Evo Morales Ups Ante As Other Latin American Leftists Fade

Bolivia's president lost a referendum earlier this year that could have kept him in power beyond 2019. The long-serving leader may try to seek reelection regardless.

Evo Morales at Macri's inauguration in December
Evo Morales at Macri's inauguration in December
Danilo Arbilla


BOGOTÁ â€" With Mauricio Macri's election in Argentina, moves to depose Dilma Rousseff in Brazil and Keiko Fujimori's rise in Peru, the pieces are clearly shifting on Latin America's political chessboard.

For those at risk of losing their hold on power, the reactions are natural: They are either reluctant to abandon the power they won, democratically, years ago, or in the case of those with little time for democracy in the first place, they persist in their anti-democratic skullduggery.

Dilma and her former patron, now protégé, Lula da Silva are fighting tooth and nail to keep their posts. Venezuela's Nicolás Maduro sinks further with each passing day, even as he grasps the presidential baton tight. He knows what awaits him out of office. He recently used the Supreme Court to declare as unconstitutional a parliamentary law to pardon political prisoners. Did anyone imagine the Court would rule otherwise?

When you have nothing to lose, you pull out all the stops â€" just look at Syrian ruler Bashar al-Assad. He wasn't going to be blown away by the winds of the Arab Spring. So he came out swinging. He remains in power. At the cost of a civil war, true, but that seems to be of little concern to him. His goal is to ride out an awkward patch, come hell or high water.

I'd say Bolivian President Evo Morales has a bit of the same instincts. Time to up the ante, he must have thought as he recently came out in defense of his chums, former Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, Dilma and Lula. He cannot believe Cristina K has been summoned to court. It must be another of those parliamentary or judicial "coups" that the Left sees everywhere. Of course, if the courts were investigating right-wing opponents, then it would be justice taking its course, truth coming out and the fight against corruption.

Evo seems to be the least "compromised" of these leaders so far, though some inauspicious signs have been emerging. He lost his referendum to legalize his continuity in power, and has faced attacks over his private life. I'm guessing he will try another re-election, using as many referenda as necessary â€" like his late friend, Venezuela's Hugo Chávez.

In the meantime, the presidential office has declared that the son he reportedly sired with a girlfriend (now jailed for "economic crimes") doesn't exist. Disappearances like this are not uncommon in Bolivia. After all, Morales made the Bolivian Republic disappear to make way for his Plurinational State, as the country is formally called.

Knowing that things are changing and that his opponents have multiplied, Morales has turned to talking tough. Any moment it seems he might declare war on Chile, with which Bolivia has longstanding territorial disputes. The external enemy, that classic ploy of dictatorial states. Of course it doesn't always work. It didn't for Leopoldo Galtieri, the last head of the Argentine junta, when he invaded the Falklands. In this case, Bolivia's demands that Chile grant it access to the Pacific is a rallying cry for Bolivian unity. The Hague Court is handling the matter for now.

Chile has little patience for these antics. As Ignacio Walker, a Chilean senator and ex-foreign affairs minister, has said, "We're tired of Bolivia using Chile in its internal affairs." He warned that if Bolivia "wants to keep provoking, Chile will defend itself calmly but very firmly."

Still, for Evo, if a crisis like this can keep him in power, maybe it's worth it.

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The Food Truck, A Sign That The White And Wealthy Are Moving In

In San Diego, California, a researcher tracked how in the city's low-income neighborhoods that have traditionally lacked dining options, when interesting eateries arrive the gentrification of white, affluent and college-educated people has begun.

Balboa Park Spring Fling Food Truck festival

San Diego Food Trucks via Facebook
Pascale Joassart-Marcelli

SAN DIEGO — Everybody, it seems, welcomes the arrival of new restaurants, cafés, food trucks and farmers markets.

What could be the downside of fresh veggies, homemade empanadas and a pop-up restaurant specializing in banh mis?

But when they appear in unexpected places – think inner-city areas populated by immigrants – they're often the first salvo in a broader effort to rebrand and remake the community. As a result, these neighborhoods can quickly become unaffordable and unrecognizable to longtime residents.

An appetite for gentrification

I live in San Diego, where I teach courses on urban and food geographies and conduct research on the relationship between food and ethnicity in urban contexts.

In recent years, I started to notice a pattern playing out in the city's low-income neighborhoods that have traditionally lacked food options. More ethnic restaurants, street vendors, community gardens and farmers markets were cropping up. These, in turn, spurred growing numbers of white, affluent and college-educated people to venture into areas they had long avoided.

This observation inspired me to write a book, titled The $16 Taco, about how food – including what's seen as "ethnic," "authentic" or "alternative" – often serves as a spearhead for gentrification.

Take City Heights, a large multi-ethnic San Diego neighborhood where successive waves of refugees from places as far away as Vietnam and Somalia have resettled. In 2016, a dusty vacant lot on the busiest boulevard was converted into an outdoor international marketplace called Fair@44. There, food vendors gather in semi-permanent stalls to sell pupusas, lechon (roasted pig), single-sourced cold-brewed coffee, cupcakes and tamarind raspado (crushed ice) to neighborhood residents, along with tourists and visitors from other parts of the city.

Informal street vendors are casualties.

A public-private partnership called the City Heights Community Development Corporation, together with several nonprofits, launched the initiative to increase "access to healthy and culturally appropriate food" and serve as "a business incubator for local micro-entrepreneurs," including immigrants and refugees who live in the neighborhood.

On paper, this all sounds great.

But just a few blocks outside the gates, informal street vendors – who have long sold goods such as fruit, tamales and ice cream to residents who can't easily access supermarkets – now face heightened harassment. They've become causalities in a citywide crackdown on sidewalk vending spurred by complaints from business owners and residents in more affluent areas.

This isn't just happening in San Diego. The same tensions have been playing out in rapidly gentrifying areas like Los Angeles' Boyle Heights neighborhood, Chicago's Pilsen neighborhood, New York's Queens borough and East Austin, Texas.

In all of these places, because "ethnic," "authentic" and "exotic" foods are seen as cultural assets, they've become magnets for development.

Food vendor at outdoor international marketplace called Fair@44.

Fairat44 via Instagram

A call for food justice

Cities and neighborhoods have long sought to attract educated and affluent residents – people whom sociologist Richard Florida dubbed "the creative class." The thinking goes that these newcomers will spend their dollars and presumably contribute to economic growth and job creation.

Food, it seems, has become the perfect lure.

It's uncontroversial and has broad appeal. It taps into the American Dream and appeals to the multicultural values of many educated, wealthy foodies. Small food businesses, with their relatively low cost of entry, have been a cornerstone of ethnic entrepreneurship in American cities. And initiatives like farmers markets and street fairs don't require much in the way of public investment; instead, they rely on entrepreneurs and community-based organizations to do the heavy lifting.

In City Heights, the Community Development Corporation hosted its first annual City Heights Street Food Festival in 2019 to "get people together around table and food stalls to celebrate another year of community building." Other recent events have included African Restaurant Week, Dia de Los Muertos, New Year Lunar Festival, Soul Food Fest and Brazilian Carnival, all of which rely on food and drink to attract visitors and support local businesses.

Meanwhile, initiatives such as the New Roots Community Farm and the City Heights Farmers' Market have been launched by nonprofits with philanthropic support in the name of "food justice," with the goal of reducing racial disparities in access to healthy food and empowering residents – projects that are particularly appealing to highly educated people who value diversity and democracy.

Upending an existing foodscape

In media coverage of changing foodscapes in low-income neighborhoods like City Heights, you'll rarely find any complaints.

San Diego Magazine's neighborhood guide for City Heights, for example, emphasizes its "claim to authentic international eats, along with live music venues, craft beer, coffee, and outdoor fun." It recommends several ethnic restaurants and warns readers not to be fooled by appearances.

Longtime residents find themselves forced to compete against the "urban food machine"

But that doesn't mean objections don't exist.

Many longtime residents and small-business owners – mostly people of color and immigrants – have, for decades, lived, worked and struggled to feed their families in these neighborhoods. To do so, they've run convenience stores, opened ethnic restaurants, sold food in parks and alleys and created spaces to grow their own food.

All represent strategies to meet community needs in a place mostly ignored by mainstream retailers.

So what happens when new competitors come to town?

Food vendor at outdoor international marketplace called Fair@44.

Fairat44 via Instagram

Starting at a disadvantage

As I document in my book, these ethnic food businesses, because of a lack of financial and technical support, often struggle to compete with new enterprises that feature fresh façades, celebrity chefs, flashy marketing, bogus claims of authenticity and disproportionate media attention. Furthermore, following the arrival of more-affluent residents, existing ones find it increasingly difficult to stay.

My analysis of real estate ads for properties listed in City Heights and other gentrifying San Diego neighborhoods found that access to restaurants, cafés, farmers markets and outdoor dining is a common selling point. The listings I studied from 2019 often enticed potential buyers with lines like "shop at the local farmers' market," "join food truck festivals" and "participate in community food drives!"

San Diego Magazine's home buyer guide for the same year identified City Heights as an "up-and-coming neighborhood," attributing its appeal to its diverse population and eclectic "culinary landscape," including several restaurants and Fair@44.

When I see that City Heights' home prices rose 58% over the past three years, I'm not surprised.

Going up against the urban food machine

Longtime residents find themselves forced to compete against what I call the "urban food machine," a play on sociologist Harvey Molotch's "urban growth machine" – a term he coined more than 50 years ago to explain how cities were being shaped by a loose coalition of powerful elites who sought to profit off urban growth.

I argue that investors and developers use food as a tool for achieving the same ends.

When their work is done, what's left is a rather insipid and tasteless neighborhood, where foodscapes become more of a marketable mishmash of cultures than an ethnic enclave that's evolved organically to meet the needs of residents. The distinctions of time and place start to blur: An "ethnic food district" in San Diego looks no different than one in Chicago or Austin.

Meanwhile, the routines and rhythms of everyday life have changed so much that longtime residents no longer feel like they belong. Their stories and culture reduced to a selling point, they're forced to either recede to the shadows or leave altogether.

It's hard to see how that's a form of inclusion or empowerment.The Conversation


Pascale Joassart-Marcelli is a Professor of Geography and Director, Urban Studies and Food Studies Programs at San Diego State University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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