Category Archives: News

State of Emergency in Neskantaga

http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2013/04/20134257497175861.html

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Of typewriters and masking tape

http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2013/04/2013415112152991530.html

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“It cannot happen here”: Pipeline pushback attends Exxon Valdez anniversary

http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2013/03/201332911552936394.html

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“Another slant on Aaron Swartz”

My first op-ed for Al Jazeera appeared this week.  A shout-out to their editorial team, and especially to Naz, for a seamless experience.

http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2013/03/2013325115834491824.html

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Mexico: U.S. Alleges Iranian Assassination Plot Involving Los Zetas

The following is my latest post for Global Voices (globalvoicesonline.org), published this morning.  My thanks to Silvia Vinas, editor of the Latin America “desk,” for her support.
 

On October 11, the U.S. Department of Justice charged two men with conspiring with “factions of the Iranian government” to carry out a plot to assassinate Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the U.S., Adel Al-Jubeir, and to bomb both the Saudi and Israeli embassies, all in Washington D.C.  Attorney General Eric Holder praised law enforcement and intelligence agencies who worked together to disrupt a plot “conceived, sponsored and directed from Iran.”

According to early reports by Al Arabiya and other news agencies,

The case, called Operation Red Coalition, began in May when an Iranian-American from Corpus Christi, Texas, approached a U.S. informant seeking the help of a Mexican drug cartel to assassinate the Saudi ambassador, according to counter-terrorism officials.  The Iranian-American thought he was dealing with a member of the feared Zetas Mexican drug organization, according to agents quoted by ABC News….

An aide to Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad denied the U.S. allegations that the Islamic republic was involved in a plot to kill the Saudi envoy.  “This is a prefabricated scenario to turn public attention away from domestic problems within the United States”… the president’s press advisor told AFP.

For a Spanish-language account of events, see Animal Político.

In the immediate aftermath of the press conference at which U.S. authorities first publicized the plot, blogsofwar.com began live-streaming tweets that responded to the provocative reports. In an apparent effort to promote coherence, the site divides the broad array of incoming tweets into three columns, headed “Iranian Plot,” “Mexican Drug Cartels” and “Saudi Arabia.” It is still livestreaming at the time of this post’s writing.

A Twitter search filtered through the hashtags #Mexico #Iran likewise turns up a spectrum of responses. While early tweets for the most part conveyed the details of the alleged plot, sometimes with links to news reports, it was not long before editorializing took over. @Sarmastian, based in Tottenham, was provoked to tweet twice in rapid succession:

@Sarmastian: #US have for years been looking for an excuse to crack down on Mexican border by linking cartels with IRGC. #Iran #Mexico #MidEast

@Sarmastian: #Iran could easily get to a #Saudi target within Saudi itself via non-Iranians. The news reported stinks inside-out. #US #MidEast #Mexico

Writing from Mexico, Carlos (@alquicarlos) used quotation marks, hashtags and a direct mention to Mexican President Felipe Calderón to inflect his intervention:

Que #NarcoUSAterror “descubrió” que los Z les maquilan armas de destrucción masiva a Iran #IRAN#MEXICO#INVASION traidor @felipecalderon

#NarcoUSAterror “discovered” that the Z [Zetas] make weapons of mass destruction for Iran #IRAN#MEXICO#INVASION traitor @felipecalderon

From the other side of the Rio Grande, @Lima570 from San Antonio wrote,

I hope no one is surprised that terrorist [sic] are working with Mexican drug cartel

Several netizens linked the alleged plot to the ongoing scandal over U.S. Operation “Fast and Furious”@JamesinSELA, for example, tweeted to a morning radio show:

@cspanwj If the mexican drug cartels are now terrorist organizations, did Holder give arms to terrorists?

In a similar vein, @TehGoldenRule posed a question that was not simply rhetorical.

@Ryan_Konky If that was an act of war what is letting 1,000s of assault weapons make their way to Mexican drug cartels?

From an unspecified location in the Twitterverse, @brownwc voiced a skepticism shared by many netizens around the globe.

Iranians hire Mexican drug cartel hit squad to assassinate Saudi ambassador. U.S. foils the plan. Can’t wait for the movie. #isthisreallife?

 

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“The Time We Live”: John Berger, historiographer

At last, some genuine thought brought to bear on the London “riots.”  That it should come from John Berger is no surprise, and no accident.  Here is the link:  http://www.opendemocracy.net/ourkingdom/john-berger/time-we-live  You can read the text below.

 

The Time We Live

On August 8th the kids were rioting because they had no future, no words and nowhere to go. One of them, arrested for looting, was eleven years old. Watching the pictures of the Croydon riots I wanted to share my reactions with my mother, long since dead, but she wasn’t available, and I knew this was because I couldn’t remember the name of the Department store where we regularly went before hurrying to the cinema. I searched persistently for the name and couldn’t find it. Suddenly it came to me: Kennards. Kennards! Straightaway my mother was there, looking with me at the footage of the Croydon riots. Looting is consumerism stood on its head with empty pockets.

Strange how names – even a distant one like Kennards – can be so intimately attached to a personal physical presence; such names operate like passwords.

* * *

The lake surrounded by mountains is very deep and about 70 km long. The Rhone flows through it. In stormy weather the waves look like those of a sea. Among the fish that breed here is the Arctic Charr – much acclaimed by gourmets. The Charr belongs to the Salmon family. When small it is almost transparent like a blueish silk handkerchief; when large it can weigh 15 kg. As their spawning season approaches, the ventral sides and pectoral fins of the adult males turn an orange-red.

On the southern side of the lake is a town on a hill, and between the hill and lakeside there is space for a small harbour, a promenade with cafés, a swimming pool, a narrow shingle beach, playgrounds, grass banks and palm trees, and on summer days in August these add up to something like a miniature and modest seaside resort.

Those who gather there are on vacation. They have left their everyday lives behind somewhere. Maybe a few kilometres away, maybe hundreds. They have emptied themselves. The etymological root of the word vacation is the Latin vacare, to be empty, to be free.

If you walk there, you have to pick your way – for the space is narrow and very small – between their mostly reclining freedoms. Many of the women and men on vacation are between thirty and fifty. Barefoot, barelegged, lying on towels in the sun or in the shade of trees, some of them swimming with children, others lounging in chairs. No big projects, for the place is too small and their time here too short. (It’s like this that the hours lengthen.) No deadlines. Few words. The world and its vocabulary, which they normally repeat but don’t believe in, have been left behind. To be empty, free. Doing nothing.

Yet not quite. Little blessings arrive which they collect. For the most part these blessings are memories yet it is misleading to say this, for, at the same time, they are promises. They collect the remembered pleasures of promises which cannot apply to the future which they have gladly vacated , but somehow do apply to the brief, empty present.

The promises are wordless and physical. Some can be seen, some can be touched, some can be heard, some can be tasted. Some are no more than messages in the pulse.

The taste of chocolate. The width of her hips. The splashing of water. The length of the daughter’s drenched hair. The way he laughed early this morning. The gulls above the boat. The crow’s feet by the corners of her eyes. The tattoo he made such a row about. The dog with its tongue hanging out in the heat. The promises in such things operate as passwords: passwords towards a previous expectancy about life. And the holidaymakers on the lakeside collect these passwords, finger them, whisper them, and are wordlessly reminded of that expectancy, which they live again surreptitiously.

Very little or nothing in the lives so far lived by the kids in Croydon has confirmed or encouraged any such expectancy. And so they live, isolated but together, in the desperately violent present.

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“La bestia”: Mexico’s “train of death”

Here is my latest post on Mexico for Global Voices.  You can find the version with images at http://globalvoicesonline.org/author/deborah-esch/

There is arguably no single, obvious point of departure for a chronicle of the alarming and escalating violence against undocumented migrants in Mexico. But a survey of citizen media provides fragments that, taken together, constitute a grim series of intersecting narratives.

On August 1, the blog espacioperdido [es] published a post that began with a partial historiography of train travel in Mexico.

En 1999 cerro definitivamente la estacion de ferrocarriles de Buenavista.  Tiempo atras se venian cerrando otras estaciones en distintas partes de la Republica.  Con ello se cancelo definitivamente un logro de principos del siglo XX en Mexico:  el transporte ferroviario de pasajeros.  Actualmente solo quedan algunas rutas de carga….  Cargan mercancias, en forma de bienes y, desgraciadamente, de personas.  Desde la frontera sur, en Ciudad Hidalgo, colindante con Guatemala, hasta las principales ciudades de la frontera norte, circula una de las mayores verguenzas nacionales.  La bestia o El tren de la muerte devore a miles de centro y sudamericanos.  Viajan sobre los vagones, entre ellos y expuestos a todo, incluida la peor amenaza:  el hombre.

In 1991, the train station at Buenavista closed for good. Over time other stations in distinct parts of the Republic also closed. With this, a fundamental achievement of the 20th century in Mexico was definitively written off: passenger train travel. Now there are only a few freight lines…. These carry merchandise in the form of goods and, unfortunately, people. From the southern border, in Ciudad Hidalgo, adjacent to Guatemala, to the main towns and cities of the northern borderlands, one of the great national shames runs its course. The beast, or the train of death, devours thousands of Central and South Americans. They journey atop the rail cars, between them, and exposed to everything, including the worst threat: the human.

Writing for the grassroots journalism site barriozona [es], blogger Eduardo Barraza sheds further light on the aging freight trains that traverse this perilous route, and the passengers who may or may not arrive at their destinations.

In the United States many people refer to them derogatively as “illegals.”  In the heart of Central America, these human beings represent some of the most disposed, desperate yet tenacious men and women leaving their impoverished countries in hopes to make it to the United States.

Unable to afford another form of transportation but also seeking to avoid Mexican immigration check points, thousands of Central American nationals from countries like El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras or Nicaragua, dangerously and boldly hop on top of moving freight trains going from southern Mexico to many northern destinations along the U.S.-Mexican border.

Strikingly, both bloggers are writing with reference not only to the recent history of the region, but also to a specific cultural artifact shaped by those material events: a documentary film that takes its title from the sinister nickname given to the freight trains by the migrants who wager life and limb to board them.

Pedro Ultreras’ La Bestia, first released in 2010, chronicles the filmmaker’s journey atop the freight cars with the migrants, capturing for the cultural archive one perilous journey among countless others made every day by destitute and desperate migrants seeking paid work and a better life for themselves and their families. It affords visual testimony of events that continue to go unreported, or underreported, in mainstream media.

The director has posted trailers for the film on Youtube, both in Spanish, one with English subtitles.

The documentary has been screened this summer in cities and towns along the route of the ‘Paso a Paso hacia la Paz’ (‘Step by Step Towards Peace) caravan, involving hundreds of undocumented migrants and family members as well as human rights activists marching against the ongoing violations of migrants’ human rights, and demanding justice and legal protection for this vulnerable population.

Response to the film, as reflected on Twitter, has been positive and supportive. Georgina Cobos (@Ginacobos) signaled the upcoming screening of the film in the Mexican Senate:

Gran tarde con Pedro Ultreras que manana muestra #LaBestia al senado

Great evening with Pedro Ultreras who will screen his #LaBestia tomorrow in the Senate

A communications student at UNAM, Jessca Ramirez (@Jey_21), urged her followers to see the film.

Todos deberiamos verlo, estara hasta el miercoles en la Cineteca.  El director lo realizo con SU dinero y deberiamos apoyar #LaBestia

We should all see it, it will be at the Cineteca till Wednesday. The director made it with HIS money, and we have to support #LaBestia

Barbara Cabello (@Barbara_106) ventured her views both on the film and on the reality it documents.

#labestia en @cineteca nacional que buen documental, que triste que esto este en las entranas de Mexico y no se haga nada

#labestia at @cineteca nacional what a good documentary, how sad that this is happening in the heart of Mexico and nothing is being done

In “Migrants as Targets of Security Policies,” blogger and anthropology professor Christine Kovic refers to a group of migrants who were kidnapped on June 23 while attempting to reach the United States on a freight train.

What officials cannot deny is the extreme suffering and vulnerability of Central American migrants crossing Mexico. Without money to pay polleros (human smugglers) and to avoid checkpoints, thousands of migrants ride on the tops and sides of railcars where they are exposed to rain, extreme temperatures, dehydration, and electrocution. Many have lost limbs or their lives as a result of falling from the trains.

Traveling underground, migrants are vulnerable to assault, robbery, extortion, rape, and death.

Even with such powerful evidence of the plight of those willing to risk their lives along the dangerous “migrant trail,” a wider angle is perhaps required to situate the terrors of “La bestia” in a meaningful geo-political context. In the same post, Kovic makes the case that enforcement operations intended to block the passage of migrants over the U.S.-Mexico border – no matter the toll in human suffering – have lately reached Mexico’s southern frontier.

Deterrence policies have reached southern Mexico where migration officials have increased enforcement strategies, especially along the Isthmus de Tehuantepec, Mexico’s narrowest point. This is a security strategy encouraged by the United States to limit Central American migration.  Most recently, the U.S.-backed Plan Mexico, also known as the Merida Initiative, provided significant funding to Mexico with the stated intention of “security aid to design and carry out counter-narcotics, counter-terrorism, and border security measures.”  As former Assistant Secretary of State Thomas Shannon observed in 2008, “To a certain extent, we’re armoring NAFTA.”  What he does not say is that in doing so, poor and working class migrants, among other groups, are left unprotected by the “armor” and even become targets of security measures.

As recently as June of this year, Mexican Attorney General Marisela Morales identified the protection of Mexico’s southern border as a national security issue, declaring that the “illegal flow of people and merchandise that exists and the delinquency it generates demand a strengthened institutional coordination to improve vigilance, security, and respect for human rights.” Kovic connects the dots:

If undocumented migrants passing through the region are part of the “illegal flow of people,” then rather than being the subjects of respect of human rights, they are viewed as generating delinquency. This framework partly explains the actions and inactions of the Mexican, U.S., and Central American governments that lead to the human rights abuses of migrants. These governments, along with transnational corporations, create the economic conditions that cause migration. Enforcement policies, including checkpoints on highways and along the U.S.-Mexico border, push people to travel in extremely dangerous conditions and create a market for human smuggling. Finally, impunity perpetuates abuses as those responsible are not prosecuted.

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