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From Aztecs To Internet, A New Latin American Critique Of Populism

Guatemala-born Internet activist Gloria Alvarez believes that today's protest movements contain, as politics always has, the seeds of future complacency, arrogance and corruption.

Icons and ideas live on
Icons and ideas live on
Fabian Bosoer

BUENOS AIRES — Guatemalan political activist Gloria Álvarez is more than just a pretty face. There is her engaging — if not always endearing — manner, and the eloquence with which she communicates her ideas. She has a non-conformist thesis with a provocative theme — denouncing populism — and represents an individual rebellion that social networking sites are helping to turn collective.

On a recent tour of Latin America, she filled the auditoriums at two private universities in Buenos Aires. As part of her work, she hosts radio programs and must manage a "media profile," but she offers much more than an attractive image. Just 29, she studied international relations and politics in Guatemala and pursued postgraduate studies in the United States and Italy.

She became particularly well-known in September when she addressed the Hispano-American Youth Parliament in Zaragoza, Spain. At least a million people have watched that expand=1] speech via video, and she has more than 51,000 Facebook followers.

CLARIN: Criticizing populism isn't new, so what's different about your ideas?
: It's true the speech doesn't say anything new — rescuing the republic from a populism that dismantles institutions, restricts economic liberties, bans free dialogue and the exchange of ideas, and wants everyone to go the same way. But it says it another way, from another place and with another force. It is a voice being heard through social networking sites, in a century that is empowering individuals as never before. That means questioning everything — rigid institutions, top-down obedience, dogmas and indoctrination. The social network sites let people talk, complain and denounce. We have all become potential prosecutors and journalists.

What is the rebellion against?
In Latin America, we have had five principles of oppression: privileges that benefit one lot of citizens over the rights of others; state mercantilism, oligopoly networks and monopolies that have impeded the economy's development; transfer of wealth, the mentality that puts wealth distribution before its creation; caste-ridden societies, bequeathed to us long before the Spaniards arrived, by the Aztecs, Incas and Mayas. That made it easy for the Spaniards to replace the chiefs and take their places. And Spain did not bring us Western notions of liberty, or republican and institutional government. Populations oppressed and abused by dictators and charismatic rulers have sometimes found their voice through those same dictators. Populism is really our past returning in new clothes: polarizing by manipulating the masses with the economic needs until now denied to them. That's why it is so successful in the region.

Liberalism too has had a less than virtuous past, at least when applied.
That's right. The so-called Washington Consensus was a failure. Privatization processes fueled crony capitalism and a lack of competition. Privilege was always there, in the background. These days, any socialist with intellectual integrity would accept that the only way to come out of poverty is by creating wealth and productivity.

What is your position on gay marriage?
I am completely for it.

And legalizing drugs?
I'm in favor, but without the state monopolizing its production or distribution.

As a libertarian, I think freedom means taking responsibility for our actions. So if you freely decide to have sex, and I mean freely and without any compulsion, then we have to accept its consequences. But that's my opinion. I can't expect all women to share my code or principles. So I would rather it were legal and regulated within an established framework, rather than covered or ignored as a social reality.

Twenty years ago, the leaders you criticize now represented a kind of rebellion against political systems that weren't helping society. Don't you think there are similarities between your message and what they said then?
Absolutely. These social movements gained power through votes. They were the response to the abuses of their time, but they wound up forming their own elite, their own corruption. And as we can see, they haven't had much success in eliminating the vices of the old elites. One elite has just made way for another. Which is why I think today's populist leaders are tomorrow's old politics — and tomorrow is practically around the corner.

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The Unsustainable Future Of Fish Farming — On Vivid Display In Turkish Waters

Currently, 60% of Turkey's fish currently comes from cultivation, also known as fish farming, compared to just 10% two decades ago. The short-sightedness of this shift risks eliminating fishing output from both the farms and the open seas along Turkey's 5,200 miles of coastline.

Photograph of two fishermen throwing a net into the Tigris river in Turkey.

Traditional fishermen on the Tigris river, Turkey.

Dûrzan Cîrano/Wikimeidia
İrfan Donat

ISTANBUL — Turkey's annual fish production includes 515,000 tons from cultivation and 335,000 tons came from fishing in open waters. In other words, 60% of Turkey's fish currently comes from cultivation, also known as fish farming.

It's a radical shift from just 20 years ago when some 600,000 tons, or 90% of the total output, came from fishing. Now, researchers are warning the current system dominated by fish farming is ultimately unsustainable in the country with 8,333 kilometers (5,177 miles) long.

Professor Mustafa Sarı from the Maritime Studies Faculty of Bandırma 17 Eylül University believes urgent action is needed: “Why were we getting 600,000 tons of fish from the seas in the 2000’s and only 300,000 now? Where did the other 300,000 tons of fish go?”

Professor Sarı is challenging the argument from certain sectors of the industry that cultivation is the more sustainable approach. “Now we are feeding the fish that we cultivate at the farms with the fish that we catch from nature," he explained. "The fish types that we cultivate at the farms are sea bass, sea bram, trout and salmon, which are fed with artificial feed produced at fish-feed factories. All of these fish-feeds must have a significant amount of fish flour and fish oil in them.”

That fish flour and fish oil inevitably must come from the sea. "We have to get them from natural sources. We need to catch 5.7 kilogram of fish from the seas in order to cultivate a sea bream of 1 kg," Sarı said. "Therefore, we are feeding the fish to the fish. We cannot cultivate fish at the farms if the fish in nature becomes extinct. The natural fish need to be protected. The consequences would be severe if the current policy is continued.”

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