Archive for the ‘Foreign Policy’ Category

Waiting for Hurricane George

March 11, 2007

So, we just returned from a lovely afternoon walk in our blockaded neighborhood here in Guatemala City. It’s pretty eerie out there and reminds me of when I was growing up in Central Florida. When we had hurricanes, we usually knew they were coming a couple of days ahead of time – enough to put plywood up on the windows, buy extra groceries, and then go for a walk under sunny skies. On our walks, we’d always bump into the neighbors and chat, all while feeling a sense of impending doom/giddiness. It was the same this afternoon here in la Zona Viva…

A few notes on the visit:

I’m frustrated with CNN’s lack of coverage of President Bush’s Latin American trip – instead, it’s every detail about the happy news of the baby from Lubbock, TX being found, the Atlanta bus crash, and the forest fires in California – but nothing on Colombia.

As I posted in the comments below, the Mayan people near Iximche are going to do a purification ritual of the site after Bush’s visit tomorrow. I find this whole purification stuff to be really interesting – from a religious and PR/political statement point of view. Some of you might remember conversations in the past about purifying Gandhi’s tomb after Bush’s visit a few years ago (more about the bomb-sniffing dogs than Bush…).

The graffiti outside of our neighborhood is intense and scary. Although Guatemala has not seen the kind of protests that occurred in Brazil and Uruguay/Argentina, the graffiti is pretty incredible – those people who do want to protest Bush’s visit sure have some nasty things to say/write! It certainly speaks to the growing negative perceptions of the US here in Latin America.

Immigration – not crime, foreign aid, drug trafficking, or Iraq – seems to be the main issue on everyone’s mind here. Many Guatemalans have family and friends in the US and the desire for a fair immigration package is the one issue mentioned by most people I talk to and those quoted in the papers.

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President Bush in Guatemala

March 9, 2007

It’s striking to see how much President Bush is a major part of life outside the US. His upcoming visit to Guatemala is on the front pages here everyday. Bush has never been here before, and will spend his whirlwind 24 hours in meetings in the capital and visiting a town nearby to highlight the benefits of free trade and US aid to Guate. They’ll be shutting down the streets in our Zone for his motorcade, and we’ve been hearing the sounds of security airplanes and helicopters for the past few days since they’ll be shutting down airspace too.

I hope while Bush is here, he will address the recent situation of violence here (the murder of some El Salvadoran congressmen followed by the execution of the confessed policemen/murderers/witnesses in jail). The NY Times has covered the story and so has DailyKos (where you’ll see the historic politics-religion connection…). And, in honor of International Women’s Day, it was interesting to see al-Jazeera (which oddly comes on cable here) cover the Guatemalan femicide… All this should give you pause about criminal justice and impunity everywhere.

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Guatemala vs. Venezuela (and other political musings)

October 21, 2006

Three interesting pieces of political news from Guatemala this week:

First, the voting continues for a temporary seat on the Security Council – it’s between Guatemala and Venezuela. The press here is definitely covering Hugo Chavez’s antics, who makes it sound like he’s running against the U.S. for the seat – as if a vote for Guatemala is a vote for George W. Bush or something… I think it would be great for Guatemala to be on the Council and to have more exposure on the world stage. At least the voting process is making more people around the world aware of Guatemala, its political interests, its economy, its culture…

Second, this past Tuesday, 10 major political party leaders – guided by a group of 15 community and academic leaders – released a “Visionary Plan for the Country,” with goals for improvement in the areas of security (which is dismal – see previous posts), health and nutrition (also dismal, since Guatemala this year fell to the bottom of Latin American-Caribbean countries in terms of child malnutrition), rural development, and education. Come this December, ten years will have passed since the Guatemalan Peace Accords, so it is time for a new agenda to shock the political system here – everyone I know here is pretty skeptical, but I still hope this is it…

Third, Wonkette – in a striking departure from its normal, humorous tone – covers the impending page scandal regarding House representative Jerry Weller, whose father-in-law happens to be Guatemalan former president/dictator, Efrain Rios Montt. Frankly, I’m addicted to U.S. mid-term election news, so it was surprising to see a Guatemalan connection like this. The Guatemalan supreme court ruled last week or the week before that Rios Montt cannot run for president again, but that still doesn’t seem to stop him as I just saw a campaign commercial for him on the local news channel yesterday… maybe he’s the equivalent of a Guatemalan Ralph Nader (but obviously more sinister)?

(Cross-posted at The View From Here.)

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Go Oprah!

October 13, 2006

I just watched Frank Rich on Oprah talking about his new book, the war in Iraq, Katrina, and a host of other issues. The show is part of a series about Truth in America. It was fantastic, balanced, and exactly what the country needs – a healthy airing of opinions and discussion – INCLUDING criticism of the government. Two different soldiers spoke up – one said the media doesn’t report enough good news from Iraq, and the other said that she and alot of other soldiers are questioning the war. I tried going to a bunch of blogs on the episode – and most of them are right-wingers criticizing Oprah for having Frank Rich on the show. Funny how most of them require log-in’s to comment… I imagine they don’t want any critical thinkers on their sites either…

Is it me, or is Oprah finally getting a spine? She took on minimum wage earlier this year, said Obama would make a good President, and now this!  I like how this episode made it clear that you don’t have to be a Bush-supporter to be a good American (hell, with his approval numbers lately, I guess that’s obvious)…

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The Sepoy Mutiny, the Pope on Islam, and President Bush on Torture

September 15, 2006

Check out this BBC article my mom e-mailed me about the 1857 Indian Mutiny against the British. Through archival research, the author found that the mutiny was much more about religion than about nationalism or anti-colonialism, as I had always thought. Turns out that the soldiers all believed the British were trying to convert the nation and curtail religious freedoms, and Hindus and Muslims banded together in mutiny. The narrative about the bullets being greased with pig fat was just too simple – this incident merely triggered religious fears about the British. It is interesting to think about this in the context of today’s secular India, which is plagued by communalism and violence between Hindus and Muslims…

I’ve been reading a lot of blogs about the Pope’s comments on Islam and only have a brief thought – the Pope shouldn’t have used a quote about Mohammed that has become the flashpoint for all the controversy. As a recognized world leader, it’s fine for him to call for reform among Islamic extremists and support moderate clerics, but to equate Islam with violence, or to ignore centuries of scholarship about the spiritual dimensions of Jihad – and its misuse by terrorists – was just wrong. Unfortunately, this was my fear when Pope Benedict was elevated to become the Pope, based on his strident comments as a Cardinal. One can only hope that he apologizes sincerely and uses his pulpit to promote genuinely positive interfaith dialogue as his predecessor did…

Was it me, or did President Bush seem like he was unraveling just a little bit in today’s news conference? He yelled a lot, didn’t give any straight answers, and generally appeared a little bit on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Why did he mention McCain so much if the Senator opposes his proposals? Why wouldn’t he give a straight answer to David Gregory about the danger posed by his proposal to US soldiers captured in combat? And, he raised the specter of Middle Eastern countries using oil as “economic punishment” – revealing that Bush’s foreign policy has never been about liberty and democracy; it’s about protecting our consumer culture – ironically at the price of liberty, democracy, and international human rights…

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Hate Crimes and War Crimes

July 30, 2006

Friday’s shooting at a Seattle Jewish center was particularly disheartening to me and shook my interfaith optimism… Deep down, I can’t help but wonder if this type of attack is actually demonstrating how violence around the world can come to affect us here at home.

I was elated to read that Seattle law enforcement is treating the shooting as a hate crime, based on the shooter’s comments to the 911 operator and the victims. The whole thing is reminiscent of the anti-Muslim and anti-Indian harassment and crimes (and even murder) that occurred across the country after 9/11. This isn’t just a Jewish issue – all of us from all faiths should step forward to condemn this type of attack because it is wrong, and the next hateful attack could be on any one of us.

I only hope that publicity about this horrible crime will change the minds of those on the right (and some on the left) who are opposed to hate crime legislation. We need to reinvigorate the debate about why it’s important to treat crimes targeting certain racial, ethnic, or religious groups differently (and more harshly) than other crimes. Punishing hate crimes preserves America’s ideals as a pluralistic and tolerant society that welcomes people of all backgrounds.

Today’s tragic attacks by Israel in Qana, Lebanon cost the lives of at least 56 innocent civilians, including 34 children. It is past the time for President Bush and Secretary Rice to intervene and force a cease-fire. All I saw on Meet the Press this morning were excuses, excuses, and more excuses on all sides. These innocent children were being shoved back and forth – “It’s Israel’s fault,” or “It’s Hezbollah’s fault,” or “human shields,” or “disproportionate response,” or “It’s tragic, but…”

None of this matters – they were children, they were hiding because their families couldn’t get them out of the city… and did I mention that they were children? It does not matter what nationality they were or whose fault it was, it’s time we stop the violence and bring all parties to the table. Israel’s actions today are disproportionate and against international human rights standards.  Granted, Hezbollah can be called guilty of the same.  We as Americans should use our clout for peace, stop the slaughtering of innocents, and stop Israel from radicalizing another generation of young Muslims through its disproportionate use of force against civilians, this time in Lebanon.

Kid Oakland on Middle East violence

July 28, 2006

I have been struggling with how to respond to Seth’s comments about Lebanon and all the news since then.  I’ve come up with nothing good so far.  I did find Kid Oakland‘s powerful essay on all the Middle East violence, and it really articulates how I’ve been feeling.  For now, this passage (and the whole blog entry here) will have to do; hopefully there will be more later:

[T]he net sum of the actions in Gaza and Lebanon and Iraq send one clear message to the world as a whole. The United States, Great Britain and Israel in acting out military strikes that coldly inflict “collective punishment” on civilians in the Middle East do not value the lives of those civilians. That is the message we send to the world.

I wish President Bush did this all the time…

July 18, 2006

So two noteworthy and unusual things happened today regarding President Bush. First of all, he spoke candidly, as if no one was listening. But wait, they were.

I’ve noticed a stark contrast between the Republicans and non-Republicans that I’m around. The Repubs think that Bush’s greatest character trait is honesty and straight-shooterness. Liberals and radicals think he is usually misleading at best, and lying at worst. Today Bush spoke what he really felt. He used a the big bad “s word” because he was, frankly, tired of Hezbollah’s shit.

Which is understandable, because (here’s the second thing) I’m tired of Syria’s Hezbollah bullshit, too! President Bush and I agreed for once. It’s actually happened a couple of times, although only his trying to close military bases and more importantly, cut farm subsidies to huge agribusinesses come to mind as other examples.

Anyway, I found his talk refreshing. I wish he just told the public what was on his mind all the time and treated us as if we were his buddies. He always gets so much credit for being the loveable guy next door, but he rarely his. He always cloaks his comments in politicospeak. I like him a lot more when he’s not trying to talk the way that his handlers want him to talk. Why can’t he always call people/countries on their bullshit? I, for one, am very curious what he really thinks about many issues. I know he doesn’t think that Iraq is “Mission Accomplished”. I’d like to know what he really thinks. We bloggers pride ourselves on speaking from the hip. Why can’t our politicians do the same?

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Tragedy in Varanasi

March 8, 2006

Varanasi is simply my favorite place on earth. 

The magic of standing on the banks of the Ganges River late at night… being pressed in on by hundreds and thousands of pilgrims, each bringing a small oil lamp down to the holy river…  the noise and crowds and the chill in the night air… the constellation of tiny blinking lights up and down the river… the smoke and smells of fried snacks at the stalls up and down the avenues leading to the ghats… the narrow, oppressive alleyways leading to the Vishwanath Temple, lined with sari stalls and impromptu Ganesha shrines… the friendly people always ready with a cup of chai and directions through the maze of webbed streets…

The thought of my favorite city being tainted once again by today’s violence and tragedy simply hurts my heart… 
And I can’t help but connect today’s bombing to Bush’s visit to South Asia this past week.  An excellent NY Times editorial today points out that this administration’s disastrous foreign policy threatens all of us Americans here at home, as well as citizens of peace-loving countries around the world.  By driving the wedge further between India and Pakistan through dangerous and arbitrary nuclear policies, Bush and Co. continue to foment violence, religious fundamentalism, and anti-Americanism at a level not seen before in India and other countries around the world. 

Going back to my Sanskrit days at Bard College, I thought it appropriate to end with the first few verses of this gorgeous poem in praise of Varanasi, also known as “Kashi,” the Kashipanchakam by Shankara:

The mind, brought to rest in the supreme peace, is
Manikarnika – the best of pilgrimage places.  The river of
knowledge is the pure, primordial Ganga.  I am that Kashi,
the form of one’s own consciousness.

In the place where illusion is created, where the mind
beautifully shines forth all creation is the form of the
supreme self, which is the sole happiness, existence, and
thought.  I am that Kashi, the form of one’s own

The goddess wisdom shines in the five sheaths of each
body and habitation.  The inner self is Shiva, the
omnipresent witness.  I am that Kashi, the form of one’s own

In Kashi indeed shines Kashi, the luminous one which is the
light of all.  By whom Kashi is known, by that one is the true
Kashi attained.

Bono at the National Prayer Breakfast

February 22, 2006

A friend of a friend attended the National Prayer Breakfast earlier this month and heard Bono’s remarks.  We should all read his words, study them, digest them.  He is reminding all of us once again that religion is not just the purview of the extreme right-wing of this country’s red states.  Rather, it is a call to action to minister to the poor, to recognize our unity with those suffering on the other side of the world, and to actually make a choice to DO something about it:

Look, whatever thoughts you have about God, who He is or if He exists, most will agree that if there is a God, He has a special place for the poor.  In fact, the poor are where God lives. 

Check Judaism.  Check Islam.  Check pretty much anyone.

I mean, God may well be with us in our mansions on the hill…  I hope so.  He may well be with us as in all manner of controversial stuff… maybe, maybe not…  But the one thing we can all agree, all faiths and ideologies, is that God is with the vulnerable and poor. 

God is in the slums, in the cardboard boxes where the poor play house… God is in the silence of a mother who has infected her child with a virus that will end both their lives… God is in the cries heard under the rubble of war… God is in the debris of wasted opportunity and lives, and God is with us if we are with them.  “If you remove the yolk from your midst, the pointing of the finger and speaking wickedness, and if you give yourself to the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then your light will rise in darkness and your gloom with become like midday and the Lord will continually guide you and satisfy your desire in scorched places”

It’s not a coincidence that in the Scriptures, poverty is mentioned more than 2,100 times.  It’s not an accident.  That’s a lot of air time, 2,100 mentions.  [You know, the only time Christ is judgmental is on the subject of the poor.]   ‘As you have done it unto the least of these my brethren, you have done it unto me.’  (Matthew 25:40).   As I say, good news to the poor.   

I particularly love how Bono describes our obligation to the poor as an issue of justice, not charity later in the speech.  We are not sitting in our particular position of power and privilege on our own – our fortune has been made on the backs of those less fortunate, and it’s time we do what’s right by them.  Making the ONE campaign and AIDS relief into a blessed act (one required by our inner conscience and/or our personal god) resonated with me.  We should all take action to make Bono’s vision in this speech a reality, regardless of our faith or our political party.
Other bloggers have dissected his speech further, including lots of Christian bloggers saying stuff that I both agree and disagree with. (I was frankly surprised at the lack of secular, lefty bloggers talking about Bono’s impressive speech…). For a taste of what’s out there, check out:  Mark Driscoll, Musings, Josh Swihart, and Against the Grain.