LANGELLE PHOTOGRAPHY

Using the power of photojournalism to expose social, economic and ecological injustice

Posts from the ‘Photo Reportage’ category

Press Statement                               March 17, 2020
 
¡Buen Vivir! Gallery for Contemporary Art Postpones April First Friday Event in Buffalo
Chile: Peoples’ Uprising Exhibit Opening to be Rescheduled   
 

Buffalo, NY: Due to the current public health emergency and recommendations for events not to exceed fifty people, the ¡Buen Vivir! Gallery for Contemporary Art is postponing our April 3 First Friday event. The opening reception for our new exhibit, Chile: Peoples’ Uprising, will be rescheduled for a later date. We will be sure to inform you of the new date for the exhibit opening when we make that determination.

Contact: Orin Langelle +1.716.536.5669
148 Elmwood Avenue
Buffalo, NY 14201

 

Chile: Peoples’ Uprising

Images from the Front Lines

Exhibit Opens April 3

BUFFALO, NY – The ¡Buen Vivir! Gallery for Contemporary Art will present documentary photography and videography from the ongoing peoples’ uprising in Chile that started in October of last year. The images were shot by the gallery co-directors, Orin Langelle and Anne Petermann in the months of November and December, 2019 from the front lines of the uprising.

The Opening Reception of Chile: Peoples’ Uprising will be held during Allentown’s First Friday event on April 3 from 6 to 9 p.m. Wine and hors d’oeuvres will be served at the ¡Buen Vivir! Gallery for Contemporary Art, 148 Elmwood Avenue at Global Justice Ecology Project space.

A massive popular uprising in Chile began on October 18, 2019, and continues to this day. Millions are demanding a new economic and political system in Chile and a new Constitution.Chile’s existing Constitution was written during the Pinochet Dictatorship, ushered in during a military coup supported by the U.S. in 1973.

Today Peoples’ Assemblies are taking part in all regions of Chile to create a process that will rewrite the new constitution. Chile’s President Piñera is trying to take control of this process and to crush the protests with extreme violence and repression.

Petermann and Langelle documented street protests including clashes between activists and Carabineros (national police) in the cities of Santiago and Temuco.

As of the first week of March of this year reports state that since the uprising began in October, 36 activists have died, more than 28,000 Chileans have been detained and 4,080 minors arrested. Additionally over 11,000 have been injured by the Carabineros. Shotguns loaded with rubber-coated metal pellets deliberately aimed at protesters’ faces have caused 445 serious eye wounds. Many people have partial or complete loss of vision in one or both eyes. In addition, several protesters have been run over by armored vehicles.

Langelle and Petermann also traveled to two indigenous Mapuche land re-occupations, where communities had taken back 1,500 hectares of their ancestral lands, stolen from them during the dictatorship. On U.S. Thanksgiving, they took photos and video interviews after Carabineros shot and teargassed people in the re-occupation.

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On Tuesday, April 7, Jim Shultz, Executive Director of the Democracy Center, will launch his newest book My Other Country, Nineteen Years in Bolivia? in the BV Gallery from 7 – 9 p.m. The full moon event commemorates the 20th anniversary of the Cochabamba Water Revolt in Bolivia that Shultz was involved in and helped publicize.

The gallery is free and open to the public.

 

Contact: Theresa Church [email protected]GlobalJusticeEcology.org                                                                           +1.716.931.5388                

BuenVivirGallery.org

Santiago de Chile: Water cannons chase crowd. A caustic liquid was mixed with the water to irritate the skin and lungs. Water cannons were strategically used to target street medics and the Red Cross.

Santiago de Chile: Depicting blood and eyeballs in the hands of the government. This guerrilla theater on International Human Rights Day, December 10th, commemorated the (then) 350+ eyes injured, some permanently by the Carabineros de Chile (national police) who intentionally shot people in the face with shotguns filled with rubber-coated metal pellets during the protests.

This young Mapuche is from the community of Quilape Lopez, Chile, which is re-occupying stolen ancestral lands. Elders say the young are the future of the Mapuche, as is the land.

all photos by Orin Langelle / photolangelle.org

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This video includes many of my photographs – Orin Langelle

This video was shot over the week of 25 November, during the trial of Mapuche Lonko Alberto Curamil over manufactured charges that he was involved in a robbery.

Lonko Alberto Curamíl during court hearings in Temuco, Chile               photo: Orin Langelle/GJEP

In fact, his arrest and subsequent year and a half in jail awaiting trial are understood to have been retribution for his role in leading a campaign that stopped two hydroelectric projects on the Rio Cautín, a sacred river to the Mapuche, the headwaters of which start in the snowfields of the Lonquimay volcano.

Rio Cautin. The Lonko’s role in lead a campaign that stopped two hydroelectric projects on the Rio Cautín, a sacred river to the Mapuche, the headwaters of which start in the snowfields of the Lonquimay volcano. photo:Langelle/GJEP

In the video, his attorney Rodrigo Román speaks about the case and the greater issue of state repression against Mapuche people, whose land has long been the target of expropriation for industrial timber plantations.  As another Mapuche Lonko explained, “first they stole our land, now they want to steal our rivers.”

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Also please visit Mapuche Lonko Alberto Curamíl Acquitted of All Charges

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Photojournalist Orin Langelle takes a break by graffiti celebrating Victor Jara in Santiago, Chile. Langelle has been photographing the frontlines of the peoples rebellion in Chile. The musician Jara, a Chilean hero, was murdered by the regime of dictator Augusto Pinochet. photo: Petermann/GJEP

PLEASE FOLLOW GLOBAL JUSTICE ECOLOGY PROJECT & THE BIOFUELWATCH TEAM IN CHILE:

CHILE

CLIMATE NEWS

 

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22 November to 6 December 2019 

This young Mapuche is from the community of Quilape Lopez re-occupying ancestral lands that were stolen. Elders say the young are the future of the Mapuche as is the land. photo: Langelle/GJEP

I Can Still Spit

Field Notes – I landed in Santiago, Chile on 22 November from Buffalo, NY via Toronto with Anne Petermann. Anne is the Executive Director of Global Justice Ecology Project and we are married life partners. We crashed for a couple of hours in Hotel Forestal. That afternoon we met up with Gary Hughes from Biofuelwatch and we hit the ground running to start covering, exploring and understanding the peoples’ rebellion in Chile.

We are the team for CHILE CLIMATE NEWS. My photos start here in Santiago and the diaries cover that day of arrival and the street protest we joined, and are followed by our subsequent journey to Temuco, Curacautin, and the Mapuche land occupations at Liempi Colipi and Quilape Lopez, and eventually back to Santiago. In Temuco we met the other partner of the team, Alejandra Parra from RADA, the Environmental Rights Action Network.  We met Alejandra back in 2004 when we first came to Chile to work with the Mapuche group KONAPEWMAN on the problem of genetically engineered trees and industrial tree plantations.

On this journey we covered marches against a toxic new waste-to-energy incinerator planned for Mapuche territory (being promoted as “green renewable energy,” a powerful women’s march in Temuco, land occupations in remote Mapuche territory where we spent good times with the kind and generous communities of Liempi Colipi and Quilape Lopez and the hard times when members of the Liempi Colipi occupation called to tell us the Carabineros de Chile (national police) had raided their community, using tear gas and shooting people with rubber coated metal pellets. We dropped everything and went to the community.

More copy after the video produced by Global Justice Ecology Project’s Steve Taylor.

I Can Still Spit continued…

Okay WTF does ‘I can still spit’ mean? Gary Hughes from our team told me early on in the trip that if you are afraid, as long as you can still spit, it’s ok. If you can’t spit, you better get out of whatever situation you’re in very quickly and maybe you shouldn’t even be where you are. I have questioned a few times if I should have been in particular situations. When the Carabineros came charging at us from the middle of nowhere, where people have been shot and then in other situations when I was choking from teargas, I did briefly question why I was there. But I could still spit. I had to be there because that is what I do. It is what I have done for 50 years now.

The reason I could still spit was because of the people. With the Mapuche, who welcomed us, not only into their community that also fed us, but onto the front lines when no one knew what the outcome would be if the Carabineros attacked the occupation. I could still spit because I knew and deeply felt I was part of something bigger than myself.  I could spit because, although the adrenaline was pumping, although I fell and injured my leg climbing over a blockade, I was with strong, kind and generous people.

And then I knew I could continue spitting (at the elites and their police) back in Santiago the evening of 6 December when the Plaza de la Dignidad lit up with red flares, fires and lasers. The exuberance of the scene. The hope.

I’m putting these photos and diary together after International Human Rights Day on 10 December where I covered the activities in Santiago, and where the authorities did anything but honor human rights, including critically injuring a 15 year old girl with a teargas canister to her head. Visuals: How Chile Dealt with International Human Rights Day.

We originally planned to come to Chile when we heard the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) COP25 would be here. For Anne and I, after covering so many COPs, from our first COP in Buenos Aires in 2004, then to Montreal, Nairobi to Bali, Poznan, Copenhagen, Mexico, and our final COP in Durban in 2011, coming back to Chile was to stand up against the final nail being driven into life itself with the capitalist’s scheme for the total commodification of Earth and all its inhabitants. A scheme greenwashed with the name “natural climate solutions” – solutions for corporations to use nature to maintain business as usual while pretending to address climate change through biodiversity and carbon offsets. The same old same old, but with new shiny packaging. Plus, we knew Chileans protesters knew how to throw a party. This was before the uprising began. Little did we dream we would walk into a revolution-in-process.

I was accredited as media from the UN climate COP25 originally scheduled for Santiago, Chile. Due to the popular rebellion in Chile and the government’s desperate desire to hide its human rights crimes–like rape, torture and 350+ eyes lost to carabinero shotguns, COP25 was moved to Madrid, Spain. I also received UN accreditation there. I chose to come to Chile and photograph the people in resistance instead of going to Madrid.

Madrid is the uplifting of the neoliberal model to use false solutions to climate change – Chile is the fight against that neoliberal model.

I will still spit because I must.

Photojournalist Orin Langelle takes a break by graffiti celebrating Victor Jara in Santiago, Chile. Langelle has been in Chile photographing the frontlines of the peoples rebellion, and has documented movements for struggle around the world since 1972. The musician Jara, a Chilean hero, was murdered by the regime of dictator Augusto Pinochet, under whose regime neoliberalism was ushered in. photo: Petermann/GJEP

PLEASE FOLLOW GLOBAL JUSTICE ECOLOGY PROJECT & THE BIOFUELWATCH TEAM IN CHILE:

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Man injured by the police close to Plaza de la Dignidad in Santiago, Chile during International Humans Rights Day. photo: Langelle/GJEP

Cruz Roja Chilena (Red Cross) about to be sprayed with water cannon. photo: Langelle/GJEP

Santiago, Chile – On the international day of human rights, protesters in Chile held a march commemorating the 350+ eyes lost to the violence of the Carabineros de Chile (national police) during the days of the Chile uprising. When the march arrived at the Plaza de la Dignidad, they were joined by many more protesters from across the city.

The Red Cross came and set up an aid station on the edge of the plaza. Not long after, the Carabineros arrived with their water cannons and gave the Red Cross extra special attention.

Please see Biofuelwatch’s Gary Hughes’ short video after the photos: Chilean National Police Attack Red Cross. Hughes, Anne Petermann from Global Justice Ecology Project and myself are the field team of CHILE CLIMATE NEWS.

All photos by Orin Langelle/GJEP

“Truth – Justice –  Reparations for the children raped by the state” translated banner at the National Museum, Belles Artes

Depicting blood and eyeballs in the hands of the government

The eyes go to Plaza de la Dignidad and the statue of Manuel Baquedano

Hundreds of women march together into Plaza de la Dignidad

Young protesters running down the avenue as the freshly painted art canvas of water cannon passes on the street

Water cannons chase crowd

Tear gas canister fired from the truck in air before it lands in the streets. A canister like this struck a 15 year young woman in the demonstration and sent her to the hospital for surgery. She now is in critical condition.

Tear gas in the streets

Carabineros with shields between the police vehicles

After returning to our apartment in another part of the city in Santiago, this fire blockade, seen on the corner of San Diego and Sta. Isabel, was accompanied by protesters banging in rhythm on the metal barricade – rebellion and outrage spreading through the city.  Passers by honked in time to show their support.

On International Human Rights Day Chilean National Police Attack Red Cross video by Gary Hughes.

 

Photojournalist Orin Langelle takes a break by graffiti celebrating Victor Jara in Santiago, Chile. Langelle has been photographing the frontlines of the peoples’ rebellion in Chile. The musician Jara, a Chilean hero, was murdered by the regime of dictator Augusto Pinochet. photo: Petermann/GJEP

 

PLEASE FOLLOW GLOBAL JUSTICE ECOLOGY PROJECT & BIOFUELWATCH TEAM IN CHILE:

CHILE CLIMATE NEWS

 

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On the morning of Thursday 28 December the Mapuche communities of Liempi Colipi and Quilape Lopez mobilized to defend their land occupation after Carabineros de Chile (national police) fired metal-filled rubber pellets and injured several people at the blockade.

After the photo essay, a short video follows.

All photos by Orin Langelle and video by Anne Petermann.

With the momentum of the national uprising across Chile, two weeks ago, two Mapuche communities near Curacautin, Liempi Colipi and Quilape Lopez began an occupation of 1500 hectares of ancestral lands.

Carabineros illegally stop and prevent traffic from continuing on the road that passes the Mapuche land occupation outside of Curacautin.

The public road is also the main route to Conguillio National Park in Chile.

After an emergency call from the Mapuche occupation about the Carabineros attacking, we were stopped by them at a road block on our way back to help. Alejandra Parra from Red de Acción por los Derechos Ambientales (RADA) and Anne Petermann from Global Justice Ecology Project (GJEP) were allowed to proceed on foot several kilometers to the blockade while Biofuelwatch’s Gary Hughes and GJEP’s Orin Langelle were guided by Mapuche toward the blockade by way of a back road.

Mapuche men guarding another back entrance into the blockade

Mapuche put cut trees and debris on the road

These logs block the road coming from Curacautin

At one of the entrances to the occupation

Mapuches on guard

Mapuches going into the main entrance where the shootings occurred earlier that day

One of the men shot earlier that morning returns to camp and is videoed by Anne Petermann and Alejandra Parra

The man was shot in the head with metal-filled rubber pellets by the Carabineros earlier in the morning.

Mapuche Lonko Juan Huenuhueque of Liempi Colipi raises his fist as the imminent threat fades of the Carabineros coming to evict the Mapuche communities from their ancestral lands.

TRANSCRIPT FOLLOWS VIDEO

We want to make a public statement to the Chilean territory, to Mapuche people, to the whole country, to inform about this situation where riot policemen have done things here in the Liempi Colipi community, in the district of Curacautín, La Araucanía region. They have entered the community today-the riot policemen-without any previous dialogue, any eviction order. When we reached them to have a conversation, they started shooting tear gas canisters. They started shooting at us, and one of them passed by no more than fifteen meters away from me. So, we make a public statement for you to be aware of this. There are more injured peñis, on their arms, on their stomach, in their tummy. So, we encourage you to pay attention to this, to be prepared because the riot police officers are coming after us again. Marichiweu! (We shall win a hundred times in Mapudungun!)”

 

 

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The Mapuche community of Lautaro is threatened by a waste-to-energy incinerator that claims to produce “clean, renewable energy” in a town that already has a biomass burning plant. This march was held on the last day of a public comment period to deliver thousands of comments against the project. All photographs: Orin Langelle/GJEP

Alejandra Parra of RADA, the Environmental Rights Action Network speaks about the project at the march.

PLEASE FOLLOW THE GLOBAL JUSTICE ECOLOGY & BIOFUELWATCH TEAM IN CHILE:

CHILE CLIMATE NEWS

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One month and thirty years ago, activist John Wallace and I walked together through a clearcut in southern Illinois’ Shawnee National Forest. I suppose it was destined to happen a few more times and the last time just happened on May 2, 2019. It was not a pretty sight. – Orin Langelle

Mud caked tires and the tracks that covered them on a forwarder used to haul out lumber at the industrial Lee Mine logging project in the Shawnee National Forest (SNF). (2019)   PhotoLangelle.org

Shawnee Mud and Ruts

by Shawnee Forest Defense!

Hardin County, Illinois – On an incredibly rainy May 2, heavily loaded log trucks passing by alerted activist John Wallace and photojournalist, Orin Langelle, to investigate a nearby Shawnee National Forest logging site, known as the Lee Mine Project in Hardin County. The clearcut logging site included a recently pushed-in road, a log landing, and punched-in roads or trails sprawling in different directions. A bulldozer, a feller-buncher and a mud-caked forwarder (for hauling out logs) were setting idle on site, after the end of the work day. Muddy ruts and stumps dominated the scarred landscape.

Shawnee Forest Defense! activist John Wallace (center) barely visible in the mud and ruts. (2019)                       PhotoLangelle.org

Tree cutting, bulldozing and road building were well underway on April 20, when a resident neighbor, Patti Walker first noticed the atrocity, in direct contradiction of the agency’s own standards detailed in a 2007 Environmental Assessment. As if the simple disregard for forest inhabitants weren’t enough, the project was in full swing on May 2, a day that locally received more than 2″ of rainfall.  Logging in mud destroys forest soils.

The clearcut logging site included a recently pushed-in road, a log landing (above), and recent new roads or trails sprawling in different directions. (2019)                                                       PhotoLangelle.org

The Lee Mine Project is an industrial logging scheme that USDA Forest Service (FS) staff has dishonestly characterized as “Hardwood Restoration.” The smaller, hardwood trees of the forest understory are being destroyed along with the larger, harvested pine trees. In the midst of the forest songbird nesting season, agency officials have turned a blind eye to their own previously stated mitigating measures of protecting nesting birds from damaging project activities in the locale.

Mud, ruts dominate the scarred landscape in the SNF. (2019)          PhotoLangelle.org

On a site located just across the road from the current Lee Mine Project area the FS took the following stated measures to protect nesting birds. “[T]o minimize effects on migratory birds and other reproducing animals, no prescribed fire, site-preparation or tree-cutting would be conducted during the most active part of the nesting season (April 15-July 15).” (Responses to Comments, Revised EA, Harris Branch Restoration of Hardwoods in a Pine Stand, #8, pg. 6)

Trees and earth pushed to the side for the logging road. (2019)                       PhotoLangelle.org

Big Creek, a candidate stream for wild and scenic riverway designation, brown from rain runoff and erosion from the Lee Mine Project is also designated as a Zoological Area in the SNF. (2019)   PhotoLangelle.org

Adding insult to injury, the hilly and recently muddied landscape drains directly into Big Creek, a candidate stream for Wild and Scenic Riverway designation. Because of its biological diversity, the stream is also designated as a Zoological Area on the Shawnee National Forest.

“Big Creek is a beautiful, clear, rocky, spring-fed stream that flows through limestone formations of Shawnee Hills…”, “the clear cool water provides a stream environment suitable for fauna that is intolerant of sluggish, silty, warm waters,” are typical descriptors of the stream as detailed in Biologically Significant Illinois Streams, An Evaluation of the Streams of Illinois, (INHS, L.Page, K.Cummings, C.Mayer, S.Post, 1991). It is known to contain two state endangered crayfish, Ordonectes kentuckiensis and Orconectes placidus. Big Creek is also believed to contain a state threatened fish, least brook lamprey, Lampetra aepyptera. (citation above). The Illinois Water Quality Report (Illinois Environmental Protection Agency, 1990) rated the stream as “Full Support,” and the Biological Stream Characterization (Hite and Bertrand, 1989), rated this stretch of Big Creek as an “A” Stream, a Unique Aquatic Resource. It was also rated as one of the “Outstanding” streams in the system (INHS, L.Page, K.Cummings, C.Mayer, S.Post, 1991).

Above the mud and ruts is an idle feller buncher, a type of harvester used in logging. It is a motorized vehicle run by a single person with an attachment that can cut and gather several trees before stacking them on the ground. A feller buncher can cut 200 trees per hour, eliminating logging jobs. (2019)           PhotoLangelle.org

Following a day of industrial logging operations near its banks, and in the midst of heavy and consistent rains, the typically clear flowing stream was compromised by turbid water, clouded with sediment from the nearby denuded hillsides, trails and bulldozed roadways of the logging site. Other nearby streams that had no drainage from the logging operations were flowing with amazing clarity.

The FS has once again allowed the timber industry to run roughshod over one of its project sites to the detriment of the Shawnee National Forest, the land, the water, the forest inhabitants and the citizens of this country, at the Lee Mine Project logging site. There is frankly nothing about this project that can be considered consistent with the Forest Service stated motto which is, “Caring for the land and serving the people.”

PhotoLangelle.org

 

Please join Indigenous Environmental Network, Global Justice Ecology Project and Shawnee Forest Defense! in October for The Resurgence: 2019 Forest & Climate Movement Convergence where we will join together diverse movements to build strategies with action to fundamentally transform the system that is destroying life on Earth.  The event will take place in the Shawnee National Forest.

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Spring 2019

April 17 – Mayday

University of Mount Union – Alliance, Ohio

Buffalo, NY, 26 January 2019 – Protester chanting, “Whose streets, our streets,” in front of vehicle. Extinction Rebellion Buffalo blocked intersection in one of Buffalo’s shopping districts because of the extreme weather around the planet. photo: Orin Langelle

Langelle will be a Featured Artist and Lecturer

Earth Month Exhibit:  Extreme Weather – Portraits of Struggle

April 17th to May 1st, 2019

Hoover-Price Campus Center

420 W Simpson St, Alliance, OH

Free and Open to the Campus Community and the Public

 

Artist Reception and Presentation

April 25th, 2019 – 4 p.m. to 6 pm. 

Hoover-Price Campus Center Alumni Room

420 W Simpson St, Alliance, OH

Free and Open to the Campus Community and the Public

 

Press Release:

For Immediate Release                                                                       April 9, 2019

Available for interviews: Orin Langelle  <[email protected]>

Photojournalist Known for Documenting Environmental

Justice Struggles Presents Images of Climate Change

University of Mount Union Showing

Buffalo, NY— Award-winning documentary photographer Orin Langelle shows his exhibit, Extreme Weather – Portraits of Struggle, this month at the University of Mount Union. The exhibit opens on April 17 and runs to May 1 in the Hoover-Price Campus Center, 420 W Simpson St, Alliance, OH.

Langelle’s body of work spanning over five decades specializes in social and environmental justice struggles. He was recently interviewed on WBDX in Southern Illinois about this exhibit at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale.  The interview can be found here.

There will be an Artist Reception and Presentation on April 25, from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. at the Hoover-Price Campus Center’s Alumni Room. Langelle will speak on the many social and political reasons why the Earth is facing climate catastrophe.

Langelle stated, “My photographs are united by the intertwined threads of social, economic or ecological injustice and peoples’ resilience or resistance to them. Showing how these issues are intrinsically linked is crucial to understanding the whole–to seeing the big picture–instead of compartmentalizing each separately. I believe we must understand that everything is interconnected. The root causes of these problems are often one and the same.”

Langelle is the Director of Langelle Photography which is a component of the Global Justice Media Program of Global Justice Ecology Project with offices in New York State and Florida.

Jeff Conant, Director, Friends of the Earth’s international forests program said, “Orin Langelle is one of the great documentarians of the last several decades…You look at his photos and you cannot forget that power concedes nothing without a struggle…and that this struggle takes place somewhere, somehow, everyday and everywhere”

Both events are free and open to the campus community and the public.

 

 

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This photo I shot is a graft of an American-Chinese Chestnut hybrid. It was taken in Huntsville, AL during the annual meeting of The American Chestnut Foundation. It was used to illustrate the press release (below) from Global Justice Ecology Project today. – Orin Langelle

Graft of an American-Chinese Chestnut hybrid. Photolangelle.org

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                                             MARCH 28,  2019

Regional Board members of The American Chestnut Foundation Resign In Protest Against Genetically Engineered American Chestnut Trees

Contact: Steve Taylor       [email protected].

Spencer, MA – In a statement today, two board members of the Massachusetts/Rhode Island Chapter of The American Chestnut Foundation (TACF), including the Chapter President announced they were resigning from TACF as a protest against the organization’s support for genetically engineering (GE) American chestnut trees.

Board President Lois Breault-Melican and Board member Denis Melican made the decision to leave due to TACF support for the unregulated planting of GE American chestnut trees throughout eastern US forests.

The Melicans stated, “We are unwilling to lift a finger, donate a nickel or spend one minute of our time assisting the development of genetically engineered (GE) trees or using the American chestnut to promote biotechnology in forests as any kind of benefit to the environment. The GE American chestnut is draining the idealism and integrity from TACF.”

If deregulated by the USDA, the GE American chestnut would be the first GMO allowed to be planted in the wild with the intent to reproduce itself. There are no long-term studies of the impacts this would have on forests, wildlife, pollinators or human health.

The Melicans joined TACF sixteen years ago to help bring back the American chestnut. In their statement they wrote, “Looking back, if we had known on day one that Monsanto and [GE tree company] ArborGen had an interest in – and funded – the GMO chestnut, we would not have gotten involved.”  Read More

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All photos taken by Orin Langelle in Nicaragua unless noted.

Posoltega, Nicaragua: This tree was uprooted and stuck upside down in the mud after the crater lake of the Las Casitas volcano collapsed during Hurricane Mitch causing a major mudslide that buried entire villages near Posoltega, Nicaragua. The tree marks the mass grave of thousands of people, and the land affected by the mudslide resembles a desert.

The following article was published twenty years ago in ACERCA NOTES when I was the coordinator of ACERCA (Action for Community and Ecology in the Rainforests of Central America). ACERCA’s findings cited climate change as one of the factors that exacerbated the tragedy caused by Hurricane Mitch. Climate change was not on the minds of many people twenty years ago. Little did I know then that climate change would be on so many people’s minds today and actually be recognized as a major threat to life on Earth if systemic changes do not happen economically and politically in the next twelve years.  – Orin Langelle

The Special Report was excerpted from the “Preliminary Report to the Nicaragua Network Environmental Task Force.”

SPECIAL REPORT: HURRICANE MITCH IN NICARAGUA

Environmental Degradation, Deforestation, [Climate Change] Exacerbated Tragedy

by Orin Langelle

From October 25 to November 2, 1998 Nicaragua suffered a full scale disaster with Hurricane Mitch. Action for Community and Ecology in the Rainforests of Central America (ACERCA) called for and organized an environmental justice fact-finding research delegation to the region co-sponsored by Witness For Peace). In the first part of February [1999], the ACERCA-WFP delegation traveled in Nicaragua to get an eye-witness account. The delegation was the first from the United States to look into environmental factors of the hurricane. The following information is from many sources.

Posoltega, Nicaragua: During Hurricane Mitch, Johana Medín and her baby boy were swept away in the torrent of the Las Casitas volcano mudslide. For over 2 kilometers she held on to her baby and saved his life. Other survivors were not so lucky. Some were stuck in the mud for up to six days and had to have their limbs amputated. Others swallowed stomachs full of the mudslide and became sick. There were over 5,000 refugees.

Although Hurricane Mitch was a Category Five Hurricane with winds that ranged from 250-300 kms per hour with intense rain, the Nicaraguan government took no measures to prepare. In actuality, Hurricane Mitch did not hit Nicaragua, but Nicaragua suffered horrendous indirect effects.

Hurricane Mitch exposed in Nicaragua what has been present for many years. Decades of land abuse and environmental neglect magnified the hurricane’s devastating toll in death and damage. A combination of many social, political and economic factors caused the environmental degradation that exacerbated the tragedy. Deforestation played a major role. United States policy toward to Nicaragua contributed to these factors. Other factors include Global Climatic Change. Additionally, the government of Nicaragua ignored many warnings that could have prevented the tremendous loss of human life.

Hurricane Mitch destroyed roads, communications, houses and wells. Raging rivers washed away farmland and many zones were flooded for long periods of time. The damage to agriculture, ranching and human life was unprecedented with thousands dead and tens of thousands homeless.

The hurricane hit the poorest of the poor and will have long-term effects on food production for the entire populace. Seventy-two percent of all that was planted was lost. Small farmers were hit the hardest losing 90% of their beans and 80% of their corn.

Brief Historical Sketch Leading to Mitch

Development and exploitation of resources and people began with the Conquistadors ad has continued to this day.

These children [were] working for 9 Cordobas a day [US$.76 in 1999] picking peanuts in a field in the district of Chinandega, one of the districts hardest hit by Hurricane Mitch. The parents of these children [were] in Costa Rica, trying to earn enough money to send back to Nicaragua so they [did] not lose their lands to the bank. These small producers lost almost all of their crops to the hurricane.

The United States, through financial and military support and intervention, has influenced Nicaragua for many years, from the 1800s to the present. In the 1950s, large cotton export operations flourished in the Pacific, clearing land, ruining soil with monoculture crops and pesticides, and forcing people to move to more marginal lands. Deforestation was rampant. This and other export commodity crops such as coffee, sugar, tobacco and cattle pushed the agricultural frontier toward the eastern rainforests. Behind this was the US sponsored Somoza dictatorship.

A revolutionary government came into power in 1979, inheriting poverty, environmental devastation and debt. The US, unhappy about a government it could not control, took measures to eradicate the new Nicaraguan government which had begun taking drastic measures to alleviate the social and ecological crisis it inherited. After the Sandinistas assumed power in 1979, the US used a “clean up” operation, to eliminate the perceived “socialist threat” throughout Central America. The real purpose of the ‘clean up” was to set up governments in Central America that would be conducive to the neoliberal free market economy. These economic policies force the exploitation of natural resources and people.

The ACERCA delegation worked with the community of Chimaltepe begin a tree nursery. The nursery is a step for sustainability for that community.

Neoliberal policies are directed in part by the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank through Structural Adjustment Policies which divert spending from the social sector (health, education, environment) toward debt payment. SAP’s benefit big business and certain government officials involved in those business ventures. At present [1999] Nicaraguan owes over US $46 billion. The US is a major influence in World Bank policy of how much money is loaned and is the only country with the power of an adhoc veto. Nicaragua is the second poorest country in the hemisphere, behind Haiti.

Environment Prior to Mitch

Much of Nicaragua prior to Mitch was in an accelerated state of environmental decline.

One hundred thousand hectares per year are deforested. Before Mitch it was estimated that a record 300,000 hectares would be lost in 1998 alone; no one will now know due to Mitch.

Eighty percent of water sources are contaminated. Contamination in the Atlantic region is from mining, the Central region from petrochemicals related to agricultural practices.

Seventy-five percent of rivers in the Pacific region have dried up in the last 30 years due to deforestation and land abuse. There is a tremendous scarcity of water.

Tons of topsoil per hectare are lost each year in the Pacific region. In the dry season winds blow off the topsoil and in the rainy season it washes away.

These loggers were hired by a foreign multinational that was involved in an illegal timber operation.

Deforestation in the Pacific region has led to less rainfall in those areas. Some will become desert zones.

In 1998 there were 15,000 fires in agricultural and forested areas. For three months, Nicaragua appeared to be in flames. The forest fires destroyed vegetation under trees and when Mitch saturated the ground with water, many trees were swept away.

Nicaragua was an ecological disaster waiting to happen. When tree cover was eliminated and crops such as cotton were planted, there was an intense overuse of agricultural chemicals. The soil lost its capacity to hold plant life. Winds caused dust storms and further depleted the soil. Additional, the lack of trees next to rivers could not hold the banks together.

The majority of the land was in the hands of a few people and the poor were forced to move to the agricultural frontier or to survive by degrading the land, soil and forests. This further destabilized the soil. poverty and environmental degradation are intrinsically linked.

When Mitch rained, as much as 40 inches in a three day period, where there was no tree cover and little plant life to slow the rain runoff, sharp surges of water rushed off of mountains and fields into rivers causing flooding and mudslides of unprecedented portions.

Global Climatic Change 

The author and photojournalist, Orin Langelle, covered with dust while documenting the aftermath of Hurricane Mitch. He is in a Russian truck and was photographed by Cliff McCarthy from the Nicaragua Network.

Two of the most important environmental concerns are deforestation and Global Climatic Change.

Global Climatic Change is making is making predictability impossible. Each year severe weather events will come more often. More hurricanes are inevitable. Global Climatic Change will affect Nicaragua (and other countries in Central America) because they do not have the appropriate technologies needed to cope with it like other developed countries.

Responsibility lies with industrialized countries, especially the US. Excessive levels of carbon in the atmosphere and lack of green to absorb the carbon are causing the severe El Niño effects.

Wiwili – Deforestation and Flooding of the Rio Coco

Although only five centimeters of rain fell in the village of Wiwili on the Rio Coco, water in the Rio Coco rose 20 meters washing away 640 houses and affecting 1300 other houses. Deforestation upriver was to blame. The Nicaraguan government was warned about flooding on the upper reaches of Rio Coco but did not notify the people downriver of the upcoming flood.

Las Casitas Volcano

The circumstances surrounding the collapse of the Las Casitas volcano crater lake should indict the government of Nicaragua for gross negligence. At 11:40 am on Friday, October 30, the crater lake of the Las Casitas volcano collapsed causing a mudslide that swept down the side of the mountain careening over small villages in its path killing over 2500 men, women and children.

On Wednesday, October 28, INETER (Nicaraguan Institute for Territorial Studies) warned the government that conditions were becoming unstable throughout Nicaragua for potential mud and landslides. In the village of Posoltega on Thursday, October 29, Mayor Felicita Zeledón alerted the media of those conditions. President Alemán called her an alarmist. After the volcano collapsed on Friday, Zeledón told the media that she estimated 1000 people died. Alemán called her a liar. The government had enough time to begin evacuation of the surrounding communities but did not take action.

Some people were stuck in the mud for up to six days. Limbs had to be amputated due to complications for being submerged in the mud. Others were carried kilometers away. Some people are still sick [when the article was originally written] from swallowing and inhaling mud. Many survivors are traumatized. Many lost entire families.

The Assassination

Nicaraguan National Assemblyman Jose Cuadra (right) speaks to ACERCA environmental justice delegation on Hurricane Mitch after the delegation returned to Managua in February 1999. Witness For Peace’s Ellen Yerby (center) and Rita d’Escoto-Clark (left) of the Nicaraguan-US Friendship Office.

continued: In an interview with National Assembly congressman and member of the government’s Environmental Commission, José Cuadra, Cuadra blamed congressman Eduardo Callejas for the collapse of the volcano. Cuadra said that Callejas deforested the slopes of the volcano in the 1960s and 70s. Pedrofélix Obregón and Elvira Blass of Comunidad Ambientalistas told us in addition to the deforestation of Las Casitas, Callejas was building 11 telecommunication towers on top of Las Casitas and also was building a road to the top of the mountain, further damaging the integrity of its slopes. Centro Humboldt’s Magda Lanuza told us that Callejas was still cutting trees on the slopes for coffee production as late as last year [1998].

In January of this year [1999], Callejas was placed on the Environmental Commission.

José Cuadra Assassinated on 18 August 1999

“Keeper of Morals” Shot Under Suspicious Circumstances

José Cuadra was held in considerable esteem by most of his colleagues, and called the keeper of morals by one legislative reporter. He had a strong anti-corruption track record, protesting a pay rise, which his fellows voted for themselves in the beginning of 1999. He also fiercely contested the recent enormous rises in the cost of electricity.

His killers used high-powered AK assault weapons.

Some of Cuadra’s colleagues, most notably Conservative Party Chief, Noel Vidaurre, speculate openly that the motive for his death was political.

When the ACERCA delegation met Cuadra in Managua in February 1999, Cuadra, in addition to putting the blame on Eduardo Callejas for the volcano collapse, said that he had information that President Alemán planned to make one million dollars a month as Nicaragua’s President. Cuadra also told ACERCA that he was investigating Alemán’s ties to the multinational fishing industry.

 

Lawmaker, 2 Others Killed in Shooting August 19, 1999From the Los Times Times Wire Reports:

A leading Nicaraguan Conservative Party lawmaker, the son of the Conservative Party chief and their driver were shot to death, National Police said in Managua. Jose Alfonso Cuadra, 40, Julio Enrique Ruiz, 26, and driver Francisco Celino were traveling to a political function when they were attacked by three armed assailants in the northern province of Matagalpa, Capt. Isabel Largaespada said. The National Assembly suspended its legislative session to mourn the “irreparable loss of one of its outstanding members.” In 1997, Cuadra was second vice president of the Assembly. Ruiz was the son of Conservative Party chief Julio Luis Quezada.

 

Note on a photograph by Langelle

Posoltega: The tree marks a mass grave, and the land affected by the mudslide resembles a desert.

This photograph on the right is an image that is etched in my brain. It is the one that never goes away. This photo impacted me on a very real aspect of what it means to be a concerned photographer – documenting a reality of a tragedy – hoping that the image of that tragedy will be used to prevent another. I took the photo while standing on a mass grave.

And today that photograph can be viewed as a warning of the climate chaos that has begun – and may it help counter the societal amnesia from which we collectively suffer.

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