The three North-American leaders are meeting this week in Ottawa for the Three Amigos Summit. It’s the first summit in almost three years, and the last one for US President Barack Obama. This is relevant because both major party presumptive nominees Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton have recently claimed to be against the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and lean towards protectionism.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau greeted his Mexican counterpart Enrique Nieto this morning. Obama is expected to join them to start the negotiations. Here’s what is on the table (and what is conspicuously absent).

A Hope for Climate Action

Climate action is expected to dominate the talks this week. The leaders will discuss how to reduce methane emissions and encourage carbon markets and renewable energy.

The most important thing, both for the environment and the Canadian economy, is Mexico and the US’s commitment to get 50% of electricity from renewable sources by 2025.

It is a remarkably ambitious target; currently, only 13% of US electricity and around 22% of Mexico’s is from renewable sources. Hydro-electricity puts Canada at a great advantage by providing almost 60% of its energy (other sources like wind and solar provide 3%).

The leaders have yet to decide whether to include nuclear energy as an acceptable source. Nuclear energy produces very little greenhouse gas, but it produces radioactive waste that we don’t know how to get rid of.

Including it would mean little to Mexico, because it represents only 3% of its electricity, but would be significant for the U.S, where 19% of electricity is from nuclear energy. For Canada, it means that around 80% of its electricity would be considered clean.

Leaders are expected to discuss how to facilitate the movement of all this clean power across borders. Whether nuclear energy is accepted or not, this would be a tremendous trade opportunity for Canada.

US and Canada have also committed to reduce their methane emissions by 40 to 45% by 2030 and are pressing Mexico to do the same.

Strengthening Relationships

Canada’s relationship with its continental partners has been strained under the conservative government. Last year’s Three Amigos summit was cancelled partially due to Harper’s quarrel with Obama over Keystone XL.

Trudeau’s election drastically changed the situation, as was clearly demonstrated when he visited Washington in March. It was the first official visit in nearly 20 years and it went along so warmly that Trudobama bromance quickly became a trending hashtag.

It is doubtful that the negotiations will go as smoothly with the next President of the United States. While a good relationship with a Hillary Clinton presidency is conceivable, the rising protectionist streak in the U.S will be harder to work around. Trudeau has expressed, as openly as he could, that a Trump presidency would be quite undesirable. Canada and Mexico are thus eager to get the maximum out of this last summit with Obama.

The relationship between Trudeau and Nieto has not had much chance to develop. But if this photo of them jogging together is any indication, it started off on a pretty friendly path:

trudeau nieto jogging three amigos summit

Trudeau’s promise to lift restrictions on Mexican visas to Canada certainly goes a long way towards that.

Human Rights

Mexico and Canada want to sign an agreement on Indigenous rights. They will officially commit to sharing information about best practices for protecting indigenous people from violence, social isolation and exploitation.

This very vague promise is the only concrete human rights issue on the summit’s agenda.

The Three Amigos Summit should be an opportunity to focus on human rights issues above all, argues Amnesty International in an open letter. The NGO is calling on the leaders of all three countries to stop putting illegal refugee and migrant children behind bars.

There are also considerable concerns over the civil rights in Mexico. 27 000 Mexicans have disappeared since the country started its famous war on drugs in 2006.

The absence of Mexico’s civil rights as an issue at the summit is especially conspicuous, considering six people were recently killed in violent clashes between protesters and the police in southern Mexico. The teachers from the radical National Coordinator of Education Workers (CNTE) are blocking roads and train tracks to protest against the education reform and the arrests of union leaders. Footage shows police officers firing on civilians.

Activists are also pushing the Canadian Prime Minister to address women’s rights in the Southern state. An appealing study revealed that a majority of detained women were sexually abused while in custody.

It looks like Donald Trump has gotten himself into some hot water, yet again! Since announcing his run for presidency, Trump has been flaunting his wealth and success non-stop on national television; but this isn’t the first time the multi-millionaire has hinted at a presidential run – the first one was back in 1987! This past Tuesday, the entrepreneur launched his campaign at his luxurious Trump Tower in New York City and all eyes were on him for a good 45 minutes. He described himself as the most successful person ever to run for office, and mentioned that even the Gucci store he owns is worth more than Mitt Romney (o….kay??). “I’m really rich,” he said as he looked at the crowd and added that his positive attitude is what America needs to make the country great again (o….kay?).

We all know the Donald is no stranger to controversy; from his feud with Rosie O’Donnell back in 2006, to his doubt over President Obama’s birthplace. (He actually asked him to release a copy of his birth certificate!) But the most recent one will have him running… period! During his speech, Trump referred to Mexican immigrants as criminals, drug-traffickers and rapists, which prompted Univision, an American Spanish television network, to pull the plug on the Miss USA pageant. How does this affect the Republican candidate you ask? Well, Donald Trump is the co-owner of the Miss Universe Organization and not only will the network not air the event, but they have decided to completely cut ties with Trump altogether.

After his comments went viral, a number of Latin celebrities took to the internet to express their anger, including actors Eugenio Derbez and Roslyn Sanchez who have both stepped down as hosts of the pageant. What was he thinking? Is he aware that half of the population living in the United States are Mexicans? What a great way to start your campaign!

Will Donald Trump ever be elected as president? I highly doubt it! After all of his foolish comments and bogus statements, he’s better off sticking to his day job. Just like his comb over, some things will never change.

Today marks the first day of Soñando Por Holbox, a public art festival taking place on the tiny island of Holbox, Mexico off the coast of the Yucatan Peninsula. Started in 2009 by local hotel owner Daniel Trigo, the festival has grown to include over fifty artists flying in from all over the world.

Festival co-organizer and Art Director Rubén Carrasco of Montreal-based street artist collective 5 Wolves No Pigs spoke with Forget the Box over the phone in advance of the festival’s opening:

FTB: Google translate tells me “Soñando por Holbox” means “Dreaming for Holbox.” How does this public art festival capture the spirit of its name?

Carrasco: Two years ago I went [to Holbox] for vacation and I met Daniel. […] He was inviting the artists on vacation to paint something related to the local people about their island; because the island is changing really fast like any place that attracts tourists. The island here is very very tiny, so the impact is huge. I suggested we plan a festival so the message isn’t just through the walls.

Mural, Holbox, Quintana Roo, Mexico

The name [refers to] the dream of Daniel. [5 Wolves No Pigs] took over that project and we [made] it big. As a collective, we’re supporting it and planning on doing it every year.

The [tourists] who go [to Holbox] are international. It’s an international destination. It’s very private because of the nature of the geographic location of the island. There’re just 400 rooms in the whole island. It’s also great because it’s so small. If you go there, it’s because you really want to relax. So when you walk into the island and the village, you start to see these walls all around. And then you start to question why they are there. You’re going to ask the people working in the hotels why they are there. And people take a lot of pictures.

The village is about five blocks or seven blocks by three or four and that’s it.

FTB: Are any of the artists in the festival from the island? What steps do the foreign artists take to understand the island’s heritage and represent it fairly?

Carrasco: The island has about 1,300 local people living there. When we arrive, we spend 2-3 days talking with people around. Some families invite us over. Of course, we already have something in mind, but having a conversation with the people can change your first idea. It’s a great experience.

The village is small, so at night, we’re all sharing dinner together, taking breakfast together, all the artists. The experience is very intense because it’s not a festival in a big city, where you see an artist painting one wall and then you never see that artist again. Here you see that artist for 6 days, you have a chance to talk to them, a chance to sit.

We also have multimedia, which is very cool because we [bring] this kind of art to the people of the island. There is feedback on both sides about inspiration and to show to the kids and local people we have the potential to see how art is developing.

The Island of Holbox, Quintana Roo, Mexico

FTB: Do you see public art taking a more active role in environmental justice in the future?

Carrasco: Mexico, especially the south of Mexico, in general, hasn’t developed a good way to control waste and pollution, especially when you’re talking about spray-cans. Anything you bring to the island affects the island. So what we do is we use water-based colours, the ones you regularly use to paint walls, and we avoid and don’t use spray-cans because of the waste. To paint a wall you’re talking about minimum 50 cans, so when you go to 50 to 200, and you’re talking about 30 houses… We’re trying to promote no spray-cans. We understand it’s a trend. It can be contradictory because many artists and street artists think there can be messages related to politics, related to pollution, to many things. It confronts the system but I find that we get involved if we use spray-cans. You see the spraycans everywhere. Especially for the island, we try to avoid that.

FTB: What makes Holbox different from other public art festivals?

Carrasco: It’s more about the experience for the artists. In some well-established festivals, like Wynwood Miami, that are internationally recognized, [artists] go [for the recognition]. But for here, they’re paying their own tickets to come work with us. It’s more about the culture.

We’re not doing something different in terms of intention – I just think something we’re trying to rescue is […] these people and the culture. Wynwood in Miami was an area that was very dangerous before. It was a sketchy area. Now you go to Wynwood and it’s full of galleries.

When you bring these kinds of festivals, you try to organize people. You try to incorporate them, local parties, with artists that are already recognized, professional names. They come to paint with a gang. We’re looking to open opportunity for other artists. For example, there are artists from Mexico City, [who] don’t have a chance to go out of Mexico but in this festival, they will be sharing walls with people from Spain, from other places in Latin America, from Canada, from France.

Mural by Labrona, Holbox, Quintana Roo, Mexico


FTB: How has the festival affected local artists?

Carrasco: I go every year to the art festivals in Miami and the perception we have about art is different than someone that is just developing his own art to the island. So you don’t think about the market in Switzerland, you don’t know about Art Basel in Shanghai – you just don’t care. So it’s funny because if you see that you will find it naïve, but that’s cool, so we invite them to be part of the festival.

We have about 3 local artists. One of them is a teacher and she knows a lot of material to [create] installations for culture. We invite local artists to approach installations through waste, using waste materials, to develop their piece. So we try to send a message through that so the kids can see that. So its also a part of the preservation.

FTB: What are some of the most challenging aspects of the festival?

Carrasco: You don’t have all the supplies you usually have in a big cities. For example, last year, I was desperate to find something to mix my paint, so I found a coconut and used that to mix my paint. You really have to survive, you don’t have any lifts, we don’t have that there. It’s really expensive to get one of those there. We use what we have.

All the artists feel that. They’re living a different experience. It really becomes a small family for a week. And it’s just a complete adventure.

Featured image is Ruben Carrasco’s mural for last year’s festival.

Today, I had coffee with some artists from the Montreal collective 5 Wolves No Pig. We discussed their upcoming project The International Public Art Festival. Its second edition runs April 13-19 in Holbox followed by a combined project in Mexico City hosted by the art gallery Arca Mexico.

Holbox (black hole in Mayan) is a fishermen’s island located on the north coast of the Yucatan Peninsula in the state of Quintana Roo with a population of approximately 1200 people. It is well known for being one of the few locations in the world where one can swim in the open sea with whale sharks. It is also the home of a vast collection of flora and fauna and no vehicles are aloud on the island to preserve its eco-friendly lifestyle.

In 2014, 5 Wolves No Pigs and Soñando por Holbox created the festival. They invited a few Montreal artists to head to paradise and paint some murals. Jason Botkin, Labrona, Omen, Cedric Taillon and Decover Magazine represented the 514 in epic ways (check out their work in the gallery)! They were joined by Mexican artists Curiot and Superdemon and others.

For the second edition, IPAF 2015, Arca Mexico is joining the team. They will be taking part in the Holbox leg of the festival and providing a second collective exposition in Mexico City. Featured invited artists include Jason Botkin, Cerrucha, Eric Paré  in collaboration with Kim Henry and many others.

They are currently holding an international open call for submissions with a deadline of February 14. There is a $20 application fee and the first place will win free transportation to the festival and all selected artists will be provided with accommodation and materials for the murals. This is a great opportunity for artists looking to expose their work internationally.

IPAF is an independent festival created by artists for artists. It prides itself for implementing a zero waste philosophy inspired by the ecological lifestyle of the island. Those who plan to attend IPAF will also be able to enjoy of Bio-luminescence and live music among other activities.

We will be covering further developments of the festival and talking to some of their artists, in the meantime hasta luego!

Click on the first image to view our gallery


Last Tuesday on November 11, 2014, more than thirty people gathered in front of the Mexican Consulate in Montreal to hold a solidarity vigil for the 43 students who went missing on September 26 in Ayotzinapa.

The students were protesting against what they considered discriminatory hiring and funding practices from the government. This was followed by a shootout with the police, after which the students were rounded up into police cars. No one has seen them ever since.

According to John Ackerman, however, government officials have confirmed the version which had previously been leaked by whistleblowers that the 43 students were burned alive for over 12 hours in an enormous bonfire without anyone intervening. Although some reports do say that the remains found did not belong to the 43 students. You can read more about details that put the events into a broader context here.

There were around 30 people at the vigil, and at least five to six police cars. At one point, the demonstrators symbolically took attendance, by calling out the names of the 43 missing students, and then responding in unison, “Present!”

“El pueblo unido jamas sera vencido,” the demonstrators also chanted. A people united shall never be defeated.


Click on the picture above to open the image gallery. All photography by ©Bianca Lecompte.

As you all know, I’m the first person to poo-poo canned food. I also advocate whole foods and lots of raw, rather than processed foods. Living through a devastating hurricane, however, changed my tune! I was surprised to discover that sometimes, canned food and avoiding raw is actually the way to go!

Hurricane Odile crashed into Baja California Sur on September 14, 2014, a date many of us in Mexico are unlikely to forget anytime soon. I prepared as best I could, but how can you ever fully prepare for something you have never experienced before? Norbert the week prior was a fresh breeze in comparison to Odile!

We were all told to take in all patio furniture, stock up on food and water, fill up our gas tanks, secure our windows and doors, and pray for the best. This is what I did, but for me, stocking up on food means lots fresh produce and some frozen items. Right! Without electricity for over two weeks due to the hurricane knocking down almost 8000 poles, in a very hot climate, how far do you think that food took me?

In two days, everything that was uneaten was either spoiled or on its way to expiring. I was surprised at how quickly frozen peas, for example, can go bad. Within one day of no refrigeration, they had spoiled.

If it weren’t for canned food, none of us in Los Cabos would have had anything to eat. The grocery stores were all severely damaged by the hurricane, and what was left of them got looted.

I was scared and saddened not only by the wreckage of the hurricane itself, but also by the ordeal of the aftermath. We had no power, running water, phone or Internet for over two weeks. My home was severely damaged and flooded. Not only were my windows shattered, but the ferocious winds ripped out the frame too! My whole bedroom, in fact, was gutted out, closet doors, clothes and all!

bedroom after Odile

Unfortunately, my living room did not fare much better, broken glass everywhere and furniture soaked.

living room after Odile

Once the windows and patio doors had shattered on that horrifying night, water gushing everywhere, I wasn’t sure my beloved animals and I would survive. As water dripped from the light fixtures on my ceiling, from all my air conditioning units, my laundry room overflowing with dirty water into my kitchen, I prayed the house would not cave in on us! Thankfully, none of us were injured (we hid in the bathroom for hours) and I am just so grateful to be alive!

Canned food is what we lived on for weeks and even if nutritionally inferior to fresh, whole foods, it kept us alive! In fact, I had my first salad a few weeks after the hurricane when one store reopened, and by the next morning, after a night of severe stomach pain, I had a high fever.

Two days of fever, muscle pain, nausea and diarrhea, urged me see a doctor who lives in my community. He said I had a bacterial infection, likely from contaminated water or vegetables. He prescribed antibiotics and told me to avoid raw food completely. He explained that after natural disasters, the level of bacteria is out of control.

This experience has surely taught me a lot about survival, but mostly it has been a lesson in hope and gratitude. I was pleased to actually meet my neighbors, talking to some of them for the first time, and I was really impressed by how we came together as a community and helped each other out. Although many of us had lost so much, and we had so little, no of us went without basic necessities because we were all there for one another.

It has been almost one month since that sleepless night, and Cabo is recovering quickly. Many stores and hotels have already been repaired and are open for business. I continue to be grateful every day, despite my moments of despair and uncertainty. Here is an excerpt from my gratitude journal I’d like to share with all of you:

1 – I am grateful to Hurricane Odile for teaching me, in a very concrete fashion, the impermanence of all things. What incredible pride we get from acquiring things. A house, a car, a fat pay cheque – wow, these make us feel accomplished, successful. But really, they can and will be taken away at any moment. Similarly, all relationships end at one point. They all end in the physical realm, whether they be through break-ups, or through death. There is no permanence in the physical world, there is only change. The permanence lies only in the spiritual realm. Therefore, maybe, we should invest more in our spirituality (whatever that means to each of us) than in material wealth. Thank you, Odile, for teaching me the transitory nature of physical existence.

2 – I am grateful to Hurricane Odile for showing me how truly “wealthy” I am for having lived my whole life with running water, enough food to eat, a roof over my head, electricity, enough health to make a living and the possibility of getting better when ill, resources to help me achieve university degrees, the companionship of loyal animals, true friends and loving family. Thank you Odile, for showing me my riches.

3- I am grateful to Hurricane Odile for allowing me to experience the importance of community. We need one another. We belong to each other. Our purpose is to serve all beings and treat them with kindness and help all those in need. Thank you, Odile, for allowing me to experience the power of community.

It seems to me that in those moments when much is taken from us, much of our true riches are revealed. Namaste.

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Yesterday, a simple meeting with the Canadian Border Services Agency went very wrong very quickly for Miguel Luna Cruz.

Originally from Mexico, Cruz had been in Canada for six years as a refugee claimant with a permit to work. His refugee claim was denied and he went to a scheduled meeting to get his departure date. They gave him 20 days.

He asked for an extension until May so he could finish his work contract with Lasalle College which runs until the end of the semester and pay his income tax. He also informed them that if no extension was granted, he would have to take them up on their offer of paying his airfare and reimburse them when he got to Mexico (he had initially said he would be able to pay his own airfare because he gets paid early May).

That, according to Cruz’s lawyers Chantal Ianniciello and Perla Abou-Jaoudé, is when things went terribly wrong. Instead of trying to come to an agreement, which is normal procedure in these cases, the agents immediately arrested Cruz and said that there is nothing else he can do. He initially interpreted this to mean that he couldn’t contact his lawyer, but the affadavit they had him sign said he could, though he didn’t realize that at the time. He now faces deportation as early as tomorrow (Thursday).

“It’s happening more often now,” Ianniciello and Abou-Jaoudé observed, “when clients get the chance to get a detention review, they often get released but they are also  being deported before having a chance to attend a detention review. We do not always realize that this is happening as these kinds of deportations happen quickly and the clients have very little time to get a lawyer that is willing to take such a case in such short time, as it will possibly be pro-bono.”

I emailed the CBSA to see if they had anything to say about this case. They said “we have procedures for internal approvals of our answers” and a response may take until midday today. If I get a response, I’ll update this post, but since Cruz is facing deportation tomorrow and can’t wait, neither can I.

While I understand how it can take time for a proper media response, I find it interesting that they can make much quicker decisions when it comes to a legal immigrant like Cruz’s future.

* UPDATE 2:58pm: Cruz’s deportation was postponed so he can have a detention review tomorrow (Thursday) instead. If this doesn’t go well for him, though, he could be deported as early as Saturday

* Information updated at 12:54pm, this post originally said that Cruz had a temporary guest worker visa, when in fact he was a refugee claimant with a work permit, when his claim was rejected, he went into the meeting to get his departure date

It was new year’s eve 1994, through the rainforest that covers the majority of the Chiapas region of south western Mexico, a movement under the name of the Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional (EZLN) was in its embryonic stage. In 1984, thirty years ago, another movement was also was forming, uniting landless peasants from throughout Brazil, occupying fazendas (large properties owned by the affluent Brazilian landowners), setting-up up cooperative farms and building community gardens which allowed the resilient communities to be self-sufficient in many ways.

These two movements have been under the stoplight, capturing the international media’s attention through a combination of headline catching actions and an intelligent media blueprint. But the question of land reform is of utmost importance especially within an age of relentless inequality and climate change. Answers to some of the most important interrogations on the limits of capitalism and sensible solutions to the threat of climate change are enclosed within this quintessential question of land ownership.

zapatista sign

Since the start of time, the problematic of land ownership has always been central to the development of human societies. The struggle between the ‘owners’ of land and the ‘dispossessed’ was at the origin of the fall of the Roman Republic (see Lex Sempronia Agraria). Many historians also link the ultimate fall of the Roman Empire to the over concentration of wealth and power within the hands of a landed elite.

Such a string of events is far from being relative to political development within Latium. In many ways land control has influenced the trajectory of societal development throughout the world.

The development of capitalism as we know it, is inherently linked to the development of a coercive notion of private property, where private property is hereditary. In this skewed ideological development, private has become linked to the notion of freedom.

This system of ownership of the land is the foundation of every caste system within the history of mankind, the distinction between those that have and the have-nots, the dispossessed. Parallel to this ‘land-grab’ is a reaction of resistance of the landless peasants, of the serfs, of indigenous communities against the landed elite, the power structure or the colonial state.

The development of neo-liberal capitalism has altered in many ways the structure of this relationship. Two elements have been the motors behind these changes: first of all the construction of the insane notion of the ‘corporate individual’ and on the other hand the continued erosion of regulations.

Corporations now, in many ways, are the new landed elite and the biggest obstacles on the road to fighting climate change. But also tied to the question of the corporate ownership of land is the corporate ownership of natural resources and the problem of redistribution of the wealth generated by the extraction of those same natural resources. Also included within the problematic of land ownership is the growing crisis of food security and frantic rise in food prices throughout the world.

In the end, the corporate land-grab is an essential question in the burgeoning of the 21st century. Movements such as the EZLN and Sem Terra have shown guidance in offering an alternative perspective with regards to the way we conceive the ownership of land, the role of land within our societies and the importance of communal and local agriculture. Both movements have understood one important thing: that climate deregulation is a direct consequence of the deregulation of the world’s markets and no solution will be found to counter climate change within this system of wild, wild, west capitalism.

On January 1st 1994, EZLN took up arms against the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) which took away from the Mexican people their undeniable right to the land underneath their feet. This right to the land was the most important accomplishment of the Mexican Revolution and had since been enshrined in the Mexican constitution.

The revolt of the Zapatistas was directly against this globalized system of dispossession of small farmers and indigenous communities on one hand and the subsequent repossession of that land by private interests on the other. Those interests were motivated by  making the land ‘profitable’, by any means necessary. This is the attitude that turned the greatest delta in the world (the delta of Niger) into a massive oil spill.

brazil sem terra
The Sem Terra in Brazil (image

The Brazilian Sem Terra sprouted out of the inhumane conditions that landless peasants were facing within Brazil, wandering from one agricultural tyrant to another on a regular basis, enslaved by one agro-alimentary multinational after another. The Sem Terra movement understood that the root of inequality is this disproportionate gap between those that control the land and those that work the land. The only way to counter this was to create communities in which each man had his plot of land to cultivate to provide for the wellbeing of his family without an inch of that land being privately owned.

This communal vision of land ownership thus entails the construction of an inclusive and participatory decision making system. Not only did these alternative visions of land ownership empower the ‘dispossessed’ and enable the development and reproduction of traditional modes of agricultural protection (read here biological and respectful of the environment), it also planted the seeds of a stronger strain of democracy.

Both movements know that land is power, the power to determine the future of generations, to draw the outlines of a distinct society, the power to hold the keys to a better world. In this age of globalized free-trade agreements, that relentlessly breakdown the ‘barriers to trade’ with the purpose of ‘opening up’ new markets such as the markets of land and of natural resources, in an age of growing inequality and destabilizing climate deregulation, the seeds have been sown, amidst the tempest, for an alternative future.

In one of the most famous Sem Terra occupations in July of 1996, thousands of landless peasants occupied one of the most important fazendas in Brazil-which they still occupy to this day and have turned it into one of the most important agricultural communes in the world. First thing they did once they had occupied the fazenda was to take down the Brazilian flag and put the red one of the MST with words that read “The struggle for all.”

Aww, no more brussel sprouts? Children of North America rejoice

Who doesn’t like a good gloat?

A self-satisfying ‘told ya so!’ to the people who doubted you and a pat on the back from supporters when everyone else swore you were wrong. Sometimes smugness feels great!

Well, I’ll tell you about a bunch of people who actually aren’t happy to brag about being right – the folks who have been warning us about the effects climate change will have on the global food supply all this time. Yup, they were right, so let’s see how this affects us.

A cold snap that hit the Southern United States at the beginning of February also affected Northern Mexico where a lot of food is grown. Mexico provides Canada and the U.S with squash, cucumbers, eggplant, green beans, asparagus, pepper and round and Roma tomatoes, according to this report.

It’s the worst freeze in the affected areas since 1957. Most of the crops were killed (one report stated that ‘up to 100%’ of the crops were destroyed), which caused an immediate hike in the price of food sold in the U.S.

A North American food distributor, Sysco, released a statement that the freeze reached all the way to Los Mochis and Culiacan, both along the Gulf of California.

That eggplant parmigiana with a side of bean, pepper and tomato salad will have to wait, unless you don’t mind paying up to three times what you’re used to paying for locally unseasonal foods. That amount will be inflated because American food businesses will be charging more to cut a profit. The heart of the matter is that we’ve been very lucky since the global food-trading system shrunk, and now it’s time to begin facing the reality that we may be food megalomaniacs.

Asparagus, for example, quickly decline in nutritional value and quality soon after they’re picked. They can be harvested throughout the warm seasons in North America, but any that you buy from late fall to early spring definitely did not come from a nearby source, which means they’ve been sitting there for a while, becoming a mere shadow of what true asparagus is supposed to be. If you compared a freshly picked asparagus spear to the ones available in the grocer in February, there is a remarkable difference in sweetness, crispness, even color.

While it’s great to have a nice, crunchy spring salad (imported from California) in the middle of a Montreal deep-freeze winter, it makes a lot more economic sense to buy your veggies locally. This also means eating certain foods only when they’re available in your region, in the proper season that they’re grown in. Not only does this help support your local economy, making things better for your neighbors, it also help the developing world by creating less reliance on cash crops that stop them from growing foods that are locally appropriate.

Moreover, in last week’s Gazette, this article said that “World Bank data released on Tuesday (February 15, 2011) showed higher food prices — mainly for wheat, maize, sugars and edible oils — have pushed 44 million more people in developing countries into extreme poverty since June 2010.”

The chief of the World Bank, Robert Zoellick, said that high food prices was one of the factors leading to the Egyptian protests. Food prices are also set to spike up in Central Asia. This is bad news, but please don’t give up. Pass the bowl of organic popcorn and read on for ways to become a food superhero.

You too can be as powerful as Powdered Toast Man!

One reservation against eating local and organic produce is the initial cost. Why pay $4 for a two-pound bag of carrots when it’s only $2 at the store? Well, the upward trend in the overall price of food, just like gas, isn’t going to be going down. It’s easy to turn a blind eye to the global food crisis because we have it pretty good in North America, for now, but I truthfully hate to say “I told ya so” when it comes to all the benefits of eating food grown close to your home.

Quebec has some of the best agricultural land in the world and organic farms are popping up all across the province. Ferme Carya, Ferme Cooperative Tournesol and Ferme Zephyr are three organic farms that do basket deliveries, farm shares and offer opportunities for visiting their farms to see where our food comes from. They also sell at various farmer’s markets across Montreal.

While the initial price tag on some organic produce seem high, you’re actually paying for a real, non-gmo carrot that wasn’t grown with a pesticide-herbicide cocktail, then shipped halfway across the continent. The cheaper grocery store price is false; you’re not paying for what you get – a lot of pollution and waste that we don’t see also comes with it, and we’ll be paying for that for a long time.

There’s no one solution to the global food crisis, and in the time it took me to research, write and edit this article, hundreds of people have died because of a local food deficiency. Buying your food locally is one priority we should all try to make if we want to say that we tried to make a difference somehow.

It’s an abstract form of activism, but your vote is your dollar. Making your local dollar strong will go a long way in making other parts of the world resilient in their own food sharing practices, especially when the food price hike will be even more devastating because food companies want to make sure they still make a profit off the backs of the hungry.

If that seems too complicated, then we should just let them all eat cake.

Frozen brussel sprouts courtesy of
Powdered Toast Man image thanks to

As it pertains to war, whenever the United States says jump, other countries always seem to say how high.   No, I’m not referring to Iraq.   I’m not even speaking of Afghanistan which America now sees (going on nine years) as their longest ongoing conflict in their country’s history; in fact it’s not by a long shot.

In 1971 Richard Nixon was the first president to declare war on drugs.   Nixon’s main goal at the time was to stop the flow of drugs coming into the U.S. through Mexico.   The effort grinded traffic at the border to a virtual halt and as a result lasted for only 20 days. That was the beginning.

Mexican President Felipe Calderon

In the decades since, the United States and various partners have spent untold billions on law enforcement, incarceration and border patrolling all in the name of prohibition.   In the 1980s, the U.S. took it a step further by using “the war on drugs” as mere propaganda to justify Ronald Reagan’s paramilitary operations under the guise of a righteous cause, mainly fighting leftist insurgencies in central America, namely Columbia & Nicaragua.   The end result was the death of tens of thousands.

Over the last ten years the war on drugs has not gotten any better, especially in Mexico.   On December 11th 2006, the newly elected president of Mexico, Felipe Calderón, promised to crack down on the dozen or more drug cartels running the Mexican drug trade and sent sixty-five hundred federal troops to Michoacán.   Over the next few years the number of troops involved has multiplied to roughly forty-five thousand.

Calderón’s efforts have paid off to a degree despite all the inside corruption.   The Mexican army has severely cut the ability of the cartels to move its drugs into the United States and Canada.   The army and federal police have also arrested or killed several high profile cartel kingpins.

Unfortunately, the decrease in trafficking has led to skyrocketing prices for cocaine and other drugs.   Cocaine prices in some areas have jumped as much as forty percent making gang territory that much more valuable, valuable enough to murder and die for, which is why we are now seeing an upsurge in violence in some areas of Canada and the United States.

Mexican Drug Seizure

The total chaotic violence we are now seeing in Mexico is due to a huge power vacuum created by the arrests and killings of cartel leaders by the Mexican army and police. So chaotic in fact that it makes Iraq and Afghanistan look like a family picnic.   Since Calderón’s crackdown, an estimated 22 000 people have died in less than four years, many of them innocent women and children caught in the crossfire.

In 2008, the American congress passed the Mérida Initiative to help Felipe Calderón and certain Central American countries combat drug trafficking.   They were given a billion and half dollars over three years on top of what they were getting already and naturally the violence since has only increased.

The cartels in Mexico are better armed and organized now than at any time in history, employing new weaponry and tactics.   In fact, the first car bomb of the conflict was used as recently as this past weekend.

While the United States provides money to Mexico to clean-up trafficking drugs into the U.S., 90% of the weapons used to fight the bloody turf war in Mexico are smuggled in from the U.S., a vicious circle indeed.   These armaments include military grade assault rifles, hand grenades and grenade launchers (there has even been a submarine used to smuggle cocaine).

Arms Bust in Mexico

Most of these weapons coming from inside the United States are untraceable due to the lack of a state or national gun registry as well as the fact that there are seventy-two thousand gun stores in the country.   Virtually all cartel or gang related murders in Mexico are going unsolved.

Former presidents of Brazil, Colombia and Mexico have all said that the U.S. led war on drugs is pushing Latin America into a downward spiral and they have recommended to Barack Obama new policies such as decriminalization of marijuana and to treat drug use as a public health problem and not as a security problem.

Canada’s Stephen Harper unfortunately does not feel the same way.   In his four years in office he has thrown out the liberal plan to decriminalize marijuana, he has tried to introduce mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenders and he has tried repeatedly to close down the only safe injection site in Vancouver.   Like Felipe Calderón, he’s just another partner.

There is much cause for celebration in the Mexican community of Cerro de San Pedro.   Local residents, with the help of the Frente Amplio Opositor (FAO) and their supporters and affiliates in Canada have succeeded in getting the open-pit gold and silver mine operated by Vancouver’s New Gold shut down.

Profepa agent barring the gate of the Cerro de San Pedro mine on Wednesday

On Wednesday, agents of the PROFEPA, Mexico’s environmental protection agency, shut down mining operations in accordance with decisions rendered by the Ninth Circuit Administrative Court and the Federal Tribunal of Fiscal and Administrative Justice.   This move came after inaction and denial by the company following the ruling and by the persistence of activists and even politicians including NDP leader Jack Layton to get them to respect the ruling against them.

Since the mine first opened in 2006, the FAO and others have been very vocal, arguing that not only was it destructive to both the environment and the community (in terms of their health and heritage) it was also illegal.   They have performed many actions both in Mexico and Canada, some dealing specifically with the situation in San Pedro and others with the abuses of the Canadian mining industry in a broader international context.   Many of these actions included a strong theatrical component and the group even inadvertently got Montreal’s Mount-Royal protected from mining interests in the process.

Members of the FAO from Mexico performing an action in Montreal in 2007

In October, Mexican officials finally listened and nullified the environmental impact statement obtained by New Gold predecessor Metallica Resources which led to the forced mine closure earlier this week. This prompted a major drop in the price of New Gold stocks and the company has since gone into major damage control mode, arguing that the closure is just a temporary setback and the mine will be up and running again soon.

Cerro de San Pedro just before a mining explosion after the mine was ordered shut

One tactic supporters of the mine have used in the past is violence.   Enrique Rivera Sierra, a human rights lawyer now living in Montreal, fled Mexico to seek refugee status in Canada after he was severely beaten by paramilitaries for his support of the FAO.

For a while yesterday, it looked like history had repeated itself as allegations of attacks by miners against residents and members of the FAO surfaced. It turns out that fortunately so far there have only been verbal confrontations. Still, given New Gold and its predecessor’s track record on these issues, activists in Mexico and Canada are on high alert and the situation in Cerro de San Pedro is more than a little tense.

The media spotlight on New Gold may be what keeps members of the FAO in Mexico safe, the same people who, in turn, have now succeeded in keeping the community safe from the mine. While this is huge news for Cerro de San Pedro, it is just one small step towards dealing with the Canadian mining industry, though it is an important one.

*Images are screen captures from videos by Youtube users yolistaak, Optativevideo and Lorenafrata