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¿Wappin? Bilingual free form without the corporate playlist

Baerista Juanita Parra de Los Jaivas. Foto por Benjamín Mejía Valencia.
Baterista Juanita Parra de Los Jaivas. Foto por Benjamín Mejía Valencia.

Música bilengüe con sabor y sin formato empresarial

The Black T Project at Casa Arias

Koko Taylor – Voodoo Woman

Quilapayún – La Muralla

Joan Armatrading – In These Times

Pink Floyd – Dogs

Joan Baez – El Preso Numero Nueve

The Beatles – Blackbird

Víctor Boa – Negrito

La Ley & Ely Guerra – El Duelo

Playing for Change – Redemption Song

Howlin’ Wolf – Spoonful

Radiohead – Karma Police

Cultura Profética – La Complicidad

Prince, Dhani Harrison et al – While My Guitar Gently Weeps

Los Jaivas – Concierto en Señal en Vivo


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Weissman, TTIP leak shows US bid to export its system


TTIP leaksLeaked TTIP documents threaten EU regulatory protections

by Robert Weissman – Public Citizen

Europe, beware. The leaked TTIP text confirms that the United States is trying to export its failed regulatory model. If the United States succeeds in its project, Big Business will gain enormous power to block, slow, undermine and repeal European regulations.

The leaked text makes clear that there are serious issues requiring analysis in particular sectors, but also that the Regulatory Cooperation chapter poses a major threat to health, safety, environmental, labor, consumer, civil and political rights, and other regulatory protections. The US proposals in the Regulatory Cooperation chapter seek to export many of the worst features of US rulemaking.

There is a lot to recommend about the US regulatory process in theory, but in practice, the US rulemaking process now evidences a massive tilt to favor the interests of regulated industries. It is far too slow; regulators are bogged down in seemingly endless analytic requirements that are themselves biased to favor the interests of regulated parties. Its veneration of “cost-benefit analysis” provides a pseudo-scientific cloak to industry’s apocalyptic claims about the costs of the next regulation and operates at loggerheads with application of the precautionary principle.

In the days ahead, Public Citizen will issue a more detailed analysis of the draft Regulatory Cooperation chapter. These are among our top line concerns from the US proposals in that chapter:

  • Regulatory Delay — Paralysis by Analysis: Article X.13 would require parties to provide detailed and expansive justifications for their decision to issue a regulation, including consideration of regulatory alternatives. This is an inherently unequal obligation, because there is no burden to provide justification for doing nothing. In practice, the need to provide detailed justification for issuing a rule dramatically slows US rulemaking.
  • Corporate-Biased Cost Benefit Analysis: Article X.13.1.c would require parties to conduct detailed cost-benefit studies of regulations and regulatory alternatives. It is important to understand that the US understanding of the phrase “anticipated costs and benefits is fundamentally different than the European conception of regulatory impact assessment. In the United States, cost-benefit analysis is an extremely technical concept involving extensive data collection and elaborate modeling, and it is generally understood to be a near-absolute decision-making criterion. Its highly technical nature obscures the fact that cost estimates frequently rely on regulated industry-provided data and are excessive, and that non-quantifiable or indirect benefits are frequently not captured.
  • One-Sided Analytic Requirements: Article X.13.2 would require parties to assess the impact of regulations on small businesses, a formal assessment under US in certain circumstances that imposes extensive delay. It is also a one-sided required analysis, both under US law and the US TTIP proposal, because the specially required analysis looks to burdens (“adverse economic impacts” in the TTIP proposal) but not pro-competitive or other benefits to small business.
  • Look Back, Not Forward: Article X.16 would require parties to undertake retrospective reviews of regulations. This is, again, an inherently uneven process, because the instruction is to search for rules to revise or repeal, not for regulatory shortcomings or gaps requiring new initiatives. In practice in the United States, the obligation to undertake regulatory reviews demands valuable time and resources from agencies, and interferes with their ability to conduct forward-looking activity.
  • Trade Over the Public Interest: Article X.9 would impose a requirement for parties to consider trade effects of proposed regulations, and implicitly to justify any detrimental effects on trade. This is admittedly a soft requirement, but is notable inserting purely commercial considerations into regulatory decision-making and should be viewed as precursor to more robust demands in this area to follow.

Taken in their entirety, the US Regulatory Cooperation proposals are affirmatively hostile to the precautionary principle. The precautionary principle counsels taking protective action in the face of uncertainty. The US cost-benefit standards, demands for consideration of alternative regulatory approaches, and expansive analytic requirements also counsel for inaction in the face of uncertainty. Moreover, US-style cost-benefit analysis places a premium on industry-provided cost estimates while effectively discounting benefits from action to prevent possible harm.

There is no need to overstate this tension; it is in fact possible to take precautionary action in a cost-benefit framework, as the United States sometimes does — but it is also the case that US-style cost benefit is generally discordant with precautionary approaches.

The US proposal notably does not include a requirement for judicial review of regulatory impact analytic requirements. This feature is central to the US rulemaking process, but US negotiators have recognized its incompatibility with European institutional arrangements. It remains to be seen how a regulatory cooperation chapter will intersect with the investment chapter. But irrespective of the intersection with the investment chapter, Europeans should be aware that, if the US Regulatory Cooperation proposals are accepted and TTIP is approved, it is only a matter of time before the United States and US corporations begin advocating judicial review of European compliance with the provisions of the Regulatory Cooperation chapter.

Judicial review is an inherent part of the logic of the US system, and there is no doubt that US corporate interests will insist that judicial review is required to enforce the terms of the Regulatory Cooperation chapter.


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Fishing village dogs

fishdog 1
The National Aeronaval Service — SENAN — claims to be Panama’s coast guard. We have an older and more ubiquitous force guarding the coasts. If we want to get into an argument over who is more upright and efficient there has to be a conversion table to compare payoffs of fish scraps to those of money.

Fishing village dogs

a chapter in The Streetwalkers of Panama by Eric Jackson

Panama’s fishing village dogs are a dying breed. It’s not that they are a breed of dog that some kennel club or geneticist would recognize as such, although in any given fishing village a lot of the members of the local dog pack will have similar appearances because they will be closely related to one another. It’s that Panama’s fisheries are declining. Mangrove swamps and coral reefs that serve as the incubators for the lower end of the coastal marine food chain are being degraded by the cutting of mangroves, by reefs being covered in plastic and other pollution and by climate changes that are causing coral species to die. The damage caused by such new arrivals as the lionfish is just gravy, but the biology and math of too many people trying to catch too few commercially valuable fish is central to the problem.

Replanting mangroves, creating artificial coral reefs and oyster beds, building and operating hatcheries to raise schools of fingerlings to release into the sea — these are not rocket sciences. Nor is the regulation of fishing seasons, catches and methods in order to preserve fish stocks. The latter regulatory methods have been commonly practiced in Panama for many years, but the former ways of building and rebuilding the fisheries have not been. In communities where fishing has been a mainstay of the local economy since long before anybody living there was born, it has also been a long time since any politician had much to say about fishing as elections approached. Instead the monologue coming from developers or would-be developers is that the best economic use of Panama’s shorelines is for luxury condos to attract mostly imaginary foreigners. The developers and their acolytes will malign fishers as a criminal element that must be removed to make way for their private progress, and the politicians will deny that they harbor any hostility to or are doing anything to harm the interests of those who fish for a living.

But all up and down the Pacific coast of Panama in particular, fishing villages have been razed to make way for developers. Under Panama’s constitution the beaches are public property and access to them may not be blocked, but with purported concessions that privatize the use of the beaches and armed guards to enforce those dubious claims the activity of fishing is being expelled from many beaches along with the village where people lived.

(How obnoxious can private concessions on public property get? As these words were written there was a proposed law in the preliminary drafting stage that would divide up Panama’s territorial waters and seabeds into separate fishing grounds, some or all of which would be auctioned off the the richest bidders. At first glance both the sports fishing industry and those who go out in motorized cayucos chasing the flocks of birds and casting their gill nets where they see the birds feeding would be restricted to specific little areas. Would pelagic fish have to obey boundaries negotiated by Panamanian politicians and foreign corporations? When climate changes reconfigures fishing grounds, will the companies that bought concessions that are no longer so valuable get to trade them in for better spots? Those sorts of things — instead of common sense measures to rebuild our nation’s overall seafood producing capacity — may be discussed in the National Assembly chamber some day soon. If such nonsense comes to pass, one can be reasonably certain that many of the legislators will not have read what is proposed before voting on it.)

Back along the shore, Panama’s laws about public beaches combine with climate change to the fishers’ disadvantage. The basic rule is that the public zone extends inland along a line parallel to the reach of the highest waters at the highest tides. But climate change has raised mean sea levels ever so slightly, and created more frequent storm surges and swells, such that the high water line is moving inland. The phenomenon is easily perceived. Before people noticed the change most fishing villages were already in the zone where land cannot be legally owned. With the change many of the houses became unlivable because of the frequency of the floods. The ever-higher waters also have also washed away some expensive resort investments along the shoreline. This writer got a kick out of seeing former President Martín Torrijos, who build a beach house on the sand, suffer property damage from the waves — served him right for ignoring the Biblical injunction about building on the sand.

Do dogs understand any of this? Surely many of them know about having to move into the cities or to inland rural areas, or about being abandoned to their own devices by people who left them behind. There are ever fewer fishing villages and ever fewer fishing village dogs.

Has it converted hardscrabble fishing village dogs into better fed dogs living with upscale new residents, some of them foreigners with different cultural outlooks on the human-canine relationship? Surely there are such adoptions, but the reality is that many of these new towers on the beaches are empty. In some cases there is speculation that they will eventually attract residents, but in others it’s a money laundering scheme. Some foreign racketeer — and they come from many criminal enterprises in many countries — buys a condo. Maybe it’s one that’s dubbed luxurious but is actually poorly built. It’s usually empty most of the time, sometimes all of the time. But back home the condo owner claims fabulous rental income from the investment and reports his or her drug money, or the proceeds of illegal currency transactions or whatever, to the taxman. Go by some of these completely sold condo towers at about eight in the evening and there will be hardly any lights on in the whole building. The bottom line for the fishing village dogs is that there isn’t somebody living in a new condo to adopt every dog who gets abandoned by fishers who are forced out.

In a fishing village the dogs are not fenced or tied, but they do bond with particular human beings, have particular friends within the community of dogs, and make sure to be around when the boats come in and they might get a little fish, some offal or the remains of a fish that has been filleted. By many standards fishing village dogs eat well.

However, small-time fishing is not a lucrative business. Are there some who bring in money from smuggling or other activities on the side? Certainly there is an underworld element to the fishing scene, but then the poorest elements of that economy are the most expendable to both law enforcement and crime bosses. Look for the trawler that comes and goes at a dock rather than a boat that is parked on a beach between high tides to be carrying the drugs. Look for the purported island resort developer who sends out a boat with a six-person work crew in the morning and receives a dozen people returning from work in that same vessel for the smugglers of migrants without visas. The real opportunity for fishing villagers to smuggle is to hire their boats out as lighters that surreptitiously bring things ashore from larger vessels. In any case, fishers tend to be poor to the extent that they often don’t have the resources to take care of their own health needs, let alone those of the dogs with whom they share the beach. For both fishers and dogs, it’s a hardscrabble life on the beach.

Might we some day get business people who understand that their resort or residential project just uphill from the high water mark will be more attractive if potential buyers and guests can buy fresh seafood from the fishing boats on the beach? Might we some day get political leaders possessed of a sense of national security that holds that the cornerstone of a nation’s safety is its ability to feed itself and knowing that Panama has lived by fishing and farming for at least 10,000 years? Then we might have less precarious and more honorable social and physical places for those who fish, and for their loyal four-legged friends.


fishdog 2
Do the dogs along the Pacific Coast of the Americas have a communications system that starts in Tierra del Fuego and ends up on the northern shore of Alaska, or vice versa? No such thing has yet been documented, but dogs barking and howling on the beach. setting off other dogs farther up or down the coast, are a frequently observable fact. People probably don’t know the extent of it because dogs have so much better hearing than we do.


fishdog 3
It’s high tide, the boats are coming in and this pack knows that this means that they are about to be fed.


fishdog 4
There are boats and nets and other fishing tackle to defend.


fishdog 5
Mange and other ordinary dog diseases can be treated, but often in the fishing villages they are not.


fishdog 6
Shelter from the tropical sun is often an existential issue for Panamanian fishing village dogs.


fishdog 7
If there is protection from the sun or rain, the sand can make quite comfortable bedding for a dog.


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La reputación de Panamá en el mundo hispano


La reputación de Panamá en el mundo hispano

NW Noticias (EEUU), La difícil expulsión del Edén

Semana (Colombia), Se abrirá la caja de Pandora panameña

El Confidencial (España), Secretos a voces del ‘Panama Papers’

El nuevo Diario (Nicaragua), En perspectiva

Página 12 (Argentina), Otra offshore en el macrismo

El País (Colombia), El acuerdo con Panamá


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With the rains, another insect season

flying ant invasion
They not only come to the lamp. They also like computer screens.

When the rains first soak the soil
after a very long dry season…

photo and note by Eric Jackson

When the parched soil is moistened again, dormant insects begin to hatch and emerge. If you are a gecko it’s a holiday feast. If you write in front of a computer screen for your living you might find it annoying. What happens after a particularly brutal El Niño dry season? The timing and order by which things first emerge is clearly affected. The winged ants usually come first, but the June bugs that usually come a bit later are also starting to appear at the same time. Did the extreme drought kill very many hibernating insects? Will the feeding of birds and frogs, and the pollination of plants, be affected? It’s hard to imagine the drought from which we are emerging not having a ripple effect through many an ecological niche, but surely this would be such a complex effect on so many players and factors that it would not be so easy to fully understand, let alone to reliably predict.


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Sagel, With friends like this…


TocumenWith friends like this…

by Mariela Sagel — translated from the original in La Estrella by Eric Jackson
Don’t walk in front of me, I may not follow. Don’t walk behind me, I may not lead. Just walk beside me and be my friend.
Albert Camus

Much is spoken of friendship, which should be unconditional and should benefit the welfare of each person. I don’t doubt this, but I am greatly intrigued by certain friendships that have allowed some to go through true calvaries while the others die laughing. In the Book of Proverbs, at 22:24-25, it is written: “Make no friendship with an angry man; and with a furious man thou shalt not go: Lest thou learn his ways, and get a snare to thy soul.”

This past week we say the former minister of social development go to an appeals hearing before the Supreme Court for having bought a luxury car. He has been incarcerated for more than a year and a half, without the bail that has been expeditiously conceded to the big bosses who have stolen millions from this country, with which they would have been able to do big projects. He will go to trial in another month. I don’t have any sympathy for this man, who in addition to making a display of his crass ignorance when he “abdicated” his candidacy for mayor, did nothing of relevance for which he can account in his ministry. He just passed the time as the cabinet’s “pretty boy.” But he did take pride in being a good friend of President Martinelli.

Now that the charges against him have piled up and in some cases have been combined, the disreputable president of the Suprme Court will let us know of how the judicial authorities intend handle these matters next week. What reason will the fugitive give to his “friends” left on the hook, who are prisoners while he lives a leisurely life, carousing and so on, in his golden exile? Doesn’t it seem unjust that many of his former subordinates are on trial while he’s protected by the gringos?

Others in his entourage are in the same boat, more or less left to fend for themselves, with their pitiful wives picketing in front of the Avesa Building. Family members claimed that former officials’ lives are in danger while they are incarcerated. Then when the arrogant former security minster was released on bail there came a strange mix of garbled Bible passages, threats and partying.

They say that “the best friendship is one that does not harm.” One of the first statements that President Varela made when the Mossack Fonseca papers scandal blew up was that Minister Without Portfolio Fonseca was his friend. This has raised many suspicions about the delay with which authorities have acted. Better if he had kept quiet about that, and nobody would be questioning him about it today.

Likewise, all of those who leave their cells — not necessarily in jails, which are intended for non-VIPs — proclaim to the four winds their unconditional friendship with the president they served. But where has he been to defend them? How come his battered party has not held a congress, the date for which keeps getting postponed?

I was surprised by the stubborn defense of those guilty of the horrible massacre of youngsters at the juvenile detention center, which alleged that the sentence, the most severe imposed in Panama, was excessive. It was made by ex-minister De Lima in an opinion column, in which he forgot what happened — the brutality and cruelty of the police officers who were there at the revolt, which was videotaped as an authentic proof of what happened. Nobody in authority in the government in which De Lima was a prominent member looked after the families of those who died nor of the two survivors, who needed special attention to heal their wounds and burns, in addition to psychological help. Such an enormous challenge it apparently was for the prison system, the Ministry of Government and the Ministry of Social Development. None of them showed any pity, nor did they do anything for these poor people. They delivered the putrified remains of their children in garbage bags.


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Chan & Lake, The bombing of Al Quds Hospital in Aleppo


AleppoThe WHO’s Margaret Chan and UNICEF’s Anthony Lake
on attacks on medical facilities and personnel in Syria

We join the many voices expressing outrage at the attack on Al Quds Hospital in Aleppo. Among those killed were two doctors, including one of the only remaining pediatricians in the city, three paramedics, and numerous patients, among them children.

We are outraged at the alarming frequency of attacks on health personnel and facilities in Syria. These incidents come amid an escalation of violence in particular in the northern parts of the country.

A few days ago, a mortar killed a gynecologist on his way home after treating wounded civilians at a UNICEF-supported clinic in Aleppo.

These attacks remind us of the enormous difficulties and dangers that Syrian health workers face every day. Those workers deserve more than our admiration. They deserve greater protection.

Attacks on them and on health facilities and the denial of healthcare services as well as medical equipment and supplies anywhere in Syria, are not only a blatant violation of International Humanitarian Law, but deprive families and communities of essential health care when they need it most.

UNICEF and WHO urge all parties to the conflict to end all attacks on health facilities, personnel and ambulances and to allow the provision of health services to the many innocent civilians in desperate need. Thousands of lives are at stake.


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Odebrecht wins a big round in Panama’s National Assembly

Marcelo Odbrecht is already doing 19 years for bribery. On April 28 had another criminal investigation added to his woes, this one when a Brazilian judge allowed proceedings against him and two renowned international political consultants for money laundering with respect to payments made to them. Some of those payments were Odebrecht funding their services for Panamanian political campaigns. On the same day Panamanian legislators voted to allow Odebrecht to continue business dealings with this country’s public entities.
by Eric Jackson

The National Assembly has saved the ability of foreign corporations that notoriously pay bribes to continue their operations in Panama. Only six of the 71 deputies voted against a final version of a new public contracting law that bars consideration of foreign bribery convictions for the purpose of disqualifying corrupt companies from getting public contracts here. Panama’s banking, corporate and campaign finance secrecy laws will probably keep us from knowing how much the legislators were paid for that service.

President Varela, much of the Panamanian legal profession and knee jerk nationalists with varying credentials have all been quick to shift the onus in light of the Panama Papers revelations. It’s not so much about how corrupt Panama is, but how corrupt the countries who supply the clients for Panama’s money laundering law firms are. The first political casualties of the massive document leak, however, did not lose face and positions because they were caught laundering bribes. They fell because they were shown by new documentary evidence to be flagrantly insincere.

Is the sincerity issue one by which governments ought to be judged as well? What the Panama Papers revelations tell those who have been watching new laws and new assurances to get Panama off of this tax haven gray list or that money laundering black list is how very insincere all of that has been. The leaks were, after all, papers with details of the often sordid work of a firm whose founding partner is a minister without portfolio in the Panamanian cabinet and is the functioning chief executive of the president’s political party. They have told tales of money laundering for public corruption, drug cartels and tax cheats. The issue can be turned around. Is the true outrage the dishonest assurances of Panamanian administrations, or is it the acceptance of those assurances by foreign governments who well knew that they were bogus? “Globalization” on corporate terms means the economic and political power of an international oligarchy, among whom there thrives a culture of evading taxes and occasionally conducting illegal transactions via offshore shell companies. The politicians who accepted Panama’s assurances when they had reason to disbelieve them were by and large beholden to oligarchs like that.

The foreign press has not picked up on the political gyrations, redactions and amendments of the amendments that took the Brazilian construction giant Odebrecht Group off of the hook, so by and large it might be supposed that it’s ugly politics as usual but just a local story for which there will be no consequences abroad. However, there are three important consequences for domestic Panamanian politics, which might just mean that the five years and out cycle for ruling parties has been reinforced or might mean something more significant:

  • This was an end of the legislative session set of maneuvers. The next time we will see the deputies together in action will be on July 1, when they elect leaders for the next legislative year. Last July an attempted alliance between exiled former President Ricardo Martinelli and PRD president Benicio Robinson tried to gain control of the legislature, on a platform of stopping prosecutions for Martinelli regime corruption and impeaching President Juan Carlos Varela. Both Martinelli’s and Robinson’s parties split over that, and now there is a strange alliance finishing a term characterized by the stagnation of anti-corruption efforts, little money to do anything of significance beyond what had been already planned, a set of rigged contracting procedures for those projects that are going ahead that’s more closely aligned with the practices of pre-Martinelli administrations, and then the bombshell of the Panama Papers revelations, the next wave of which hits with those files being opened to Panamanians who are not connected with La Prensa on May 9. The vote, given its context, is probably a sign that the divisions for last year’s vote no longer apply.
  • President Varela’s Panameñista Party has the legislature’s third-largest caucus. Varela is president on the strength of support from independent voters and disaffected fringes of the memberships of other political parties. But if the different party factions mostly came together for this “public contracting reform,” key independent forces that supported Varela for president have broken with the administration. There is only one independent legislator, Ana Matilde Gómez. On the floor of the assembly’s chamber, she declared that her colleagues “will pay a high political price for not having closed the door to international corruption.” The Independent Movement (MOVIN), which was a key part of the coalition that backed Varela’s presidential bid and was one of the primary backers on a ban on corrupt companies doing business with the government, issued a blistering communique that alleged that the public had been “defrauded” and that Panama “cannot with moral authority make claims to the world” in light of the vote.
  • If one wants to look at MOVIN as just this little civil society faction that has no ballot status, it would be easy to dismiss their importance. If you consider it the not very well disguised voice of the Motta family, Panama’s richest clan, then its probable defection from the Varela camp takes on a greater significance. Add to that the strong complaints of the Chamber of Commerce — the vote “sends a wrong message to the country and to the international community,” chamber president Jorge García Icaza said. We are seeing the same sort of dropoff of business support for Varela that earlier presaged the eventual failure of Martinelli’s “Entrepreneurial Government” project.

So if Marcelo Odebrecht’s gravy train is sidetracked for a moment in Brazil, it’s full speed ahead here in Panama. Barring any wrecks, of course.

A petition for divorce? this stern public pronouncement is a rebuke by a key component of the 2014 Varela campaign.


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The Panama News blog links, April 30, 2016


The Panama News blog links

Xinhua, Chinese ship to be first to use new locks

Vessel Finder, Safety concerns over new Panama Canal locks

MarineLink, ACP dismisses ITF claims

COHA, Nicaragua Canal stuck in a quagmire

Railway Technology, Panama and Japan sign monorail finance deal

Video, Takashi Uchiyana vs. Jezreel Corrales

Fight News, Corrales gets hero’s welcome at Panama homecoming

Caribbean News Now!, FIFA’s Warner continues to fight US extradition efforts

Boeglin, La demanda contra Panamá ante el CIADI

FTSE News, Barclay’s pans First Quantum stock

La Estrella, Propondrán a Banconal como corresponsal en el EEUU

AFP, Comité internacional revisará sistema financiero de Panamá

Euronews, Panama’s finance minister faces French counterpart

Reuters, Varela and Merkel spoke by phone about transparency and taxes

El Espectador, Panamá y Colombia acuerdan intercambio de información tributaria

Razo, Cruz & Landa: Redirecting the Panama Papers

La Estrella, Shredded paper at Mossack Fonseca

Fang, Former tax lobbyists are writing US rules on tax dodging

STRATFOR, A Bright Future for Solar Power in the Middle East

E&N, El Niño golpea a casi 10 millones de personas en la región

Rivera, Las lluvias traen ríos de plástico hacía la bahia

Latin American Herald Tribune: Baru, the volcano that overlooks two seas

Carrera, The defense of seeds in Latin America

Fast Company Design, Mapping the world’s complex shipping routes

Diagana & White, Malaria’s deadly comeback

Discovery News, Bisexual bird commune found in Panama

Prensa Latina, Panama hosts indigenous parliament

AP, Two killed in Panama – Colombia border firefight

Caribbean News Now!, UN ‘deeply concerned’ at missed election deadline in Haiti

AI, Surge in killings by police sparks fear in favelas ahead of Rio Olympics

Sundaram: Panama, secrecy and tax havens

Dorado, El fortalecimiento del seudo-fascismo tropical de Uribe

Farthing, Little transparency or progress at UN drug session

Moisi, France’s next president

Fishman, Brazilian cybercrime bills threaten open Internet for 200 million people

Castro Soto: “In crisis, we find hope”

Human Rights Watch, Glimmer of hope for US military rape victims

Keller, The Return of the Desert God

BBC, Prince’s band The Revolution to reunite

Blades, A Puerto Rico


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Avnery, Us and Them


Gush Shalom“Us” and “Them”

by Uri Avnery — Gush Shalom

No. It’s not “us” and “them.”

Not “us” — the good ones, the moral ones, the righteous ones. Or, to put it bluntly, the magnificent ones. The Jews.

And not “them” — the bad ones, the evil ones. To put it bluntly again: the despicable ones. Yes, the Arabs.

We, who were chosen by God, because we are so special.

They, pagans all, who pray to all kinds of idols, like Allah or Jesus.

We, the heroic few, who are faced in every generation by those who want to destroy us, but we save ourselves from their hands.

They, the many cowards, who want to kill us and our state, and our courage defeats them.

They, all the goyim, but especially the Muslims, the Arabs, the Palestinians.

No, its not like this. Not at all.

Some days ago, Yitzhak Herzog said something especially obnoxious.

Herzog, the leader of the Labor Party, the chairman of the “Zionist Camp” union, the Chief of the Opposition (a title conferred automatically on the leader of the largest opposition party), declared that his party is failing at elections because people believe that its members are “Arab lovers.”

If translated into German, it may be better understood. For example, that Angela Merkel’s party consists of “Jew lovers.”

Nobody says so. Indeed, nobody can say so. Not in today’s Germany.

One may assume that Herzog did not mean it the way it sounds. Certainly not in public. It just escaped his mouth. He did not mean it.

Maybe. But a politician who lets such words escape his mouth cannot be the leader of a large political camp. A party with such a leader, which does not throw him out on the same day, is not worthy of leading the country.

Not because he is wrong. There are certainly many people who believe that the Labor Party members are “Arab-lovers” (though there is no sign that they are. It must be a secret passion.) And many people believe that the Labor Party is sinking to the bottom because so many believe this awful thing. There are plenty. Problem is, this kind of person would not vote for Labor, and even less for Herzog, even if they jumped into the air and shouted: “Death to the Arabs!”

And even this is not the most important fact. The most important fact is that beyond all the moral and political considerations, these words disclose an abysmal lack of understanding of the Israeli reality.

Today’s Israeli reality means that there is not the slightest chance to remove the Right from power if it is not faced with a united and resolute Left which is based on Jewish-Arab partnership.

There is the demographic reality. Arab citizens constitute about 20% of Israelis. In order to achieve a majority without the Arabs, the Jewish Left would need 60% of the Jewish public. A pipe dream.

Some dream about the Center, which could do the job of the Left. That is a pipe dream, too. The Center is not a force, it has no spine, no ideological base. It attracts the weak and the meek, those who do not want to commit themselves to anything. The Yair Lapids and the Moshe Kahalons, like their predecessors, like their likely successors, are the tails of foxes, not the heads of lions. Since the days of the Dash party in 1977, they will always trail the Right. That’s where they came from, that’s where they will return.

Past are the days of the old Labor Party, Mapai, with its tails — the former national-religious party and the Jewish-Oriental Shas party.

A new, large and strong Left must arise.

Such a Left, new, large and strong, cannot arise but on the solid basis of Jewish-Arab unity. This is not a dream or a forlorn hope. It is a simple political fact. Nothing good will come about in the country but on the basis of Jewish-Arab partnership. This partnership made the Oslo agreement possible. Without the Arab votes in the Knesset it would not have passed. Such a partnership is necessary for any step towards peace.

The argument that a leader “does not love Arabs” is irrelevant in itself. It just says that the person is unfit to lead Israel. He will not succeed in anything, certainly not in making peace.

Not to mention the fact that the phrase “loving Arabs” is childish. How can one love — or not love — an entire people? In every people — including ours — there are good and bad individuals, good-hearted and evil ones, friendly and antagonistic ones. “Arab lover” is like “Jew lover” – two words that have a strong anti-Semitic smell, as every Jew well knows.

I was an eye-witness — and an action-witness — to many efforts to establish a Jewish-Arab partnership in Israel, literally from the first days of the state.

As I have already recounted many times (perhaps too many), immediately after the 1948 War I was part of a tiny group which compiled the first plan for a “two-state solution.” In the 1950s I took part in setting up the “Committee against the Military Government,” a Jewish-Arab group that fought for the abolition of the repressive regime to which Arab citizens were then subjected. (It was abolished in 1966). In 1984 I took part in creating the “Progressive List for Peace,” an Arab-Jewish party that won two seats in the Knesset, one for an Arab, one for a Jew. And there were many efforts in between.

I mention them in order to illustrate a frightening fact: during the last 30 years, the cooperation between the Jewish and Arab peace forces has not grown, but on the contrary, has shrunk. It is in a steady process of decline. And so, by the way, is cooperation between the Israeli and Palestinian peace forces.

This is a fact. A sad, depressing, even despair-creating fact. But a fact, nevertheless.

Who is to blame?

Such questions are quite pointless when it comes to historical processes. Every historic tragedy has many fathers. In spite of this, I shall try to answer.

I shall testify against myself: right from the beginning of the occupation in 1967, I cut down on my activities for Jewish-Arab cooperation inside Israel, in order to devote all my efforts to the struggle for Israeli-Palestinian peace, for the end of the occupation, for the Two-state Solution, and for the relations with Yasser Arafat and his successors. All these seemed to me then much more important than the quarrel inside Israel. Perhaps this was a mistake.

The Israeli Left asserts that the Arab citizens have become “radicalized.” The Arab citizens argue that the Jewish Left has betrayed and neglected them. Perhaps both are right. The Arabs believe that the Jewish Left has abandoned them, both in the matter of peace between the two peoples and in the matter of equality within the state. The Jewish Left believes that the utterances of people like Sheikh Ra’ed Salah, MK Hanin Zuabi and others destroy any chance of the Left returning to power.

Both are right. The blame may be apportioned equally, 50-50. But the guilt of people from the dominant group weighs much more than the guilt of the oppressed one.

Every day provides new evidence of the abyss between the two peoples within Israel. It is difficult to understand the silence of the Jewish Left in the affair of the wounded Palestinian murdered in Hebron by a Jewish soldier. It is also difficult to pardon the Holocaust denial rampant among the Arabs.

I feel that this abyss is getting wider and deeper. For years now I have not heard of a serious attempt by the two sides to set up a joint political force, a common narrative, joint personal and public relations — both at a high and a low level.

Here and there good people initiate small efforts. But there is no serious nationwide political initiative.

If I had received a phone call: “Uri, the time has come. A serious initiative is under way. Come and help!” I would have jumped into the air and shouted: “Here I am!” But no such call has come.

It must come from below. Not another initiative from old men, but an effort of young people, fresh and determined.

(The old ones, like me, can contribute their experience. But it is not for them to take the initiative.)

Such an effort must start from zero. Entirely from zero.

First of all, It must be a joint effort by Jews and Arabs, Muslims, Christians and Druze, in close cooperation, from the very first moment. Not Jews inviting Arabs. Not Arabs inviting Jews. Together, an inseparable bond, from the moment of inception.

One of the first tasks is to agree on a joint historical narrative. Not an artificial one, not a sham one, but real and true, one that takes into account the motives of the Zionists and the Arab nationalists, the limitations of the leaders on both sides, the humiliation of the Arabs by Western imperialism, the Jewish trauma after the Holocaust, and yes, the Palestinian Nakba.

There is no use for the question: “Who was right?” Such questions should not even be uttered. Both people acted according to their circumstances, their miseries, their beliefs, their capabilities. There were sins. Many of them. There were crimes. On both sides. But they, too, were the outcomes of the circumstances, of the times. They must be remembered. Certainly. But they must not be obstacles to a better future.

Twenty years ago, Gush Shalom (the organization to which I belong) published such a joint narrative, which was true to the historical facts and tried to encourage understanding for the motives of the two sides. Some more such efforts have been made. Such an effort is essential to establish an intellectual and emotional basis for a real partnership.

It may not be necessary to create a joint party. Perhaps that is not realistic for now. Perhaps it would be better to set up a permanent coalition of political forces of both sides.

Perhaps a joint shadow parliament should come into being, for thrashing out the difference in a regular and public way.

True partnership must be personal, social and political. The aim must be, right from the beginning, to change the face of Israel and to remove the forces that are leading it toward a historic tragedy. In other words: to assume power.

At the same time, personal and social bridges should be built – between localities, between towns, between institutions, between universities, between mosques and synagogues.

Neither Yitzhak Herzog nor the Labor Party can lead this effort on the Jewish side. Neither Herzog nor his rivals in his party, who desire to take his place. (It seems that in the Labor Party no politician can aspire to leadership unless he or she has already utterly failed in the past.)

What is needed is a young, energetic, ground-breaking new leadership. Not another of those young people who appear on the scene, create a new little group, do good things for a year or two, and then disappear as if they had never existed. What is needed is people who are ready to work together, to set up a force, to lead the state in a new direction.

“Arab lovers?” Yes. “Jew lovers?” Sure. But above all life-lovers, peace-lovers, lovers of this country.


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