Saturday, January 31, 2015

China

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Chad



Eleven million people, half of them under the age of fourteen, and a life expectancy average of just forty-two - a land for the future, according to the first two statistics; one that won't make it that far, according to the third.

Chadians are Christians in large numbers, but there were also centuries of Moslem imperialism. Islam dominates in the north, Christianity in the south, with some residual African animism. A recipe for religious war, if the evidence of every surrounding African country is to be invoked. The evidence of Chad's own history as well. The first post-independence President was a Christian; he was ousted in a coup after a Moslem-led civil war. A Libyan-backed northerner, Goukouki Oueddei took over in 1979, from which time the usual saga of coups and counter-coups have plagued the country, though only one has been successful - the current President, Idriss Deby, came to power in a coup in 1990, and has managed to win every election since, and to stave off every attempted assault on his authority.

200,000 Sudanese refugees from the drought-stricken Sudan crossed into Chad in 2003, adding to the 100,000 internal refugees from the civil wars.

Add to this that Chad has become embroiled in the conflicts in both Cameroon, Niger and Nigeria, with its forces helping to fight back the Muslim radicals of Boko Haram.

Gold and uranium are the only crops that grow in this mostly desert land, which leaves behind famine, but brings in much cash. Where exactly that cash goes would make for an interesting journalistic enquiry. Not into schools, hospitals or general social welfare - Chad has one of the lowest scores in that particular league table.

Vast quantities of oil leave Chad ripe for First World exploitation again. Dare we hope that the First World countries will offer their services as paid consultants, so the Chadians can learn to dig out their own oil, and keep the income for themselves? Not much hope for that, given the evidence of every other country in the world.

Chad is on the Tier 2 Watch List in the USA, regarded as "a source, transit, and destination country for children subjected to forced labor and sex trafficking; the trafficking problem is mainly internal and frequently involves family members entrusting children to relatives or intermediaries in return for promises of education, apprenticeships, goods, or money; child trafficking victims are subjected to involuntary domestic servitude, forced cattle herding, forced begging, involuntary agricultural labor, or commercial sexual exploitation; some Chadian girls who travel to larger towns in search of work are forced into prostitution; in 2012, Chadian children were identified in some government military training centers and among rebel groups."

Chad is also under pressure from Amnesty International to scrap a proposed new law "which threatens to impose jail sentences of up to twenty years and heavy fines for people 'found guilty' of same sex activity".


A travel warning is in place from the the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office, which "recommends against all travel to some areas and all non-essential travel to the rest apart from N’Djaména". Exactly what exempts N’Djaména from this warning is not obvious. N’Djaména, or Fort-Lamy as the French called it before the Germans bombed it into virtual non-existence during World War Two, is the nation's capital, and the new name, rooted in the Arabic, means "place of rest". A hint at a future tourist industry perhaps? One day, if they make it that far, and the travel advisories are taken down. 



Marks For: 1

Marks Against: 5




Copyright © 2015 David Prashker
All rights reserved
The Argaman Press


Friday, January 30, 2015

Chile


The BBC’s profile page states that: “Chile is one of South America's most stable and prosperous nations. It has been relatively free of the coups and arbitrary governments that have blighted the continent.”

This might lead to some coughing and guffawing in the back stalls, but fortunately the writer redeems himself immediately afterwards.

"The exception was the 17-year rule of General Augusto Pinochet, whose 1973 coup was one of the bloodiest in 20th-century Latin America and whose dictatorship left more than 3,000 people dead and missing."

A dictatorship fully supported by Margaret Thatcher in Britain, and which was installed by the CIA, on President Nixon's personal order, via Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, after they supported his coup against the democratically elected Salvador Allende.

Allende probably committed suicide during the coup, rather than waiting to be murdered; Pablo Neruda, his close friend, until recently his ambassador in France, and the man most likely to become the leader of the opposition after the coup, died in a Santiago hospital twelve days later, of prostate cancer, according to the medical report, of poison more likely (click here for more background). Neruda also happened to be the second greatest Spanish-language poet of the 20th century (the first was Federico Garcia Lorca), winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1971 - strange coincidence that Lorca too was murdered by his Fascist opponents, in his case during the brutal civil war that brought Franco to power in Spain.


Nothing But Death



There are cemeteries that are lonely,
graves full of bones that do not make a sound,
the heart moving through a tunnel,
in it darkness, darkness, darkness,
like a shipwreck we die going into ourselves,
as though we were drowning inside our hearts,
as though we lived falling out of the skin into the soul.

And there are corpses,
feet made of cold and sticky clay,
death is inside the bones,
like a barking where there are no dogs,
coming out from bells somewhere, from graves somewhere,
growing in the damp air like tears of rain. 

Sometimes I see alone
coffins under sail, 
embarking with the pale dead, with women that have dead hair,
with bakers who are as white as angels,
and pensive young girls married to notary publics,
caskets sailing up the vertical river of the dead,
the river of dark purple,
moving upstream with sails filled out by the sound of death,
filled by the sound of death which is silence.

Death arrives among all that sound
like a shoe with no foot in it, like a suit with no man in it,
comes and knocks, using a ring with no stone in it, with no  finger in it,
comes and shouts with no mouth, with no tongue, with no throat.
Nevertheless its steps can be heard
and its clothing makes a hushed sound, like a tree.

I’m not sure, I understand only a little, I can hardly see,
but it seems to me that its singing has the colour of damp violets,
of violets that are at home in the earth,
because the face of death is green,
and the look death gives is green,
with the penetrating dampness of a violet leaf
and the sombre colour of embittered winter.

But death also goes through the world dressed as a broom,
lapping the floor, looking for dead bodies,
death is inside the broom,
the broom is the tongue of death looking for corpses,
it is the needle of death looking for thread.

Death is inside the folding cots:
it spends its life sleeping on the slow mattresses,
in the black blankets, and suddenly breathes out:
it blows out a mournful sound that swells the sheets,
and the beds go sailing toward a port
where death is waiting, dressed like an admiral. 


Pablo Neruda, 1904 - 1973
(translation by Robert Bly)

 
Today's Chile is economically dependent upon its production of copper. It suffers from a huge imbalance of wealth and poverty, but gains marks for being multi-ethnic, relatively stable and for the way it has dealt with the Pinochetian past, not least by insisting, in 2013, that Neruda's body be exhumed, to allow forensic examination that would determine if the prostate cancer or the poison was the truth. Alas, by then decay had rendered proofs unobtainable.


Marks For:4

Marks Against: 4




Copyright © 2015 David Prashker
All rights reserved
The Argaman Press


Central African Republic

When we condemn nations for colonialism and imperialism, we always forget to condemn the Church on the same grounds. After all, it was Christian ideology as much as economics that drove the European countries into imperialism and colonialism: the determination of the one to convert all the "heathens", by force if necessary, into believers in the One True Faith; the determination of the other to rape the world’s resources for the betterment of their own people. It was the church, too, which provided the intellectual justification for slavery. One of the great ironies of history lies in the fact that African leaders provide most of the subjects in the dock in the International Criminal Court in The Hague, usually charged with over-doing it in their attempts to resolve the mess which is the legacy of post-colonial and post-imperial Africa; while those who created the mess in the first place - the church and the governments of Europe - are the ones hosting and administering those trials.

80% of the population of the CAR are Christians. Why? Because the church sent missionaries to destroy the heathen and pagan cultures and civilisations of Africa, to bring Africa into its world "caliphate". The consequences remain today: poverty, deracination, economic dependence on the First World post-colonialists and post-imperialists, subservience to Rome as much as to the IMF, and a vast population of missionaries maintaining that subservience - Lutherans, Baptists, Catholics, Grace Brethren and Jehovah's Witnesses. Though there is compulsory education for children between the ages of six and fourteen, and it is free, a half of the adult population remains illiterate. Cassava, peanuts, maize, millet, sorghum and maize are the major crops, and agriculture the major source of work in this landlocked country; limited resources on which to build an independent state. Though with the Church so powerful, independence is always a limited term.

Chasing-down Mistah Kurtz?

The CAR became independent from France in 1960, but French remains the national language, not Sangho, a Ngbandi-based creole, though the existence of this last suggests roots have endured from which to grow back an indigenous identity. There are vestiges of Ubangian languages too, plus a few Bantu languages in the extreme south, and several Bongo–Bagirmi languages in the north; there is also a Luo language, Runga. For any African country to get out of the post-colonial mess, it will first have to recover its national identity, for which language and culture are the starting-points, and ridding itself of the continuing imperialism of foreign religions an absolute necessity. The new faith of Democracy, which the West is determined to impose in Africa, is a form of imperialism too. Inside those ancient languages there exist the societal structures which employed them, and the traditional beliefs and rites ceremonies that gave them expression. That, it seems to me, is where the source of real independence lies, for the CAR, for all of Africa, and for the descendants of the slaves too, who have not yet achieved full and genuine independence in lands that theoretically abolished slavery.

Independence from France was followed by the brutal regime of Bokassa until 1979. Coups followed, each leading to theoretically free elections. A new constitution was adopted in 2004, and multiparty Presidential and Parliamentary elections in 2005, with François Bozizé Yangouvonda declared the winner after a run-off vote. Two years later, the CAR became a member of that special group of nations in which armed rebellion within the government, and revolution against it, are taking place simultaneously. Widespread violence in the north, including the systematic killing by government troops of men and boys suspected of cooperation with the rebels, led to thousands of refugees, caught up in the crossfire between government and rebel forces. Seven thousand of these ended up in Chad. The French military supported the Bozizé government.

In March 2010, Bozizé signed a decree approving Presidential elections, but they were postponed, and then again; presumably the government needed more time to check the vote-rigging machinery, or so it seems from the documents of the international blind-eye-turners, who noted that “serious organisational problems” were involved. What took place in January and March 2011 was a farce, despite the presence of the "Observatoire National des Elections", and so Bozizé remained in power, a "stable regime" in French eyes (when Third World governments are considered "stable" by First World governments, it is always a euphemism for corruption, despotism, brutality and extreme poverty outside the ruling elite, all to the continuing influence and benefit of said First World country). What was actually happening in the CAR? Deep corruption, rife with nepotism, authoritarian; underdevelopment because the aid money was being siphoned off into the bank accounts of the ruling oligarchy. In 2012 the Séléka Coalition began a bush war, and in 2013 overthrew the Bozizé regime. Bozizé fled to Cameroon via DR Congo while the rebel leader Michel Djotodia proclaimed himself President; the first Moslem President of this predominantly Christian country, endorsed by the police and the military, so it makes little difference that the general population does not support him and other African leaders refuse to recognize him.

The situation today is described by the UN as "complete chaos". Both the President and the Prime Minister resigned in January 2014. A French-trained lawyer, Catherine Samba-Panza, is now in interim charge. The number of refugees is reckoned to be well over a million, and Christian groups have taken up the Jesuitic challenge that He brought "not peace but a sword" by massacring Muslim civilians by the thousands, while forcing thousands more to flee. What is going on is not yet genocide, though where exactly the line gets drawn between ethnic-cleansing and genocide is not that clear. I cannot help noting that the continued presence of the Christian missionaries, and the arrival of the Moslem ones, has exacerbated the problem, not assisted it. As I have noted elsewhere, multi-culturalism is a secular philosophy for promoting human tolerance and respect; multi-religionism is generally a war-zone.

Economically, the CAR is on life-support-systems provided by the First World, which means that independence is not really independence, and post-colonialism and post-imperialism are not really post-colonialism and post-imperialism. The CAR is a perfect illustration of the disaster of First World imperialism five hundred years ago still reaping its grim harvest today - and the CAR is only one of a dozen similar tales in Africa. What the CAR needs is for First World countries to ban missionaries from travelling to the CAR, churches and mosques to close, First World Aid to cease, and let the CARians suture their own wounds, which will be bloody and painful, for the next several generations, until an African nation speaking its own languages can emerge and start to grow out of those remaining roots. I will not repeat these remarks on every African page of this blog; but yet they apply, on almost every African page of this blog.

Marks For: 0

Marks Against: 10



Copyright © 2015 David Prashker
All rights reserved
The Argaman Press

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Caribbean

No, like you, I have no idea why the Caribbean is included in this list of the world's countries (I have explained already why the oceans are included, so why not the Caribbean?) It is a region rather than a country; it is not included in the CIA's World FactBook, nor does it have a profile page on the BBC's website; it is not mentioned at InfoPlease.com, nor Amnesty International, nor HumanRightsWatch, and IndexMundi only includes it as a regional category for the convenience of putting Anguilla and Aruba and the rest on the same page.

 And yet, it is here, and it needs to be here, for that word "Caribbean" recurs in news broadcasts and cultural commentaries. We speak of Caribbean literature, and count everyone from V.S. Naipaul to Jean Rhys, from C.L.R. James to Derek Walcott, yet leave out Gabriel Garcia Marquez (what, is Colombia not in the Caribbean?), presumably because he does not fit the academic stereotype of post-colonialism (click here). We speak of Caribbean culture, or Caribya, but when we try to define it, it turns out to be the residue of African culture, brought with at the time of slavery, deracinated like the people who still practice it, and so it isn't really Caribbean at all (click here). 

We speak of Caribbean music - bouyon, calypso, compas, jing ping, punta, reggae, reggaeton, soca, and zouk, to name just a few - and quickly realise that Caribbean music is principally African too, but that there is also Indian in there, and quite a bit of European as well. And then, what does the culture of Haiti really have in common with the culture of the Cayman Islands, or Cuba with the Bahamas, or Venezuela with Monserrat? To which the answer, of course, is: and what does Scotland have in common with Bulgaria, or Portugal with Liechtenstein, except that all four are in Europe? What unites a people, ultimately, are language, history, religion, food - and geography; in this sense, we can easily identify the uniqueness that is the Caribbean, and simply urge the cultural academics to put the great GG Marquez back into their lists.


Marks for: 6


Marks against: 1




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Cayman Islands

Part of Jamaica until it became independent in 1962, the Caymans are now a British Overseas Territory, autonomous since 1972, self-governing since 2009, though its police and external security continue to be supervised by a Governor appointed by the Queen. 

The islands were sighted by Christopher Columbus in May 1503, during his final voyage to the Western Hemisphere. He first called them Las Tortugas, after the many sea turtles that he saw. Later, he renamed them the Cayman Islands after the caimans, a native word for the alligators that inhabit the islands. 

The Caymans are distinguished amongst the nations of the world in having more registered businesses than actual people inhabiting the country, with tourism, banking and property the major sources of income, and the traditional trades of fishing, turtle hunting and shipbuilding reduced to mere leisure activities for tax-exiles (there are no taxes on the Cayman Islands). 9,000 mutual funds, 260 banks and 80,000 companies operate through the islands, which is obviously a ridiculous fraud and a form of money-laundering, and not surprising that its first Premier was booted out for corruption soon after taking office. Cayman, in Prashkerese, is defined as “a land of legalised criminality” and scores 11 on the Marks Against register.

There are however some marks in its favour, especially if you are a tax exile who actually wants to visit the land in which your taxes are exiled. SUVs are available at all car rental stations beside the yacht marinas, and yes, you may use American dollars at the Mall if you prefer. Sun-bathing on the beach is the principal form of employment for most of the Cayman's residents, though hiking, golfing, snorkeling, diving and sailing are available when sun-bathing becomes too strenuous. If you do go snorkeling, watch out for stingrays. On reflection, if you go to the Cayman Islands in search of sound and legal investment and tax advice, watch out for stingrays.





Marks For: 3 (an act of generosity that I am now unable to explain or justify) 

Marks Against: 11 (ditto)



Copyright © 2015 David Prashker
All rights reserved
The Argaman Press


Cabo Verde



Or Cape Verde, if you insist. Ten islands four hundred miles off the West African Coast, all of them volcanic; total size fifteen hundred square meters. Prone to drought. No arable land. Population – difficult to say as it diminishes daily: more than two hundred thousand fled from poverty during the 20th century, and more than half its native population no longer is - though actually its native population never really was, because the islands had never been inhabited by anyone until the Portuguese colonised them in the 15th century, and made them one of their key transportation centres for African slaves en route to the Americas. 

The islands became independent in 1975, though Portuguese remains the "mother tongue". There was a brief and somewhat tentative exploration of a possible unification with Guinea-Bissau, but that was abandoned when the party they were supporting in Guinea-Bassau was overthrown in a coup. Instead, in 1981, a one-party system was established under Antonio Mascarenhas Monteiro, which held power until elections were held in 1990, which Monteiro won; only then was a multi-party system created, though Monteiro still managed to go on winning elections until 2001. 

Cabo Verde is now regarded as one of Africa's most stable democratic governments. Supported by massive amounts of food and other aid, it has risen out of the bottom league of underdeveloped countries, until, in 2008, it followed Botswana out of the United Nation's list of the world's 50 Most Under-Developed Nations. It now has three international airports, which may seem excessive for a country of less than half a million people, but you have to get around those islands, and planes are easier than boats. 

But now we know, we have the evidence, are on the right road towards the proof: create an island in the middle of the ocean, render it virtually uninhabitable, make sure it has no natural resources that others might make war to obtain, restrict its economy to farming and fishing with a little tourism, limit its population to a tiny few, and you have the chance to create a world in which freedom of the press, fairly elected government, and progress are achievable.

Marks For: 9


Marks Against: 2




Copyright © 2015 David Prashker
All rights reserved
The Argaman Press


Canada

The second largest land-mass on Earth, in terms of countries (only Russia is larger), and yet, proportionately, one of its least populated regions, mostly because lakes, mountains and icy glaciers make most of it uninhabitable. 90% of the population live within 150 miles of the US border, and it is often very hard to distinguish a Canadian from an American city. Among the highest levels of income in the world, it is also the most multi-cultural of countries, in the sense that it actually welcomes immigrants, and encourages them to integrate (which is to stay as who they are) rather than to assimilate (which is to become whatever the current definition of "being one of us" might be).

National government is also divested down to state government as in the US, with cities and towns providing further levels of aspiring democracy. The principal divisions are between the French and English speaking parts, with both languages official and required, though no one outside Quebec actually uses French, and what the Quebecois call French might have been understood in 16th century Marseilles but is virtually incomprehensible to a 21st century Parisian.

Inside Quebec the argument for a separate country goes on, though it is as likely to happen as Scottish independence, or for that matter Catalan or Breton. Canadians do not much like war, but will send small numbers of troops as peacekeepers to support the UN. They do like oil and other minerals however, and have staked out parts of the Arctic, much to the discontent of the Russians and the Scandinavians, who were hoping to get there first.

Canada has the important distinction that, over the last fifty years, it has produced Glenn Gould, the Group of Seven artists, Leonard Cohen, Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, Bob Dylan’s backing group The Band, as well as Margaret Attwood, Robertson Davies, Mordechai Richler, Rohinton Mistry, Yann Martel, Alice Munro, Saul Bellow - though most Americans think he was American. And then there is Justin Trudeau, elected Prime Minister in October 2015, following in the footsteps of père Pierre, equalising his Cabinet men to women, though when he insists that he will represent all Canadians, I wonder if the members of the First Nations are convinced that he really does mean all Canadians.



Because, yes, I may have forgotten to say something specific about the First Nations – the Mississauga and the Okanagan and the… hundreds, literally hundreds of aboriginal clans and tribes? I may have forgotten… but really, it’s just that, in Canada, you don’t make that kind of distinction any more. Mississauga, Scandinavia, Korea, Athens… people have ancestry, and it’s interesting to hear the tales. Beyond that the six hundred and thirty-four clans of the First Nations have the Statement of Reconciliation, declared in 1998; and Canada is ranked at Number 2 on the UN’s list of the world’s most tolerant societies. And so no need to mention them. And so we can be as complacent as we like. But sadly it isn’t true, and so, apologies, but I didn’t forget the First Nations, I just saved them to the very end, like every Canadian politician, kept them in reserve you might say, tried but in the end just couldn’t ignore them, all of which, and not just superficially, explains why my marks for are nowhere near as high as earlier paragraphs might have led you to expect.


Marks For: 8

Marks Against: 1




Copyright © 2014 David Prashker
All rights re5erved
The Argaman Press