Oct 12, 2022 - Podcasts

LA puts the spotlight on Latinos and racism

Chaos erupted at LA’s City Council meeting on Tuesday, after audio leaked of councilmember Nury Martinez making racist remarks in a conversation last year with other council members and a labor leader. In the recording, first reported by the LA Times, among the things Martinez said, which also included disparaging comments about Jewish and Armenian people, was an offensive racial reference when speaking about a white councilman's black child.

  • Plus, with a cholera outbreak, widespread hunger, and gang warfare, Haiti is a country in crisis.
  • And, NASA’s asteroid success.

Guests: Axios’ Russell Contreras and Miami Herald's Jacqueline Charles.

Credits: Axios Today is produced by Niala Boodhoo, Sara Kehaulani Goo, Alexandra Botti, Robin Linn, Fonda Mwangi, Ben O'Brien and Alex Sugiura. Music is composed by Evan Viola. You can reach us at [email protected]. You can text questions, comments and story ideas to Niala as a text or voice memo to 202-918-4893.

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NIALA: A desperate situation has been unfolding in Haiti as anti-government protests have continued into their eighth week in cities across the Caribbean nation, facing compounding crises of gang violence, inflation hunger, and cholera.

Millions are also now on the brink of starvation.The Miami Herald's Jacqueline Charles is back with us. She's been covering these compounding political, economic and humanitarian crises.

Welcome back to the show, Jacqueline.

JACQUELINE CHARLES: Thanks for having me.

NIALA: Can we start with the economic situation in Haiti? Inflation is higher than it's been in a decade, and it seems like many people are unable to afford basic necessities. What can you tell us about that economic situation?

JACQUELINE: Well, back in March, the World Food Program said that 45% of Haiti’s 11.5 million people were basically facing hunger. I mean, they were near starvation. It wasn't yet famine, but it was getting there. And then of course, inflation is at 31%. The gourde, which is their domestic currency, has been very unstable. And of course, we've got this war in Ukraine, which is affecting, you know, food prices around the world, as well as fuel.

And on average, food prices had gone up by 52%. And now when you add this current crisis on top of that, you have an economy that essentially is crumbling. And people even in the rural areas of the country are having a hard time feeding themselves because there just isn't any food available.

NIALA: And can you explain the role…you've done some reporting on this recently…the role gangs are playing in preventing food from getting to people?

JACQUELINE: Interim Prime Minister Ariel Henry announced in a national address that they were going to raise the price of fuel. Haiti basically had been subsidizing fuel for years, and they had been under pressure by the IMF and the US and others in the international community to remove these fuel subsidies. The argument being, look, you can't keep telling us that you don't have any money, and you're giving away $400 million a year in subsidies to people with generators. So the interim Prime Minister made this announcement to reduce this $400 million in subsidies, and the next day, fiery barricades started going up. While people were protesting in the streets, the gangs actually were on the water trying to block several boats that were bringing in, essentially, 188,000 barrels of fuel into port. The gang then moved to land. We are now in week five, and this all happened when the country was already experiencing a shortage and fuel.

What does this mean? This means that there's no diesel in order to run the water treatment facilities so that you can get clean, potable water. So there are prisons today that do not have any water. Schools cannot restart because there's just no water. Hospitals are literally closing their doors because they cannot function without any fuel. So what you have is a situation in Haiti where the lack of fuel is affecting everything.

NIALA: Jacqueline, there’s also a new outbreak of cholera in Haiti. What impact is that having on this already dire situation?

JACQUELINE: Today we have reports of cholera spreading in the country's already overcrowded prison system. You've got a situation where it was first reported in City Soleil, which is the country's largest slum, but people were already dying from it without being recognized that, hey, this was cholera.

So, you know the fear right now is, while Haiti knows how to treat cholera, because of the blocking of roads, because of the lack of fuel, humanitarian aid agencies and even the government or you know, doctors, just cannot get to some of these places.

So when you hear the government and the UN talk about the need for a humanitarian corridor, this is what they're talking about. They need armed forces, military forces on the ground in Haiti from the exterior to help the Haitian National Police in order to take back control of the country from this very powerful gang.

NIALA: Jacqueline Charles is the Caribbean correspondent for the Miami Herald. Thanks as always for joining.

JACQUELINE: Thanks for having me.

NIALA: In a moment, racism and colorism in the Latino community


A leaked conversation in LA puts the spotlight on Latinos and racism

NIALA: Welcome back to Axios Today! I’m Niala Boodhoo.

PROTESTORS: Resign now, resign now, resign now.

NIALA: That's part of the chaos at LA’s City Council meeting yesterday after audio leaked of councilmember Nury Martinez, making racist remarks in a conversation last year with other council members and a labor leader. In the recording, first reported by the LA Times, among the things Martinez said, which also included disparaging comments about Jewish and Armenian people, was an offensive racial reference when speaking about a white councilman's black child, that Councilman Mike Bonin addressed it yesterday.

MIKE BONIN: I take a lot of hits and hell, I know I practically invite a bunch of them, but my son, man that makes my soul bleed and it makes my temper burn.

NIALA: The whole incident is casting a light on race and colorism in the Latino community. Axios’ Race and Justice Reporter Russell Contreras joins us with the big picture. Russ, can you just give us a breakdown, first of all of what actually has happened with the LA City Council?

RUSSELL CONTRERAS: Yes, The LA Times reported that they attained a secret recording where Nury Martinez is speaking to other city counselors, to others who are Latino, and a Latino labor leader, which she's expressing concerns about the redistricting fight between Latinos and Black residents. In this recording, she makes a racial reference about a black child comparing them to an animal, and then goes into terms about criticizing folks who are with African American or say the African American side of the redistricting fight. She then proceeds to make fun of indigenous people, especially from the southern state of Oaxaca in Mexico. Just throwing all kinds of racial references and ending with saying they're ugly. This recording became public and it angered a lot of people in Los Angeles right when they're in the midst of a mayoral election where crime, the economy and homelessness are top of the issues. This is exposing some deep divided colorism and racism within the Latino community, and people are very angry about it.

NIALA: So when you say colorism, can you explain a little bit more about that?

RUSSELL: Yeah, among Mexican Americans or Latinos in general, there is colorism if you're indigenous and there's colorism, if you are of African origin. That is you come from the African diaspora. In Mexico, that colorism is largely centered around indigenous background. In other Latino communities like Cuban American and Puerto Rican, it's rolled around about how black you are or how black presenting you are. It's something that is deeply divided Latino communities across the United States, but it's rarely discussed. We know through various research, especially our recent Pew Research Center poll that showed half of Hispanics say Hispanic family members and friends consistently make racist or racially insensitive jokes.

NIALA: So how much is maybe having an open conversation about this, which is what this whole incident has sparked, maybe a path forward to changing some of these attitudes?

RUSSELL: Well first, before Latinos can confront this, they need to confront the relationship with African Americans in Los Angeles. This is a population that has faced discrimination side by side for generations. Interesting, Los Angeles was founded by Black Mexicanos, so it goes back a long ways. However, because the Latino community is growing in Los Angeles and the black community there is either stagnant or shrinking, naturally, you're going to have demands for more districts to be represented by Latinos. However, there is a deep concern among black leaders and black community members that people of color who are not black, will not represent the interest of the black community. So there's deep distrust, and that distrust is not gonna go away before they have conversations.

NIALA: Axios’ Race and Justice Reporter Russell Contreras. Thank you.

RUSSELL: Thanks for having me.

NASA’s asteroid success

NIALA: One final update for you. Remember the test NASA did two weeks ago to see if it could move an asteroid! Well, NASA Administration Bill Nelson said yesterday from Washington that its DART mission was a success in changing the asteroid’s orbit.

BILL NELSON: “And we showed the world that NASA is serious as a defender of this planet.”

NIALA: Well, that’s a relief.

I’m Niala Boodhoo - thanks for listening - stay safe and we’ll see you back here tomorrow morning.

NIALA: Rachel Maddow Presents: Ultra, its MSNBC newest chart topping original podcast. Maddow tells a gripping story all but lost to history of American extremism, connecting the dots between members of congress aiding abetting a plot to overthrow the government and the lengths they would go through to cover their tracks. Search Rachel Maddow Presents: Ultra to follow and listen to the first two episodes.

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