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From issue: Voices from the New Generation (Winter 2010)


Stay up-to-date with the latest trends and events from around the hemisphere with AQ's Panorama. Each issue, AQ packs its bags and offers readers travel tips on a new Americas destination.

In this issue:
El Museo del Barrio celebrates Día de los Muertos in October 2009. Photograph courtesy of El Museo del Barrio.

Film: La Hora Cero

Matthew Aho

Venezuela’s Social Inequality

La Hora Cero (The Zero Hour), a movie set and filmed in Caracas, is the big-screen debut of Venezuelan-born and U.S.-raised director Diego Velasco, whose short films have won over 26 awards. Set during the real-life, 24-hour national health strike that paralyzed the city’s public hospitals in 1996, it follows a fictional hitman (sicario) who takes control of a private hospital to save his pregnant girlfriend—the victim of a shooting in which the culprit is revealed only later in the film.

By focusing on a sicario, one of Latin America’s most feared criminal types, the film attempts to show the link between violence and social inequality—in this case the gap in quality between private and public health care. During the filming, reality quickly intruded in cinematic interpretation. A supporting actor was assassinated, and a co-producer was kidnapped but released.

The filmmakers say they did not want to produce a socioeconomic critique. “We want viewers to digest and interpret the movie’s ideas, not to put ideas in their heads,” Guatemalan co-writer Carolina Paiz told AQ. The Venezuela release is scheduled for after mid-2010, followed by distribution around the hemisphere.

The Environment: Green Sandals

Matthew Aho

Brazil, already a world leader in biofuels, has found a way to make walking both comfortable and eco-friendly. Sandals made from recycled tires by Goóc, a company founded in 2004 by a Thai refugee, have attracted customers from Angola to the United States. Today the company has factories in São Paulo and Bahia.

Over three million pairs of Goóc sandals are now sold annually around the world as part of what company founder Thái Quang Nghiã claims is “a solution toward preserving the environment.” Quang, who was rescued at sea in 1979 by a Brazilian oil tanker after fleeing Vietnam, was inspired by the Vietnamese wartime practice of converting the canvas and tires from destroyed trucks into footwear and bags. He points out that tires take approximately 700 years to naturally decompose. In Brazil alone, where over 35 million tires are discarded annually, that represents a mammoth environmental hazard. The 52-year-old entrepreneur’s innovative response makes a fashion statement out of cleaning up the environment. But what happens to old sandals? Goóc has a conscientious answer for that as well: it has set up collection points in Brazil where customers earn future discounts when turning in their used sandals, which are then recycled into new shoes.

10 Things to Do: Granada, Nicaragua

Matthew Aho

Few Central American cities can compete with the colonial charm and lovely surroundings of Granada, Nicaragua—the region’s oldest city (founded in 1524). Granada is less than an hour’s drive from Nicaragua’s capital, Managua, and nearly as close to pristine Pacific beaches. Here's what to do:

1.  Avoid the Heat. Midday temperatures often soar above 90 degrees Fahrenheit (32 degrees Celsius). Cool off at nearby Laguna de Apoyo, approximately 10 miles (16 kilometers) outside Granada. The volcanic waters are even said to have healing powers

2.  See the Isletas. Take a boat tour of the approximately 356-island archipelago that dots Lake Nicaragua, Central America’s largest lake. The inhabitants are a mixture of local fisherman, wealthy Nicaraguans and expats seeking solitude.

3.  Stroll through Parque Colón. Also known as Parque Central, the plaza bustles with artisans, troubadours and Vigorón sellers, offering the traditional plate of yucca, pork rind, salad, and chicha (a fermented corn drink).

4.  Visit Convento San Francisco. Built in 1529, the convent was nearly destroyed when William Walker’s troops set the city ablaze in 1856. Today the convent has been converted to a historical museum and cultural center, but the adjacent church still offers mass services.

5.  Hike Volcán Mombacho. Ten miles (16 kilometers) south of Granada, explore one of Nicaragua’s active volcanoes. Zip line tours that allow travelers to skim over the national park’s four craters await the adventurous.

6.  Savor Street Theater. Find an outdoor table at any of the cafes or  bars that line bustling Calle La Calzada and settle back to take in the evening street life, including the myriad of street performers.

7.  Take in the Colonial Architecture. An afternoon stroll through Granada’s colonial past will offer views of elegant sixteenth-century homes. Stop and meet friendly Granadinos who customarily enjoy the afternoons in their rocking chairs (made in the nearby town of Masaya).

8.  Be Poetic. Every February the city’s week-long International Poetry Festival, which began in 2005, celebrates Nicaragua’s legacy of acclaimed poets  such as Rubén Dario, Ernesto Cardenal and Giaconda Belli—and attracts poetry-lovers from around the world for programs of readings and concerts.

9.  Feast on Guapote. Head to El Zaguán, just off Parque Colón, for steak or guapote (rainbow bass) from Lake Nicaragua, deep-fried and served in a tomato-onion salsa. Wash it down with a Toña beer.

10. Dance the Night Away. Catch  Nicaragua’s contemporary  music scene at the unpretentious Café Nuit, with acts ranging from trova to salsa.

Museum Scene: A Latino Cultural Landmark

Matthew Aho

The new look of New York’s El Museo del Barrio, the city’s leading Latino cultural institution, is attracting art enthusiasts far beyond its East Harlem location. The museum reopened in October, following an 18-month renovation, with both structural improvements and an expansion of its public programming to include more free or low-cost concerts, lectures, films, and cultural celebrations. Further hoping to broaden its reach, El Museo has launched a website that showcases its 600-piece permanent art collection and partnered this year with museums in Colombia, Brazil and Argentina to host Arte Vida—the  first exhibition surveying four decades of performing arts by Latinos in the United States.

The museum, founded in 1969 to provide greater cultural awareness for the Puerto Rican diaspora, is now on its way to fulfilling one of its original missions: to create an “open, flexible, virtual, and dynamic forum for people to come together,” in the words of Deborah Cullen, the director of curatorial programs.

From the Think Tanks

Matthew Aho

The online Plataforma Democrática library—featured in the Spring 2009 AQ—has reached a new milestone: 8,000 freely-available publications on Latin American democracy. Plus, a new video library has over 50 hours of conference footage

An English-language Web portal launched by the Woodrow Wilson Center Mexico Institute in November 2009 provides up-to-the-minute analysis on topics ranging from the economy to security and migration. The launch coincides with its release of a publication with El Colegio de la Frontera Norte on cross-border challenges, titled Strategic Guidelines for the Competitive and Sustainable Development of the U.S.-Mexico Transborder Region. Available in English and Spanish.

Global Integrity released a toolkit in November  at the National Endowment for Democracy that assesses local governments’ success in fighting corruption in three Latin American countries. Produced in conjunction with local NGOs—Center for the Implementation of Public Policies Promoting Equity and Growth (CIPPEC, Argentina), Grupo FARO (Ecuador) and Ciudadanos al Día (Peru)—it covers issues such as local public financial management, conflict-of-interest safeguards and the financing of local political parties and candidates. Assessments available in Spanish.

The Justice Studies Center of the Americas’ fifth annual Index of Online Access to Judicial Information finds that Brazilian and Chilean courts have the most information available online. The November 2009 report lauds Guatemala and Paraguay for their best-in-the-region improvements. One challenge is that lower-level courts tend to publish less information online. Available in Spanish.

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