Ecuador, Chile, Honduras, Haiti, Colombia, Mexico, Peru, Argentina, Costa Rica, Bolivia… and counting.
The triggers might be different but they all have more than our blood in common. Every struggle in the region is connected. Decades of oppression, poverty, inequality, femicide, discrimination, racism, draconian economic measures imposed by US backed neo-liberal governments, who are still selling our resources and displacing Indigenous peoples, and who have no qualms about using the full strength of the army and police force to repress our people and imprison, torture, disappear and kill anyone who dares protest. Students, Indigenous Nations and Afro descendent, , Workers, Women, LGBTQ people.
We can examine the causes of the uprisings in each country, created by colonisers to separate us, but in a way the triggers are just the tip of the iceberg. It is much bigger than that. It goes back to the invasion and genocide but we can just focus on recent years.
We need to be clear that Ecuador is not just out in the streets because of the rise of fuel prices, Chile is not on strike just because of the hike on public transport fares, Mexico is not just destroying itself because of a few bad narcos, Haiti has grown fed up with extreme poverty, Honduras is not just about the fact that the US approved president’s brother is involved in a drug dealing scandal.
Our continent never truly decolonised mentally and in practice. The Indigenous Nations and Afro descendants never benefited from the processes of independence despite shedding our blood in the wars, which were led by criollos (white children of Spanish born in Latin America), the Natives were cannon fodder and abandoned when it was tie to re distribute the lands and profits. Even now, communities and whole towns are being forcibly displaced and even decimated, to make way for Canadian, US, and British mining and fracking companies, whose revenue does not stay in Latin America. And the caste system imposed by the conquistadores never disappeared. White people still rule, Mestizos work for them, Indigenous people are in poverty and suffer great levels of racism, Afro descendants are 4th class citizens, their histories forgotten, even in the classrooms.
The other big issue is how they rule us and educate us. Corruption is ingrained in every sphere. The ruling class is openly there to serve themselves. Fraud in electoral processes has always been the norm and we are resigned somehow. If any government makes real progress for the working class, they are murdered, like Chile’s Allende, or charges are made up to imprison and establish a far right government, Like Lula in Brazil who is locked up with false charges of corruption which led to Bolsonaro’s victory. Venezuela, Bolivia, and, of course Cuba, have emancipated their countries and gone to a mediatic war with the US and suffer blockades and even attempts of coup d'etat.
That is briefly the context where we move now. The eruption of protests in all the continent are not shocking or out of the blue. And the protests are radical. There are sectors who have even been traditionally conciliatory and centrist that have now been radicalised, more so because of the fascist-like response of all the governments, which are right wing like in Ecuador, Peru, Argentina, Colombia and Chile.
Indigenous peoples are now leading the struggle, and they refuse to be forgotten and tokenised any more. They are fighting for all, and to get the rights to their ancestral lands and stop the destruction of the environment and the theft of our resources. They are keeping our culture alive and decolonised.
Chilean students, Ecuadorian indigenous are being killed, the media is silent, willingly or shut down with guns. And little coverage has been done in the West even by the Left. Haiti has been out in the streets for seven weeks and the no one knows. The work of the capitalist system is not just killing people in protests but in the mind of the people. Derogation of blame, dehumanisation, devaluation.
It is true the cartels in Mexico and Central America control a big part of some cities and villages. Narcos are barbaric in their fight against each other and many innocent people have been victims, murdered or kidnapped, or coerced into working for them. This has always been the case. But, as a child growing up in Mexico, the level of drug related crime was minimum, and , not glorifying them here, they built roads and helped towns when the Neo-liberal governments refused to even open schools.
In the 2000s this changed with President Calderon, not just in Mexico, as the US blessed the so called war on drugs which escalated on a war against civilians and anyone not complaint. Nine women are killed a day, children are being recruited, people kidnapped. The fallacy is the government is taking action. The government are the narcos. And the police and army are involved to the core.
In South America the narrative has been simplistic claiming the revolts are about fare hikes or petrol. It is not, as I previously stated. In Chile’s 40 year old ‘new democracy’ they have suffered cuts and austerity in health, education and pensions. 30% of the income is in the hands of 1% of the people. Water is privatised, constitution is from Pinochet times. 10% of the state’s copper industry goes to the armed forces, and Pinera’s right wing government has gone from promoting Chile as an ‘oasis’ ‘a miracle’ to ‘we are at war with a powerful enemy” in one week. A very unequal “War” that has weapons and repression on one side and pots and pans on the other.
All the governments facing rebellions now have, obviously, blamed Venezuela and Cuba, easy escape, but in one way, Pinera is right in one single thing. The enemy is powerful: It is the Chilean people. All the Latin American people are rising and this time I doubt they are going to stop till we are truly free from oppressive governments and USA and FMI interventionism. .
Solidaridad! Venceremos!! ■
Tais is a Mexican Native and activist based in London. She has been part of the student and Indigenous movements in Mexico and has been involved in animal rights, Antifascism and solidarity work in Ireland and the UK for many years.
The Decolonial Atlas is a volunteer-run project lead by Jordan Engel which is building an ever growing collection of maps which, in some way, help us to challenge our relationships with the land, people, and state. It’s based on the premise that cartography is not as objective as we’re made to believe. The orientation of a map, its projection, the presence of political borders, which features are included or excluded, and the language used to label a map are all subject to the map-maker’s bias – whether deliberate or not.
Thank you for the time, why don't we get started with a little about how you got started with The Decolonial Atlas? What was the original impetus and why do you feel that such maps are so needed? What are the aims of the project?
Cartography is beautiful science and art form that can help us to better understand the world and our place in it. The problem is that most of the maps we use today reinforce an understanding of the world that is flawed. They do this in many ways, from the projections they use, to imposing to place names of the colonizers, to the inclusion of political borders. Borders do not really exist outside our imaginations, but they have been ingrained so deeply into our mental geographies that they seem real. A recent analysis revealed that most international borders are actually less than a century old. A world free from states becomes easier to envision when our maps don't include borders.
They say that 'history is written by the victors.' Well, maps are made by the colonizers. The Decolonial Atlas was started in response to that, to amplify indigenous geographic perspectives and challenge the monopoly that colonial maps have on our consciousness. The world has much to learn from these indigenous perspectives, but even more importantly, indigenous cartography contributes to the overall perpetuation of indigenous cultures which have for so long been suppressed. Knowledge of the land, passed down through generations, is preserved in indigenous place names. Documenting those names now is of the utmost importance, so that when the elders pass, those names are not forgotten forever.
Indigenous toponyms are important reflections of the cultures and places they represent. Compared to colonial toponyms which are often named for important settlers or are transplanted names from their homelands, indigenous names are much more deeply rooted in the local history and geography of that particular place. Documenting these names serves to support ongoing language revitalization efforts, acknowledge unextinguished indigenous land tenure, and help native and non-native people alike to better understand indigenous history, the legacy of colonization, and our relationship with the land.
You mentioned that one of the key issues with the maps in common usage is the projections themselves? Could you tell us a little more about this, why is came about and why it is we are using maps which continue to be problematic? Is there a preferred map?
The issue of projections in cartography comes down to equal representation. So many of the maps we use diminish the relative size of the Global South, while allowing for a greater level of detail in Europe and North America. The most egregious projection that we are all familiar with is the Mercator, a 450-year-old relic that famously makes Greenland appear larger than the entire continent of Africa. Obviously, because the Earth is spherical, there's no perfect way to represent it on a flat surface, but there are many great equal-area projections which are certainly preferable to the Mercator. Some of my favorites are the Eckert IV projection, and the similar Equal Earth projection, which was just invented in 2018.
What is the scale of loss of indigenous toponyms? How much have native communities lost?
The scale of loss varies from tribe to tribe. Eastern nations, which were colonized the earliest, often suffered a huge loss of their cultural heritage. Many of the names on our maps are from the precolonial era, while others are not quite as old. In some cases where the indigenous name for a place has been forgotten or suppressed, contemporary indigenous communities have endeavored to reconstruct a place name based on their cultural relationship with that location. Because indigenous cultures and languages are living and dynamic, none of these names are any less "authentic" than others. Still, I was once talking to DeLesslin George-Warren from the Catawba Indian Nation who brought up a great point when we were discussing indigenous toponymy - "The fact is that we've lost so much in terms of our language and place names. It might be more honest to recognize that loss in the map instead of giving the false notion that the place name still exists for us."
How do you feel about the argument that English toponyms can be set alongside indigenous toponyms? Such as found here in the UK where Welsh/English, Gaelic/English sit side by side, Is this enough?
It's a question for each indigenous community to answer what reconciliation means and looks like to them. Personally, I think there are so many instances in North America where the colonial place names blatantly dishonor indigenous communities, that I don't think dual-naming would suffice. The significance of place names is mostly symbolic, and too often, the names that dot this landscape are symbolic memorials to the white supremacist perpetrators of genocide and slavery. There is no equivalent for that in Great Britain.
What is the main difference between modern state borders and those of indigenous communities? Do they not present similar issues?
The Decolonial Atlas has become a platform for people to share ideas about decolonization. Someone commented recently that the concept of 'tribal territories' is widely misunderstood. Most American Indian nations did not have clearly defined borders as we think of today, and the concept of land ownership itself seemed absurd to many. I'd also direct people to a recent article which explores this topic titled Settler Anarchists Should Tread Lightly Around Indigenous Nationalism..
Is there a particular focus to your work at the moment?
Since 2014, we've been researching and consulting with indigenous elders and language keepers across North America to create a decolonized modern map of the continent. The main feature of this map are the indigenous toponyms (place names) for major landmarks such as cities, mountains, and historical sites. We've worked with more than 100 indigenous communities so far to accurately represent their languages and perspectives on the map.
How can Anarchist communities best practice respect for indigenous names? Is there not an issue of appropriation?
At the beginning many public events, it's becoming more common for there to be a territory acknowledgement, recognizing that these events are taking place on the stolen land of a particular tribe. When possible, we recommend also acknowledging the indigenous name of where the event is taking place. Place names are the intellectual and cultural property of the native people, and as such, we advise seeking permission from those communities and language keepers beforehand.
What are the long-term goals/ road map of The Decolonial Atlas?
We strive to accomplish many goals with the Atlas, including:
- Documenting indigenous knowledge of the land to ensure it's not forgotten
- Fostering a better understanding of indigenous history and the legacy of colonization
- Supporting indigenous peoples' reclamation of culture, language, and connection with the land
- Promoting indigenous pride in seeing accurate cultural representation
- Combating widespread misinformation about indigenous toponymy and
- Acknowledging unextinguished indigenous land tenure. ■
Jordan Engel, who kindly gave us this short interview is a mapmaker and researcher originally from Ga’sgöhsagöh in Onödowá’ga:’ territory. He founded the Decolonial Atlas in 2014.