In 2012 I speculated that the election of Leung Chun-Ying as chief executive on 25 March that year ‘went down as the day Beijing put another nail in the democratic aspirations of Hong Kong. Two years on, and in light of the current demonstrations in this city of 7.2 million people, it is very tempting to suggest that nail represented the end of democracy in Hong Kong.

Over the last 20 years, every time Hong Kong people have heard some ‘menacing’ messages from Beijing, they have responded and become politically active. This time, the menacing message was the one I…


When Fray Bartolomé de las Casas, a 16th-century Spanish chronicler, saw the abuses suffered by Native American slaves, he is said to have uttered the words: ‘I don’t know whether to laugh, or cry.’ Many have had the same reaction after the Hong Kong government’s pay rise for domestic foreign workers was announced on May 31.

The monthly wage rise, which the government determines, means foreign domestic workers will now receive HK$ 3,740 (US$480). This is HK$160 (US$20) more than the previous wage. The rise, which applies to new contracts, doesn’t even come close to the HK$4,000 domestic workers have…


Latin America and the Caribbean are the next stop in China’s global expansion. The first-ever Chinese white paper for this region, released on 4 November 2008, doesn’t leave any doubt about China’s intentions. Latin America has ‘abundant natural resources, a good base for economic and social growth and tremendous development potential,’ the document says.

In the November-December 2008 issue of The Diplomat, Peter Hartcher wrote of China emerging from the current financial crisis as a ‘more credible and respected international leader’. This is precisely China’s image in Latin America. China is not only regarded as an alternative to the US…


From street vendors to domestic workers, the Latin American economy is largely informal. In the midst of the devastating pandemic, the human suffering of informal workers has been dramatically exposed. Antonio Castillo writes.

The market of Valparaiso, Chile, a source of food security for the poor. Photograph: Andrés García Olivares

Silvana told me she couldn’t remember when she began selling pineapple juice on Miguel Grau Avenue, one of the main thoroughfares of the Peruvian capital, Lima. “I was perhaps 15,” she told me. While writing this story, I found Silvana’s mobile number in one of my notebooks. I called her. I wanted to know how she was coping with the pandemic. …


For indigenous communities in Latin America, COVID-19 is having an immeasurable impact on the bastions of traditional knowledge.

ANTONIO BOLÍVAR AS SEEN IN EMBRACE OF THE SERPENT

As the pandemic advances inexorably in Latin America, the wretched tales of loss and suffering are never-ending. And one of those tales is making the region’s indigenous communities deeply alarmed — the death of their tribal elders.

Antonio Bolívar was one of them. He was chief of the Colombian indigenous Ocaina community. Bolívar was a wise man. He was also a celebrity. He played the role of shaman “Karamakate” in the 2015 award-winning Colombian film Embrace of the Serpent. On April 30…


The late Paulinho Paiakan (centre) with Papuan leader Mundiya Kepanga during the Alliance of Guardians of Mother Nature assembly in Brasilia in October 2017. Marc Dozier/Hemis/Alamy

When the iconic indigenous Brazilian leader Paulinho Paiakan died from Covid-19 in June, aged sixty-six, the pandemic was already having a significant impact on Latin American native communities. Paiakan had been hospitalised in the northcentral Amazon state of Pará, which is among the most badly affected regions of Brazil. As the chief of the Kayapo people — a nation of 10,000 settled along the Xingu River basin in Pará and neighbouring Mato Grosso — he had stood unyielding in the paths of miners and loggers.

Early the following month, sixty-three-year-old Santiago Manuin Valera, an elder of the Awajún people in…


As the US sees mass protests against police violence, the voice of a significant portion of victims — Latino Americans — has been missing.

Sean Monterrosa, a Latino, was fatally shot by Vallejo police in California’s San Francisco Bay area within days of the killing of African American George Floyd on May 25. Monterrosa was shot five times by a cop who, apparently, mistook a hammer on his waistband for a gun.

Today Floyd’s funeral took place in his home town of Houston. Houston is also the home town of Latino Vietnam War veteran José Campos Torres who, on May…


Shortages are returning to a continent with literal red flags to show the virus is compounding poverty.

Food distribution last month at Chácara Santa Luzia in Brazil (Paulo H. Carvalho/Agência Brasília/Flickr

It was a cry for help, the word “hambre” (hunger) projected against the Torre Telefónica building in downtown Santiago, Chile’s capital. It abruptly woke up a city that has been under total quarantine since mid-May. “We are locked up, and we are starving,” said José Morales, a resident of El Bosque, an impoverished shantytown south of the Chilean capital.

The light projection against the 1990’s mobile phone shaped telecommunications building — an icon of the now crumbling Chilean neoliberal economic model — happened…


Map of deforestation in the Amazon with pins marking geo-tagged news coverage.Credits: InfoAmazonia, TERRA-I, Data © OpenStreetMap and contributors, CC-BY-SA, CARTO.

After several decades under a shroud of neglect, Latin American “public service journalism” is experiencing a much-needed resurgence. It can’t be found, however, in the clickbait legacy commercial media. Instead, it can be found in the new breed of digitally native Latin American non-profit journalism. These organisations are profoundly changing the news ecology of the region.

If making a contribution to the fragile Latin American democracies can be considered a “public service” to the region, these new journalistic expressions are indispensable. Defined as journalism that weighs in and fosters a well-informed conversation over public issues concerning citizens, these (relatively) new…


Nicaraguan Ernesto Cardenal, Catholic priest, poet and revolutionary, was an essential figure of Latin American liberation theology. He died on March 1. He was 95. Cardenal’s spiritual life was the unyielding foundations of his country’s social and political struggle.

Ernesto Cardenal (Jimelovski Platano Macho/Flickr)

As a staunch revolutionary, he joined the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN in Spanish) in its armed struggle against US-backed and US-educated Anastasio Somoza, the last of the Somoza dynasty of dictators that ruled Nicaragua from 1936 to 1979. He became the moral voice and spiritual heart of the Sandinistas.

His conviction that Catholicism, socialism and revolution were compatible drove him…

Antonio Castillo

Latin American journalist and senior academic at RMIT University, Melbourne — Australia

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