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Monthly Archives: May 2009

Israel’s newfound concern for UNIFIL

How to be less restrained than before: the challenge facing the IDF in upcoming assaults on Lebanon. (Photo by Amelia Opalinska.)

How to be less restrained than before: the challenge facing the IDF in upcoming assaults on Lebanon. (Photo by Amelia Opalinska.)

A recent article in the online edition of the Jerusalem Post states that “Israel is becoming increasingly anxious about the fate of UNIFIL if Hizbullah increases its power in upcoming parliamentary elections in Lebanon.” Anxiety over UNIFIL’s fate was apparently not an issue in 2006 when an Israeli air strike on a UN post in Khiam killed 4 UN observers; the introduction of the word “increasingly” is thus encouraging.

Hezbollah has also been prone to bouts of worrying over the fate of Lebanon’s long-term guests, such as when UNIFIL enlisted the Party of God’s protection following a 2007 car bombing that killed 6 Spanish and Colombian troops. The bombing was attributed to Sunni militants whose proliferation in Lebanon had been encouraged by regional moderates like Fuad Siniora and the United States in order to counterbalance Iran; in other instances of convergence between radicals and moderates, Al Qaeda number two Ayman Al Zawahiri joined Israel in condemning innovative Lebanese answers to the question of who will guard the guards.

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Bolivians do exist

Coca leaves: victims of UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs. (Photo by Amelia Opalinska.)

Coca leaves: victims of UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs. (Photo by Amelia Opalinska.)

At a restaurant in Bogotá in March, a Colombian lawyer announced that Bolivians did not exist. Evidence in support of the case was that the lawyer had never met a Bolivian, and that the concept of Bolivia had most likely been invented by Hugo Chávez to give the impression that Venezuela was not acting unilaterally in the world.

I was not able to investigate the claim at the time, as my friend and I were currently investigating members of another nationality whose existence had been periodically denied. I did ask the lawyer, however, whether he felt that Colombia was theologically entitled to Bolivian territory, at which point parallels with Palestine broke down.

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Assorted interpretations of May 25

Opponents of Hugo Chávez express opposition. (Photo by Amelia Opalinska.)

Opponents of Hugo Chávez express opposition. (Photo by Amelia Opalinska.)

In my parents’ living room in Buenos Aires this morning, I scanned the online version of the Argentine journal La Nación in an effort to determine the justification for the current national holiday. An article proclaiming the 199th anniversary of the Revolución de Mayo in the headline offered no further clarification of the celebration aside from the information that President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner would be celebrating it at the Sheraton Hotel in Iguazú National Park, and that she would prefer not to talk about recent nationalizations by Hugo Chávez of steel companies belonging to Argentine-based multinationals.

According to another article on the site, Chávez’ confiscaciones had already been talked about, and Argentine businessmen had been assured by the Kirchner administration that “no somos Chávez.” The online readership of La Nación did not appear convinced of such distinctions, however, and, of the 6,148 responses that had been registered as of 10 AM to a poll regarding whether the government would defend Argentine business interests in Venezuela, 4.47% were positive.

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Words that start with L are confusing

Libya in 1986 or Lebanon in 2006? (Photo by Amelia Opalinska.)

Libya in 1986 or Lebanon in 2006? (Photo by Amelia Opalinska.)

According to Lebanon-based researcher Franklin Lamb, the opening words of US Vice President Joe Biden’s visit to Beirut yesterday consisted of: “I am happy to be in Libya… I mean Lebanon… this morning!” The confusion was not reported by other media outlets but is nonetheless plausible based on the fact that both nations contain a city called Tripoli.

Lebanon-Libya mix-ups are by no means a novel occurrence. One such mix-up occurred in 2006 among a group of British tourists on the Turkish Mediterranean coast, where the information that I had just been traveling in Lebanon was met with the indignant rejoinder: “But they bombed our plane!” Following a frantic scan of mental archives, I finally determined that the plane in question was Pan Am flight 103, and that Lockerbie also started with L. Iran, however, did not—nor did the USS Vincennes, which had shot down an Iranian airliner with 290 civilians on board shortly before the Lockerbie bombing.

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Explosive remnants in Colombia: In the jungle with el Gordo

Former location of temporary cocaine processing lab in Putumayo, Colombia. (Photo by Amelia Opalinska.)

Former location of temporary cocaine processing lab in Putumayo, Colombia. (Photo by Amelia Opalinska.)

Last month, my friend Amelia and I spent a week on a farm in the southern Colombian department of Putumayo, where our primary objective was to locate a cocaine processing laboratory in the jungle. The farm was inhabited by a family of economic migrants from a neighboring province tasked with looking after a herd of cows on behalf of the farm’s proprietor, who elected to reside in less oppressive temperatures when not serving jail time on narcotrafficking charges.

For the first several days of our stay, Amelia and I concentrated our efforts on slumping across the family’s outdoor patio table and interrogating them while they made cheese as to whether cocaine processing labs were air conditioned. As for the coordinates of the nearest lab, the answer was consistently a wave of the hand and an “está retirado”—“it’s far away,” which was incidentally the answer to most of our other questions, as well, such as how to get to the supermarket or to Bogotá.

Amelia and I persisted with our interrogations, figuring that the wave of the hand in regards to the processing labs was merely a bluffing technique acquired after decades of civil war, and that “están retirados” was probably a common response by farmers to visiting guerrilla or paramilitary delegations in search of their opponents. We eventually won over our first informant when the family’s 20 year old son—referred to as “el Gordo”—collapsed under questioning and offered to take us to a lab he had stumbled upon the other day.

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Boats from Libya threaten Italian identity

Structure in Puglia region of Italy, potentially susceptible to remodeling as mosque by invading Muslims. (Photo by Amelia Opalinska.)

Structure in Puglia region of Italy, potentially susceptible to remodeling as mosque by invading Muslims. (Photo by Amelia Opalinska.)

On May 7, 2009, 227 migrants en route from Libya to Italy were intercepted in the Mediterranean Sea and escorted back to Tripoli by three vessels belonging to the Italian state, two from the Guardia Costiera and one from the Guardia di Finanza. In the online version of the Italian journal La Repubblica, Italy’s interior minister Roberto Maroni applauded the feat as “un risultato storico” in the struggle against clandestini, and a resolution to arguments between Italy and Malta over which nation should have to deal with potential asylum seekers. Maroni reasoned that, since the migrants were intercepted prior to reaching Italian shores, international law did not apply and it was not the “compito del governo italiano”—the duty of the Italian government—to evaluate requests for asylum; not addressed was why it was the compito del governo italiano to redeposit the travelers at their point of embarkation.

Italian premier Silvio Berlusconi was quoted in La Repubblica as supporting the re-depositing based on the fact that, unlike the political left in Italy which wanted to open the doors to everyone, his government was not founded on the idea of a società multietnica but rather on the idea of receiving only those migrants who met the requirements for political asylum. No logistical details were offered on how to determine whether migrants met such requirements if they were forcibly repatriated prior to questioning; defense minister Ignazio La Russa meanwhile deflected potential accusations of xenophobia by explaining in the online version of Il Giornale that opposition to a multiethnic society did not mean that people of different ethnicities could not become Italian. According to La Russa, it was critical not to lose track of the history that made Italians “unici nel mondo”—a history of uniqueness that had included convictions during colonial periods that Libya was not opposed to a multiethnic society.

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May 17 celebrates anniversary

Meiss al Jabal, Lebanon: resistance fighters honor comrades killed in July 2006 war, another instance of Israeli insistence on historical repetition. (Photo by Amelia Opalinska.)

Meiss al Jabal, Lebanon: resistance fighters honor comrades killed in July 2006 war, another instance of Israeli insistence on historical repetition. (Photo by Amelia Opalinska.)

I was reminded this morning by Hezbollah’s Al Manar English news site that today is “May 17 2009, 26 Years on Foiling Humiliating Agreement with Israel”—in other words, the twenty sixth anniversary of the May 17 Agreement.

The agreement was a US-brokered peace initiative between Lebanon and Israel signed by the government of Amin Gemayel on May 17, 1983, following Israel’s 1982 “Peace for Galilee” campaign which caused the deaths of nearly 17,000 civilians in Lebanon. The agreement was later abandoned due to opposition from those who felt that 17,000 civilian deaths should not be met with peace for Galilee.

After scanning Al Manar’s May 17 commemoration, I paid a visit to the English language website of the Lebanese Kataeb Party, currently led by Amin Gemayel. Gemayel’s father Pierre had founded the party in 1936; Gemayel’s son, also Pierre, had been assassinated in 2006 during his stint as Lebanon’s industry minister. Gemayel’s brother Bachir had meanwhile been assassinated during his stint as Lebanese president in 1982, clearing the way for the signing of the May 17 agreement.

The Kataeb website made no mention of the anniversary, although the site did claim at 10.45 this morning that “Israeli fighter jets conduct low flights over [south Lebanese areas of] Marjayoun, Hasbaya, Nabatiyeh, and Iqleem al-Teffah,” something not mentioned by Al Manar. There were a number of possible explanations for Al Manar’s oversight, such as that Israeli over-flights were as intrinsic a part of Lebanese history as Gemayel family involvement in politics and thus considered repetitive news.

The Israeli Haaretz news site in English addressed other impending peace agreements with Israel, speculating that “Netanyahu unlikely to back Palestinian state in Obama meet.” The capacity for repetition in the Israeli context was meanwhile confirmed by the Haaretz headline: “Obama: I can’t tell Israel not to fear Iran.”