“Positive changes”: An interview with The Daylighter’s News Editor Mark A. Bonta


You cover a wide range of topics, but you have particular expertise in Latin America. Tell us a bit about that. 

I had the opportunity to live for four months in Peru with my parents in the mid-1980s, where we experienced first hand the ravages of the Maoist Sendero Luminoso terrorists.

I went to college and grad school to study geography, focusing particularly on understanding how the world functioned, why so much of it was dysfunctional, and what could be done to remedy the situation … it led me to be positive enough to join the Peace Corps, which sent me to Honduras to work in sustainable community development around nascent national parks.

The contradictions I encountered at the local level had little to do with the rhetoric and facile solutions generated from above — whether from universities, think-tanks, major media, etc.

I decided to go to grad school, devouring all things related to Honduras and in the process becoming one of the leading experts on the country as it collapsed under a series of progressively more brutal blows in the 1990s and 2000s.

But I never lost hope in Honduras. My adoptive country became the most violent on the planet … but Hondurans, nevertheless, manage to survive and even thrive.

What sorts of expertise do you bring to the table as an editor for The Daylighter’s coverage, particularly of Latin American and the Caribbean?

I am a fluent Spanish speaker and intimately familiar with the struggles of everyday Latin Americans, particularly in rural contexts. I have served as a country expert for Honduras in political-asylum claims and similar cases working their way through U.S. immigration courts.

I am an expert on foreign involvement in resource mining — of water (hydroelectric projects and water privatization), other minerals, forests, biodiversity — as well as in the form of street gangs and drug wars.

I’ve also spent enough time on the ground to see plenty of positive changes, in Honduras and elsewhere, and particularly the rise of mass mobilization and community development from below.

Can you tell us a little about the sorts of stories you’ll be focused on in your newsletter?

I am interested in detecting and highlighting societal transformations that are sparked by some combination of local interest and activism and outsider influence, and that “pop up” in what many foreigners think of as unlikely places.

For example: the banning of plastic bags is a trend and perhaps even a revolution, and it is being adopted much more quickly in certain communities across the rest of the hemisphere than in the U.S.

At the same time, I do not shy away from stories that highlight the often terrifying narratives of disintegration, abandonment, corruption, and so forth that need to be told, whether about feminicides, drug wars, human trafficking, environmental destruction, or whatever lurid topic is exposed.

What do you hope to achieve with The Daylighter? Who do you want to inspire? What do you want to change?

As I have long done with my students, I want people to examine their own motives. I find that people often use the news to validate their preconceptions.

I always teach that not only do we have all of the solutions to all of our problems, but they are already being put into place. Our problem is putting them into place in the same space and time.

As a geographer and a humanist, I believe that humans are part of the environment and that we have enormous power to adapt to the rest of the planet even as we transform it. As much as possible, I want my stories to help change people’s minds about what is possible.

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