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Ecological Ideas and Historical Construction of the Brazilian Cerrado  

Sandro Dutra e Silva

Brazil’s national territory has traditionally been analyzed in terms of large biogeographical regions. The most current and widely used classification for both planning and environmental conservation purposes in Brazil divides the country into six large biomes: the Amazon, the Caatinga, the Cerrado, the Pantanal, the Atlantic Coast Forest, and the Pampa. All the biomes have faced threats to the preservation of their natural resources from various causes. Despite its rich biodiversity, the Cerrado has historically been affected by these threats, especially by the rapid expansion of the agricultural frontier over the past fifty years. An important issue for the environmental history of the Cerrado and for Brazilian biomes in general is the context of the ecological ideas used to construct the paradigms by which Brazil’s biogeographical formations are defined. This context involves ecological assumptions incorporated over the years that are crucial to understanding the historical construction of the Cerrado and other biomes. The ecological ideas that have historically constituted the Cerrado help to reflect on the historical distribution of phytogeographies, their specific features and the processes by which both human and nonhuman elements of the Brazilian biomes interact. The Cerrado is, therefore, a historical construction, the product of ecological metaphors and environmental paradigms adopted since the 19th century. Since 2004, the demarcations and territorial definitions of the Cerrado have been largely guided by the concept of biomes, which has also guided the country’s environmental policies. Similarly, the cartographic representation of the biomes is also a historical construction that reflects the prioritization of floristic compositions, especially in the distinction between forests and campos (grasslands) in Brazil. Due to its geographic location, the Cerrado shares a border with almost all the biomes, with the exception of the Pampas in the far south of Brazil. In addition to its floristic complexity, the adaptive integration of its fauna and flora, and the ways in which humans have adapted to the environment, the environmental history of the Cerrado offers an important insight into the asymmetries and strategies by which the environment is used and protected in Brazil.

Article

Environmental Change and Mobilization in Brazil  

Regina Horta Duarte

Brazil’s environmental history is often told as a tale of irresponsible exploitation and societal indifference. However, a broader perspective must consider the country’s diverging traditions of environmental thought and practice. During the 19th century, several naturalists wrote about the need for the rational use of natural resources, founding a conservationist cultural tradition. In the 1920s and 1930s, a group of naturalists from the National Museum produced various initiatives related to biological research and conservationism. In the 1950s, another group of scientists, agronomists, and journalists founded the National Foundation for the Protection of Nature, active until the 1980s. Although none of these initiatives led to a continuous environmental mobilization, they shaped public policies and cultural sensibilities toward the environment. Beginning in the 1970s, a new wave of environmentalism emerged in several cities—with protests against pollution, nuclear energy, and deforestation—but also in rural areas and forests, with demands from traditional peoples. Over the years, several conservation units and federal institutions were founded to implement environmental policies. Finally, the 1992 Earth Summit gave a special boost to these movements in an era of growing NGO activism. All of these fueled the feeling that environmental activism in Brazil had entered a golden age of dialogue and negotiation. Contrary to this view, some activists claimed that major political advances were still needed. Through the lens of socio-environmentalism and environmental justice, they denounced the displacement of communities by mining companies and the construction of hydroelectric plants, as well as the unhealthy and violent conditions faced by inhabitants of urban peripheries and areas where agribusiness was expanding. Skepticism toward gradual advances was warranted following the election of Jair Bolsonaro, whose administration threatened environmental legislation and institutions and prior achievements. To confront these perils, environmental activism must become a political, scientific, and cultural movement.

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Environmental Conflict and Exploitation in the Coastal Areas of Chile  

Pablo Camus

Small fishermen have lost their ability to make use of the maritime and coastal environments at the same time that the Chilean state has facilitated the introduction of capital and the privatization of the sea, impacting ecosystems and ancestral productive activities alike. However, faced with the industrialization of maritime spaces, artisanal fishermen developed mechanisms and strategies that allowed them to dispute the privatization of the sea and exercise their rights to occupy coastal areas.

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The Environmental Crisis in Latin America  

Guillermo Castro H.

An environmental crisis is neither the result of a single factor nor of a combination of such. On the contrary, it results from a complex combination of modes of interaction between natural and social systems, operating for periods in time and space. This holds true for the environmental crisis in Latin America, understood within the context of the first global environmental crisis in the history of our species. The combination of facts and processes with respect to the crisis in Latin America is associated with three distinct and interdependent historical periods: (1) The first period, one of long duration, marks the interaction with the natural world of the first humans to occupy the Americas and encompasses a timespan of at least 15,000 years before the European conquest of 1500–1550. (2) The second period, one of medium duration, corresponds to European control of the region between the 16th and 19th centuries, a timespan that witnessed the creation of tributary societies grounded in noncapitalist forms of organization, such as the indigenous commune, feudal primogeniture, and the great ecclesiastical properties, which were characteristics of peripheral economies that existed within the wider framework of the emerging modern global economic system. (3) The third period, one of shorter duration, extended from 1870 to 1970 during which capitalist forms of relationships between social systems and natural systems in the region developed. This period was succeeded, beginning about 1980, by decades of transition and crisis, a process that is still ongoing. In this transition, old and unresolved conflicts reemerge in a new context, which combines indigenous and peasant resistance to incorporation into a market economy with the fight of urban dwellers for access to the basic environmental conditions for life, such as safe drinking water, waste disposal, energy, and clean air. In this scenario, a culture of nature is taking shape, which combines general democratic demands with values and visions from indigenous and African American cultures and those of a middle-class intellectuality increasingly linked to global environmentalism. This culture faces state policies often associated with the interests of transnational corporations and complex negotiation processes for agreements on global environmental problems. In this process, the actions of the past have led to the emergence of a great diversity of development options, all of which are centered in one basic fact: that, in Latin America as elsewhere around the word, if we want a different environment we need to create different societies.

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An Environmental History of Brazil in the Nineteenth Century  

José Augusto Pádua

Brazil’s political imagination under the monarchy sought to associate the grandeur of its territory with an idealized image of the national state under construction. Whether they praised or deplored Brazil’s natural setting, representations of the establishment of an enormous country in the tropics tended to be generic and superficial. Some men of science, however, followed a more pragmatic path, seeking to understand Brazil’s environmental diversity and criticizing the destructive use of its natural resources. A significant effort was made to distinguish among the various types of forests and savannas found within Brazil’s borders. As regions developed at different rates of economic and demographic density, this variety of natural formations influenced their growth in complex ways. The interaction was marked by four basic modes of socioeconomic activity: export agriculture; agriculture to supply local markets; ranching; and the extraction of flora, fauna, and minerals. Each of these modes entailed environmental problems. For the elites who controlled the pace and direction of regional occupation, however, the immensity of the territory produced a sense of unlimited frontier and abundance that made any concern for the conservation or cautious management of natural resources appear unnecessary. Meanwhile, the growth of cities, with their attendant problems of insalubrity and access to water, opened up a cosmopolitan space for intellectual and scientific debates. Several environmental themes such as climatic determinism and the relationship between slave-based agriculture and the destruction of soils and forests figured prominently in the cultural and political concerns of that age.

Article

Environmental History of Coffee in Latin America  

Stuart McCook

Coffee has played complex and diverse roles in shaping livelihoods and landscapes in Latin America. This tropical understory tree has been profitably cultivated on large estates, on peasant smallholdings, and at many scales in between. Coffee exports have fueled the economies of many parts of Latin America. At first, coffee farmers cleared and burned tropical forests to make way for their farms and increase production. Early farms benefited from the humus accumulated over centuries. In Brazil, farmers treated these tropical soils as nonrenewable resources and abandoned their farms once the soils were exhausted. In smaller coffee farms along the Cordillera—from Peru up to Mexico—coffee farming was not quite as wasteful of forests and soils. In the mid-20th century, scientific innovation in coffee farming became more widespread, especially in established coffee zones that were struggling with decreasing soil fertility, increasing soil erosion, and new diseases and pests. In the 1970s, national and international organizations promoted large-scale programs to “renovate” coffee production. These programs sought to dramatically increase productivity on coffee farms by eliminating shade, cultivating high-yielding coffee cultivars, and using chemical fertilizers and pesticides. Renovation brought tremendous gains in productivity over the short term, but at the cost of added economic and environmental vulnerability over the longer term. Since the end of the International Coffee Agreement in 1989, the global coffee market has become much more volatile. New coffee pioneer fronts are opening up in Brazil, Peru, and Honduras, while elsewhere coffee production is shrinking. NGOs and coffee farmers have promoted new forms of coffee production, especially Fair Trade and certified organic coffee. Still, most coffee farms in Latin America remain “conventional” farms, using a hybrid of modern and traditional tools. Economic and environmental sustainability remain elusive goals for many coffee farmers, and the threat is likely to increase as they grapple with the effects of climate change.

Article

Environmental History of Commodities in Central America  

Anthony Goebel and Andrea Montero

One way of approaching the environmental history of Central America is through the analysis of the evolution of the main agricultural commodities. Until the present day, the economy of the isthmus still depends on agri-exports, while agriculture (whether extensive or intensive) continues to transform landscapes, fragment territories, and alter ecosystems. Agriculture has been an important agent of change in the Central American space from the time of pre-Columbian societies to the present. However, the way human societies have appropriated natural resources and services allows explanation of the socio-historic transitions that the different agri-ecosystems in the region have gone through, ranging from organic production systems to semi-industrial or industrialized production systems. This transition responds to a series of institutional factors linked to the international dynamic of tropical commodities and agricultural decisions taken in the region. Commercial agriculture has had an environmental impact in the area through distinct productive activities such as the production of coffee, banana, sugar cane, and cotton, and extractive activities such as forestry and cattle ranching.

Article

The Green Revolution in Latin America  

Timothy W. Lorek

Latin America and Latin Americans played a pivotal role in the 20th-century reconstruction of the global food system. This process is often remembered as the “Green Revolution,” a loaded phrase forged in the Cold War furnace of 1968 and referring to the adoption of high-yielding and disease-resistant seeds, petrochemical inputs, and mechanization in the agriculture of what was then referred to as the “Third World.” Here, the purpose is to introduce this process and the contentious politics of historical narrative that are inseparable from material stories about plant breeding. The Green Revolution in Latin America has a deeper and more complex history than the US-centric post–World War II narrative that long set the terms of the field. Beginning in the late 19th century, “creole pre-histories” set the intellectual and material principles for the later growth and internationalization of agricultural development work. An important shift occurred in the 1940s as the Rockefeller Foundation in particular turned to these preexisting sites of agricultural science and linked them via state partnerships in a new era of “coordinated country programs.” As the international Cold War matured, these country programs offered a network upon which to further globalize research agendas, in many cases disassociating agricultural research from the specific regional and political contexts at the sites of the scientific institutions. The resultant network of “placeless” agricultural research is perhaps best understood through the creation of the Consultative Group for International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) in 1971, which at its 50th anniversary in 2021 maintained three important research centers with Latin American addresses, oriented toward the goals and funding mechanics of agricultural science on a global scale.

Article

Guano, Intensive Agriculture, and Environmental Change in Latin America and the Caribbean  

Gregory T. Cushman

Agrarian societies in Latin America and the Caribbean have accomplished some of the most important and influential innovations in agricultural knowledge and practice in world history—both ancient and modern. These enabled indigenous civilizations in Mesoamerica and the Andes to attain some of the highest population densities and levels of cultural accomplishment of the premodern world. During the colonial era, produce from the region’s haciendas, plantations, and smallholdings provided an essential ecological underpinning for the development of the world’s first truly global networks of trade. From the 18th to the early 20th century, the transnational activities of agricultural improvers helped turn the region into one of the world’s primary exporters of agricultural commodities. This was one of the most tangible outcomes of the Enlightenment and early state-building efforts in the hemisphere. During the second half of the 20th century, the region provided a prime testing ground for input-intensive farming practices associated with the Green Revolution, which developed in close relation with import-substituting industrialization and technocratic forms of governance. The ability of farmers and ranchers to intensify production from the land using new cultivars, technologies, and techniques was critical to all of these accomplishments, but often occurred at the cost of irreversible environmental transformation and violent social conflict. Manure was often central to these histories of intensification because of its importance to the cycling of nutrients. The history of the extraction and use of guano as a fertilizer profoundly shaped the globalization of input-intensive agricultural practices around the globe, and exemplifies often-overlooked connectivities reaching across regional boundaries and between terrestrial and aquatic environments.

Article

The History and Science of Hurricanes in the Greater Caribbean  

Sherry Johnson

The Caribbean’s most emblematic weather symbol is the hurricane, a large rotating storm that can bring destructive winds, coastal and inland flooding, and torrential rain. A hurricane begins as a tropical depression, an area of low atmospheric pressure that produces clouds and thunderstorms. Hurricane season in the Caribbean runs from June 1 through November 30, although there have been infrequent storms that formed outside these dates. Hurricanes are classified according to their maximum wind speed, and when a tropical system reaches the wind speed of a tropical storm (35 mph), it is given a name. Lists of names, which are rotated periodically, are specific to certain regions. If a named storm is responsible for causing a significant number of deaths or property damage, the name is retired and replaced with another. Most deaths in a storm came from drowning, from storm surge along the coast or from flooding or mudslides in the interior. Storm-related deaths also occur when structures collapse or when victims are struck by flying debris. One important and underestimated cause of death after the passage of a storm is disease. Even if the destruction is not immediate, the passage of a hurricane can leave significant ecological damage along the coast and in the interior. Hurricanes can have a devastating effect on a community that takes a direct hit. Repeated hurricane strikes can leave a sense of helplessness and hopelessness, “hurricane fatigue.” Conversely, survivors of a disaster are often left with a feeling of confidence that, since they have endured the effects of at least one deadly hurricane, they can do so again. Until the last half of the 18th century, meteorology remained primitive, but the Age of Enlightenment brought scientific and ideological advances. Major beneficiaries were royal navies whose navigation manuals and nautical charts became increasingly more accurate. In 1821, William C. Redfield established the circular nature of storms and their counterclockwise rotation, while other scientists showed how wind currents within the storms moved upward. Once the coiled structure of hurricanes were established by mid-century, the term “cyclone” was applied, based upon the Greek word for the coils of a snake. After the mid-19th century, scientists moved from information gathering to attempts to predict hurricane strikes. Technology, in the form of the telegraph, was a key component in creating a forecasting system aided by organizations such as the Colegio de Belén, in Havana, Cuba. Later in the century, governments worldwide created official observation networks in which weather reports were radiotelegraphed from ships at sea to stations on land. The 20th century experienced advances, such as the use of kites and balloons, and the introduction of weather reconnaissance aircraft during World War II. In April 1960, the first satellite was launched to observe weather patterns, and by the early 1980s, ocean buoys and sophisticated radar systems made forecasts increasingly more accurate.

Article

The History and Visual Culture of Mexico City’s Xochimilco Potable Water System during the Porfiriato  

Jeffrey M. Banister and Stacie G. Widdifield

Historians have extensively explored the topic of water control in Mexico City. From the relationship between political power and hydraulics to detailed studies of drainage and other large-scale infrastructure projects, the epic story of water in this megalopolis, constructed over a series of ancient lakes, continues to captivate people’s imaginations. Securing potable water for the fast-growing city is also a constant struggle, yet it has received comparatively less attention than drainage in historical research. Moreover, until quite recently scholars have not been especially concerned with water control as a process of representation—that is, a process shaped by, and shaping, visual culture. Yet, potable water brings together many stories about people and places both within and outside of the Basin of Mexico. As such, the history of potable water is communicated through a diverse array of objects and modern infrastructures not limited to the idea of waterworks in the traditional sense of the term. A more expansive view of “infrastructure” incorporates more than the commonplace objects of hydraulic management such as aqueducts, pumps, wells, and pipes: it also involves architecture, photography, and narrative history, official and unofficial. Built in the first decade of the 20th century as a response to acute water shortages, the impressively modern Xochimilco Potable Water Works exemplifies a system that delivered far more than fresh drinking water through its series of modern electric pumps and aqueduct. The system was a result of a larger modernization initiative launched by the administration of Porfirio Díaz (1876–1911). It wove together an official history of water, which included the annexation of Xochimilco’s springs, through its diverse infrastructures, including the engineering of the potable water system as well as the significance of the structures themselves in terms of locations and architectural elaboration in neo-styles (also known as historical styles) typical of the period. Demonstrably clear from the sheer investment in making the Xochimilco waterworks appealing to the public is that infrastructure can possess a rich visual culture of its own.

Article

Humboldt in Mexico, 1803–1804  

Myron Echenberg

During his breathtaking 19th-century scientific explorations of New Spain (as Mexico was known under Spanish rule), illustrious German scientific traveler Alexander von Humboldt crammed a lifetime of scientific studies into one extraordinary year: exhausting inspections of three major colonial silver mines, prodigious hikes to the summits of most of Mexico’s major volcanoes while taking scientific measurements and botanical samples, careful study of hitherto secret Spanish colonial archives in Mexico City, and visits to recently uncovered archaeological sites of pre-Hispanic cultures. Humboldt wrote voluminously about his Mexican experiences and is an indispensable source of insights into the colony of New Spain on the eve of its troubled birth as independent Mexico a decade later.

Article

Labor and the Environment in Latin America  

Aviva Chomsky

Latin American labor has a well-established historiography, in dialogue with trends outside of the region. Environmental history is a newer and more exploratory field. In basic terms, environmental history explores the relationships of humans with the natural world, sometimes referred to as “nonhuman nature.” This can include how humans have affected the natural world, how the natural world has affected human history, and histories of human ideas and belief systems about nature. Labor and environmental history grows from explorations of the connections between these two spheres. Humans interact with the natural world through their labor and from their class perspective. The natural world shapes the work that people do and the institutions and structures humans create to organize and control labor. Changing labor regimes change the ways that humans interact with, and think about, the natural world. Both labor and environmental histories are in some senses investigations of how humans relate to nature. This essay sets Latin American labor and environmental history in global historical context. After offering a chronological summary, it briefly examines connections between U.S. Latino and Latin American labor and environmental histories, and ends with a discussion of contemporary Latin American critical environmentalisms.

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Latin America and Antarctica  

Adrian Howkins

Since the early 19th century, a number of Latin American countries have had active interests in the Antarctic continent. These interests began to accelerate in the early 20th century, and during the 1930s and 1940s, Argentina and Chile formalized sovereignty claims to the Antarctic Peninsula region. These claims overlapped not only with each other, but also with Great Britain’s claim to the “Falkland Islands Dependencies.” The two Latin American claims tended to be framed in the language of anti-imperialism, and for a while at least the idea of a “South American Antarctica” emerged to suggest a common front against the British Empire. Rivalry between Argentina and Chile, however, remained strong, and the alliance against imperialism never developed into a lasting agreement. In 1959, Argentina and Chile joined with ten other nations—including Great Britain, the United States, and the Soviet Union—in signing the Antarctic Treaty. This Treaty suspended sovereignty claims and created a “continent dedicated to peace and science.” Following the ratification of the Treaty in 1961, Argentina and Chile lessened their hostility to the imperial strategy of using scientific research as a justification for political claims, and came to be enthusiastic members of what some outsiders labeled an “exclusive club.” During the 1980s and early 1990s, four other Latin American nations—Brazil, Uruguay, Peru, and Ecuador—became full members of the Antarctic Treaty, attracted, in part, by the prospect of sharing in a potential minerals bonanza in the southern continent. This expected economic boom never came, however, and instead the Antarctic continent became one of the most protected environments anywhere on the planet by the terms of the 1991 Madrid Environmental Protocol.

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Latin American Environmental History  

Christopher R. Boyer

Human interaction with nature has shaped Latin American ecology and society ever since the first people arrived in the Americas more than fifteen millennia ago. Ancient Native Americans made use of the region’s immense biological diversity and likely contributed to a massive extinction of large animals at the end of the last ice age. Over the ensuing centuries, their descendants took cautious steps to shape the landscape to suit their needs. Colonialism ruptured this process of ecological and social co-evolution, as Europeans conquered the Americas, bringing with them new plants, animals, and diseases as well as a profit motive that gave rise to two economies that further reshaped the environment: the sugar plantation complex and silver mining/hacienda complex. These socio-environmental structures foretold the dynamic of resource extraction and reliance on a single major export destined to more developed countries that characterized most Latin American economies and ecologies after independence. Although most nations sought to break away from this neo-colonial syndrome during the 20th century, they typically did so by increased reliance on agro-industry and the extraction of minerals and petroleum, all of which came at a predictably high ecological cost. At the same time, calls for conservation of resources and biodiversity began to be heard. By the turn of the 21st century, scientists, urbanites, and rural people had become increasingly concerned about the costs of economic “development” and alternative ways of coexisting with nature.

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Livestock, Livelihood, and Agrarian Change in Andean Peru  

Javier Puente

Agrarian transformations in Andean Peru, subject to larger sociopolitical and economic processes, entailed major material, environmental, and biological changes. The long history of sheep introduction in Andean environments, its specific impact on the central highlands, and the making of an Andean breed of sheep—the oveja Junín—illustrate how such transformations shaped rural Peru as a societal space. Following larger environmental patters in Latin America, sheep became the dominant animal of the upper Andean regions, populating depleted landscapes and refashioning otherwise hostile environments as areas of agrarian productivity. Many of the transformations that occurred during colonial times, particularly the consolidation of the hacienda system and the rise of sheepherding as a form of peonage, served manifold purposes in the transition to the national period. While the 19th-century liberal obliteration of corporate identities and property obscured the legacy of indigenous communities, sheep continued to thrive and set the conditions for the incorporation of the Peruvian countryside into the global world economy. In the 20th century, with the parallel arrival of state and capital governance, transforming sheep and sheepherding from vernacular expressions of livelihood into advanced forms of modern agrarian industrialism merged together scientific and veterinarian knowledge with local understandings, producing the oveja Junín as the ultimate result. As sheepherding modernized based on efficient husbandry, sheep modernity efficiently nurtured rural developmentalism, bringing together communal and capitalist interests in unprecedented ways. The state-sponsored project of granjas comunales devoted to capital-intensive grazing economies reveals how husbandry and modern grazing activities both reinforced and transformed societal organization within indigenous communities, sanctioning existing differences while providing a vocabulary of capital for recasting their internal social relations of production. When the state envisioned the centralization of otherwise profitable communal grazing economies, through the allegedly empowering language of agrarian reform, the cooperativization of land, labor, and animals led to communal, family, and individual disenfranchisement. Indigenous community members, turned into campesinos, sought new battlegrounds for resisting state intromission. Eventually, the very biology of the oveja Junín as an exclusive domain of state and capital became the target of campesino sabotage. As the agrarian reform collapsed and revolution engulfed the countryside, rural livelihoods—sheep included—faced their ultimate demise, often with severe degrees of violence. In this entire trajectory, sheep—and the oveja Junín—ruled the upper regions of the Andes like no political power ever did.

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Mercury and Silver Mining in the Colonial Atlantic  

Kendall Brown

From the time that Columbus arrived in the Caribbean until Spain surrendered power over its mainland American colonies in the early 19th century, Spanish and Portuguese colonial mines poured forth vast amounts of bullion, including some gold and a far greater quantity of silver, both in terms of weight and its overall value relative to gold. Fiscal records indicate that Spanish Americans officially refined gold worth approximately 374,000,000 pesos, each consisting of 272 maravedís, whereas the amount of silver produced reached a value of 3,432,000,000 pesos (to these figures need to be added contraband output, estimated to have been around 17–20 percent). In other words, the colonies refined nine times more silver than gold. While Columbus, Cortés, and other earlier explorers may have fantasized primarily about gold, it was the flood of American silver that touched off the price revolution in Europe and monetarized the emerging world economy, especially because China had a voracious appetite for silver, not gold. At the same time in the American colonies, mining distorted economic life because of the incentives the industry received from a silver-hungry monarchy. Mining also had profound consequences for indigenous society, severely exploited to provide workers for the mines and refining mills. Colonial refiners used two methods to beneficiate their silver ores, smelting and amalgamation. Smelting was suitable for all types of American silver ores but required large amounts of fuel to heat the ovens. It remained widely used throughout Mexico during the entire colonial period. Amalgamation was a newer technology, adapted to American ores during the mid-16th century. Although it did not require large quantities of charcoal and other fuels, as smelting did, amalgamation depended on the availability of mercury. Nearly all quicksilver used in colonial Spanish American silver mining came from either Huancavelica (Peru) or Almadén (Spain), with occasional supplements from Idria (Slovenia). Whereas both smelting and amalgamation were used widely in Mexico, Andean mines relied on amalgamation.

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Monarch Butterfly Conservation (Mexico)  

Will Wright

One of the most spectacular biological spectacles on the North American continent must be the annual migration of monarch butterflies. For eight months out of the year, beginning each spring, the winged wanderers spread out over two million square miles, from Minnesota to Maine, Manitoba to Mississippi, as generations lay eggs on milkweeds as they move northward. The caterpillars that emerge munch on their host plant, internalizing toxic cardenolides found in some milkweeds as a defense against birds, then form chrysalids to metamorphose into adult insects with orange wings which signal their poisonous nature. By autumn, most butterflies east of the Rocky Mountains, though not all, go southward to central Mexico, funneling down and overwintering at a mountainous location covering 0.015 percent of the area they occupied in the summer. At the Transverse Neovolcanic Belt, a mature forest of Oyamel fir and Montezuma pine provides an ideal microclimate for these hibernating monarchs—too cold and they freeze to death, too warm and they perish burning up their fat reserves. Come spring, after clustering on the trees for about four to five months, they begin the migratory cycle again. Before 1975, the monarch migration was basically a mystery. Canadians, Mexicans, and US residents had seen plenty of butterflies for centuries prior, but nobody understood the scope of this 2,800-mile journey until the late 20th century. Mexico’s Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve, created by President Miguel de la Madrid in 1986, was limited in its ability to conserve overwintering forest land due to a commitment to austerity budgets after the Mexican debt crisis and the challenge of sustainable development for Mexican ejidos. Side accords to the North American Free Trade Agreement of 1994 promised greater cooperation among nation-states, but the loss of milkweed and nectar sources in the United States and Canada jeopardized trinational solidarity in conservation efforts. Debates over how to address illegal logging within the biosphere reserve divided those who favored surveillance and policing from those who advocated jobs and payments. Democratizing scientific knowledge first brought the monarch migration to the attention of the wider world, and democratizing income for conserved forests may offer a path to protecting it.

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Mountain and Forest Communities and Their Changing Landscapes in 19th-Century Mexico  

Alejandro Tortolero Villaseñor

For several years, some of Mexico’s most influential literary figures associated mountains with the presence of certain characteristics: wildlife, botanic variety, and most importantly, backwards and/or mysterious indigenous communities. Order and civilization, it seemed, for writers like Ignacio Altamirano and Manuel Payno, ceased to exist in mountainscapes. For these writes, mountains constituted social afterthoughts—places lacking history and dynamism, places that did not matter. They were, in Braudelian terms, the margins of civilization and factories that supplied human resources to cities. Such portrayals were not derived from reality, however. Far from solely being dull or dangerous sites where banditry and romantic indigeneity prevailed, Mexico’s mountains were, between the colonial era and the Porfiriato, the places where dramatic transformations took place. Impresarios’ mastery of Mexico’s natural resources fueled the country’s economic growth during the 19th and 20th centuries. Concomitant with this growth came dramatic alterations of the country’s landscape that left much of Mexico’s environment in disrepair. Mountains, thus, have histories. They are not landscapes where civilization parts ways with society. Such an argument has relevance in parts of the world like Latin America, where nearly half of the people who reside there live at elevations above sea level, and where only 7 percent reside under an elevation of 1,000 meters above sea level.

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National Parks in Colombia  

Claudia Leal

The history of Colombian national parks started in 1948 with the establishment of a reserve for scientific research, which stood alone until the 1960s, when various state agencies created a few parks with quite different goals in mind, including preserving imposing landscapes and conserving water. This rather casual development changed after the growing international concern for the environment led to the creation of an environmental agency in 1968 and the enactment of an environmental code in 1974, which served as institutional platform for the planned expansion of a system of national parks based largely on ecological criteria. Chronically underfunded and understaffed, the Office of National Parks has confronted its weakness by establishing parks which confer legal protection on areas whose natural attributes were deemed valuable. Such a strategy has led to confrontations with local populations living in and around parks, whose rights to resource use have been hampered. The office’s incapacity to properly enforce rules and its attempts to work with rural communities, especially indigenous groups, have to some extent mitigated such tensions. It has further sought to enlist the support of the middle classes and been forced to deal with illegal armed groups on the left and the right, as well as the national army, vying for territorial control. Although parks have not fulfilled their ideal, they have fostered the notion that the nation has a natural patrimony and have contributed decisively to its conservation.