Monday, April 29, 2013

With Christians Like This ...

... who needs heathens?

From the Friendly
Dictators collection
The first time I heard about Guatemalan dictator José Efraín Ríos Montt was in the late 1970s, when he was rising through the ranks as a dictator-in-waiting. Oddly enough, I heard about him from a speaker at an evangelical assembly that I regularly attended at a youth. We were told of his conversion to Christianity, which in the parlance of Kansas City Youth for Christ meant converting from Catholic to evangelical. By uttering a few words about his relationship with Jesus, this man earned a kind of halo beneath which he could literally get away with murder, and retain the blessings of political and religious leaders in the United States.

I heard about Ríos Montt again yesterday afternoon, as NPR reported that his ongoing trial has been derailed. He is the first head of state ever to be tried for genocide in his own country, and it seems to have been a bad idea, as he still controls the process by a variety of means.

News of this apparent mistrial came on the same day I had been speaking of the relationship between religious leaders and human rights in Latin America, in a sermon on liberation theology in the context of Pope Francisco's inauguration. I had mentioned the Catholic church's history of collusion with repressive regimes, but should have included this example of evangelicals as well. In the United States, Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell supported Ríos Montt, as did Ronald Reagan, who was not religious but who owed his success in large part to appearing as though he was.

The crimes of Guatemala's dictators -- particularly Ríos Montt's move of the atrocities into the countryside -- those are described in the work of Nobel Laureate Rigoberta Menchu. The dictators and their executioners also documented their own crimes, as detailed in the Frontline documentary Guatemala: The Secret Files. The record-keeping obsession reveals an arrogance about the crimes that is difficult to fathom.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

The Most Important Town in the Americas

As I have written before, political self-determination has come very late to Bolivia, very late indeed. After the long night of colonization and post-colonial rule from afar, self-determination is taking hold, and the people are benefiting from the riches of their own land for the first time in 500 years.

I would argue that the turning point for democracy in Bolivia was the resistance in Cochabamba to Bechtel, a U.S.-based corporation that really was trying to take possession of the region's rain. As I wrote last summer, however, the people of Cochabamba did succeed in taking back the rain from Bechtel, but the spatial injustice of climate change means that they are still dangerously short of water.

All of this comes together brilliantly in También la Lluvia (Even the Rain), a 2010 film that tells the true story of Cochabamba through the fictional story of a film crew using the region as a low-cost location for a film about the original Conquest.

The result is a nuanced and many-layered examination of post-colonial structures of domination that privilege not only the obvious villains such as Bechtel but also those of us -- such as the film-within-a-film filmmakers but also academics and activists such as myself -- who can choose how and when to become involved in liberation.

By making the explicit the connection between the original Conquest and the ongoing condition of Conquest, the filmmakers bring to mind the words of Subcomandante Marcos (whose 60 Minutes interview from the 1990s is a great introduction), which were made famous by Manu Chao: "el larga noche de los quinientos años" (the long night of 500 years).


After reading this post, my favorite librarian and fellow Latin Americanist Pam reminded me of this doll, which we must have purchased during our 2008 visit to Guatemala. As Ed Bradley indicated in the interview mentioned above, about 30 percent of the Mayan soldiers in the Chiapas uprising were women, and Mayan women were equally involved in the long struggles for land and dignity in Guatemala, as described by Rigoberta Menchu.

The same was true of the Revolution that created the modern Mexican state, as it was in the Sandinista uprising in Nicaragua generations later.

Bringing this back to Cochabamba, I am not sure how women were involved in that smaller-scale standoff, but I do know that my Quechua friend Emilia appeared to be quite handy with the huaraca I purchased from her.

Chicken Run II

If the films Chicken Run and Blair Witch Project had a baby, it would have been born yesterday, and it would have been a buddy film with my good friend Ron, environmental geographer and organic farmer extraordinaire.

A pleasant transect of southeastern New England along Route 44 was the preamble to the real adventure, which began at, a true family business in Ellington, Connecticut. The name of the farm may be virtual, but the farm itself is very real, in transition from the hobby farm of a technology entrepreneur who includes his entire young family in the business.

As a member of Ron's CSA farm much closer to my home, I had once before offered the services of our trusty Saturn to transport chickens from Connecticut. Although the family station wagon might not be an obvious choice for livestock transportation, the climate-control allows Ron to avoid unflattering comparisons with Mitt Romney's dog carrier, and our car is more fuel-efficient than Ron's truck.

Believe it or not, with a few cages and pet carriers, our little wagon was able to hold forty mature hens! We knew they were mature because the sellers told us so, and because one of them laid an egg during the ride.

We packed them in tight because chickens enjoy resting close together, but the image looks a bit too much like factory farming. No worries, though, after two hours in cool comfort, they were released to their new home at Colchester Neighborhood Farm.

Tasting freedom again ... mind the hawks!
More photos from the journey -- with pithy remarks -- are on my Instagram account, beginning with the final image. At this point you may be wondering about the comparison to Maryland's most famous horror film. A friend made the comparison when she saw my wholly inept selfie online:
"I'm so sorry!"
The resemblance may be subtle, but I can see it:

Blair Witch Project

Sunday, April 07, 2013

Campaign Coffee Reblog

I just re-found my paper copy of Matt Viser's excellent article about coffee on the campaign trail, which I discussed on my Geography of Coffee Shops blog last winter. That blog is mostly dedicated to the visits my students make to coffee shops for my seminar, The Secret Life of Coffee.