Tear Gas & Avocados
After a busy Christmas season and a very long journey, on New Year's Day 2020 Imke and I landed in Santiago de Chile, the capital city of Chile. This would be the beginning of a one month long adventure in South America, splitting our time between both Chile and Argentina.
Unrest in the Jewel of the Pacific
Our first stop was the hilly, colourful neighbourhoods of Valparaiso, a city just north of the capital. Valparaiso is some kind of groovy mindception - a harbour city rough around the edges, best known for its bohemian lifestyle, art splashed walls, poetic history and often referred to as the ‘Jewel of the Pacific’. If the city wasn’t wonderfully weird enough on its own, during our visit, Valpo like other parts of the country, was experiencing a huge civil protest which escalated into vandalism, infrastructure damage, violation from security forces, a nightly curfew, rubber bullets and a whole lot of tear gas (and this is still on-going). During this time, we really felt the pulse of Chile and could clearly witness Chileans, especially the younger, millennial generations, uprising in protest against the increased cost of living, transportation fare hikes and inequality prevalent throughout the country. Many parts of the city were boarded up, tear gas attacks lingered for days in the air and on the streets, there were small explosions, fires and an obvious military and police presence.
This is the worst civil unrest Chile has seen since the end of the military dictatorship that ruled the country for 17 years, from the early 1970’s until the 1990’s.
All images taken by Imke.
Whilst in this alternative, art filled city we got talking to a couple local guys that ran the Valpo Street Art Tour and they told us about some of the hardships that Chileans are experiencing and why the younger generation is so outspoken about this. Living in the age of social media where information can spread easily, students and young people were able to organize and quickly bring a movement together en masse. The older generations of citizens that experienced the dictatorship are not as enthusiastic to take part in large protests largely due to the fear they grew up with during Chile’s past, where talking about politics could have gotten one killed. The guys shed light on the Feminist Strike #8M movement, government corruption and why everyday things seem to be so expensive - like produce for example.
And this is where we get to the topic of avocados.
(As a side fun fact: the name Avocado actually comes from the word āhuacatl meaning 'testicle'. It is likely that the texture, shape, and size of the fruit, as well as the way it grows in pairs, inspired the Aztecs to name it this way.)
This Won't Gauc Your World
Fruits and vegetables sometimes cost more than in Europe or Canada even though the produce is being grown right there in Chile. One particular topic of interest (especially to us avo-lovers) were the avocado plantations in the Petorca region, which lies just north of Valpo. There are huge mono cultures of avocado that are made for EU and American consumption and these plantations are causing a lot of damage to Chileans, particularly the people living in this area. Avocado trees are very sensitive to temperature, and require extremely specific conditions and a lot of water to grow. All these plantations in one area means that the local water is used for the plants, leaving little to none for the citizens who live there. Water has to be trucked in in order to give the people something to drink. However, the water is often of low quality and contaminated.
In Chile the use of water rights are complicated. In no way are we experts on the subject but basically what we learned is that the water is classified as a social and an economic commodity, which allows the state to grant water rights to private actors like people and large companies. This creates a kind of economic market for water because it allows the ‘owners’ to sell the rights. The agricultural sector uses most of the water supply in Chile - add some thirsty crops, drought and climate change to that mix and that leaves very little water for the people.
Hearing the stories from the locals and actually seeing the plantations in real life put a whole new meaning on ‘Green Gold’. Driving in this area on one side of the road were luscious avocado plantations and on the other side, dried desert like fields and huts. We love avocados but not when it means taking water from people. Before our visit to Chile, we had watched some documentaries on avocados since we were including an avocado print into our Spring/Summer 2020 Collection and felt like avo-information would be good knowledge to gain. This is not a topic that only affects Chile but also a number of countries in the Americas. If you scroll down we have added some links for you to check out.
What can we do?
Not eating avocados isn’t a viable solution as boycotting can sometimes damage the most vulnerable. But we (and we hope you too) will keep in mind what it means to get an avocado in Europe from places like Chile. It is important to know where this little testicle comes from and how its propagation has an effect on the beautiful, dynamic country that is Chile.
Remember to buy them consciously, eat them before they turn too mushy even for guacamole, and/or just wear them on your butt.
Here are some links you may want to check out, from experts who can better elaborate on this topic:
Netflix Docu-Series 'Rotten':The Avocado War
KCET.org: Green Gold: A Global Demand Leaves People Without Water in Chile