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Monthly Archives: April 2010


Suriname may have fewer missiles than Hezbollah

Yesterday afternoon at the house of the family that is currently hosting me near downtown Beirut, Samar—a 46 year old mother of three—predicted an imminent repeat of July and August 2006, when dozens of relatives from the Hezbollah-controlled southern suburbs had descended upon her home in order to avoid being the targets of Israeli surgical precision.

The cause of Samar’s prediction, it turned out, was U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates’ announcement during a Tuesday press conference in Washington, D.C. with Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak that, thanks to Syria and Iran, Hezbollah has “more missiles than most governments in the world.” Leaving aside the issue of how most governments in the world do not face regular attacks by the primary recipient of U.S. military aid, it is still unclear why Gates did not devise a similarly precise formula during his recent visit to Colombia, where instead of recognizing that the administration of Alvaro Uribe has “a worse human rights record than most governments in the world” he simply proclaimed Colombia a model for regional security. As for why it is that Hezbollah is more capable than the Lebanese state when it comes to repelling Israel from Lebanese territory, this may have something to do with the fact that U.S. military aid to Lebanon tends to center around less sophisticated weaponry such as night-vision goggles.



U.S. Advises Security Apprenticeships in Colombia

Uribe and Gates. (Photo: Reuters)

During his visit to Bogotá last week, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates announced:

Colombia’s success against terrorists and narco-traffickers does offer a lot of opportunities for them to share their expertise. We certainly would like to see . . . other countries take advantage of Colombia’s strengths.”

Gates noted that Peru and Mexico were already taking advantage of Colombian strengths in the area of military training but failed to note the current presence in Colombia of a delegation of mayors and vice-mayors from 26 different cities in Honduras, accompanied by Honduran Interior Minister Áfrico Madrid.


"Coffee with Hezbollah" review by Mary Rizzo

Following is a review of my book Coffee with Hezbollah, written by Mary Rizzo for Palestine Think Tank.

Before reading the wonderful book by Belén Fernández “Coffee with Hezbollah”, I never would have imagined it possible to read about the post-destruction aftermath of Lebanon and smile at the same time. The pretext alone, a hitchhiking trip from Turkey to southern Lebanon simply “feels” dramatic, especially when the memory of Brides on Tour, was still fresh. Would two young, attractive, independent women meet a better fate than the raped and assassinated Pippa Bacca, travelling in the same way, with each new step being not only a test of their own wits and good fortune, but also a constant surrender to trust in a world wracked by its encounter with the ultimate violence?

Belén and her friend and travelling partner Amelia Opalinska were on the road in much the same way as Che Guevara and Alberto Granado, and it’s not incidental that they recount moments from their adventures in Latin America and Cuba in “Coffee with Hezbollah”. In a similar way to the historically relevant on the road experiences of the revolutionary, conversations described and rapid changes in plan (or even in mood) allowed the reader to feel a sincere interest in the persons they encountered as well as a way to describe the larger paradigm of Lebanon. The people who populate this book, with their idiosyncrasies, their habits, beliefs and expressions, are part of the story, an exchange that appears to these eyes only slightly hampered by needing to resort to “pidgin English” (however, the fact that many of these people spoke some English at all is testament to their desire to reach out to the world). Nevertheless, each conversation and encounter left up to fate brought a new insight, a new interpretation of a fragmented reality.


Mustafa fends off Islamic republic in Turkey

Atatürk and rakı, a scene undermined by current ruling AK Party. (Image from harbigazete.com)

A 62 year old Turkish acquaintance of mine recently informed me that he had erected an empire and was now going by the title İmparator Mustafa.

The empire currently extends from Mustafa’s ground-level apartment in the seaside town of Fethiye in southwest Turkey to the three rental apartments he has just constructed above it. The creation of novel territorial entities has apparently been necessitated by Mustafa’s conviction that, prior to the rise to power of the Islamic-oriented Justice and Development (AK) Party, Turkish girls roamed the streets in bikinis.

In order to construct the apartments, Mustafa tore down the restaurant he had operated since the 1970s but that had in recent years failed to subsidize his daily consumption of rakı, the national alcoholic beverage, serving instead as a forum for Mustafa to spout political wisdom to the gang of loyal companions that arrived each night with bags of sunflower seeds and beer. His attempts to seduce European tourists with a misspelled banner advertising the “Ottoman Fantazy Kebab”—the distinguishing characteristic of which was that it was cooked on a cast-iron contraption Mustafa swore was an Ottoman army relic—proved fruitless, and the novelty was discontinued after one too many wooden chairs had been sacrificed to maintain the kebab oven’s flame.


Ecuadorian Huaorani photographs by Amelia Opalinska

For more than half a century, indigenous Huaoranis in the Amazonian region of Ecuador have been courted by exploitative entities, ranging from evangelical Christian missionaries who dropped cooking pots on them from helicopters in the 1950s to international oil companies who today facilitate their acquisition of DVD players.

Below is a series of photographs of Huaorani villages by Amelia Opalinska, taken during our hitchhiking trip through Ecuador last year. My essay “Oil and Aguardiente in the Ecuadorian Elections” chronicles our interactions with various indigenous groups in the context of the national elections held on April 26, 2009, and with one of the participants in a Huaorani massacre of members of a tribe existing in voluntary isolation.

Click on each of the photos below to view a larger image.


U.S. vs. Merriam-Webster on Kyrgyzstan

Restoration of Kyrgyz democracy will not threaten future of Manas air base.

In the April 12 U.S. State Department briefing entitled “The Current Situation in the Kyrgyz Republic,” Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asian Affairs Robert O. Blake, Jr. explains to his audience that the purpose of his impending trip to Bishkek is to meet with interim leader Roza Otunbayeva and other members of the provisional government installed after riots last week caused Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiyev to flee the capital. He continues:

My main goal will be to hear from the Kyrgyz administration about their assessment of the law and order situation, the steps that they plan to take during their six-month interim administration to organize democratic elections and a return to democracy, and how we might be able to help them to restore democracy and economic growth in Kyrgyzstan.”

The first question Blake receives is thus:

[D]oes this mean that you’ve basically thrown Bakiyev under the bus?”


U.S. ambassador to blame for Zelaya deportation drama

Proof of the Llorens-Zelaya love affair. (Photo: AP)

In a Mar. 29 article entitled “The U.S. vs. Honduran Democracy,” The Wall Street Journal editorial board member Mary Anastasia O’Grady—whose claims to fame include the notion of an inextricable bond between the Obama administration and Hugo Chávezutilizes the recent health care vote in the U.S. to remind readers of the government’s continuing battle against democratic Latin American endeavors such as last year’s Honduran coup d’état:

The image of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi wielding what resembled an oversized mallet while leading a mob of congressmen across Capitol Hill on the day of the health-care vote is the stuff of nightmares. It is also instructive. As a metaphor for how the Democrats view their power, the Pelosi hammer-pose could not be more perfect.

Just ask Honduras.”