In June, I received an invitation to the Second International Congress of 17,000 Iranian Terror Victims, to be held in Tehran at the beginning of September. The email was addressed to General Mirza Aslam Beg, the former head of the Pakistani army. I wrote back to say that, although in no way affiliated with the armed forces of Pakistan, I’d like to come. Four days later I got my own invitation and a promise to arrange my visa.
The National Guard was unleashed on Baltimore yesterday to quell unrest following the funeral of 25-year-old Freddie Gray, who died of injuries sustained in police custody. On 12 April, Gray was pinned to the pavement by officers before being loaded into a police van. When he was taken out of it his spine was ‘80 per cent severed’, according to the family’s lawyer. He spent a week in a coma and died on 19 April. On Saturday I went to join a protest due to start at the corner of Presbury and North Mount streets. On my way there from the subway station I passed an alleyway with four police cars in it, their lights flashing. The cops appeared to be questioning people. A group of residents, all black, stood at the entrance to the alley, their phone cameras trained on the police.
On Sunday, Paraguay will conduct its first elections since the parliamentary coup that deposed Fernando Lugo last year. According to the sociologist Marco Castillo, voters face a choice between reactionary oligarchism with fascist inclinations – the Liberal party candidate, Efraín Alegre, in alliance with the extremist UNACE party – and reactionary oligarchism with narcotrafficking inclinations: the Colorado candidate, and favourite to win, Horacio Cartes. A leaked cable from the US embassy in Buenos Aires three years ago described Cartes as the head of an ‘organisation believed to launder large quantities of United States currency generated through illegal means, including through the sale of narcotics, from the TBA’ – the Tri Border Area of Argentina, Paraguay and Brazil – ‘to the United States’.
Last year the Associated Press revealed that the NYPD, with help from the CIA, had set up an extensive surveillance operation to spy on Muslims both in the city and over the state line in New Jersey. Known informally as the Demographic Unit, it employed a network of undercover officers (a.k.a. ‘rakers’) and informants (‘mosque crawlers’).
In June 2009, the Bolivian state-run newspaper Cambio reported that Alán García, the then president of Peru, had accused Boliva’s president, Evo Morales, of inciting genocide against the Peruvian police force. Morales had expressed solidarity with inhabitants of the Peruvian Amazon opposed to the multinational corporate exploitation of the region’s resources. Since then, Morales seems to have adjusted his position on both environmentalism and the rights of indigenous peoples.
Last week I carried a very small white coffin down the street in Ayacucho, Peru, birthplace of the Maoist guerrilla group Sendero Luminoso. It contained the remains of Alejandro Aguilar Yapo, killed along with an estimated 105 others in a day-long massacre in 1984. Aguilar’s bones had been arranged in the coffin that morning by employees of the public prosecutor’s office in Ayacucho, who unpacked them, along with the bones of three other victims exhumed last year from a mass grave, from the Motta panettone boxes in which they had been stored after seven months of forensic analysis. After a service in the cathedral, the victims’ families prepared to take their remains on the lengthy bus ride back home to Sicuani, 740 km away.
The president of Panama, Ricardo Martinelli, announced on Twitter on 2 December that the repatriation and immediate imprisonment of Manuel Noriega would enable Panamanians to ‘finally close this bitter chapter’ of history. Noriega arrived in Panama City nine days later, the third and final stop on a multinational extradition tour that began with his ousting by the US military in January 1990 in Operation Just Cause. Incarcerated for nearly two decades in Miami on drug trafficking charges, Noriega then performed a shorter stint in a Paris jail for money laundering and was convicted in absentia in Panama for the murder of two political opponents in the 1980s. He is now in the El Renacer prison in Gamboa. Residents of El Chorrillo, a poor area of Panama City, may not share Martinelli’s sense of justice and closure. It was bombed so heavily during Operation Just Cause that ambulance drivers referred to it as ‘Little Hiroshima’.
In his most recent book, Thomas Friedman – New York Times columnist, Pulitzer Prize winner, presidential adviser – says of the Iraq War that he has ‘nothing but regret for the excessive price that America and Iraq have had to pay in lives and treasure’. The body count seems to be less cause for concern, however, than the fact that China, which has not been distracted from domestic infrastructure projects by pricey wars abroad, can now build a convention centre in approximately the same time it takes for the Washington Metro crew to repair two escalators in Friedman’s local subway station (the book is called That Used To Be Us: How America Fell Behind in the World It Invented and How We Can Come Back). Still, he’s come a long way since May 2003, when he said that the US military had to go ‘house to house from Basra to Baghdad’, wielding ‘a very big stick’ and instructing Iraqis to ‘Suck On This’.