The Fists of Brexit

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‘It really annoys me when people intellectualise this and start talking about figures and polls..when we tell you racism isn’t an academic thing its a lived experience..why are we not listening to the visible minorities in this country, Polish people are being attacked, they’ve said so so I can not see why people are denying it’

– Comedian Ava Vidal on Channel 4 news

‘In its purest form, a newspaper consists of a collection of facts which, in controlled circumstances, can actively improve knowledge. Unfortunately, facts are expensive, so to save costs and drive up sales, unscrupulous dealers often “cut” the basic contents with cheaper material, such as wild opinion, bullshit, empty hysteria’

– Charlie Brooker for the Guardian

‘migrants have been weaponised to stoke fear and get out the vote for the leave campaign’

– Akwugo Emejulu, Senior Lecturer at the University of Edinburgh

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A faith in the images painted by Leave campaigners lead to the championing of faulty statistics, silencing the reality they worked to stifle. The pressures on the public sector were placed on the shoulders of immigrants, allowing the impacts of the Conservatives’ austerity cuts to hide behind misrepresented figures. Murdoch’s Sun failed to mention what Britain gains in return for its ‘350m’ weekly EU fee. The false promise to redirect this fee into the NHS circulated around Britain faster than Farages’ UKIP campaign bus could. The picture of Britain forged by the Leave campaigners was erected through the muting of the points of view that the movement worked to attack.

To move through shock at the vote to Leave and accept that Britain’s identity is inseparable from its racist, homophobic and xenophobic past is to address the challenges of the present. Within national crisis it is people of colour, the LGBTQ and migrant community that suffer the most. The rapid succession of headlines deflect from the testimonies of those who have suffered attacks. Attention is easily tethered to the broader political spectrum. Leadership resignations, the revelation of lies, the fluctuation of the economic market distract from the need to openly condemn and show solidarity against the rise of fascist sentiments in real time. The ‘Go Home’ message scrawled on the Polish Social and Cultural Association and the petrol bomb destroying the Kashmir Meat and Poultry in Walsall happened within 3 days of one another.

The momentum of the Leave vote was fuelled by a black and white monologue – headlines clenching fists and providing the rhetorical ammunition for racist attacks. Marches, protests, conversations, questions and as Ava Vidal stresses, listening, will form a voice to counter the shouts of Britain’s rising fascists.

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.March for Europe 2/7/’16

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Pride

*cropped = Logos of corporations that, outside of their self-promotion in Pride, have contributed nothing to the furthering of lgbtq rights

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Part III – The Miners of Cerro Rico

 

To read about the conditions of the mines go here and to read more about Julio Zambrana and the Cruz family go here

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Martina (far left), is next to heavily pregnant Daisy, 15. Miriam Cruz , Alex’s wife stands with one of her two girls, while Zaida and Grover Isaac Frafan Ortega (far right) have four children.

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Martina and Miriam, her daughter-in-law, peel potatoes they harvested from their allotment in the campo on the outskirts of the Municipal of Potosi. Biweekly, the family stay in a small hut on their plot of land while tilling their produce. Martina turns the potatoes into Papa Rellenas, a traditional Bolivian street food which she sells to miners returning home from the mountain. Miner do not usually eat within the mountain, using juice and cocoa leaves to stave off hunger.

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Martina Cruz is the matriarch of 5 children and 10 grand-children. Unlike the rest of her family, whose clothing reflects the phasing out of traditional Bolivian dress in the urban centres of Bolivia, her traditional pollera, or pleated skirt shielded the children from the dry winds as they hid in the folds of its fabric.

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Grover Isaac Frafan Ortega, 24 is the father of 4 children with Zaida, his wife.

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The bare terrace of the Cruz’s home is exposed to the dry winds of the altiplano, and the temperature falls a few degrees lower than within the sheltered streets of Potosi’s Historic center. The home, built by Guillermo Cruz, Martina’s husband who Julio mined with from the age of 18, no longer lives with the rest of the family. 13 family members inhabit the two room home, as well as a litter of puppies.

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Julio stands outside his office, wearing his Alpaca coat for the cold winter months in Potosi. He commissioned a local artisan to cover the front of the building with graffiti depicting miners drilling for silver and tin; working as a reminder of the conditions, and mode of labour, he wishes to alter through his foundation ‘A New Dawn for the Children’

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A stack of receipts of payments to the miners reflects the fruits of Julio’s activism for the miners. In 2011, Julio paid a lawyer to get a law reconstituted, obliging all tour companies in Potosi to give 15% of their ticket to the mining co-operative they visit-ed. Outside of this fee, the miners receive juice, cocoa leaves and dynamite from the tourists, purchased from the miner’s mar-ket. Julio has successfully requested for tour companies to be removed from Lonely Planet, or the ‘bible’ as he calls it, through their unethical treatment of the miners.

Part II – The Miners of Cerro Rico

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Jul io Zambrana and the Veins leading out of Cerro Rico 

Intervention

A cloaked Incan stands at the base of the carmine coloured mountain, talking to a hatted Spaniard. The Virgin Mary’s disembodied hands frame the conic mountain, her head floating before the summit. Gold streaks suggest the divine sanctioning of the Spanish’s colonisation of Potosi’s Cerro Rico in the 17th century, when the ‘Virgin Mountain’ was painted by an anonymous artist. The oil paint is cracked, it is four centuries old. Today, the West’s intervention within Cerro Rico is of a mixed variety, materialising in charities as well as in exploitative foreign mining corporations.

‘How do they know about us?’ Julio asks when explaining why he does not work for one of the European charities in Potosi. Julio  Zambrana began asking these questions at the age of 20. Now an activist for miner’s rights and running an ethical tour company, he saved his wages from mining and studied history and tourism. ‘I used to sleep 3 hours, wake up at 7 and go straight to university’. He has been a passionate advocate of education since, using himself as an example to other miners who struggle to leave the mountain. Julio wants to provide the children of miners the vocabulary to question and re-mould this intervention.

The Cruz Family

For the Cruz family, the question of education is fraught. Like many parents within the mining quarter of Potosi, the Cruz’s desire for their children to complete their education comes from a knowledge of the growing fatalities of mining life. The mountain collapses, mining equipment for co-operatives remains antiquated, Morales does not heed the calls for a growth in public infrastructure in Potosi. Education can offer a permanent vein leading out of the mountain – Julio’s foundation will provide the dynamite.

From the concrete terrace of the family’s two-room home in Potosi’s mining quarter, the city center feels far away. The Northern Bolivian Quechuan overtakes Spanish at this altitude. The Old Town of Potosi’s center is not exposed to the dry winds blowing in from the Andes; busy with tourists hundreds of meters below. Windburned marks on cheeks are signs of those living on the margins of Potosi’s social consciousness, 4,700 m above sea level.

Julio used to mine with Guillermo Cruz, Martina’s husband. Living within the city center, Julio has forged documents proving that Roberto Cruz, Guillermo’s son, works at his office, allowing three of his daughters to attend the prestigious Colegio Santa Rosa in the city center. Guillermo’s daughters are a rare exception. Topography is political in Potosi; catchment areas determine your future.

The print of a Bugs Bunny jumper is distorted, stretched over 15 year old Daisy’s heavily pregnant belly. She is the girlfriend of Chacho Cruz, Guillermo’s son. Above ground, there is no El Tio, the protectorate of the mines, to guard over the women and girls that grow up in mining communities. The drop out rate within primary and secondary education is the highest for girls; sexual abuse, teenage pregnancy and a lack of encouragement leave many woman dependent on their partners for a living. For miners of co-operatives with no state wage or pension, their early deaths through blood poisoning leave their families stranded in the informal sector, often scraping a living through street vending.

‘Chacho is the youngest, 17 years old’, Julio exclaims before ascending the mountain to their home, ‘his brothers and father never wanted him to work in the mines’. He re-enacts the dialogue between Chacho and his father Guillermo, after Chacho’s then fifteen year old girlfriend, Daisy, became pregnant:

‘I am going to work!’

‘Where?’

‘With you, Papa how old were you when you married our mother’

‘Fuck you – I was 17 years old – it’s different! I am your father and I don’t want you to be a miner, you have to study’

His mother Martina switches from Quechuan to Spanish as she tells us that Chacho has decided to leave high school, marry Daisy and become a miner like his two older brothers.

Education: a weapon against the lack of systematic change in Potosi

Julio is angry, his curses ricochet between Quechuan, Aymara, Spanish and English. His hands point in many directions when he speaks; at the invisible figures that run Potosi, the owners of refineries, the over-worked teachers, the government officials. He jolts from the seat of his dim office, body erect, finding it hard to sit down when talking about the lack of government intervention in Potosi.

He’s angry at the postcards he sells in Sucre to raise money for miners that do not cover the cost of his bus ticket and accommodation. The laws he paid to get reconstituted to prevent tourists from exploding dynamite in the mines in 2008 and tour companies being legally obliged to pledge 15% of their profits to the miners in 2011. That basic educational items demanded by the miners in 2014 have not been granted by Morales’ government. State funded schools in Potosi’s lowest income areas remain under staffed, under attended and under stocked. But Cerro Rico’s mouth will not close in the near future and signs of public infrastructure seem to remain within the torn protest posters of miners.

Education provides an escape from the poor working conditions of the mines, current and future. Chacho’s life-span within the mountain is as perilous as the foundations of the mines themselves. Through the re-privatisation of Cerro Rico in 1985, transnational companies such as Coeur Mining Inc have managed to retain their mining operations within the treacherous top levels of the mountain.

Julio’s new foundation, Nuevo Amanecer Para Los Niños* wants to push through these unideal circumstances. A steel-grated window is swallowed into a dense cave. A glinting drill extends like a welded sword, the tearing sound of stone against metal is imagined. Gaunt cheeks hover above an advert selling beer made of Quinoa. The paint is not cracked. The muriel Julio commissioned a local artist to embellish the front of his office with works as the visual prologue to the conditions he wants to see changed. The image offers a more realistic portrait of Cerro Rico than ‘The Virgin Mountain’ – painted from the inside, like Nuevo Amanecer Para Los Niños.

* ‘New Dawn for the Children’ Beginning with the 250 families of his co-operative, Julio wishes to expand the aid of his foundation to the children of the 22,000 workers on the mountain. His foundation will begin by supplying basic materials that state schools in the mining quarter often fall short of, and miner’s can not afford to purchase; text books, pens, pencils.

His foundation’s long term goal is to facilitate and support the career paths of young adults that have graduated or are enrolled within high school, such as their running a hostel set up by Julio and working in his cafe next to his office. The jobs Julio could offer would provide a bridge to the intercity economy of Potosi, or of  the changing landscape of Bolivia, and transform the stigma that sees higher education as a preserve of Potosi’s middle class.

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To read more about the conditions of the mines and Bolivian politics go here and to see photos of the Cruz family and Julio Zambrana go here

‘Nuevo Amanecer Para Los Niños’ has been legalised by the government, and should be ready to receive donations by the end of July, 2016. There is no website as of yet, but it will be searchable through the name of the foundation. Please visit and share to spread awareness of this worthy cause.

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Part 1 – The Miners of Cerro Rico

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Open and Closed Dialogues – The Miners of Cerro Rico, Evo Morales and the Plurinational Voices of Bolivia

 

Clashing conceptions of progression within Bolivia

Papa Francisco sweats with altitude sickness. He has little time to acclimatise to the political tensions inherent within his visit. Thousands of Bolivians have waited 8 hours for his hallowed wave in the August of 2015. While the Pope stands on the steps of La Paz’s main Cathedral in the colonial-style architecture of Plaza Murillo, the clock on the adjacent Congress Building ticks backwards. Evo Morales’ support was perhaps with the ticking hand, whose anti-clockwise movement  is meant to help the Bolivian people rediscover their sarawi, which means ‘way’ in Aymara.

Morales remained within the Cathedral as the Pope stepped outside. His skepticism towards his country’s Catholic fervour, for him representative of the colonial past, is known. The noise of his absence was drowned in the warring selfie-sticks of the crowd.

This visual cacophony of the country’s national identities reflect the present state of Bolivian politics and Morales’ presidency itself. Like the rainbow colours of the Qullasuyu Wiphala, Bolivia’s national flag, Morales’ policies have many shades. The president must retain amicable relations with the Western investors, while appeasing the demands of Bolivia’s thirty-seven indigenous groups for a greener and more localised economy. Three terms ago, Morales was elected as the first indigenous president of Bolivia. For many, Morales election meant a retreat from the Neoliberal policies of the 1980’s and 90’s, and the return to an economy that slowed down an infrastructural transformation of Bolivia’s rural areas.

Morales is still attune to the historically silenced voices of the country’s indigenous groups, necessitating a more measured response to foreign investment and expansion in Bolivia’s natural resource sector. In the systemic reorganisation following Bolivia’s 1952 socialist revolution, 3 miners were incorporated into the cabinet. Workers’ rights were at the center of Bolivia’s political consciousness.

However, following the failure of the MNR in the decade leadings up to the economic crash in the 1980’s, the meaning of progression within Bolivia is still fraught. If the clock hand it moving anti-clockwise, it is still tethered to a larger structure. Morales may have re-nationalised three of the countries biggest mines in his first term, but there are no miners within Morales cabinet. The president is fiscally pressured to expand the country’s raw resources sector, and allow private companies their investments. Morales has to juggle between these conflicted interests; new balls are added, some are dropped.

The Conditions of Cerro Rico Mines – past and present

The mines of Cerro Rico feel like a ball left on the political wayside. Dropped in the re-privatisation of the mines in the 80’s, Morales has never picked it up again.

Cutting streams through the heavy dust, our head lamps trace the bumpy caverns of the mines. Poor ventilation fills your mouth with crystalline silica dust quicker than words can come out. Far away vibrations rise through my feet as we stand silently at the convergence of 6 veins. We listen to the explosions of dynamite. Miners furrow deeper into the mountain. El Tio, the demonic protectorate of the mines, resides on a makeshift throne in a lower level of the mountain. The destructive quality of Morales death ear to the calls of the miners’ is visceral.

Catholicism does not pierce to the farthest enclaves of the mine. Inside Pachamama, also known but its ancient epithet ‘the mountain that eats men’, the miners sacrifice cocoa leaves and absinthe to the Lord of the underground. These offerings protect them from Silicosis and the mountain’s gradual collapse. The names that attempt to humanise the mountain speak of the desire to comprehend the death toll of its ancient precincts – since the 16th century, 8 million miners have died.

I am rich Potosi..envy of all Kings’. The mantra on the cities’ 17th century coats of arms is one of the first songs of Capitalism. Silver coins flooded out of the mines, the momentum of the Spanish empire, the shackles that lead to mita, the forced labour system that enslaved thousands of African, Inca and Peruvian labourers. If the mountain has dried up after its 5 hundred years of exploitation, the thirst for its silver and tin has not. Through the windows inlayed within the meter-thick stone walls of the National Mint of Bolivia, where coins were hammered to bear the mark ‘P’, the mountain today is peppered with the shacks of miners that live near the entry holes of the mine’s veins.

The labourers in Cerro Rico mines are either part of a co-operative, contracted by the state, or by private foreign companies. This clash of employment systems speaks of Morales’ own difficulty in navigating between the invested interests in Bolivia. He kept the mountain privatised after it was deemed ‘not profitable’ enough to remain nationalised in the 1980’s, leaving the co-operatives vulnerable to exploitation by the private interests of U.S. companies such as Couer Mining Inc.

Co-operatives, with no fixed salary, tunnel into the most dangerous parts of the mines to ensure a wage. These 22 thousand workers do not have time to form unions and demand more rights. In 2011, Morales deemed the co-operatives ‘anti-national’ through signing contracts with Couer’s mining company, and yet the government is fiscally pressured into allowing these private companies to invest $240 million dollars into the mountain as part of their profits go to the state – mining is Bolivia’s second largest source of income.

The miners of Cerro Rico

Julio Zambrana showed me the palms of his hands, callous from when he forgot to wear gloves as he slid down a wench into the lower levels of the mines. ‘I was not spider man or Rambo, I was eighteen’. Julio worked in a co-operative mine at the age of eighteen, and now runs a tour group that gives 15% of each ticket to the miners he visits.

Climbing up through the miner’s Sunday market, selling second-hand toys from the U.S. and China, we ascend to the Cruz families home. Julio worked in the same co-operative as Guillermo Cruz, but unlike Julio who managed to attend university, he has remained in the mines. His children and grand-sons have become miners as well. The family of thirteen live in a two room shack in the miner’s region. Their home is over 4,500 meters above sea level, the view of Potosi makes the 2nd highest city in the world seem low down.

From the concrete roof, you can see the bare Andes mountains. The wind of the altiplano leave windburn on the cheeks of Guillermo’s ten grand-children. Martina Alejo Cruz, the grand-mother, cries as she looks North across the mountains. Cerro Rico steals years from her family, and it stole the life of her 16 year old son through asphyxiation. The average life expectancy of a miner is 40 years through the scourge of Silicosis, poisoning of the blood.

Morales and the calls of the miners

The dust is thick in the mines, vision is impeded. Transparency needs to be enhanced on all aspects of the mountain. The logistical chaos of the mines prevent the enhancement of job security and an open political dialogue about the working conditions for miners. Violent protesting is the main dialogue between Morales and the miners.

Morales is in conversation with more voices than the socialist governments of the 1950’s. His presidency is unique for the extent of his adherence to the demands of Bolivia’s indigenous groups. Renamed the ‘Plurinational state of Bolivia’ in 2014, it is this pluralistic nature of Bolivia that prevents Morales from easily adopting one policy towards Cerro Rico. The strains of the Qullasuyu Wiphala clash. The miners suffer from Morales inability to follow a clear policy with Cerro Rico.

The president has not heeded many of the 26 demands from the miner’s protest in 2014, mainly geared towards the growth in employment possibility through an investment in public infrastructure within the region. If Cerro Rico is not going to be re-nationalised, and the top levels of the mines are collapsing in after their 500 years of exploitation, than the miner’s plea for public infrastructure is a plea for a secure future.

If Morales heeds the calls of Potosi’s miners for a growth in public infrastructure, he may anger the environmental calls of the indigenous leaders and anger the private and foreign companies that have invested millions of dollars in the mines, but he will save thousands of lives. ‘I hate Evo Morales’, states Julio. If Morales blames the co-operatives for their ‘anti-national’ deals with private companies, than the miner’s blame Morales for the working conditions and lack of employment options that force them to shake hands with the private companies that exploit them.

To read more about Julio Zambrana and the veins he is building out of Cerro Rico mountain go here 

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Peckham Powder

I shot Kevin powder (Jason Attar) for his latest intergalactic venture into Peckham. Powder roams the streets enlisting pedestrian astronauts to endeavour into space (on a small budget, mainly using imagination) seeking the strongholds of South London’s idiosyncrasies. Peckham Powder is still being filmed.  

His last 2013 film, shot by Danny Wimborne, was centred in Dalston. Hercules’ trials look trivial compared to Powder’s sweeping vision of hosting the biggest night in east London’s living memory. One Night in Powder was shot in 30 days, with the help of such street mavericks as Garey Dolphin, the self-proclaimed Vice President of Canada.

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One Night In Powder won Best Comedy London Independent film festival and Best Micro Budget Film London Independent film festival in 2013. Powder brings urban dimensions to otherworldly fantasies built through the kindness of strangers. 

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El Rocio

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El Rocio Pilgrimage 

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Day One – The Cathedral

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Day Two

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