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Americas

Drought-stricken California is taking unprecedented measures to address its water challenges. In April, the governor issued the first mandatory statewide water use restrictions in California history, after snowpack in the Sierra Nevada Mountains—which provide 60 percent of the state’s water—fell to the lowest levels ever recorded. San Diego County is building the largest seawater desalination plant in the Western hemisphere, while Orange County plans to turn more wastewater into drinking water. The solutions are significant because the drought has been exceptionally severe. It currently affects over 99 percent of the state and approximately 37 million people. In 2014, the state agriculture industry lost roughly $2.2 billion to drought, and some California communities even ran out of water. One solution California may consider is whether more efficient, user-friendly water markets would help water users adapt more quickly to drought conditions, and better cope with long-term water scarcity stemming from climate change and increased water demand. California has active water markets, but buying and selling water (and water rights) there is not as simple as in Australia, where it is said to be “almost as easy to sell water from your water bank account as it is to transfer money from a normal bank account.” The Australian model could be useful for California because Australia recently emerged from a decade-long drought, during which it pioneered water policies that attracted interest from water-scarce countries around the world. Why is water trading easier in Australia? One reason is that Australia’s water rights system has been made relatively simple and predictable. It is designed so that rights holders can generally expect to receive a certain percentage of their water every year, based on the type of water right they hold. This makes water rights’ value easier to determine; the water rights transfer process is also less onerous.

In this post I contest traditional liberal conceptions of citizenship rooted in the nation-state and consider the role played by memory in the ways in which Santiago de Chile’s disenfranchised produce contentious politics. I suggest that, by referring to the past in their meetings and conversations, local neighbourhood organisations in Santiago de Chile’s poor settlements (poblaciones) assert a particular, anti-hegemonic interpretation of history. Through stories, historical anecdotes, and different types of memorials, poor residents produce a neighbourhood identity, giving rise to innovative forms of community membership. Referring to the influence of the past in contentious politics in the favelas, James Holston has also proposed novel approaches that allow a rescaling of citizenship. In his book Insurgent Citizenship, Holston (2008) argues that history lurks below the surface of our porous present, sometimes leading to the eruption of movements that question historically entrenched regimes of urban citizenship. However, Holston does not explain precisely how this determining relationship between history and contentious mobilisation occurs. My ethnographic research in Santiago’s poblaciones explores this issue directly, examining the role of memory in the production and re-production of an identity of struggle.

In 2009, after a long and contentious process of national dialogue that led to the approval of a new Constitution, the Republic of Bolivia officially changed its name to Plurinational State of Bolivia. Over the last decade, the idea of plurinationalism has influenced public debates across the Andean region. In 2008, the Ecuadorian president Rafael Correa defined plurinationalism as the coexistence of several different nationalities within a larger state where different peoples, cultures and worldviews exist and are recognized. Yet, Bolivia was the first country to go all the way, not only including this idea in the Constitution (as Ecuador did) but actually changing its official name. This is not just a formality. The new Bolivia is engaging in a process of in-depth institutional reforms, challenging mainstream narratives and political structures and reinventing a model of the state and creating notions of citizenship better suited to highly diverse ethnic and cultural landscapes. In Latin America, the effort to challenge assimilationist and universalist models of citizenship (both republican and corporatist) took shape during the 1990s, when multicultural politics emerged and culture and identity became legitimate political claims. However, multiculturalism was not an easy partner for the neoliberal consensus, and claims for collective (rather than individual) rights and for territorial autonomy raise what Deborah Yashar (1999) calls a “postliberal challenge”. While concepts such as multiculturalism and pluricultural citizenship were a key part of the neoliberal agenda, it was with the Leftist turn in the following decade that the more radical idea of a plurinational state took shape. In Bolivia, the election of Evo Morales as President in 2005 and the rise of the Movement Towards Socialism (MAS) gave political meaning to plurinationalism as an alternative model of state and citizenship, which was meant to overcome the neoliberal multicultural framework for diversity management.

The mass media forms a key channel through which instances of human rights violations are made public. However, the media can only publish a small proportion of stories, as media practitioners are required to sift through wider information, deciding what to cover. A media ethnography conducted in Mexico in 2006, before and after the presidential elections, can illuminate what journalists are trying to do in their human rights coverage and how their outlooks and contexts condition the incidents that are covered. Parts of the Mexican media played a significant role in the country’s democratic transition since the 1976 Tlateloco Massacre, resulting in a general shift among journalists away from a cozy and financially lucrative relationship with the government. This led to the growth of new ‘market-oriented’, as opposed to ‘state-oriented’, newspapers. Both usually have a human rights beat investigating citizens’ complaints about infractions committed by state institutions. This often involves collaboration with the independent human rights commissions established in the 1990s. Within this context, this case of Mexico suggests the mixture of outlooks and contexts affecting processes of extracting human rights news from wider information can be put into four categories: newsworthiness, journalistic aims, economic aims and political aims. A human rights story is more likely to be published by a newspaper the more it corresponds to these criteria. The first factor, newsworthiness of a story, appears to be tricky to define; many of the editors interviewed claim it was a ‘sentiment’ that was ‘uncertain’, ‘improvised’ or ‘arbitrary’. Still, their explanations suggest some common criteria for newsworthiness. Firstly, published stories generally concerned incidents where human rights were transgressed rather than respected. One editor of El Universal explained ‘human rights are there to be taken care of … Therefore it is news when they are violated.’ Other aspects of newsworthiness included novelty, exclusivity, impact, representativeness, and timeliness. In particular, the potential political impact of a violation was considered greater, and therefore more ‘newsworthy’, if it involved multiple victims or was particularly severe, as in the case of a 13-year-old girl who was denied a legal abortion after she was raped. Editors also sought to publish stories that were representative of wider problems, such as inequality. The idea, as an editor of El Universal put forward, was ‘that when we talk of inequality or poverty, people have a point of reference’.

The violence and despair of the militarised and exclusionary immigration policies of ‘Fortress Europe’ have been well documented. Institutionalised racism combines with an openly hostile bureaucracy of ‘paper walls’. In the UK Home Office, officials are encouraged through a perk system that awards shopping vouchers to officials who decline the highest number of asylum applicants per month. In Fortress Europe: Dispatches from a Gated Continent, Matthew Carr (2012: 120) describes the immigration-media nexus in the UK as a ‘mutually reinforcing consensus between governments, the media and the public that invariably depicts immigration as an endless crisis [and undocumented migrants as] dangerous and dehumanised invaders massing outside the nation’s borders’

With Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez’s death last week, the world has lost a flamboyant actor on the international stage. Yet the play seems to go on as usual. Radical change to Venezuela’s domestic and international politics is unlikely. Several polls indicate that interim president Nicolás Maduro will win the elections to be held on 14 April and his rhetoric suggests that he will continue Chávez’s policies. Even if Henrique Capriles, the opposition candidate, triumphs, he will not change policies overnight. But while many have speculated about the implications for both advocates and opponents of Chávez’s Bolivarian Revolution, few have cared about those at the margins of it: the “free-riders” who do not necessarily endorse Chávez’s project, but for whom it has been a convenient platform to pursue their interests. This free-riding exists on the national, regional and international level and could provoke serious security threats for Venezuela and beyond if it continues to be ignored.

The news of the death of Venezuela’s President, Hugo Chávez, has predictably received divergent responses from the international media. His passing was met with glee by opponents of Chávez – who claim that his presidency was characterised by personalism, economic mismanagement and autocratic leanings – and met with dismay by supporters of the President and the Bolivarian Revolution – who see the potential for the undermining of his legacy, the vast improvements in social indicators, the attempts to socialise the economy and the recovery of a left-wing alternative after thirty years of neoliberalism. This polarisation of the international media reflects the political polarisation within Venezuela. While sections of the opposition partied in Miami, Chávez’s supporters filled plazas throughout Venezuela on Tuesday night and on Wednesday, thousands marched with the coffin on its journey to lie in state in the Military Academy. What unites both points of view, though, is an appreciation of the pivotal role of President Chávez in leading the transformation of Venezuela since 1999. The most fundamental question, therefore, has to be whether the Bolivarian Revolution can survive without this key figure.

Newly confirmed as US Secretary of State, John Kerry delivered his first policy speech last week, making the case for a renewed and proactive American diplomacy. Directing his remarks to the US Congress – and to Beijing’s leaders – more than to his actual audience at the University of Virginia, his message was urgent: “This is a time to continue to engage for the sake of the safety and the economic health of our country. This is not optional. It is a necessity.” Given the looming March 1 deadline for across-the-board sequestration which would reduce State Department operations by $850 million and foreign assistance by $1.7 billion, the US’ chief diplomat used his speech to defend the foreign policy budget against spending cuts, portraying foreign affairs as the guarantor of American economic prosperity.