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Reuters News

Macri asks Argentines for patience to implement IMF deal
Sept. 27, 2018

Argentina central banker resigns as IMF talks near conclusion
Sept. 25, 2018

Argentina’s national strike protests inflation, shuts grain ports
Sept. 25, 2018

Argentina close to securing more IMF support, protests simmer
Sept. 24, 2018

Argentina bets on $600 million satellite to boost agriculture sector
Sept. 21, 2018

‘Dig up my home but you won’t find any illicit funds,” says Argentina’s Fernandez
Sept. 18, 2018

Former Argentina president indicted on corruption charges
Sept. 17, 2018

G20 Trade ministers say WTO reform ‘urgent’ as Trump tariffs loom
Sept. 14, 2018

How Argentina plans to pay its debts
Sept. 6, 2018

Argentina rejects measure to legalize abortion
(Also featured on Reuters TV)
August 9, 2018

G20 agriculture ministers slam protectionism, pledge WTO reforms
July 28, 2018

Japan official urges caution over Trump’s complaint on strong dollar
July 21, 2018

BOJ’s Kuroda urges restraint on tariffs, says stable FX desirable
July 21, 2018

Argentine Ex-prisoner marks 40 years from dictatorship-era World Cup
June 29, 2018

Insight Crime

Mexico Security Firms Need Regulation to Prevent Criminality: Report
April 12, 2018

Disappearances at US-Mexico Border Highlight Persistent Insecurity
March 23, 2018

Fugitive El Salvador Mayor Accused of Aiding Transnational Organized Crime
March 19, 2018

Canadian Company Custom-Made Encrypted Phones for Cartels: FBI
March 14, 2018

MS13 Feud Spreads to Mexico, But Gang’s Presence Remains Limited
March 8, 2018

El Salvador Military Officers Ordered Executions: Attorney General
Feb. 28, 2018

Argentina Seeks Deeper Security Ties with United States Amid Questionable Policy Shift
Feb. 15, 2018

Takedown of Puerto Rico Crime Group Could Spur Struggle to Fill Power Vacuum
Jan. 18, 2018

 

Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas

After murder of photojournalist in San Luis Potosí, protections measures for Mexican reporters continue to fall flat
Dec. 1, 2017

 

Reporting Texas

After Devastating Storm, Texas Barrier Island Flooded by Development
Dec. 15, 2017

House GOP tax bill could put graduate students in tighter financial squeeze
Nov. 28, 2017.

UT System’s Los Alamos lab bid promises prestige but also challenges
Picked up by the Austin American-Statesman (print)
Oct. 27, 2017

 

Interamerican Association for Environmental Defense

In Colombia, the power to stop fracking lies with the people
Aug. 28, 2017

Berta lives: keeping the struggle alive, despite the risks
Aug. 21, 2017

As killings increase, how can we defend the defenders?
July 24, 2017

Chilean Chum: How eating salmon in the US hurts Patagonia’s coastal wildlife
June 8, 2017

Free Press Houston

Wasting the San Jacinto Waste Pits
Feb. 2015

¿Do Geese See God?
Dec. 22, 2014

Hydrating Houston’s Sweltering Summers
Dec. 14, 2014

Photojournalism Clips

Amor Prohibido
Texas Monthly
Sept. 2015


Photo also featured at Texas Public Radio.

Un monumento de tolerancia desató el odio racista en Texas
Vice Mexico
Nov. 23, 2016

The Daily Texan
Published 2009-2010

Wasting the San Jacinto River Waste Pits

Illustration by Austin Smith

 

Published in Free Press Houston, February 2015
By Scott Squires

Last fall, two companies — McGinnis Industrial Maintenance and Waste Management — agreed to pay Harris County $29.2 million for decades of illegally dumping toxic waste from paper mills in what have become known as the San Jacinto River Waste Pits. Residents of Highland, Texas and other surrounding communities have seen a severe degradation in community health, especially since a portion of the national Superfund site has been eroded and is now partially submerged beneath the river. (A third company, International Paper, was found not-guilty for $3 billion worth of damages when the court decided not to include an environmental health assessment and testimony from victims of the pollution.) The site is located in east Houston, just north of I-10, on the banks of the San Jacinto River.

On January 13, community members and organizers met in a public forum to discuss how to allocate the $29.2 million settlement. Community advocates say that settlement funds should not go to unrelated programs or to the general revenue fund of Harris County; rather, settlement funds should be used for remediation, health studies, and environmental education exclusively for related health and environmental problems in the communities impacted by the Waste Pits’ contamination. With about seventy-five community members, activists and Harris County officials in attendance, the community forum sought to answer the question: How do we channel this money back, most equitably, to the affected community?

Afterwards, FPH spoke with Jackie Young and Chris Schillaci, members of Texans Together, a grassroots advocacy group that, together with the San Jacinto River Coalition, is fighting for communities affected by the Waste Pits.

What were some of the major ideas at Tuesday’s meeting as to how the funds should be allocated?

Chris: The following are the some of the most common ideas:

  • Provide city water to those on groundwater wells;
  • Use the funds to monitor local pollution;
  • Use the funds to test well water or increase the current testing;
  • Increase education and outreach in communities on both sides of the San Jacinto River and implement outreach at local schools to increase awareness and education;
  • Conduct health surveys for people in communities near the Waste Pits.

How is the $29.2 million going to be divvied up?

Chris: The $29.2 million will be divided three ways. Roughly $9 million will go to attorneys’ fees for the outside council, while the remaining $20 million will be divided [about equally] between Harris County and the State of Texas…These funds will not be used for remediation or cleanup of the actual site. Remediation of the site will be handled through the [EPA’s] Superfund process… and we are still working to make sure that the $20 million does not go to the State and County general revenue.

Can you explain “remediation?” Are we talking about cleanup or containment of the site?

Jackie: The remediation process is facilitated by the EPA… [They are] expected to announce their proposed remedy in September of this year.

International Paper and Waste Management have proposed [permanently “capping” or containing the site.] However, EPA guidelines [state that] containment is only appropriate in areas of low flow velocity…The Waste Pits are located at the area of the river with greatest flow velocities…and have been referred to by local experts as a “loaded gun.” We do not want to push this problem on to future generations, rather we want to see the site remediated properly in the Superfund process… The communities surrounding the site have made it clear that the only acceptable remedy is full removal. This is what the San Jacinto River Coalition is advocating for.

How are the pits temporarily capped? What about in the event of a flood or hurricane? Can the polluted material be completely re-located? In what capacity are Waste Management and International Paper responsible for this?

Jackie: The cap consists of a geomembrane layer (much like a plastic tarp) that is covered with over 50,000 tons of crushed concrete. Anyone who has lived on the Gulf Coast is familiar with the extraordinary force of hurricanes and even tropical storms.

The cap was constructed to withstand a 100-year flood event but was partially eroded within one year of construction in a minor 10-year flood event. Additionally, the cap does not even cover the entire site! The northwest portion is so steep, they were unable to put the geomembrane layer and crushed concrete over the waste.

The cap was never intended by the EPA to be the final remedy, rather, a temporary fix… However, International Paper and Waste Management have proposed to upgrade the existing cap for the final remedy. With appropriate construction and engineering controls, it is possible for the waste material to be completely removed and relocated to a more stable environment or destroyed…

The problem here is that the companies that are being held accountable for the site have their own agenda. Despite Harris County’s lawsuit, Waste Management and International Paper…are required to remediate the site however the EPA decides appropriate.

As a grassroots organization, what role does Texans Together play in the effort? Has your lobbying been effective in raising awareness and building community support?

Chris: Regarding the settlement funds, we are working at the State and County level to get the money earmarked back to the community. We are effectively the voice of the community to local officials and the EPA…We have pressed the decision makers to do what the community wants, which is for the site to be removed. We have had victories along the way but we will ultimately know the remediation decision in the fall of 2015…

The court case is settled, but obviously there’s still a lot to do, what’s next?

Jackie: A firm hired by the companies found responsible for the Waste Pits, have conducted the remedial investigation and feasibility study for the site and have proposed to upgrade the temporary cap as a final remedy for the Site…The Army Corps of Engineers is currently conducting a third party investigation and we are patiently awaiting the EPA’s proposal for the final remedy.

The Environmental Protection Agency’s mission is “to protect human health and the environment” and I feel that the only way the EPA can ensure their mission is to remove the risk.

Texans Together and The San Jacinto River Coalition are circulating a petition to help ensure the settlement’s funds are returned to the affected communities. Sign the petition here:

http://www.texanstogether.org/civicrm/petition/sign?sid=3

[Ed. Note: This is an article from our February print edition which we regretfully neglected to post online until now.]

¿Do Geese See God?

Published in Free Press Houston
By Scott Squires
Dec. 22, 2014

It’s clear that Jules Buck Jones was an ungulate in a very recent lifetime. As his middle name would suggest, the Austin-based artist communes with nature on a level deeper than most. His mother, a painter named Sheep Jones, must have given him that name for a very good reason.

“My girlfriend and I were out at Guadalupe Mountains National Park, and we’re hiking through this canyon and we hear this large crack, like something is striking antlers against a rock. We look up and we see these two bighorn sheep, baying, smacking their heads together and locking horns, wrestling. We just sat there and watched that…I love going out to Big Bend, but that really sold Guadalupe Mountains for me.”

JBJ-201

Jules Buck Jones, Dumb Mud, 2014. Ink, watercolor, and pencil on paper. 50″ x 38″ Image courtesy of the artist.

Jones’ recently opened exhibition entitled ¿Do Geese See God? at Houston’s McMurtrey Gallery showcases some of the artist’s new work. Jones uses pen and ink, watercolors and collage to build worlds that are sometimes dark and foreboding, sometimes rich and vivid, but always alive and breathing, powerful and dynamic. He’s reminding you that nature is bigger than you, and that it’s never something to be messed with.

“I’m anthropomorphizing nature,” Jones said. “The longer you stare at the work, the more it starts to come out at you – eyes, teeth, genitalia and stuff.” Jones builds many of his pieces by mirroring the skeletal structure of the forest. “It has this skeleton. There’s all this flesh to it too, but if you start to really look at it you can start to see this structure behind it…sort of like walking through the forest in Bastrop after those fires.”

Jones’ subjects include deconstructed woodland imagery, different animals, water, light, and night, according to the show’s abstract. Jones aims to unveil something alive and breathing hidden behind the underbrush. According to Jones, these landscapes “breathe, burp, piss, shit, fuck, grow, and die. They stare at you, an endangered concept, a sentient environment.”

There is a sense of symmetry in Jones’ images, and the title of the exhibition and some of the included works are palindromes that play on that symmetry. “I started going through all these books on palindromes. They’re really interesting because you’re bound by this certain formula, these rules…Sometimes you get these really crazy phrases that come out of that.” According to Jones, ¿Do Geese See God? was the perfect title for the exhibition.

“I have these four pieces in the show that accomplished exactly what I wanted them to do,” Jones said. No Lemon No Melon is one of them. Entangled branches and tree limbs in vivid yellows, oranges and browns reach out at the viewer, drawing them into the scene. “It’s very Venusian,” he said.

In addition to painting and pen and ink drawings, the exhibition also incorporates sculpture. There is one large sculpture piece, comprised of a wood frame, foam and papier-mâché. “I’m hoping to do more with sculpture…I could literally go forever with it until I hit a physical wall or a ceiling or something,” Jones said. “It’s not so confined by the frame, by the square…It’s something to bring the show off the walls.”

Jones hopes that instigating a dialogue about the collective consciousness of nature will demand more accountability for our actions. He believes our collective conversation with the world is too one sided. His work suggests a power shift between the viewer and subject, that is, between humans and nature. He depicts nature as a force unwilling to be developed, manicured, or profited on. Jones’ “imagery is defiant, armed with tooth and nail, eyes and thoughts.”

According to Jules Buck Jones, “We are not the only ones who live here, we are not the only things with needs, and we are not the only ones with power.”

¿Do Geese See God? is open through Jan. 10 at the McMurtrey Gallery Houston, 3508 Lake Street. Gallery hours are Tuesday-Friday 10:30-5:00 and Saturday, 11:00-5:00.

Hydrating Houston’s Sweltering Summers

Published in Free Press Houston, December 2014
By Scott Squires

Dec. 14, 2014

Meet the new saviors of summer: Monte Large, Evan O’Neil and Jeff Kaplan. These guys have a plan that’s going to deliver Houston from July’s sweltering hell and coax you out of August’s air-conditioned purgatory.

Their plan? Houston’s very own swimming hole. But this isn’t a regular old municipal swimming pool with sticky-faced kids and rogue band-aids floating around. The Houston Needs a Swimming Hole project is vying for a natural-style swimming hole in the middle of the city complete with grassy grounds and a sandy beach.

Though the plan is in its infancy, these three are running a Kickstarter to fund a feasibility study that will answer the big questions: How? Where? When? and How Much?

I spoke with Monte Large about the project and their plan to transform a section of the city into an urban paradise.

“I was living in New York City when the Highline first opened, and I was completely blown away by that” Large said, referencing NYC’s raised urban park. “You can do something that can completely change the city! There need to be places for you to breathe and to relax.”

The pool itself would be about three acres — about the size of Austin’s Barton Springs — with surrounding grounds that would incorporate around nine acres total (depending on the location).

“We’ve started talking to the Buffalo Bayou Partnership, Friends of Woodland Park, and any organization that potentially has land that could be converted into a central pool type thing,” Large said. “Improvements along Buffalo Bayou from Sabine St. to Shepard really inspired us to think, ‘Hey, you can do some really beautiful things along the bayou!’”

Unlike a swimming pool treated with chlorine and other chemistry, a natural swimming pool filters its water through a biological regeneration zone. With the help of a pump to move the water, sweat, grime and oil can all be filtered out through friction with water-borne plants and sediments.

“Another option we’re looking at is an ozone filter,” Large said. “You basically shock the water and kill all the bacteria, but instead of killing it with chemicals, you’re killing it with Ozone and UV rays.”

According to Large, the natural filtration system would be more than enough to ensure clear, refreshing water, but if someone decided to pull a “Caddyshack” and deposit a “Baby Ruth” in the pool, emergency procedures would still have to be implemented. “That’s something we’ve thought about! We’d probably have to do the same thing as a standard swimming pool.”

Because of the constantly moving water, the pool would naturally discourage breeding mosquitoes.

“We’ve got that going for us,” he said. “We’re also looking at planting mosquito repellent plants like lemongrass and citronella, and making sure it’s a very airy, breezy place. Mosquitoes don’t do well when there’s a lot of moving air, so we’re going to do our best.”

The budget and timeframe for the project are yet to be determined, but could run anywhere from $6 million to $20 million, depending on the site and the technology used.

“We’ll be able to determine that once we’re finished with the whole feasibility study,” he said. The natural swimming hole would be pitched as an amenity to the city, and the project hopes to collaborate with organizations like the Buffalo Bayou Partnership to garner private funding. “We’re looking at how [NYC’s] Highline and our own Discovery Green were put together. We just want to see it happen,” Large said.

Nominal admission fees and season passes would cover the swimming hole’s operating and maintenance costs.

“It won’t be much,” Large said. “But we want to have this thing maintained in a way that’s nice, where people go in five or ten years and still think it’s just the greatest place. We want to encourage people who go there to respect it.”

With less than thirty days left to raise funds for the feasibility study, the Houston Needs a Swimming Hole project has already raised over $23,000 of its $30,000 goal. “We’re getting there, and we’ve gotten so much great feedback!”

For the conspiracy theorists out there, Large assured FPH he’s not a mad-scientist with a plan to fluoridate Houston’s water supply.

“We’re trying to poison people with natural shit!” he said. “Houston is known for being such a ‘chemical’ city with chemical engineers and people in the oil business. But we’re weirdos! We’re a bunch of hippie dudes with real estate backgrounds and our own businesses, so we know how Houstonians think. We’re not just hippies — we’re hippies with a plan!”

Donate to Houston Needs a Swimming Hole here: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/2060807929/houston-needs-a-swimming-hole

More info at: www.houstonneedsaswimminghole.com

La Festival de la Virgen del Urkupiña

Squires-10
By Scott Squires

Aug. 16, 2014

COCHABAMBA, Boliva – The streets are empty.  It’s a festival day, and I’m late to the party.  I approach a shared taxi driver, idly waiting curbside, not paying attention and looking lost, which is out of character for someone who is supposed to escort people around town.

“Are you going to Quillacollo? I’m going to the Festival of the Virgin of Urkupiña.”

“Quillacollo? Sure,” he says quickly as he discreetly removes the destination placard on the minibus’ front windshield – he was headed somewhere else.  “I just moved here from La Paz, so I don’t know Cochabamba that well.  But I can take you to Quillacollo.”

“Great,” I say as I hand him a little plata as we take off.  In a few minutes the cab fills up as other latecomers wave down the van. We shift and move seats to accommodate a few extra party-goers until we’re full up and hit the highway.

I’m headed to the region’s biggest annual celebration, La Festival de la Virgen de Urkupiña, dedicated to a local apparition of the Virgin Mary.  In reality, the festival integrates traditional and Catholic religious beliefs with colorful parades, dancing, and a pilgrimage in which the faithful ascend a mountain and extract rocks from the hillside to ask favors of health, wealth and luck of the Virgin.

Urban sprawl slips by the windows. Thirty minutes of grey skies, trash lined highways, a lack of sidewalks characteristic to the developing world.  Everybody is moving in the same direction – we’re all going west in trufis, on bikes, on foot – a Bolivian hajj.  We speed by school buses filled with teenage girls in sparkled marching band outfits, epaulettes fit for Simón Bolívar, made up and hair done like they were competing in a beauty pageant.

The traffic gradually thickens, until it’s a honking, stagnant diesel soup.  Our newcomer driver gives up.  “OK, this is it,” he yells.

We clamor out of the trufi to meet the day’s dusty squall. Covering our faces with shirts and handkerchiefs, we get swept up in the tide of people moving up-road.  Gradually, the crowd turns into a market.  On the outskirts, men with racks of cheap sunglasses all made from the same factory in China hawk wares, women sell deep fried doughnuts with icing that looks like its made of drywall, wheelbarrows filled with Kleenex and aspirin, juice carts piled high with peeled oranges and the only advertisements rising above the din are the spirited declarations of vendors’ goods and their rock-bottom prices.

The din becomes more structured as I approach a set of bleachers and a packed crowd.  Through a small gap in the seating, I spy what I came for – a parade of costume and glitter like none I’ve ever seen. A small human, no bigger than a ten-year-old child, dressed in robes like a withered wizard with a drooping rubber mask transforms him into an otherworldly sage-like figure.  He is leading a throng of similar, mystically dressed wizards/men, stepping slowly in time to the beat of a large drum, supported by gnarled staffs and the cheers of the crowd.

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The sagacious actors are then followed by colorful, intricately designed personifications of Lucifer himself leading dancers who represent the seven deadly sins.  Then, a troop of devils fronted by Saint Michael make complex choreographic shapes and move in impassioned, circular patterns as the angel feigns battle against them.  They are performing the Diablada – a traditional dance characterized by intricate footwork, impressively designed and cumbersome costumes, and a blend of local Aymara and Catholic imagery.

Dancers continue to arrive, some in flamboyant Spanish dress dance something similar to the Tango.  A troupe of traditional Aymara dancers show off their costumes and leap high into the air, all while wearing eight-inch high platform sandals. Fronted by men and women playing zampoñas, or pan flutes, tambourines, and large animal skin drums, this dance, called the waka tokoris, satirizes the Spanish bullfight.

HI-RES094

The dances have been going on since early morning, and don’t stop until long after the sun sets.  Meanwhile, onlookers and dancers celebrate by imbibing gallons of chicha, a fermented corn beer, their cheeks bulging with wads of coca leaves.

My own head, swimming from a chicha-coca buzz and over-stimulation, finds its way back to sobriety as the streets are thinning out.  Dancers and their families, proud and sweaty, stumble back through the nearly abandoned market as we find trufis going our direction, back to Cochabamba, back to reality.

 

(photos to come…)

A Statement of Purpose

To me, my purpose is clear. My aim is to produce meaningful images that portray the human condition so vividly, and with so much compassion that it is hard to look away.  I have been given the rarest, most valuable opportunities to see how different people across the globe live, and what has impressed me the most is the voracious appetite of the human spirit for life, family, friendship and happiness.  These common denominators are what inspire my photography, and I plan to continue producing images like these for the rest of my life.  My photography is not a hobby, nor is it a career path to financial success.  My aim is neither to become famous, nor to profit on the plight of the less-than fortunate.  It is a day-to-day analysis of my surroundings and a personal interpretation of my human experience.

When I can, I try to show joy in my photographs.  I believe I succeed frequently, however, life is not always joyful.  We have such a complicated and profound experience because life is both deeply heartwarming and terribly melancholy.  My photography as an art attempts to encapsulate that.

Unlike art though, the core value of photojournalism is not to make people feel joyful or wretch in sorrow.  It’s focus is to enact social and political change through awareness.  Ideally, the photojournalist acts as a neutral lens to inform the reader, but paradoxically, the most awarded and renowned photojournalism has been loaded with the most pathos.  Because the human condition is so intrinsically linked with the emotional experiences of joy and sorrow and photojournalism is a document of that human condition, good, wrenching photojournalism should grip the viewer at his or her utmost emotional center.  Good photojournalism, like good art, should tear into the viewer’s soul, and I can only strive to do this as I continue to refine my craft.

 

Scott Squires (October 29, 2013)