Tag Archives: war

Kupari: the sunbathing uncanny

Kupari was an amazing place… luxury hotels built by Tito for the relaxation of military personnel. Shot up and burned out during the war. All four of them. Three are great modernist frames of still structurally-sound concrete. They have been stripped, remain full of rubble and broken glass and you can pick your way up and down stairs. Plants grow exuberant in the courtyards and into the lobbies and corridors. The four hotels sit on a cove, the beach full of local families and tourists. Occasionally some of them wandered up the concrete stairs in chanclas, sunburned bellies pouring over flowered bermuda shorts.

I didn’t blog over our trip, a terrible thing because there is so much we saw, so much that was amazing, so much that I learned. There were also so many cats.

We took a bus down the coast from Dubrovnik, terribly hot humid no windows open standing room only. We got off and walked through a bit of woods and found this. We approached through the trees and the long grass, it felt lonely and abandoned. Empty.

Kupari

Kupari

It used to look like this

Now inside it is uncanny and strange and beautiful.

Kupari

Kupari

Kupari

Kupari

We went on to the next, a great square building around a courtyard burgeoning with life. Through almost every window, an incredible view of the sea:

All Inclusive! My favourite piece of grafitti.

Kupari

Kupari

Kupari

Kupari

Kupari

I think perhaps these two might have been enough, but there were more to see. We continued. The next building was older, riddled with bullet holes. This is the only place we went, I think, where the conflict felt real.

Kupari

Kupari

Kupari

Kupari

The last building, the most interesting perhaps but I already felt full.

Kupari

Kupari

Kupari

Coming to them from the beach full of baked bodies and primary colours felt so much more unreal. We walked from shadows to bright sunlight to shadow again. We found a bar at the end of the sand blasting Beyoncé. It could almost be any beach, though sandy beaches were rare here, and perhaps it is the looming hotels that made these a bit less crowded.

Kupari

Flickr Album Gallery Powered By: WP Frank

June Jordan’s March Song

Syria has been breaking my heart open, Palestine, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the present springing from a bloodied history of colonialism, intervention and horror. Today we are left with dead children. Numbed children. Cities flattened. Homes lost. Loves lost. Everything lost. People fleeing, suffering without succor. The racist idiocy in all of this of French police forcing women to strip themselves of veils and burkinis (fierce blogs out today here and here). I don’t write much about current happenings, other people are doing that much better than I could. The horror of a world at war, whole populations uprooted and struggling with violent death and loss, sits inside me though. Along with helplessness. Marching, signing petitions, emails, contributions…not enough. Recognizing that all of our struggles connect? Not enough either, but we must not forget it and we must wrestle with what that means. June Jordan did this with an integrity and a reach that humbles me. There is a wonderful blog here from Therese Saliba on June Jordan and her solidarity with the Palestinian struggle in essays and verse.

There is this poem from Living Room, 1985, a book dedicated to the children of Atlanta and Lebanon.

March Song

Snow knuckles melted to pearls
of black water
Face like a landslide of stars
in the dark.

Icicles plunging to waken the grave
Tree berries purple and bitten
by birds

Curves of horizon squeeze
on the sky
Telephone wires glide
down the moon

Outlines of space later
pieces of land
with names like Beirut
where the game is to tear
up the whole Hemisphere
into pieces of children
and patches of sand

Asleep on a pillow the two
of us whisper we know
about apples and hot bread
and honey

Hunting for safety
and eager for peace
We follow the leaders who chew up
the land
with names like Beirut
where the game is to tear
up the whole Hemisphere
into pieces of children
and patches of sand

I’m standing in place
I’m holding your hand
and pieces of children
on patches of sand (362-363)

Living room, room to live. This is from ‘Moving Towards Home’

I was born a Black woman
and now
I am become a Palestinian
against the relentless laughter of evil
there is less and less living room
and where are my loved ones?

It is time to make our way home. (400)

188044

More poetry…

Defending Krakow against attack

Bunkers. Missile silos. Forts. Three different underground (and aboveground) manifestations of the fear and violence pervading Western countries.

Krakow provided two examples…the underground bunker forming a large part of one of the two museums of Nova Huta, and the display of forts ringing Krakow built by the Austrians during their occupation.

Bunkers are always eerie places I think, bare white walls, industrial fittings. God, the thought of sitting in them, crouched and shaking. The thought of sirens and tremors in the earth and the trickling fall of gravel and the floating of cloudy dust from somewhere. The flicker of lights. I know this fear comes from films, but also I think from the fear we perhaps still carry around with us at all times however deeply buried that nuclear threats are still real, even though we have the luxury of living in places at war with countries far away. They are the ones suffering the bombings, not us and we wouldn’t know what to do if bombs found us here. Though sometimes they find their way.

All of these things come to mind, these are eerie places.

Nova Huta

Part of Nova Huta’s model design incorporated bunkers, it should have been bunkers everywhere for everyone. Simultaneously reassuring that thought and care has gone into providing for the safety of workers (where else are workers cared for?), and terrifying that this should be considered necessary. This is the map of shelters provided here:

Nova Huta

Yet as the display states, these were underfunded and not well maintained. They could not have withstood nuclear attack, many could not have withstood a direct hit, and they only had enough supplies to keep people underground for three days. They became outdated before they were even built.

More plans, I love plans, even for this:

Nova Huta

There were plans for training, for emergency response.

Gas masks though — the eeriest of all somehow. Poison gas being one of the more horrible things human beings have invented, a way to pollute the air, a way to pollute what gives us life so directly:

Nova Huta

Nova Huta

Nova Huta

Nova Huta

Nova Huta

This all jumbled up in strangely fascinating rooms with old technology.

Nova Huta

Nova Huta

They did have a robot on the way out though…

Nova Huta

This connects in my mind to the Titan Missile Museum, the WWII Western Approaches command centre in Liverpool.

It also connects to another tourist attraction — a much more popular one — the Kościuszko Mound. A monument to Polish hero of the American and Polish independence movements (and he lived in Bristol as well, I have seen the plaque). The mound contains dirt from Poland and America and is built within the confines of one of the ring of forts built by the Austro-Hungarian empire around the city while they occupied it.

Kościuszko Mound

The view back towards Krakow:

Kościuszko Mound

A map, if you will, of the mad flurry of military building:

Kościuszko Mound

A description of the ways the landscape was altered to confuse and kill the enemy. Primarily, ironically somehow, through the planting of trees:

Kościuszko Mound

The precise, almost beautiful geometries of fort design:

Kościuszko Mound

I did take us a while to find our way out of this fort. It did seem terrible human beings should spend so much time, intellect and energy on more ways to fight and to kill.

More posts on Poland:

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Hollow Land: Israel’s Architecture of Occupation

Hollow Land - Eyal WeizmanThis book is an investigation of the transformation of the Occupied Palestinian Territories since 1967. It looks at the ways in which the different forms of Israeli rule inscribed themselves in space, analysing the geographical, territorial, urban and architectural conceptions and the interrelated practices that form and sustain them. In doing so, it provides an image of the very essence of Israeli occupation, its origin, evolution and the various ways by which it functions.

Hollow Land is masterfully done as well. It is not a history or a detailed look at the current situation, but incorporates both into a study that instead does what Weizman calls ‘probing the various structures of territorial occupation’. His discussion of these structures is chronological, corresponding to different periods of occupation. It reads almost more like science fiction than Joanna Russ, who I was reading at the same time. It does not so much call upon Foucault or Deleuze and Guattari as exemplify them, and give them terrifying real world application. It is amazingly grounded and engaged, though the initial language put me off the tiniest bit. You think it will be theoretical and agonizingly abstracted from an unjust reality, but it is the opposite. There is so much here that makes you think about space and its connection to power and politics and war, but I personally am almost afraid to use it, as the situation it describes is unparalleled. The only thing I can relate it to is the murder and complete dispossession of Native Americans in the US and Canada. To relate it to less risks mocking the desperate violence and injustice of the occupation of Palestinian lands.

I am fascinated by the idea of elastic geographies, the way that borders and boundaries shift and change, the way that inside and outside are blurred. The State certainly has a level of power, but such boundaries are elastic because contested thus the actions of multiple actors comes into play:

‘Because elastic geographies respond to a multiple and diffused rather than a single source of power, their architecture cannot be understood as the material embodiment of a unified political will or as the product of a single ideology. Rather, the organization of the Occupied Territories should be seen as a kind of ‘political plastic’, or as a diagram of the relation between all the forces that shaped it.’

Spatial organization as a diagram of operating forces — a very cool way to think about space and power. He says elsewhere ‘The architecture of the frontier could not be said to be simply ‘political’ but rather ‘politics in matter’. This is a perfect connect to Lefebvre (who is never mentioned or cited — so many insights here appear to emerge organically from the subject, but in reviewing the notes and bibliography I found some absences rather curious), especially when he says things like

The various inhabitants of this frontier do not operate within the fixed envelopes of space – space is not the background for their actions, an abstract grid on which events take place – but rather the medium that each of their actions seeks to challenge, transform or appropriate.

Space is both the object of struggle and its product, it is both shaped by and shapes struggle.

I confess I did not know a great deal about the details of Israel’s occupation. While not written as a history, this gives you an incredible depth and breadth of view into the situation. It also challenges you to question liberalism itself, and joins in the growing body of literature critical of both liberal reform and foreign aid (and the ways these so often go together). He writes: ‘The history of the occupation is full of liberal ‘men of peace’ who are responsible for, or who at least sweeten, the injustice committed by the occupation. The occupation would not have been possible without them.’It also looks at the neoliberalisation of discourse: ‘Indeed, the bureaucratic infrastructure of the Oslo process sought to replace an ‘occupation’ with ‘management’. … In this way, Israeli-Palestinian interactions, which by the standards of international law were still performed within the framework of belligerent occupation, were depoliticized into a smilingly neo-liberal ‘service economy’, a mere business transaction.’ there is also the effort to make the situation seem a ‘natural’ rather than ‘political’ one, and the resulting policy effects:

‘Recasting the crisis in terms of ‘humanitarian politics’ was itself a political decision by the European and American donor countries; in doing so, they effectively released Israel from its responsibilities according to international law and undermined their own potential political influence in bringing the occupation to an end.’

The dallying of the IDF with radical and critical theory through their Operational Theory Research Institute (OTRI) was mind-boggling. That it came bundled in a chapter explaining the new Israeli practice of blasting their way through the walls of civilian homes to move around the refugee camps made it more sinister. Being a refugee is terrible enough, but for armed men to come blasting through your wall without warning? Terrifying. Pitched battles took place in living rooms, and people lived with these holes after the conflict, covering them over with shelves and etc. It all came to pieces in the end but wow. Here is Weizman to Naveh, one of OTRI’s directors:

I then asked him, if so, why does he not read Derrida and deconstruction instead? He answered, ‘Derrida may be a little too opaque for our crowd. We share more with architects; we combine theory and practice. We can read, but we know as well how to build and destroy, and sometimes kill.’

They go to look at Deleuze and Guatarri, rhizomes and war machines. Weizman continues

When I asked him if moving through walls was part of it, he answered that ‘travelling through walls is a simple mechanical solution that connects theory and practice. Transgressing boundaries is the definition of the condition of “smoothness”.’

Thus critical theory was divorced of moral content and socialist ideals, stripped down to its ability to disrupt and used both against the Palestinians as well as in power struggles within the Israeli military, allowing it to reinvent itself. Terrifying.

There is the banality of architecture and building construction with brutal consequences:

According to testimony from Machsom Watch, the tight turnstiles ended up causing more harm and chaos. ‘People got stuck, parcels got crushed, dragged along and burst open on the ground. Heavier people got trapped in the narrow space, as were older women and mothers with small children.’45 It is hard to imagine the cruelty imposed by a minor transformation of a banal, and otherwise invisible architectural detail, ostensibly employed to regulate and make easier the process of passage.

So much of interest around defining public and private, making and unmaking subjects, examining defense (against outside forces) as opposed to security (guarding from the enemy within). There is just so much in Hollow Land, I may well read it again.

My only (small) critique is that while Weizman emphasizes the multiplicity of actors responsible for the creation of space in the occupied territories, the role of Palestinian struggle only really emerges in the last chapter on Evacuations. Even where he emphasizes the ways in which Jewish settlers followed their own logics (to counterproductive results at times) and stated outright that Ariel Sharon didn’t mastermind the settlement process, the rest of the chapter (and perhaps the book) seems to prove that his finger was literally in every pie. In spite of its desires to the contrary, there is still some sense of overwhelming power and force that the last chapter doesn’t quite manage to overcome. Where are the points where hope is possible? Though I admit, given Israel’s latest round of assassinations and bombing of the Gaza strip even now, hope seems very far away.

[written back on November 6, 2012]

Save

Language, Landscape and Identity: Raja Shehadeh on writing and struggle

Raja Shehadeh - Language of War Language of PeaceRaja Shehadeh speaking in person to help launch his latest book Language of Peace, Language of War: Palestine, Israel and the Search for Justice was wonderful. That a scholar should be brought from Ramallah, that Palestine should be the topic to kick off LSE’s annual literary festival was a nice surprise.

In his description of his personal trajectory as a writer, Shehadeh quoted Sharon as saying that he wanted to sear into the consciousness of the Palestinians a new geography. Everything has new names, villages have disappeared, settlements appear and appear and appear. Roads he once loved and drove he can no longer drive and they are no longer called what they once were. Hills he once loved and walked, he can no longer walk.

To no longer walk the hills….

Raja Shehadeh - Palestinian WalksHe wrote Palestinian Walks as a response, to reject this imposition, to cement memory of what was before.

Palestinians have a word, samoud, the idea of persevering, of staying on the land. One word to hold all of this pain and struggle and determination. An idea to permeate all writing, all action. I wonder how many other peoples have a word for the long struggle against dispossession. I wish I had had one. Like him, I reject the idea that this must continue, that the poor, the less powerful must always be stripped of their lands if it happens that someone else wants them.

Clearly all of these books form part of this perservering. This connection between writing and struggle emerged in several ways — and while the questions especially brought out more of his thoughts on the legal and political strategies of fighting the occupation, it is the writing I will share here. There will be a podcast you can watch here when it is ready.

Raja Shehadeh said he once believed that a book can make a big difference, change the world. Not now. It can have a longer term effect, yes. But he no longer feels urgency.

He said writing always begins for himself alone, only later does it become public. He writes anything and everything in his journals, uncensored. Then reviews, revises, rethinks. That through writing he comes to understand things. But I love this sense of writing first for self, and then for public. It puts things round the right way I think.

Still, he writes to communicate. He does not write about the worst things that have happened in this conflict. He writes what people can take. What he can take. Left unsaid were all those things that have happened that no one can bear.

He read a passage about the burning alive of a young man in a forest. The message this was meant to send, the language of this message. Go, or we will burn your children. In strange coincidence I had only a few days before finished watching Shoah, it is not a film that soon leaves you. It is full of burning. So I sat there with these two things sitting together in me — I could not understand them. I have heard people try, but fundamentally these actions reject all words of understanding.

Books unleash the imagination, however. They remind us of the past when things were different, and push us to remember that the future does not have to be this way. It will not be this way. Hope lies in history and an imagination of the future — they teach us how all states were invented in the Middle East, they would not exist without subsidies. They seem natural to us, but they are not, nor are they sustainable.

He describes a world without borders, without fragmentation. The kind of world I too would like to see.

Raja Shehadeh will also be talking at the Mosaic Rooms on 25 February, at 7:00 pm, go see and hear, go buy the book(s).

Raja Shehadeh

Save

Protection Through Power: Titan Missile Museum

Able to launch from its underground silo in just 58 seconds, the Titan II was capable of delivering a 9-megaton nuclear warhead to targets more than 6300 miles (10,000 km) away in about 30 minutes. For more than two decades, 54 Titan II missile complexes across the United States stood “on alert” 24 hours a day, seven days a week, heightening the threat of nuclear war or preventing Armageddon, depending upon your point of view.
Titan Missile Museum website

Titan Missile Museum

If you had any doubt about the masculine nature of this power, and this strategy….

Titan II’s primary mission was deterrence. Deterrence is the art of creating in the mind of the enemy the fear to attack, preventing the start of the war.
— Sign posted at site

The video we watched was entirely cold war, full of ‘the enemy’ this and ‘the enemy’ that. It left me with a visceral hurt. A fear for our future. A quaking at this kind of madness because I can only see people’s faces, imagine their lives and loves and dreams, I cannot imagine an enemy. I was suddenly grateful to Stanislaw Lem, who pushes this thinking as far as it can go to serve as a warning too bitter for real satire (I had just read Peace on Earth, which chimed word for word with the rhetoric here).

It has a terrible logic to it, one you can feel and understand. Yet a logic that at no point meets with or shares anything with the logic by which I live my own life. My own logic that is continuously at risk due to theirs.

Not only did we create a missile capable of destroying this world as we know it, the propulsion system was driven by a mixture of two deadly chemicals, in themselves destructive of our earth.

Titan Missile Museum

Inside it is full of old technology, boxes of unknown lights:

Titan Missile Museum

The gear I associate with dreams and hopes of space travel, rather than mass destruction, making them eerie in this place:

Titan Missile Museum

Titan Missile Museum

Technologies to maintain a constant temperature for the sake of the chemicals, to protect the missile so it can be sent even after our own destruction at the hands of the Russian has been assured, to protect the people who must send it:

Titan Missile Museum

Everything on springs so the ground rocked by impact of their nuclear missiles, the release of our own nuclear missiles … nothing can be felt, and nothing but a direct hit can destroy this place.

Titan Missile Museum

Titan Missile Museum

The control room with its fascinating banks of ancient computers and instruments.

Titan Missile Museum

Titan Missile Museum

The control panel from which the missiles are sent to any one of three targets — no one at this site knows what these targets were. Absolved from responsibility of prior knowledge, crisis of conscience about loved ones, remembered streets, priceless treasures. The tour guide walked us through the launch sequence, the buzzers sounded, just as they would have sounded at the end of the world. Even knowing it was all for show, I can’t describe the feeling this left me with. The way my heart stopped its beating a moment. The sadness.

Titan Missile Museum

And the missile itself, the first glimpse with a reminder that no one can ever be alone in this place:

Titan Missile Museum

Titan Missile Museum

The blunt face of extraordinary violence, terror, death.

Titan Missile Museum

The relationship to space exploration technology is so clear I wonder that I ever felt them disentangled, that I ever could have possibly imagined a benign program to explore the stars. The components below evoke SF memories to me, I love metal. You could forget they were designed to kill every human being within 900 square miles of an air blast — because we could chose whether it detonated on impact or at altitude.

Titan Missile Museum

Titan Missile Museum

You are allowed to see everything, take pictures of everything, ask any question. Because technology has advanced so much we now have far deadlier weapons deployed in very different ways. Probably in many more places. We still stand on the brink of destruction.

Save

Roediger on How Race Survived US History

7986411This was quite a brilliant look at how and why the idea of race has developed in the United States. I haven’t read Roediger before so I can’t really compare it to his previous work, but given it’s written for a more popular audience, which I think is important, I did not mind the lack of footnotes. While it was reasonably short, I confess it took me a long time to get through and I’m not sure if that was because of the language or the weight of the ideas, but I didn’t regret a second.

It begins with a definition of race. For Roediger race is not a natural category, it is something new. It has been laboriously constructed to divide and sort people and thereby define how they relate to property, management, punishment and citizenship. The first of the two clearest examples of how this works is of course slavery, which took many different people of many different languages and cultures and defined them as black, as uncivilised and less than Europeans if not less than human, and only worthy of being slaves. The second is in the conquest and genocide of the Native Americans. Initially seen in the period of British rule as tribes with whom to ally with or fight against in the wars against other European powers, as a new nation began to create itself and push its boundaries they quickly became defined as red, as savages, as shiftless and lazy, and therefore worthy of being dispossessed of their lands. When they fought back? Jefferson himself argued shortly before his death that they be exterminated.

Through these stories we begin to come to grips with the two other key ideas about race contained in the book. The first is that of ‘whiteness as property’. Skin colour comes to define almost everything about an individual: where they live and work, what they can aspire to, the texture of their everyday life. When all else fails you can still cling to whiteness to put yourself above other people. You are a citizen. You cannot be enslaved. You are better than others. Your skin colour has a value, whiteness comes to be worth something in itself, something that distinguishes you and puts you above others. There was a time before this was true, when indentured servants and slaves escaped together, when the mixing of races was voluntary rather than from the rape of slaves. Laws made of whiteness something to be defended: banning interracial marriage, penalizing indentured servants who run in the company of a non-white, ruling that children share the freedom or the servitude of their mother, ruling people of color less than human and non-citizens. It was a combination of enticement and terror, whites either acted to their own benefit by buying into it or were punished severely for its transgression.

On the opposite side you found a law in Barbados from 1668: “An Act declaring the Negro-Slaves of this Island to be Real Estates.”

The second point is based on Stuart Hall (who I love). As Roediger says of him, he “acutely points out that racism emerges and is recreated from the imperatives of new sets of realities, not just from the bad habits of the past” [xiii]. The first key is that there are imperatives that drive this social construction of race, such as the desire for free labor to develop open land, the greed for land and expansion both in terms of speculation and profit, and to vent the building anger of the working white classes who are not finding in America their promised prosperity and demanding free land while threatening revolution. The second: that these imperatives do not just happen in some past time and continue on through inertia or habit (though the weight of the past cannot be treated lightly). The key is that racism still exists because new imperatives exist to ensure that it does. Until we understand them, we cannot end racism.

In a nutshell: “White supremacy persisted not only by working against the forces of freedom, of openness, and of economic rationality in US history, but also by working through them. Such complexities complicate the verb ‘survive’ in this book’s title, in that many of the forces pushing against the logic of racism at the same time validated, created, and recreated white supremacy.” [xv]

He goes on to explore and draw out these ideas through American history, looking at 4 key points where racism could have ceased, but didn’t. In very simplified terms:

How did it survive a revolution? Because honestly, it’s a bit ingenuous to revolt in the name of ideals of liberty and self-determination against British oppression while you yourself hold slaves. This is the classic ‘American dilemma’, which Roediger argues to be false. The revolution was funded by slavery, and Du Bois noted that the Constitution was in fact a huge blow to the slave liberation movement, Roediger sums it up succinctly: “[the constitution] made even indentured whites (their race unnamed) into “free persons”, it read Indians (who were named) out of citizenship, and it counted enslaved “other persons” (named neither racially nor in their servile position, by what one delegate called an “ashamed” constitutional convention) not as holders of political power, but as sources of such power for their own enslavers.” [51] Thus America becomes a white man’s country, welding together large and fractious class divisions through the imperative of expanding into Indian territory and maintaining race status.

How did it survive capitalism? Because even the Marxists argued that race would dissolve in the crucible of the working class. But in fact capital thrives on having different groups of workers in a hierarchy and in competition with each other, and it became policy to play these groups off one another. And slavery was not some pre-capitalist formation, it grew up with capitalism.

How did it survive jubilee and the abolition of slavery? That was the moment there was the most hope…but “Jubilee did not collapse under the weight of internal contradictions, but under extended assault.” The rise of the KKK, in one small town in Louisiana 60 republican party members were murdered during reconstruction. And then the fateful election where the Republicans gave up reconstruction all together and abandoned blacks to their fate for an uncontested election. Hayes almost certainly lost the popular vote, but he became president anyway.

How did it survive the immigration of those white Europeans most discriminated against? Through a process of coercion and aspiration and immense exploitation they slowly became accepted as white. In a sense they thus agreed to accept the rules of privilege rather than struggle against them.

And so it is still with us, Obama notwithstanding. The main point is “how unlikely it is that a force so longstanding, formative, and persistently recreated as white supremacy has been in United States history will be abolished by accident, as a result of the momentum of forces like capitalism or immigration that themselves have no anti-racist agenda.” [xv] We have to actively fight it, and to do so we have to understand it. This book takes us a great deal of the way I think. It is very US specific, while the drama of race has played out globally (as has the US role) and yet none of that is connected here which I found an absence. But this is an important book.

I’ll take my laughs where I can find them

And the comics in the paper, apparently, are a good place to go for a good bitter-sweet laugh on all that is wrong with the world. I don’t know when they made the move from Kathy to stuff like this, but it makes me happy, and so I’ve started actually reading this strip instead of single-mindedly focusing on the crossword…

Sorry it is crooked! But this one made me laugh. I’m not sure if you boil the geo-politics, structural poverty and greed of war all down to their essence that this is what you would get, but it is an essential point. And the mouse is hilarious. Far too much like me I think. So I am now part of the throng that thinks Stephan Pastis is brilliant. Pearls Before Swine.

Another War: Juarez, Mexico

Over 210 people have been killed in Juarez since the beginning of the year…it’s hard to know the exact figures, they keep finding bodies. It’s an all out war between the drug cartels, and the victims include corrupt cops, hired mercenaries, local street gangs, the soldiers sent in force to try and control the situation…and one can always hope not too many innocents. But this is a war complete with mass graves, automatic weapons, masked men roaming the streets, humvees full of men in fatigues. Such wars find it hard it hard to limit themselves to the active participants. It is generated and funded by the immense wealth to be found in supplying the immense demand in the United States for drugs and good times. Of course, the profits do not just come from trafficking drugs into the United States, they also come from trafficking people, many of whom are the afore-mentioned innocents. These people seeking hope and a better life (and miles between themselves and Juarez) also make good times possible by cleaning kitchens, cooking food, taking care of children, picking crops, building houses…In short, a lot of good times in the US are sponsored by Mexico. A lot of them are even enjoyed in Mexico, border towns are always good for hopping into for a cheaper currency, and picking up cheap goods along with your sex and drugs. Tijuana, Nogales, Juarez, they all have their strip of excess with their sex shows their buckets of cheap beer their drunken underaged drinkers their sunburned tourists. Survival is a difficult business, an ugly business here where extreme poverty collides with extreme wealth.

Juarez is famous in Mexican corridos for the drug running exploits, the colorful characters of the cartels, and its legion of corrupt officials. It is almost as famous for acres of maquiladoras manufacturing things very cheaply to sell quite expensively across the border. The women working in the maquiladoras are more victims, not only due to low pay and horrifying working conditions, but also the hundreds dead or disappeared over the past 15 years and no one prosecuted. They too have made it into song, these things might not hit the news very often but communities are always working to make sense of the world, talk about what is happening, try to improve thinsg for their children…

Las Mujeres de Juárez (Letra y música de Paulino Vargas, grabado por Los Tigres del Norte en su disco Pacto de Sangre [2004])

Humillante y abusiva la intocable impunidad
Los huesos en el desierto muestran la cruda verdad
Las muertas de ciudad Juárez son vergüenza nacional

Mujeres trabajadoras de maquiladoras
Cumplidoras y eficientes, mano de obra sin igual
Lo que importan las empresas no lo checa el aduanal
Vergonzosos comentarios se escuchan por todo el mundo

La respuesta es muy sencilla cuáles saben la verdad
Ya se nos quitó lo macho o nos falta dignidad
La mujer es bendición y milagro de la fe, la fuente de la creación
Parió al zar y parió al rey y hasta al mismo Jesucristo lo dio a luz una mujer

Es momento ciudadanos de cumplir nuestro deber
Si la ley no lo resuelve, lo debemos resolver
Castigando a los cobardes que ultrajan a la mujer
Llantos, lamentos y rezos se escuchan en el lugar

De las madres angustiadas y al cielo imploran piedad
Que les devuelvan los restos y poderlos sepultar
El gran policía del mundo también nos quiso ayudar
Pero las leyes Aztecas no quisieron aceptar

Tal vez no les convenía que esto se llegue a aclarar
Ya hay varias miles de muertas en panteones clandestinos
Muchas desaparecidas que me resisto a creer
Es el reclamo del pueblo que lo averigüe la ley


The Women of Juárez (Words and music by Paulino Vargas, recorded by Los Tigres del Norte on their album Pacto de Sangre [2004])

Humiliating and abusive, the untouchable impunity(1)
The bones in the desert show the raw truth
The dead women of Ciudad Juárez are a national shame
Women workers of the maquiladoras
Reliable and efficient, hired hands without peer

What is important to the businesses is not checked by the customs office
Shameful commentaries are heard throughout the world
The response is very simple to those who know the truth
Either we have lost our manhood or we lack dignity
Spoken: Woman is a blessing and a miracle of faith, the fount of creation

She gave birth to the czar and gave birth to the king, and even Jesus Christ himself was born of woman
It is the moment, citizens, to live up to our responsibility
If the law does not resolve this, we must
Punishing the cowards who abuse women

Tears, laments, and prayers are heard in the region
Of the agonized mothers and they cry on heaven to have pity
That the bodies be given to them so that they can be properly buried
The great world policeman also wanted to help us
But the Aztec laws did not allow it (2)

Perhaps it was not in their interest for this to be cleared up
Already there are thousands of dead women in hidden graves
Many disappeared, that I can hardly believe
The public demands that the law investigate this.

(1) “impunidad” is a common term in Mexico, referring to the routine failure of officials to bring criminals to justice. (2)This appears to be a reference to the Mexican government’s refusing US law enforcement assistance.
Translation ©2004 Elijah Wal

also published at http://www.allvoices.com/users/Andrea#tab=blogs&group=2