Narco-Geographies, Part II: Political Ecology of the Drug Economy

Miguel Cardenas-JungleTim Hall has recently called on geographers to more actively study organized crime and geographies of the illicit more broadly. Paul Robbins, meanwhile, has said “the political ecology of the drug trade” (2004: 215) remains almost entirely unexplored. The ferocity with which the drug trade has seized Central America and Mexico has produced a spate of press articles dealing with exactly the intersections between organized crime, illicit drugs, and political ecology. The drug trade has become a motor of ecologically destructive processes that are not immediately tied to the production of drug-related crops. In other words, this is not the deforestation driven by coca plant production as described in Susana Hecht and Alexander Cockburn’s classic The Fate of the Forest. At the root of the “new” ecological destruction is money—lots of it. Booming drug profits and the laundering of narco-dollars are catalyzing something like a “spatial fix” in (undercapitalized) ecologically rich areas. Continue reading

Posted in Agriculture, David Harvey, Drugs, Forests, Frontiers, Historical-Geographies, Illegality, Land, Political Ecology, Political Economy, Primitive Accumulation, Spatiality, The State | 4 Comments

Visualizing Space and Injustice in Palestine

bus-map-b-12-07-16In an old post about the potential political capacities of the infographic, I wrote: “If Guy Debord was right in highlighting that social relations between people are increasingly mediated by images and representations, then can the infographic be a popular source of demystification?” Can “the image” be both the condition of our alienation as well as the possibility for a more critical political disposition? Electronic Intifada has a very brief interview with Ahmad Barclay that got me thinking about this again. Barclay is an architect who works on research and visual direction with Visualizing Palestine—a group that “uses creative visuals to describe a factual rights-based narrative of Palestine/Israel.” Barclay says, “Possibly the main driver in what we’re doing is, there’s not a lack of information about Palestine — that’s clearly not the problem.”

What’s particularly interesting for me about the infographics of Visualizing Palestine is their necessarily spatial and territorial dimensions. Images are powerful vehicles for communicating political ideas about space (obvious example: maps—the original infographic?). “Across the Wall,” for instance, shows the bus routes connecting Israeli settlements on either side of the wall. The mundane design qualities of a transit map becomes a jarring revelation of social-spatial segregation, im/mobility, and confinement (détournement?). It even has travel times between the various settlements and West Jerusalem. “A Policy of Displacement” breaks through the mind-numbing, eye-glazing nature of statistics by communicating the spatial scale of housing demolition and the amount of people displaced by this policy of dispossession. The list could go on (Water, Segregated Roads Typology, Checkpoint Births…)

Posted in Art, Boundaries, City, Critique, Everyday Life, Guy Debord, Insurgency/Counterinsurgency, Maps, Media, Primitive Accumulation, Scale, Security, Spatiality, Spectacle, Territory, The State, Violence | Comments Off on Visualizing Space and Injustice in Palestine

Interweb Motley # 15

edenx383Jason Dittmer has a smart review of Robert Kaplan’s The Revenge of Geography. In atoning for what went wrong in Iraq, Kaplan is found flailing in the “shallows of geopolitics.”

Anthropologist Wade Davis has a smart review of Jared Diamond’s The World Until Yesterday. Davis critiques  “the shallowness of the arguments” in the book “and it is this characteristic of Diamond’s writings that drives anthropologists to distraction.”

Speaking of shallowness: Like it or not—and as mad as it makes us—we’ve lost the war of position to the likes of Jared Diamond, Thomas Friedman, and Robert Kaplan… Sounds like the start of a bad joke.

Reinhold Martin at Design Observer ponders the contemporary significance of “Public and Common(s)”—major appearances by Arendt, Habermas, Hardt and Negri.

Meghan Flaherty’s has a smart review of Carlos Fuentes’ last novel: “Adam in Eden is a novel about drug-trafficking that doesn’t talk about drug-traffickers. It is a novel about the Garden of Eden that hardly acknowledges God. It is a political novel free of rants and rhetoric. And it is a funny novel, with a sort of hidden poignancy: it makes you laugh until, upon closing it, you find yourself no longer laughing.”

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Interweb Motley # 14

Rome Pays Off-Jean Michel BasquiatMapping the Nation: History and Cartography in Nineteenth-Century America (U of Chicago, 2012) by Susan Schulten was recently reviewed in Public Books. The book has an interesting companion site, where you can find more graphics and info (e.g. “Slavery and the Origin of Statistical Cartography”).

Shadow and Act provides a brief glimpse of a new film documentary on Stuart Hall that will be premiering this month at Sundance.

What to give the child that has everything? How about a detailed, authentic replica of the RQ-1 Predator Drone—with display stand! The comments gave me a chuckle.

As was seen when Argentina collapsed in 2001, hardcore soccer fans also played a role in the pitched battles of the Arab uprisings.

Model Cities: The idea that never dies. Despite being ruled unconstitutional, Honduras is reconsidering (as in: potentially going through with) building fully privatized “charter cities” (a.k.a. Maquiladoras with a playground).

Instead of tote bags, invitees to the World Economic Forum received a copy of Global Risks 2013, a veritable catalog of potential world disasters. Apparently, or so Design Observer seems to think, “resilience” is the name of the game.

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Quinoa: The Caviar of the Andes?

488379329_79bd658646_oA story from The Guardian discusses how increasing global demand for quinoa (a grain-like superfood) has brought riches as well as problems for producers in Bolivia and Peru. On the upside, the tripling of quinoa prices has given some of the poorest farmers in South America a badly needed source of income. On the downside, demand from abroad has also sparked local land conflicts and could threaten local food security. What amazes me about this story is how quickly the tables can turn. In 2007, I wrote about Bolivia’s struggling quinoa farmers in an article titled, “Pachamama Goes Organic: Bolivia’s Quinoa Farmers” (photo gallery below). Back then, the country’s main quinoa-growers’ association (Anapqui) was desperately trying promote the so-called “caviar of the Andes”—nationally and internationally. The market, as Karl Kautsky once noted, “proved to be even more moody and unpredictable than the weather,” but “at least the weather’s perfidiousness could be prepared for.” Continue reading

Posted in Agriculture, Development, Land, Political Ecology, Political Economy, Science & Tech. | Comments Off on Quinoa: The Caviar of the Andes?

Zapatistas and Territory

Territorio ZapatistaAfter their silent and momentary seizure of five municipal plazas on December 21, the Zapatistas issued a new communiqué (in Spanish or English). In sum, it describes how they will continue consolidating their “other way of doing politics.” Among their “next steps,” says the text, will be a renewed push toward national and international political alliances, organizing, and solidarity with indigenous groups and those who struggle “from below and to the left.” The communiqué reiterates their total rejection of Mexico’s institutions and its political class—from right to left—heralding how Zapatista communities have successfully territorialized their autonomous forms of indigenous government. Proof of this, according to the text, is the much higher standard of living enjoyed by Zapatista territories compared to those overrun by the Mexican government and its various political parties. Continue reading

Posted in Henri Lefebvre, Insurgency/Counterinsurgency, Marxism, Media, Networks, Race & Ethnicity, Spatiality, Territory, The State | 1 Comment

Hugo Chávez’s Career Deserves Honest Assessment

Chavez-SickMy column published today in McClatchy-Tribune Company newspapers:

Hugo Chávez’s Career Deserves Honest Assessment

As Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez fights for his life, an honest assessment of his 14 years in office must take into account his significant achievements.

From humble origins, Chavez worked his way up the ranks of the Venezuelan military. He hit the national spotlight in 1992 after leading military officers in a failed coup attempt. Continue reading

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Interweb Motley # 13

Crass-Occupied Territory-Album Art 1978Because I can, I am still on vacation. But ever wonder about why The Netherlands is not Holland?

This piece by Jina Moore about the “White Correspondent’s Burden” on representations of Africa reminds me of the Granta essay “How to Write About Africa” by Binyavanga Wainaina. Moore writes: “Being an object of compassion is not the same thing as being the subject of a story.” Amen.

Geographers dissect the ongoing Falkland/Malvinas kerfuffle: Klaus DoddsStuart EldenPhil Steinberg.

Foreign Policy and the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting teamed up for a special project: “Borderlands: Dispatches from the World’s Shifting Fault Lines.”

Run Wikipedia history entries of countries through a word cloud, make a typographic map with the top hit, and you get Martin Elmer’s “Laconic History of the World“—part geopolitical history, part Wikiality. “War” was a top hit with 16% of countries and one out of four countries became a reference to a colonial power. Interestingly, Colombia, which has practically been at war with itself for the last 100 years, shows up as “political.” (H/T: Per Square Mile.) Continue reading

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Meanwhile… Actual Living Mayans: Zapatistas Retake the Plazas

61798_10151377006151979_239203322_nAfter months (years?) of people talking about Mayans in the past tense, as a bygone civilization that predicted the end of the world, tens of thousands of Zapatistas quietly filed out of the mountains in southern Mexico and flooded into the central plazas of five municipalities in the state of Chiapas. They stayed for a couple hours and then left—all of it, in total silence, left fists raised in the air. High-end estimates say as many as 40,000 people marched from Zapatista communities—indigenous choles, mam, tojolabales, tzotziles, and zeltales. They peacefully took the same plazas that the EZLN (Zapatista Army of National Liberation) seized by force almost exactly 19 years ago. La Jornada says it’s the largest mobilization by the Zapatistas since their armed uprising on New Year’s Day 1994. Amid a steady drizzle, calls of support from spectators was all that broke the silence. Continue reading

Posted in #Occupy, Bandits, City, Insurgency/Counterinsurgency, Land, Power, Race & Ethnicity, Spatiality, Territory, The State | 1 Comment

Narco-Geographies, Part I: HSBC and Global Money Laundering

Chicago Board of Trade II-Andreas GurskyBritain’s biggest bank, HSBC, recently agreed to a record $1.92 billion settlement with U.S. authorities over charges that it laundered billions of dollars tied to Latin American drug cartels, so-called “rogue states,” and foreign terrorist organizations. Although the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) has made a show of these massive money-laundering settlements in recent years, the fact that U.S. authorities have cowered from actually prosecuting these massive crimes shows how illicit financial flows remain a structural—and perhaps increasingly necessary—pillar of the global capitalist system.

According to the NY Times, DOJ officials feared “criminal prosecution would topple the bank and, in the process, endanger the financial system.” Although the money-laundering business of major banks is being exposed, U.S. investigators insist the banks are too big to indict. They claim criminal prosecution could have destabilizing “collateral consequences” that would ripple across the world financial system. Continue reading

Posted in Drugs, Elites, Illegality, Networks, Political Economy, Scale, Security, Violence | 2 Comments