sábado, 28 de diciembre de 2013



La sculpture de Lénine dans le parc des Cheminots de Kotovsk, endommagée dans la nuit du 8 au 9 décembre.

Link: http://www.lemonde.fr/europe/article/2013/12/26/ukraine-qui-a-decapite-le-lenine_4340166_3214.html

jueves, 26 de diciembre de 2013

˝The Economist˝ : America’s current shale-energy boom


A tale of two rushes

There’s gold in them there wells 

Dec 21st 2013 | WILLISTON, NORTH DAKOTA | From the print edition

WHEN his neighbour discovered gold in a Californian river in 1848, Sam Brannan could have kept quiet about it. Instead, he filled a jar with gold dust and rushed around the streets of San Francisco shouting “Gold! Gold! Gold!” He had good reason to incite a gold rush: he owned a shop nearby. He became California’s first millionaire by selling picks, shovels, beans and bacon to the horde of prospectors who heeded his call.

Gold fever spread fast. The lure of buried treasure “sucked nearly every free hand and available arm to the gold mines”, observes H.W. Brands in “The Age of Gold”, a brilliant history of the period. “They tore themselves from warm hearths and good homes, promising to return; they fled from cold hearts and bad debts, vowing never to return.” The Alta California, a local paper, reported that “The whole country…resounds to the sordid cry of gold! GOLD!! GOLD!!!” It added that this would be the last issue for a while, since all its staff were heading for the gold fields.
America’s current shale-energy boom has plenty in common with the gold rush, and might prove as momentous. It has created a gusher of wealth in remote places. It has lured young men to wild frontier towns, such as Williston, North Dakota. Jim Cramer, a television host, sounded just like Brannan when he reported from North Dakota in 2011. “This new black gold rush is just getting started!” he bellowed, against a backdrop of nodding donkeys. “Listen, people in this country who need a job, get up here!”

Unlike the Alta California, not all of The Economist’s writers have headed for the frontier. But one correspondent, intrigued by the parallels between the two booms, put on stout boots, packed a copy of “The Age of Gold” and set off for Williston.

For the ’49ers—as the men who hurried west in that year became known—the trek to California was arduous. “Mules old enough to travel well were unavailable at any price,” writes Brands. Prospectors who made their way overland went “at the pace of the slowest oxen [pulling their wagons], no more than two miles [3.2km] per hour”. Many succumbed to cholera, thirst or Indian arrows. One group, on escaping from the most godforsaken tract of the Mojave desert, doffed their hats, turned back and said: “Goodbye, Death Valley!” “The name stuck,” notes Brands.

The journey to North Dakota today is more straightforward. Still, when your correspondent tried to reserve a rental car at Bismarck airport, they were sold out. He eventually found a pickup truck. Driving it through the Badlands was hairy: hundreds of huge oil lorries kept thundering in the opposite direction along narrow country roads. The pickup went much faster than an ox wagon, except in the traffic jam outside Williston, which looked like a long, motionless steel snake festooned with lights. A sign offered a cheerful welcome to “Boomtown, USA”.

Men behaving badly
The communities formed by the two groups of migrants have some striking similarities. For gold miners in California, life was almost as rough as the journey west had been. San Francisco in the summer of 1849 looked like “the bivouac of an army on the move”, writes Brands; most of the buildings “were actually tents”. The miners smelled awful. No one “could be bothered to wash dirty underwear, only to wash gold”.

Workers in Williston today generally have it easier—though newcomers sometimes sleep in their cars, which is not advisable in the winter, when temperatures often drop below minus 20°C. Places to stay are scarce and expensive. Many oil workers live in “man camps”, which look like college dormitories that have been built in a hurry. The companies that run them, such as Target Logistics of Texas, prefer the term “crew camps” to man camps; it sounds less burly and tattooed. But who are they kidding? When The Economist visited Tioga Lodge, one of Target’s camps, 99% of the 930 residents were male.

It is a bare-bones place for men who work long, sweaty hours to sleep and eat. Happily the food is free and unlimited. The kitchens chop up vast quantities of meat into portions just small enough to fit on a plate. “They eat a lot,” says the chief cook, Jeff Ball, who used to cater for troops in Afghanistan. Some workers heap their trays with meat and potatoes in the dining room, then walk over to the cafeteria to load up with burgers, hot dogs and pizza. Your correspondent, at the salad bar, felt lonely.

Mr Ball gives the oilmen whatever they want. If they crave blackened catfish and prawn gumbo like mom used to make in Louisiana, they can have it. Likewise if a crew from Mexico wants tamales. The only thing they can’t have—in the man camp, at least—is alcohol. Oil firms prefer that dangerous machinery be handled by men with clear heads.

Too drunk to frack

Life in the gold fields was often violent. Miners drank and gambled and fought. Thieves and ruffians preyed on the weak and unwary. Justice was rough. Brannan, the shop-owner, led a committee of vigilantes. In June 1851 his men caught a gangster stealing a safe. After a two-hour “trial”, they hanged him from a beam in a public square.

Life in the gold fields was often violent. Miners drank and gambled and fought.
Williston, too, has developed a bareknuckle reputation. “The theft up here is unbelievable,” says a private detective hired by an insurer to investigate the disappearance of 15 truckloads of oil. “A lot of people here are trying to get a piece of the action without working.” And, with so few women in the neighbourhood, many men are frustrated.

“You put a bunch of guys together, working 12 hours a day, and they’re going to get into fights,” shrugs Josh Wipf, a mechanic from Montana who moved to Williston last year. Mr Wipf, who says the ratio of men to women in Williston “sucks”, admits to having been in a bar fight himself. “It was about a girl, I think. I don’t really remember. I was, you know…” he trails off.
“They get rowdy when they get drunk,” says Alice Trottier, a student at Williston State College. “I would never go out jogging alone at night now,” she laments. Like many young females in Williston, she finds it annoying to be stared at all the time. On the plus side, scarcity gives women power. Men “treat you like a princess. They pay for everything,” says Ms Trottier. On a good night waiting tables at a pizza joint she can make $200.

In California during the gold rush, many men could only find female company if they paid for it. Life for boomtown prostitutes was rough and risky; some Chinese women, speaking no English, were in effect slaves to their pimps. But others made a lot of money. “At a time when a Paris streetwalker might make the equivalent of $2 a night, some of the Frenchwomen in San Francisco made $400,” writes Brands. Belle Cora’s brothel on Dupont Street was renowned for fine wine and music as well as sex. “Men with lust in their hearts…and gold in their pockets beat a path through the muddy streets to her door, where she made sure they wiped their feet before entering.”

The same trade exists today in Williston, but with fewer chandeliers and violins. Most paid hookups are probably arranged online: the oil workers all have smartphones. Some practise the oldest profession the old-fashioned way, but this can annoy bystanders. One of the staff at Bubba’s Bubbles, a laundry shop, says she “had to kick out” a woman with a pink wig who was accosting male customers in the parking lot.

Striking it lucky

The California gold rush was a low-tech affair. “No capital is required to obtain this gold, as the labouring man wants nothing but his pick, shovel and tin pan,” wrote William Sherman, later a civil-war general, in a missive to President James Polk in 1848. It seemed to offer ordinary people a chance to get rich quick: one man, sifting through the dirt at the bottom of a stream, might conceivably find enough gold to retire on. Not a good chance, mind: only a lucky few prospectors struck the mother lode. The rest typically struggled to find enough ore to cover their expenses; some died poor and sorry, or quit panning to find a steadier job.

Fracking, by contrast, requires capital and expertise. Oil giants such as Statoil and Schlumberger are flocking to North Dakota. They bring pricey, high-tech equipment, from microseismic sensors to drilling rigs that walk, like something out of “Star Wars”. From little frack pads in the middle of vast wheat fields, they can drill four miles down, more than a mile to the side, and, thanks to satellite technology, hit a target three feet across. Then they shoot thousands of gallons of water, sand and chemicals into the shale formation, creating hairline fractures in the rock—hence the procedure’s proper name, “hydraulic fracturing”. The sand stops those fractures from closing up when the pressure is turned off.

But North Dakota rewards ordinary folk, too. The lure is not a slender chance of becoming rich, but the near-certainty of finding a blue-collar job that pays middle-class wages. A roughneck or truck driver can easily make $100,000 a year. (Why did Mr Wipf make the trek from Montana? “Good money.”) Anyone who can pass a drug test can find work.

And just as the gold rush made shopkeepers and shovelmakers rich, so the spoils of gas are widely spread. A whole economy has sprung up to support the frackers. Someone has to build man camps, roads and schools. North Dakota Developments, a property developer, is trucking ready-made six-room housing units over from Minnesota and erecting them in what used to be a cornfield. Rob Gavin, the boss, says demand is so strong that he expects to recoup the development costs in a single year.

The place is growing so fast that, even at boomtown wages, finding workers can be hard. Paul Coppinger, a boss at Weir-SPM, a firm that makes oil and gas pumps, says that only a couple of his 63 staff in Williston are native North Dakotans. The Walmart in town is the messiest your correspondent has ever seen; there are too few hands to tidy the shelves. Workers quit and take better jobs faster than you can say “frack”.

Theron Amos, the manager of the local Pizza Hut, says he has lost a fifth of his staff—in the past week. “I have 20. I need 30,” he sighs, as he wrestles with the cash register and passes the shrieking phone to a colleague. “Oh, man, I’ve got more grey hairs than when I started this job.” Would Mr Amos turn any applicant away? “Well, one woman came in and ordered a pitcher of beer before the job interview. I didn’t hire her.”

Sitting on a gold mine

The locals in 19th-century California were not consulted about the gold rush. Many Native Americans, who in previous decades had reached accommodations with Spanish and Mexican settlers, were murdered or infected with unfamiliar diseases. Scorched-earth offensives starved them off their land: since hunting them down was too time-consuming, one white soldier wrote, “It was therefore decided that the best policy was to destroy their huts and stores, with a view of starving them out.” Their descendants live in reservations. Williston’s natives are faring rather better.
Because they can drill sideways, frackers can suck out the oil and gas under a huge farm while disturbing only a tiny part of it. So the farmer carries on rearing cows as before. The fracking takes place so far underground that he never notices it. But he notices the royalties that the energy firms pay.

“Most farms round here have mineral income,” says Tom Rolfstad of the Williston Economic Development office. A farmer with two square miles of land will get a signing bonus of $2.5m and nearly 20% of the gross value of the oil and gas pumped from it, he estimates. A good well can keep producing for 30 years and yield 500,000 barrels of oil. At $100 a barrel, that’s $10m for the farmer. Even small landowners benefit. Mr Rolfstad gets regular little cheques for the oil and gas extracted below his modest home.

Many of the ancestors of today’s North Dakotans arrived at Ellis Island in the 19th century. “If you were Norwegian, they’d send you to North Dakota. If you didn’t speak English, they’d give you a card round your neck asking people to help you find the right train,” explains Mr Rolfstad. Under the Homestead Act of 1862, if the immigrants staked out 160 acres and farmed it for five years, they owned it—and their descendants own the mineral rights. In Europe, where such rights typically belong to the state, people resent the disruption fracking might cause. Americans, by contrast, tend to be delighted if a firm wants to frack under their land.

And for landowners, the fracking itself is not the only money-spinner. A farmer with land near Williston will have no trouble renting it out. The town is desperate for more offices, homes, shops and hotels. In one small field your correspondent counted 50 mobile homes.

One occupant, Cindy Martin, says the farmer charges her $1,000 a month to park there, with no electricity or water. “It’s a terrible price,” she complains. But the boom means labour is scarce and wages are high; Ms Martin makes twice as much as she would elsewhere, working at Bubba’s Bubbles. She and her husband drove up 2,000 miles from Arizona. She seems content: “We came here to work. We refuse to lay back and let the government take care of us. We’re too American for that.”

For all their good fortune, some locals fret about the crowding, pollution and change that accompany the new wealth. “It was a quiet, small town,” laments Gary Daniel, a middle-aged Willistonian, as he eats fried chicken at Gramma Sharon’s family restaurant. He has seen oil booms before, “but not like this one.” People used to know each other in Williston, he recalls: “Now everyone’s in a hurry to go nowhere.” Prices have soared. Mr Daniel knows of old people whose rent quadrupled so they had to leave their homes. “It’s flat-out greed,” he spits. The schools are packed; their walls are “just bulging out”. The traffic is “insane”. Overall, “whether it’s good or bad, I haven’t made my mind up.”
Mr Rolfstad has fewer doubts. Growth is being carefully planned, he says. “We decided to double the size of the town. Then we decided to quadruple it.”

After the flood

The gold rush of 1848-55 not only transformed the lives of those who found fortunes in the dirt (and those who failed to); it also changed America. It rapidly populated the new territory of California, which America had just seized from Mexico, and hastened the day that the Golden State became a state. It led to the construction of railroads to bind the settled eastern states to the Wild West. Its legacy includes San Francisco and America’s thriving Chinese population (which exploded during the gold rush, as boatloads of Chinese prospectors arrived).

Brands, the historian, goes further, arguing that gold transformed the American dream. Whereas the Puritans dreamed of accumulating modest fortunes “a little at a time, year by year”, through “sobriety, thrift and steady toil”, the ‘49ers dreamed of “instant wealth, won in a twinkling by audacity and good luck”. Among the early settlers, failure “connoted weakness of will or defect of soul”. In the gold fields, by contrast, “a person was expected to gamble, and to fail, and to gamble again”. And “[w]here failure was so common, it lost its stigma.” This idea—that failure is a socially acceptable stepping stone to success—is one reason why American capitalism is so dynamic.
The fracking boom could be every bit as important as the gold rush. It is about to turn America into the world’s largest oil and gas producer, outstripping Russia and Saudi Arabia. It could add almost $700 billion to the economy by 2020 (about 4% of GDP), predicts McKinsey, a consultancy. By then it will have created up to 1.7m jobs—far more than the car industry provides. The sudden abundance of natural gas has drastically reduced American energy bills while curbing greenhouse-gas emissions, since gas is cleaner than coal.

The longer term effects of a boom are unpredictable. For instance, the gold rush arguably led to the creation of Silicon Valley. It spurred the laying of the railroads, making Leland Stanford rich. He founded Stanford University, which trained the engineers who started the tech firms, from Hewlett-Packard to Google, which made the Valley the envy of the world.

In North Dakota fracking has poured money into schools. Some of those Norwegian immigrants used to set aside a portion of their farmland income to support the village school. That rule lives on, in places, and the land now generates mineral royalties. No one expects to see a great university emerge in the Great Plains just yet. But you never know. Who in 1849 could have predicted that the empty hills around San Francisco would one day sprout an Apple?

domingo, 22 de diciembre de 2013

IRÁN : Entre Pasado y Futuro, entre Atavismos arcaicos y Globalización

Un ministre iranien reconnaît l’impuissance du régime à lutter contre les chaînes TV par satellite.

 Du Blog ˝Nouvelles d´ Iran˝

Le ministre de la culture et de l'orientation islamique, Ali Janati

Le ministre de la culture et de l'orientation islamique, Ali Janati

Dans les années 1980, la possession de magnétoscope en Iran était interdite et passible d'une amende. Cette interdiction s'est assouplie au cours des années et a finalement disparu complètement. A la fin des années 1990, un nouveau phénomène s'est répandu notamment chez les classes aisées et moyennes. Il s'agissait des chaînes satellitaires, accessibles par une simple parabole, dissimulable sur le toit d'immeuble ou dans une chambre de la maison.

Là encore, des lois visant à dissuader la population de détenir une parabole ont été adoptées. La police, chargée de veiller aux bonnes mœurs de la société, organisait régulièrement des descentes dans les maisons et confisquait les équipements dits "illégaux". Mais les Iraniens, loin de renoncer à leurs séries américaines préférées ou à leurs émissions politiques diffusées depuis l'étranger par des chaînes en langue persane, se procuraient rapidement d'une nouvelle parabole.

Bien que ce jeu du chat et de la souris perdure depuis des années, l'Etat iranien semble incapable de mener à bien sa bataille contre ce qu'il appelle "l'invasion culturelle". Fait inédit : le ministre de la culture et de l'orientation islamique, Ali Janati, a enfin dit ce que tout le monde sait mais ne dit pas. Mardi, 17 décembre, il a confié dans un entretien à l'agence officielle Isna que "71% des habitants de Téhéran" regardaient "des chaînes de télévision par satellite".

"Les restrictions imposées afin d'empêcher les citoyens d'utiliser les technologies de communication et les nouveaux médias n'ont pas donné de résultats que cherchait le régime", a également fait valoir le ministre de la culture.

Quelques mois plus tôt, Ali Janatai avait déjà parlé d'inefficacité des mesures entreprises contre les chaînes satellitaires, dont l'utilisation des brouilleurs d'ondes et les rafles de la police. "Nous devons chercher une solution et produire des contenus intéressants pour que les gens arrêtent de regarder les télévisions étrangères ou de se servir des médias étrangers", avait-il proposé.

Ali Janati est l'un des rares ministres du gouvernement du président modéré Hassan Rohani à avoir un compte sur Facebook, alors que ce réseau social est bloqué en Iran. Ce responsable iranien a, à de multiples reprises, demandé que les sites et les réseaux sociaux deviennent accessibles aux Iraniens. Il a également plaidé pour davantage de tolérance de la part des "censeurs" – ces employés du ministère de la culture qui lisent tous les livres avant publication pour s'assurer de leur conformité à l'islam et aux règles en République islamique.

Ces positions plus libérales de la part de ce ministre ont d'ores et déjà suscité de vives réactions négatives de la part des conservateurs, qui le menacent même de convocation au Parlement ou d'un vote de défiance.

Ramon & Orlando "Maraca" Valle @Sunset/Sunside


JAVIER BONILLA SAUS - Revisitando "Cities and States" de Charles Tilly: Sobre los orígenes del...

sábado, 21 de diciembre de 2013



El martes 10 de diciembre, nuevamente la Argentina le demostró al mundo su profunda incapacidad de organizarse políticamente de manera mínimamente democrática, ciudadana, solidaria y pacífica.

Ese día el Gobierno argentina emperifollaba el centro de Buenos Aires para festejar 30 años de Gobierno en “democracia” (casi todos bajo dirección peronista). La presidenta Cristina Fernández, a pesar de que ha reducido en forma tajante su exposición pública, tenía ya planeado pronunciar un discurso en Casa Rosada. Formaba parte de los festejos un concierto al aire libre con la actuación de grandes artistas locales (de corte “nacional y popular”, faltaba más) para que la población notara el profundo apego del gobierno peronista para con la democracia.

En un acto insólito, el gobierno había previsto la invitación de los cuatro expresidentes –(Carlos Menem, Fernando De la Rúa, Adolfo Rodríguez Saá, Eduardo Duhalde y a la familia de Raúl Alfonsín)- que estuvieron al mando del país durante el período “democrático”. Con la excepción de De la Rúa y Alfonsín, los otros fueron todos conspiradores conspicuos contra sus más diversos correligionarios peronistas por lo que, programar una serie de ceremonias en la que se pretendía poner en evidencia los supuestos valores de continuidad institucional, civilismo y solidaridad nacional lindaba entre el mal gusto  o la tomadura de pelo.

Pero hay veces que la historia, siempre partera de imprevistos, se encarga de poner las cosas en su sitio. Los años de corrupción oficial y societal, los ataques sistemáticos a distintos sectores de la sociedad, el mandoneo rutinario sobre la población y la profunda vocación anti-democrática que, en realidad, reinó durante todo el período “festejado” (quedan obviamente excluidos De la Rúa y Alfonsín de este diagnóstico) repentinamente mostraron sus frutos.

El acto se transformó radicalmente. Desde algunos días antes, los saqueos estaban en vías de generalizarse en varias de las provincias del país, mientras que la “nomenklatura” kirchnerista se aprestaba a jugar a la fiesta de “la democracia”. En un municipio cercano a la ciudad de Buenos Aires, el supermercado de un integrante de la comunidad china fue asaltado por las turbas de “piqueteros”, incendiado el local y muerto el propietario que pretendía defender algo llamado “derecho de propiedad”.

Mientras tanto, en la ciudad de Córdoba, ante el retiro y acuartelamiento durante 35 horas de la policía de la provincia por sus reclamaciones salariales no satisfechas, centenares y centenares de locales de todo tipo fueron vaciados y destruidos. Casi simultáneamente en la provincia de Entre Ríos se repetían las escenas de Córdoba en Concordia. Lo de Córdoba en particular fue el doble disparador para dos fenómenos que se dieron en paralelo. Por un lado, ante el aumento de urgencia otorgado a la policía de la Provincia, el reclamo policial se generalizó. En más de una docena de provincias del país los reclamos policiales se dispararon. El gobierno nacional y los provinciales cedieron, más o menos rápidamente, a aumentos demenciales e impagables. En el interim, mientras se buscaban arreglos con las policías, el caos, el saqueo de locales y el ejercicio de la violencia más disparatada se extendió por buena parte de la Argentina causando, en el momento que se escribe esta nota editorial, ya once muertos, un número indeterminados de heridos y daños de montos difíciles de calcular ya que se calculan en unos 1900 los comercios atacados, saqueados y destruidos.

Alcanza con ver las tomas televisivas para advertir que los saqueos tienen una relación muy lejana con una hipotética situación de pobreza de aquellos sectores de la población transformados en “saqueadores”. Son muy variados los orígenes sociales de los argentinos que participan en los saqueos que se han ido extendiendo, finalmente, a lo largo de 20 provincias del territorio y que nadie sabe si han realmente concluido. En los últimos días, el despliegue de la Gendarmería para proteger todo tipo de comercios ha enlentecido en algo el contagio de los saqueos.

A pesar de los análisis edificantes de los distintos sociólogos que han salido a “explicar” situaciones de pobreza, niveles de ingreso e índices Gini diversos como supuestas “causas” del la instalación del caos, es evidente que se trata de un problema de (falta absoluta de) dirección política de la sociedad y no de un problema “social”. Argentina está ante una crisis de gobernabilidad en toda la línea.

El Gobernador de la Provincia de Córdoba, José Manuel de la Sota, connotado anti-kirchnerista, y ejemplo mismo de peronista irredimible, declaraba sin rubor alguno:  “(Era) impensable para cualquier gobernante que esta reclamación salarial (de la policía) derivara en esta situación que se vive en las provincias. (…) Se rompió el contrato social”.

La declaración es inaudita porque presupone, o bien que la Policía, sistemáticamente mal paga, hubiese roto un contrato social del que el peronismo fuese un sabio guardián. O, peor aún, permite leer la posibilidad de que los saqueadores hubiese “roto el contrato social” cuando toda la Argentina sabe dos cosas fundamentales. La primera, que los saqueos, como bien dijo al presidenta (que conoce bien el mecanismo porque es experta en la materia), fueron como siempre organizados por las organizaciones de base y los “punteros” peronistas de nivel barrial. Y la segunda es que de la Sota finge ignorar que, de 1945 hasta la fecha, el peronismo y las Fuerzas Armadas han atacado sistemáticamente todo intento de mantener nada parecido a un contrato social estable.

El gran violador del contrato social en la República Argentina es, hoy, un gobierno peronista que, en la mejor tradición de Juan Domingo Perón, ignora lo que debería ser el Estado de Derecho. El gobierno kirchnerista persigue a los periodistas, pretende manipular medios de prensa, intenta expropiar a los sectores de productores rurales, saquea empresas nacionales y extranjeras, pretende “inventar” los precios de la economía mintiendo abiertamente en las cifras macro-económicas, etc. por lo que hace muchas décadas que la sociedad argentina y los simples ciudadanos saben que viven más en una situación casi hobbesiana que en una sociedad regida por algo parecido a un contrato social. Y decimos “casi” porque, en Hobbes, la hipótesis que abona al “estado de naturaleza”, supone una “guerra de todos contra todos” donde los contendientes son hombres “iguales por naturaleza” los que se enfrentan. En la Argentina, en cambio, los grandes agresores y transgresores de la paz cívica y social han sido históricamente los gobiernos peronistas y los gobiernos militares que se ensañan, desde siempre, sobre la población.

Por ello es que no deben de sorprender a nadie, en el mundo lejano que no conoce a la “Argentina profunda”, las declaraciones de una saqueadora de iniciales E.G.  publicadas por “El País” de Madrid:

“La mayoría roba, pero uno va a saquear para dar de comer a los chiquitos. Cuando vas a decir al intendente (alcalde) que no tenés para comer, te dice que no tiene nada más que una bolsa con un paquete de fideos, uno de arroz, uno de azúcar, uno de puré de tomate y una botella de aceite por mes, pero te dura dos días”, se queja. E. G. se entera de la organización de saqueos por el boca a boca y Facebook, aunque hace una semana se le descompuso el ordenador. En 2012 fue a saquear porque su marido solo tenía trabajo un día por semana, ganaba 90 euros al mes y con otros 155 de subvención estatal su familia comía una vez por día. “No tenía miedo porque fui con mi papá”, cuenta. Ahora su marido consiguió empleo formal, cobra 790 euros, sus hijos han vuelto a comer dos veces por día, pero ella planeaba saquear porque la carne vacuna y el pan “aumentan mucho” de precio. Aclara que otros vecinos roban electrodomésticos o ropa para después revenderlos y comprar después bienes básicos. También están los que no participan de saqueos por razones morales o por el riesgo de resultar heridos. Esta vez la presencia de gendarmes la disuadió de ir. “Ni loca voy a que me maten”, cuenta y reconoce que delincuentes y policías de civil participan también de saqueos mientras que punteros (dirigentes políticos barriales) los promueven.” (Edición Internacional del 11/12/2013).

Poco queda que agregar a las declaraciones de esta “ciudadana”. La espontaneidad de su amoralidad la exime de cualquier comentario. ¿Qué de censurable hay en el saqueo y el robo si ella ha visto multiplicarse de manera exponencial en pocos años el patrimonio de la pareja Nestor/Cristina, si toda la población comenta cotidianamente los negociados del vice-presidente Amado Boudou, si la clase política peronista es el centro de corrupción de la sociedad argentina y si la policía también es parte del esquema general de corrupción, para no nombrar mas que los casos más notorios ?

Mientras que el debilitamiento de la gobernabilidad se hace cada vez más notorio en el país, los personajes de la política peronista intentar encontrar la forma de sacar réditos del desastre. “Las influencias de la dictadura” o “las corporaciones” son ahora el nuevo “tema” que han desenterrado los auto-llamados “intelectuales peronistas” integrantes de un movimiento llamado “Carta Abierta”. Y mientras estos personajes juegan a ser políticos, la República de China eleva un tanto el tono exigiendo que el gobierno garantice la seguridad de los inmigrantes chinos afincados en Argentina. El gesto es meramente protocolar porque la China sabe, perfectamente, que el gobierno de la Argentina es absolutamente incapaz de ofrecer garantías, o seguridad, en tema alguno.

Montmartre Pride

                              Photo Rodrigo Bonilla - Blog Cuadernito
Montmarte pride

sábado, 7 de diciembre de 2013


“Nouvelles d´Iran”

A Téhéran, rafle dans les milieux des cyberactivistes

Amir Tataloo, chanteur underground, a été arrêté mardi xxx.
Amir Tataloo, chanteur underground, a été arrêté mardi 3 décembre.

Un rappeur de la scène underground, célèbre sous le nom de scène Amir Tataloo a été arrêté mardi 3 décembre. Le chef de la police des mœurs, le général Masoud Zahedian, a confirmé la nouvelle de cette arrestation dans un entretien accordé à l'agence officielle Isna, mardi 3 décembre, ajoutant que la police allait désormais se charger des chanteurs underground qui produisaient des œuvres et qui les envoyaient "pour diffusion à des chaînes satellitaires", diffusées depuis l'étranger et interdites en Iran. "La télévision et la radio [nationales] et le ministère de la culture et de l'orientation islamique ont fait le nécessaire pour que les artistes puissent travailler. De fait, ceux qui travaillent clandestinement doivent se soumettre au cadre légal défini pour l'art égal", a déclaré le général Zahedian.

Alors que la possession de paraboles est interdite et passible d'une amende, des millions d'Iraniens en détiennent et regardent ces chaînes satellitaires. Des dizaines de ces chaînes, diffusées en langue persane, sont consacrées à la musique iranienne, produite par des expatriés vivant aux Etats-Unis, en Europe ou ailleurs, ou par des Iraniens travaillant clandestinement en Iran. Tous les musiciens qui veulent sortir leurs albums ou se produire sur scène en Iran sont tenus de demander l'autorisation du ministère de la culture et de l'orientation islamique. Alors qu'existent en Iran de nombreux chanteurs underground, la police procède parfois à des arrestations et les soumet à de nombreuses intimidations.


Âgé de 30 ans, le chanteur Amir Tataloo, de son vrai nom Amir-Hossein Maghsoudlou, produisait de la musique dans différents styles. Du rap au pop en passant par le blues, il a également composé quelques morceaux de jazz. Ce jeune iranien a quitté Téhéran en 2007 pour s'installer à Dubaï. 

Quelques années plus tard, il est retourné en Iran pour poursuivre clandestinement ses activités. Son premier album, Sous le sous-sol, a été enregistré en 2011, sans autorisation, et diffusé en ligne ou par des chaînes satellitaires. Amir Tataloo peut se targuer aujourd'hui de 562 000 "amis" sur Facebook.

L'agence semi-officielle Fars, proche des gardiens de la révolution, a également annoncé l'arrestation de seize "cyberactivistes, liés aux étrangers" par le service du renseignement des gardiens de la ville de Kerman, dans le sud du pays. Selon cette agence, ils sont accusés d'avoir "porté atteinte à la sécurité nationale en ayant collaboré avec des réseaux étrangères", "développé des sites [internet]" et "produit du contenu pour des sites contre-révolutionnaires dans le but de renverser la République islamique", a déclaré le procureur adjoint de Kerman, Ahmad Ghorbani.


Selon cette autorité, "les membres de cette bande entretenaient des liens étroits avec des éléments antirévolutionnaires à l'étranger" et avaient touché des fonds en provenance des chaînes d'informations occidentales.

Peu après l'annonce de ces interpellations, le site Narenji (orange), hébergé en Iran et consacré aux nouvelles technologies et aux nouveaux gadgets, a annoncé l'arrestation de sept de ses collaborateurs par les gardiens de la révolution, dont trois femmes. "Certains auteurs et personnels techniques de l'équipe Narenji ont été arrêtés pour des raisons inconnues. Nous ne sommes pas en mesure de connaître leur lieu de détention. La publication de nouveaux contenus sera suspendue jusqu'à la prochaine annonce", pouvait-on lire mardi sur le site. Cette page n'est restée que quelques heures en ligne avant d'être retirée.

Le site Narenji, lancé en 2007 par quelques blogueurs, avait remporté le prix du meilleur site d'information en 2010 lors du troisième Festival des sites iraniens en 2010 et le prix du meilleur blog en persan par Deutsche Welle [le service international de diffusion de l’Allemagne diffuse des émissions de radio ainsi que des programmes de télévision ] en 2012.

LINK: http://keyhani.blog.lemonde.fr/2013/12/05/a-teheran-rafle-dans-les-milieux-des-cyber-activistes/#xtor=RSS-32280322


Culture Desk - Notes on arts and entertainment from the staff of The New Yorker.
December 6, 2013

Nelson Mandela and the Bees

On a chilly Easter Saturday in 1998, I received an urgent message from Nelson Mandela’s press aide to call a phone number in the Eastern Cape. I was a reporter for a Sunday newspaper in Johannesburg at the time, but was on vacation in Cape Town and had just stepped off a wind-swept beach. So I was ill prepared for the conversation that followed. 

I called. A woman answered the phone and I gave my name. Soon, a familiar voice boomed down the line. “I’m happy to hear from you,” said President Nelson Mandela, as though a call from a reporter on a Saturday afternoon was a pleasant surprise. But he wasn’t well, he said. The reason for his indisposition was a swarm of honey bees that had attacked him in his bathroom, while he was getting out of the bath.

The first democratic President of South Africa said that he was particularly upset because he had defended the bees’ right to remain on the grounds of his rural home in Qunu, in the Eastern Cape. “When the police wanted to remove them, I said, No, they are perfectly entitled to select their own home,” he said. He also thought the means of removing a hive—with smoke—was “a bit crude.”
But that morning, he’d stepped out of the tub and was about to put on body lotion when he heard an aggressive buzzing outside the open bathroom window. He had grown up in the countryside surrounding Qunu and knew that, with snakes and bees, the best tactic is to keep still. But the bees seemed intent on attacking, so he reached for a fumigator spray.

“Then they launched a counterattack,” he said, stinging him in the soft area just below the pit of his stomach, a favorite place for attacking a boxer. “I had to flee.” 

I asked a few questions, but I was so taken aback that I failed to ask the big one: Why was he telling me this? He knew me as a reporter, not as a confidante. His aides couldn’t or wouldn’t enlighten me, so I called my editor from the beach parking lot and filed a story over the phone. It ran the next day as a page-one anchor under the headline “STINGING ATTACK ON MANDELA HITS HIM BELOW THE BELT.

It was picked up by the wire services and run around the world. At least one newspaper felt at liberty to change his quotes. He had told me that he was stung “four or five times in the stomach and in parts I am too embarrassed to mention to a young lady.” That became “…and in other parts that are privileged information.”

The story was deeply troubling for some. Geraldine Fraser-Moleketi, who was in Mandela’s cabinet at the time, said that her mother-in-law was concerned because the bees had stung him inside his house. A sangoma (a traditional healer) told Sapa, a South African newswire service, that this meant the ancestors were angry with him, and that his family should slaughter a goat to appease them, and brew traditional beer.

“Why should the ancestors be angry with such a man?” I asked an aide. “Because of Graça,” he said, meaning Graça Machel, Mandela’s then fiancé. She was not even South African, let alone Xhosa, and there had been some murmurings in Qunu about their relationship. “There is a belief in Xhosa tradition that bees are connected to ancestors, and if they show unkindness toward you it’s a message from the ancestors,” Peter Mtuze told me years later. Mtuze is a professor emeritus at Rhodes University in the Eastern Cape, a historian and an expert on Xhosa culture. “Sometimes, it”—a bee attack—“just indicates attention from the ancestor, if for some reason there is something you need to do.”

At the time, I was ignorant of this dimension. When I interviewed Mandela a few months after the bee incident, shortly before his eightieth birthday, I asked him why he had told me, particularly given that he had joked, soon after, that I had “exposed him to the world.” Better the story got out the way it did, he said, than having a flutter of gossip emanating from Qunu. He was kind enough not to say that he had chosen a reporter whose ignorance would serve his purpose. My rendering of the tale killed any deeper interpretation.

Mandela marked so many firsts in his brief five-year term as President. One of them was the charming, though sophisticated and tactical, way he dealt with the media. He got such good press not only because of who he was but because of how he treated reporters. He once fished a photographer from an Afrikaans newspaper out of a fountain on the grounds of Tuynhuys, his Cape Town offices. The photographer had been walking backward, taking pictures of him, when he tripped over a ledge and fell into the water. (He was thereafter known among the local cameramen as “the pool photographer.”) And he elevated the status of journalists more than any other politician has done, before or since.

When the Namibian President, Sam Nujoma, came on his first state visit to South Africa, in 1996, Mandela walked the surprised head of state out of a press conference, through the Tuynhuys gardens to the fence that borders Government Avenue, a tree-lined pedestrian thoroughfare in Cape Town. Delighted schoolchildren stopped to shake his hand through the railings. “Have you met the President of Namibia?” he asked one solemnly. And to another: “What would you like to be when you grow up? A doctor? Maybe even a news reporter?” He gestured at the reporters clustered around him. 

There is an anthemic freedom song in Xhosa, Mandela’s mother tongue, in praise of the statesman. It was sung when Mandela was imprisoned, when he was freed in 1990, when he was President, and, afterward, in his retirement. Nelson Mandela / Akekh’ ofananaye—“Nelson Mandela, there is none other like him.” Today, for those of us fortunate enough to have reported on him, it rings in our heads.

Pippa Green is a South African journalist and the author of “Choice Not Fate,” a biography of Trevor Manuel, the first black finance minister appointed by Nelson Mandela.

Photograph: Steve Russell/Toronto Star via Getty

LINK: http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/culture/2013/12/nelson-mandela-and-the-bees.html

jueves, 5 de diciembre de 2013


“5+1 e Irán : ¿ ACUERDO HISTÓRICO ?”

El grupo de países llamado de los « 5+1 » (integrado por los Estados Unidos, Rusia, la China, Grande-Bretaña, Francia y Alemania), después de un proceso de negociación dificultoso, pero que parece haber avanzado a buena velocidad, decidió firmar en Ginebra el domingo 24 de noviembre un acuerdo con Irán que una buena parte de la prensa internacional se apresuró a calificar de “histórico”.

Estrictamente hablando, lo sucedido es, en algún sentido, bastante más modesto. El acuerdo firmado sólo compromete a las partes a una serie de acciones (y de abstención de acciones) por un plazo de seis meses durante los cuales se continuarían las negociaciones hasta lograr un acuerdo que es calificado de “completo”. Mientras tanto, durante ese plazo, Occidente se compromete a levantar parcialmente las sanciones que estrangulan a la economía iraní. Para ser precisos, se trataría de un alivio “…limitado, temporal, puntualmente dirigido y que podría ser anulado en cualquier momento”, por un monto aproximado de 7.000 millones de dólares. De acuerdo a la prensa, conviene señalarlo, este monto representa una fracción poco significativa comparado al que llegan las sanciones aplicadas a Irán.

Este país, por su parte, acepta detener todo proceso de enriquecimiento de uranio arriba del 5% así como neutralizar su stock de uranio enriquecido a más de 20% por medio de su “disolución”, promete suspender el proceso de construcción del reactor de agua pesada de Arak e interrumpir todo trabajo relacionado con la tecnología del plutonio. Igualmente, Irán abriría la entrada a las instalaciones consideradas como “sensibles” (Arak, Natanz, Fordow son los sitios explícitamente mencionados en los reportes disponibles) a la visita regular y acordada de los inspectores de la Agencia Internacional de Energía Atómica (AIEA).

La complejidad de la temática tratada en el acuerdo (así como la multiplicidad de temas que, aunque no figuren en él están, en muchos casos, directamente relacionados) explican en buena medida la “polvareda” de reacciones de los tipos más diversos que este por ahora sólo provisorio proceso de acercamiento ha levantado.

Para comenzar, en Irán pudo verse claramente la escisión entre los ultra-conservadores criados a la sombra del régimen teocrático y esa corriente,  llamada por algunos “moderada”, que se hace presente intermitentemente en la arena política y que, con el reciente ascenso del presidente Hassan Rohani y una llamativa reivindicación pública del ex presidente Mohammad Khatami (hasta hace poco caído en desgracia), ha adquirido, aparentemente, nuevo vigor.

En un primer momento los negociadores fueron recibidos “como héroes”, lo cual es un indicador fuerte que, efectivamente, las sanciones de Occidente están golpeando de lleno en la vida cotidiana de los iraníes. Pero esa primera reacción rápidamente fue contrarrestada por una contraofensiva de los sectores más tradicionalistas y religiosos del régimen.

Presionados por estos sectores ultra-conservadores, Rohani y el ministro de asuntos exteriores de Irán salieron a la prensa a calificar de “no válido” el comunicado de prensa publicado por la Casa Blanca sobre el acuerdo por considerar que es una mera ficha técnica cuando, en realidad, el acuerdo firmado es un “texto valorativo”. La denuncia, ostensiblemente retórica, pone de manifiesto la necesidad de los dirigentes iraníes de presentar el acuerdo a sus conciudadanos, y particularmente a los ultraconservadores, bajo la luz más aceptable posible.

Aun así, varios días después, el 29 de noviembre, Hassan Rohani se veía obligado a salir a la prensa internacional, vía The Financial Times, para reafirmar que nunca se había acordado el desmantelamiento del programa nuclear iraní.

Nótese que la Casa Blanca también enfrenta dificultades. Aunque la opinión pública norteamericana parece tornarse cada vez más favorable al acuerdo (las encuestas se desataron rápidamente y el 44% de los estadounidenses dice “apoyar” el acuerdo contra un 22% que lo “rechaza”), la oposición republicana sube el tono de las críticas a niveles tales que John Kerry ha tenido que salir a sostener que Irán “no enriquecerá más uranio”, lo cual, evidentemente, no es consistente con el acuerdo publicitado por la propia presidencia norteamericana.

La posición de la Casa Blanca se torna, sin embargo, particularmente incómoda (y seguramente mucho más incómoda que la de los jefes de estado europeos) en la medida en que el lobby pro-israelí comienza a presionar sobre el propio partido del Presidente Obama y más de un representante demócrata ya habla de votar en el Congreso nuevas sanciones contra Irán tan pronto como el mes que viene.

Tampoco el acuerdo ha caído demasiado bien en las capitales árabes, con la excepción, quizás, de El Cairo que atraviesa por una coyuntura interna suficientemente delicada como para poder permitirse alguna manifestación de corte internacional que pudiese ser leída como crítica de los EE.UU. En Arabia Saudita, en cambio, y en general en los países del Golfo, asisten con estupor a lo que temen sea un “cambio de alianzas” de los EE.UU. en la región. Aunque esto, evidentemente, es una dramatización caricatural, no es menos cierto que la sólida alianza histórica con las monarquías del Golfo está siendo tensionada ante el cambio que parecen estar propiciando los EE.UU. y una EU particularmente dinámica y protagonista, luego de décadas de congelamiento casi total de las relaciones entre Irán y Occidente.

Como era previsible, la reacción más virulenta contra el acuerdo provino del gobierno de Israel y particularmente del gobierno Netanyahu que no pudo más que caricaturizar el notorio apresuramiento de la prensa internacional al hablar de “histórico acuerdo”, con otra expresión poco apropiada: “error histórico”.

La reacción del gobierno Netanyahu es más explicable porque, en varios sentidos, lo sucedido era más que previsible para sus integrantes. La insistencia de John Kerry en encarrilar en los últimos meses, aunque fuere a la fuerza, el proceso de diálogo entre Israel y la Autoridad Palestina ahora aparece claramente como el preámbulo de un posible cambio de la posición norteamericana ante la teocracia iraní. Los conservadores israelíes siempre pretendieron “arreglar” la región antes de “arreglar” el diferendo con los palestinos. Lo que vino seguramente a poner en marcha los últimos meses Kerry en Israel, es la afirmación de la convicción de los EE.UU. de que Israel debía ocuparse a la brevedad de sellar un arreglo con los palestinos, mientras su aliado mayor iba a proceder a algunos ajustes “en los alrededores”.

Es más que probable que los EE.UU. hayan advertido hace bastante tiempo que los conflictos internos al mundo islámico se agudizaban rápidamente (agudización de la cual las efímeras “primaveras árabes” fueron un síntoma) y que las tensiones que se pondrían en juego eran mucho más decisivas para los intereses norteamericanos que las que involucraba el conflicto árabe israelí.

Desde luego que ello no debía implicar nada parecido a un “abandono” de Israel, que sería suicida para cualquier gobierno en los EE.UU., pero si podía comenzar el ejercicio paulatino de modificar una posición, en la variable geometría regional, que tomase en cuenta, por ejemplo, el crecimiento del rol de Turquía, el desbordamiento del fundamentalismo sunita y, porque no, hasta la creciente aproximación de los EE.UU. a la autosuficiencia energética en materia de hidro-carburos.

Del lado del gobierno Netanyahu las cosas se complicaron realmente porque, seguramente no es por casualidad que, en la quinta edición de las conferencias “Iran Dialogues”, organizadas por el Centro Internacional Toledo por la Paz, tanto Javier Solana, (ex Secretario de la OTAN y ex Secretario de la Unión Europea y conocido por su moderación en política internacional) como Shlomo Ben Ami (ex Ministro de Asuntos Exteriores del gobierno laborista israelí entre 2000 y 2001), director del Centro, se han pronunciado prudentemente a favor del acuerdo. Aunque, como todo observador sensato, entienden que hay que ver el perfil conciliador recientemente pergeñado por Irán con desconfianza, resaltan que, más que la simple moderación, lo que Rohani vino a traer a la política exterior iraní era racionalidad y previsibilidad.

En ese escenario, mientras que Solana resalta la consistencia que ha demostrado Rohani desde que asumió (aunque cabe recordar que el tiempo que lleva Rohani en la presidencia es breve y que, por sobre todo este proceso, lo que parece reinar es un zigzagueo del Ayatollah Ali Khamenei) Ben Ami, por su lado, aprovecha la ocasión para pasarle la factura al gobierno Netanyahu.  Shlomo Ben Ami subraya, provocativamente, que “Es una derrota política tremenda para Netanyahu. Se ha quedado sin agenda”.

En todo caso, y más allá de las diferentes reacciones políticas que el evento ha puesto en marcha, es evidente que el acuerdo temporal alcanzado, aunque en sí mismo significa poca cosa, simbólicamente ha creado una novedad: parece ser que Irán puede comportarse como un estado dotado de una política exterior racional. Este simple hecho, que es algo así como el presupuesto elemental de cualquier aproximación “realista” de la política internacional, constituye un espacio para la diplomacia que hasta hace una semana no parecía existir.

En cualquier caso, y más allá de las más que previsibles ambigüedades que pueda develar Irán en el corto plazo, conviene ir previendo los efectos que el acuerdo (de concretarse y prolongarse) va a tener en la distribución de fuerzas a nivel planetario.

Al respecto, dejemos nada más planteado, el problema que significaría, a mediano plazo, un simple acercamiento a Irán por parte de los EE.UU.. Recordará el lector que todo el sistema balístico de defensa desplegado en Europa por la OTAN se justifica, en la actualidad, por lo que puede significar el peligro balístico, y eventualmente nuclear, iraní. Este argumento siempre fue resistido por Rusia que sabe perfectamente que la agresividad irracional de la teocracia iraní le proporcionaba a la OTAN un argumento para mantener un sofisticado sistema de defensa que tenía como real objetivo, sobretodo, contener el poderío balístico ruso.

En política internacional, las reacciones rara vez se hacen esperar. El lunes 25 de noviembre, un día después de la firma con Irán, hablando en Roma ante la prensa internacional, el Ministro de Relaciones Exteriores de Rusia, Sergei Lavrov, señalaba que una de las enormes “ventajas” del acuerdo alcanzado con Irán (y fervientemente apoyado por Rusia) era que “obviaba” la necesidad de que la OTAN desplegase su sistema de defensa en Europa Central ya que no habría más “peligro iraní”.

Link Original: http://www.ort.edu.uy/facs/boletininternacionales/contenidos/178/editorialjavierbonillasaus166.html

domingo, 1 de diciembre de 2013


Must academics researching authoritarian regimes self-censor?

28 November 2013

In the case of Rwanda, it is wrong to argue that only academics working outside the country are capable of critical comment, says Phil Clark
Rwandan parent and child

Source: Magnum

How far should a journalist go to secure access to a violent or repressive country? This question grabbed the attention of academics earlier this year after the BBC used a group of London School of Economics students to disguise a visit to North Korea to film undercover for a Panorama documentary.

The broadcaster stood by its decision not to pull the programme, which aired in April, but the LSE’s director, Craig Calhoun, warned that the episode had put the institution’s staff and students at risk.

“The school works in politically sensitive and unstable countries,” Calhoun wrote on Times Higher Education’s website at the time. “We study democracy and democratisation, social movements and economic change, international politics and regional relations…We study them, often, by physically visiting territories where suspicion of foreigners asking questions runs high. That suspicion is heightened by incidents such as this. In order to pursue our academic mission, our students and our staff need to be able to move as freely as possible about the world without facing stigmatisation.”

While the objectives of journalists and academics can be very different, questions about access – gaining it, maintaining it and whether, in some cases, there may be too high a price to pay for it – are very familiar to researchers studying countries that are subject to authoritarian rule or where there has been recent mass conflict. Is access predicated on the assumption that certain research topics or views are “off-limits”? Do those granted access practise self-censorship?

Such issues are regularly debated by academics specialising in the countries where I conduct most of my research – Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo – but it is in the case of Rwanda that debate about whether academics can combine fieldwork with criticism of national authorities has been most intense.

Rwandan man holding shoulder patch

Source: Getty

During the past five years, some academics, including seasoned scholars, have stopped travelling to Rwanda in particular because of fears for their safety or that of their local respondents. This has coincided with a sea change in international opinion of the country. After the 1994 genocide, Rwanda’s efforts to rebuild itself were lauded by foreign journalists and policymakers, and it was often held up as a global model of donor-assisted development and stability. In recent years, however, it has been criticised for the violent suppression of opposition at home and abroad, and because of the government’s support for various rebel movements in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Debate about the viability of research in Rwanda came to a head after the publication in April 2011 of a collection of essays, Remaking Rwanda: State Building and Human Rights after Mass Violence, edited by two respected scholars, Scott Straus and Lars Waldorf. The book, which covered a wide range of political and social issues in post-genocide Rwanda, was – for the most part – highly critical of the authoritarian “social engineering” project undertaken by the ruling party, the Rwandan Patriotic Front. It gave cursory attention to the enormous strides the country has taken over the past 20 years in terms of economic development, health, education, judicial reform, gender equality and social cohesion. There was also surprisingly little debate among the volume’s 29 contributors, which masked the fervent disagreement among scholars on Rwanda more broadly.

Although critical of the book, I was nonetheless shocked by the venomous reaction to it by the Rwandan government and a range of national commentators. An anonymous blog featured on the website of the Rwandan Embassy in Washington DC, as well as a series of articles in the state-owned New Times newspaper, accused the collection’s editors and various contributors of being “vultures”, “genocide deniers” and “enemies of Rwanda”. It was even falsely claimed that one contributor had secured a “fake” doctorate and that the reason she wrote critically of the Rwandan judicial system was because she had fallen in love with a genocide perpetrator who lived in her backyard throughout her fieldwork.

In response, Straus gave a number of interviews discussing the broader relevance of this vitriolic reception. He told the African Studies Association that the government’s reaction simply confirmed a central argument in the book that “the government’s domestic and international strategy is to silence critics”. The response by foreign researchers, Straus told The Chronicle of Higher Education, is to “internalize the logic of intimidation, which means that many of us self-censor. We say to ourselves, in effect, if I speak out I jeopardize my access to the country and to my interlocutors…[which] ultimately produces a skew in the published scholarship.” This was particularly concerning, he said, because foreign academics and human rights organisations are among the few sources capable of openly criticising the Rwandan regime: “It is left to outsiders to make critical comments if the domestic political space is largely closed.”

Rwandan man holding vial

Source: Reuters
Local researchers continue to use research to challenge policies. They may not march down ­Kigali’s streets, but they are far from ineffectual
Straus’ views are widespread among researchers on Rwanda. Soon after the publication of Remaking Rwanda, I attended a US State Department briefing at which the majority of the 20 assembled experts on the country said that they had not been there for several years – some since the late 1990s – because they were either officially personae non gratae or believed they would personally be at risk if they returned. One well-known academic told the meeting that it was not possible to conduct fieldwork in Rwanda unless one toed the line on all aspects of government policy.

These concerns are not without foundation. Working in a post-genocide society – with its inevitable divisions, tensions and trauma – and in an environment in which political and social interactions are sometimes controlled presents researchers with substantial problems. But those who claim that it is impossible to conduct field research on politically sensitive topics in Rwanda without self-censoring and that only those working outside the country are capable of critical comment about its government overstate the case.

There is a tendency among some foreign scholars and students to exaggerate the difficulties of conducting research in post-atrocity environments. To claim that the Rwandan government has placed a researcher under surveillance can add enormous cachet to his or her work: it is assumed that it must be sufficiently important and damning of state wrongdoing to warrant such close attention. This gives some academics an interest in magnifying the perils of their research.

On a Kigali hotel balcony several years ago, I met an American PhD student whose thesis explored the role of women in religious orders since the genocide. Given that the Roman Catholic and Anglican churches in Rwanda are trying to reinvent themselves after their institutional complicity in the violence – and that the government has an extensive programme focused on women’s empowerment – this struck me as an interesting although not particularly controversial subject. The student leaned across the table and whispered conspiratorially: “Ever since I got here, I’ve been followed everywhere I go.” I gently asked who she thought was following her. With great exasperation, she replied: “Well, the government of course.” Given the nature of the research, this seemed very unlikely.

I have had countless conversations of this self-aggrandising nature with foreign academics, students and journalists. The most extreme version involves the claim that a particular researcher has been blacklisted from Rwanda because of the sensitivity of his or her work. Yet, with the exception of a handful of senior academics such as Filip Reyntjens, René Lemarchand and Gérard Prunier, who fell out with the Rwandan government in the years immediately after the genocide, I know of no foreign scholar or student who is officially persona non grata in the country. While others claim to be blacklisted, none has to my knowledge attempted to enter Rwanda and been turned back from its borders. The reality is probably much less dramatic: they may have met some resistance in securing government interviews or permits to sensitive spaces such as prisons or military camps, or they may simply imagine that things will be difficult when they next return to the field.

Rwandan immigration office queue

Source: Getty

Claiming that it is impossible to conduct research in Rwanda is also often about protecting one’s patch. When I taught at the University of Oxford several years ago, two of my master’s students returned from a conference in the US to announce that they had decided against conducting their dissertation fieldwork in Rwanda. When asked what had brought about this change, they said that a prominent scholar had advised them that no Rwandans would be brave enough to speak truthfully about their research topic. I said that the academic in question had recently published an article on the same subject, based on fieldwork she had conducted the previous year, so it certainly seemed feasible to research the topic in the country. Both students went to Rwanda, gathered impressive empirical material and received distinctions for their dissertations.

The claimed impossibility of researching sensitive topics in Rwanda also overlooks the important ways in which many academics succeed in voicing critical views on the country while retaining access to their field subjects. Rwanda is not North Korea: foreign researchers and journalists travel there freely and frequently, including some of the contributors to Remaking Rwanda. Some are more adept at maintaining access than others and the most effective continue their research over many years. While recognising the undeniable challenges of fieldwork, we should shift the rubric of respect from those who claim that researching in Rwanda is too fraught to those who continue to do complicated work on the ground.

From my own experience and that of others who have conducted sustained research in the country, the key is to be discreet, patient and respectful in the field and to build close relationships with local respondents, researchers and (where possible) government officials. Difficult environments require difficult, and savvy, research. It is possible to publish controversial findings and continue discussions with officials, provided one adopts a fair and considered tone. In many cases, researchers who have met closed doors in Rwanda have been bombastic or hectoring during their research, belligerently “speaking truth to power”. Such activist scholarship – which favours a certain political agenda over exploring complexities and contradictions – tends to make government officials in any country, not just Rwanda, defensive. Some foreign researchers adopt an all-knowing attitude in developing countries that they wouldn’t dare attempt at home and then wonder why local officials don’t assist them.

Building relationships with state actors and navigating officialdom often involves long and heated discussions. But adopting a balanced research approach – highlighting positives and negatives – and a respectful tone enables access and the open debate of controversial issues. At two large government-run conferences in Kigali last year – one to commemorate the 1994 genocide and the other to mark the closure of the 10-year process of genocide trials through the gacaca community courts – I gave presentations that included discussion of the charged issue of crimes committed by the Tutsi-dominated Rwandan Patriotic Front against Hutu civilians immediately after the genocide. My comments included direct criticism of ruling party behaviour at official events where government ministers and other senior officials were present. Not unexpectedly, on both occasions some expressed their severe displeasure with me verbally and by email. However, after lengthy discussions, each one acknowledged that I had no axe to grind and that my criticisms accompanied an analysis of the many virtues of Rwanda’s approach to justice and reconciliation since the genocide.

Rwandan men consulting map

Source: Reuters

Similarly, at the Kigali launch of my book on the gacaca courts in 2011, the deputy chief justice (and now chief justice) of the Supreme Court, Sam Rugege – an Oxford-educated professor of law – opened the event by saying: “I have read this book and it contains much that I agree with and much that I disagree with. It is important that we have this time to discuss it, even if we disagree.” I had sent the book to Rugege a month before the launch and we discussed it in person. These conversations laid the groundwork for the open debates at the book launch, which included some biting commentary from Rwandan academics and civil society actors on aspects of my analysis and of government policy.

Certainly Rwanda represents a tense, sensitive environment for local and foreign researchers. But many of the former, who understand the domestic terrain better than any foreigner, continue to use their research to challenge existing policies. They may not wave banners and march down Kigali’s streets, but they are far from cowed or ineffectual. Rather than being viewed as such, many of them would benefit from collaborations with foreign scholars and students, who possess crucial resources and access to international networks.
The danger of overstating the risks of researching in Rwanda is that it will discourage vital fieldwork and instead produce a generation of armchair critics who prefer to denounce Rwandan authoritarianism from afar but without deep empirical knowledge of conditions there. This will lead only to self-satisfied activist scholarship and uniform opinion, oblivious to the nuances and complexities of life inside the country.

It is pleasing to note that despite the doomsaying of some established academics, a new generation is ignoring their elders’ advice and getting about the challenging business of empirical research in Rwanda. In organising a recent conference at Soas, University of London on the Rwandan Patriotic Front, my colleague Jason Mosley and I received more than 60 abstracts, the majority from young academics who have recently conducted field research in Rwanda and elsewhere in central Africa. This new wave of researchers is proof that it is possible to be critical of the Rwandan government and maintain access to the country. Some of them contest the image of a despotic Rwanda in which citizens are merely ciphers of the government, while others argue that the state is authoritarian but, unlike many of their predecessors, support their claims with deep empirical knowledge of the inner workings of the government and its impact on the lives of everyday Rwandans.

Field research in post-conflict or repressive societies is never going to be easy. But it is possible, through respecting and building relationships with local actors, to research in these environments and to be critical of domestic trends. The outcome is a deeper understanding of complex societies, which is vital for shaping international narratives and can benefit local citizens.

Link: http://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/features/must-academics-researching-authoritarian-regimes-self-censor/2009275.article#.UphVlnBHJFE.twitter