Category Archives: United States

The thin line between irony and auguring.

4297357401_97b14e670fOnly a few years ago, not so long after the death of Augusto José Ramón Pinochet Ugarte, Chile opened its museum of memory and human rights. It’s an important part of a nation seeking justice for past wrongs, of how the truth is unearthed -often literally, reconciliation achieved between former adversaries.

The Museo de la Memoria is an imposing edifice, its geometric single-mindedness proportionate to the enormous task at hand. You can’t miss it. Due to clumsiness on my part -Google was not at hand- I did miss it. As, to my surprise, did most Chilenos and Chilenas I interrogated, I mean asked. A few shrugs here, a false lead there. So much for ‘memoria’. Visitors were a mix of well-to-do nationals and foreigners. In defense of absent masses, it was a weekday and, you know, workers be workin’.

The years, starting on that other September 11th, 1973, were dark indeed. But how tenacious a plant is justice. How much effort has been expended to find out what happened to whom and where. No matter what the regime did to its opponents; kidnap, torture, kill -buried in mass graves or thrown in the Pacific Ocean tied to steel beams, what goes down must come up again. Bodies were exhumed, (rather quickly miss-)identified and years later exhumed again to be properly investigated with all the modern means at the government’s disposal. That task, over 25 years after the reestablishment of democracy, is ongoing.

allende-chile-coup-1973-stadium-200x148Weirdly a lot of people supported the junta. The well-offs did anyway. Law and order. A bit of discipline for the greater good. 12.000 people corralled in a sports stadium cum improvised concentration camp. Summary executions, you name it. Who are these people, I wonder? Today, I mean. Is it the elderly man with the meticulously maintained half-moustache and fine watch -the kind you never really own but merely pass on the next generation- sitting in the metro opposite me? The Audi driver at the crossroads? The lady in the black skirt and expensive sunglasses?

What fickle beast is democracy. How easily disturbed. Ears pricked up to the snapped twig a couple of bosques away. On the run at the first whiff of a predator. In this case, the United States. The museum doesn’t mention their role in the overthrow of the left-leaning Allende government. But ask any Uruguyan, Argentinian, Chilean citizen -I did- and they will tell you: “The Americans fucked us over.”

Bygones I guess. Recent US administrations have been solely guided by the advance of democracy and the universal application of human rights. Ahem.

Belgium went through a similar phase in the seventies and eighties: Left-wing militants and criminal gangs widely believed tied to right-wing security-sector elements cooking up a stew of fear and instability. Every so many years new investigations are announced to fill in the details but efforts, on a par with the relatively mild Belgian brouhaha, languish. And yet, questions remain, and as long as the dead have living relatives, and relatives of relatives, the search goes on. Thus is the way of the human spirit. 2016-01-08 14.57.06As indeed evidenced by the indigenous-inspired murals found all over Uruguay, Argentina, and Chile (probably some of the most de-indigenized Latin-American nations, but the only ones I’ve visited so far… watch this space). The one pictured above sits right across the street from the Museo de la Memoria. Signifying the thin line between irony and auguring, I guess.


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Filed under extreem-rechts, Human Rights, International Affairs, Mensenrechten, Travel, United States, Verenigde Staten

Def Leppard.

In all your travels, have you ever encountered the good lord Jesus Christ?”

One stammers. Different ways to find goodness. Different names for it too. God. Allah. Jehovah.

That’s not… I won’t even pronounce the name. That pagan idol. False idol. Devil worshippers. Muslims.”

I thought he was quoting a line from my next book about a Dutch rabble-rouser’s descent into lunacy.

Equating that with the good lord Jesus Christ is like calling an arm a leg.”

The hitchhiker puts him or herself at the mercy of whatever comes out of mouths of hands holding the wheel. Other body parts analogies may apply.

See, there are eleven commandments.”

One forgets what was said next. Bits and pieces and: “I wouldn’t have picked you up. That’s the goodness of the lord working in me. My son here, can attest to that. Ain’t that right?”

The teen in the back of the double-cab pick up has fallen asleep after handing me a can of 7-up. I hate that shit but needed some sugar after a day on the road. My feet were busted, so listen to John the Baptist here a little more.

I love my children. All eleven of’em. And I want them to love me back, and respect me.”

How old are you, if I may ask?”

Fourty-three. Been married twenty-two years now. My parents have been married fifty-four years. I’m not a quitter. My wife’s broken my heart a few times and I hers, but I promised her I’d stay with her and never leave her, and I’ve stayed with her and never left her.”

Good, good.

This here’s Wolf Creek Pass,” he says. “Brings you right over the top.”

Thank you.

CD’s scattered over the dash. Best of Def Leppard. Some Neil Diamond.

Israel’s never been defeated. From the Babylonians to… you know. Everyone’s tried to kill them. Chosen by God. No one could. That’s gotta tell you something. Right? A couple of years back. 2012. Everyone’s talking about the Mayan calendar. They’re gone. Disappeared. Who cares about a calendar? Decadent, devil worshipping. Sacrificing their kids. Israel’s still around.”

Almost in Durango now. I hear there’s a great train ride up the mountain. Let’s see.

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Filed under Books, Colorado, Durango, Islam, Israel, Judaism, United States



Great stories

Busy intersection just outside sprawly Alamosa. Railroad track over there without apparent activity. The location -location, location, location is Monterrey Cafe. 1406 Main Street. Coffee house coffee house coffee house. Or diner. The griddle accommodates all. Wood-panel walls. Harley Davidson logo on two by one canvas. Grainy black and white of gold prospectors. One imagines.

Wish I had the old version of Fruit Ninja.” The next booth seats middle-aged lady, going on elderly. Ruddy cheeks, glasses, hair short and dyed orangey underneath yellow baseball cap. Dirty. Unidentified stain near the neck on baby-blue T-shirt. Guardian of Fruit Ninja teen and -different father Hispanic-looking kid- being taught how to say Ma’am to, let’s go with Flo, matron and part-time existentialist. “How’s everything?”

I don’t get a chance to elaborate. A profundity in and by itself.

They do eat scraps, thank gosh,” says middle-aged lady before going outside to check on two K9’s in the car. One big, one small. Destination unknown. Provenance, gosh only knows. Rumbling, stumbling humanity. Outside, man on chopper doozes past. There’s a new verb for you. Liberty as absolute. You go your way, I’ll go mine. Additional breakfast-goers now. Late-thirties couple. She’s ecstatic. And Russian-speaking? I’m seated too far away to tell.

Some more coffee?”

I’m good, thanks. Don’t wanna get all jittery.”

Fruit Ninja teen has a terrible lisp, but “Everything is good,” he says. What more could you possibly want.

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Filed under Alamosa, Colorado, Travel, United States

Afghanistan – A moment of reflection.

Afghanistan – A moment of reflection.

walkom3As the United States deposits tens of thousands more boots on Afghan soil, in addition to the roughly 65.000 soldiers already there, launching an Iraq-like ‘surge’ in a bid to recapture what’s been euphemistically dubbed ‘momentum’, a brief instant of reflection might be in order. On reflection, offers, among other things, the following definition: Something, such as light, radiant heat, sound, or an image, that is reflected. Reflection thusly interpreted purports to mean the image, light, or lack thereof returned to the brain of he or she whose ray-like mental beams have chosen to dwell on any given topic of interest. Applied to Afghanistan, and the conflict currently raging there between Western troops and the local peasantry, a keen observer’s laser-guided focus mostly yields but a dim glow in return, scarcely enough on a nightly errand of sanitary import to avoid tripping over one’s nonchalantly disposed off slippers. If applying copious lengths of unsightly fluorescent tape is the way forward, so be it. Safety first!

Safety first.

Which is, coincidentally, exactly why we, the amalgamated, amorphous and often nebulously circumscribed West, providing the bulk of NATO’s personnel soldiering under the banner of ideals featured prominently in Western constitutions, bankrolled by Western tax payers, are in Afghanistan to begin with. Safety. Our safety.

Jokes aside, obviously it isn’t good to leave any turf, in this case about 650.000 square kilometers of the stuff, devoid of law, order, and full of bearded extremists. That’s like leaving Ferris Bueller in charge of Jay Leno’s rare car collection. No good can come of it. Afghans need, and deserve stability, good government, like those of the 42 nations currently embroiled in providing them with just that such as Luxembourg, Denmark, and Azerbaijan. History amply demonstrates the heterogeneous, mercurial, and often fierce mountain folk’s inability to abide the kind of rule-based society Westerners enjoy, or even show a modicum of effort or talent in maintaining its territorial integrity against foreign armies, like that of Alexander the Great (330 BC), the Arab conquest (642–1187), Genghis Khan (1220), Timur Lank (1383), the British (First Anglo-Afghan War, 1838–1842), the British (Second Anglo-Afghan War, 1878–1880), the Soviets (1979-1989), and finally, the American-led international coalition forces (2001-?), the first wholly altruistic invasion in the fractious nation’s history.

The glass is a quarter-full, but used to be empty.

Human rights defenders are rightly aglow listing the many achievements wrought since 2001. Especially in the sphere of education and healthcare, statistics such as a 350% increase in school enrollment rates, a 21% drop in infant mortality, or 700 new health clinics built by USAID alone since the Taliban ouster, are staggering. And yet, after almost a decade of enlightened rule, seven million children still do not attend school and, according to UNICEF, 30% of primary school age kids are working, often as the sole source of income for their family. According to the CIA fact book, in 2009 Afghanistan still had the third-highest infant mortality in the world, with 151.59 deaths of infants under one year old per 1,000 live births in the same year actually worse than in 2003 (142.48). For comparison, in Sweden that number is 2.75. The figures are nonetheless a spectacular success story for the West’s now 9-year commitment in the desolate Silk Road nation. If you think any less so, allied sources are quick to point out baddies causing insecurity, a resurging Taliban rendering the kind of state-building and nation-building Afghans need, nigh impossible. Safety first. School-burning, women-hating zealots are to blame for setbacks, not chronic under-funding of civilian reconstruction, health care, and education. After all, spending roughly 2000 USD per day per NATO soldier on the ground, not a whole lot remains for social engineering.

Bringing Afghanistan into the modern world.

imagesThe West reaches a helping hand. Obscurantist, medieval Taliban warriors are holding back the sands of time. They must be helped to respect life, and embrace the future. Depending on the source, insurgent terrorists have been responsible in the past 9 years for 3419 to 4969 civilian deaths. Coalition forces meanwhile have over the same period been able to avert between 5317 and 8109 civilians from dying atrociously at the hands of terrorists. Their demise was merely tragic, accidental, very unfortunate, or more often merely Taliban propaganda badmouthing NATO’s forces of peace and love, who will always launch a full-scale investigation into reports that have yet to be independently verified. Welcome to the information-driven 21st century.

But seriously.

The Taliban regime that held sway between 1997 and 2001 ushered in a backward brand of Islam, oppression for women, blowing up ancient Buddha statues and, after decades of civil war and Mad Max-style apocalyptic breakdown, about enough stability for Unocal, of El Segundo, California, to negotiate building a gas pipe-line from Turkmenistan to Pakistan. In 1998, Dick Cheney, then chief executive of Halliburton, then the world’s biggest oil services company, remarked: “I cannot think of a time when we have had a region emerge as suddenly to become as strategically significant as the Caspian.”

On 12 February of the same year John Maresca, vice president for international relations of the Unocal Corporation, in front of the U.S. Interests In The Central Asian Republics hearing before the Sub Committee on Asia and the Pacific of the Committee on International Relations House of Representatives stated:

The Caspian region contains tremendous untapped hydrocarbon reserves. Just to give an idea of the scale, proven natural gas reserves equal more than 236 trillion cubic feet. The region’s total oil reserves may well reach more than 60 billion barrels of oil. Some estimates are as high as 200 billion barrels. In 1995, the region was producing only 870,000 barrels per day. By 2010, western companies could increase production to about 4.5 million barrels a day, an increase of more than 500 percent in only 15 years. If this occurs, the region would represent about 5 percent of the world’s total oil production.”

Make my day.

While in Hamburg a tight-knit group of Saudis whiled away the days downloading porn from the internet and learning to fly commercial airliners, Taliban negotiators held competing negotiations with Bridas, an Argentinian company and subsequently failed to strike a deal with Unocal. With the luxury of hindsight, the Afghans might have reflected differently.

Soon, no amount of fluorescent tape could keep them from grasping the modern way of going about things. But you know, I really shouldn’t have written all that. We really are spending all those precious billions for all the right reasons. Afghans really love their schools and hospitals, even if the latter are built to make us feel better, and the former to keep us dumb.

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Filed under Afghanistan, International Affairs, United Nations, United States