Welcome to “Sachamama Talks,” our monthly gathering where we discuss environmental topics. My name is Johani Ponce, and I work in the Communications department at Sachamama. Today, we have a special guest, Iliana Lavastida. She is a journalist and the director of El Diario Las Américas, one of the oldest and most respected Spanish-language newspapers in the United States. Welcome, Iliana, and thank you for accepting my invitation.
Iliana Lavastida: Thank you very much, Johani. It’s a reunion between colleagues. I had the pleasure of working with you for some time here at the editorial office of El Diario Las Américas, so I appreciate your invitation.
Johani Ponce: That’s right, Iliana. Beautiful memories, and part of those memories came back to life during the meeting we had a few days ago with journalists, where we discussed the transition of media to the digital era. It got me thinking about everything you said, like the fact that we have no choice but to do it because otherwise, we won’t survive, and also about the jobs that have been eliminated. Remember the proofreader? There used to be a proofreader in newsrooms, but other positions have been added, Iliana.
I: Yes, that’s true.
J: Environmental reporters have been added because of the need to address the climate crisis we’re facing. Newspapers have also felt the need to open environmental sections, and that was the case with El Diario Las Américas, with its Ecoequilibrio section. I want to talk about that, Iliana. How did that idea come about? How long have you had it, and why did you decide to open this Ecoequilibrio section?
I: Well, you see, within our work, as you know, journalists must bear in mind that in addition to informing, we have a duty as watchdogs, practically acting as the societies in which we operate, to try to do work that has educational and instructional value for the populations. It’s not enough to assume the role of simply reproducing events and news. I believe that we must also take on the responsibility of educating and providing society with the necessary knowledge because we are not a civilization simply driven by instinct. We are a civilization because we have learned from the events that have occurred throughout human history and have recognized where we need to rectify our mistakes.
So, in the context of the environment, we began to analyze the news that was coming out, and we realized something: both in recognizing the existence of a crisis, a climate crisis, and in any other aspect we engage with, we need to distance ourselves and be responsible, as I mentioned earlier, by avoiding political and ideological stances. It doesn’t make sense for us to embrace environmentalism just because it’s a trendy topic, nor should we approach it from an ideological perspective and include in our discussions and exposés only those issues that align with our political stance. Let me give you specific examples so that both you and I, who are discussing this topic, as well as the viewers of this program, can understand what we mean.
In Venezuela, one of the naturally richest regions in Latin America (although I have never been there, I have many Venezuelan colleagues with whom I discuss this daily), there is an area known as the “mining arc.” I’m told that this region is abundant in mineral deposits such as gold, diamonds, and other precious metals used in the manufacturing of electronic components. The issue is not only the fact that foreign capital is allowed to exploit these resources in ways known only to the governing regime, but also the way in which this exploitation is carried out, causing land pollution and adversely affecting the indigenous populations residing there. So, if someone were to report on this situation unfolding in Venezuela.
Or if someone who becomes aware of this situation in Venezuela is aligned with the ideological system prevailing in that country, they may refrain from denouncing it. However, what is correct is for us, regardless of the location where the problem affecting the land, nature, and the environment occurs, to speak out against it. Whether it happens in Venezuela or in the United States, the country where we live and a democracy, it is important to denounce it. This is how the examples I mentioned earlier and the analysis I conducted led us to launch the campaign, and we decided to name our advocacy on this issue “Ecoequilibrio.” “Eco” because it relates to our environment and nature, reflecting our interest in ecology, and “equilibrio” because it represents balance in every sense. We will not adopt an ideological or political stance, but rather embrace the banner of responsibility as citizens of this world and inhabitants of this planet. It is the collective responsibility of all of us to ensure that the environment is not further deteriorated or harmed.
We will not wave a political flag; instead, we will raise the banner of responsibility that we have as citizens of this world and residents of this planet. We all need to be concerned about preventing further deterioration and damage to the environment.
J: Yes, I really like that stance, Iliana, because it affects all of us. Sometimes people don’t realize that the weather report is directly linked to climate change. It’s a clear reflection of what’s happening. We’ve had terrible rains here in Florida recently, and all the consequences that come with it. In the past, journalism used to view climate change as something distant, something that happened in Antarctica, like polar bears melting. But now, Iliana, at this moment, we’re experiencing the effects firsthand. We’re running out of gasoline, partly due to these rains. These unpredictable rains are a direct response to climate change, and it affects all of us. That’s why it’s important for those who are watching us to be aware of the small things. And I don’t know if you share this opinion, but I’ve noticed that this movement can be a bit snobby, if I may use that word.
J: For example, buying an electric car. But who has the money to buy an electric car?
J: We can do what I was saying, and I don’t know if you agree with me, make conscious choices about what we buy, recycle, and communicate with our elected officials. Often, people think of politics in a paternalistic way, especially in Latin America, and they think of the president. But no, sir, you have your representative, your councilor in the city where you live, what we call municipalities, and you can reach out to that person if you have an environmental problem. So, Iliana, in addition to what you told me, which makes me very happy that El Diario Las Américas has this section and that our program can contribute to it.
J: In your opinion, what is the social responsibility of the media in this big issue of climate change that, as we said, affects all of us in one way or another?
I: I believe that, as with almost everything socially significant, we have a great responsibility. As I mentioned earlier, it’s an important educational responsibility to raise awareness. We need to realize that the way we inform shapes opinions that can be for or against a purpose. Currently, there are people who take an environmental stance from a somewhat snobby position, and that’s exactly what happens because some see it as a trend. But it’s not a trend; we’re talking about something that, although it may seem dramatic, is a matter of life or death. You mentioned that a few years ago, in any newspaper office or anywhere else, people would talk about climate change as something distant, something that would happen in 2060 or at the end of the 21st century. But now, we’re seeing the effects in real time, not only in the environment but also in our health. Many years ago, around 12 or 15 years ago, I had the opportunity to interview a man whose family was involved in the printing business, which is closely related to what we do. The family had been in the printing industry since his great-grandfather’s time. This man, whom I interviewed, was promoting ecology back then, and people saw him as a romantic. He introduced the use of vegetable-based ink, recycling paper, and other environmentally responsible practices in the printing business. I decided to interview him because, at that time, people saw it as something strange and distant. It turns out that the reason this man got fully involved and dedicated his time and life to raising awareness about the need to care for the environment was because he contracted a serious illness. Doctors gave him only six months to live, and he was supposedly terminal. Following his wife’s suggestion, who is of Ecuadorian origin, he decided to retreat to a remote place in the mountains of Ecuador, away from civilization. There, he learned about the effects of the relationship between humans and nature in those mountains, where there was no electricity. He changed his way of eating, breathed fresh air, and as he puts it, he reconciled with the Earth. He told me that at that moment. From that reconciliation with the Earth, he cured himself and became an activist for environmental protection. So, it’s an example that shows it’s a reality that we need to think deeply about, not just as a trend or a flag with ideological nuances. It has even greater depth.
J: It’s a beautiful testimony you’ve given us, Iliana. Well, we are a bit romantic because we always have that idea that we were taught in university that journalists are agents of social change, and I still believe in it. But I want to know, what has been the response from readers in the Ecoequilibrio section? What has been the readers’ response?
I: Well, you know, those are topics that almost always appear among the most read when we review our statistics. People are interested in those issues, especially when they are approached in the way we are trying to do it. We present realities; we don’t fabricate anything to convince them of something that doesn’t exist. When the content you publish has the characteristic of not trying to manipulate people, there are always those who appreciate it, and it has been very, very well received.
J: It’s been a pleasure talking with you, Iliana, and well, to wrap it up, what would be your message to those people who still see the climate crisis as a political flag, as you mentioned, as a trend? What message do you have for those readers, for the people watching us on “Sachamama Talks” regarding this issue?
that balance which we must strive for and make efforts to ensure exists on the planet depends to a great extent
I: The issue of caring for nature, because in the end, no matter what we call it—ecology, environmental care, love for the green, whatever term we use—it is ultimately about the relationship we must have with what truly gives us origin, what enables our existence. It is about the balance in which we emerge together with other species of different natures. It is a matter of life or death; it is not a matter of whether I believe in it or not, or whether it is just a trendy campaign. It is a matter of life or death, and it is an issue that we should all be interested in, just as we are concerned about our health, which is one of the most precious things. Because the health of everyone largely depends on the balance we should aim for, strive for, and make efforts to achieve on this planet.
J: Yes, everything is interconnected, one thing goes hand in hand with the other. When you have good health and also help the environment, it’s like a chain of things, like a balanced circle in which we live. This is the only place we have to live, this is our planet and we have to care for it. Well, I’m very grateful to you, Iliana, very grateful because the newspaper supports our project called “Zero Footprint,” which can also be read here in El Diario Las Américas. It’s been a pleasure seeing you through this channel, and I hope to see you soon. There are so many ideas. A hug, and I truly always learn something when talking with you.
I: Thank you very much for the invitation. Goodbye.