WikiLeaks and geography

As the previous post about using GIS to control outbreaks of the plague in Libya shows, WikiLeaks offers a potentially rich source of details for geographers. I think in contrast to those who say there’s nothing new in the cables that they can be read for quite a lot of information, especially for those interested in more complete details.

Take these cables about Brazil’s Landless People’s Movement (MST) (here and here) for example. The USD Consulate first presents a summary and analysis of the activities and strength of the movement. However, they hint that increased activity is a response to a weakened movement.

Increasingly ignored by its former supporter, President Lula and his PT Worker’s Party, and undercut by both economic growth and the positive effects of Lula’s Bolsa Familia (BF) program, the MST finds itself on the defensive.

For seasoned South America watchers there may be little factual that’s new, but for the rest of us this is useful.

I wonder also if anyone is using these cables in teaching? I can easily imagine  a regional or political geography class having its students sift through these cables for ideas and insights, or for comparing American analysis with that of others.

The cables also cite geographers:

According to University of Sao Paulo geographer Professor Ariovaldo Umbelino de Oliveira, 30 to 40 percent of the big agriculturalists in states like Mato Grosso do Sul have no title to their holdings. Encouraged by the recent Raposa/Serra do Sol decision (Refs A and B), the Indians are now awaiting a Federal Government survey (“demarcation”) that promises to give back their ancestral territories. The Establishment: Just Say No!

Oliveira is quoted as estimating there are 80,000 supporters of the MST, and that they operate in areas where 30-40% of land holders do not possess clear title to their lands. Brazil watchers may be able to contextualise this estimate.

WikiLeaks can’t be searched directly by keyword (only by area and tag). However, a third party website provides that capability and links you to the cable on the WikiLeaks website. I’ve searched using “geograph__” “mapping” “GIS” etc.

Also, remember that only 4% of cables are publicly available to date. The trove does not include cables classified Top Secret but I’d suggest there’s a lot of geographical value within them. Be nice to compile examples of them being used by geographers.


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