After nearly five months of travel, Keith and Lindsey have returned to the blisteringly exciting suburbs of New York City to spend time with family.  Hurrah!

For those who weren’t following along at home, here are some of the highlights from our  recent south-of-the-border jaunt:

  • In November of 2010, we left friends and family for Cancún, Mexico to attend the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP16).  Hundreds of international youth delegates descended upon COP16, using art and creative actions to demand a fair and binding international climate policy.  In Cancún, we had the opportunity to work with alongside these international youth delegates, while covering the UN proceedings as independent journalists.
  • After the conference came to a close in early December, we headed to the city of San Cristóbal de las Casas in Chiapas state.  One of the first REDD+ forest-carbon programs is being implemented outside of San Cristóbal, and we were eager to get the pulse of the locals regarding this project.  In San Cris,we also had the opportunity to debrief, decompress, and enjoy Christmas with a crew of amazing new friends.
  • Although difficult to leave Chiapas, we headed across southern Mexico to beautiful Oaxaca. Outside of Oaxaca city, we were graciously hosted by our former professor, self-described “de-professionalized intellectual” Gustavo Esteva. We had a New Years Eve to be remembered with the Esteva family and “horizontal trader”/chocolatier Michael Sacco of Ontario, Canada.
  • Along with Michael and his fellow Chocosolistas, recently arrived from Toronto, we roughed it across southern Mexico in way-too-small-for-all-of-us rented SUV to investigate the production of chocolate, coffee, and vanilla.
  • Next, we headed further south to work on our Spanish at a language school in Lake Atitlán, Guatemala. Nestled between three volcanoes on an endless blue lake, our conversations with the teachers in the lake-side town of San Pedro la Laguna offered us another opportunity to see how the Mayan culture was adapting to the mounting pressures of globalization.
  • Outside of Antigua, Guatemala we had the pleasure of spending a few days at the renown bike-machine collective MayaPedal.  Bike-powered coffee-grinders…Bike blenders for licuado smoothies…innovation on two wheels.
  • In Gracias, Honduras, we had the pleasure to see dear friend Lindsey “Pip” Bryan and hear about her work with rural panela cane sugar producers and get the low-down on the Honduran landscape.
  • On the island of Utila off the coast of Honduras, we spent a week or so SCUBA diving on the reef surrounding the island. Among other exploits,we were successful in tracking down a wrecked drug plane lying hidden in the island’s interior.
  • On his fourth and final voyage, Columbus first encountered the mainland of the Americas in the bay of Trujillo on the Honduras coast. Spending a week in this area, we stopped off to visit our friend Phil Longbrake, who is volunteering at a Catholic orphanage.  We helped Phil kick off a food sovereignty project at the orphanage by building a hefty star-fish shaped herb garden.  We also documented some of the African oil palm plantations in the Trujillo area; particularly in the Aguan river valley.
  • Coming to the tail end of the journey (and our bank accounts), we returned to eastern Guatemala to look for a crew position on a sailing vessel headed north, ending in Rio Dulce (the safest mooring in the Western Caribbean during hurricane season).  After spending way too much money on beer in Rio Dulce, we were off on a five-day sail from Guatemala to Isla Mujeres, an island off the coast of Cancún.  Where the whole gig began…
  • And back in the US, we just returned from Washington DC, where we attended Powershift 2011– a youth climate summit bringing together 10,000 youth activists from across the country.  Increasingly becoming a major force on the national political landscape, youth were energized and ready to get to work.  With marches pronouncing “Make BP Pay!” and “Coal is Dead!”, and workshops on topics ranging from Environmental Justice to the Koch Brothers, the weekend kept us busy and got us excited to return to organizing in Vermont and the US.

And with that, we are bringing Spring Break the System to an end.  From Cancún to Powershift 2011, it’s been a pleasure to report on issues related to social movements and climate change.  Our circuitous route has brought us into contact with many fantastic people, and we’d like to offer a sincere thanks for all the help and direction they’ve provided for us over the past few months.

As well, our READERS!  Thank you, thank you, thank you so much for the comments, emails, and dedicated support you’ve shown for this project.


Lindsey and Keith

PS: We look forward to continuing the conversation!  Please contact us by email at:

We promised to publish an article regarding the new climate agreement between the California and Chiapas governments; under which California industries would be able to “offset” their carbon emissions by paying people in Chiapas “not” to cut down the Lacandon Jungle, through a mechanism known as REDD+.

Last month, journalists Jeff Conant and Orin Langelle with Global Justice Ecology Project met with our buddy Flavio Jimenez in San Cristobal, travelling with Flavio to his hometown of Amador Hernandez in the Selva Lacondona (Lacondon Jungle).  There, they attended a forum entitled “Indigenous and Campesino Perspectives on the Climate Crisis and the False Solutions” which brought together 300 community members from the area.

This trip produced a photo essay from Orin, which we include below, as well as a fantastic article written by Jeff (who lived in Chiapas for many years) exploring the history and context of the Chiapas-California REDD agreement (Scroll down for Jeff’s article).  Also emerging from the trip is a Call to Action regarding REDD from the community of Amador Hernandez, a Zapatista community famous for resisting an occupation from the Mexican military in 1999 (photos from this incident had “gone viral,” showing barefoot indigenous women in brilliantly colored traditional dress standing up against fully armed soldiers with US-supplied tanks and helicopters).

Here is the Call To Action- Please support Flavio’s community, as they face displacement with the excuse of a REDD “conservation project”, and as the Mexican government has already withdrawn medical services in advance of this displacement.  And please, if you’re signing on the basis of “pity” for the indigenous people, don’t bother.  But if you stand with Amador Hernandez against those trying to profit through bogus “climate solutions”and see their fight as connected with yours, then by all means– sign and pass it on to your friends.

Thank you, LK Brunner-Gillies


Chiapas, Mexico: From ‘existing’ in the jungle to “living” in little houses made of ticky-tacky…

Photo Essay by Orin Langelle, Global Justice Ecology Project

Selva Lacandona (Lacandon jungle/rainforest)

At the Cancún climate summit last year journalist Jeff Conant and I learned that California’s then-Governor Arnold Swarzenegger had penned an agreement with Chiapas, Mexico’s Governor Juan Sabines as well as the head of the province of Acre, Brazil.  This deal would provide carbon offsets from Mexico and Brazil to power polluting industries in California—industries that wanted to comply with the new California climate law (AB32) while continuing business as usual.

The plan was to use forests in the two Latin American countries to supposedly offset the emissions of the California polluters.

Conant and I took an investigative trip to Chiapas in March.  When we arrived, we were invited by the people of Amador Hernandez–an indigenous village based in the Lacandon jungle (Selva Lacandona)–to visit, document and learn of the plans of the government to possibly relocate them from their homes. What we uncovered was another battle in the ongoing war between a simpler way of life vs. the neoliberal development model.

The following photographs were taken in or near the community of Amador Hernandez, during an over flight of the Selva Lacandona and surrounding African Palm Plantations, and in the “sustainable rural city” Santiago de Pinar.

Mist rises near the community of Amador Hernandez in the Lacandon jungle and the Montes Azules Biosphere Reserve
Elders of the community
Young girls in the morning

Men on horseback was a common sight in Amador Hernandez and one of the few ways to get out of the community and take a twelve kilometer trek to the nearest village.

Another way out of Amador Hernandez was to walk the 12 km
There are no roads to or from the village
Razor wire embedded in a tree from when the Mexican army had an encampment next to Amador Hernandez in 1999

Amador Hernandez, deep in rebel territory, was a hot bed of resistance to the Mexican military attempt to crush the EZLN (Zapatista Army of National Liberation).

In La Jornada, Journalist Hermann Bellinghausen wrote in 1999,  “A detachment of 500 Mexican Army troops, made up of elite troops and Military Police, are keeping the access blocked leading to the road that joins Amador Hernandez with San Quintin, where the chiapaneco government and the soldiers are trying – at all costs – to build a highway.

“Hundreds of tzeltal indigenous from the region have been holding… a protest sit-in at the entrance to the community, which is also the entrance to the vast and splendid Amador Valley,  at the foot of the San Felipe Sierra, in the Montes Azules.”

The people of Amador Hernandez did not let the army go through with their road plan and the army broke its encampment.

Building with Zapatista murals in Amador Hernandez

When the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) went into effect on 1 January 1994, the Indigenous Peoples of Chiapas staged an uprising. The Zapatistas denounced NAFTA as a “death sentence” for the Indigenous Peoples of Mexico.

The uprising continues today and has been an inspiration to millions of people throughout the world.

Life goes on in Amador Hernandez– more photos below!! Read the rest of this entry »

Cross-posted from Global Justice Ecology Project

by Jeff Conant, (In addition to being a journalist, Jeff is also Communications Director for Global Justice Ecology Project)

When photographer Orin Langelle and I visited Chiapas over the last two weeks of March, signs of conflict and concern were everywhere, amidst a complex web of economic development projects being imposed on campesino and indigenous communities without any semblance of free, prior, and informed consent. Among these projects is a renewed government effort to delimit Natural Protected Areas within the Lacandon Jungle, in order to generate carbon credits to be sold to California companies. This effort, it turns out, coincides with a long history of conflicting interests over land, and counterinsurgency campaigns aimed at the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN), as well as other allied or sympathetic indigenous and campesino groups.

California’s Global Warming Solutions Act, AB32, mandates targeted Greenhouse Gas reductions statewide. An important component of AB32 is its controversial reliance on market mechanisms, such as cap-and-trade, which will allow California companies to buy offset credits from participating domestic and foreign agencies. The cap and trade provision of AB32 hit a major roadblock a few weeks ago, when the San Francisco Superior Court ruled that the California Air Resources Board violated the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) by not fully evaluating alternatives to the cap-and-trade system in the 2006 law. This is a significant sign of opposition to market-based climate solutions in California; but the local impacts in California are but one side of a global equation.

When Governor Schwarzenegger signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the states of Chiapas, Mexico and Acre, Brazil last November, to establish the world’s first sub national cap and trade agreement to use the emerging mechanism known as REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation), he set in motion a process that critics see as leading to potential land grabs in Chiapas and Acre, as well as continuing industrial contamination in California.

REDD, in Brief

The U.N. defines REDD as “a mechanism to create an incentive for developing countries to protect, better manage and wisely use their forest resources, contributing to the global fight against climate change. REDD strategies aim to make forests more valuable standing than they would be cut down, by creating a financial value for the carbon stored in trees.” On its face, the idea of “reducing emissions from deforestation” sounds good, especially given that 15 to 25 percent of global CO2 emissions are linked to forest loss. But while the major multilateral institutions, including the UN, the World Bank, and many large environmental organizations, support REDD, many forest-dependent communities, environmental justice advocates, Indigenous Peoples organizations, and global South social movements see REDD as a way for industries in the North to continue polluting, and for forest communities in the Global South to be evicted from or denied access to their lands.

A policy brief from the US Agency for International Development (USAID) on the application of REDD in Mexico notes that “there are a number of problems for which solutions need to be found if [the REDD] mechanism is to achieve its potential. One of these is linked to local difficulties, both in terms of policy integration and application in communities.” Indeed, that is precisely the concern: while the overall concept may be appealing (assuming that creating a market value for non-market commodities like air, carbon dioxide, and forests is not inherently problematic), its application in real-world communities brings many real-world problems.

The Tangled History of The Lacandon Community Zone

The Lacandon Jungle is the northernmost intact rainforest in Mesoamerica, sitting in a remote region of Chiapas, directly bordering Guatemala. The region is marked by a long and complex history of conflicts over land rights, including a long history of settlement by migrating indigenous and non-indigenous populations, as well as many cases of indigenous peoples being forcibly removed from territories they see as their home. Key to understanding the conflict in the region, however, is the story of the historic construction known as “the Lacandon Community”.

For centuries following the collapse of classic Mayan civilization around 900 A.D., the Lacandon jungle – a montane rainforest marked by rugged terrain, snaking turquoise rivers and limitless biodiversity – was largely inaccessible, and too remote to draw much attention from the outside. The original inhabitants, relatives of the Chontal Maya, had been responsible for building the great temples of the region, but were virtually wiped out during the first centuries of the conquest. At the end of the 18th-century, however, a group of indigenous Caribes migrated into the Lacandon from Campeche, northeast of Chiapas. In the course of the 20th century, many other people began to settle there, including colonists, encouraged by government programs to open the jungle, and wave after wave of indigenous peoples escaping from the fincas – the large plantations where they’d been held in indentured servitude for generations. Read the rest of this entry »

(The not-so-good news…)  First, a link to a Democracy Now! interview with a Honduran journalist, coming as Honduras is named the most dangerous country in the world for journalists this year.

CLICK HERE for the Interview

From DemocracyNow: “Workers, students and activists have held a month-long general strike in Honduras to protest repression by the government of President Porfirio Lobo. Lobo came to power following elections under the regime of Roberto Micheletti, who seized power in a violent military coup against democratically elected President Manuel Zelaya in June 2009. Honduras is one of the world’s most violent countries, with a homicide rate four times higher than in Mexico, according to national statistics. In 2010, Honduras became the most dangerous country in the world for journalists, with this March being the deadliest month on record. We speak to Gerardo Torres, an independent journalist and a leading member of the National Front of Popular Resistance in Honduras.”

Honduras is officially open for business.  The references in this interview to the new right-wing regime’s control over the media are corroborated by our experience; each time we picked up a paper, it featured articles such as “US Economist’s Plans for Honduran Free-Trade Zones,” or “President [Lobo] and Cabinet Tour Southeast Asia’s Export Zones,” or “Students on Strike, Protesting New Education Measures [read: Privatization]”.

And the Good News…

Remember our photos of the African oil palm fields in the Aguan Valley of Honduras?  And remember Jeff Conant’s article on the human rights violations and murders committed by the group which owned those plantations, and how this group was set to receive “clean development” funding from a number of European banks through the UNFCCC’s Clean Development Mechanism?

Well, today Bloomberg News is reporting that a number of European banks have backed away from deals to purchase carbon credits and provide funding for the Aguan palm oil biofuel projects.  This is due to pressure from a letter which was circulating (you might have signed it!) calling on the CDM Board and European banks set to provide funding to call off their support of the project due to the human rights violations.

Petitions and signatures do work!  Don’t forget to support Flavio’s community in Chiapas; information above.  And without further adieu, the Bloomberg article.

German Bank Won’t Lend to CO2 Project, CDM Watch Says

Cross-posted from Bloomberg News
By Matthew Carr
Monday April 18: DEG Deutsche Investitions- und Entwicklungsgesellschaft mbH, a German development bank, won’t pay out on a loan to the owner of an emissions-cutting project in Honduras, said CDM Watch, the Bonn-based environmental lobby.

The bank last week “declared that it will not pay out an already approved loan to Grupo Dinant, the value of which Dinant owner Miguel Facusse reportedly put at $20 million,” CDM Watch said today in an e-mailed statement. Cordula Rinsche, a spokeswoman for DEG in Cologne, Germany, didn’t immediately respond to a voice mail message and e-mail seeking comment.

Last week, the Aguan biogas project in Central America said it was evaluating Electricite de France SA’s termination of a contract to buy carbon credits. EDF terminated its involvement after CDM Watch alleged the facility’s owner committed human rights abuses. The project is owned by Exportadora del Atlantico, a unit of Grupo Dinant.

“Our lawyers are currently in the process of evaluating” a letter from EDF terminating the contract, Roger Pineda, corporate treasurer at Tegucigalpa, Honduras-based Dinant, said in an e-mailed response to questions from Bloomberg News.

CDM Watch said in a February report that Grupo Dinant may not hold legal claims to the land and may be linked to killings of members of the Unified Peasant Movement and the Peasant Movement of the Lower Aguan Valley. Twenty-three peasants were killed in the Bajo Aguan region from January last year to February 2011, CDM Watch said today, citing a report by international human rights groups led by FIAN, the FoodFirst Information and Action Network, a Heidelberg, Germany-based group that identifies abuse. Read the rest of this entry »

Outside of Tela, Honduras

Sometimes a story will just hit you in the face, and you don’t even have to go looking for it.

On the bus ride from Honduras’ seedy industrial hub of San Pedro Sula towards the coastal city of La Ceiba, the fields of monoculture sugar cane plantations (along with the banana, a classic symbol of Latin American agro-exploitation) abruptly turned into monoculture plantations of palm trees. These trees were probably 10-15 meters high, growing in straight rows, and with lanes of vehicle tracks running between the trees. With a canopy of palm fronds providing shade for a bare understory, the plantation had the feel of an eerie and dark forest of trunks.

A passing truck loaded high with oil palm fruits, and a station for expelling oil from them, confirmed our suspicion that this was a plantation of African oil palm- the agrofuel king crop, planted across the Global South.

And for the next 25 minutes, until we got into the town of Tela proper, the only visible features on the landscape was the black ribbon of road carrying the occasional truck filled with oil palm fruits, and the rows of green African palm plantations on either side of the highway. Occasionally a wandering cow.

CLICK ON ME: “Clearly Not a Forest”

Oil palm plantations as seen from moving bus.  A YouTube exclusive from SpringBreakTheSystem

Our next encounter with the African palm was down the coast in the Lower Aguan valley.

After taking the ferry out from La Ceiba and spending a solid week on the island of Utila, Read the rest of this entry »

Fantastic interview with award-winning author of the Shock Doctrine….her analysis is simple and powerful; easy to understand and to the point.  Highly suggested.  Don’t miss the other two short clips in the same episode, regarding Wisconsin and Tim Dechristopher’s trial in Utah.  LK

“Award-winning journalist Naomi Klein has been reporting on global warming and the climate justice movement for years. “My fear is that climate change is the biggest crisis of all,” Klein says. “If we don’t come up with a positive vision of how climate change can make our economies and our world more just, more livable, cleaner, fairer, then this crisis will be exploited to militarize our economies, to create fortress continents. And we’re really facing a choice. What we really need now is for the people fighting for economic justice and environmental justice to come together.”— DemocracyNow

Two weeks ago we spent some time at MayaPedal, a Guatemalan bicycle-machine cooperative in San Andres Itzapa, Guatemala (See previous photo essay!).  Staying with us at MayaPedal were three women from Missoula, Montana, who are organizers with Northern Rockies Rising Tide.  We interviewed Sarah- pictured above- about Rising Tide’s work on the Tar Sands in the US Northwest.

Rising Tide is an “international all-volunteer network of groups and individuals who promote local, community-based solutions to the climate crisis and take direct actions to confront the root causes of climate change.”  (Here’s the Rising Tide North America website).  From shutting down coal export ports in Australia to blocking coal trains in Appalachia, Rising Tide has used direct confrontation tactics to interrupt the process of fossil fuel extraction in light of government inaction.  However, direct actions are only a small part of Rising Tide’s overall work (which varies from location to location, and group to group).  From contributing Op-Eds to local news sources, educating the public about environmental issues, and providing examples of ecologically just alternatives to industrial capitalism, Rising Tide has been an important bridge between “radical” environmentalists and the mainstream.

Much of Northern Rockies Rising Tide’s work right now is focused around the mega-shipments of Tar Sands processing and mining equipment which is being trucked by ExxonMobil and other energy giants across the American Northwest.  The Tar Sands of Alberta, Canada are already cited as the largest industrial project in human history, and they are just beginning to be exploited- the processing equipment is still arriving.

–Here’s our interview on YouTube.  Enjoy!–

Also, check out:

–What are the Tar Sands? A great FAQ from the Rising Tide folks- with pictures!

Northern Rockies Rising Tide website– Keep updated with the latest on the mega-shipments.

By Lindsey Gillies

Late December, 2010- Chocolate or Vanilla? Looks like you don’t have to chose just one!  On our journey through southern Mexico with our friends from Toronto’s ChocoSol Traders, we explored some of the business’ coffee and cacao producers and discovered that both vanilla and chocolate lovers would be delighted by diversity on many of the organic farms. ChocoSol Traders actively works to be a business which is “ecologically simple and sound”. This concept is translated into the promotion and support of forest gardens.

In Chiapas, thought by some to be the genetic birthplace of the cacao plant, ChocoSol’s producers grow organic cacao in the jungle. However, the cacao is not alone; climbing up nearby trees, immature vanilla pods point back down towards the earth. Lush ornamental flowers provide brief spots of brilliant color to the dark green under-story. A host of other edible, medicinal, and useful plants coexist alongside with the cacao. This is a forest garden.

Vanilla beans being lined to dry Read the rest of this entry »

By Lindsey Gillies

Late December, 2010— In Oaxaca, we met up with our friends from Toronto’s ChocoSol Traders, and went on a short road trip through southern Mexico’s coffee and cacao producing regions.

Hazy with myths and drenched in ancient history, the Food of the Gods emerged from the legendary tropical jungles of Mesoamerica and radically re-altered history and the palate of the globe. Some theories suggest that Chiapas, Mexico is the genetic birthplace of cacao– offering some of the most diverse and ancient varieties of cacao. We had the privilege of exploring one of the ChocoSol producer’s organic cacao farm in the middle of this genetic hotspot.

From Oaxaca City and the central valleys up and over the Sierra Sur mountains, to the Pacific- where we turned south, through the Isthmus of Tehuantepec (filled with endless Spainish owned wind farms) into Chiapas. In Chiapas, we travelled inland, up through the capital city of Tuxtla Guttierez, over the mountains, and down towards the coastal plain of Tabasco state and Villahermosa. The following photo series was shot at a cacao ranch about 15 minutes from the Chiapan border with Tabasco, in Pitchucalco. Read the rest of this entry »

The ruins of some crop (pineapple?) scattered across an agricultural battlefield.  One of many such fields in the area of Montechristo, Honduras.  The sign reads:

“June 5th: Worldwide Day of the Environment.

Dole [Food Company]: We Recycle.  We Reuse.  We Reforest.  We Care for the Environment.”


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