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Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Colombia civil war: Is it really going to end?

One of the longest-lasting civil wars anywhere in the world -- in rural Colombia -- may be nearing its final stages. One can only hope....
Many forces inside Colombia, and in other parts of the world, have much invested in keeping this complicated historical conflict going. Only the people of Colombia need peace.
A long and painful period of national reconciliation is in order. Now begins the hard part.
If you don't yet know where Colombia is, click here.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Bolivia: A Nuclear Power?

Bolivia's announcement that it plans to build a nuclear-research complex near La Paz has taken some observers by surprise, and caused concern and consternation among some circles. There should be no surprise: It is in line with President Evo Morales' conviction that Bolivia is at the center of the universe, his regime can do no wrong, and that the fate of the world is in the hands of the poor, the powerless and the indigenous.

The complex, which will reportedly include "a cyclotron for radiopharmaeuticals, a multi-purpose gamma irradiation plant and a research reactor," is to be built on a 20-hectare site in El Alto, the huge and teeming city that overlooks La Paz on the Bolivian altiplano. Russia and Argentina will assist.

It will be widely noted among skeptics that Bolivia is one of the poorest nations in the hemisphere, even though it has billions of dollars in its reserves and earns hundreds of millions more each year by exporting natural gas on the legal market and cocaine on the black market. It's economy is probably the most vibrant and certainly one of the fastest growing in Latin America. Poverty, nevertheless, persists, despite numerous government programs to redistribute wealth among the indigenous majority.

The president's claim that nuclear technology is harmless, of course, is a subject of intense global debate. There are hundreds of nuclear reactors functioning around the world (see map below), but I wonder what the residents of Chernobyl and Fukushima would say. The jury is out on that one.

One of the main reasons for the nuclear complex is hubris and national pride. Bolivia recently became one of the poorest nations to have put a satellite in orbit, named the Tupac Katari after the Aymara Indian activist and warrior who fought the Spanish during the 18th Century. In doing so, Bolivia joined several other countries to have space programs that seem hugely unaffordable. The $300 million satellite, to serve national telephone, television and Internet needs, was paid for mostly with a loan from China.

Although I am highly skeptical of Bolivia's plans and its ability to carry forward such a project under the current political regime, there are others who are more supportive. Take a look at this Forbes story from last year. Whether it turns out to be a good idea or not, you have to hand it to Evo and his gang. They think big.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Leopoldo Lopez speaks from jail

Thanks to the New York Times for giving Lopez a voice. Today it published this op-ed piece.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Father Junípero Serra: Saint or Sinner?

  A controversy has erupted over Pope Francis's intended canonization of Spanish missionary Junípero Serra, who spent most of his life working in what is today Mexico and California. This has lowered a cloud over the pope's visit to the United States, which begins on Tuesday.
  Father Serra was a Catalan Spaniard and a Franciscan from the island of Majorca who later founded or took over mission outposts in Baja California and what was then "Alta California" in New Spain (Mexico). There were 13 missions in Baja, and 21 that ranged along the coast between San Diego and San Francisco, in what is today the state of California.
  During his early years in Mexico, Serra worked in the Sierra Gorda, a part of Mexico where the native people stubbornly resisted the colonialist's conquest and conversion. He was appointed Inquisitor by the Spanish Inquisition, and rooted out witches and other evil spirits among Christians colonialists. When King Carlos III expelled the Jesuits from Mexico in 1767, the Franciscans and Dominicans inherited the Spanish missions in Baja and Alta California. Serra eventually became the head of the missions in California, with his headquarters in Carmel.
  He is strongly criticized by Native Americans and others for harsh treatment (whippings and beatings) of natives, and for the destruction of their societies and cultures. In addition, as happened in other parts of North America, many thousands of natives died after exposure to syphilis and other diseases carried mostly by soldiers and other settlers.
  Some critics are openly protesting Francis's decision to canonize Serra during the papal visit to the United States capital next week. The indictments are numerous and convincing.
  Serra's defenders claim he was a mediating influence who opposed even harsher treatment of natives by the ruling Spanish military forces in the region, alongside which the religious orders had to co-exist.
  In July, Pope Francis visited South America, and during his trip through Bolivia -- where Evo Morales is serving as that country's first indigenous president -- Francis begged forgiveness for the Church's sins against indigenous people in past centuries.  In doing so, however, he added this:

  "I also want for us to remember the thousands and thousands of priests who strongly opposed the logic of the sword with the power of the cross. There was sin, and it was plentiful. But we never apologized, so I now ask for forgiveness. But where there was sin, and there was plenty of sin, there was also an abundant grace increased by the men who defended indigenous peoples."

  Serra's remains are at the mission in Carmel, California, where he lived. The mission has been restored in recent decades, and is open to the public. The mission continues to operate a museum, a school and a church.

                 (Photo is of an oil painting of the mission, circa 1875, by Jules Tavernier.)

Friday, September 18, 2015

El País Interviews Evo Morales

This interview with Evo Morales is informative, although the reporter
didn't push him to answer the questions. So seldom does he speak directly
to the media.

The Pope Comes to the Americas

  On Saturday, 19th September, Pope Francis will arrive in Cuba at the start of his nine-day tour of that island nation and the United States. He's never been to the U.S., even as a priest, bishop, or cardinal, but since he is Argentine by birth and therefore a native Spanish speaker, he'll feel quite at home in Cuba.

  More than 1,300 journalists, 1,000 foreign and some 300 of them Cuban, will cover the pope's visit to Cuba. Many of them will be there because of the key role Francis played in the rapproachment between Cuba and the U.S. Some will be drawn by the curiosity of seeing an aging Fidel Castro embrace a Roman Catholic pope. Still others will be there to shine a media light on Cuba as it opens to American tourism and business. Expect a flood of feature stories and sidebars on everything from crumbling historical architecture to miraculously-maintained 1950s era Chevys, from empanadas to samba and son. 
  Francis's theological arguments to attempt to bolster membership in the Roman Catholic church will carry some weight in Cuba, especially to those who are already believers. However, it is his political, social and economic pronouncements that will carry the greatest weight in socialist Cuba. His emphasis on economic equality, social justice and human rights will resonate more than any call for more Cubans to attend mass. According to some statistical sources, 44% of Cubans may not be religious but 80% love the Pope—Raúl Castro included.
  Francis is seen by some as bringing the church back to its revolutionary roots. He has a history of social activism himself, and his May encyclical letter "Laudato Si" sets out his revolutionary thoughts. They should play well in Havana and the other cities he visits in Cuba. They have fallen largely on deaf ears in the Western industrial world.  
   Meanwhile, in the United States, Francis plans visits to New York City, Washington, D.C., and Philadelphia. As is often the case, the geographic focus of his tour is on the Eastern political "Establishment." He will visit the poor and the incarcerated. That is good. We have a lot of both.
  But Francis might have considered coming west, to Los Angeles, San Francisco or Seattle. Or perhaps to El Paso, Texas, or Nogales, Arizona, where the migrant issue plays out every day. For some reason, nobody at the Vatican asked my opinion on his planned itinerary.


Monday, September 14, 2015

Reagan's Wars in Central America

  In the 1980s, all of Central America seemed to be at war.  The Sandinistas had defeated the Somoza regime in Nicaragua, and Reagan and his Cold Warrior aides were making war against "communist" rebels in El Salvador, using the U.S.-trained soldiers in that country. Meanwhile, Manuel Noriega, a former CIA "asset" in Panama, was playing both sides of the coin, taking American dollars while simultaneously colluding with the Medellin Cartel to smuggle cocaine into the United States.
  Meanwhile, peasant union leaders were being slaughtered in Guatemala by that country's soldiers, and in Honduras as well. Death squads were being formed, doing the dirty work of the Right.
 We must careful of what we do in this world. Because what you do, comes back on you.
  See this story in the New York Times recounting the massacre of Jesuit priests, nuns, a housekeeper and her daughter by U.S. trained special forces. History we would rather not remember.