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Partitioning Honduras: The advent of charter cities

(Image by Peter Oumanski for the New York Times. Accompaniment to Adam Davidson’s article encouraging charter cities)

Following is an excerpt from my latest op/ed for Al Jazeera.

At the end of 2011, an article appeared in The Economist proclaiming “an ambitious development project aim[ing] to pull a Central American nation out of its economic misery”.

The project in question: Charter cities. The nation: Honduras.

The article explains:

“In a nutshell, the Honduran government wants to create what amounts to internal start-ups – quasi-independent city-states that begin with a clean slate and are then overseen by outside experts. They will have their own government, write their own laws, manage their own currency and, eventually, hold their own elections.”

The term “eventually” should raise some warning flags. According to US economist Paul Romer, whose brainchild the charter city concept is, the apparent affront to democracy is not actually problematic because the cities will be inhabited entirely by migrants who have taken up residence of their own volition. The Economist offers an analogy: 

“Migration to Britain gives the legal system there legitimacy in the eyes of those who move there, even if they cannot vote. If the English legal system were enforced on the same person in his home country, Mr Romer notes, that would be colonial rule.”

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Honduras’ Illegitimate President and His Cheering Squad

Image from Flickr via Fellowship of the Rich

The following is an excerpt from my latest piece for Guernica Magazine.

Last week, in Washington, D.C., Honduran President Pepe Lobo was honored with an International Leadership Award from the U.S. Congressional Hispanic Leadership Institute (CHLI, endearingly pronounced “chili”).

This is the latest in a sequence of preposterous euphemisms emitted by the U.S. political establishment with regard to the Honduran regime, described by Hillary Clinton in 2010 as being committed to democracy. All this despite Lobo’s ascension to power via illegitimate elections conducted in the aftermath of the coup d’état against democratically elected President Mel Zelaya.

One possible explanation for CHLI’s enthusiasm is that the organization’s Board of Directors includes Congressman Mario Díaz-Balart, former Congressman Lincoln Díaz-Balart, and House Foreign Affairs Committee Chair Ileana Ros-Lehtinen—who paid a joint visit to Tegucigalpa in 2009 to reaffirm the democratic nature of the military coup. The Board also includes corporate representatives from AT&T, Coca-Cola, and Wal-Mart.

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Resistencia: the film

Check out the trailer for “Resistencia”, Jesse Freeston’s documentary-in-progress, and visit the film’s website.

A bit of background to the documentary, courtesy of Freeston:

The film follows 3,000 landless farming families as they occupy the palm oil plantations of Miguel Facussé, the richest man in Honduras. Over their two-year-long occupation, they’ve been threatened, jailed, beaten, had their homes burnt down, and more than forty farmers have been killed by Facussé’s guards, the police, and the military, all of which work together to try and push them off the land. Despite this constant violence, the families are still there and they’re not going anywhere.

The occupation began after the 2009 military coup d’etat—organized by Facussé and other oligarchs—that overthrew the only president that ever supported the farmers. Abandoned by the electoral process, the farmers took over the land and are now implementing their own democracy inside the occupied plantations.

Burning the dregs of Honduran society

(Photo: Orlando Sierra/AFP/Getty Images)

The following is my latest piece for Al Jazeera:

On February 14, over 350 inmates at La Granja penitentiary in Comayagua, Honduras perished in a fire – the latest in a series of obstacles to existence among the Honduran prison population, which has over the years been subjected to various incinerations and massacres as well as to floodwaters from Hurricane Mitch.

On February 17, the prominent Honduran newspaper El Heraldo, mouthpiece of the elite and champion of the 2009 coup d’état against President Manuel Zelaya, announced that there were innumerable hypotheses as to the origins of the blaze, among them conspiracy theories and material worthy of “crime novels”. After reviewing such possibilities as that the “delinquents” had set the fire to facilitate a prison break or to register their distaste with a new law permitting the extradition of persons affiliated with organised crime, the author of the article observed:

“Meanwhile, extremist persons have dared to accuse the government of being behind events like Comayagua, with the aim of ‘eliminating’ ‘undesirable’ gang members. This group of people is referring to [the circumstances of] two prison fires in 2003 and 2004”. [quotation marks in original]

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The many faces of human rights terrorism

Despite Fujimori’s efforts to preserve the human rights of Grupo Colina affiliates by passing an amnesty law, both the massacres contributed to his own eventual conviction and imprisonment in 2009 (Gallo/Getty)

The following is my latest piece for Al Jazeera.

In September 1992, Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori accused Angelica Mendoza– a septuagenarian resident of the town of Ayacucho – of being the “ambassador to France for Senderista terrorism”.

Mendoza’s 19-year-old son Arquimedes Ascarza, rumoured to be collaborating with the Maoist guerrilla organisation Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path), had been disappeared by the Peruvian army in 1983. In addition to being his mother, Mendoza’s terrorist credentials also included helping to found the National Association of Families of the Kidnapped, Detained and Disappeared of Peru (ANFASEP) as well as travelling briefly to Europe, in conjunction with other terrorist outfits such as Amnesty International, to publicise human rights abuses in the South American nation.

The year 1992 – the year of Fujimori’s accusation – also happened to be the year in which a professor and nine students from Lima’s National University of Education were abducted from campus and murdered by the Grupo Colina death squad, which included members of the Peruvian armed forces. In 1991, the same group assassinated an eight-year-old child and 14 other people at a social gathering in the neighbourhood of Barrios Altos.

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A convergence of convergences: Friedman vs Parenti

Christian Parenti

The following is my latest piece for Al Jazeera.

When I started reading Christian Parenti’s latest book, Tropic of Chaos: Climate Change and the New Geography of Violence, it was not with the intention of evaluating his work against that of bumbling New York Times foreign affairs columnist Thomas Friedman.

In fact, after spending the last two years of my life thinking about Friedman, my aim as of late has been to not think about him. In the case of Tropic of Chaos I succeeded until page 7, on which Parenti summarises the book’s premise:

Climate change arrives in a world primed for crisis. The current and impending dislocations of climate change intersect with the already-existing crises of poverty and violence. I call this collision of political, economic, and environmental disasters the catastrophic convergence. By catastrophic convergence, I do not merely mean that several disasters happen simultaneously, one problem atop another. Rather, I argue that problems compound and amplify each other, one expressing itself through another.

Reading this, the first thing that occurred to me was that Friedman is also the author of a convergence involving three elements. Conveniently branded “the triple convergence”, it debuted in Friedman’s 660-page advertisement for US-directed corporate globalisation, The World Is Flat.

Friedman explains the triple convergence by recounting one of his “favourite television commercials” about the Konica Minolta bizhub as well as a tragic tale about ending up in the “B” rather than “A” boarding group on Southwest Airlines due to unawareness of at-home boarding pass-printing capabilities. The theory is too long-winded to delve into here – suffice it to say that the first of the three convergences is that of the “ten forces that flattened the world”, among them “Flattener #5: Outsourcing” and “Flattener #10: The Steroids”, which are new technologies that have acquired this moniker “because they are amplifying and turbocharging all the other flatteners”.

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Ahmadinejad contemplates Latin America caliphate

(Photo: EPA)

The following is my latest piece for Al Jazeera.

In September 2007, The Miami Herald columnist Andres Oppenheimer wrote:

Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad must love the tropics. He has spent more time in Latin America than President Bush over the past 12 months.

Given that the name of the former US president was never associated with a tradition of international travel, this was not an overwhelmingly surprising calculation.

It was reiterated, however, in a 2009 investigation by Ely Karmon of the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism in Herzliya, Israel, who additionally warned that Farsi was being taught at Venezuelan universities; that a number of Iranian engineers had acquired basic Spanish; and that the Latin American poor might respond favourably to “radical Shiite ideological teachings”.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez’s declaration during Ahmadinejad’s visit to Caracas later that year that “I am certain that the God in Iran is the same as the God in Venezuela” presumably did not assuage concerns.

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