Progress of Democracy in the Southern Cone

Is there is a correlation between a country’s support for a democratic government and its economic performance? My paper analyzes the economies of Argentina, Brazil, and Chile in the pursuit of determining whether there is a direct correlation between the economy’s success and popular support for democracy or whether there are other non-economic factors that have a significant influence on a country’s view towards democracy.

Mapuche in Modern Chile

The Mapuche are a proud native people whose place in contemporary Chile remains tenuous. As Chile’s largest indigenous group, the Mapuche have played an active role in dictating the country’s trajectory, dating back to colonization efforts in the 16th century. Since Chile became independent, the Mapuche have encountered loss of land, increased violence by the state, and little recognition in national politics, a struggle that has amplified in the wake of the return to democracy in 1990. Consequently, tensions have tightened between the government and Mapuche activists, embroiling the two sides in a war over land rights, autonomy, and cultural identity, known as the Mapuche Conflict. As the government prepares to create a more inclusive society in the coming months, the Mapuche are presented an opportunity for their long-fought rights to be finally recognized. 

United States and Global Maritime Shipping Emissions Policies

The maritime freight industry is a major contributor to global greenhouse gas emissions. If current practices continue, experts predict that it will account for 17% of total emissions by 2050. Both the United States government and the International Maritime Organization have enacted strict regulations to promote the industry’s adoption of alternative sources of fuel in an effort to reduce the amount of sulfur oxides and other pollutants released from container ships. This research sought to connect whether or not the United States and International Maritime Organization sulfur fuel enforcements have allowed container ship companies to catalyze an industry-wide shift in shipping practices. 

Smart Facilities, Smart Cities in Vietnam

Smart facility management is the next step in transitioning to an increasingly automized and technologically connected world. After years of having an underdeveloped infrastructure, Vietnam’s economic advancement has allowed the opportunity to comprehensively update its tech grid. I postulate how smart facility management can transition into a broader smart city network, and consequently a sustainable city, and the efforts by the Vietnamese government and private sector companies to incorporate smart technology into city infrastructure. 

Brazil’s Foreign Policy

The rise of Luiz Ignacio Lula da Silva and the Workers’ Party prompted the emphasis of Brazil’s status as a developing regional giant in the pursuit of facilitating South-South integration. When Jair Bolsonaro was elected, he sought to maximize Brazil’s own development while aligning his administration with foreign leaders who shared his extremist ideology. Despite efforts by the Workers’ Party to spread Brazilian-led development across the region and Bolsonaro’s urges to court like-minded leaders in generating strong bilateralism, Brazil’s international standing has not been bolstered.

NAFTA’s Legacy in Mexico

In 1988 Carlos Salinas de Gortari was elected President of Mexico, succeeding Miguel de la Madrid. Salinas de Gortari continued de la Madrid’s market reforms to curtail the debt crisis that had hit Mexico in 1982. Beginning in 1989 the Mexican government began negotiations with the United States on a sweeping trade deal that would help Mexico recover its economic profile, the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Eventually including Canada and going into effect in 1994, NAFTA transformed North America into the largest free trade zone in the world and catapulted the Mexican economy into a global competitor and closely tied to the United States. However, despite surface-level parameters indicating NAFTA’s positive effects on Mexico, the trade agreement failed to deliver structural development.

Web of Causality: The Costa Rican Pineapple Industry

Costa Rica is a crucial player in the overall pineapple industry. Cultivation is managed throughout the small Central American country and there is no focused region but the two primary regions are in Arenal and Sarapíqui. These pineapples are produced on large plantations ranging anywhere from 99 to 2000 hectares of land. The climate in Costa Rica is relatively uniform. During the dry months, December to January, the weather turns hot and dry. In contrast, during the months May to November, the rainy season, the climate is hot and wet with the majority of the annual rainfall occurring during this period. Furthermore, this type of climate is best suited for pineapple cultivation because pineapple plants require heavy rainfall and warm temperatures.

Due to the reason that pineapples are cultivated on large agricultural farms, severe environmental impacts are present. First of all, these farms, run by large fruit corporations such as Dole and Del Monte, employ a heavy use of agrochemicals. The crops are usually genetically modified to improve and stimulate growth and also increase resistance to pests and diseases. Plantation growers use 20 kilograms of pesticides per hectare in each pineapple cycle, which is approximately ten to fifteen times the normal dose on other crops. Additionally, although Costa Rica is known as the global leader for sustainable agriculture, it ranks first in pesticide use in the world; the chemicals account for much of the greenhouse gas emissions in the country.

Continuing with pesticides, human health is most at risk from its heavy use. The runoff of pesticides affects water and rivers which local communities in surrounding areas use for everyday chores and necessities. In a butterfly effect, the pesticides get into the soil, which contaminates the water, and in turn, the people relying on it are poisoned. The Tico Times, Costa Rica’s national newspaper has reported the abhorrent contents of the water. 22 agrochemicals could be detected including organophosphates, organochlorines, and hormone disrupters. The local population experienced a myriad of serious and life threatening diseases such as skin burns, nausea, and cancers (The Guardian). As a result of the contaminated groundwater, 6000 Costa Ricans in rural communities rely on water delivered from tanker trucks (The Guardian).

Another outlying problem with the presence of Dole and Del Monte’s plantations is their gross mismanagement of the large space of land on which they occupy, specifically the rainforests. Before 1950, forests covered approximately seventy percent of Costa Rica’s land. In the following decades, that number declined to approximately thirty percent before increasing to sixty percent just recently. In other words, in order for pineapple plantations to flourish, they need a vast space of open land to operate. Consequently, vast areas of forest are bulldozed to make room for these plantations.

Although deforestation benefits the large corporate farms, the rest of the surrounding area continues to suffer. Many of the world’s flora and fauna’s habitats exist in rainforests. When deforestation culminates, these species lose their habitats and eventually go extinct. Furthermore, with deforestation comes an increase in pests within the agricultural fields, most namely the Fer de Lance snake. In rainforests, their survival rate stood at approximately two percent; currently in these fields, the snake’s survival rate has spiked to sixty percent because the vast open spaces have made it easier for the Fer de Lance to roam and catch prey. In other words, they are now overpopulating the regions, throwing a wrench in the structure of natural selection and biodiversity. As these fruit corporations continue to take over land for pineapple cultivation, deforestation will only increase, leading to a massive reduction in biodiversity.

In the production of pineapple crops, the involved parties are threefold. The first party is the large agribusiness like Dole or Del Monte, which primarily dominate the global market on fruit.   The two corporations have a large presence in Central America, mostly in the banana industry but they cross over into other industries. The headquarters for Dole Pineapple is in Bella Vista de Cutris, San Carlos, Alajuela, a province in central Costa Rica. Dole and Del Monte own giant monoculture plantations at Hacienda Ojo de Agua, Finca Babilonia, Finca Los Lagos, Finca Esteros, Finca Santa Teresa, Finca Ampie, Finca Alfaro, and Finca Corrales. Along with producing, Dole and Del Monte also process their crops to other markets. For the most part, the pineapple industry is structured by an oligopoly of corporations and Dole and Del Monte are the most influential.

The second player in the pineapple industry is composed of the workers and farm laborers toiling on the plantation. The majority of farm workers are undocumented immigrants hailing from Nicaragua in search of jobs and better lives. In a way, they are similar to the Mexican farmers picking fruit on large plantations in California. These workers are essentially involved in all facets of production during harvest time. In other words, once a farmer in the fields finishes cultivation they would then work on cleaning and packaging the pineapples to be processed. However, besides harvest, workers are divided into different stages or areas.

Foreign markets are the final player to the global production of pineapples. The main markets for these pineapples are the United States and Europe. In fact, over 75 percent of pineapples found on European supermarket shelves are imported from Costa Rica. After processing, the pineapple packages are collected and stored on giant ships to be delivered to foreign markets, usually spanning a week in travel time. Like the banana industry, only ripe pineapples are shipped to supermarket shelves while leaving Costa Ricans with lower quality fruit. As the Tico Times reports, the pineapple industry is one of the most valuable markets for the Costa Rican economy. Last year the government generated over $800 million in revenue received from pineapple production (The Tico Times).

Transitioning to the web of causality that I have created, it is clear and present that the current system of pineapple production is inherently flawed. Although the environmental impacts of these grand plantations are numerous, it is rather economics that has skewed the industry into favor of the Dole and Del Monte corporations. As discussed, the pineapple industry is primarily operated by an oligopoly of the two businesses. Because these corporations own huge plantations, they require a multitude of workers, most notably undocumented Nicaraguan immigrants, to manage them. Originally, the migrants were admitted to Costa Rica temporarily during harvest season of sugar cane but over time, they have stood as the primary labor force of pineapple cultivation.

Costa Rica has labor laws friendly to workers, but sadly the Nicaraguans do not receive the same benefits. In fact, there have been numerous cases of disrespect of labor rights for these workers; they cannot speak out because they are illegal immigrants (El País de CR). According to Costa Rica’s Ministry of Labor, Costa Rican law outlines that a standard workweek may not exceed 48 hours per week. Farm laborers easily surpass the limit and during harvest season, workers must operate 24 hours a day in the fields and factories (The Guardian). Additionally, like the United States, Costa Rica grants union rights for its workers. However, workers in Dole or Del Monte plantations have experienced the contrary. Local community members have reported various infringements such as wage cuts and union breaking, including mass sackings (The Guardian).

Further addressing economics, the $800 million pineapple business is not as equitably lucrative as it appears to be. Although the country does benefit largely from the industry, very little economic benefit is passed onto the local communities. These corporations’ plantations have taken land away from small local farmers who are without land to plant crops and thus they have no means of livelihood. Additionally, the production is generating miniscule, if any, income for locals. Only the fruit corporations and the government receive profits from production. Unfortunately, because the Costa Rican government benefits so greatly from the pineapple industry, regulation might be impossible, “The fight now is against pineapples because there’s been an explosion in production, but it’s difficult because the owners of the plantations have very big political and economic influence” (The Tico Times). In 2010, legislator Edgardo Araya attempted to propose a $1 tariff per box of exported pineapples as a means of raising funds for local municipalities to help protect the environment but it was not passed, further empowering the Dole and Del Monte corporations.

Another aspect of the web of causality that caught my attention was the unpredictability of pineapple cultivation and its impact on monoculture. Pineapple is an inefficient crop, and each plant only grows 2 pineapples over the course of two years (The Tico Times). In other words, in order for a producer to turn a profit, it needs a lot of crops and a lot of land as well. However, a paradox erupts in the discussion of pineapple maximization. Although pineapples require a vast area of land, usually in open areas, it grows best in a temperate, wet climate. However, only the wet season delivers temperate weather. If pineapples grow slowly and require cool temperatures, one must wonder what will happen to the fruit during the dry season when temperatures soar to 100 degrees and no tree cover is present. This results in damaged crops, which reduces output and in turn, revenue is lost. It would make sense to keep the pineapple plants protected from extreme temperatures in order to ensure maximized output.

Not only are the agricultural practices of Dole and Del Monte flawed but also are the reliance on an unstable market. Because industrial agriculture largely produces one crop rather than a series of crops, a “boom or bust” market is created. Because pineapples are inefficient and are important commodities, when the crops fail, the global food market turns on its head as prices in the supermarkets skyrocket (The Tico Times). Corporations lose money because shoppers are not buying pineapples. In a different means but a similar ending, if the pineapple industry booms, corporations generate millions of dollars in profits because prices are so low that everyone buys pineapples (The Tico Times). However, the local farmers and producers are at a disadvantage because they cannot compete with the supermarkets’ low prices; they are eventually thrust into poverty. To me, the pineapple sector is a risky business in which to endeavor because so many variables are existent at any time. As it stands, the only instance when a winner emerges from production is during a boom period, and it is the pineapple corporation. Local communities and hard working farmers are not bearing the proverbial fruits of their labor and rarely generate the same economic prosperity that the big businesses do.

Although I am not an expert in agricultural development, I do have a few ideas to modify the current paradigm of pineapple farming. Industrial agriculture has proved itself to be a grossly ineffective model for feeding the world, whether through environment disruption, economic inequality, or overproduction. For too long the world has relied on this system of agriculture, and its intended benefits have not been realized. With the aforementioned drawbacks, I recommend that the pineapple industry transition to sustainable agricultural practices. When I traveled to Costa Rica in the summer of 2015, I visited a pineapple plantation owned by a local farmer and his family. They operate it as a site for agricultural tourism, a “commercial enterprise at a working farm, ranch, or agricultural plant conducted for the enjoyment or education of visitors” (UC Davis). Pineapple is the main commodity for the family since it is lucrative but they also grow cacao, coffee, mangoes, and other crops. In other words, if the pineapples do not succeed, the family has other crops on which to rely. As I remember correctly, he did not use agrochemicals for his pineapples but rather sustainable, organic methods. The family simply cannot afford the negative externalities of an industrialized system of agriculture. This gorgeous family-owned plantation should serve as the basis for a movement in Costa Rica to drive away from reliance on a single, inefficient fruit. Adding other crops in a plantation, I believe, will prevent the stigma of a “boom or bust” market.

Another recommendation I have for the current pineapple industry is that it eliminates the giant plantations. These plantations carry a severe environmental footprint and create a so-called “ecological dead zone.” Since forests are demolished in order to make space for the plantations, species go extinct because they cannot survive outside of their altered habitats. Biodiversity is lost, rupturing the entire ecological structure of the certain areas. Plus, pineapples need some form of shade or cool temperatures to thrive while the dry season is present. During the dry season, rain falls at a minimum, which severely harms the pineapples since they need a lot of it. This agroforestry will protect and cool the plants and prevent them from dying in extreme heat. During harvest season, the crops will hopefully be healthy and maximized.

Unfortunately, my recommendations will probably go unnoticed by Dole and Del Monte because their sole interests are outputs and profits. Although these MNCs have certifications like Rainforest Alliance, Fair Trade, or ISO 14001, they are able to wiggle through simple regulations through the power of government lobbying. Dole and Del Monte have shaped the current state of the pineapple industry that it almost seems pointless to try and alter it. It is my hope however that local farmers, like the patriarch I visited in May, will gain opportunities to further grow and continue sustainable pineapple agriculture in Costa Rica.