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John Perry

John Perry lives in Masaya, Nicaragua, where, perplexingly, he writes and edits books on British housing and social policy.

From The Blog
18 February 2020

Under the 1961 Vienna Convention, foreign embassies are ‘inviolable’: the host country’s officials have a ‘special duty’ to protect them and can’t enter without permission. When the Venezuelan embassy in Washington DC was besieged last summer, the National Lawyers Guild said that the US government had flouted the convention by condoning the attacks and protecting those who were carrying them out.

From The Blog
22 October 2019

Donald Trump said last year that migrant caravans, mainly of Hondurans, were coming to the US from ‘shithole countries’. But now he says that the president of Honduras, Juan Orlando Hernández, is doing a ‘fantastic job’. Trump and JOH recently reached an agreement declaring Honduras to be a ‘safe place’ for asylum seekers trying to reach the US. JOH also promised to help the US tackle transnational criminal organisations. He’s well placed to do this. Last November, his brother Tony was arrested in Miami and accused of drug trafficking and possessing illegal weapons. At his trial in New York, which concluded last week, the jury found Tony Hernández guilty. He faces at least 30 years in prison for bringing 200,000 kilos of cocaine into the US between 2004 and 2018, in packets often stamped with his own initials.

The Honduran Coup

John Perry, 6 August 2009

In the early hours of Sunday, 28 June the residence of Manuel Zelaya, the president of Honduras, was surrounded by tanks. His supporters, anticipating a coup, formed a human shield but were quickly dispersed with tear gas. In no time at all soldiers had entered the building and disarmed the security guard. Zelaya rang the US Embassy but there was no reply from the duty officer. He...

From The Blog
5 December 2018

A fraudulent election one year ago gave Juan Orlando Hernández a second term as president of Honduras. The protests that followed were violently repressed. By the year's end, 126 demonstrations had been held, leaving 30 people dead, 232 injured and more than 1000 in jail. But on 22 December 2017 the US government congratulated Hernández on his success, referring with no apparent irony to ‘the close election result’ and ignoring a call by the Organisation of American States for a new ballot.

From The Blog
2 May 2018

Nicaragua had a record 1.8 million tourists last year. It’s a beautiful country, and in 2017 it officially became the safest in Central America. But after three days of political violence last month, one of the few certainties in 2018 is that it will lose both records. More than 40 people died in the protests, ostensibly over government social security reforms.

From The Blog
9 April 2018

On 9 April 1948, the Colombian politician Jorge Eliécer Gaitán stepped out of his office with a group of friends to walk to Bogotá’s Hotel Continental for lunch. An assassin confronted him in the street and shot him three times in the face and chest. He died shortly afterwards. His supporters caught the 20-year-old culprit, Juan Roa Sierra, and beat him to death. His body, naked except for a blue and red striped tie, was dumped in front of the Presidential Palace. It remained there for two days. ‘El Bogotazo’, the night of violence sparked by Gaitán’s assassination, left more than 3000 people dead and Bogotá half in ruins.

From The Blog
15 February 2018

When the Ministry of Defence sold its armed forces housing in 1996, it already looked a bad deal: 57,000 houses were sold for £30,000 each, well under half the average house price at the time. Overnight, the sale created Britain’s biggest private landlord and gave it a blue chip tenant – the MoD. Yet the company that won the contract, Annington, had just been set up and had no experience of management on such a scale.

From The Blog
19 December 2017

Twenty-four people have been killed by police in demonstrations since the presidential election in Honduras three weeks ago. The centre-left Alliance, headed by Salvador Nasralla, appeared to be the clear winner after 57 per cent of votes had been counted, but a suspiciously dramatic late swing towards the incumbent, Juan Orlando Hernández, gave him a lead of 1.5 per cent when the final count was in. Protests against election fraud sprang up nationwide. Some police units initially refused to take part in repressing them, but they were bought out with pay rises and, allegedly, bribes to top police officers.

From The Blog
4 December 2017

A week after apparently losing an election in which he was constitutionally barred from standing, the president of Honduras, Juan Orlando Hernández, now seems to have carried out a coup (‘autogolpe’ in Spanish) to keep himself in power.

From The Blog
17 November 2017

Since the murder of Berta Cáceres in March 2016, several more community activists have been killed in Honduras. And little progress has been made in solving Cáceres’s murder. Eight people have been arrested, but court hearings have been postponed several times because of the prosecutors’ failure to produce evidence, ignoring the judge’s deadlines. Data collected from phones and computers and in police raids has not been presented in court. The government says the judicial process continues, but has admitted that the crime’s ‘masterminds’ remain untouched.

From The Blog
3 October 2017

While Donald Trump gives the appearance of wavering over his decision to pull the US out of the Paris Climate Agreement, Nicaragua has decided to sign it. It was one of only two countries not to sign in Paris last year; the other was Syria. Nicaragua abstained out of principle: the agreement didn’t go far enough. The target – to keep the average global temperature no more than 2ºC above pre-industrial levels – was too high, and in any case unlikely to be met. An unfair burden was being put on developing nations and not enough money was being promised to help them build low carbon economies. I met Nicaragua’s climate change negotiator, Paul Oquist, in June, a few days after Trump announced his decision to withdraw from the Paris Agreement. I suggested it would be an excellent moment for Nicaragua to change its mind, though claim no credit for the subsequent decision; I can’t have been the only one to think so.

From The Blog
21 July 2017

Raise four fingers (the sign for ‘B’), touch your nose with your thumb and dip your hand down to mimic an elephant's trunk. You’ve just said ‘Babar the Elephant’ in Nicaraguan Sign Language – the sign is distinct from the one for ‘elephant’. ISN (its initials in Spanish) was developed by children. Until the 1970s, there were no facilities or learning programmes for deaf children in Nicaragua, but with the Sandinista revolution came a new impetus to provide education for kids with special needs. Four hundred deaf children were identified in Managua, and two schools created for them. Teachers were brought from Europe who tried to teach Spanish using fingerspelling, which the children couldn’t grasp because they’d never learned Spanish. But they all had their own signs that they used at home. And in the classroom, the playground and the school bus they began to share them, eventually turning impromptu communication into a common language.

From The Blog
3 March 2017

One year ago, Berta Cáceres was asleep in bed in La Esperanza, Honduras, when gunmen burst into the house and shot her. She died in the arms of Gustavo Castro, a Mexican environmental activist who was injured but pretended to be dead until the murderers had gone. Instead of being treated as a victim, Castro was regarded as a suspect and prevented from leaving the country. Members of the Council of Indigenous Peoples of Honduras (COPINH), which Cáceres led, were also interrogated. Eventually investigators turned their attention to those who had threatened to kill her in the preceding months. Seven arrests were made, but the people who ordered the murder were left untouched. Six weeks ago, Castro filed a petition against the Honduran government for the way it treated him and for its inaction in charging those behind the crime.

From The Blog
17 January 2017

‘We’re leaving,’ my Cuban friend N. told me in November. ‘We’re building a raft.’ I was shocked, partly because he planned to leave, partly because of the way he planned to do it. I consulted another friend, who’d spent several months in a coastguard team, hauling people out of the water when their rafts fell apart. ‘He’s mad,’ he said. ‘He mustn’t do it. Hardly any of them make it, it’s far too dangerous.’ I spoke to N. to try to dissuade him; he was unconvinced. He’d just had a phone call from Miami: a young neighbour had left a week or two before, the raft had reached the Everglades and some Miami-Cuban fisherman had spotted them and shown them where to land. They’d made it.

From The Blog
7 November 2016

D.H. Lawrence’s relationship with the town he grew up in, Eastwood in Nottinghamshire, was always ambivalent. Its rural surroundings were ‘the country of my heart’, but the streets of miners’ cottages where his family lived were ‘sordid and hideous’. He freely used Eastwood characters in his writing, and to many locals he was ‘that mucky man’ who’d left the town then rubbished its reputation.

From The Blog
19 August 2016

George Osborne, before he reinvented himself as Rambo, when he was still the 'austerity chancellor', committed Theresa May’s government to spending a huge sum to prop up the housing market. The combined total of grants, loans and guarantees devoted to helping developers and homebuyers is set to exceed £42 billion between now and 2020 (similar to the cost of building four new Trident submarines). It’s supposed to achieve two things: build a million new homes and double the number of first-time buyers. An equally important but unstated priority is ensuring that house prices continue to rise. After the EU referendum, all three targets look much tougher.

From The Blog
8 August 2016

Last year we used up one year’s worth of the earth’s resources by 13 August. This year we’ve done it five days earlier: today is earth overshoot day. (We passed Europe’s fish dependence day on 13 July. This marks the point at which Europe’s fish consumption exceeds what it can catch in its own waters.)

From The Blog
31 May 2016

On my morning walk there is a point from which I can see the sulphurous fumes pouring from the Masaya volcano. On the lip of the crater, although not visible from my viewpoint seven kilometres away, is a large wooden cross. It occupies the pinnacle on which a similar cross was first placed in 1529 after the Spanish conquest, by the friar Francisco de Bobadilla. He climbed the volcano in what is now Nicaragua, looked down into its fiery crater, decided it must be the entrance to hell and had the cross put up to keep it firmly shut. Soon afterwards, a more avaricious and foolhardy friar, Blas de Castillo, is said to have climbed down into the crater and, lowering a metal bowl on a long chain, extracted what he thought was molten gold. It quickly turned into an uninspiring lump of black lava.

From The Blog
5 May 2016

Forty years ago, there were five million council houses in England, lived in by three out of ten families. Since then the number has declined by two-thirds. The Housing and Planning Bill, which returns to the Commons this week, will make it even more difficult for anyone either to get a council home or to keep it once they do.

From The Blog
7 March 2016

According to the campaign group Global Witness, 116 environmental activists were killed in 2014, a fifth more than the year before. Many of them were leaders of indigenous communities defending their land. The most dangerous place for environmental campaigners is Honduras, where 101 were reported killed between 2010 and 2014. The chief activist of the indigenous Lenca community, Berta Cáceres, a campaigner against dams and mining projects, told Global Witness that she led a 'fugitive existence' because of death threats. 'They follow me,' she said. 'They threaten to kill me, to kidnap me, they threaten my family. This is what we face.' She was awarded the 2015 Goldman Environmental Prize. Last Thursday she was murdered.

From The Blog
25 January 2016

Thawing relations between the United States and Cuba have brought an upsurge in Cubans trying to leave the island. They’re worried they may lose their favourable US immigration status, becoming no more welcome than any other Latino who fancies life in the US.

From The Blog
6 October 2015

In their general election manifesto, the Conservatives promised to ‘extend the Right to Buy to tenants in Housing Associations’. More than 1500 housing associations, all registered charities and some, like Peabody and Guinness, over a century old, would have to let tenants buy their houses at discounts of up to £103,000 each. The cost would be met by forcing local authorities to sell their most valuable council houses. After paying off councils’ debt, in theory these sales would not only provide enough to compensate housing associations for their losses but also allow replacement homes to be built both for them and for the councils. In practice, no one knows if the numbers will stack up: the financial details were removed from the Conservatives’ website shortly after they were put up and official figures haven’t yet been produced.

From The Blog
13 August 2015

Every year the Global Footprint Network calculates when we have collectively used a year's worth of the earth's resources. Last year we reached it one day sooner than in 2013. This year we've brought the date forward by six days, to 13 August. Of the countries with a biocapacity deficit, the UK is 12th (one place lower than the United States; the worst performer is the United Arab Emirates).

From The Blog
1 July 2015

Ten days in Honduras: a TV reporter and a cameraman, a radio reporter, a trade union leader, the head of an indigenous community fighting forest destruction, two transsexual activists, two bodyguards of the director of the agrarian reform institute and a lawyer were all murdered. The daily political killings are rarely investigated. Even if they lead to arrests, there is a backlog of 93,000 criminal cases awaiting trial.

From The Blog
6 March 2015

In January 1983, police in Los Angeles arrested frogmen bringing 400 pounds of cocaine ashore from a Colombian freighter. But they missed their main target, the drug importer Norwin Meneses, who may have been tipped off by officials. In August 1986, a US Customs informant, Joseph Kelso, told his handlers that Drug Enforcement Administration officials in Costa Rica were sharing profits from Meneses’s LA drug shipments. The Costa Rican police arrested Kelso.

From The Blog
29 December 2014

On the morning of 17 December, schoolchildren in Coralito assembled under the Cuban flag to sing the anthem before starting lessons. Early sunshine picked out five palm trees on the roadside opposite the school. They were planted in support of the 'Cuban Five', agents sent to Miami to disrupt anti-Castro plots by Cuban exiles in 1998, but arrested and imprisoned for spying against the US. There are symbols or images of the Five all over Cuba, often accompanied by Castro's declaration 'Volverán!' ('They will return'). Last February Fernando González, the second to finish his sentence, returned to Havana, but the remaining three had longer sentences: one, Gerardo Hernández, was serving two life terms.

From The Blog
1 December 2014

Under pressure from Jeremy Paxman on Newsnight in February 2003, Tony Blair conceded that the number of asylum seekers coming to Britain was too high and pledged to halve it by the following September. The promise was widely derided, but Blair had done his homework: officials had assessed the impact of Labour’s 2002 Asylum Act, the closure of the Sangatte asylum centre near Calais and other measures to deter refugees from coming to the UK. When September’s figures were announced, the target had been met. David Cameron’s target of cutting net migration to 'tens of thousands' was first made before the 2010 election, then spelled out – 'no ifs, no buts' – in April 2011. A few weeks ago Theresa May called it an 'objective' the government was 'working' towards. But the nearest they ever got was two years ago, when net migration fell to 154,000. Since then it’s risen to 260,000, higher than when Labour left office. Cameron’s mistake was to assume that net migration to and from the rest of the EU, over which he has little control, would stay where it was in 2011 (under 80,000). The Home Office focused its attention on non-EU migrants – students, family members and skilled workers – all now subject to tighter rules. What Cameron didn’t foresee was that net EU migration would almost double. Or as he put it last week, 'our squeeze in one area has been offset by a bulge in another.'

From The Blog
15 September 2014

Last week a fracking company was refused permission to drill in the South Downs National Park. Celtique Energie is considering an appeal to Eric Pickles to overrule the decision. He might be reluctant to cause a furore in West Sussex, but would he feel the same if aggrieved companies could sue the government for lost profits? This can happen if foreign firms have access to an investor-state dispute settlement, as provided for in the new trade agreements being finalised by the EU with Canada and the US. Ministers reassure us that the provisions are nothing new, without mentioning that US companies are the world leaders in making ISDS claims. The two main ISDS tribunals, run by the World Bank and the UN, operate behind closed doors, with private attorneys who rotate between being judges and advocates, and have no appeals mechanisms.

From The Blog
19 August 2014

We’re behaving as if we had 1.5 earths available to us, and our behaviour is getting worse. Every year the Global Footprint Network calculates the date on which people use up one year’s worth of the planet’s biocapacity. In 2013 we achieved this on 20 August. This year we’ve done it a day earlier. In the 1960s there was no overshoot; we were only using around three-quarters of the earth’s capacity. Britain uses the biocapacity of a land area more than three times its size, making it worse than the United States, which behaves as if it were merely twice as big.

From The Blog
11 July 2014

There’s nothing new about children travelling alone through Central America and Mexico to get to the United States. The journey and its dangers were portrayed five years ago in the film Sin Nombre. One character, Sayra, a teenage girl from Honduras, ends up crossing the Rio Grande alone. She is looking out for Casper, a friend she made weeks earlier on the Mexico-Guatemala border. He doesn't make it: he’s shot on the river bank by a rival, 12-year-old gang member. What’s changed since then is a sudden surge in numbers. Unlike adult migrants, most children report to the US Border Patrol once they cross the frontier. In the nine months to June this year, more than 52,000 'alien children' were registered, twice as many as in the previous twelve months. An unknown number have failed to report; died or been attacked on the way; decided that Mexico offers a marginally but sufficiently better life than Honduras, Guatemala or El Salvador; or – most likely – been caught and deported by the Mexican authorities.

From The Blog
27 June 2014

Over ten days in June 1954, a decade after the D-Day landings, the CIA sent twelve planes to drop bombs and propaganda on towns in Guatemala in support of a coup against the elected government of Jácobo Arbenz. They did only minor damage at first: one plane bombed the wrong radio station, another ran out of fuel and was forced to crash land in Mexico. A plane was dispatched to make a ‘hostile’ attack on Honduras with the aim of provoking a military response, but the Hondurans could not even agree on which airfield it had hit. In the last raid on 27 June, the SS Springfjord, a British merchant ship that had survived capture by the Nazis in 1940, was attacked in the port of San Jose. It was alleged to be unloading arms. After a warning pass – the ship's captain gave the pilot a friendly wave – a 500lb bomb was dropped down its chimney. It turned out to be loading coffee and cotton.

From The Blog
11 June 2014

Worldwide, one billion people live in slums. By 2050, it might be two billion. India has the world’s second largest slum population, after China. In 2009, the government launched a plan for a ‘slum free India in five years’: since then, slum growth has continued unabated. Mumbai has more than nine million slum inhabitants, up from six million ten years ago. In the face of such statistics it is easy to be pessimistic. Yet most slums are hives of economic and political activity. Shack/Slum Dwellers International and its president, Jockin Arputham, have been nominated by the Swedish housing minister for this year’s Nobel Peace Prize.

From The Blog
20 May 2014

Last June the G8 agreed a new plan called the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, which is supposed to ensure poor countries receive the full benefit of their natural resources. Canada is one of EITI's stakeholder countries; 60 per cent of the world’s mining companies are listed on the Toronto Stock Exchange.

From The Blog
12 December 2013

Visitors to Havana see thousands of old colonial houses, many abandoned when the rich fled to Miami after the revolution, now occupied by ordinary habaneros and most in disrepair. A slow transformation has begun: the core of the city now looks splendid and restoration of the long, wave-battered Malecón is underway. But there is still a long way to go. On the World Affairs blog last week, Michael Totten poured scorn on the efforts to rehabilitate the biggest surviving old colonial city in the Americas, saying it’s still worse than wartime Beirut or Baghdad. He prescribes free enterprise as the remedy: the economy would then ‘go into supernova’.

From The Blog
21 November 2013

One of the parties contesting Sunday's election in Honduras has seen 18 of its activists murdered in the last 18 months. The LIBRE party’s presidential candidate is Xiomara Castro, the wife of the former president Manuel Zelaya, who was deposed in the military coup of July 2009. Despite the intimidation, LIBRE shows signs of breaking the cronyism of Honduran politics. Since the end of the dictatorship in 1982, the National Party and the Liberals, both products of the traditional oligarchy, have traded the presidency without disrupting the dominance of the 13 families that run the country. (Zelaya was a Liberal; the incumbent, Porfirio Lobo Sosa, is a Nationalist.) The current Liberal candidate is well behind, but the last opinion poll (they are banned in the month before polling day) gave the National Party’s Juan Orlando Hernández a one-point lead over Castro. The oligarchy is clearly rattled.

From The Blog
27 September 2013

Bill de Blasio, the Democratic candidate in the New York City mayoral race, is way ahead in the polls, despite his allegedly radical credentials. Earlier this week, the New York Times ran a story on his support for the Sandinista revolution in the 1980s and a trip he made to Nicaragua in 1988.

De Blasio was a relatively late arrival on the scene. I went on the first solidarity tour from the UK in 1984, by which time the trail south from the US was well established.

From The Blog
11 September 2013

Twenty years ago, I spent a week working in one of Santiago’s poorest barrios. It was only three years since Pinochet had left office; people guardedly expressed a mixture of relief, anger and continuing apprehension. At the end of the week I was invited to a middle-class wedding in Valparaíso. Talking to the bride’s aunt, I incautiously referred to the country's having emerged from dictatorship. She took a step backwards. ‘Dictatorship?' she said loudly. Everyone turned to look at us. 'Dictatorship? There has never been a dictatorship in this country, only firm government.'

From The Blog
20 August 2013

Today we overshoot ourselves. We've used up in less than eight months the resources that the earth provides in a year. In 2012 it took us until 22 August. Only ten years ago we were able to make do for an extra month. We already treat the earth as if it were 50 per cent bigger than it is. And if everyone lived as we do in Britain, the planet would need to be 3.5 times its present size.

From The Blog
13 August 2013

Earlier this year the WWF announced that Nutella, the chocolate spread, would soon be produced only from sustainable palm oil. This sounds like good news. Millions of hectares of rainforest have been cleared to make way for palm plantations. In Borneo and Sumatra, this could soon mean the extinction of the orangutan. The smog that recently enveloped Singapore was caused by fires used to clear forests.

From The Blog
28 June 2013

If Ecuador grants asylum to Edward Snowden, no doubt we’ll hear Rafael Correa being described once more as a ‘tinpot president’, ready to welcome dissidents to Ecuador’s ‘jungly bosom’. If instead Snowden ends up in Venezuela or Cuba, his would-be jailers will move even further onto their moral high ground.

From The Blog
12 June 2013

On 28 May, six men with guns arrived at a collective farm in northern Colombia, asking for Julia Torres, one of the community’s leaders. Her husband, Rogelio Martínez, was murdered on the farm three years ago. After he was killed, the army took up patrolling the boundary of the 553-hectare farm, but the patrols stopped without warning on 23 May. Torres now fears for her life. A campaign has been launched to write to President Juan Manuel Santos, asking that he ensure her protection.

From The Blog
13 May 2013

In 1954, the elected, mildly progressive president of Guatemala, Jacobo Arbenz, was deposed in a coup orchestrated by the CIA. Arbenz planned modest land reforms that threatened the interests of the United Fruit Company. His successor reversed the reforms and put to the firing squad an estimated 8000 opponents. The coup launched 42 years of dictatorship and violent repression. By the time peace accords were signed between the government and leftist guerillas in 1996, at least 200,000 people had died violently, more than 90 per cent at the hands of government agents; 100,000 women and girls had been raped and one million people displaced. Even after the peace accords, political assassinations continued. One president in the 1970s said that to eliminate the guerrillas he would ‘turn the country into a cemetery’. His prescription came closest to fulfilment during the short but bloody dictatorship of General Efraín Ríos Montt, who on Friday was found guilty of genocide and sentenced to 80 years in prison.

From The Blog
23 March 2013

According to official records, there were 54 murders in Honduras on Christmas Eve. With a violent death every 74 minutes, a rate that more than doubled over Christmas, the country is four times more dangerous than Mexico. In 2012, 7172 murders were recorded. That’s nearly one per thousand inhabitants, by far the highest murder rate in the world.

From The Blog
19 February 2013

From 1 April something like 660,000 people who have spare bedrooms are going to be taxed if they don’t take in a lodger or move to a smaller house. This might sound like a selflessly even-handed if drastic move on the part of the welfare minister Lord Freud, given that his own house has eight bedrooms, some of which are presumably spare. But the tax applies only to those in social housing who receive housing benefit, not to owner-occupiers or people with two homes. It doesn’t apply to pensioners, unless they are foolish enough to have a younger partner. The government is trying to sell it as a sensible measure that simply requires some of us to shove up a bit and make room for someone else. ‘What we can’t continue to do,’ Grant Shapps says, ‘is pay for a million empty rooms whilst we’ve got… so many people in desperate need of a house at all.’

From The Blog
18 January 2013

In the huge rubbish dump in the barrio of Cateura, on the south side of Asunción, Paraguayan youngsters who sort through the capital’s rubbish have found the means to make music. The orchestra known locally as Melodias de la Basura or Los Reciclados, and in English as the Landfill Harmonic, was started in 2006 by an environmentalist and music teacher, Flavio Chavez.

From The Blog
17 December 2012

The home secretary last week criticised the ‘uncontrolled mass immigration’ that took place before 2010 for its effects on housing and public services. The latest census data show that half the population growth in the decade after 2001 was due to immigration. Theresa May is certainly right to say immigration affects housing demand, but the question is how much. According to May, ‘more than one third of all new housing demand in Britain is caused by immigration’. Nick Boles, a minister under pressure because of his plans to build on the countryside, told the Daily Mail that ‘100,000 new homes a year will be needed to accommodate’ migrants.

From The Blog
14 November 2012

On Friday, thousands of protesters will converge on Fort Benning, Georgia, home to the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Co-operation (WHINSEC). It’s had this title since 2001, but when it was set up in Panama in 1946 it was the School of the Americas. In 66 years it has trained 64,000 soldiers from Latin America in counterinsurgency, sniper warfare, interrogation techniques and other useful methods for repressing their citizens.

From The Blog
5 November 2012

Three weeks ago a remarkable caravan of vehicles arrived at the Mexican town of Reynosa, just across the border from Hidalgo, Texas. It left the northern border of Nicaragua on 12 October, carrying the relatives of migrants who made the journey north to cross illegally into the United States, but vanished along the way. The caravan, which finished its journey through Central America this weekend, was trying to draw attention to their disappearance and – if possible – find them.

From The Blog
23 August 2012

Yesterday we went into the red. According to the Global Footprint Network, between 1 January and 22 August mankind used up a year’s worth of the earth’s resources. Earth Overshoot Day came sooner this year than ever before. Ten years ago it fell on 3 October, and as recently as the 1970s we were still living within our means. Things are slipping fast.

From The Blog
21 August 2012

Policy Exchange, a right-wing think-tank, is calling on councils and housing associations to sell off their most valuable housing stock. Policy Exchange has a variable record. It was an advocate of the government’s austerity programme, predicting in August 2010 that ‘if the Coalition stays the course on cutting spending’, then ‘growth through most of 2011’ should be the ‘strongest seen in the UK since the late 1980s’. It also made the odd prediction in 2010 that a stagnant housing market would lead to a fall in council housing waiting lists, which have since reached their highest levels for many years.

From The Blog
13 August 2012

Octavia Hill is probably best remembered 100 years after her death as one of the founders of the National Trust. But her legacy as an enlightened landlord of working-class housing is perhaps more important. She was born in 1838 into a family of political activists. Her father founded a school in Wisbech run on principles established by Robert Owen in New Lanark. He famously rode 50 miles to secure the pardon of the last man sentenced to hang for stealing sheep. Her mother was manager of the Ladies’ Co-operative Guild. Octavia and her sisters were brought up as Christian Socialists. Once found sitting bolt upright in bed as a teenager and asked what she was doing, Octavia is said to have replied: ‘Praying for Poland.’

From The Blog
28 June 2012

It’s three years since the coup in Honduras that sent President Manuel Zelaya into exile in his pyjamas. Porfirio Lobo, who took over as president in January 2010 following highly questionable elections, is more than halfway through his term. The only grounds for optimism are offered by the resistance movement that sprang up after the coup. Much that's wrong with Honduras is illustrated by a recent incident. In the small hours of 11 May, in the remote Moskitia region, there was a drugs bust led by helicopters from the United States Drugs Enforcement Administration.

From The Blog
4 June 2012

The housing minister, Grant Shapps, has just finished consulting on a new set of rules, refining laws introduced in 2008, to give council tenants the right to take over the management of their estates and request that ownership ‘be transferred from the council to a local housing association’. ‘Nobody knows the needs of a neighbourhood better than the local community,’ Shapps says. ‘Now I want to see tenants use these powers to prove us right.’ One group of tenants who intend to take him at his word are the residents of the West Kensington and Gibbs Green estates, which belong to Tory-controlled Hammersmith and Fulham Council.

From The Blog
9 May 2012

Beyond the Frame, an exhibition of Cuban paintings and photographs in aid of the campaign to release the Miami Five, is at the Lighthouse in Glasgow until Sunday (at the end of April it was at Gallery 27 in London). Many of the works are apolitical but some are inspired by the various attempts by US governments to destabilise Castro’s Cuba.

From The Blog
3 April 2012

Britain remains staunchly committed to upholding the right of the Falkland Islanders, and of the Falkland Islanders alone, to determine their own future. That was the fundamental principle that was at stake 30 years ago: and that is the principle which we solemnly reaffirm today. David Cameron’s speech marking the thirtieth anniversary of the conflict over the Malvinas islands reiterates a ‘fundamental principle’ that is not only inapplicable in the case of the Malvinas but is conveniently ignored elsewhere if Britain’s strategic interests require it.

From The Blog
23 February 2012

The fire at Comayagua on 14 February brings the number of prisoners who have been killed in prison fires in Honduras in the last decade to more than 530. The government’s inaction in the face of repeated prison massacres may well mean that it is found guilty at a hearing of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights on 28 February, concerning a fire in 2004. President Lobo described what happened at Comayagua as a ‘tragedy’; others have called it ‘an accident waiting to happen’. But it is already clear that the authorities were at the very least culpable in allowing prisoners to die unnecessarily, and may well be more deeply implicated.

From The Blog
23 January 2012

Alan Gross, a 62-year-old US citizen, has been imprisoned in Cuba since December 2009. He fell foul of the authorities while working for USAID, liaising with Cuba's small Jewish community. The Washington Post earlier this month demanded his release, saying that ‘Cuba’s accusations stem from Mr Gross’s humanitarian work’. When he was convicted for ‘acts to undermine the integrity and independence’ of Cuba and sentenced to 15 years in jail, Hillary Clinton said that ‘he did not commit any crime’ but was ‘assisting the small Jewish community in Havana that feels very cut off from the world’ by improving their internet connection.

From The Blog
4 January 2012

It is increasingly clear that the UK housing crisis can only be addressed by building more social housing. Ross McKibbin wrote in the LRB last year that this should be a priority for a future Labour government, and even the coalition belatedly accepted the economic benefits of social housing construction in the run-up to the Autumn Statement. The problem is that they are actually doing the opposite. Social housing 'starts' fell to a miserable 454 in the last six months, and although they will start to increase soon, the new investment will have two very important downsides.

From The Blog
8 November 2011

Right-wing cynics were trying their best in the run up to Sunday’s election in Nicaragua. Foreseeing victory for the incumbent, President Daniel Ortega (he won with 62 per cent of the vote), they argued that at the least sign of electoral manipulation the United States should put its foot down. Robert Callahan, the US ambassador to Nicaragua from 2008 until July this year, proposed a four-point plan for the US to follow in the wake of likely electoral fraud. His suggestions included refusing to appoint a new ambassador and cutting off US aid.

From The Blog
2 November 2011

Last week John Humphrys was seconded from the Today programme to present The Future State of Welfare on BBC2. He wrote a piece for the Daily Mail to promote the programme: ‘Our Shameless Society – How our welfare system has created an age of entitlement.’ Returning to his birthplace – Splott, in Cardiff – Humphrys found that ‘one in four people of working age in this area are now living on benefits,’ which he puts down to the ‘perverse incentives’ of an overgenerous welfare system rather than a lack of jobs. But in a piece for Left Foot Forward showing why ‘John Humphrys is wrong, wrong, wrong on social security’, Declan Gaffney points out that only 5.3 per cent of wards in Britain have such a high proportion of benefits claimants, down from 9.5 per cent of wards in November 1999.

From The Blog
21 September 2011

I wrote on 2 September that of the five Cubans who have been imprisoned on terrorist charges in the United States, one was due to be released. It has now been announced that when René González leaves prison on 7 October he will have to spend three years on ‘supervised release’ in Miami, where anti-Castro feeling is rife, even though he has made it clear he would like to renounce his US citizenship and return to Cuba. His family have only been allowed to see him once in 13 years.

From The Blog
2 September 2011

René González spent his 55th birthday on 13 August in a Florida prison. He and four colleagues, known in the UK as the ‘Miami Five’ and in the US as the ‘Cuban Five’, have been in prison since 1998. René is the least unlucky of the five, because his sentence of 15 years was the lightest. However, when I met his mother recently, she was worried that the Miami courts had a further punishment in mind: to send him out on ‘probation’ to one of the areas on the City’s west side where Cuban exiles are concentrated, and where he might very well be shot.

From The Blog
16 August 2011

As part of the authoritarian crackdown following last week’s riots, David Cameron announced on Friday that rioters should be evicted from their council houses – even though the only thing that we know for sure about the connection between riots and where people live is that some of the disturbances happened in or near social housing estates like Pembury (which is owned not by Hackney Council but by the Peabody Trust; last Wednesday its chief executive said the estate, no longer under the scrutiny of the mass media, had almost returned to normal). Given that fewer than 10 per cent of people in England live in council houses, evicting council tenants who took part in the riots is going to be a very selective punishment – even if the proportion among rioters turns out to be higher.

From The Blog
27 June 2011

One of the more unusual events in the long history of popular uprisings against despotic regimes took place in Nicaragua on the night of 27 June 1979. The grip of the Somoza dynasty, which had ruled the country for more than 40 years, was slipping. The Sandinistas had advanced from their rural strongholds into the towns, and by early June they controlled the working-class barrios in the east of the capital.

From The Blog
18 May 2011

The government of Honduras, which justified the illegal coup that brought it to power in 2009 on the grounds that it was necessary to protect the constitution, recently amended the constitution to give itself the power to create ‘special development regions’ with their own (yet to be determined) laws. The hope is to build a brand new ‘charter city’ with up to 10 million inhabitants (in a country with a current population of only seven million).

From The Blog
3 March 2011

On a visit to the Natural History Museum a few years ago, my eye was caught by a small exhibition of animal products confiscated by British customs officials: snakeskin belts, crocodile skin bags, wallets made from the skins of protected species, stuffed baby alligators, stuffed toads arranged around miniature pool tables, clutching cues. As if that wasn’t disturbing enough, I then noticed that at least half the exhibits seemed to come from Nicaragua, where I live.

From The Blog
17 December 2010

Britain may have invented the soap opera but nowhere has the format been promoted more vigorously than in Latin America. For decades, telenovelas have been produced in Mexico, Venezuela, Argentina and elsewhere, and viewed by hundreds of millions daily from Mexico City to Buenos Aires. Their reach extends to the US and (on a more limited basis) to state-controlled TV in Cuba. Wherever you are in most of the Americas, you can keep up with developments in your favourite soap.

From The Blog
1 December 2010

One of the more interesting cables to have been wikileaked so far is the United States’ official assessment of the overthrow of the president of Honduras on 28 June 2009, and whether or not it was a coup. On 25 August State Department officials were still pondering the question. The significance of their decision was that, if Zelaya’s ousting was officially recognised as a ‘coup’, the US government would have had to pull the plug on all aid going to the de facto regime in Tegucigalpa. Hillary Clinton and the rest of the US government very much wanted to avoid having to do that, so they wavered until it no longer mattered. If they had wanted a timely and thorough assessment of the legitimacy or otherwise of Zelaya’s expulsion from office, all they needed to do was to refer to a cable sent by their ambassador. Hugo Llorens sent a cable to the White House and to senior State Department officials (including Clinton) on 24 July, less than a month after the event.

From The Blog
23 September 2010

Jenny Diski has written recently about being treated like an old bag for complaining about her young neighbour’s music. I sympathise, but wonder how much worse she would feel if she lived in Latin America. When I came to Nicaragua seven years ago, I briefly lived next door to a man who had to get up very early to go to work. His house was made of plastic and tin, but equipped with a powerful radio which he put on at full blast at 3.00 a.m. every day except Sundays.

From The Blog
27 July 2010

On the night of 14 June, Luis Arturo Mondragón was sitting with his son on the pavement outside his house in the city of El Paraíso in western Honduras. He had often criticised local politicians on his weekly radio programme, the latest edition of which had just been broadcast. He had received several death threats, but disregarded them. At 10 p.m. a car drew up and the driver fired four bullets, killing him instantly. Mondragón was the ninth journalist to be murdered so far this year. Honduras is now officially the most dangerous country in the world in which to work for the press.

From The Blog
14 December 2009

Obama fluffed it. That’s the only reasonable conclusion to be drawn from the way the military coup in Honduras has played out over the last few months. Claiming that they still regarded Manuel Zelaya, expelled on 28 June, as the legitimate president, the United States eventually got round to appearing to put pressure on the illegal regime in October. Unfortunately, their action was either so hesitant or so deliberately manipulative that Zelaya lost the best chance he had to return to power. The ostensible justification for the coup was that Zelaya was making unconstitutional moves to run for a second term as president. However, despite the Honduran Congress, Supreme Court and most of the media maintaining this fiction, it was obvious that the real reason was his swing to the left and alliance with Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez.

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