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Massiel

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lolitastravels:

What could have happened if Massiel didn’t go to authorities? Where is the justice?

Originally posted on Caracas Chronicles:

MassielPacheco We’ve been meaning to write about the sad case of Massiel Pacheco for a while, but … así estarán las cosas … things are so bad that the case has gotten lost in the shuffle of news coming out of Venezuela.

Massiel Pacheco is a working class food vendor in Caracas’ Parque del Este. A few weeks ago, upon arriving to her food stall to begin her shift, she found a bag containing what seemed like homemade explosives.

After consulting with her co-workers, she decided to go to the authorities and alert them of what she had found. She ended up behind bars and charged with terrorism. She now languishes in Los Teques’ female prison awaiting trial, the only person charged with terrorism since the protest movement began.

El Nacional’s Laura Castillo wrote an extensive profile of the sad Massiel affair, including interviews with her relatives. The money quote:

Leaving the bag anywhere…

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Gabriel García Márquez has passed

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Originally posted on Caracas Chronicles:

Garcia Marquez Gabriel García Márquez , one of Latin America’s most widely read and beloved authors, has died today .

El Gabo, as he was known to everyone, had strong links to Venezuela. Born and raised in the Colombian coastal region that shares so much cultural affinity with our own country, García Márquez actually lived in Caracas for a while, and had many friends in our country. When he received his Nobel prize dressed in a liqui-liqui, the traditional dress of the northern plains of South America, somehow we all felt deeply proud. I was just a kid, and I remember it.

Although always a man of the deep, deep left, García Márquez was not really a chavista. He never connected with Chávez the way he did with, say, Fidel Castro. Still, his piece on Hugo Chávez, written during the early years of his presidency, warned us of the dual nature of…

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The Pointed Path To Peace

April 2003

IN THE 12KM between Trincomali and Nilaveli, there are two police checkpoints, a World War II British veterans’ cemetery, a garbage dump that looks to be afire, many old bus stops – one bearing “Lovers Day” and “I Love You” graffiti – numerous brick shacks, and one expansive thatch-roofed shanty refugee camp. It is estimated over a million people are displaced after Sri Lanka’s civil war or “freedom struggle”. Tamils worry that many could see The Tigers (The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam or LTTE), as terrorists and they fear a war on terrorism. Economics are behind the peace agreement: the promise of foreign investment put peace on the table.

Driving down Sri Lanka’s east coast, war seems to be everywhere, touch everything. From Batticaloa, we drive past police training headquarters and more checkpoints, military sites, and automatic weapon-hauling troops running through obstacle courses and ground training. We continue south past bombed out houses and buildings wrought upon by war’s havoc, in between beautiful fields of fertile, arable land and rice paddies. We come across more army posts and armed troops piled into camouflaged trucks and jeeps or riding bicycles with AK47s slung over their shoulders. Every road lined for miles with coiled razor wire and barbed wire fencing. Some areas camouflaged the wire with palms, but camouflage is camouflage, not decoration nor beautification. Imagine everyday going to and from school or work, confined by barbed wire. Afternoon comes and many towns are closed for prayer. Women are garbed in white or black, and children are wearing mauve school uniforms. We are in a land of mosques, beards, beef pastries, and no alcohol. In Oddamavadi, we pass under a giant banner that reads: SADDAM HUSSEIN MUST WIN: SATANIC BUSH MUST PERISH. We are Western non-Muslims in a Muslim area of a non-Western country during a Western War on Terrorism.

We reach the small east coast fishing village of Arugam Bay. Here, corner stores display pictures of Osama Bin Laden and Mecca, and vocalized opinions are that of “Americans bad! Canadians good! Support Sri Lanka!” This often translates into: give me money. There are few tourists, mostly surfers and a few girls. They are not used to Westerners here, and as weeks go by and lingering stares and halted gaits to get and see us females up close up continue, I often feel uneasy.

4:30am I awake to the light switching on then quickly off. Someone is outside the hut. Half asleep, I glance left out the window. A dark face appears in the black night two feet away. “Hey!” I exclaim, and point at him. Not thinking clearly, I clap my hands twice – perhaps in hopes to scare the guy off – nudge my boyfriend next to me and sputter, “Aron! There is a guy at the window!” The guy vanishes, only to reappear in the other window, now gazing at us straight ahead. Aron sees him, gets up, standing 6’3”, he bellows something out – and he was gone.

In the morning, we tell Ranga, the owner, about the incident. Ranga is a kind man, a big man with a big beard and a big belly, always wearing a blue sarong. He is a Tamil in a town of Muslims. He does not interfere. He tells us it is one of two reasons or types of people: first, it could be someone older, a brown sugar addict, “like my neighbor, the guy that always walks around here selling hash, or showing up with surf boards, looking for anything for a quick steal to sell and get cash. He used to be a nice guy, he is my neighbor, but now he is not nice even to his family;” or second, a younger 13-15 year-old kid wanting “to see boobies. Some Muslim kids have never even seen the arms of their mother or sister.” We figure our Peeping Tom was the latter, and though unsettling, at home we do not leave our ground-level windows wide open at night. It is hot here, in this eastern Muslim village, and we are staying in a beach hut for $10 CDN a day, including breakfast, for both of us.

There is a ceasefire, yet the scads of armed forces and razor wire all down the east coast belie it. We hire a tuk-tuk driver to take us to the bank in Pottuvil. We pass more army barracks with officers armed, ready, watching through the wire. We are told traps are set up in the marshes, and tires are positioned as clues. The horizon consists of bombed out, deserted areas, old war zones that a few survivors have returned to and now somehow inhabit.

In the bank in Pottuvil, two uniformed men with guns stand watch. One in a green uniform goes outside for a moment, AK47 slung over his shoulder. The other one, younger, in a dark mauve uniform, follows suit, only he leaves his automatic weapon on the seat just inside the entrance to the bank. The unmanned weapon, not ten feet away from me, remains in the front entrance of the bank unattended, long enough for me to notice and point it out to my boyfriend, and long enough to have gotten up, grabbed it and held the bank up – before the uniform scurries back inside to grab his weapon. Perhaps he is still in training.

Potential Partners

February 2003

I ARRIVED IN COLOMBO at night. Wade told me he would sort out a ride from the airport. He showed up with three men in suits – a driver, a bodyguard, and a tall, lean, bearded man who was the grandson of an ex-Prime Minister. We got into a black suped-up SUV belonging to a casino owner who we joked and earnestly suspected was an arms dealer. “I’ll explain later,” Wade said, “This is not Nepal”.

I met Wade in Nepal at a basic rafting camp. The guy had left Canada with a backpack and $400, ended up working at, owning then selling a bar in Japan, and headed to Nepal with some money and a vision. In Nepal, with a Nepali partner and an Australian partner, they built Adventure Centre Asia (ACA) – a grassroots rafting, trekking and cycling tour company. Deluxe accommodation was a canvas tent, but most slept in nylon tents, usually on a riverbed. Wade had come a couple months earlier to set up ACA in Sri Lanka. Now here we were in Colombo, cruising around with middle-aged Sri Lankan bigwigs, heading to meet Nalin, Wade’s new friend, at his swanky Hilton Apartment. As we entered the elevator, a young pretty blonde Russian girl with a tennis racket joined us and selected the penthouse suite. Evidently, Russian girls are a well-known racquet in Colombo, and many cosmopolitan cities.

Nalin owned several clubs, including the late-hours Boom Club that was especially gracious in its Russian Madams. He just bought four hotels and was going to Moscow next week to buy four helicopters (M-17s) for the military. “I am Tamil,” he told us, and the UAE Embassy house was his, they rented it from him. He was ex-mafia and ex-military; with the ceasefire, he could not legally deal in arms.

This morning, Nalin took Wade to meet the Secretary of Defense, who is the decision-maker for the Minister of Defense, and the bearer of the needed signature to okay the balloon endeavor. ACA has plans to offer hot air balloon rides and he could not have met with the Secretary of Defense without Nalin. “You have to meet A,” Wade told me, “I will introduce you. Also B – I am meeting him tomorrow. Why not come along?” Amrik, the bearded hippy grandson of the ex-Prime Minister, is concerned about the environment and elephants. He introduced Wade to Nalin. These men were connected. They had money and time, and now that the military was less profitable, they were looking for new projects. Wade needed a new partner.

Wade and his Australian business partner, Peter, mandate that ACA have a third and local partner. Wade arrived to discover their third partner was all talk, with no money, no connections, not even a car. Nothing, that is, except enough talk to lure Wade here. Now here, he had to find a third partner, and was suddenly choosing between two large-scale options:  Bored and rich ex-mafia, ex-military types seeking new enterprises; and Maharaja – Sri Lanka’s biggest company, a highly political, huge family-run corporation that owned several TV stations, radio stations and soft drinks (Pepsi). “What do you think I should do?” Wade asked me. On principal, he was anti-corporation, but we were talking about heavy-hitting criminals with guns and helicopters. Pair up with arms traders during an alleged armistice or family-operated Pepsi? In Nepal, the third partner was a nice man he knew Nepal, its rivers and rafting. But, like Wade said, “This is not Nepal.”                                         

Coeur de Haïti – After The Earthquake

May 5, 2010

Arrival

Ruin and rubble as far as the eye can see, and dust everywhere, and on everything. Three-story buildings are now slanted and collapsed in the middle, or now just big masses of levelled cement chunks. Garbage fills the ditches and borders the roads. Every road is torn up and uneven, huge heaps of rock, brick, garbage and glass along the sides. This is Port-au-Prince, eleven weeks after a 7.0 earthquake.

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Roadside Haïti

According to the Disaster Emergency  Committee (DEC), 220,000 people were killed, and 3.5 million, more than one third of Haïti’s population, were affected. According to Jo, a Dutch anesthetic nurse, “There are many dead still unfound. After the earthquake, the people were waiting for help. Help didn’t come, not soon, and people lined up the dead bodies along the roads.” When Jo arrived, three weeks after the earthquake, “There was a bad smell. They have cleaned up a lot.” To me, the ruin is beyond anything that I have seen. The DEC claims “there were 19 million cubic metres of rubble and debris” after the earthquake. I question if God smiles as he brings the walls down, or if God has much to do with it. But God is here, whether I believe in him or not, for people here believe.

George and kids

In between the Disney clothing factory and the army camp, and sidling a soccer field and a Land Rover dealership, tent camps are scattered. UNICEF tents, USAID tents, blue Japanese aid tents – so many countries providing aid here now, and many United Nations (UN) trucks driving around, usually with five or six armed men in the back, and some with ULCC (UN Convention against Corruption/Lutte Contra la Corruption) signs.

Not only did the earthquake destroy city buildings, but also over 100,000 homes, and damaged 200,000 more (www.dec.ork.uk). Most people moved into canvas and nylon tents and many continue to sleep in tents, despite cement housing sometimes ten feet away. From a distant viewpoint looking down at the capital, you can see thousands of white and blue spots (tents) dotting the hillsides. There is a sense of safety in tents for many. Everyday, people pack everything up and go to their shack or tent at night. I imagine it takes time to regain confidence in once solid and protective structures after witnessing their demolition.

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Cité Soleil

“I think they are more poor here, even more than in Zimbabwe,” Jo infers. Jo has put in time in both countries. Coeur De Haïti (CDH) is a Dutch-sponsored organization and Robert, the administrator, takes us for a drive. We pass the tent camps, army base and Disney factory again. We drive for nearly two hours, and along the road that passes through Cité Soleil. “It used to be too dangerous to go through here,” Robert says “but now not so much.” Whatever thin walls stood between Cité Soleil and the port’s oil drums before had crumbled in the earthquake. You can see the ocean afar, but every cement channel pointing to it is unmoving, crammed and overflowing with plastic empties. There is no recycling here; everything is garbage, and there are heaps strewn everywhere, for kilometres on end. Individual stalls sell everything from mangoes and bananas to jeans and plastic things, collecting dirt and dust from the thousands of trucks and SUVs that pass by. There are piles of dirt, brick, stone, and curled and twisted iron rods. And people everywhere, sitting on garbage and mud, selling fruit and clothes (locals regularly buy big bags of “used clothing from America” for $300 USD) from their mud pile perches and covered in flies.

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Robert says that Cité Soleil, with aluminum sheds as shelter, was not really affected by the séisme. Almost all the hefty stonewalls surrounding the bigger, fancier houses up the hill have fallen in the earthquake. “Earthquake-proof walls,” laughs Robert. I sense perhaps an irony or poetic justice at work, for those with more to lose, seemingly indeed, lost more.

We continued on to Port-au-Prince. Many cathedrals have toppled, most government buildings, including the Ministry of Finance and Economy, are gone.  “The Prime Minister is a good man,” Robert tells us, “he was not in his office at the time. There are some good people in the government. Other people died.” Robert had been in the post office the morning of the earthquake; now there is no post office. Near the bottom of the mountain, we past now-toppled and exposed illegal houses. “Things are not unfinished here,” remarks Jo, “they are continually being rebuilt, repaired. Things that were on the left of the main gate are now on the right, and so on.” It does seem as though people are carrying on – working, walking, talking, and sitting next to the road on crashed in roofs and busted up floors, with no walls or supports behind them to prevent a backward tumble down the hill. And so many people with cell phones in hand – cell phones are cheap here, around $12 US – that to boot, frequently match their owner’s shoes. We ascend slowly up the hill, and as we do, the air noticeably cools and houses turn into huge, palatial estates. The economic and geopolitical disparity is unavoidably visible.

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The Clinic

At Coeur de Haïti, there is a school, a clinic and several housing units. There are 110 children under the age of twelve here and another eighty under thirty. Jo, an anesthetic nurse, often does the work of a doctor here at the clinic. There is a hospital not far away for emergencies, but people wait for hours there; for all non-emergencies, people come see Jo. Jo starts at 7am. We live upstairs from the clinic and wake at 5:30am to the sounds of laughter, chatter, roosters and babies. This is what time people line up for the clinic, as only the first forty people are given a numbered card and will be seen that day; one card is regularly used for 3-5 family members though.

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In the clinic, manuals are almost all in English, everything is handwritten, there is no computer, and there is a surplus of supplies. Worms, abscesses and sexually transmitted diseases are most common. “It is dirty here,” Jo states, making infection and reinfection easy, and “People don’t tell everything,” which makes it harder to treat people. Jo relies on two interpreters – one is the pastor, George. I ask if there is not a conflict of interest for clients – having to disclose sexual activity and other private matters with their pastor. “I always ask,” Jo said, “but they all have sex here.” There appears to be an unquestioned belief in the white coat or white blonde’s authority; they call Jo “Blanc,” and at the least, everyone here trusts and loves her. She is compassionate and warm, skilled and knowledgeable, capable and fearless, and the most selfless person I know.  “Now [after the earthquake], we are a focus,” George says to me. And truly, I was hard pressed to find books on Haïti at my local library except one book of photos and one guidebook. But “relief work is over now here;” Haïti is no longer in emergency status. Even Jo leaves in a few weeks.

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Here in Zimbabwe: Howard’s End

Zim face
December 6, 2005

I CAME TO ZIMBABWE to volunteer at Howard. My first day in Zim, we bought gas in Harare out of the back of someone’s truck as well as several litres of blood from a blood bank, all before arriving at my destination. Desperate times call for desperate measures.

Here, everything is about cash in hand. It is hard for everyone to get money. With the highest denomination currently equal to $0.02 US, redenomination is imminent. Banks can and do cap the amount citizens can withdraw at one time. Today’s official rate for $1 US is 25,000 Zim Dollars (ZWD), but the banks’ rate is 65,000 ZWD and there is a parallel – or black market – rate of 110,000 ZWD. As part of President Mugabe’s recent “Clean Up,” the vast majority of local markets were destroyed, making it more difficult to get goods and driving prices up even more. The price of goods this week is double that of last week. Regular citizens are hit the hardest, having to buy food at inflated rates, while their wages stay the same. At a rate of 800%, inflation hasn’t yet reached the limit.

There is also a major fuel crisis. Fuel has to be imported, and it is hard to get hard currency with which to buy it. Gas stations who manage to get gas put up signs stating, “Only foreign currency accepted.” Queues are around the block. This creates less reliable and less feasible transport throughout Zim.

Howard Hospital

Howard is a rural hospital compound north of Harare, run by a Canadian doctor, Paul Thistle, and his Zim wife, Pedrinah. Lorraine, a Canadian septuagenarian doctor – and whom I came here to volunteer with – has been coming to Zimbabwe and Howard for over a decade, sometimes twice a year, for 2-3 months at a time. I live with a Dutch anesthetic nurse, Jojanneka (Jo) Oudenaarden, who does 6-11 cases in the operating room (OR), or ‘theatre’, a day. A visiting Canadian doctor, Alison Tenant, did four C-sections this week alone. In the theatre, two challenges are the tough dehydrated skin, which make it hard to find veins for needles, and the language barrier between English and local Shona. Children learn both English and Shona in school, but this year enrolment is down 25% due to increased fees. People cannot afford it and the head master expects a drop again next year.

Howard lane

Here, the number one obstacle to treatment is transportation. There is a food program – the hospital doles out sadza, a local staple of maize porridge, and medication is free with testing and counseling. Counselors receive only three months training here. Every Wednesday is HIV day in the clinic, and every second Friday is tuberculosis (TB) day. These are super busy days, long lineups of clients coming from far away for medications and vitamins. For TB, there is a five-drug cocktail and vitamin B compound given out, as well as chloroquine for malaria and antiretrovirals (ARVs) for HIV. Iron used to be given out but is not supplied for free anymore. Some people are so weak, unsteady on their feet, take a long time to walk, sit, stand, or move at all. There is a sense among the Zim doctors, nurses, workers at Howard and the local people that there is all the time in the world. Yet the death rate here from HIV (usually clients have TB or other problems too) is around 10% and the chances of getting HIV are one in three. According to hospital records, out of the 364 people on treatment at Howard since last year, 30 have died and 328 remain on treatment (184 females, 108 males, 36 children). A few nurses at Howard are HIV+ and doing well enough to work. But try learning the smiley, bright-eyed two year-old is HIV+.

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In Canada, we screen for birth defects such as spina bifida (SB), and either direction to abort or if not, the baby can be operated on within a few weeks. Here in Zim, babies born with SB scarcely if ever receive treatment, as it is often unaffordable and inaccessible. There is one doctor in Harare who can do the operation and it is a few years wait. One of the nurses at Howard has a son with SB. “He is very bright, but what is his future here, but to sit at his grandmother’s house?” Some seek sponsorship to pay for treatment, but the first priority is the malnourished, and the list of priorities and need is long. There is a gross lack of opportunity, availability and accessibility in Zimbabwe.

Logistically, things are a nightmare in the clinic too: positives are filed together with negatives, low CD4s (denoting no ARVs need) with high CD4s (denoting ARVs need), individual files note several birth dates or both sexes on different forms, and three-feet-high stacks of unfiled Pap smears line the office perimeter. I input the Pap smear cytology results into the CDC database, only to have Lorraine tell me there was no point without endo-cervical smears, and we lack the brushes needed to conduct those smears. There are several information storehouses and I aim to get the files and databases as accurate and complete as possible. With Lorraine’s assurance that “there is no logic to the system here,” I will be happy with 80% accuracy and some semblance of organization. And this says nothing of the lack of power, equipment, and supplies.

calling Howard

Electricity and phone lines are inconsistent. This week the power has stayed on mostly, but the phone’s been down all week. The water is ‘turning again’ lately. After boiling water two or three times, there is still brown sediment. An ancient Intensive Care Unit (ICU) machine sits in the corner of a room, an archaic ultrasound machine here does not even allow identification of the gestational period, and there is no proper ventilator. According to Jo, 85% of post-surgery deaths are due to a “lack of right equipment/medication, lack of knowledge on the ward and even sometimes a lack of care.” Here at Howard, they do what they can with what they have, and as Jo puts it, they are “always improvising.”

Howard Hospital began with donations from Oxfam and Norwegian “Salvationists”, and for the last twenty years, has been led by a Canadian doctor. It is a Salvation Army hospital, and like many organizations, there is a ranking system, poor resource allocation and corruption. The present administrator takes hospital money and food for his own family.  They have even changed the locks on the food cupboards and use the hospital vehicle for their leisure. The United Nations (UN) has given billions of dollars to Harare to manufacture drugs here in Zim, but only100 patients are treated in Harare. There are more patients at Howard (330) and in Bulawayo. Harare is refusing people. There is no money at Howard, so getting quality doctors at Howard has been difficult. There are two Zim doctors at Howard now. One is known to drink and recently drunkenly anesthetized a patient. He then went home and passed out, leaving the anesthetized patient unattended. The other is known to be very rough. Last night, a woman gave birth, but an hour after delivery, her placenta had not come out. Impatient, the doctor stuck his hand in the woman to try and pull the placenta out before the nurse could anesthetize her. These are not isolated events.

God grant me the serenity…

Zim bricks

Is History Being Made or Repeating Itself?

April 28, 2003

TWO DAYS AGO, the bank started a rumour about there being no kyat (Burmese currency), so that initially the kyat value will go way up. The likelihood is that so much new money will be printed up that very soon the kyat will decrease so steeply, it will be worth nothing. People are lined up around the block to collect their kyat from their accounts, but the bank is only allowing a certain amount to be withdrawn each day. Inflation is stupendous. Already it is 700/1100 kyat to the Canadian/US dollar, as compared to 216/340 kyat per respective dollars two years ago. The price of everything goes up, but wages stay the same.

The difference in development between states is remarkable. Chin State, in northwestern Burma, borders Bangladesh and there is ‘one road in and out.’ Kachin State, in northeastern Burma, borders China and has numerous roads and much more industry. People here are very worried about a Chinese takeover. The Chinese control many businesses, and they have more money and more manpower than the Burmese (majority and ethnic minorities inclusively). The Chinese control many industries, including logging and gem trading, and the fear being they will make the States barren and do it fast. The Kachin want to regain some power over industry, but it is not clear how to do so. Indeed, locals are likely to do the same as the Chinese, but at the least, more slowly due to lesser means – of technology, resources and manpower.

There are huge and seemingly imminent conflict resolution/transformation needs here. People – especially minorities or “nationalities” – want respect, power, a voice. Ethnic minorities have no say in anything. The government can say no, the leader of the National Democratic League (NLD), Aung San Suu Kyi, can say no, and the minorities – no small percentage of the population – do not get a say. Moreover, there are many divides between but also within groups – differences based often on age, religion, and ethnicity. Today’s youth, fueled by this lack of power, want to fight. The elders, remembering a similar up rise and subsequent slaughter in the late 1950’s-early 1960’s, do not want to fight. With far less people and resources than they even had decades ago, a gross and sweeping defeat (and repeat) seems certain. And youths do not speak up in the presence of elders. Communication and therefore consensus clearly seem blocked in ways. The Kachin Independent Army, too, is ready to fight against people trained and equipped to fight, and they would lose the very little ‘power’ – literally hydro and electricity, as well as money, voice and lives – they have now. The idea of surrendering would mean giving everything to the government, and many believe to the Chinese too, given their monopoly on businesses here in Kachin State. There is mounting unrest due to overarching oppression and political and religious entwinement. Infighting – among, youth, Baptists, or Kachins, for example – poses a great challenge in the minorities’ fight to have a voice.

I met with three conflict resolution workers here in Burma whose efforts are to promote ‘non-violent action’. Violent action would be the very quick demise of all minorities, as right now perhaps it is just a slow one. The traditional Kachin way is toward immediate results: ‘act now, think later’. They held a peace building conference last week in Yangon with “Ethnic Nationalities” leaders, but admitted it was disappointingly basic and that the general terms of ‘mutual respect’ and ‘conflict transformation’ were not grasped. The sense is that the concept of ‘conflict resolution’ is synonymous with ‘surrender’ to many.

How to dissuade people from fighting who feel they have little to lose by fighting, yet feel to not ‘act’ would be to lose all?

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