zenpundit.com » Latin America

Archive for the ‘Latin America’ Category

Guest Post: Hays on From Matamoros to Managua

Wednesday, June 20th, 2018

[mark safranski / “zen“]

See the source image

“Jack Hays“. Mr. Hays has considerable experience in a number of political and policy positions inside government and out and shares with the ZP readership our appreciation for history, strategy and other things further afield. Mr. Hays also has extensive time south of the border. He wrote this brief essay elsewhere and gave permission to share it.

From Matamoros to Managua live just under 170 million people. Their societies are coming apart. That doesn’t mean they are necessarily poor — especially in Mexico — though they frequently are. It does mean that for various reasons, be it the stresses of global trends, misgovernance, societal pathologies, historical causes, or beyond, their institutions are failing. It is likely no accident that this comes to pass in the generation after the era of autocratic parties and strong men. The succeeding era of democracy and pluralism is both liberating and rapacious: for many it has exchanged the danger of being killed by the state for the danger of being killed by nearly anyone. What arises in the aftermath is therefore exceptionally violent. It is not unfamiliar in human history: even at the most glorious moment of the Siglo de Oro, everyday Spanish life was also exceptionally violent. But that isn’t the right comparison: what you see in, say, northern Mexico or urban Honduras is less 16th-century Spain than 17th-century Germany — or 21st-century Damascus. It is a terrifying and brutal existence, and people quite rationally flee.

They especially flee when they are trying to protect children they love.

There is nothing — nothing short of murder — that deters flight and migration in those conditions. Therefore, there being still some things we won’t try, the questions arises: what will we try? If we aren’t going to take them in, what do we do?
What are you willing to have America do to stabilize these societies? The probable answer probably includes things like open or preferential trade. It probably includes aggressive engagement with local politics. It probably includes forcible imposition of our own law-enforcement institutions upon theirs. It may even include the use, in some form, of the United States military. None of this is speculative. All of it has happened before. All of it also ended in mostly the same way: there was a desultory clash of arms, the United States demanded certain things of local sovereigns, and events resolved when someone assumed autocratic control of the southern reaches.

None of this is consonant with our postwar models of American behavior. Yes, we are the country that conquered Panama in 1989; we are also the country that was turned away by a mob from Haitian shores in 1994. We are also the country that doggedly tries to inculcate democratic civic norms in places like Afghanistan when a monarch or a warlord would quite suffice. We have an aversion to nation-building and then we do a great deal of it badly.

But nation-building is precisely what is needed from Matamoros to Mexico. It is for their sake, and ours. The task is gigantic, and before the real crisis is upon us — which will involve millions on the move, not mere thousands — we still have time to undertake it. But we think it is about ourselves, we think they can govern themselves, we imagine we have anything more compelling to pressure them with than the things they fled in San Pedro Sula, in Ciudad Mier, in San Salvador, in a thousand over violent corners of an ancient and bloody land. We are wrong on all counts.

We act, or action is forced upon us. So what are you willing to do?

Water, water everywhere

Friday, March 2nd, 2018

[ by Charles Cameron — when a city hits water zero, & when a vast aquifer is up for commercial grabs ]
.

I would like to scare you two ways:

**

The Guardian’s Cape Town headline (upper panel, above) alerts us to the imminent failure of the first major global city’s water supply:

The head of Cape Town’s disaster operations centre is drawing up a plan he hopes he never has to implement as this South African city on the frontline of climate change prepares to be the first in the world to turn off the water taps.

“We’ve identified four risks: water shortages, sanitation failures, disease outbreaks and anarchy due to competition for scarce resources,” says Greg Pillay. “We had to go back to the drawing board. We were prepared for disruption of supply, but not a no-water scenario. In my 40 years in emergency services, this is the biggest crisis.”

Anarchy due to competition for scarce resources — would you care to say more about how virulent that strain of anarchy might be, and how its epidemiology would intersect with those of water shortages, sanitation failures, and disease outbreaks?

**

The lower image, above, shows the extent of the Guarani aquifer — water supply for the vast lands above it, and the fauna, flora and humans who inhabit those lands.

What’s the problem?

As a Canadian government page puts it, Barlow warns Nestle is seeking control of the Guarani aquifer in South America:

Mint Press reports, “A concerted push is underway in South America that could see one of the world’s largest reserves of fresh water soon fall into the hands of transnational corporations such as Coca-Cola and Nestle. According to reports, talks to privatize the Guarani Aquifer – a vast subterranean water reserve lying beneath Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, and Uruguay – have already reached an advanced stage. The deal would grant a consortium of U.S. and Europe-based conglomerates exclusive rights to the aquifer that would last over 100 years.”

Cash would dance in the heads of the relevant CEOs — “including Nestle CEO Paul Bulcke, Anheuser-Busch InBev CEO Carlos Brito, Coca-Cola CEO James Quincey, and Dow Chemical CEO Andrew Liveris” — while guns would no doubt protect their “rights”.

We’ll copyright it, we’ll patent it, no, we’ll — bottle it!

**

Justice William O Douglas in A Wilderness Bill of Rights, argued the need for a “Bill of Rights to protect those whose spiritual values extend to the rivers and lakes, the valleys and the ridges, and who find life in a mechanized society worth living only because those splendid resources are not despoiled.” In his now celebrated dissent in Sierra Club v. Morton, he suggested the courts should give standing “in the name of the inanimate object about to be despoiled, defaced, or invaded by roads and bulldozers and where injury is the subject of public outrage.”

In the High Country News article, Should nature have standing to sue? from which I’ve taken those quotes, we discover:

Douglas’ views were inspired by his own experiences in the wild. He grew up in Yakima, Washington, hiking the foothills and peaks of the Cascade Range, and he sang the praises of nature throughout his life. “When one stands on Darling Mountain, he is not remote and apart from the wilderness; he is an intimate part of it,” he wrote in a typical passage from his memoir, Of Men and Mountains. “Every ridge, every valley, every peak offers a solitude deeper even than that of the sea. It offers the peace that comes only from solitude.”

Solitude. Can you believe it? Such a value!

**

Douglas:

Contemporary public concern for protecting nature’s ecological equilibrium should lead to the conferral of standing upon environmental objects to sue for their own preservation

Let therefore the Guarani aquifer have standing to sue for all the inhabitants of the lands above it, else — in the prescient words of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, speaking in the parched, blistered voice of an Ancient Mariner:

Water, water, everywhere, Nor any drop to drink.

**

Afterthought:

Oh aye, they play soccer, the Guarani —

— and are warriors in protection of their native forests:

Brazil, Guaraní tribe attacked by ranchers who want their land.

Attacks on indigenous people by armed gunmen working for ranchers continue: a slow genocide, the result of the occupation of indigenous ancestral lands.

A slow genocide.. As above, so below.

Don’t hide your money in a hortus conclusus

Monday, June 20th, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — a criminal twist in Argentinian politics amid lofty considerations of convents, the Virgin Mary, and unicorns ]
.

The King James Version of the Bible, Song of Solomon 4:12, reads:

A garden inclosed is my sister, my spouse; a spring shut up, a fountain sealed.

In the Latin Vulgate, the phrase “a garden enclosed” is rendered “hortus conclusus” — and as the context makes clear, it refers both to a garden, literally, and metaphorically to a woman. In the Christian Middle Ages, the phrase was often used to indicate the Virgin Mary, often enclosed within a literal garden, as in this Hortus Conclusus from Cologne, ca 1430:

600 Hortus Conclusus from Cologne, 1430

Parhaps unsurprisingly, the hortus conclusus is also the place where the unicorn — only ever tamed by a pure virgin — ends up, as in this example from the Cloisters Unicorn Tapestries:

600 Unicorn in Captivity

So much art history, so much beauty, so much virginity — and all so that I can make a couple of points about Jose Lopez, an Argentinean MP who was arrested earlier in the week.

**

The unfortunate Lopez made the error of tossing some bags of money, or moneybags as they are sometimes called, over a hedge into a convent garden…

A convent, as we’ll easily understand, is a terrific example of the hortus conclusus — and since nuns are typically sworn to poverty as well as chastity and obedience, it is altogether contrary to the intended purpose of a convent’s hortus conclusus to use it as a stash for ill-gotten gains, especially of a monetary kind — to the estimated tune of US$5-8 million.

So that’s my point number one: that Lopez was acting in direct opposition to the contemplative and unworldly intent of the convent garden. Worse, indeed, he was also carrying some form of Sig Sauer rifle along with his “160 bundles of cash, 108 of dollars, and some of them still thermo-sealed with the stamps from China’s central bank.”

Ouch.

**

But what I like best from the report is the sting in the end of this first paragraph:

The ex-Kirchnerite official, considered the right/hand man of ex Federal Planning minister Julio De Vido was caught by the police after neighbors and a nun of the Fatima monastery warned authorities about the presence of a man throwing bags over a dividing line of bushes.

It’s that bit about “throwing bags over a dividing line” that gets me.

I’ve discussed the concept of liminality before, both lightheartedly, as in Liminality I: the kitsch part [note: NSFW], and more seriously, in Liminality II: the serious part — where I discussed the behavior of the USS Topeka at the Equator as the Second Millennium CE turned in to the Third, and the curious tale of the demonic king Hiranyakasipu and his death at the hands of Narasimha, an avatar of Vishnu.

A limen or threshold is always a “special place” set apart, and thus sacred and powerful in its own right — and the limen around a convent’s perimeter even more so. We’ve seen the extraordinary effort ISIS made very early on in their campaign to erase the limen between Iraq and Syria established no less determinedly by Sykes-Picot. And we know, too, that the central rite-of-passage by which a woman becomes a nun is a liminal rite (van Gennep, Victor Turner).

Beware, be very aware of the liminal! Enjoy the security a hortus conclusus provides the pure in heart — but don’t abuse it!

**

Sources:

  • Wikipedia, hortus conclusus
  • Wikipedia, Narasimha
  • MercoPress, An Argentine ex-Kirchnerite official caught red-handed trying to hide bags of cash in a monastery
  • Sunday surprise: Ernst Haas

    Sunday, March 22nd, 2015

    [ by Charles Cameron — beauty is in the viewfinder of this beholder ]
    .

    Two bodies of water:

    Ernst Haas, Tobago Wave
    Tobago Wave, photograph by Ernst Hass, with permission of the Ernst Haas Estate

    **

    The closest correlation to this image that comes to mind is from Genesis:

    And God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament: and it was so.

    **

    I’d like us to explore this juxtaposition of two bodies of water a little farther. Here, for instance, is Terence Stamp, retelling The Tale of the Sands from Idries Shah‘s Tales of the Dervishes:

    And to bring that tale, lyrical as it is, home to the realities of twenty-first century living — and indeed the context of national security — consider the matter of the Rios Voadores or Flying Rivers, as described in a National Geographic piece this February, Quirky Winds Fuel Brazil’s Devastating Drought, Amazon’s Flooding:

    The loop starts in the Atlantic Ocean, where the winds carry moisture westward over the Amazon. Some falls as rain, but as the air passes, it also absorbs moisture from trees. When these “flying rivers” hit the Andes, they swing south, showering rain over crops and cities in eastern Bolivia and southeastern Brazil.

    Beginning a year ago, however, a phenomenon called “atmospheric blocking” transformed that wind pattern. Marengo, a senior scientist at the Brazilian National Center for Early Warning and Monitoring of Natural Disasters (CEMADEN), likens this to a giant bubble that deflected the moisture-laden air, which instead dumped about twice the usual amount of rain over the state of Acre, in western Brazil, and the Bolivian Amazon, where Cartagena lives.

    At the same time, cold fronts from the south, which cause precipitation over São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, were shunted aside, and as the system lingered, the drought took hold ..

    Here’s a video to give you a glimpse..

    **

    Did I mention national security? Here’s what Chuck Hagel said in the second paragraph of his Foreword to the Pentagon’s 2014 Climate Change Adaptation Roadmap:

    Among the future trends that will impact our national security is climate change. Rising global temperatures, changing precipitation patterns, climbing sea levels, and more extreme weather events will intensify the challenges of global instability, hunger, poverty, and conflict. They will likely lead to food and water shortages, pandemic disease, disputes over refugees and resources, and destruction by natural disasters in regions across the globe.

    I have an analytic post forthcoming on Lapido Media about Water shortages and violence in the Middle East. A hat tip to blog-friend Pundita, who has been blogging intensively on water shortages recently [1, 2, eg]. And my grateful thanks to Victoria Haas for her gracious permission to use her father’s superb photograph at the head of this post.

    **

    The master’s eye — to catch the two-in-oneness of sky and sea, cloud and wave, water and water so exactly, in so balanced a form.. and then, within that massive, unmissable symmetry in blue and green, the milder asymmetries he captures of left and right — the billowing, the surging. Exquisite.

    It is Sunday: treat yourself to a viewing of his portraits of Marilyn Munroe, of Jean Cocteau, of Albert Einstein, his extraordinary Sea Gun. Who has both the wanderlust to find and the eye to see such a thing?

    Paris, in a DoubleTweet with Nigeria

    Friday, January 9th, 2015

    [ by Charles Cameron — what’s the value of a human life in tweets, in column inches, in my attention span? ]
    .

    I really don’t have much to say — I’ve lived a year in Paris, have never been to Nigeria, am human.

    **

    I was in Managua shortly after the 1972 earthquake there, driving past block after block of city rubble with yellow flags indicating the locations of bodies buried too deep to be recovered. My Pentax served to dilute and capture my emotions then, as my DoubleTweet and other formalisms do now with these mind-numbing horrors piled on horrors.


    Switch to our mobile site