Jorge Estevez grew up in the Dominican Republic and New York City hearing stories about his native Caribbean ancestors from his mother and grandmother. But when he told his teachers that he is Taino, an indigenous Caribbean, they said that was impossible. “According to Spanish accounts, we went extinct 30 years after [European] contact.”
…“These indigenous communities were written out of history,” says Jada Benn Torres, a genetic anthropologist at Vanderbilt University in Nashville who studies the Caribbean’s population history and has worked with native groups on several islands. “They are adamant about their continuous existence, that they’ve always been [on these islands],” she says. “So to see it reflected in the ancient DNA, it’s great.”
Twenty years ago, the villages of eastern Venezuela were home to a robust fishing industry, including the world’s fourth-largest tuna fleet. Industrial trawlers and hundreds of smaller boats worked the waters. In a good month, 10,000 tons of tuna were brought in to local ports, as well as boatloads of sardine, shark, crab, and octopus. Ships from Asia sold their catches to local plants, which froze and stored them by the hundreds of tons. When boats needed repairs, captains took them to the shipyard in the town of Güiria, where vessels from South America, Asia, and the U.S. could all be found in dry dock.
…But the fishing industry withered under Chávez, and then under Nicolás Maduro, who succeeded him as president in 2013. The warehouse in Güiria burned down and was never rebuilt; the ship repair facilities were shuttered after a few years in government hands. Venezuelan ships not seized by the government were quickly reflagged in Nicaragua, Panama, and Ecuador, and much of the government fleet now lies in port, awaiting repairs and scarce spare parts. From 554,000 tons of fish caught in 1997, the year before Chávez started his revolution, the catch in 2015 had fallen almost 60 percent, to 226,600 tons, according to the Caracas-based Foundation for Sustainable and Responsible Tuna Fisheries.
…In 2015 seven major tuna processing plants declared a state of emergency, citing a chronic shortage of the fish. Three thousand workers lost their jobs, according to Jorge Bastardo, union leader at the La Gaviota canning plant in Cumaná. Even when tuna was brought to shore, aluminum was in such short supply that a central cannery was converted into what the government dubbed “the pouchery.” It failed. The public never warmed to the idea of buying plastic pouches filled with watery tuna.
…I stood for a time with a uniformed officer at a tiny military base in town. He looked relaxed as he cradled his automatic rifle and watched a boatload of Venezuelans streaming up from the beach below his lookout point. “They come to shore and trade marijuana and cocaine for food,” he said. “Before it was for U.S. dollars, but now they trade for sacks of flour.” At night, Venezuelan bandits sneak ashore to steal nets, outboard motors, and fishing gear. “If they get caught here in Trinidad? They will get their heads chopped off,” he said matter-of-factly. “We don’t get involved. That’s just what happens.”
Because Americans don’t give a flying fig about other Americans.
R.I.P maker of delicious goodies, innovator, and inspiration. You did good during your time here. You did lots and lots of good.
“When we establish contact with a community, we maintain that contact,” Andrés said during a phone interview from San Juan. “When we go to a place, we take care of that place until we feel it has the right conditions to sustain itself. That’s what a relief organization should be.”
…Andrés hopes that World Central Kitchen is demonstrating what kind of results a nonprofit with a “private sector mentality” can achieve. He suspects that, in years to come, others will be examining “our successes and failures and how we did it.”
“How we were able to go from 100 meals to a million meals,” he added. The secret, Andrés noted, was the chef community, the many volunteers who picked up a knife and got to it. A chef’s disposition, Andrés said, is to know how to adapt to crisis.