CUSLAR Newsletter highlights shadow side of development


See the full Summer/Fall 2015 CUSLAR Newsletter online here.

Their development and ours
An introductory reflection by Tim Shenk, CUSLAR Coordinator

Development seems like such a simple concept — it implies making things better. Development is growth, maturation, progress. No one can be against that. Governments, aid workers and non-profits promote different aspects of it: economic development, community development, child development.

So why do many communities across the hemisphere cringe when they hear the word? Why do they block the roads, turn away the bulldozers and cement trucks, and reject the pesticide-resistant seeds?

Sociologist Andre Gunder Frank described the shadow side of development in the 1960s. He noted that all too often, development and wealth production for some requires the underdevelopment and impoverishment of too many others.

In 1970, the late Eduardo Galeano brought these ideas into the mainstream: “Latin America is the region of open veins,” he wrote in a biting history of colonialism, Las venas abiertas de América Latina.

Galeano wrote of the contradictions of development: “The winners happen to have won thanks to our losing: the history of Latin America’s underdevelopment is, as someone has said, an integral part of the history of world capitalism’s development. Our defeat was always implicit in the victory of others; our wealth has always generated our poverty by nourishing the prosperity of others— the empires and their native overseers.”

We are grateful to Galeano, a fearless journalist, historian and poet with a barbed tongue, who was a model for a generation of social critics and revolutionaries. He died on April 13 at age 74.

Baltimore: A case of unequal development

Today’s winners and losers in development are no longer separated by continents but simply by class in the same city. Baltimore, Maryland is an illustrative key case study.

Baltimore has made international news recently as protests have highlighted police brutality in the death of Freddie Gray and others. Yet as the Baltimore-based United Workers point out, the less visible, ongoing tragedy of economic inequality has been going on much longer.

In a 2011 human rights report, “Hidden in Plain Sight,” the United Workers reveal a city-wide development strategy that has consistently favored wealthy investors at the expense of regular Baltimoreans: “Government bodies have spent $2 billion in building and maintaining the city’s tourist facilities since the 1970s, and hundreds of millions more in subsidies to tourism-related businesses.”

While private investors use public funds and tax breaks to maximize profits, the report notes that the tourism industry workforce earns poverty wages with no healthcare or educational benefits.

Minimum-wage jobs in restaurants and sports stadiums are the norm in the Baltimore downtown redevelopment project called the Inner Harbor, where workers suffer chronic wage theft, irregular hours that keep them from attending school, and verbal abuse and bribery by supervisors. Meanwhile, workers’ taxes subsidize their employers’ profits.

In this context of unfair, unequal development resulting in rampant poverty, police brutality becomes a problem. Police forces are tasked with “keeping social peace.” This becomes nearly impossible when police are required to control a growing population of unemployed and marginally employed people rightfully indignant about the lack of opportunities to feed their families. In order to end police brutality, we must find a way to solve underlying problems such as poverty-producing development projects that funnel public funds into private accounts.

In this issue

In this 50th anniversary issue of the CUSLAR Newsletter, our authors take a hard look at development. Who benefits, and who’s losing out?

On pages 3-5, Mexican journalist Luis Hernandez Navarro explains the significance of the disappearance of the 43 students of the Ayotzinapa Rural Teachers’ College. He notes that the Rural Teachers’ Colleges are schools “of the poor, for the poor,” and graduates are responsible for advocating for fair and integrated development in Mexico’s rural and indigenous communities.

On page 6, Anshu Gaur recounts the February visit of Luz Rivera Martinez, founder of the National Urban and Rural Council of Mexico. Rivera denounced that thousands of years of collective genetic science are at risk by private patenting of corn and other organisms.

On page 7, Alicia Swords reports on the megadevelopment project for energy and transportation first known as Plan Puebla-Panama. The PPP disappeared in 2004 but was later reborn as Proyecto Mesoamerica. Swords notes that many of the development components, such as ports and airports, were never even finished because construction and financing were what generated profits.

On pages 8-9, Maya Tellman explores the confusing discourses of development and participation utilized by the Brazilian government, which plans to build 92 hydroelectric dams by 2021 to supply electricity to cities bursting at the seams.

The second half of the newsletter sheds light on some of the region’s history that shaped CUSLAR.

Page 11 connects CUSLAR’s founding to the U.S. military intervention in the Dominican Republic in 1965 and notes CUSLAR founder Bill Rogers’ “call for a new internationalism.” Pages 12-13 are a reflection of how the struggles of the Salvadoran poor transformed Oscar Romero from a bookish, status-quo priest into the revolutionary Archbishop and saint we know today.

On pages 15-16, we hear from Mary Jo Dudley, who was CUSLAR Coordinator from 1981-86. She shares memories and lessons from a people-to-people delegation she led in 1982 to Nicaragua, called “Pueblo a Pueblo.”

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