What’s the key to ‘scorpion journalism’?

“The media in Mexico is tremendously sick but will not die”

The words of YouTuber Chumel Torres, who joined Honduran journalist Graco Pérez for this event at London’s Canning House, the UK-Iberia & UK-Latin America foundation.

Mr Pérez opened in a determined fashion: “a more informed press leads to a more informed population”. He acknowledged that Honduras was a developing country and admitted obstacles to progress.

He said that many reporters practise self-censorship over fears from organised crime, government interference and societal corruption.

He went into detail over the more serious issues facing journalists in Honduras as well, including an “alarming level of violence and lack of protective mechanisms”.

In spite of this, Mr Pérez insisted that press freedom as a whole has been managing to grow through social networks and the space they provide.

Chumel Torres declared early on that he had no journalism background but rather came circuitously into presenting what is his wildly successful online political and cultural satire show, ‘El Pulso de la Republica’.

Alongside what is rapidly becoming regularised violence against reporters, he laid out what he sees as the problems facing the media in Mexico.

Torres noted that “the public sees the press as government puppets” and that the media have “lost their strength”.

His prescribed medicine for the press was the need to “try to be reborn”.

During the question-and-answer session with the audience that followed, Torres touched on the role of the media in the run-up to next year’s general election in Mexico, lamenting threats made against radio, print and TV journalists but finding gold in the dust with a message of hope: “[there’s] a bright path just behind the curtain”.

Graco Pérez said that the media can build up wider networks of trust and influence but must do so whilst understanding the need for meticulous research and extreme caution. He admitted that the environment online, on mobile and in print is still volatile in many parts of Honduras when it comes to threats to reporters.

This blog pondered the rise of citizen journalism and the immediate coverage of breaking news offered by the public through their phones.

The room agreed with the notion that the “internet never forgets” and both speakers agreed that millennials are pushing the pace and breadth of news and the different platforms for consumption.

The two speakers didn’t think that traditional media should worry too much about the explosion in citizen journalism and that there would still be the need for questions, analysis and follow-up enquiries by ‘traditional’ journalists.

Chumel Torres had the last word, calling for a return to what he called “scorpion journalism” – achieved through: regaining trust; rethinking how you are working and what you are working on; and challenging yourself as well as challenging power.


Nina Miranda – Interview

She first came to prominence in 1997, as her band Smoke City’s ‘Underwater Love’ reached #4 in the UK charts. Now, 20 years on, Nina Miranda is finally releasing her first solo album.

After a period as lead singer with the groups Zeep and Shrift and numerous collaboration projects, including with Seu Jorge, Basement Jaxx and Gilles Peterson, the Anglo-Brazilian artist is striking out alone, bringing together her fusion of genres, languages and international influences. Her father is from Rio de Janeiro and her mother was born in Iran and the two met in Paris – this global background impacts positively through Miranda’s free-flowing and improvisational style.

Freedom of Movement swirls from place to place, crossing stylistic boundaries that you can be sure would leave many mainstream record companies confused (it was recorded in a studio space above her flat with deliberately open windows letting in all the hubbub of London life). That said, she has produced a work she can finally call her own, working with members of Ibibio Sound Machine and Chris Franck, who she first joined forces with all those years ago back with Smoke City.

It is an album of dizzying stimuli and a proud marker of the creative spirit that pulses through the artist. If you like bossa nova and indie, tropicália and chill pop, vapourwave and electronica, then this album, with its animals, seas and sultry moods should be for you.

I had a quick cup of coffee with the Anglo-Brazilian artist before she rushed off to Glastonbury (where she teamed up with Malian guitarist Vieux Farka Touré).

Nina, this is your first solo album – what are the main messages that you hope the listener takes away from it?

Well it’s called Freedom of Movement so I would say that is one of the main messages, along with the importance of fusion, open possibilities, and the joy of collaboration. That said, it’s good after all these years to be steering my own ship now.

Steering your own ship – does that mean that with your previous work with Smoke City in the 1990s and then Zeep and Shrift afterwards you were not totally in control? Or have as much say as you would have liked?

Smoke City worked on compromise. And we wanted to hold onto our connection to the underground. We had three members and sometimes two of them would get together and work on something and the third member would come in and hear it and choose to change parts of it. Or someone else wouldn’t like another member’s suggestions. It was the blend that was important.

Let’s look back to your Smoke City days then. How is the Nina Miranda of 2017 different from the Nina Miranda of 1997 and the “Underwater Love” era?

I hardly recognise myself in the videos from then! When I watch them it looks like a girl in some kind of dream. My work now stills holds the essence of 1997, there’s still the importance of collaboration running through it. I guess perhaps there’s more personal originality now, as an artist – not simply a singer.

And looking the other way… which direction would like to see your career take in another ten years?

I’d like to play an instrument, I reckon. Maybe write a musical and act in it, co-direct it as well. But maybe that’s just the Brazilian side of me dreaming, rather than the British reality!

That’s one part of your music that really stands out – the fusion of the genres and national themes. Which has been a greater influence on your music: the Brazilian or British side?

The Brazilian side keeps me connected with the music and feelings in Brazil. There’s a flow and improvisation that comes with working with Brazilian musicians. There’s a certain feel. You understand that you are working with humans, not musicians.

“Amazonia Amor” on your new record really takes you to Brazil. You get a sense of an electronic rainforest at times.

It’s the birds and the landscape, and there are horses too. I find the animal aspect therapeutic and mixing up the sounds of the rainforest means that you can accentuate the reality. You might also hear birdsong on other tracks – they are the actual birds singing in my garden in London because we recorded this in a studio with all the windows open! Even the pock-pock of tennis balls from a nearby court are on the album.

And the track Silken Horse..?

Exactly. I wanted the feel of nature, so the beat of the hooves and the sense of a living, breathing horse to come through on that one. Natural images and artistic licence working together.

How do you think Brazilian music and British music interact with each other? What can they learn from one another?

Brazilian music is often set around dealing with themes of love, happiness and the struggle. It has a certain exoticism for Britons: samba, bossa nova, tropicália… but that said, back in Brazil, there’s a real love for bands such as The Cure, The Rolling Stones and The Beatles. I mean, for Brazilians, KISS were pretty exotic themselves, with their dress and performances. So there’s a mutual exoticism for the other.

In “Whole of London”, you sing a lot about ‘wandering’. With your dual-national heritage, how true is that of how you feel at this stage in your life?

That’s how I feel when I’m cooped up in one city for too long. So in fact, it’s the other way round. I get tired of wandering the same streets of one city, not tired of wandering the world. The same goes for if I’m confined with one particular group of people – I enjoy mixing it up.

Which festival or musical genre would you feel most at home with, if you had to stay somewhere for a while, listening to the same music?

WOMAD is for me the festival that I connect with most. My music plays with people; it tickles them, slaps them and pinches them. The fusion of different images. I like festivals because of the mix of music and people, coming together in huge numbers to listen to a particular artist. I’m quite outspoken and I have to be careful – demonstrations can have a similar vibe to festivals, the collective chanting or singing, a togetherness.

Picking up on that point, how important or not do you think the role of music is in political protest?

It’s so important. It’s easy to be seduced by the mainstream and not wanting to offend people but, as I said, I’m outspoken and I feel that as artists, we have the platform to express ourselves and we should use it.

Now let’s try some quickfire questions…

Gin & tonic or caipirinha? Gin during the day but caipirinhas at night!

Feijoada or roast beef? That’s easy – feijoada.

Nelson’s Column or Christ the Redeemer? Christ the Redeemer – when the time comes I think it would be a poignant place to have your ashes scattered, looking down on the city and out to sea.

Bossa nova or Brit pop? Can I say tropicália instead?

Nina Miranda’s Freedom of Movement is released by Six Degrees Records and available from Bandcamp, Amazon UK, Amazon US and iTunes.

This article first appeared on Sounds and Colours.

A look at Fidel Castro’s legacy

An “astute political brain” who “inspired a generation of leaders”? Or a “figure from a different era” running a government of “sordid lawless killers”?

Heated discussions dominated the morning at this special event at Canning House, the UK-Iberia & Latin America foundation, looking backwards and forwards at the legacy of the former leader of Cuba.

Ken Livingstone paints a positive image of Castro’s global legacy

There were three sections to be debated: Castro’s domestic, regional and global legacies.

The first one saw Antoni Kapcia, a professor of Latin American history at the University of Nottingham, put forward the point of view that the Cuban revolutionary acted and made “decisions within the realm of the possible”, carefully calculating what was achievable and loth to outreach himself on domestic policy.

Helen Yaffe, author of Che Guevara: The Economics of Revolution, described the US embargo as “devastating and suffocating”. She also looked to the island’s Soviet sponsor giant, saying that “constraints were placed on Cuba’s room for manoeuvre from the collapse of the USSR”, not just through the American trade ban.

The final speaker in this section was Cuban-born Alina Garcia-Lapuerta. She argued that there was still a “sense of uncertainty” surrounding the future after Castro’s death. Having said that, she did try to look to what might be ahead: “there could be no political change while Castro was still alive…he was too big a figure in Cuban life and Cuban history.”

In the second part of the event, for the discussion on regional legacy, Paul Webster Hare, a former British ambassador to Cuba, called in on conference from the United States. He discussed how Latin nations’ friendships and ties with Cuba had come and gone. While at some point in recent history, most neighbour countries had “broken diplomatic relations with the US”, many states had gone on to thrive economically following different models than that espoused by Castro.

The former diplomat raised the issue of the “economic mismanagement and social turmoil” currently afflicting Venezuela, noting that Havana stands by Caracas due to their traditional links. Yet those regional links are weakening, according to Webster Hare, who said that young Latin Americans are today more distant in their political views from what is increasingly seen as the outdated outlook of Fidel Castro.

Steve Ludlam came to the regime’s defence.

The lecturer and member of the Cuba Research Forum drew a picture for the Britons in the audience of Fidel Castro as a mix of “Winston Churchill, Aneurin Bevan (the founder of the NHS) and the Queen Mother”. He went on to stand up for the “audacious revolutionary” whose radicalism had “strong anti-imperialist and anti-racist” elements to it. He also saw one of Castro’s legacies as the “success of social welfare programmes across Latin America”.

The final section was on the former leader of Cuba’s global legacy. For this, Canning House invited the Mail on Sunday journalist Peter Hitchens and the ex-Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone.

The politician put forward an appraisal of the revolutionary, calling him a “giant” and an “icon to those who want to live in a better country”.

Peter Hitchens delivered the opposite. He described the Castro regime as being treated in a “rock-star way” when it was really a “government of torture”. Hitchens saw Castro’s “boasts of social advances go unchecked” and argued that “people should grow up about Castro…this cult of Fidel should be dropped.”

Questions were taken after each section and there was a notable intervention during the regional legacy part of the morning. The “Ambassador from the British Empire” was lambasted for challenging the fading policies of the Castros by a book publisher and socialist apologist who offered a vehement defence the Cuban leftist model. There were other questions, too, from exiled Cubans, criticising divisions in society created by the lack of a free press and the fact that Castro never held an election.

An Atlantic referendum – the view from Ireland

What is the view from Ireland as its closest neighbour – the UK – faces the biggest political decision in a generation: whether to remain in or leave the European Union?

Slea Head, County Kerry, Ireland

Slea Head, County Kerry, Ireland

This is the edge of Europe.

Geographically, the continent goes no further. This is the wild Atlantic coast of County Kerry, in south-west Ireland.

I travelled to Slea Head, where the ocean waves roll in and looked out from the cliffs. The next nearest landmass to the west is North America – where millions of Irish people have sought refuge and a better life in the past.

Ireland is now firmly a European state. It joined the euro when the single currency came into effect in 1999 and looks enthusiastically towards Europe for infrastructure support and agricultural subsidies – and financial bail-outs.

It is way out on the western boundaries of the continent but it is no margin state. Its closest neighbour is the United Kingdom where there is a major political dilemma going on right now.

In a few days’ time, the United Kingdom will hold a referendum on whether to remain in or leave the European Union.

Out on the headland, it was a useful place to try to contemplate the mental picture for the UK at the moment.

The Remain campaign in the referendum battle would say it is isolationist to put yourself on the fringes of Europe. They would see it as a parochial and backwards move.

The Leave camp would counter that such a step would broaden your horizons and expand your outlook over the thousands of miles of open ocean stretching away from the coast, rather than focusing on the argumentative backyard in Europe.

What is unknown for Ireland is how – if, at all – trade, the peace process, the special relationship with the UK and the possibility that the country could have a border with a non-EU state would be addressed.

Whichever side of the debate you are on, Ireland and the UK have a shared history  the question is will they have a shared future?

Ireland has shown that its position as a boundary country is in geography alone. What the British people now have to choose is whether to remain in the EU or move to these Atlantic margins.

Tan lejos de la patria

An exhibition displays the struggles and successes of Mexicans living in the UK

Part of the ‘Being Human’ festival, ‘Mexicans UK’ illustrates a mixed community of backgrounds both similar and distinct, of futures aimed and obscured. It explores concepts of blurred humanity and personal imagination among those Mexicans who came to the UK for work or study, for love or family.

It is a collaboration between the brother-sister act of Mexican-British photographers Roxana and Pablo Allison. It consists of 32 portraits: one person from all 31 Mexican states and also the federal district of Mexico City.

Here are some of the images that stood out for me:

Mariacarmen Cárdenas - (Pedro and Roxana Allison)

Mariacarmen Cárdenas (Mexico City) – Credit for this image and all photos below: Pablo and Roxana Allison

Mariacarmen Cárdenas told a sad tale. After coming to the UK with her British husband, the marriage broke down and she went through family and workplace battles. She painted a sorrowful picture of life in the UK but was adamant she would not be returning to Mexico. She seemed to be facing her situation defiantly; a position of quiet strength emphasised in the picture above by her gaze and the political memorabilia of indigenous struggle.


Karla Mancilla - (Credit: Pedro and Roxana Allison)

Karla Mancilla (State: Baja California Sur)

Originating from Baja California Sur, Karla Mancilla’s story struck me as the narrative of water: migration and movement. Waves swell with force and becalm with stillness; they could carry Karla back home, or bar her way. She is from a Pacific state back home and is sitting in the picture here next to a British watercourse. She talks in detail about the oceanic fauna of her state, the whale sharks, dolphins and sea lions. Ms Mancilla lists shredded manta ray as her favourite dish.


Willams Santis - (Credit: Pablo and Roxana Allison)

Willams Santis   (Chiapas)

Williams Santis came to the UK for family. He met an Irish girl in Mexico and had a baby with her, then moved from Mexico to be with them in the UK. He now works in a car park and as an artist. Here, leaning against an open caravan door, is he pondering the racism that he says he suffers in the UK? Or his proud indigenous roots? Maybe he is thinking about the Irish woman and his child. For Mr Santis, love knew no bounds.


Michelle Dominguez (Credit: Pablo and Roxana Allison)

Michelle Dominguez   (Chihuahua)

Troubling security and political instability are the main concerns for Michelle Dominguez, as she looks back to the land of her birth. I liked her pose here, caught between two rooms – two countries – casually hovering under one sky, one roof. She is leaning on the threshold against a pane of mottled glass, blurring the views back to where she has come from and blurring the future for those left behind.


Efrain Carpintero (Credit: Pablo and Roxana Allison)

Efrain Carpintero   (Querétaro)

The quietness, religiosity and burgeoning economic activity of Querétaro state are called to mind by Efrain Carpintero, who is in the UK researching for a PhD. I felt a positivity coming through this portrait, an academic ambition from a softly beautiful state.


Natalia Cervantes (Credit: Pablo and Roxana Allison)

Natalia Cervantes   (Sinaloa)

Layered in Nature, staring straight ahead, perhaps Natalia Cervantes is combining her thoughts: a wooded mix of the dusty plants from her home state of Sinaloa and the wet verdancy of her adopted country. This image caught my eye for its natural setting and the fact the woman is Sinaloan, from an edgy corner of the country, and here is painting a picture of the people and the food, tinged with bloody streets of drugs violence, set against the mountains, plains and coastline.

Crude behaviour

A new discovery of oil off the Falkland Islands hardens Argentinian resolve 

The price of crude has been on a substantial slide since last summer, losing more than half of its value since June 2014. Oil firms have had to pull back on expansion plans and slash job projections. Oil-dependent economies, such as Venezuela, have been ravaged by the crash of the black stuff.

But such is the aura around oil that it still has the power for that instant spark, no matter how difficult the extraction or how poor the oil and no matter that there may be more dampening announcements to come after the fanfare has died down.

(A case in point for this final example would be the recent row-back from the claim that up to 100bn barrels of oil could be sitting near Gatwick Airport to the south of London.)

At the start of this month, three small UK oil firms revealed a find at their ‘Zebedee’ well in the North Falklands Basin. Although there was a muted response as far as shares go, and despite the current problems for oil companies caused by the low price of the stuff, Buenos Aires bristled when news came through.

The mythical draw of black gold provokes wide-eyed excitement when discoveries of fields are announced. It does seem that part of the Argentinian reaction follows this line of thought. The area around the archipelago has been charted by prospective drillers regularly over recent years, but this latest British find has stoked the possibility of a new industry in the South Atlantic.

Buenos Aires seems to have less of a problem with the fishing carried out by Falkland Island fleets but this exploration and exploitation of oil has enraged the Casa Rosada.

The Argentinian government sees the Islas Malvinas as constituent parts of the South American nation. To this end, any investigation or development of natural resources around the islands is seen as an illicit territorial encroachment.

On an international diplomatic level, it disagrees that the exploration of natural resources should be taking place where sovereignty is disputed. But is there a dispute when only one party feels wronged?

There may be no feasible extraction of workable crude for many years to come, but this announcement still feels like a slap in the face for the fumbling Argentinian economy.

Plummeting opinion polls for outgoing president Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner could be roused by an oil rush. But she can only look out east over the ocean uneasily, and has resolved to support legal action against the companies involved.

The fate of the islands has also been mentioned in the UK general election campaign, with the governing Conservative party committing in its manifesto to “uphold the democratic rights of the people of Gibraltar and the Falkland Islands to remain British, for as long as that is their wish.”

And late last month the British defence secretary said the UK government would invest £180m over the next ten years on improving and expanding the military presence in the islands.

The Falkland Islanders are sure to be feeling chipper and can picture an expansion of their own economy with all the industry and income that would accompany the development of the new finds, knowing that the mother country is still, for now, standing behind them.

The Argentinians believe the bolstering of soldier numbers by the British is another illegitimate move in the martial arena to protect unlawful actions in the civilian sector.

While the fog of diplomatic mistrust and the anxiety around military maneouvres shroud the windy shores of Tierra del Fuego and Stanley, there is to be no sharing of resources in those deep southern waves.


‘¡Vivir con honor o morir con gloria!’

Chile’s half-Irish independence hero is commemorated in the London suburb of Richmond

Mothers chat idly, pushing buggies in one hand and cradling coffee in the other. Upmarket shops bustle; the rugby clubs of Old Deer Park hum with ale and cheer. This is Richmond-upon-Thames, a smart town on the south-west fringes of London.

Half-Irish Chilean independence leader, Bernardo O'Higgins

Half-Irish Chilean independence leader, Bernardo O’Higgins

Off to one side of the grand stone bridge, overlooking the rowers pulling along the river and the children running along the bank is a bust. It is a simple head and shoulders sculpture, set back a little way from sandy-cream stone steps leading gently down to the Thames.

It is of Bernardo O’Higgins. A memorable name, and he certainly is a memorable man. Born in Chile to an Irish father and a Chilean mother; a Latin Celt revolutionary who led his country to independence from Spain. He is commemorated all over Chile.

But what is this bust of him doing in this leafy part of London? He was born in Chillán, in the centre of the country. As a teenager, he was sent overseas to study. First in Peru, then Spain, and finally, aged 17, to Richmond, where he encountered several political activists, including Francisco de Miranda, a Venezuelan soldier who strove for independence for Spain’s colonies in the New World.

The bust overlooks the River Thames at Richmond

The bust overlooks the River Thames at Richmond

On returning to Chile, O’Higgins inherited his father’s properties and entered local politics, moving through activist circles to the nationalist movements. One of the crucial moments for Chilean independence came when Spain’s back was turned, during Napoleon’s peninsular invasion in 1808.

That left a gulf in the imperial administration that the Chilean separatists filled, creating a national congress. Spain’s royalist forces in the Viceroy of Peru wanted to quash this separatist rising and mounted loyalist attacks on the Chilean militia. O’Higgins was the military leader-in-chief who stood against them.

The Irish-Chilean independentist general began the military struggle for Chile on the back foot and lost at the Battle of Rancagua in 1814, which forced him over the border into Argentina with other Chilean nationalists to try to regroup and plan a comeback.

O'Higgins' military call to arms: "Vivir con honor o morir con gloria"

O’Higgins’ military call to arms: “Vivir con honor o morir con gloria”

At the battle of Chacabuco in February 1817 a combined ‘Army of the Andes’ of O’Higgins’ men and Argentinian forces under José de San Martín swept aside the troops in Chile loyal to the Spanish crown, and they took the capital, Santiago.

One of O’Higgins’ famous martial cries has passed into Chilean folklore: “¡Vivir con honor o morir con gloria!” (‘Live with honour or die with glory!’ – inscription visible in the photo above).

The decisive victory resulted in Bernardo O’Higgins being elected to the position which would cement his place in the history of his country. He became the ‘Director Supremo de Chile’, the country’s first independent leader.

He served for six years as de facto president, establishing the basic workings of a governmental administration and building a national navy. However, public consensus around him gradually disintegrated, as many of his reforms were opposed by the Church and elite.
He stepped down from the top job in 1823, under pressure from growing revolts across the country. Bernardo O’Higgins retired to Peru, where he lived in exile. Like his father he never married, but unlike him, he did know and live with his son.
His father, Ambrose O’Higgins, (who would become Ambrosio O’Higgins), was born in County Sligo, in western Ireland, and emigrated via Spain to what is now Peru and then became a colonial administrator in Chile. Bernardo was born in the late 1770s. It was an illegitimate birth as Ambrosio and his partner, the much younger Isabel Riquelme, were not married. O’Higgins senior eventually recognised Bernardo as his own not long before he died.
Bernardo O’Higgins lived in a large estate in Peru until his death in 1842, at the age of 64. His remains were repatriated and he is buried in Santiago and commemorated across Chile, and elsewhere in the world, including in a quiet spot overlooking the River Thames in London.

UK-Mexico love-in

On Monday 22 September the British Mexican Society held its annual ‘Two Ambassadors’ event to celebrate and promote the countries’ bilateral relations

The Mexican Ambassador to the UK's residence

The Mexican Ambassador to the UK’s residence

Once more this fixture in the society’s calendar was fully booked, with a brimming audience anticipating the latest high-level update from both diplomats, held in the Mexican ambassador’s residence in London. It is a congratulatory type of occasion, and those in attendance looked not for discord but rather a chance to cherish the joint ambitions for the future and successes of the past. The two nations have deep links that stem from the birth of the modern Mexico, as the United Kingdom was the first country to recognise informally the new country after independence from Spain and the second (after the US) to notify the Mexican government officially. The two countries have a long and shared literary, artistic, sporting, scientific and industrial history.

The Mexican ambassador to the UK, Diego Gómez Pickering, spoke first, softly to start with as he warmed up by praising the UK’s “solid economic recovery” and “business-oriented strategy” and confirming that he thought that Great Britain was “destined to remain a world leader in the eyes of Mexicans”. He divided his presentation into four sections that roughly broke into: current economic situation/UK recovery; uniqueness of the countries’ relationship; Mexican structural reforms; and the future untapped economic partnerships.

(L-R) Mexican Ambassador to the UK, Diego Gómez Pickering; British Ambassador to Mexico, Duncan Taylor; and British Mexican Society chairman, Richard Maudslay

(L-R) Mexican Ambassador to the UK, Diego Gómez Pickering; British Ambassador to Mexico, Duncan Taylor; and British Mexican Society chairman, Richard Maudslay

After that, the diplomat went on to look at the upcoming, if rather ungainly-titled ‘2015: The Year of Mexico in the UK and the UK in Mexico’. This ‘dual year’ will “foster better understanding…/renew projects and initiatives”. It appears that culture and education will be the bases of the twelve months of intended mutual positivity, with the nations focusing their ‘year’ on universities, the arts and society as a whole.

Mr Gómez Pickering also looked forward to the visit next month of Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall and there was an added regal element to this year’s event in London, as the society’s patron, the Duke of Gloucester, was there.

The British ambassador to Mexico, Duncan Taylor, spoke at length in praiseworthy terms about the “remarkable and palpable goodwill towards Britain [from Mexico]”. He said he was “encouraged by the warmth of feelings” and commented that the two nations thought “very much alike”. He spoke about shared values and outlooks and lauded Enrique Peña Nieto’s structural reforms as an “extraordinary series of measures”. He was on more uncertain ground when talking about joint development projects in Belize. He recognised the “different histories and different perspectives” when describing the British-Mexican togetherness: one a previously colonising country and the other a nation that was colonised.

There were questions from the audience that followed up on three themes: the coming bilateral cultural year mentioned above; science and innovation; and literature. After the event, there was a reception in another room in the residence where margaritas and some Mexican culinary delectation was were on offer. I spoke to the Mexican diplomat then about two matters. Firstly: indigenous rights, which President Peña Nieto had just addressed at the UN Plenary Session of the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples. The leader discussed the importance of protecting and promoting the rights of indigenous people and their cultures and customs across the globe. Mexico, for its part, recognises 56 languages in use by its more than 15 million native peoples.

I also asked Mr Gómez Pickering on a more difficult issue: the exorbitant numbers of child migrants attempting to cross Mexico’s northern border and the disappearances, murders, rapes, robberies and extortions committed in the deserts and forests of Mexico against travelling workers. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights noted recently that despite the change of government (from the conservative PAN of Felipe Calderón to the centrist PRI) there had been no let-up in the violations of human rights against undocumented migrants. The ambassador palmed off the issue to his human rights attaché, Stephanie Black, who did admit the enormity of the problem and suggested that while the PRI had been addressing the matter there was still a long way to go.

Saltires and senyeras

The drive for Scottish and Catalan independence from the UK and Spain has increased in recent weeks

The time is coming. The British Prime Minister David Cameron and the Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond have signed an historic agreement and the road to a referendum on whether Scotland will leave the United Kingdom is now clear. It take place in autumn 2014, in the form of a straightforward ‘Yes/No’ question and 16 and 17-year-olds will be allowed to vote (unlike other elections across the UK at the moment, where 18 is the minimum age). But while the details may be sorted and the construction of the plebiscite under way, the polls still show that the current feeling among Scots is that staying in the UK is the preferred option.

The debates around Scottish independence have been closely followed in another European country in a similar situation to the UK. In Spain, the discussions on Catalonia’s constitutional situation are growing in force. The central government wants the excitable and successful region to stay. Many Catalans want out; none more so than Artur Mas, the president of Catalonia’s devolved administration. He has pledged to hold a referendum on independence in the next four years, whether or not it is sanctioned by Madrid.

The debates are in different stages in the two countries. In the UK, the politicians and supporters of each argument have moved from negative campaigns through to trying to elucidate the positive aspects of the union or of independence. The Spaniards are very much still in the mud-slinging phase. Recently, the backbiting has been stepped up, after the culture minister highlighted his belief in a need to “hispanicise Catalan schoolchildren” to try to battle what he sees as a pro-Catalonia bias in the region’s schools. The CiU, the largest party in the Catalan parliament, retorted “maybe what Spain needs is to be Catalanised a bit”. The Church has even weighed in on the debate, saying that it will be “on the side of the Catalan people if they opt for independence from Spain”.

Catalonia is proud of its national identity. Its language is maybe the most famous marker of its nationhood, with millions of speakers and a vibrant press and literature in the Catalan tongue. The red-and-yellow striped flag, the senyera, is flown across the province where the thicker, Spanish banner, with its royal seal on one side, would normally be planted. There is a feeling that an enterprising, commercial spirit, with its roots in the port trade flowing through Barcelona, has allowed it to become one of the richer regions in Spain – wealth, it is claimed, that has helped prop up the Spanish state for many years.

Even the football clubs underline a cultural difference from a centralised Spain. The Real Madrid-Barcelona rivalry goes beyond the beautiful game into the realms of two linguistic and cultural identities. The motto of the Catalan team is ‘mes que un club’ (more than a club), a slogan hinting that it is there not just for the sport but also as a pillar of Catalan national pride to stand firm against overarching Madrid influences.

The economic arguments surrounding Scottish and Catalan independence come to the fore regularly. Alex Salmond, the Scottish National Party leader and current First Minister, beams whenever he discusses getting his hands on the North Sea oilfields lying off the eastern Scottish coast. Tourism, the whisky trade and fishing would help the small economy but could it deal with the share of the national debt which London would lump it with (and to which it has contributed, like all four nations)?

The SNP says it would keep the British pound and that the Bank of England (founded by a Scot) would still set its interest rates. Scotland would want to join the European Union but appetite for using the euro is low in the UK, to put it mildly. Catalonia would surely opt for the single currency, as other small nations such as Cyprus and Malta have done recently, but the Spanish region has admitted that it would be asking for a slice of the European bailout that Spain could well request.

There is certainly more fervour in favour of secession in Catalonia at the moment and Artur Mas has added more theatre to the Spanish debate this week, calling to mind the national culture in his region, saying that independence is “the only possible road to ensure the survival of Catalonia as a people”. The referendum will be opposed by Madrid but it is still likely to be held further down the road. But before that comes Scotland and the question of whether the blue-and-white flag, known as the saltire, can officially replace the Union flag as the one true national banner. Scotland will take on the issue of independence or union first, and the race is certainly heating up. Today, on Saturday 20 October, Alex Salmond said that Scotland’s “home rule journey is coming to its conclusion”.

Indian summer of uncertainty

How will India make use of its month in the presidency of the UN Security Council?

India has a lot of domestic and regional defence and security issues on its plate at the moment. Bearing in mind the added responsibility of chairing the UN Security Council, Delhi has a lot to shoulder. Looking at the international situation first there is one major issue: what to do with Syria. Since the Arab League gave its first official condemnation of the ongoing repression across Syria, the Gulf Nations have been queuing up to denounce the regime and their ambassadors have been jumping on aeroplanes home.

However, India’s caution on the issue has stood out. The excitable Europeans have been at the forefront of the clamour for a condemnatory resolution, with their grouping led by the UK, France and Italy (and also this time Germany, notably ambivalent about the NATO mission in Libya). Then there are Russia and China, two heavyweight permanent members flapping their vetoes in the air as a warning. India has so far aligned itself with the Russians and Chinese, who also count current non-permanent Council member South Africa, (part of the emboldening BRICS global power bloc), amongst their ranks. The Council has so far failed to agree on a resolution and only issued a weak statement. With Arab countries of regional importance both to Syria and to India starting to turn away from Damascus, India should have something a little bit more negative to say about the terrible repression in Syria.

On the home front, a relationship that unnerves Delhi is the Sino-Pakistani one. However, it has soured somewhat with Beijing’s published fears that Muslim Uighurs from Xinjiang province have been popping over the border to Pakistan to terrorist training camps. India, the host country of the Dalai Lama and the exiled Tibetan government, is eyeing China with suspicion. Indo-Pakistani relations recently came under the spotlight after many attributed responsibility for the Mumbai bombings in July to a Pakistani group. However, Islamabad strongly condemned the attacks and many instead looked to India’s homegrown Mujahideen as the possible bombers.

A new ‘Great Game’ seems to be building slowly in India, Pakistan and China. All three have nuclear weapons and very strong armed forces. India has two eyes but must not train them in the same direction. Syria is clearly important but Delhi must deliver calm diplomacy and strong leadership in the sub-continent as well. It has the chance to be a mediator in Indo-Chinese disputes at home and international disputes via the Security Council and must use these opportunities calmly and wisely.