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Monthly Archives: October 2010


All That Glitters Isn't Gold

For the poor of Central America, perks of residing in the backyard of northern neighbors have over the past century included eligibility to serve as collateral damage in U.S. wars on drugs and communism and as guinea pigs in U.S. government syphilis experiments.

Steven Schnoor’s documentary “All That Glitters Isn’t Gold: A Story of Exploitation and Resistance”, viewable below in 6 parts, addresses other perks, such as eligibility to host open-pit cyanide leach mining projects by Canadian corporations and suffer corresponding arsenic contamination and agricultural destruction.

The documentary focuses on the Siria Valley in Honduras, site of Goldcorp’s San Martin mine—opened in 2000 following the passage of a pro-mining law hurriedly passed by the Honduran Congress in the wake of Hurricane Mitch, which devastated the country in 1998.

Former Honduran President Mel Zelaya, prior to being ousted in the June 2009 coup, had supported legislation to ban open-pit mining. The post-coup ascension to power of an illegitimate regime obsequious to elite and corporate interests thus underscores the continuing relevance of the documentary, which was made several years ago.



U.S. mediates talks between Abbas and sculpture of comatose Sharon

(Photo: Sinai/Getty)

Following the recent unveiling of a life-size sculpture of incapacitated former Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon, ex-Sharon adviser Ra’anan Gissin registered his opposition to artist Noam Braslavsky’s rendering of the politico-military figure, saying that he did not care to remember Sharon in his current vegetative state but rather in his proper incarnation, when he was “always active, always doing something for better or for worse”.

Had Braslavsky been more considerate, he might thus have alluded to Sharon’s for-better-or-worse activity by installing his piece not at a Tel Aviv art gallery but rather at the al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem or the Sabra and Shatila Palestinian refugee camps in Beirut.


Ecuadorian Quechua Photographs by Amelia Opalinska

Hitchhiking in the Amazonian region of eastern Ecuador in April of last year, photographer Amelia Opalinska and I were faced with the dilemma of how to visit remote indigenous villages and other uncommon vehicular destinations.

Transportation to the Huaorani village of Tigüino was not an issue given the heavy presence of oil companies and related traffic. In order to reach certain Quechua villages, meanwhile, we took advantage of the national election campaigns currently underway and appealed to the local coordinators of the indigenous-oriented Pachakutik party (now part of the controversy over the recent maybe-or-maybe-not-coup-attempt against President Rafael Correa), who permitted us to join their campaign expeditions. We selected this party not out of an affinity for any particular aspect of its political platform but rather out of an affinity for its rainbow-themed posters.

Following is a series of Opalinska’s photographs of various Quechua communities. Click here to view a previous series on the Huaorani and here for a longer article on our electoral experience in Ecuador.


Welcoming our Troops

Soon to be equipped with circus music.

I am picking up a Turkish friend from Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport in Texas. His arrival happens to coincide with that of a planeload of U.S. soldiers back from a foreign theater of operations, in what appears to be a regular occurrence given the giant Welcome Home plaque permanently installed on the wall here in the arrivals hall, thanking troops for their service.

Family members have gathered with American flags and are being shepherded into two rows, forming an aisle in preparation for the arriving troops. The shepherds consist of a pudgy blond woman with a clipboard and a grey-haired military veteran with a baseball cap and an earpiece via which he is tracking troop movements toward the baggage claim.

The veteran is also in charge of the stereo that has been set atop a trashcan off to one side. Following confirmation by the earpiece, the stereo starts to blare music appropriate for a carousel. Behind the trashcan is a television screen featuring footage of previous troop homecomings and children hugging their fathers, lest the emotion of the actual moment not suffice. On hand are several video cameras to capture shots for future emotional recycling.


Ahmadinejad abandons nuclear aspirations, sets sights on Israel’s National Water Carrier

Bint Jbeil, south Lebanon, site of provocation by Ahmadinejad. (Photo: Amelia Opalinska)

Traveling in south Lebanon in the wake of the July War of 2006, I often acquired water bottles with labels depicting the variety of unexploded cluster munitions that one should keep an eye out for when walking in certain areas, such as in one’s yard.

Thanks to the state of Israel, it was thus possible to engage in the fundamental life process of hydration while simultaneously contemplating the sudden termination of all such processes. As for other regional water-related Israeli operations, these have enabled affected populations to not hydrate themselves.

It is the recent visit to south Lebanon by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, however, that has been classified as intentionally provocative by the United States and Israel, despite the fact that the visit included the United Nations compound in the village of Qana where 106 Lebanese civilians were massacred by the Israeli military in 1996.


Iraq was a Happy Accident


Perhaps because I have been reading too much Thomas Friedman lately, I feel compelled to mention a recent experience I had on an airplane. I promise the experience did not involve deciding based on a word written on the back of a fellow passenger’s jacket that Pakistan is either the Titanic or the iceberg.

It did involve sitting next to a former U.S. tank commander in Iraq who is now an intercontinental employee of a private security firm and had just returned from Liberia. He amused himself by poking me during moments of turbulence and announcing that security was an illusion, whether in the context of private military contracting or aircraft journeys.


Travel alert to Americans in Europe: Learn how to use pay phones

(Image by Amelia Opalinska)

As if color-coded domestic terror advisories were not vague enough, the U.S. State Department has now issued a travel alert, set to expire on Jan. 31, 2011, for Americans in Europe. According to The New York Times, “The decision to warn travelers came as officials in Europe and the United States were assessing possible plots originating in Pakistan and North Africa, aimed at Britain, France and Germany.” The Christian Science Monitor notes: “Media reports have linked the plot to US drone strikes in Pakistan. But it is unclear whether the Al Qaeda plot was an attempt to respond to the drone strikes, or whether the strikes were intended to disrupt the plot – or both.”

Following are a few excerpts from the State Department teleconference briefing yesterday with Undersecretary for Management Patrick Kennedy, who does not discuss drone attacks on Pakistan but does discuss how important it is, in light of the travel alert, that Americans know how to operate foreign pay phones. Why the Pakistani government does not issue terror advisories of its own is meanwhile called into question by headlines like this one.

UNDER SECRETARY KENNEDY: … [O]ne has to understand how I guess we get to a Travel Alert. It is a cumulative process. The State Department, every day, has personnel who monitor the world, looking at conditions that might have an impact on American citizens, and as information comes on, there could be a eureka moment where there is information that comes to our attention that – bingo, that’s it, we issue the – an alert immediately.