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April 21 & 24: from Bhutan - China - Chiapas, Mexico - New York

An avalanche races down the mountains of Bhutan (photo/Anjali Nayar)

Bhutan fights silent tsunamis, one rock at a time.

In China, the whims of the late Mao Zedong proved fatal for a lot of people. So why are they being revived?

From Mexico, the story of a mine, and a mysterious murder that reaches all the way to Canada.

And, lessons learned from chicken guts, by an author who spent an entire year working jobs most Americans won't take.

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Contributor Anjali Nayar stands at base camp for hundreds of working moving rocks in Bhutan, trying to stop flooding (photo/Anjali Nayar)

The silent tsunamis of Bhutan

To punish his deceit, the Gods lumbered the Greek King Sisyphus with the pointless task of rolling a rock uphill for all eternity. Whenever he got near the top, they'd make it roll to the bottom, so he'd have to start all over again.

Which brings us to the Himalayas of Bhutan.

For the past 30 years, a whole lot of mountain glaciers have been melting, forming new lakes. And they have the potential to burst their banks and flood villages down below with what one government Minister calls "silent tsunamis."

So work crew have to drain them, rolling the rocks away, by hand. A Sisyphean labor of sorts with deadly consequences if they fail. Dispatches contributor Anjali Nayar recently joined them at the start of a day of it.

Listen to Anjali's documentary

Anjali spent three weeks gathering that story in northern Bhutan and also wrote a magazine piece for the British journal Nature. And it won the award for Best Feature on Climate Change in the Himalayas, from the Integrated Centre for Mountain Research in Katmandu, Nepal.

 

Maostalgia

The architect of China's Cultural Revolution has been dead for 35 years, but his contentious ideas have come back to life in one part of China.

Once again people are living the way Mao Zedong once preached.

Without a system of currency. Without private property.

They even have the blessing of the Chinese government, which steps lightly around mention of Mao's economic plan, known as "the Great Leap Forward," which resulted in the biggest famine in human history.

But the whole thing has a strange appeal for Chinese outsiders, who view these communities as tourist attractions.

Photographer Tomas Van Houtryve  calls it "red tourism," and went to see it for a photo exhibit he calls "Mao Incorporated."

Rick spoke to him in Paris.

Listen to Rick's interview with Tomas

 

Jose Luis Abarca, son of mining activist Mariano Abarca, holds up a newspaper article about his father

A mine and a murder in Mexico

When he was alive, environmental activist Mariano Abarca was a problem for a Canadian mining company with an interest in Mexico.

But now that he's turned up dead with three bullets in him, he's causing even bigger problems.

Abarca was a critic of the Payback mine in the southern state of Chiapas, rich in a mineral known as barite.

It's an open-pit mine, run by Blackfire Exploration, a joint Canadian-Mexican operation. And before he died, Mariano Abarca led a campaign accusing Blackfire's mine of fouling the environment around it.

A number of people have since been arrested in connection with his murder. But as we heard from Dominique Jarry-Shore, questions remain in Canada, and in the community where he lived.

Listen to Dominique's documentary

Dispatches requested an interview with Blackfire through its office in Calgary, but the company declined to come on, or respond to our written questions.

The RCMP meanwhile, confirms it's received the request to investigate the company under the Corruption of Foreign Officials Act. It says it's looking into "the merits of the complaint," to determine if it falls under the mandate of its International Anti-Corruption Unit.

 

Lettuce pickers in Yuma, Arizona. (photo/Gabriel Thompson)

Working in the shadows

In the past year, the immigrant workforce has become a growing flashpoint in some American states.

They are, as author Gabriel Thompson says, "a hidden workforce." Foreigners doing the jobs most Americans won't.

But Thompson will do them. And he did. Picking lettuce in Arizona. Sorting chicken parts in Alabama. Delivering takeout on a bike in New York City.

For an entire year, he did the kind of work where painkillers are a pre-requisite. And he's hard-pressed to say what was worse: the pay, the working conditions, or just the flat-out disrespect.

It's all in his recent book, Working In The Shadows, and now we're revisiting that interview, which first aired in our previous season.

Listen to Rick's interview with Gabriel

Listen to Gabriel read an excerpt from Working in the Shadows

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