Thursday, March 19, 2015

Rolling Up the Valle Valle Narco-network in Guatemala

Agents of the Guatemalan Government and the US Drug Enforcement Agency arrested Rubén Arita Rivera, alleged to be part of a narco-network in Guatemala that articulated with the Valle Valle family network in Honduras.

Arita Rivera was arrested in the small community of Chamagua, near San Jose Zacapa, in Guatemala.  This is a prime location for transshipment of drugs from Honduras, through Guatemala, to El Salvador, one of the known routes of the Cartel del Pacifico (formerly the Sinaloa Cartel), allegedly managed by the Lorenzano family in Guatemala. 

It's an ideal location to intercept drug shipments going through the Honduras - Guatemala border from blind crossings at La Florida (where the Valle Valle family ranch was located) and El Paraiso, as well as shipments going through the border crossings of Copan Ruinas and Ocotepeque.  From there the drugs could be shipped northward to Mexico, or southwesterly into El Salvador.

But Arita Rivera isn't accused of running drugs, just being a money courier. Guatemala began investigating Arita Rivera in 2014 when they captured one of his couriers, Flavio Dimas Rojas, transporting a large sum of currency supposedly belonging to Arita Rivera. Guatemala alleges that Arita Rivera regularly ran drug money from Chiquimula in eastern Guatemala to Huehuetenango, along the border near Comitan, Mexico.

Arita Rivera has a US drug running conviction.  In March, 2008, he accepted delivery of a package in Spring Valley, NY that contained more than 500 grams (slightly over a pound) of cocaine.  He was charged with conspiracy with unnamed others to violate the US narcotics laws, and with possession with intent to distribute the cocaine.  On January 12, 2009 he was sentenced to be imprisoned for 37 months and fined $100.00 (US 7:08-cr-00571-SCR).  He was to serve 3 years probation after he served his sentence, and if he left the country or was deported, was not to re-enter the US without permission of the US Attorney.  If he had remained in the US he would just be completing his probation this coming June.

Instead, today he was arrested in Guatemala with the participation of the US DEA.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Why Claims that Lost Cities exist in Abandoned Land are Dangerous for Indigenous Hondurans

The hype about the supposed "discovery" of Ciudad Blanca in eastern Honduras is dying down in English-language media.

A little good came out of this incident: a number of Honduran academics registered their skepticism about the claims. Honduran university students in the young Anthropology major held a public event to educate Hondurans about the reality of archaeology of Eastern Honduras. And a letter taking the National Geographic to task for publishing a sensationalized account, signed by an international group of archaeologists, got enough attention to warrant corrective reporting in some mainstream media.

Predictably there has been push back: don't be such kill-joys, isn't Indiana Jones the spirit of archaeology? and isn't this just another example of politically correctness?

The PC criticism suggests that scholars questioning the promotional stories' claims that the area was uninhabited because this ignores the indigenous people whose own oral histories are our best historical indication that eastern Honduras was once densely settled with larger towns cannot possibly actually be motivated by real people's real situations. It is just an attitude scholars adopted to look good.

Now, a new blog post by Chris Begley, an archaeologist who has one of the most extensive records of archaeological investigation in this area, addresses this question directly, and personally. We would love to reproduce his whole blog post, which you can find here; but short of that, pay attention to what he says:

The language used evokes a time where foreign explorers emphasized their superiority at the expense of local knowledge...there is a much more human and immediate cost, borne primarily by the most marginalized, least powerful folks in the region: indigenous people like the Pech who are descendants of those who built these sites.

I know this is not a ‘lost civilization’ because I am an archaeologist, and I’ve worked in this ‘unknown’ area for almost 25 years. I lived and worked with the Pech almost exclusively, because I thought it was the right thing to do, and because they know the region better than anyone. They have at least a thousand years of history there.

For the Pech, the past is absolutely essential to their future. Their history is not merely an interesting pastime; it creates and supports the present. They are curious about the archaeology. I’ve talked to impromptu community meetings, looked at artifacts they collected, and listened to their interpretations. I saw them make modern pottery look like the ancient pieces we find at archaeological sites, in a deliberate attempt to connect the past and the present.

I lived with the Pech at various times over the last two decades. We lived in small villages with no electricity or water. We spent all day, every day, together. We sat and talked every night. We played cards. We took trips through the forest for two or three weeks at a time, mapping archaeological sites along the way. All told, the Pech and I documented around 150 archaeological sites.

The Pech already knew where every large site was located. Every single one. They knew where fruit trees grew, or where the good fishing holes were. They could find the little trails that I could hardly see. Sometimes we followed an old trail by looking for grown over machete cuts on branches. They knew the forest like I know my hometown.

The Pech lived in these now remote places as recently as 150 years ago, and they return to hunt and fish, or to harvest sweetgum. They’ve lost traditional lands to encroaching farmers and cattle ranchers. They’ve been moved around, and now live mainly on the edge of the rain forest, in a handful of communities....

They showed me archaeological sites. They showed me features such as which hillsides had been reshaped by people, because they could tell and I couldn’t. They explained what they thought it meant. They critiqued my interpretations.

The Pech did all this while facing serious threats to their continued existence. They fought to keep what traditional land they still had, and to keep their language alive. They buried people killed by outsiders who wanted to bully them off their land. I hated those funerals, where those animated faces I knew were rigid. I hated seeing that. Sometimes I didn’t go.

So, what is the harm in this hype and sensationalism? What difference does it make if, in their ignorance, these ‘explorers’ proclaim that they discovered something nobody has seen in 600 years?  What is the cost of these newcomers, with no real experience in this forest, claiming, disingenuously, to have discovered a ‘lost civilization?’ Why am I moved to spend a few hours writing something like this?

I write this because these false claims, hype and sensationalism invade one of the few remaining spaces in which the Pech, and folks like them, are powerful. These claims strip the Pech of their own history, and deny them the respect they deserve and the acknowledgement for their contribution to our understanding of the past. These sensational narratives, powerful because they are made by powerful people, further marginalize and disenfranchise people. In ignorance and bravado, and in pursuit of the unworthy goal of celebrity and attention, these faux discoverers make it hard to hear a crucial voice from some real experts.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Honduran Archaeologists Criticize US Claim of Archaeological "Discovery"

The US team that has been promoting the idea that eastern Honduras is an impenetrable jungle where no archaeologist has gone before has released a new report, based on arriving at one of the sites LiDAR imagery showed.

Unfortunately, they continue to promote the idea that there was no previous research in the area; they use outdated and long-rejected ideas of "discovery" (ignoring indigenous people who contemporary archaeologists would acknowledge have their own knowledge of the landscape and what lies there), "lost cities", and new "civilizations" supposedly previously unknown.

The continued insistence on the narrative of discovery is especially egregious since the group has been told, repeatedly, about the modern work in the area, and has neglected to even contact the very much available expert in the region. It is almost the 100 year anniversary of the work of the first modern archaeologist who identified archaeological traditions typical of eastern Honduras, Samuel Lothrop.

This may be a newly identified site, but with over 200 sites, including large sites with stone architecture and ballcourts documented in the existing archaeological literature, that cannot be verified without engagement with the broader, knowledgeable archaeological community.

And that is precisely what Honduran archaeologists also had to say about the report in an article just published in La Prensa. These are all people fluent in English and Spanish, so a less lazy US news organization might talk to them directly; meanwhile, let's make sure their voices are heard, shall we?

Ciudad Blanca is a myth for Honduran archaeologists

The publication by National Geographic that Ciudad Blanca has been discovered in the Honduran rainforest wakened unease and incredulity in experts in the country.
Since decades ago, scientific expeditions have explored the legend of the lost city in the Mosquitia, discovering that it is a region rich in archaeological building remains, and according to archaeologists that is what the new reporting by the magazine is showing....
It isn't a discovery...
Ricardo Agurcia, noted Honduran archaeologist, questions the possible discovery that would rise to a world-wide level because the investigation team that was formed, he says, is not well known, and nor does he know the institutions that participated and if there are Honduran experts involved. "What I have been able to see has very little scientific merit. What I find strange as well is that news of this type comes out first published outside Honduras".
He notes that what the magazine shows doesn't have the features of the legend mentioned, and it is not unknown that there are many archaeological settlements in the Mosquitia. "What they encountered is a city? A city is archaeologically defined as a site of human occupation with a population larger than 10,000 inhabitants."
"This is verified with field archaeology and registering of houses. Is it white? I don't see it that way in any of the photos."
 "In the legend of the White City (Ciudad Blanca) that I know there should be a monkey statue made of gold. If this is Ciudad Blanca, where is that monkey? I see a lot of tinges of adventure, of Hollywood fils, as it it were from an Indiana Jones movie. That is not science" pointed out Agurcia.
 The Honduran archaeologist Eva Martinez agrees with Agurcia that this does not constitute a discovery and that Ciudad Blanca continues to be a myth.
"The Honduran Mosquitia has been studied by archaeologists for decades. The place that the National Geographic mentions could be one of the sites already recorded in the National Institute of Anthropology and History (IHAH)."
The faculty member in the Anthropology major of the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de Honduras says that the international publication lacks credibility.
"Any archaeological site in the Mosquitia could be given that name. Ciudad Blanca is a myth, a legend. The publication is not an academic investigation and it gives us a mistaken idea of the work of archaeology" she affirmed.
Martinez recommended that the Government should follow the legal and normal process of the IHAH and solicit a proposal for archaeological investigation, since the goal of the fieldwork that [the US institution involved] has, or if this is a preliminary step, is unknown. Before spreading news of a supposed discovery she thinks that the government ought to shield the Mosquitia from the looting of archaeological objects, which has already been happening and could grow.

 Who are these Honduran skeptics? Eva Martinez was the former head of the division of the Institute of Anthropology that is supposed to be responsible for vetting new projects in order to ensure that Honduras' cultural patrimony is properly managed. Ricardo Agurcia is a former Director of the Institute.

Theirs are not the only Honduran archaeologist's voices being raised in protest of the misrepresentation both of the level of knowledge that already exists of their country's archaeological resources, and of the way that Honduran anthropological archaeology-- a discipline that only recently became a university-level major at the National University-- is being ignored. What they have to say is echoed by many others, nationally and internationally.

We have long known there were large cities in the eastern Honduran rainforest. We have long known that there were traditions of sculpture, closely related to those of Nicaragua and Costa Rica and therefore NOT "Mesoamerican" (contrary to what one US archaeologist quoted by La Prensa said). We have even known for decades that many of the larger sites in the Mosquitia include ballcourts-- which was a real discovery, when it was made in the 1990s by Chris Begley as part of his University of Chicago doctoral research, undertaken with the proper approval and support from Honduran archaeologists.

I was challenged for calling the current project "pseudoscience". It may not be pseudoscience as we normally think of it (aliens built the site! it represents the lost civilization of Atlantis! Lucifer fell to earth here!).

But it isn't science either. Science rests on the assumption that each new investigator acknowledges what previous researchers have done, engages with it, and contributes to a growing body of knowledge. In contemporary anthropological archaeology, that process has led us to reject notions of "lost civilizations" and mysterious cities as hype-- what I called the way this team promoted itself in 2012, and still a valid label today. And that process has made it indispensable to leave behind the colonial legacy of archaeology, to acknowledge the contributions of archaeologists from other countries and the knowledge of local people, including but not just limited to those who might be descendants of the indigenous people whose histories we are tracing.

This ain't science, so give me a better work than pseudoscience: adventurism?

see the complete article in Spanish here