MEXICO ELECTION – Anger at lack of ballot papers

Anger among people who could not vote due to an insufficient number of ballot papers

Joel, 28, an engineer working in automation in the city of Houston in the United States, happened to be in Mexico renewing his visa and tried unsuccessfully to vote at the special polling station. He and his wife, Linda, 29, were incredulous that not enough ballot papers had been printed and that there had been no official guidance from the electoral authorities, meaning their six-hour wait in the queue to vote had been in vain.

Two unsuccessful voters show what number they were in the queue to vote / Mexico City, 1 July 2018 / ©rosscullen.co.uk

Blanca Góngora, a 55-year-old lawyer from the northern city of Monterrey, said she was “just angry – simply angry” that she had been turned away from voting. She had been hoping to cast her vote for the independent candidate Jaime Rodríguez, also know as El Bronco.

One couple from the state of Querétaro, 35-year-old Gilberto and 27-year-old Dani, were disconsolate at the thought of being turned away. For them, education was the most important issue in the election and it was “just horrible” that they were not going to be able to vote.

The special polling station where this blog reported from in the video above was located near the city’s main railway station, and lines streamed around the block, totalling many thousands of people, all from different states across Mexico, as you can see below, in what would ultimately be a futile attempt to vote.

As the news filtered through that the polling station was going to be closed because there were not enough ballot papers, the queue dispersed and the crowd divided – some left and simply gave up; others demanded answers as the mood soured.

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MEXICO ELECTION – Voting under way

Mexicans are going to the polls in a general election

With the morning sun shining, voters at this polling station in the Juárez neighbourhood of central Mexico City formed an orderly queue. And while one man declined to speak to me after voting, two women hinted at their decision. They did not mention who they had voted for by name, but instead said “you know who”, which is becoming widespread code for Andrés Manuel López Obrador, or AMLO.

MEXICO ELECTION – Third time lucky?

The probable victory of populism south of the border

Mexico presidential candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Abrader presents his manifesto in Mexico City, November 2017. REUTERS/Henry Romero

On Sunday 1 July, more than 80 million Mexicans go to the polls in a sweeping election, the biggest in the country’s history. There are 3,416 posts up for grabs, from local positions at state level, through MPs and senators, all the way up to the presidency itself.

This is a crucial election for an embattled country. There are a number of major domestic and international issues at play, including (but not limited to):

+security – there were a record number of murders in 2017, making last year the bloodiest 12 months in Mexican history

+the country’s relationship with the Trump administration – all the candidates have rallied against the proposed border wall

+migration – Central American migrants often face discrimination, extortion and killings in Mexico long before they reach the US border

When it comes to the top job, there is only really one candidate on the pitch.

Andrés Manuel López Obrador, the runner-up in 2006 and 2012, has seen his big poll lead from early in the year become a truly enormous advantage as the election approaches. One poll on Wednesday, from the business newspaper El Financiero, puts him 32 points ahead of his nearest challenger. Even looking at the average surveys from multiple sources, he has at least a 20-point lead.

López Obrador, known across Mexico by his initials as AMLO, said on Wednesday that he hopes that this will be “his last campaign” after the two previous defeats in presidential elections. He ran in those campaigns for the leftist Party of the Democratic Revolution but this time he is on the ballot representing the party he founded in 2014, MORENA (Movement for National Regeneration). He is standing on a loosely-defined manifesto, speaking out against governmental corruption, calling for a possible amnesty for low-level criminals and urging caution over energy reforms that opened out the sector to private investment.

The business community likes these reforms and they are also pleased about a planned new airport for the capital – an idea that AMLO wants a second look at. There has been unease among business about the impending victory of a man they fear as populist, left-wing and statist.

However, there are the opposite worries among his supporters. The election coalition he has formed has seen MORENA tie up with the anti-abortion, conservative Social Encounter party – not a natural fit with AMLO supporters. Moreover, MORENA has outgrown its social activist and left-leaning stripes to become a catch-all party, with many defectors from the rightist National Action Party (PAN) and the centrist Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI). In fact, much of the swelling support for AMLO is not direct backing for him, but rather a protest voto de castigo from an electorate furious over corruption and violence.

The two other leading presidential candidates are trailing in the wake of the AMLO powerboat. Ricardo Anaya is lying second at the moment, and he is running for the strange coalition of PAN (conservative) and PRD (socialist). Behind him is José Antonio Meade, who is standing as the governing party candidate.

Anaya is young and polished but his campaign has been hamstrung by internal divisions in the PAN with former first lady Margarita Zavala quitting the party early on and going it alone as an independent candidate, though she has since withdrawn. And the coalition with unlikely bedfellows the PRD adds another fragility to Anaya’s position.

The outlook is even worse for José Antonio Meade. Handpicked by the outgoing president Enrique Peña Nieto to represent the PRI, a deep dissatisfaction with the governing party, several government corruption scandals – added to Meade’s undeniable ties to the last two administrations (he served as finance secretary under both the PAN’S Felipe Calderon and current PRI president Enrique Peña Nieto) – leave him tarnished as a member of the disliked elite.

All of this paves the way for López Obrador to sweep the board on Sunday, with MORENA set to do well in the lower and upper house elections too. If he avoids a shocking upset and wins the top job at the third time of asking, it will be a fleeting moment of joy for AMLO. Overseeing his unwieldy coalition, sorting out a stumbling economy, trying to rectify a growing migrant crisis and working out how to deal with with a belligerent counterpart to the north will force him away from the woolly rhetoric and out into the open; for decades an opponent from the sidelines, he will now have to prove that he is indeed capable of doing the job he has coveted for so long.

This blog is in Mexico, covering the election from the capital, Mexico City

ICELAND – Video Report

Iceland: where volcanoes erupt underneath glaciers

It is the land of the world’s largest ice cap outside the two poles, sitting astride a massive ridge of underwater volcanoes, being pulled apart slowly by the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates.

An attempt to list Iceland’s geological wonders is no small endeavour. In addition to the features noted above, there are glaciers spilling down mountain ranges, mud pots gurgling with acid and fumaroles spitting sulphur over crimson rocks. Geysers fire scalding water high into the near-Arctic air, the biggest waterfalls in Europe churn over cliffs, there are hexagonal basalt columns and sea arches, flat-topped mountains standing like enormous cuboids, deserts, black-sand beaches and caverns.

Windswept and wet, unforgiving in its terrain and teetering in near-total darkness in the winter and near-endless light in the summer, Iceland is a unique, extreme place.

Look to your right for some Iceland photos on my Instagram – or click here.

CAPE VERDE: Volcano Video Report

Cape Verde’s Fogo island is one massive stratovolcano – and it’s still active

The island was in fact even bigger – what we’re standing on above is just one part that remained after a devastating partial collapse 73,000 years ago saw one side of the volcano slide in an vast avalanche of rocks down into the Atlantic. That seismic event caused a megatsunami more than 150m high that dredged boulders from the sea floor and deposited them up into the inland hills of next-door Santiago island, Cape Verde’s biggest and home to the current capital, Praia.

Pico do Fogo

Looking into Pico do Fogo’s crater

The climb from the crater, at 1800m, up a kilometre to the top of the island chain at 2829m, took us about three hours, tramping through ash and scrabbling up sharp rock. From the top, wide Atlantic views ranged out in every direction and Fogo island itself spread out below us, as you can see in the video above.

Casa Marisa is built on top of the most recent lava flows

From there we also noticed the new dwellings being built on the lava flows from 2014, as you can see in the photo. Ingeniously, this gives Casa Marisa (pictured above), a costless way of providing hot water and underfloor heating as it simply runs the pipes through the warm rocks the buildings stand on.

One house swallowed by the 2014 eruption

This is what the people of Chã das Caldeiras had to contend with four years ago, as the eruption poured out rivers of lava that careered into the houses in the crater. The building in the photo above would have stood a storey-high before the eruption but now the road runs right past its roof. Some houses were crushed entirely; solidified bubbles of black rock ooze out of the windows of others. There were no deaths in 2014 as small earthquakes before the eruption gave warning of what was to come.

But the villagers have come back, and they are a special people who feel removed from the other Fogo islanders living in the main towns or on the outer slopes of the volcano. They live up in the astounding, dusty beauty of the caldeira, under some of the darkest skies in the world, their roof of a billion stars and the perfect, looming cone of Pico do Fogo.

Older lava flows on the southern sides of the volcano. The village is hidden deep behind the crater walls in the centre of the photo and Pico do Fogo  stands out on the right

PORTUGAL – Video Report on Portuguese Speakers

The rise of Portuguese as one of the world’s major languages

Although it is not one of the six flagship languages of the United Nations, Portuguese carries enough weight by itself to rank alongside double-lingo groups like Hindi-Urdu and Indonesian-Malay in terms of number of speakers.

The states which do speak Portuguese on some level form the Community of Portuguese-speaking Countries or CPLP, which is introduced in the video above. The organisation lists nine official member nations, from mighty Brazil to tiny São Tome e Principe, but even within these countries Portuguese is not always the go-to tongue for residents.

The language of government and newspapers in Cape Verde maybe o português but the word on the street, at the bus stops and in homes across the islands is Cape Verdean Creole, a mixture of Portuguese, English, French and several native West African languages.

In East Timor it is Tetum that dominates as the main means of communication. After that there are at least 15 native languages that are spoken, with only a small fraction of the population using either of the colonial tongues: Indonesian and Portuguese.

In spite of this, the CPLP pushes ahead with its aims and objectives, which include  wide-ranging inter-governmental policies such as co-operation on education, health and public security but also the specific aim of working on projects that promote and increase the use of Portuguese.

 

 

Brightening up the Baia

A small village in Cape Verde benefits from Brazilian-inspired street art

Baia de Norte looks out quietly on the Atlantic waves washing into the bay below, with the brown gravel slopes of Monte Verde running away above.  Chickens hop along the walls and dogs jog around the corners and we are welcomed by the squealing of a couple of pigs in breeze-block pens.

Bright blues and reds, sharp lines of green and blasts of yellow shout across the dirt roads and bring to life the simple walls of the village.

A group of artists from fellow Portuguese-speaking Brazil have come to Baia de Norte over the last couple of years, using their artistic skills to bring the warmth and optimism of colour and light to the humble houses.

The co-operative have shown off their thoughtful designs throughout the small settlement, which overlooks Baia das Gatas on the northern coast of the island of Sao Vicente.

It is rich art with a range of work that often incorporates the existing windows and pipes on the village houses into the paintings.

On one house, pink boats and yellow anchors call to mind the surrounding open Atlantic, which laps the shores of both countries.

Large palm trees and quirky houses adorn one wall, with ravenous animals on another.

There are fishermen and different figures, there are bold blocks and intricate facial details. There are also less obvious spray-strokes such as someone’s polka-dot washing hanging on a line. It is brilliant art splashed against the grey walls.

There is also a fish portraying the international connections with its head of Brazilian green, yellow and blue as it drifts through the sky and sea blues of Cape Verde.

The islands’ villages are often brightly coloured, with big bands of orange, teal and crimson shining in the streets. Here in Baia de Norte the artists bring that brilliance to a less fortunate corner of what is a beautiful archipelago.

Islands in the sun

An Atlantic archipelago is making waves among small, African nations

Cape Verde calls holiday-makers to its pristine beaches, adventurers to its active volcano and scientists to study its unique ecosystems and endemic wildlife.

 

Maio (turismo.cv)

Off the west coast of Africa, more than 500km out into the Atlantic Ocean, Cape Verde has a deep and speckled history and is hoping for a bright future.

The islands’ geographical isolation from the mainland means that they have not been tainted by the political thrills and spills in other West African countries.

It enjoys a relatively stable democracy, with peaceful transfers of power between different parties at free elections. There has not been one coup d’état since independence in 1975.

Its unique location in the Atlantic between Africa and South America first saw the Portuguese establish a slave-trading exchange between Brazil and Lisbon’s western African colonies.

Mindelo (turismo.cv)

Then the American whaling ships swung by on their way to the hunting grounds to pick up supplies and young men looking for a life at sea away from the volcanic rocks. After that saw the construction of coal stations built by the British for cross-ocean steamers.

The islands have a population of 520,000 but thousands more claim Cape Verdean heritage in a well-established diaspora built upon the sea-faring traditions and international connections of the islanders.

To that end, remittances from overseas nationals provide a substantial boost to the economy, though tourism is easily the biggest source of income. Thousands of visitors come each year to while away hours on the white-sand beaches of the eastern islands, get lost in the canyons in the north, or take in the active volcanic island of Fogo.

And it is on that island that wine is famously produced on the lava of the islands’ highest point, Pico de Fogo. Aside from that though, the agriculture sector has been hard to develop on the windswept rocky islands. Some fruits are grown – but about 90% of food is imported.

Praia (turismo.cv)

Life expectancy of approximately 73.5 years is the highest in sub-Saharan Africa and the literacy rate is around 87%.

The World Bank sees the next steps for the archipelago’s economy as being to diversify ‘within and beyond’ the tourism sector, building a more flexible labour market and refining the investment climate. Additionally, there are hopes of improvements to the infrastructure links between the islands (some are just a few kilometres on a ferry apart; others are an hour’s flight away).

Morna, the melancholic genre of lilting music whose most famous exponent was Cesaria Evora, has been a major cultural export success. Indeed, music is part of the national DNA from the gyrating passion of the batuko to the anti-imperialist beat-surge of the funana.

All this reaches its climax in the run-up to Lent (this year just around the corner from 10-14 February) with the Cape Verde Carnival, when the islands will sway and stomp to a riot of kaleidoscopic dancers, floats and bands with a party to rival any that their Brazilian friends across the ocean could offer.

This blog will report from Cape Verde next month

El Búho’s ‘Balance’ – review

Balance opens like a springtime morning, with “Coro del Amanecer” nudging the door ajar to let in the light of birdsong.

It moves gently to add layered beats, the coming or going of footsteps, the tinkle of water and Veronica Valerio’s echoing voice. By the time we get three minutes into the song, we are up to full strength, but this is a soft power which fades to end.

The record is El Búho’s first full-length offering and, going by this example, there will be many people chomping at the bit for even more.

El Búho (‘The Owl’) is Robin Perkins, a British producer who has become something of a sensation in the folktronica scene. He has now moved back to Europe after a productive spell in Mexico, where he explored the country’s indigenous music, traditional instruments and – especially through the rivers, forests and sounds of the deep south – the overwhelmingly natural beauty.

It is the integration of natural elements into his work that makes El Búho stands out. This is not any old hip-shaking and rum-swilling Latin music (as enticing as that can be): this is organic electronica.

It is borne from simple ingredrients: the wash of waves, the calls of birds, the sounds of sunshine glinting through a million trees.

On “Tlacotlan” we hear the chirps of songbirds and the croaks of crows whilst “Ynglingtal” calls to mind sand through your toes against spilling breakers on the beach.

He demonstrates his depth of skill on “Papan” with the layered keys, strings and beats clipping together with nods to glitch-notes here and there.

Three-quarters of the songs are collaborations and El Búho reaches far and wide for his featured artists, from the madness of Cairo, to the floating airs and hills of Bolivia, via Mexican poetry.

The warbling on “Madre Tierra” may not be for everybody and “Brigantes” doesn’t really feel as though it goes anywhere as a piece but overall this is a beautiful record.

Balance is his first album and it drops just as he completes his move from Mexico City to Paris. We spoke to him before he left Mexico and we spoke to him again to find out a little more about Balance and the effect of Mexico on his music.

What’s the next stage for your music? What can you learn from this album?

I have a hundred ideas floating around in my head, going back to music inspired by birds, to music inspired by the folklore of my own country (the UK), making some EPs inspired by the places I have lived, another album. The other thing I would love to do is release a “tapes” or “beats” album of all the many, many unreleased tracks I have sitting on my hard drive! I think I learnt that an album should represent a period in your music growth or in your life. So much time passes between actually making the tracks and releasing them that to you they sound old even though no-one else has heard them! You have to just get to the point of accepting it and being happy with it representing a period of your life but I really think as a music producer you never stop learning and challenging yourself to improve.

Now that you have come back to Europe, which countries are you hoping to take your tunes to next?

Well, I played in Berlin for the first time recently and it was one of the best gigs I have played in a long time. Such an incredible, open-minded, approachable, respectable crowd of beautiful people dancing the night away to 80BPM music! It doesn’t happen everywhere. I will be playing in Spain soon and hopefully the UK for the first time soon as well (kind of crazy!)

And what’s your sense reflecting on the influence that Mexico had on you?

I think it was quite profound actually, going back to Latin America and understanding the incredibly different, complex and diverse context of Mexico, musically but also socially and politically. For my music it definitely opened me up to new ideas, to new histories, to new styles and genres and showed me, yet again, just how diverse Latin America is.

There was a bunch of music I made there on the Tamoanchan and Chinampa EPs and I feel it is pretty different, you can’t put your finger on it. I also always forget that Cenotes, which I kind of see as my breakthrough EP, was written in Mexico as well as most of tracks on the album! I think the other thing was the incredible reception I received in Mexico at shows. I felt a bit like an adopted Mexican to be honest and I’d love to go back and play soon.

What does the future hold for Shika Shika, the collective you run with Argentinian producer Barrio Lindo?

We are astounded by the incredible music that surrounds us. We just put out three beautiful edits of South American folk by our friend, the Argentinian producer Barda, and in a few weeks we are going to release our third compilation to celebrate our two-year anniversary! It is called Eco and it has some absolutely beautiful, killer, slow, deep, textured global sounds on it.

This article first appeared on Sounds and Colours.