Ricardo Carrerre

My good friend Ricardo Carrere, Coordinator of World Rainforest Movement (WRM), passed away on 16 Aug 2011. It’s a big shock and I’m very saddened by this loss.

I have worked with him on forest campaigns especially about industrial tree plantations. He invited me to collaborate on a WRM film “Green Invasion” using case studies of the impacts of tree plantations around the South; I filmed and contributed the Thailand case study. When he visited Thailand, I had a memorable trip travelling together with him to villages who were fighting for greater access to their forest resources.

He was always keenly involved in my life in Thailand and always had something to say, usually extremely witty + acerbic (which he got away due to his huge charm) and always, always laugh-out loud humorous.

When I emailed to invite him to my wedding, he replied (using the “L” instead of the “R” for my name … knowing that’s how some Thais are prone to say it):

Dear Lajesh,
Wow!!!! I AM impressed. This is very serious business and there’s yet the Indian ceremony to come! It seems that when you marry you REALLY marry. I am also very impressed by the length of your bride’s name and surname. Can you actually pronounce it? Unfortunately, I have other things on my agenda on that date and will be unable to attend. I wish you the best. Cheers, Ricardo

In end December 2008, and only a few days before my wedding on 4 January 2009, I was working on an article on agrofuels for the WRM bulletin that took up more time than we expected and he kept editing and sending me new revised versions. Then we at last nailed the final version that he liked, after which he said (in some exasperation):

Finally! I hope this marriage thing will soon be over and your brain will start working at least the not-too-bright way it used to work in the past. Happy New Year! Ricardo

When I emailed him that I was soon expecting to be a father with my son to be born in June 2009, he said:

Dear Rajesh, Congratulations on your father-to-be status. I don’t have a clue about what you are supposed to be doing, given that when my daughter was born I was living underground and when she was 4 months old I had the stupid idea of getting myself imprisoned for seven years! But I’m sure your wife will tell you in very clear terms that you role is not about stocking beers or blogging your mind away. If you don’t want to get yourself in trouble you’d better be careful my friend!

The loss feels even more sudden as I was in touch with him not very long ago as he informed me about his retirement, mulled over the future of  WRM and discussed setting up a Mekong/Southeast Asia office of WRM. He sounded me out about working with WRM based in the Mekong region, saying WRM will have to re-invent itself again, though I don’t expect very dramatic changes in the near future. The Montevideo team will continue its work led by a new coordinator. Maybe now -that you know I won’t be around and that you have become a full-time father- you might begin to think seriously about my offer regarding a possible Southeast Asia WRM person.

This was probably something I would have leapt at even a few years ago, but now as I wanted to spend time with my son Rawin I was not able to give the idea the attention it should have merited, and replied to him that I would not be able to. This was something I feel quite sad about once I learnt of Ricardo’s passing away, that I was unable to do enough to help him when he really wanted me to.

He was a wonderful friend who always had time for a few beers and stories and some laughs.

I was really fortunate that I had more than a few occasions with him (in Thailand and also once in Oxford) exchanging stories over beers, and finding out more about his life, hearing those personal stories that he rarely talked about, and it was a privilege to hear him talk of his early life and struggles in Uruguay fighting against dictatorships, spending time in jail and later finding asylum in UK.

He always carried a mate drinking-carafe which had a long sipper. Mate is made from the coca plant and is prepared and drunk as a herbal tea. Ricardo always carried the jug and accessories as well as the tea leaves – for which he was detained once briefly in Malaysian immigration as they thought he was carrying cocaine. He even gave me a gift of a bombilla (metal straw that also acts as a sieve to drink the tea infusion) when he was in Thailand.

We shared many football stories and he was the classic Latin American passionate-fanatic-fan of his Uruguay team. When I asked him if I should try to go to Brazil for the World Cup in 2014, he emailed me:

On a separate issue, I wouldn’t advise you to come to Brazil for the World Cup. It’s probably going to end up as in 1950 (with Uruguay beating Brazil in the final) and I don’t think that Brazilians will be able to take it peacefully as they did last time. This time there’ll be rioting my friend, 11 Brazilian players (plus the manager) hanging in Copacabana, the police out in force, a coup d’etat and perhaps a quick invasion to Uruguay. You stay home and enjoy all that -and more- on TV.

Ricardo was an inspirational activist and my mentor on all things in life. He was my elder brother whose humour and advice I always cherished.

I will always really miss you, Ricardo.

Go in peace, in fond farewell.

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¡Hasta siempre Ricardo! – Farewell from the WRM team

A message from the WRM Team on the passing of Ricardo Carrere.

WRM had an international meeting in South Africa on the dangers of monoculture timber plantations in 2007. Standing next to Ricardo, with camera, is Timberwatch’s Wally Menne. Timberwatch hosted the conference in Johannesburg. Photo: Langlle/GJEP-GFC.

It is with great sadness that we report the passing of our dear colleague and friend Ricardo Carrere on August 16. Although we had known for several months that he was ill, his death took us by surprise, as his condition rapidly deteriorated in just a few short days. (Pic: Ricardo Carrere (third from right) during a field trip in South Africa.)

We extend our deepest sympathies to his wife Mari, his children Cecilia and Francisco, his sister Margarita, and the rest of his family.

We who worked with him at WRM – Ana, Lizzie, Teresa, Raquel, Flavio and Winnie – are deeply sorrowed by his loss, and yet we are left with his clarity, conviction and love for what he did, his wholehearted commitment to social and environmental justice, seasoned with his unique sense of humour, optimism and zest for life.

Ricardo was the coordinator of the World Rainforest Movement (WRM) from 1996 until December 2010, when he retired. Throughout all those years, he played a fundamental role in building the organization and forging its network of contacts and partnerships based on shared trust and a clear definition of its ultimate goal, to defend the forest and provide support for the local struggles of communities and peoples for their rights and their ways of life.

Ricardo liked to listen to what the people of these communities had to say about their lives and their struggles, which is why he considered himself to be, as he put it, “more than a coordinator of anything, a learner of everything.” He reflected a great deal on everything he heard, during his morning ritual of drinking mate, in silence, during his many travels, and at home, in his garden full of native trees and plants, which he created and nurtured with enormous dedication and love.

Like few others, Ricardo was able to pass on what he learned to a great many people: to those of us who had the tremendous privilege of working directly with him, to others who met and worked and lived with him at different times in his life, and to people from organizations, networks and movements in many different countries.

We want to thank our friends and colleagues for the many messages we have been receiving from around the world. We plan to share back a bit of this outpouring of affection in our September bulletin, which we will be dedicating to Ricardo.

We also want to take up the suggestion made by some of our friends to hold a special tribute to Ricardo this coming September 21, the International Day Against Monoculture Tree Plantations. We will organize a tribute here in Uruguay, and our friends are more than welcome to hold tributes of their own wherever they are. But the most fitting tribute of all will be to join in the activities for this international day of struggle that Ricardo worked for so many years to disseminate and promote, with the enthusiasm, determination and passion that he was known for.

¡Hasta siempre Ricardo!

Ana, Lizzie, Teresa, Raquel, Flavio and Winnie

Democratizing Water Governance in the Mekong Region

Democratizing Water Governance in the Mekong Region. 2007. Lebel, L., Dore, J., Daniel, R., Koma, Y.S. (Eds.) Silkworm Books/Mekong Press, Chiang Mai. 284 pages. http://www.mekongpress.com/catalog/detail.php?isbn=9789749511251.

Over the last few decades, the Mekong region has been facing complex pressures and challenges in water governance driven by a range of economic integration efforts and relationships motivated by national self-interest.

This book, the first in a four-volume series, brings together the work of researchers, scholars, activists, and leaders in the Mekong region to provide a baseline, state-of-knowledge review of the contemporary politics and discourses of water use, sharing, and management, and their implications for local livelihoods.

The chapters critically analyze contested discourses on such topics as regional hydropower development, floods, and irrigation, along with the broader yet interrelated issues of gender, media, dialogue, and impact assessment. The writers explore the interplay of power relationships between actors such as state planners, regional institutions, the private sector, and various water users, in particular, politically marginalized groups including women, urban and rural poor, and ethnic peoples. The diverse array of topics and perspectives provides a sound basis for engaging in policy-related action.

The book will appeal to a broad readership and, at the same time, contribute to the Mekong region’s search for democratic water governance options.

After the Logging Ban: Politics of Forest Management in Thailand

After the Logging Ban: Politics of Forest Management in Thailand. 2005. Daniel, R. (Ed.) Foundation for Ecological Recovery (PER), Bangkok. 220 pages. http://www.terraper.org/publications.php (price 350 baht).

The book reviews the state of forests and forest policies in Thailand and shows why the nationwide ban on logging concessions declared in 1989 seems to have had little or no effect in halting forest degradation.

The book reveals how Thailand’s often corrupt forestry industry is exploiting forest resources not just in the country but across its borders such as in Burma and Cambodia, while other efforts to cash in on forest areas such as establishing large-scale tree plantations are bringing their own set of ecological problems and social conflicts.

In examining the critical problems with the forest conservation ideology of the Thai state, the book unveils how conservation areas such as national parks are placing more restrictions on access to forest resources by local communities as well as discouraging local forest conservation efforts. Meanwhile, important legal initiatives for increased local control over forests including the “People’s Community Forest Bill”  are struggling to materialize.

The book points to new ways to build social spaces towards strengthening community-based resource management and reverse the present trends of forest destruction in Thailand.

The Mekong: Grounds of Plenty

DVD, 47 min, in English w. subtitles in four Mekong region languages, 2011.

The story of how fish from the Mekong River is caught and sold, cooked and consumed, by the people in the Mekong region.

A healthy Mekong River is central to mainland Southeast Asia’s food security. The rich wild capture fisheries of the Mekong River and its ecosystems feed not only people living alongside the river but are crucial for the livelihoods of millions of people across mainland Southeast Asia.

Caught using an array of nets, baskets and traps, and cooked in many amazing ways, the wild fish catch provides protein and essential nutrients. Yet, the interconnection between the Mekong River’s well-being and the fish on a family’s plate is not so apparent in the urban centers.

The film shows the Mekong River’s wild fish being caught and processed, and its passage through networks of trade as people work through the night and day to transport the catch to villages and towns, to markets, homes and restaurants.

Filmed in over 30 locations across the Mekong region

from Cambodia and Laos to Thailand and Vietnam.

Produced by: Mekong Program on Water, Environment and Resilience (M-POWER), Unit for Social and Environmental Research (USER) and International Rivers.

For DVD copies please contact: noelrajesh@gmail.com; carl@internationalrivers.org.

Full version available online at: http://www.cultureunplugged.com/documentary/watch-online/play/7225/The-Mekong—Grounds-of-Plenty.

Short version: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WeQYG0Idy-8

Exec. Producer: Carl Middleton

Script, Camera, Producer: Rajesh Daniel

The film was screened at:

1. “Siirretyt (Displaced)” film festival organized by the Siemenpuu Foundation, Helsinki, 10-12 October 2011.

2. “Lifescapes” Southeast Asian film festival, Payap University, Chiang Mai,  2-5 February 2012.

 

 

 

 

Grounds of Plenty_Flyer

The craft of film-making

“So you’ve finished a film recently?” the academic from a well-known university asked. The tone was one of amusement, as if she had found a mouse under her chair and it was dead. “So you’ve found a dead mouse under my chair?”.

I replied yes, it had taken some time but now it’s finally done after a year and a half. She asked, “So what was your role in the film?”. I said quite matter-of-factly, “I did the camera and was the director”.

“Ah, the technical stuff?” she queried, and gave a disparaging laugh.

Yes, the technical stuff. The research, then the script reworked and revised and then revised some more, the camera work across four countries and around 30 locations working from early dawn to late night in all kinds of situations. The transcripts of interviews and the translations from the four regional languages, and the final painstaking corrections of the English language subtitles. And then the long, long hours of editing, trying to turn 50 hours of footage into a 47 minute film. Yes, all very “technical”. I was upset that my creativity was not being recognised. Then I realised, why be ashamed of this word technical. Yes, film-making is indeed technical. It’s not that different from a university engineer building a bridge or a 60 storey building.

Yes, film-making is a craft, not only an art, and it takes a lot of patience and skill and time and energy. And yes, it takes a lot of knowledge about what one is doing. It seems in this multimedia digital era, where a child can (and often does) cut and paste digital footage into a film (and that’s a good thing, the ease of technology), it’s often forgotten that documentary film-making can still require so much of the film-maker.

It’s easy to dismiss a documentary filmmaker. It seems we have to be Al Gore or Mike Moore to be perceived as a good documentary maker. But in this digital day and age, even a 10 second clip on a mobile phone can become a documentary film depending on its content. And then we have an effort like ours – 47 minutes after more than a year of hard work. And I do say “ours”, because this film was due to not just long hours but an effort of collaboration by many people, those who funded us, did research for us, helped us to go to the right locations and gave advice. Sometimes it was people we had just met for the first time who allowed us into their busy lives, who simply assented to go on camera to tell us about their work and fears, to trust in us. To be disparaging of such a collaborative effort is not only inhumane but more simply to lack any imagination whatsoever.

We need to welcome all kinds of efforts at multimedia, not just from the Gore’s and Moore’s. From the simple mobile telephone-handheld 10 minute shot of a dam inside Burma (taken at great risk to the videomaker) to the 3 hour-long feature, we need to relish and revel in their efforts. If one is socially activist, why be restricted to just words at a seminar or the written article. Why not multimedia, when the power of the visual can provide such clarity to a life situation. If one wants to be engaged in the public sphere, why would one wish to denigrate the power of film, or the small efforts of the filmmaker as she or he tries to bring some small slice of reality in the visual medium into your lives.

Power and Prejudice in Forest Conservation

Book review published in the Bangkok Post, 8 June 2002

By Noel Rajesh

The upland forests of north Thailand have become an arena for intensely contested perspectives on forest protection as state forestry officials and some nature conservation groups attempt, in the name of forest conservation, to remove local communities, particularly hilltribe people living in and using these forest areas.

Overtly, the explanation (and subsequent solution) that is proposed by these nature conservationists seems simple and forceful: upland forests act as watersheds for lowland rivers and must therefore be kept free of human interaction.

On closer examination, however, this conservationist ideology crumbles, revealing a remarkable combination of pseudo-science, hidden falsehoods, power agendas, racial and anti-rural prejudices and, ultimately, unasked questions about who defines nature conservation and makes decisions about the use and protection of forests in Thailand.

Redefining Nature: Karen Ecological Knowledge and the Challenge to the Modern Conservation Paradigm explores the conservationist ideology and the themes surrounding it: the racial and anti-rural character of nature conservation imposed by the state, the power and politics involved in defining what counts as knowledge of nature conservation, and the struggle of the Karen ethnic people to protect their homes and fields as they engage and resist the politically powerful: the state foresters, policy-makers and nature conservationists. Author Pinkaew Laungaramsri, an anthropologist at Chiang Mai University, begins the book with the tragic story of the suicide in March 1997 of a Karen elder, Pati Punu Dokjimu (to whom the book is dedicated), from Huai Hoi village in Chiang Mai province.

About five years ago, the Royal Forestry Department (RFD) declared a national park that enclosed Pati Punu’s village. Ever since, Pati Punu lived in fear and uncertainty over his future and that of his children. Forestry officials randomly stomped over the swidden rice fields, not considering that their deliberate destruction of crops could mean starvation for many families; threats of arrest and resettlement became a daily nightmare; and people were often jailed when they cut down trees for house building or rice growing.

In March 1997, Pati Punu travelled to Bangkok to join in the demonstrations of hundreds of other ethnic people from the northern mountains whose homes and swiddens were taken over by the state in the name of nature conservation.

Pati Punu hoped that dialogue with the phu yai, the powerful state authorities, would make them sympathise and understand that the Karen people had lived and protected the forests for hundreds of years even before the phrase protected area” had come into existence, and there was nowhere else for the Karen to go if they were deprived of their land.

But the negotiations between the hill people’s representatives and the phu yai collapsed. The Deputy Minister of Agriculture declared that all the people living in upland watershed areas must opphayop ( resettle”), a word dreaded by forest-dwelling communities. On the way back to his homeland in the northern mountains, his heart heavy with grief, Pati Punu threw himself out of the train and died.

As Pinkaew movingly describes it, in a world in which freedom of choice is not granted to powerless hill people, Pati Punu had chosen the only path he had in his struggle for autonomy; the path that took away his life, but allowed him to remain Karen in soul and spirit.

Why are Pati Punu and hundreds of other villagers like him denied this freedom of choice over their forests and homelands? Why is it not possible for them to participate in making decisions over how to use and protect the forests, especially when their communities have sometimes been protecting these forests for hundreds of years? How did these powerful ideologies of protected areas or nationalparks come to be built? And who in fact makes these decisions?

Redefining Nature looks into these questions by unravelling the complex processes of power relations by which the modern concept of nature conservation has historically come into being in Thailand.

As Pinkaew states, the book searches for radical questions rather than tacit answers, and hidden falsehoods rather than unquestioned truth.

Within this process of building a nature conservation ideology, she explains how the Thai political establishment has deliberately constructed certain definitions and discourses that discriminate against ethnic hill peoples and their local knowledge.

However, this politics of nature conservation by the political establishment comprising foresters and nature conservationists is not going unchallenged. Pinkaew describes how the Karen ethnic people in Mae Ning Nai village in north Thailand respond in numerous creative and self-confident ways to reassert their political space, their Karen identity and their intimate knowledge of the forest ecosystem.

At one end, the book traces the origin and development of the state’s anti-peasant nature conservation ideas, introducing the reader to the thinking of foresters and nature conservationists and the emergence of forest conservation as representing the desire for the modernisation of the country.

A key feature of this development is how the modern Thai state adopted the concepts of nature conservation that can be termed as North American wilderness thinking, and the history of pa (forest) in Thai society and its changing meanings.

Within this narration runs one clear strand, what the author describes as a major stumbling block preventing foresters from considering the idea of co-management of forests with local people: An obstacle which, I came to realise later on, was a racial prejudice against ethnic-minority hill people.

This prejudice among foresters is so strong, definite, and decisive that it obviated the necessity of further truth finding about forest problems.”

Many social scientists and anthropologists have long pointed out that racial prejudice is inherent to, and actually forms a basic core of, the nature conservationist ideology.

Pinkaew states: In fact, what is repeatedly portrayed by the international conservationist idea of human/nature division is a human/human boundary which tends to reinforce or conceal class, ethnic, anti-agricultural, anti-commons or other discrimination in the allocation and permitted uses of land.”

Pinkaew cites the example of the Dhammanat Foundation (DM) in the Mae Soi Valley in Chiang Mai province, one of Thailand’s nature conservation groups, to illustrate how their forest conservation practice is closely allied to the politics of ethnic discrimination.

In advocating forest conservation in the Mae Soi area, DM states that the physical causes of forest destruction are community farming by slashing and burning headwater forests. For DM, part of the solution to this problem is in the relocation of the hill people.

As Pinkaew writes, this bio-centric ideology espoused by DM is not simply a celebration of nature rights, as is often claimed. In fact, what has been advocated is a type of conservation that counters the attempt by any non-Tai culture to contaminate the Tai nature:a new form of cultural racism which has developed and manifested in the movement to protect untouched head waters by DM.

But this hegemonic representation of poor ethnic minorities, however, is never constructed without contestation. Local contestation begins when forest authorities attempt to assert their power over local livelihoods.

The reader then enters one of the most compelling sections in the book where Pinkaew weaves an absorbing narrative about the Karen people of Mae Ning Nai village. Pinkaew takes us to their swidden rice fields, forests and their homes, relates their stories of the struggles to protect their livelihoods.

In the evenings after dinner, sitting around the fireplace, she engages the Karen in often tense yet lively dialogues where the Karen enter into and learn to encounter the debates about deforestation, and respond with wit and humour to the foresters’ views of hill tribes, the causes of forest destruction and the efforts of nature conservationists to resettle the hill people.

She writes: For them, the discussion was not simply a series of entertaining intellectual riddles, but a wager on a future of their own as well as of the generations to come. Through these difficult conversations, the multiple voices of concern especially those of women, often hidden in the shadows where the glimmering light of the lamp did not reach, began to speak loud in defending their swidden territory.”

These debates and dialogues produce another strategically very important outcome for the Karen: discussing government forestry maps, the Karen then decide to build their own map, a topographic model based on Karen perceptions, to prove their customary land use practices, and as a tool to defend their rights and to communicate effectively with forest authorities.

The author writes with an obvious enjoyment of and a deep empathy for the Karen communities and the rhythms of their daily lives based on forests, swidden fields, and fallows. Equally, she writes with a firm intellectual understanding about the main theme of the dominant nature conservationist ideology and its protagonists, the politics of racialisation, the conflicts that it engenders and the far-reaching impacts on local communities, particularly ethnic minorities living in the upland areas who are being targeted by the state for resettlement.

The book compels us to look afresh and question the power, ideology and prejudices behind the politics of nature conservation, if for nothing else because, by the end of the book, we realise that the survival of hundreds of communities dwelling in forest areas not just in Thailand but elsewhere in the Mekong Region is being threatened by it.