his adherence to the demands of Bolivia’s indigenous groups. Renamed the ‘Plurinational state of Bolivia’ in 2014, it is the pluralistic nature of Bolivia that prevents Morales from easily adopting one policy towards Cerro Rico, leading the miners to suffer.

If Morales heeds the calls of Potosi’s miners for a growth in public infrastructure, he may anger the environmental calls of the indigenous leaders and anger the private and foreign companies that have invested millions of dollars in the mines, but he will save thousands of lives. “I hate Evo Morales”, Julio declared. If Morales blames the co-operatives for their ‘anti-national’ deals with private companies, than the miners blame Morales for the working conditions and lack of employment options that force them to shake hands with the private companies that exploit them.

To read about Julio Zambrana and his plans for a new foundation click here

This article will be on www.florahastingsphotography.com permanently. You can also find a link to the foundation’s website there when it goes live.

 

#VivasNosQueremos and the start of something powerful

Mexico is one of the most violent places on earth to be a woman. Verbal and physical assaults in the street, violence at home, rape, murder and human trafficking, combine with appallingly low conviction rates and institutionalised victim-blaming to create an environment of normalised violence towards Mexico’s women and girls.

 63% of women over the age of fifteen have reported being assaulted in some way; out of 15,000 reported rapes every year, only one in 5 rapists are sentenced; every 24 hours in Mexico, 7 women are killed. These figures are shocking, but – as so often happens- Mexicans had become somewhat desensitised to the statistics and it took a string of individual stories to galvanise the national response that this growing crisis calls for. In one such case, Yakiri Rubio was abducted, beaten, cut and raped in 2013. She managed to grab one of the attacker’s knives and stab him before fleeing to find help at a nearby police station. She went there as a victim reporting a rape and two hours later she had been charged with capital murder. After 86 days in prison and a drawn-out legal process, Rubio was freed and the charges were dropped in May 2015. Cynthia Hijar, organiser of the #VivasNosQueremos [We want us alive] march, describes Rubio’s ordeal as a “watershed moment” which brought women from all over the country together to forge a network of new and existing activist groups.

 These new national campaigns, such as the ‘No Te Calles [Don’t Stay Silent] and Vivas Nos Queremos’ [We Want Us Alive] campaigns, have been incredibly effective. It is, of course, bittersweet in the extreme to celebrate the fact that hundreds of thousands of women got involved with a social media campaign which used the hashtag #miprimeracoso [My first harassment] to collect testimonies. However, the fact that so many women are cutting through the shame and victim-blaming to speak out about assault is something to celebrated. The idea for a national march was born from this atmosphere of increasing dialogue, awareness and outrage. So, in the first demo of its kind in Mexico, on the 24th April people in 27 cities took to the streets to protest gender-based violence in all its forms. The biggest gathering took place in Mexico City, where over 10,000 people marched, according to the organisers. From midday well into the evening, the crowds marched, danced and shouted, with chants such as “Desnudas o vestidas, respeta nuestra vida” [“naked or clothed, respect our lives” ] and “ni una más” [“not one more”].

 It’s clear that the 24A march broke the silence – both literally and metaphorically – but the question facing activists now is, can this turn into a movement that brings about real change? In a country where the police and ‘justice’ systems respond to survivors with shaming and recriminations, it is clear that this fight won’t be easy. This wave of action against gender-based violence started with hashtags and it’s always a fear that a social-media campaign will fail to grow into a fully-rounded movement. We can only hope that the Vivas Nos Queremos protests mark the transition, and that the primavera violeta [Purple spring] blossoms into a powerful and resilient movement.

 

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Image source: Antes de Eva

Further reading/ interesting links:

Yakiri Rubio article (Spanish) 

Women in Mexico stand up against sexual violence #NoTeCalles launch video (English subs) 

Luchadoras episode 20 de abril 2016- Movilización nacional #VivasNosQueremos #NoTeCalles (Spanish) 

Some great campaigns/ activist groups to follow, start with their Facebook pages (all in Spanish, but you can rely on the ‘trusty’ Facebook translate feature if you don’t speak Spanish!)

https://www.facebook.com/vivas24amx/

https://www.facebook.com/GrupoDeAccionDDHH/

This article was written by Ellioté Long

Catch Secret 7″ in Shoreditch, in aid of Amnesty

7 tracks. 7 great musicians. Pressed 100 times to create a 7-inch vinyl. Sonos Studios has invited creative artists around the world to design beautiful sleeves. Purchasers don’t find out who created the sleeve or why it accompanies that song until they’ve bought it.

Head down to Sonos Studio in Shoreditch to check out this amazing new exhibition. The best part? All proceeds from the records are donated to Amnesty International. 

Link here.

Wall and Peace

April 2002: the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) use military bulldozers to destroy civilian houses and carve new roadways through the refugee camp of Jenin and other areas under the Palestinian Authority, as part of the Operation Defensive Shield during the second Intifada. Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon announced his decision to implement the construction of a barrier running through the entire West Bank to separate Jewish settlements and Israeli cities from Palestinian towns and villages. The project was initially conceived as a ‘security area’, far from the fortified line, known as the Wall that we find today. The decision was approved by the government and in June of the same year, the Israeli Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-Elizer cut the ribbon on the first segment of the wall – a 4 km long and 100-metre wide structure made up of concrete slabs, barbed wire and electronic fences with radars and cameras. Ever since, the Wall has been referred to and represented by the Israeli state as a ‘security fence’, primary goal of which was to protect its citizens from terrorist attacks attributed to the Palestinian militant groups.

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A map of the Beit Surik area with the alternative walls drawn on it, used at the HCJ during the trial of the Wall. Illustration: Bimkom, 2004. (Source: The Least of All Possible Evils, Eyal Weizman)

The Wall provided Israeli citizens with a more peaceful existence: the number of Palestinian suicide bombings decreased from 40 in 2001 to 1 in 2007. The Israeli utopia was, at the beginning of the Wall’s construction, disrupted only by internal disagreements over the route of the Wall, based on a variety of factors ranging from the Zionists’ political ideologies to the concerns of real-estate investors. To accommodate these internal pressures, the planned route of the Wall was significantly radicalised under the Sharon government. As the plans currently stand, the barrier will be over 700 km long, almost five times the length of Berlin Wall and will enclose 9.4% of West Bank territory (including East Jerusalem and No-Man’s Land), with only 15% of the Barrier constructed on the 1949 Armistice Line (Green Line).

As the Wall grew, the devastating effects on Palestine became apparent. According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) report, by 2011 the Wall separated Palestinian rural communities from their land and water resources, isolated approximately 6500 Palestinians in the closed ‘Seam Zone’ with those aged 16 or above required to apply for ‘permanent resident’ permits from the Israeli authorities to be able to live in their own homes, and divided Palestinian neighbourhoods from each other and the urban center. By the end of the Wall’s construction, approximately 25 000 West Bank Palestinians will reside between the Barrier and the Green Line. The Israeli government established the security of its citizens at the expense of the Palestinians’ national security, treating the dramatically decreased level of Palestinian’s quality of life as a ‘lesser evil’. From this perspective, the project of the Wall is a physical, solid and material symbol of the essence of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, undermining future diplomatic negotiations and the potential of peace between the two sides.

‘Beyond our understanding’: Use of  barrier’s visual representations in the court room

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Military lawyers and the team of Adv. Muhammad Dahla setting up presentations in the High Court of Justice in Jerusalem, a few minutes before proceedings begin. Photo: Bimkom, 2004 (Source: Weizman)

 In 2004, Muhammad Dahla a Jerusalem-based Palestinian lawyer appealed against certain segments of the Wall’s route on behalf of the landowners from the Palestinian village of Beit Sourik, at the Israeli High Court of Justice (HCJ) in Jerusalem. The route of the Wall could leave the Palestinian landowners separated from approximately 300 acres of their seeking to beat the other’. Disagreements over the route of the Wall has produced a different form of Israeli-Palestinian warfare s the battlefield moved from ground into the court rooms. In this ‘war game’, both sides crucially used different visual representations of the Wall, its route, and the fields. Dahla described the trial as ‘a war game, with the two sides, playing on the same terrain, each land that it would affect from topographic maps, plans to aerial and satellite imagery, photographs and video documentation.

The images used by both sides constituted abstract depopulated landscape – ‘beyond our understanding’, they led to the judges’ frustration, who were unable to grasp all of the details of the case without physical small-scale models of the Wall.

The barrier’s ‘face’ in media and visual culture

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Simon Norfolk. Israel/Palestine 2005. The illegal settlements of Gilo, a suburb of Jerusalem. To deter snipers from the adjacent Palestinian village of Beit Jala (seen in the distance), a wall has been erected. To brighten the view on the Israeli side, it has been painted as it might be if there were no Palestinians and no Beit Jala. (Source: Simon Norfolk Portfolio ‘Toward a Military Sublime’)

These abstract images bear a striking resemblances to Simon Norfolk’s photography of the Wall. Norfolk, who gave up photojournalism for landscape photography, is known fr his representations of the physical imprints of war, from Iraq to Auschwitz. In particular, Norfolk fixates on the ‘scars of war’ by focusing on the physical sites and ruins that came to look the way they do as a result of a particular conflict. In 2005, Norfolk photographed the segment of the Wall separating the Jewish settlement of Gilo from the Palestinian village of Beit Jala. Through his photography, we learn the Israeli side has been painted ‘as it might be if there were no Palestinians nd no Beit Jala’. This inevitably makes us think of the words of Israeli historian and activist Gadi Algazi: the Wall could ‘promise middle-class Israelis the luxury and security of gated communities, with the local Palestinian inhabitants barricaded out of sight’.

Norfolk’s works are not a documentary. The context in which his works are displayed, in art galleries museums – including Tate modern – and photo-books, inevitably aestheticises his subjects, thus creating in his own words ‘polar opposites’ between the visual aesthetic qualities of the image and the horror of its literal meaning. This aestheticisation has been a constant trend since the Wall’s construction. At the 2004 annual convention of Israel’s Architects Association, a well-known Israeli architect Gideon Harlap expressed hi disappointment over the fact that ‘no architect [had] been employed on the project of the Wall’ which looked ‘clumsy and ugly’ as a consequence, although it could be visually pleasing structure ‘potentially as beautiful as the Great Wall of China’.

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Banksy. Graffiti on Israeli Separation Barrier. 2005

In 2005, Banksy made the headlines of international news by tagging the wall with his graffiti. .“How illegal is it to vandalise a wall”, Banksy asked his audience on his website dedicated to his work, “if the wall itself has been deemed unlawful by the International Court of Justice?”. The composition of the images that Banksy drew on the Wall visually subverted the nature of the wall itself as a concrete barrier, creating an open-air prison for its inhabitants. Other Banksy’s Wall pieces drew the attention to the comfort that was denied to the Palestinian communities through the opposition between the reality of a wired fence and an imaginary landscape with a sea. The location for Banksy’s visual expression became itself part of his message, rendering his works site-specific.

 In 2013, an 8-metre-high replica of the Wall was constructed in front of St. James Church in central London as part of “Bethlehem Unwrapped| festival. The replica purposefully blocked the view of the church’s façade to raise the public awareness of ‘what the people of Bethlehem are experiencing today’, according to the rector of the church.

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Pope Francis touches the wall that divides Israel from the West Bank, on his way to celebrate a mass in Manger Square. Photograph: AP (taken from the Guardian)

A photograph where Pope Francis bowed his head in prayer and pressed his palm against the Wall during his visit to Bethlehem in May 2014 has been described by the Guardian as ‘an image that will defie Pope Francis’ first official visit to the Holy Land’. Instead of undertaking the same journey as other popes have made through Tel Aviv and then through to the Israeli border into Palestine, Pope Francis arrived in a convoy of Jordanian military helicopters from Amman and thus bypassed all Israeli border points. Pope Francis’ gesture on the photograph is thus very political despite the Vatican’s attempts to insist that the visit was “purely religious”.

Since the beginning of its construction, the dispute over the fate of the Wall has been transformed into a global campaign, where the main form of weapon used by all sides became visual representations, ranging from installation views and photographs to site-specific graffiti and topographic maps, in their attempt to shape the barrier’s route, 61.8% of which is complete, a further 8.2% is under construction and 30% is planned but not yet constructed.

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The Wall recreated in front St. James church in London. 2013

Where is Edward Snowden now?

Edward Snowden, former CIA analyst, revealed the extent of mass surveillance programs collecting telephone metadata in June 2013. He caused a storm, and the questions of privacy and surveillance sparked widespread concern. Where should the line be drawn between national security and the right to privacy? How far should the government be allowed to collect information on our daily activities? Two years later, these questions seems to have slowly evaporated. Where is Edward Snowden now? Did his revelations change anything? And what does whistleblowing mean in terms of freedom of speech?

What’s the situation now?

Edward Snowden appears to have lost public interest. He is currently still in Russia – if he returns to the US, he faces persecution by the authorities. During the run-up to the US elections, the democratic candidates debated on whether Snowden should be considered as a hero or a traitor. Hillary Clinton stated: “He broke the laws of the United States. He could have been a whistlebower. He could have gotten all of the protections of being a whistleblower. He could have raised all the issues that he has raised.” Governor Malley echoed this, pointing out that “Whistleblowers do not run to Russia and try to get protection from Putin.” 

On Clinton’s opposing side was Bernie Sanders, who acknowledged the important role “in educating the American people to the degree to which [their] civil liberties and constitutional rights are being undermined.” And Dr Jill Stein even went as far as asserting Snowden should be welcomed as a hero. “While he broke a law, technically, he also served a much higher constitutional law which was being broken.”[1]

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Freedom of speech

Whistlebowing is protected under the Whistleblower Protection Act. The statute states:

A federal agency violates the Whistleblower Protection Act if it takes or fails to take (or threatens to take or fail to take) a personnel action with respect to any employee or applicant because of any disclosure of information by the employee or applicant that he or she reasonably believes evidences a violation of a law, rule or regulation; gross mismanagement; gross waste of funds; an abuse of authority; or a substantial and specific danger to public health or safety.[2]

In 2013, Michael Bochenek, Director of Law and Policy at Amnesty International said that: “No one should be charged under any law for disclosing information of human rights violations. Such disclosures are protected under the rights to information and freedom of expression.”[4] This would mean that Snowden’s actions were legally justified as what he disclosed amounted to a human right violation – the violation of our privacy.

 Snowden disclosed information that he considered to be a violation of civil liberties and an abuse of authority. He would therefore be entitled to legal protection under this Act. Freedom of speech is legally respected in regards to whistlebowing as people have the right to speak against their employers to report “a violation of a law, rule, or regulation” and other mishandlings. However, this does not mean that whistleblowers can speak freely expect nothing in retaliation. Snowden revealed very sensitive information that was of great public interest. Most American politicians still believe that he broke the law and needs to face persecution. They condemned him even without a trial, “labeling him both as guilty and a traitor”[3] – which makes it doutbful that he would have access to a fair trial if he returned to the US.

Snowden isn’t the only one

The Snowden case is still relevant today as it applies to our rights to express what we feel needs to be expressed for “the public good”. However, he is not the only whistleblower who demands our attention.

Another whistleblower who warned the public about human rights violations is Chelsea Manning. After leaking classified US government documents about the wars in Iran and Afghanistan to WikiLeaks, she was sentenced to 35 years in prison.[5] She also disclosed information that she felt was truly important for the public to know about, risking her own security. The documents included potential human rights violations performed by US troops abroad like the shooting of civilians from a US helicopter.[6]

Her reasons for speaking out:

“First, I would point out that life is precious. In Iraq in 2009-10, life felt very cheap. It became overwhelming to see the sheer number of people suffering and dying, and the learned indifference to it by everybody around me, including the Iraqis themselves. That really changed my perspective on my life, and made me realize that speaking out about injustices is worth the risk. Second, in your life, you are rarely given the chance to really make a difference. Every now and then you do come across a significant choice. Do you really want to find yourself asking whether you could have done more, 10-20 years later? These are the kinds of questions I didn’t want to haunt me.”[7]

Some concluding thoughts

A society that respects freedom of speech should strive to protect people who speak out against human rights abuses or violations of civil liberties. What we learned from Edward Snowden and Chelsea Manning changed our perception of the credibility of the US government and its agencies. In the Snowden case, it also challenged the legitimacy of the British intelligence and security organisation GCHQ (Government Communications Head Quarters) which was reportedly found to collect information from “every visible user on the internet” who used/visited search engines, social media, online radio, news and pornographic websites. The secret programme, called Karma Police,  also “stored metadata about people’s emails, texts and phone calls, revealing who they contacted but not what was said or written.”[8] This amounts to a violation of our privacy and our freedom to use the Internet/phones without having to fear that we are being monitored. Snowden and Manning revealed information that affects our lives, information that should not be hidden away from us. They should not be persecuted for providing the public with that information.

[1] http://www.democracynow.org/2015/10/14/is_snowden_a_hero_or_traitor

[2] https://www.sec.gov/eeoinfo/whistleblowers.htm

[3]https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2013/07/usa-must-not-persecute-whistleblower-edward-snowden/

[4] Ibid

[5] https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2015/08/chelsea-manning-why-speaking-out-worth-risk/

[6] https://www.amnesty.org/en/documents/amr51/044/2014/en/

[7] https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2015/08/chelsea-manning-why-speaking-out-worth-risk/

[8] http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/edward-snowden-gchq-collected-information-from-every-visible-user-on-the-internet-10517356.html

Featured image source: http://www.wired.com/2014/08/edward-snowden/

This article was written by Anna Vu