Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Hurricane Mitch: Part III

Returning to the zone with relief workers

I went back to Chinandega with the next group of relief workers leaving Managua. It was a mixed group from the Mexican, Costa Rican and Nicaraguan Red Cross organisations. By this time international aid was coming to Nicaragua from many countries in forms of personnel, and monetary and material aid.

The road was in slightly better condition this time and people were busy building larger bridges and repairing the worst damaged sections of pavement. There were still large line ups and again we passed them by with people calling out in solidarity. This time I noticed dead animals off to the side and in some places, a horrible smell of decay.

After unloading we spent the night sleeping on tables in the garage of the Chinandega Red Cross. The next day we travelled out to bring aid to the communities located along the volcano that had been isolated by the mudslides. We drove through canyons, at times 10 meters deep, which had not existed weeks beforehand. They had been carved out by the force of water crashing down the mountain. The sun beat down on us as we pushed our vehicles when they became trapped in the loose dirt. In places we could see black oily smoke rising into the sky. The burning teams were out searching for bodies.

We came across a group of people that had left their village and come down in search of food. We left them supplies and took information about the numbers left alive and dead. We then continued farther up the volcano to the next community. A distribution centre was set up at one house and food, water, and clothes were delivered by a number of groups and organisations. People were on hand to give medical aid and immunizations were distributed.

We walked down the road that once had lead to a nearby village. I noticed how beautiful the countryside was; its greenness stretching above me and far down below. The road passed through trees and then they stopped. There were no trees. There was no road. There was nothing but mud as far as I could see. There was one house, set into the trees - untouched. A few meters over, nothing was left. Walking out on the mud I could find a shoe or a roofing tile if I looked closely, but other than that, there was no sign that people had been living there.

One side of the volcano had crashed down destroying everything in its path. The mud went on for kilometres. People who saw it happen said it had come like a wave and crashed over top of the houses.

When I returned to Managua, foreign interest in Nicaragua had dropped off. The news was no longer spectacular. Now it was simply hundreds of thousands of people trying to rebuild in the face of disease and hunger. There was not much left for me to do in the office.

Leaving the Red Cross

I decided to walk home after my last day at the Red Cross office. It was a beautiful afternoon and I was feeling good about myself and the work I had done. Suddenly a pain burst through my body and I found myself on my knees unable to breathe. Someone had whipped a corn cob at me from a passing bus and its end had smashed into my ribs. For the following month it was difficult for me to take a deep breath. Someone saw a rich gringo walking through the wrong part of the city and released their anger.

What it did was remind me what I had forgotten in the face of the disaster and popular mobilisation to help those in need: Nicaragua is a poor country where many people lack even the most basic necessities and with this poverty comes the problems and social resentment that it creates. Life is difficult in Nicaragua, and for many in the wake of the hurricane, it will be much harder.

Bluefields, December, 1998

Hurricane Mitch: Part II

In the zone with reporters

It is strange to travel with reporters. They are there to see and get the best story, not to give immediate help. What they do is vitally important, but it gave me an odd feeling in the face of such need for immediate help.

We are off to look and point and stare and marvel at Nature, naked in its fury. We are on the tour to see human misery, the eco-tour of desolation. We are going to visit the land of the dead.

- Personal Diary, November 6, 1998

All the bridges along the route had been washed out and the military had thrown up provisional bridges to allow passage. There were line ups for kilometres of trucks and cars, carrying aid and merchandise, trying to get in and to get out. One truck driver, at the front of the first line, had been waiting since seven the morning before. Beside the mass of vehicles, the destruction around the riverbeds was humbling. Roads dropped off into nothing. If parts of bridges did exist, they were jammed full of wrecked trees. Houses that had once lined the rivers were gone or half buried in mud. People were digging to try to find the remains of their families.

We went to a school that had been converted into a shelter and to a hospital filled with people injured by the mudslides and flooding. We talked to people who had survived but now had nothing – children who had watched their families swept away. In the hospital, people sat by the badly wounded and waved cloths over them to keep the flies away. What struck me was the calmness with which they recounted their stories. One young woman waiting for the television crews to leave a hospital room so she could visit her sister, told what had just happened and in the same tone told about how her father was killed in Honduras during the contra war. This is not the first tragedy Nicaraguans have faced.

Hurricane Mitch: Part I

I just came across a document I wrote about my experiences during hurricane Mitch in 1998. As hurricanes roll through the carribean, I thought I would post it here.

What follows is an account of my experiences in Nicaragua during and after Hurricane Mitch, which devastated parts of Central America in October 1998. I found this difficult to write. I can not find the words that will capture what I saw and experienced. The words I have seem clichéd and flat; empty descriptions of the disaster that swept through Nicaragua.

I distrust summaries, any kind of gliding through time, any too great a claim that one is in control of what one recounts; I think someone who claims to understand but is obviously calm, someone who claims to write with emotion recollected in tranquillity is a fool and a liar. To understand is to tremble. To recollect is to re-enter and be riven.

- Harold Brodkey, ‘Manipulations

The oncoming storm

I was about to leave the capital, Managua, for the Atlantic Coast of Nicaragua when I was asked to wait. There was a tropical storm in the region and it seemed better to stay until it passed. The storm turned into Hurricane Mitch, swept north and then back south through Honduras and north-western Nicaragua.

I was frustrated and trapped. I couldn’t start working and it was raining – all day, every day. Then news reports started coming in: 7 dead, 100 dead, people trapped on their roofs waiting for rescue. My frustration changed. Its basis was still that I was doing nothing, but now I knew that terrible things were happening while I was sitting around.

Managua has become an island. Hurricane Mitch has flooded the rest of the pacific Coast. People are dying, people are hungry, people are cold and I am just sitting here.

- Personal Diary, October 31, 1998

The Nicaraguan Red Cross put out a desperate call for donations. I went to see if there was any way that I could help. I spent a day sorting clothes and the next day I returned to see if I could join a brigade to go help in an affected zone. Instead I was asked to work in the office of Public Relations. People were calling that only spoke English and there was no one to talk to them.

In the office of the Nicaraguan Red Cross

From doing nothing I was thrown into a whirlwind of activity. Reporters were coming in to find out what was going on outside of Managua. People were coming in to find out what had happened to their families. They were desperate but there were no answers for them. The phones were continually ringing. Suddenly I was giving information to reporters and organisations calling from around the world. I was giving interviews for papers, radio and television. I was in the office for ten to twelve hours a day and then would have an interview with BBC News at one in the morning, or an early appointment for a live shot with Good Morning America. When I was not on the phone, I was translating documents or listening to the most recent information that had come in.

Each day the news was more horrific. There were mud slides with thousands missing and most presumed to be dead. People were trapped in the mud alive. There were rivers filled with floating livestock. Large areas were inaccessible and out of communication. Some places could not even be reached by helicopter for fear of more mudslides. There were teams of relief workers sent out with midwives to help pregnant women. Reports came in from shelters that were overcrowded – 25 thousand people were staying in 60 shelters in the region of Chinandega. Many of these shelters were simply plastic tarps put up to keep people dry. There were shortages of food and medicine and there was a fear that diseases would be spread in the shelters which, despite efforts of those working there, had terrible hygienic and sanitary conditions.

Relief workers came back with their own stories. There were shortages for them too and they were working without masks or gloves. They were wading to rescue people, through mud which came up to their waists. They had to decide from afar if a person was dead or alive by the amount of the body that was buried.

Animals were eating the decaying bodies and people were eating the animals. There was fear that diseases would turn epidemic. There were people surrounded by water but with none of it safe to drink. Adding to people’s uncertainties, the volcanic chain appeared to be showing signs of increased activity. Land mines, 70 thousand of them, had moved with the rains and flooding and now no one knew where they were.

I was describing events and situations of which I had only heard, or perhaps glimpsed on television. I had horrific images in my mind, but nothing real with which to connect them. I felt disconnected in the air conditioned office where they brought us food as we worked.

We were told that the road to Chinandega (the zone where the mudslides had been) was about to open. The Nicaraguan Red Cross was going to send a brigade of relief workers, a truckload of aid and a mini-van of reporters. I was invited to go with the reporters.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

The road to Waslala

Here is a news report about the state of the roads to Waslala after three weeks of rain, and two close passing hurricanes.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Photos of Waslala

I came across this on You Tube. It is a slide show of photographs of Waslala.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Terrorizing critical sociology in Germany

German police used anti "terror" laws to arrest an urban sociologist from the Department for Sociology, Humboldt University Berlin. He was arrested because he writes on gentrification, a term used by a militant group that set fire to military vehicles, and he has met several suspected members during public meetings in which urban policy is discussed and criticized. Although the warrant was finally rejected by the courts, the anti terrorist law is still in effect and the threat to critical intellectuals has been made clear. Read more at ozean blogs.

This is a world-wide problem. In the past I have written about the use of anti-terrorist laws and surveillence in England and El Salvador. Up to what point are people willing to give up their civil liberities in the name of security?

Beware of using dangerous terms like "gentrification"

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Revolutionary Comics

For all the fans of revolutionary comics, take the time to visit Monuments are for Pigeons and read the issues of Revolutionary Misfits that Victor Serge has created. You will find funny, ironic and biting dialog that satirizes different currents of leftist thought through the mouths of your favorite superheroes while at the same time it dealing with current world issues (like Iraq in the above sample).

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Free Burma

Free Burma!

This comes a little late, but then I did not have Internet access on the fourth. While I do not think that putting an image on a blog or even a million blogs will bring changes to Burm / Myanmar, it may help raise and maintain interest in the topic around the world. I am afraid that the country will fade into the background as the news networks find new and more interesting topics to raise their ratings and earnings (like perhaps the bombing of Iran which some groups seem to be rather intent on pushing through).

In any case, you can reach the site in charge of the Free Burma campaign here.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Monks battered and killed in Myanmar / Burma

I am reposting this from Ko Htike's blog.

Sunday, 30 September 2007

We just got phone call with our sister living in Yangon about a few hours ago.

We saw on BBC world, saying that 200 monks were arrested. The true picture is far worse!!!!!!!!!

For one instance, the monastery at an obscure neighborhood of Yangon, called Ngwe Kyar Yan (on Wei-za-yan-tar Road, Yangon) had been raided early this morning.

A troop of lone-tein (riot police comprised of paid thugs) protected by the military trucks, raided the monastery with 200 studying monks. They systematically ordered all the monks to line up and banged and crushed each one's head against the brick wall of the monastery. One by one, the peaceful, non resisting monks, fell to the ground, screaming in pain. Then, they tore off the red robes and threw them all in the military trucks (like rice bags) and took the bodies away.

The head monk of the monastery, was tied up in the middle of the monastery, tortured , bludgeoned, and later died the same day, today. Tens of thousands of people gathered outside the monastery, warded off by troops with bayoneted rifles, unable to help their helpless monks being slaughtered inside the monastery. Their every try to forge ahead was met with the bayonets.

When all is done, only 10 out of 200 remained alive, hiding in the monastery. Blood stained everywhere on the walls and floors of the monastery.

Please tell your audience of the full extent of the fate of the monks please please !!!!!!!!!!!!

'Arrested' is not enough expression. They have been bludgeoned to death !!!!!!

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Bloggers in Myanmar / Burma

The violence continues in Myanmar / Burma, you can read accounts from Dawn, an office worker who writes in English was she sees and hears happening on her blog. You can also see some photographs and some English text about the struggle at the ko-ktike blogspot. You can also look at the Blog of Nyein Chan Yar, or a translation of a post by Mizzima. Ko Hla writes comments with links to photos in a comment box. Yan Aung does not write in English, but you can find photos and videos on his blog.

Bombs for Iran and selective memories

The Guardian came out with an article today quoting John Bolton, former US ambassador to the United Nations, and presently a fellow at the conservative thinktank, the American Enterprise Institute. In the article he gives his opinion that the US and the UK should bomb Iran.

"Because life is about choices, I think we have to consider the use of military force. I think we have to look at a limited strike against their nuclear facilities."

He added that any strike should be followed by an attempt to remove the "source of the problem", Mr Ahmadinejad.

"If we were to strike Iran it should be accompanied by an effort at regime change ... The US once had the capability to engineer the clandestine overthrow of governments. I wish we could get it back."

That he should says this does not come as much of a surprise. It is similar to the calls to destroy the Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq. What does continue to amaze me is how many people of the right-wing general population angrily deny that the US has been actively involved in engineering “the clandestine overthrow of governments” as Mr. Bolton so boldly affirms. In a recent debate on the blog Renegade Eye we were told that these are the “paranoid ravings” of the left and reminded that there is an “Uncle Sam boogeyman hiding under every commie's bed.”

It is hard to tell which is worse: the thinking Right that want to bomb and kill because it suits their purposes and can not subversively engineer the clandestine overthrow of governments, or the reactionary right supports the bombing and killing because the enemy is “bad” (whomever the enemy happens to be today) and refuses to acknowledge that there has ever been any engineering. There is a popular saying on the radio these days, “I cover one eye. I cover the other. Nothing to see.”

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Monks on the march in Myanmar

Tens of thousands of Buddist monks are protesting in Rangoon, Myanmar/Burma. Crowds of over a hundred thousand have turned out in the streets. Some 50 thousand soldiers have been called out but there is no reported violence, yet. See the Gardian's report on it.

UPDATE 28/09/07

Reports are that the army has fired against protesters, closed temples, killed some 200 people including a Japonese journalist.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Aid for victims of Hurricane Felix: The good and the ugly

I just talked to a member of the government of the Autonomous Region of the North Atlantic of Nicaragua. This person told me that there are problems with the aid being sent to the region. There has been an outpouring of good will and solidarity, and even in Waslala, one of the poorest municipalities of Nicaragua, we have gathered several truckloads of donations. However, I was told that each organization is distributing its aid independently to the communities that they work with. As a result, some communities have received no aid at all and are facing serious problems. Hopefully the Atlantic Coast will organize and this will get worked out soon. It reminds me once again how much of a “natural” disaster is really “human” disaster.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Stealing the Amazon?

Through e-mail, I received the following image of an American geography text-book. I was shocked and disturbed. I knew that the idea of Internationalizing the Amazons existed (for a Brazilian rebuttle to this idea by Cristóvão Buarque, then the Workers Party governor of the Federal District of Brasilia and currently Brazil’s minister of education, read this). However, it is something else to see a text book that says that:

"Since the middle 80's the most important rain forest of the world was passed to the responsability of the United States and the United Nations" and that the reserve was "surrounded by irresponsable, cruel and authoritary countries. It was part of eight different and strange countries, which are in the majority of cases, kingdoms of violence, drug trade, illiteracy and a unintelligent and primitive people."

However, I decided to search for it in Internet and found that the US State Department had a page on the supposed Text and pointed out that it is a forgery. Here is a little of what it says:

Since 2000, a forgery has circulated falsely claiming that the United States and the United Nations have assumed control of the Amazon rainforest in order to safeguard its treasures for all mankind.

The forgery, pictured below, purports to be page 76 of a U.S. sixth grade textbook titled An Introduction to Geography by David Norman. There is no indication that such a book exists. The U.S. Library of Congress, with more than 29 million books and other printed materials, has no record of it. The Online Computer Learning Center's WorldCat database, the world's largest database of bibliographic information with more than 47 million books, has no record of the book. Nor can such a book be found in Internet searches on amazon.com or Google.

In addition, the text uses an inappropriate tone and contains many other grammatical and word usage errors.

Text of Forgery

An Introduction to Geography South America

in the northern section of South America, forming a land of more than 3.000 square miles.


Since the middle 80's the most important rain forest of the world was passed to the responsability of the United States and the United Nations. It is named as FINRAF (Former International Reserve of the Amazon Forest) and its foundation was due to the fact that the Amazon is located in South America, one of the poorest regions on earth and surrounded by irresponsable, cruel and authoritary countries. It was part of eight different and strange countries, which are in the majority of cases, kingdoms of violence, drug trade, illiteracy and a unintelligent and primitive people.

The creation of FINRAF were supported by all nations of G-23 and was really a special mission of our country and a gift of all the world, since the possession of these valuable lands to such primitive countries and people should condemn the lungs of the world to disappearance and full destroying in few years.

We can consider that this area has the most biodiversity in the planet, with a vast number of species of all types of animals and vegetals. The value of this area is unable to calcule, but the planet can be cert that The United States won't let these Latin American countries explorate and destroy this real ownership of all humanity.

FINRAF is like an international park, with very severe rules of exploration.

[Map Caption] Map 3.5-5.1 -- We can see the location of the International Reserve. It took area of eight South America's countries: Brazil, Bolivia, Peru, Colombia, Venezuela, Guyana, Suriname, and F. Guyana. Some of the poorest and miserable countries of the world.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Walking through the countryside after Hurricane Felix

Yesterday we hiked out to the farm (without a camera). Quite a few trees have fallen over, and a cornfield we had planted was destroyed. It makes me wonder just how much damage is done by hurricanes that is never reported and never taken into account.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Photos of Hurricane Felix

A few photographs taken by a friend in the aftected area on the Atlantic Coast.

Friday, September 07, 2007

After Hurricane Felix

The sun is shining again. Electricity has returned to Waslala (although not Internet, the server has been taken away for repairs).

In Waslala, some corn fields were damaged and a few houses. What it did do was make us aware of where we are vulnerable should we be hit a little harder. The new ‘old age home’ gets flooded out by a nearby stream, as do dwellings built in old river beds, many houses are built on hills composed of loose dirt that will wash away and take houses down with them and bury others. We really need a process of analysis, training and planning to reduce future tragedies.

The latest news is that there are nearly a hundred dead on the Atlantic Coast. Crop damage, flooding and thousands of houses damaged or destroyed. Bilwi, Sandy Bay and Sasha are among the hardest hit. Palm trees are flung across the ground like match sticks. The process of rehabilitation y rebuilding is starting as is the process of mouring.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Hurricane Felix hits Waslala

At four in the morning, Hurricane Felix smashed into the Atlantic Coast of Nicaragua. With heavy rains and winds over two hundred and sixty kilometers and hour, it tore down and damaged thousands of houses, damaged electrical lines and left four people dead.

In Waslala, the rains started at eight in the morning and slowly gather force throughout the day and into the night. By the time it reached us, the winds had mostly died down. We lost electricity at about midday. One precarious dwelling on our street was damaged and one side of our neighbour’s latrine fell over.

The streets were eerily empty. Most of public transport did not leave, school was cancelled, and most people stayed at home to stay out of the cold rains and listen to the radio.

The rain still continues and the rivers are swollen. There will be flooding down river for a few days and there is still the possibility of mudslides.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Big Brother is watching you

I finished reading Orwell's 1984. It is a disturbing books that stays with you, but not as disturbing as I had feared it would be. Orwell is a good writer. What was interesting was perhaps not so much what the books says, but how it eerily shadows the world in which you live. Call it paranioa, but as I read the book, the Guardian informed us of new police spy drones that can silently watch and record protesters and potential criminals. In the near future they hope to be able to spray tracing liquids onto individuals for later pick ups.

Where do we draw the line between the loss of privacy to protect us against nefarious antisocial elements, and Orwell's thought police who watch and analyse (or could be watching and analysing which amounts to the same thing) everything you do to catch you in some antipatriotic reflection?

Monday, August 20, 2007

Superheroes of the CIA in Venezuela

Globovision, a television station in Venezuela, in conflict with the government, created this cartoon after RCTV lost its license. In the cartoon the League of Marvel Superheroes (Batman, Robin, Superman and Wonderwoman) are CIA agents, looking to discover why they can not find any independent television channels. They discover the monster emitting Bolivarian Revolutionary Signals and attack it. Above, a ship carrying government members attack as they "must destroy the imperialists".

I wonder if Marvel will sue for copywrite infringement ...

Theoretical Trading Cards

We used to play with baseball cards, later within certain groups, Magic cards became the rage, then there were the Irak-Most-Wanted cards to see if the person you just shot was worth some money...

Iraq's Most Wanted Playing cards

Magic the Gathering cards

... and now there are Theory Trading Cards.

I can see it now: "I'll trade you two Foucaults and a Weber for your bell hooks."

Or perhaps it could be a card game:

"I use my Marx to raise class consciousness and incite a workers revolt causing you 10 points of damage!"

"Wait a second! I use my postmodernists to convince the workers that there are no more metanarratives and they each need to find their own identities and accept the differences that exist between each person. I take no damage and you can not use your Marx card for three more turns!"

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

The Lord of Death or of Peace?

This is not a trailer for the Lord of the Rings or Eragon or any other fantasy movie. This is a call to christian warriors (I found it posted and critizied on the blog Breathe). I found it very disturbing. In fact it sent shivers down my spine.

I remember when the war against Iraq started, I heard an evangelical preacher form the States on international radio. She was thrilled with it. She shouted out the joy that she felt when she saw all the bombs and guns on the television. How can there be peace when they do not know the Prince of Peace, she said.

Religious tolerance is obviously a thing of the past. The Pope warns Europe against the dangers of Muslim immigrants and offends Latin American indigenous people.

I believe that the great majority of people with religious beliefs, whatever beliefs they are, are not violent and hateful. Unfortunately they do not always get to influence what their leaders say.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Blog procrastination

It is amazing the amount of useless things you can do while procrastinating. After a few online quizes I have discovered the following revelations:

You Are Merlot

Smooth, confident, and popular - you're the type most likely to order wine for the whole group.
You seem to breeze through life on your intuition and wit. And no one seems to mind!
You're comfortable in any social situation you find yourself in, and you never feel outclassed.
And while you live a charmed life, you never let it go to your head. You are truly down to earth and a great friend.

Deep down you are: Balanced and mature

Your partying style: Surprisingly wild... when you let loose, you really let loose

IQ Test Score

And here is Pablo Neruda's "Puedo escribir los versos más tristes está noche"

All said and done, I should get back to work ...

British Police to use terror laws on protesters

To paraphrase Tom Robbins: We once had a rat problem. So we imported mongooses to control the rats. Now we have a mongoose problem. Mongooses are known to attack pets, small children, lawnmowers and moving bicycles.

Here we have a population afraid of terrorists, so we give the police, secret service and military powers to legally abuse civil and human rights. Now they use it against the general population.

In England, after using their new stop and search powers on the random members of the general population, the Guardian reports that they plan to use the anti terrorist laws against global warming protesters. El Salvador has already beaten them it to by using its terror law to imprison protesters against the privatization of water services.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

"Let them eat cake"

Last night Lula arrived in Nicaragua. Yesterday in Honduras he stated that instead calling for "Liberty and Democracy" the new cry should be for "bread" for the world's poor. His argument is that Colonization and the Cold War are over, and the focus should be on world hunger and not national sovereignty. While I agree that the nationalist call is also off target, I wonder how free and democratic we really are in the world. Hunger is a symptom of oppression in a global system that concentrates the wealth of the world, not the principal problem. It is as if to say "They say there is no liberty and democracy left. Then let them eat bread."

"Qu'ils mangent de la brioche"

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Harry Potter and the Dreaded Copy write Infringement

Harry Potter leaps into Latin America to face his most insidious foe yet ... Copywrite Infringement. Hispanic fans, furious that they would have to wait until 2008 to read the latest and last Potter book joined together on a blog called Spanish Hallows to translate the book chapter by chapter from English to Spanish. In three days the book, "Harry Potter y las reliquias de la muerte", was complete, and is now available in PDF form complete with pictures. Over four million visitors have been to the site.

What will the response be? J. K. Rowling, now the richest woman in England, richer than the Queen, does not need the money (I should assume at least) and the act was done by fans out of love rather than as a commercial venture. The publishers, of course, must do something. Corporations have to maximize their profits, and it would be a bad precedent. However, how do they respond to anonymous bloggers around the world writing on to a public site? I imagine that the blog will be short lived unless it moves to some exotic location ... but what else can they do? Gnash their teeth and wish they knew a little magic of their own.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Fotos of Waslala: A day at work

I took the digital camera to work and decided to put up a few pictures. The raining season is here in force, the roads get muddy and then impassable, but the views are beautiful.

Fully airconditioned luxury transporte

A few Howler Monkies shouting in the rain (and at me)

Clouds below the mountains along the road to Los Chiles

Walking through the clouds

Sunday, June 24, 2007

I think they'd better think it out again.

The basic liberal argument in support of globalization is that if individuals are free to follow their selfish goals within the structure of a market, the force of competition will organize production in the most efficient way. Producers will try to maximize their profits, while consumers will look to minimize their costs. If consumers are concerned about the ethical conditions of production, than producers will be forced by competition to do so as well, or lose market-share. Nations will benefit from their comparative advantage, producing what they produce best and poorer regions of the world will be the greatest winners as they gain access to the large markets of richer regions. Capital will flow from the global north to the global south. Sounds like one big happy family.

Capitalists, the brave defenders of social good through the market. Or is there something wrong with the picture?

However, in reality things do not turn out quite the way that this theory says it out to. First of all, within the same liberal logic, the actual process of globalization has not meant complete free trade. Countries of the global north are highly protective of parts of their economies such as agriculture, the principal source of exports of many of the poorest countries. Secondly, markets are not the ideal free markets exposed by liberal theory. Monopolies, corruption, political influence, price fixing and other imperfections exist in the race to accumulate capital. In small economies, this tends to be the norm rather than the exception. Thirdly, not all export goods have the same demand elasticity. As incomes rise, technological and service exports of richer countries have greater demand than the primary goods exported by poorer countries, increasing disparity. Added to that, poor nations compete with each other to sell the same primary goods and gain foreign direct investment through their maquilas, offering ever lower salaries, environmental and labour regulation and ever longer tax holidays. Finally, the market does not value public goods such as environmental costs, social investment and social stability that are essential for long term economic growth. To misquote Faigan in musical version of Dickens Oliver Twist, “I think they’d better think it out again.”

"I think I'd better think it out again"


There is an interesting article on biofuel in Argentina at Latin American Activism.

In Nicaragua, the government has vocally supported Chavez's position against BioFuel, however it has also started conversations with Brazil on the subject and there has been some heavy investment to reactivate an old Palm Oil plantation and processing plant in the Atlantic Coast.

Palm reading to tell the future?

The energy crisis (in Nicaragua we now have blackouts throughout the country every day, athough that is only partially a product of international oil prices) will continue to worsen as oil reserves run out. We need to look not only for technological answers, but also changes in the global system of production and consumption. Any proposal for an alternative economic model to capitalism will have to take this into account. Biofuel, cheap oil through ALBA, scraping the tar pits of Canada are only short term solutions to a problem that will continue grow in severity.

A quote

We do not grow absolutely, chronologically. We grow sometimes in one dimension and not in another, unevenly. We grow partially. We are relative. We are mature in one realm, childish in another. The past, present and future mingle and pull us backward, forward or fix us in the present. We are made up of layers, cells, constellations … Life is a process of becoming, a combination of starts we have to go through. Where people fail is that they wish to elect a state and remain in it. This is a kind of death.

Anais Nin

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Face Change

I have changed my image. It used to be the Chinese symbol for conflict. I choose it because I was in the process of trying to learn Mandarin (and I will again when my life becomes less occupied with other concerns), and I felt that "conflict" seemed like an appropriate representation for the world. I found the image here.

My new image is of the macho raton of the güegüense. It is from an indigenous play written during the Spanish colony and it represents resistance against domination through wit and misinterpretation. The photograph is from a mural painted on a wall in Managua.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Internationalization of the Amazonia

Octobre 23, 2000, during a debate in a US university, a US ecologist asked Cristóvão Buarque, then the Workers Party governor of the Federal District of Brasilia and currently Brazil’s minister of education, about his ideas on internationalizing the Amazonia, the “lung of humanity.” The young man asked Buarque to answer as a humanist rather than as a Brazilian. This was his response.

“From a humanist perspective...”

“As a Brazilian I would always argue against internationalizing the Amazon Rain Forest. Even though our government has not given this patrimony the care that it deserves, it is still ours. As a humanist who fears the risks posed by the environmental degradation the Amazon is suffering, I could imagine its internationalization, just as I could imagine the internationalization of everything else of importance to humanity.

If, from a humanist perspective, the Amazon must be internationalized, we should also internationalize the world’s petroleum reserves. Oil is as important for the well being of humanity as the Amazon is for our future. The owners of the reserves, however, feel that they have the right to increase or decrease the amount of oil production, as well as increase or lower the price per barrel. The wealthy of the world feel they have the right to burn up this immense patrimony of humanity.

In much the same way, the wealthy countries’ financial capital should be internationalized. Since the Amazon Rain Forest is a reserve for all human beings, no owner or country must be allowed to burn it up. The burning of the Amazon is as serious a problem as the unemployment caused by the arbitrary decisions made by global speculators. We cannot permit the use of financial reserves to burn entire countries in the frenzy of speculation.

Before we internationalize the Amazon, I would like to see the internationalization of all the world’s great museums. The Louvre should not belong merely to France. The world’s museums are guardians of the most beautiful pieces of art produced by the human genius. We cannot let this cultural patrimony, like the natural patrimony of the Amazon, be manipulated and destroyed by the whims of an owner or a country. A short time ago, a Japanese millionaire decided to be buried with a painting by a great artist. That painting should have been internationalized before this could happen.

The United Nations is holding the Millennium Summit parallel to this meeting, but some Presidents ohad difficulties attending due to U.S. border-crossing constraints. Because of this, I think that New York, as the headquarters of the United Nations, should be internationalized. At least Manhattan should belong to all humanity, as should Paris, Venice, Rome, London, Río de Janeiro, Brasilia, Recife... Each city, with its unique beauty and its history, should belong to the entire world, to all of humanity.

If the United States wants to internationalize the Amazon Rain Forest to minimize the risk of leaving it in the hands of Brazilians, we should internationalize its nuclear arsenals, if only because the country has already demonstrated it is capable of using these arms, causing destruction thousands of times greater than the deplorable burnings done in the forests of Brazil.

In their debates, the US presidential candidates have defended the idea of internationalizing the world’s forest reserves in exchange for debt relief. We should begin by using this debt to guarantee that each child in the world has the opportunity to go to school. We should internationalize the children, treating them, all of them, no matter their country of birth, as patrimony that deserves to be cared for by the entire world. Even more than the Amazon deserves to be cared for. When the world’s leaders begin to treat the poor children of the world as a patrimony of humanity, they will not let them work when they should be studying, die when they should be living.

As a humanist, I agree to defend the internationalization of the world. But, as long as the world treats me as a Brazilian, I will fight for the Amazonia to remain ours. Ours alone.”

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Sociology In Nicaragua: A Web Page

There is a new webpage (in Spanish) for anyone interested in the state of Sociology in Nicaragua.

Sociología en Nicaragua

Monday, January 22, 2007

The snake, the pig and the duck: electoral propaganda for preschoolers

I found this example of electoral propaganda on YouTube. It was put on TV by the US supported Liberal split-off party ALN "Alianza Liberal Nicaragüense". The snake is supposed to be Daniel Ortega of the FSLN, the Pig is ex-president Arnoldo Aleman, leader of the right-wing PLC "Partido Liberal Constitucionalista" and the duck is his presidential candidate José Rizo. Even if you do not speak Spanish, you will be able to observe the high level of political debate that surrounded the elections, dealing with the concrete problems that face one of Latin America's poorest countries. It is also worth mentioning that it is homophobic as "pato" (duck) is slang for gay and used to offend.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Cleaning the Streets for the Party

Today the streets of Managua are full of police. At every intersection and under every tree there is another group. Patrol trucks and police motorcycles drive around while riot police swagger around in groups like ancient warriors looking for a fight. The army controls the road from the airport and has men armed with antiaircraft missiles on the hill of Tiscapa, beside the statue of Sandino.

The street kids, beggars and water sellers have disappeared from the major intersections. All for the celebration of Daniel Ortega receiving the presidency. Aside from the abundance of assault riffles, there are other symbols for today’s celebrations. The ceremony was changed from the Plaza de la Fe, built for the Pope’s visit, to the Plaza of the Non-Aligned Countries. The silhouette of Sandino has reappeared on the old Banco de las Americas building after a sixteen year absence.

16 presidents are coming to the party. Chavez and Morales are flying in from Venezuela after celebrating Hugo’s victory there.

The president of Taiwan is coming with hundreds of businessmen “ready to invest in Nicaragua” in an attempt to maintain Nicaragua’s support in UN. Continental China has showed its disapproval of the visit.

Buses and trucks have been brining in caravans of people from all around the country. Close to a thousand people were expected to leave Waslala at two in the morning. It will be the largest celebration of a new president ever held in Nicaragua.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Preliminary Electoral Results: A Sandinista Victory

Fireworks and music have been filling the air since midnight. Preliminary results of the National Election give the victory to Daniel Ortega, candidate for the FSLN. It is still possible that the candidate for the right wing ALN, Harvard trained banker Eduardo Montealegre, will close the gap and cause the elections to go to a second round. Should this happen the currently divided anti-sandinistas will unite under one candidate and defeat the FSLN, but at this point of time it seems unlikely that there will be a second round.

From what I have seen and heard up to this point of time, the elections have been the cleanest and most orderly in the last sixteen years. Everything has been calm, and even with the preliminary results giving the sandinistas a victory, there has been no violence that I know of.

Will a sandinista victory be as wonderful as some hope or as terrible as some fear? It is not very likely. Although they will win the presidency, they will have a minority in National Assembly. That means that they will have to negotiate with one of the two right wing parties to pass any laws or even the national budget. Should the right unite against them in the legislature; it will be very hard for a sandinista government to do much of anything. They will also have to work within a legal framework restricted by neoliberal laws, a free trade agreement and within IMF conditions.

I will write more when I have a chance.