miércoles, 29 de marzo de 2023

Patima Tungpuchayakul, against slavery in the ocean

The seafood industry in Thailand, the world's largest producer of canned tuna, is one of the largest and most devastating in the world. An enterprise that has done as much damage to the sea as to its workers.

After four decades of illegal fishing in the 20th century, boats and ships, in the midst of the 21st century, have had to travel further and further from their shores. In the process, thousands of Thai fishermen refused to continue to endure labor abuses and to spend months cooped up in the boats. Thus, the owners of these industries opted to use the labor of Southeast Asian migrants and began to enslave them on the high seas.

With promises of good salaries —or directly taking them by force—, once they are inside the ships, they take away their documents and leave them working forcedly in long hours, without cabins, without industrial security, with stops in illegal ports so that they can't leave and sometimes without payment.

Patima Tungpuchayakul, with her foundation Labour Protection Network, joined other global organizations and has led a human rights movement that not only helps rescue and return many of these fishermen to their homes, but has made contemporary slavery in different industries visible.

With dangerous trips to the sea, Patima has given herself to a literally titanic cause. Fifteen years ago, she began her struggle for a dignified working life in her country. It was from 2013 that she got fully into the issue of slavery at sea, tracking ships and rescuing people from what she calls "their cages".

Thanks to this humanitarian work, in 2017 she was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. And although she did not receive the award, her work managed to go around the world and she has received acknowledgement from various organizations. Two years earlier, her foundation's work was part of the journalistic content series Seafood from Slaves, which earned the Associated Press a Pulitzer Prize in 2016.

By that time, footage was already being shot for what became the documentary Ghost Fleet, directed by Shannon Service and Jeffrey Waldron, of which she is the protagonist. The film summarizes, in an hour and a half, the work of a decade of activism and four years of filming. Castaways who jumped into the sea to escape labor kidnapping, fatal accidents using machines that wipe out all marine life, cages for humans, whippings, forced fasting, mutilations, starvation, men bleeding to death, corpses thrown into the ocean, cemeteries full of nameless graves, politicians promising that everything will change… and in the end, diners who continue eating fish without caring about its origin. The story goes beyond one of those documentaries that, according to social networks, "you can't miss".

Patima Tungpuchayakul was in Colombia. She always smiles and looks into the eyes of her interlocutor. She is small. She has a spot on her face. She brings with her the honesty of someone who has seen all kinds of suffering. A woman with a sincere and modest look that overcomes any vanity.

At what point did you discover the crimes of the fishing industry?

We were working with a migrant child who had been locked up in a factory that processed food, and he told us that his father had been sold to a fishing vessel. Until then, for ten years we had been working on land, rescuing children from factories; starting in 2013 we learned about slavery on ships first-hand and looked for a way to track those ships and get on them to get people out of their cages. We first found more than two thousand sailors in Thailand and then expanded our network to the most remote islands of Indonesia and ten other countries to rescue, so far, more than five thousand fishermen in different waters of Southeast Asia.

When was your foundation born?

I survived cancer when I was 22 years old and started collaborating with organizations fighting human trafficking. Fifteen years ago I decided to work on my own to protect labor rights. Many workers in Thailand were mistreated and cheated, even having their money taken from them with the excuse of giving them a job, especially migrants from Thailand's neighboring countries, such as Myanmar (Burma), Cambodia or Laos. With my husband, we created this foundation (Labour Protection Network - LPN) to take action against these problems.

How has this activism affected your personal life?

I'm fortunate that my husband also works with me, so we understand each other and complement each other. My parents have always supported me and even think that the best work you can do is to help other people. Also, activism has allowed me to make many friends. In fact, some of the rescued men come back after a while to help our foundation or work with us when we are in trouble. The most valuable thing has been my son: a migrant woman who could not take care of him left him in my office when he was three days old and I immediately adopted him.

You carry a chain with an amulet on your chest, what does it mean?

It is Luang Pu Thuat, a Buddhist monk well known in southern Thailand because he protects people while they work at sea. Many of the men we have rescued believe it was this amulet that helped them survive. [Smiles timidly]. A couple of years ago I started wearing it, I feel it gives me strength.

What is the next step for a man after so many years of forced labor?

It's a complex question because with thousands of people enslaved, there are thousands of cases to be solved. It's very difficult to know the exact number of victims, and the saddest thing is that the number of survivors is much smaller than those who die in the ocean without a trace of their disappearance. The reality is too cruel: some fishermen have been away from home for more than twenty years, practically kidnapped on ships. Many men who have been rescued return to Thailand or their home countries after a long and complicated bureaucratic process, almost as if they were the criminals. The first thing we try to do with them is to take them to shelters to talk about their traumas and remember their lives as they were before they left with the fishing industry. There they stay in groups of three men maximum, to make sure they are comfortable and that we can listen to them, but we don't have much space or time to work on their return to freedom.

And what happens to their lives after they return?

We currently have several rescued fishermen volunteering at the shelter, who are key to getting the new arrivals to dare to share their story and support each other. It's very difficult to make them aware, especially the migrants, that they can do something better than fishing for sixteen hours a day. Some already have new families in other countries and want to return to their vessels regardless of labor abuses. For some families, a free man means one more mouth to feed, and those rescued become a burden. Poverty is huge and capitalism takes advantage of these needs.

What are the shelters like?

Officially we are just finishing one and so far we have been working with people who provide their homes temporarily. The Thai government does not offer any program to treat these people, so at LPN we decided to make our own shelter, on a piece of land that my mother donated to the foundation and that was built with support from the Japanese government. We're about to open it, but we don't have many resources to keep it alive. Any help is welcome because we don't even have doctors to take care of the rescued people.

What kind of care do these people need?

There are mutilated people, men who have lost an eye, their fingers… They carry very big traumas, they have been victims of mistreatment, they have slept in cages for years, they have seen their partners die. Many have spent nine years on fishing vessels, some have spent twelve… even twenty-four years! These are people who have no place to go, who no longer know anything about their families, so this shelter is their only option. The new space will not only work for fishermen, but also for other migrant workers, for women or for homeless Thais who need to start a new life.

By the way, how is LPN funded?

Various people and agencies collaborate with us. There are even groups of migrants who help their fellow migrants: they donate some money, sometimes they give their labor or objects they can provide. We may have a small budget, but we believe we will continue for a long time because the same people we rescue feel a responsibility to help solve the problems of other migrants.

What is the environmental impact of illegal fishing?

The direct damage does not only apply to illegal fishing. First, the tools used in legal fishing are also devastating. Second, there's no limit to the number of fishing vessels and no set seasons for fishing, and that is going to deplete the planet's resources sooner or later. Third, the people forced to work, obeying the captain, are slaves who do not know what their machines are doing.

What solutions do you think we have at hand?

If we want to solve the problem, we have to control the number of boats and explain to the fishermen that what they are doing is going to destroy the environment. We have received information about Asian boats fishing in Somalia, in East Africa. Because we don't have a defined number of vessels, we do not know for sure if a Thai vessel is fishing in Colombian waters, even with the Colombian flag to distract the authorities. We already know there are fish species that are in danger of extinction, so there should be a global law to control fishing, its areas and equipment. That, by the way, would help to know if there is slavery in the business.

How much are the governments of the region helping LPN?

The Indonesian government, thanks to Fisheries Minister Susi Pudjiastuti, started to care a lot about the environment and has collaborated with LPN against human trafficking. When we go to the ships, we are only interested in helping people, and we coordinate with Myanmar, Laos or Cambodia to issue passports and allow all those rescued to return to their home countries. However, for more than a decade, they have turned their back on organizations like ours and no one has helped us, some said not to worry, that this is normal.

What does the legislation say to control illegal fishing?

Thailand implemented strict laws from 2015. Until then, about 10% of the boats were legal and, with the new regulations, the illegal ones changed their flag to those of other countries that still do not have clear legislation. In recent years, for example, there are lots and lots of Myanmar boats selling fish in Thailand, when three or four years ago there were not even fisheries there.

So it's not a matter of writing it down on paper and that's it?

Of course. We have good laws, but we're dealing with a business that has existed for half a century, which for many is already normal, even for the authorities. The basic problem is to enforce the laws. I trust the checkpoints in Thailand, but a lot of the laws won't apply to foreign-flagged vessels. Also, we need to find a way for fishermen to participate in the discussions, to tell their stories so that they are not repeated, so that they can report abuses.

How is it possible that these acts continue happening?

Between the ignorance of the people and the corruption of the authorities and governments, the entire fishing industry has been involved in human trafficking. This is not a socially bad business. On the contrary, the business is to fish as much as possible, and some government representatives benefit from that and even boast about it. They cut costs by making ships cheaper, but going so far as to make the price of human labor zero, by kidnapping people for higher profits. So as long as there is demand for fish and lack of regulations, this is not going to stop.

How has social media helped you do your work?

Very much so. [At that moment, Patima picks up her cell phone and looks for a video in the archive, a young man standing in front of the camera, his voice cracking as he begins to speak]. This man from Laos was taken on a boat when he was twelve years old and was enslaved for seven years; as soon as we rescued him, we uploaded the video to Facebook to look for his family, and immediately someone saw it and sent a video of his mother in response, when we hadn't even reached the mainland. Sometimes we ask the captains of the boats that transport us to help us find a spot with an internet signal so that we can disseminate the fishermen's videos and facilitate their return to their families. Without social media, this would be much more difficult.

How much did the documentary Ghost Fleet help LPN's work?

The best thing about the documentary is that the voices of the fishermen who had been enslaved were heard. For more than ten years I tried to make my work known, to explain what was happening in businesses like the fishing industry in Southeast Asia, to make these people visible. Nobody understood or wanted to help. With the film we showed people the origin of the fish they eat and, thus, many understood that we have to take action.

And what kind of actions can ordinary citizens take?

From the moment we go shopping we can ask where the food comes from and make sure that something was not caught or farmed by a slave. How can we know? Everything should be traceable and there should be transparency in the supply chain, something that doesn't exist today. But we can push for that to be made clear and mandatory.

After being nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize, what's next in your work as an activist?

We have to continue to raise awareness around the world about the quality of life of workers like those in the fishing industry. No one is worth less than anyone else, no labor is cheaper than any other. Right now, a fish is worth more than a fisherman: a fish may be worth two dollars, but the fisherman is paid nothing. I want to inspire young people about the beauty of helping others. If I can do that, I will have succeeded.

What threats have you received for doing your job?

Every now and then we feel intimidated. Once, on an island in Indonesia, the mafia came armed to question our work. I told them we were rescuing people, showed them some of what the media had published about my work, and they let us go. But when we got back to Thailand we started getting calls asking for details of what we do; every now and then people would pass by on the street to take pictures of our foundation. We know that there are many people who don't like our work.

And what are you afraid of?

[Laughs]. I'm not really afraid of anything.

Note: This interview would not have been possible without the translation by journalist and activist Chutima "Oi" Sidasathian, who has worked to bring Patima Tungpuchayakul's work to the world. If you would like to support Labour Protection Network, please visit www.lpnfoundation.org.

This article was originally published in Spanish in Revista Bocas, of El Tiempo, in October 2019.

Goals to the rainbow, a story of soccer in the closet

A fan at Qatar's Lusail stadium dared to show up with the LGBTIQ+ flag, which was predictable but still brave. Between reportage and personal experience, this article talks about sexual diversity in the world's most popular sporting show, which reaches a special level of sexism.

When I play soccer I'm compared to Cristiano Ronaldo: I'm the gayest guy on the team. If you found what I just wrote funny, it's time for you to deconstruct that model of the pro-macho that lives inside you. The truth is that my clumsiness never allowed me to practice any sport and I never even qualified to be the gayest of the team. But I was always called a "sissy" for not having the psychomotor coordination necessary to kick a ball.

"You're a faggot, Daniel, can't you hit the ball like a boy?", I was challenged by my classmates every time the ball landed at my feet.

I couldn't. Besides, did kicking a ball make me less gay? To avoid being mocked, I hid my homosexuality —which had nothing to do with my sporting ineptitude. The best defense I found was to appear to be a macho man who questioned the manhood of others, including that of Cristiano Ronaldo. It's not only heterosexuals who are homophobic.

When reviewing the history of sexual diversity in soccer, always comes the case of Londoner player Justin Fashanu. The striker, with Nigerian roots, was the first black player to earn a contract worth more than £1 million in England and Scotland. He was also the first to come out of the closet globally. He did so in 1990, when racism and homophobia were more normalized than they are today.

The British tabloids claimed that Fashanu's sports career was affected after announcing his sexual orientation. A version that is not shared by his brother, who maintains that Justin stayed away from soccer because of an injury, that he was not gay and that he just wanted to attract attention. However, in the autobiography of Brian Clough, who was his coach at Nottingham Forest, there is a conversation in which he claims the player for going to a "queer club".

Many supported the player, who retired from playing in 1997 after an inconsistent career and a few years as manager of Maryland Mania. Fashanu committed suicide the following year, when he was reported for molesting a seventeen-year-old boy in Maryland, USA, since homosexual acts were still illegal in that state. He was 37 years old. His death left several doubts in the air and just as some LGBT movements label him as a hero, others question his ethics.

Before Fashanu, there was talk of Rafael Rodríguez Rapún, a Spanish soccer player who was the partner of the poet Federico García Lorca. His sporting career did not last long: he died in the Civil War, in 1937. After Fashanu, it took more than twenty years for another elite player to make his orientation public. It was Norwegian Thomas Berling who, like the vast majority of his gay colleagues, told his story after hanging up his gloves. This may be because, as short as careers in soccer are, there is a fear that a gay player will be associated with being weak.

Just like the silly jokes that speculate about Cristiano Ronaldo's virility, or that so many people are convinced that Manuel Neuer, the goalkeeper of the German national team, is gay, homosexuality in soccer is used as an insult. Neither of them are gay, but taking care of their physical appearance, demonstrating against discrimination or wearing bracelets with the LGBTIQ+ pride flag automatically makes them "queer". And that's more unacceptable than bribing FIFA officials to get a country to host the World Cup.

Kicking love

This is not another one of my jokes. In school, Hernán* was called Pelé because he was the top scorer in all the tournaments and the only one in the neighborhood who was signed in the lower divisions of one of the most prominent soccer teams in Bogotá. Thirty years later, laughing, he says that "I'm more like Maradona: I'm short, fast, ugly and a party animal".

His family is convinced that this last attribute was the reason why, in the mid-nineties, he was kicked out of the team. Today he runs a collection office. The true story almost resembles A Kiss from Dick: Hernán was in love with a training partner and proposed to him at a party. Contrary to what happens in that great novel by Fernando Molano, the other guy ran away as fast as he could and the next day spread the news that Hernán was gay. So much for his career. The other guy's didn't get very far either, no matter how fast he ran.

Alex* didn't need to declare his love to anyone. In 2015 he was part of the minors of a Medellín team and, with the support of his family, he decided to tell the coach about his homosexuality. After that talk he was relegated with the excuse that his performance was not the best. Then he suffered an injury and, even though he could recover and play again, he preferred to go to Bogotá and study Architecture. Over time, he began to hate soccer: "people live fascinated by it and don't realize that money is the only thing that matters in that sport".

In contrast to the male soccer, it is not uncommon to see professionals in women's soccer who have spoken without fear of their diverse sexual orientation in teams in the United States, Spain, Australia, the United Kingdom, Colombia or Brazil. Is it that women find it easier? The answer is no. The difference between lesbians who have come out in sports is due to a macho stereotype: women who practice certain sports are considered "butch".

Although it may seem more normal for a female soccer player to say she's a lesbian, those who are not must also endure absurd criticism. In the collective imagination, the idea that has been nested is that pretty players are bad, and the less attractive ones are the best. A stupid idea that can be refuted by striker Linda Caicedo. She is pretty and a great soccer player.

"Let's have a threesome"

When I met Carolina, one of my best friends, she lifted weights and several college mates said she was a lesbian, but she's not. She introduced me to Kelly, who is a lesbian and has always played sports that are considered rough, like indoor soccer and field hockey. In high school, the friendliest comment she received was "butch." At university she became passionate about rugby and the insults lost their force, although it has been common for some men to minimize her sexuality and, when they see her with her partner, they say to them, as funny as they are: "let's have a threesome".

Angela has experienced similar situations. For her, rugby is a space for empowerment, not only for lesbians but also for women who feel insecure; however, she often receives sexual comments. That's partly why she prefers to stay away from men. And since journalism is the real social network, Angela and Kelly introduced me to the only rugby player they know in Colombia who has come out of the closet.

Michael is 23 years old, studies at the Film School and has never been afraid to go public with his sexual orientation. He has been playing rugby since he was 15 and, like all gays around the world, has learned to normalize homophobic comments and accept them as harmless jokes. He recalls that a few weeks ago the coach called his team to attention and told them, "You're playing like sissies. You look like girls." And Michael called him back because "you have to raise awareness among everyone." He sounds optimistic about the change in attitudes towards sexual diversity: he's part of an open and inclusive generation. After talking to Michael, I even felt like believing in humanity.

In May 2019, two Atlético Nacional fans kissed in front of the cameras of a TV channel broadcasting a game against Santa Fe, in Medellín. Someone recorded the screen and uploaded that instant to Twitter adding with mockery: "No wonder @Sin_ingenio is leaving so early for the stadium". The tweet went viral and generated responses like "this embarrassing spectacle should not be allowed in front of children". For his part, former goalkeeper René Higuita came to the defense of the boys: "That's the beauty of soccer… in the stadium everyone is welcome and everyone enjoys it in their own way". Most internet users applauded him, but some claimed that you need to be gay to support Atlético Nacional. As always, the easy way out, short on wit: using sexual orientation as an insult.

Despite the many disappointments every two or three days, Hernán forgets the responsibilities that the collection office demands, and continues to be a loyal fan of the Bogotá team that kicked him out of the youth team for being a homosexual. Almost every Sunday he gets together with several friends to shout hurrahs and insults at the TV. More than a decade ago they all decided not to return to the stadium. Although they were never assaulted, they realized how absurd it was to repress any expression of affection in front of the other fans.

Only love counts

The word is still the same as the one I heard in my childhood, forty years ago: "faggot". If a sportsman makes a mistake or takes care of his physical appearance, or cries, or talks about his depression, he's a "faggot". And let's make it clear to the macho guys that only faggots have the right to call each other faggots, OK?

Well, seriously: even though anti-discrimination laws have been passed, even though there's equal marriage and Bogotá is governed by a lesbian mayor, in many contexts it's still felt that being gay is outlawed, that it's better to avoid comments and stupid questions. Among other things, it's still believed that telling a gay person that he or she does not look gay is a compliment. A report by the NGO Colombia Diversa indicates that between 2019 and 2020, 189 LGBT people were murdered in the country, mainly trans women and gay men. So there are not as many safe spaces as we would like.

Hamburg's St. Pauli was the first soccer team with an openly gay president and has become an anti-fascist and inclusive institution. On the walls of their stadium there's a mural that reads "Only love counts" above a stencil of two men kissing. Part of why we continue to live in fear is that no other team in professional soccer dares to stand up for diversity in such a clear and courageous way. Of course, there are many barras, such as the Fla-Gay that was born in the 1970s to support Flamengo of Rio de Janeiro, the Gais Ultras of Gothenburg, the various GAPEFs (Gais Apasionados Por El Fútbol - Gays Passionate About Soccer) in several Latin American countries, or queer fan groups of Borussia Dortmund or Bayern Munich, with enviable haircuts. All these collectives give us encouragement to believe that at some point we will stop hearing in the stadiums the cry of "puto", so common in my native Mexico.

Argentina, for example, has a famous amateur club, Los Dogos, which is committed to diversity in men's soccer. They recently won the support of various political entities for their country to host the LGBT World Cup 2024, an event that hopefully will get the coverage it deserves in the media and bring together all sexual and gender diversity around a ball. We have a year to discuss the edges of another issue: trans people in sport.

A survey conducted in 2016 revealed that 92 percent of British soccer fans would have no problem if a footballer spoke openly about his sexual orientation. It would be worth doing the same survey in other countries and reviewing the acceptance of the issue by the various players in this business, especially the sponsoring brands. By the way, what would Colombian fans say? A sign of how little the issue matters to the leaders of men's soccer is that the world's national federations ignored the scintillating homophobia of Russia —host of the 2018 World Cup— and have downplayed the importance of Qatar's laws. To justify themselves, they claim that, in general, public displays of affection are forbidden, regardless of sexual orientation. They seem not to have read that homosexuality is indeed considered a crime and that even carrying a rainbow flag is an act punishable by imprisonment.

Regardless of the evidence or criticism, millions of spectators will watch the stupid and sensual World Cup in Qatar because one rarely has the opportunity to admire the legs of this player, the arms of that one, the beard of that cutie... The sexualization of athletes is a separate discussion. I don't think it's an exaggeration to say that this will be a homophobic event, nor is it necessary to make a great effort to understand why many people plans ignoring it, even if it sounds like "cancel culture".

The world is moving forward and soccer, in many respects, seems to resist change. Corporations prefer to continue profiting from the homophobia present in the sport, turn a blind eye and wait, as always, for marketing to do its thing. We are so queer that we continue to be part of this embarrassing spectacle.

*Names changed at the request of the interviewees.

Originally published in Spanish in SoHo magazine in November 2022.

Saturday Night Orgy

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miércoles, 10 de noviembre de 2010

Nick 840

Autoayúdate que yo te autoayudaré.

Nick 839

Poesía errática.

Nick 838

Almacenes Ley de Garantías.

Nick 837

Editorial Sex Barrial.

Nick 836

Editorial Lumpen 2000.

Nick 835

Bucólicos anónimos.

Nick 834

Lo que diga el pulpo.

Así vivía Andrés Ramírez y mire: el pulpo se murió.

Nick 833

Me gustan las artes arsénicas.

Por eso es que Javier Mejía hace telenovelas.

Nick 832

Te tengo entre queja y queja.

Así es el amor según MissAntropía.

Nick 831

Me gustan las ejecutivas de alto pernil.

Así es Andrés Burgos.

Nick 830

La inmaculada decepción.

Una idea de MissAntropía.

Nick 829

Los Hombres Punto G.

Un grupo liderado por Javier Mejía.

Nick 828

Los periodistas no deben romper la fuente.

Nick 827

Se me corrió el champús.

Nick 826

Guayabo inmoral.

Nick 825

El machete de Bolívar.

Ese es el que cuida Chávez.

Nick 824

Convenio Andrés Feo.

Nick 823

Juerga de hambre.

Nick 822

Living la vida Lorca.

Nick 821

En caso de bolsa, solicite un mareo.

Nick 820

Tengo los huevos al gusto.

Nick 819

Viento en popa hacia la deriva.

Nick 818

El consumidor boletín.

¿Y acaso qué consume?

Nick 817

El fin no justifica los medios de comunicación.

Y eso que él trabaja en un medio muy famoso.

Nick 816

Bebé profeta.

Nick 815

Trouble & Living.

Mi canal favorito.

Nick 814

Música para canelones.

Delicias capoteables.