News - July 16
An interview with Evo Morales:
The US, Bolivia, and Venezuela
The US Military Descends on Paraguay:
In July 2005 hundreds of US soldiers arrived with planes, weapons and
ammunition. Washington's funding for counterterrorism efforts in
Paraguay soon doubled, and protests against the military presence hit
the streets. http://www.informationclearing
Florida Con Salsa:
Greg Palast Reports on Voter Fraud in Mexico's Presidential Election
Mexico’s Leftist Candidate Says He’ll Never Concede Defeat :
“For me this election is fraudulent from start to finish,” Mr. López
U.S. government purchase data on Mexico’s 65 million registered Voters ;
A probe has been launched into how the Atlanta-based corporation
ChoicePoint Inc. was able to purchase data on Mexico’s 65 million
registered voters as well as six million licensed drivers in Mexico
Mexico's Fractured Electoral Landscape :
Mexico has always been two lands – "Illusionary Mexico" and "Profound
Mexico" is how sociologist Guillermo Bonfils described the great divide
between rich and poor.
Pinochet 'sold cocaine to Europe and US':
Augusto Pinochet's $26m (£14m) fortune was amassed through cocaine
sales to Europe and the US, the general's former top aide for
intelligence has alleged.
[Also featured in the NZ Herald: 14 June 2006, with this headline: “Picture with a thousand meanings”, and this sub-heading: “Peter Conrad visits an exhibition in London devoted to a single image and its many manifestations.”]
Victoria & Albert Museum, London SW7, until 28 August
I dimly remember a time when my generation wanted to change the world. Now most of us are more interested in adding conservatories to our houses, while a few may even have plans to vote Conservative. The fate of a single image, documented in a concise and clever exhibition at the V&A, sums up our lapse from idealism to the plump, smug hoarding of our material gains.
In 1960 the photographer Alberto Korda snapped Che Guevara at a rally in Cuba - shaggy-haired, frowning with messianic intensity, and wearing his zip-up leather jacket as if it were a clerical soutane, the uniform of his fanatical creed. Korda called the image Guerrillero Heroico, allegorising Che. The prints he made were grey, grainy, disposable; he gave them away to sympathisers, enjoying the notion that a work of art, mechanically reproduced, could be the common property of mankind.
After Che's assassination in 1967, Korda's portrait - now starkly simplified, with the beret lifting off to form a halo and its red star holding out a remote hope that heaven might still be established on Earth - found its way on to posters, lapel badges and T-shirts. It became a testament to martyrdom, and the tragic souvenir of a lost cause. Enlarged on a banner, it was unfurled down the five-storey Ministry of the Interior in Havana: here was the writing on the wall. A steel outline on the side of the building still commemorates the image, like Christ's smudged face on the Turin shroud.
The image persists, but these days it has a different meaning. The enemy of capitalism has been co-opted, and killed all over again; the freedom fighter, transformed into a commercial brand, now greases transactions in the consumer economy and sells opium to the masses. The
curators of Che Guevara: Revolutionary & Icon have trawled the internet, scoured flea markets and even grubbed in rubbish bins to document Che's omnipresence and the slippery flexibility of his appeal.
In Spain he is emblazoned on a cigarette packet, in Mexico on a textured condom. In the United States you can blow your nose on him, since his face sells packets of tissues. If, on the way out of the V&A show, you pause at the gift shop you can buy some guava-flavoured balm
and smear him around your mouth. 'Revolt against dry, sore lips' is the clarion call on the little tin.
Consumerism stupefies us with oral pleasures, hoping that we will be too doped or pissed or glutted to care about the iniquity of the world. Che therefore adorns bottles of French wine and Canadian cream soda. A yelping chihuahua sports his beret to sell tacos to Cuban boat people in Miami. Worst of all, perhaps, is the shiny ice-cream wrapper scavenged by the curators in Australia: here he lends his name to Cherry Guevara and allows a ripe cherry to replace his beret's red star. A caption on the shiny paper gloats over the way that rebellion
is repressed by the act of consumption. 'The revolutionary struggle of the cherries was squashed,' it triumphantly reports, 'as they were trapped between two layers of chocolate.'
The trade in this lucrative image is exposed at its shoddiest in the story of a Warholesque silk screen of nine Ches, multiplied in all the candied colours of the rainbow and neutralised by repetition. This galaxy of green, pink and purple Ches is a forgery, allegedly made by Gerard Malanga when he was short of funds. Warhol got to hear of the fraud and shrewdly authenticated the fake Warhols - providing, of course, that all the money from sales went to him.
Icons are supposed to be sacred representations, relics of divinity. After Che's death it became fashionable to portray him as Christ, with the beret changed to a crown of thorns. The image-makers overlooked his insistence that he was 'the very opposite of Christ', and would fight with all the armaments available rather than suffering himself to be nailed to the cross. His truculence is well conveyed in a Nicaraguan print of the crucifixion, where the impaled Che, who still wears his beret but has shed all his other clothes, shows off a portentous set of genitals. Peasant women kneel at the foot of the cross, probably worshipping his blood-engorged virility.
Elsewhere, however, the icon has been desanctified. Myth is a convertible currency, and anyone can be turned into Che. With Cher, it's easy: just add a letter to the logo and the bearded radical has morphed into the singer with a cosmetically sculpted mask for a face.
Che rhymes with gay, so his sexual identity can be altered by adding some dabs of mascara and lipstick. More strenuously macho, the floating signifier turns up as a tattoo on the armour-plated gut of Mike Tyson.
On one magazine cover, Prince Charles - whose cranky agrarian fads are in fact the last, feeble adulteration of a revolutionary programme - borrows the beret and grimaces as if it weighed as heavily as his mother's coveted crown; on another magazine, the beret is worn by Princess Diana, rechristened Di-Che in homage to her campaign to topple the monarchy. And, of course, Madonna, who in her time has been everyone, impersonates Che to sell her album American Life Exactly what is the material girl's activist agenda? 'Her only action,'
as the curators tartly point out, 'is to wear the beret.'
A Cuban poster from 1973 brilliantly constructs Che's face from a montage of written tributes by Salvador Allende, Yevgeny Yevtushenko, Jean-Paul Sartre, Peter Weiss, Italo Calvino, Stokely Carmichael and others. The background consists of red words, and patches of black
lettering fill in his hair, his beard and the cavities of his eyes and mouth. The design at least respects the man's ideas and acknowledges that he was once more than a fashion accessory and marketing opportunity.
In the beginning was the word, and the word was God - by which the gospel meant that the word was our means of attaining enlightenment. In the end, which is now, we have only the image, and the image is the devil.
In ancient Persia, a government official would come around once in a while, inspecting the lands. Those that were not being used efficiently were gradually taken from their owners and reassigned to the efficient users. Now Bolivia is beginning to use a similar system, angering the idle and inefficient land speculators. Would a site value tax accomplish the same goal, without government involvement in choosing owners?
The Bolivian government is negotiating with corporations and rural social organisations about the scope of a new programme of land distribution among poor rural workers. Women and indigenous people are at the top of the list of intended beneficiaries of the first two million hectares to be distributed, out of 4.5 million hectares of land identified as state property by the administration of Evo Morales.
In the second stage of the programme, registers of private ownership of land will be revised and updated, and lands that are unproductive and held merely for speculation and investment will be expropriated. Re-registration and distribution of state lands, initially intended for
forestry projects and other purposes, will precede confiscation of private land lying idle, held only for its market value, as established in the official plan for fair land distribution for productive purposes.
Fifty-three years after Bolivia's first agrarian reform efforts, and a decade after a radical reform in land legislation, the model of agrarian development now being implemented aims to protect and promote three modes of production, based on communities, small farmers and
agroindustry. On May 16, the administration of Morales, who took office in January as the first indigenous president in the history of Bolivia, announced a plan to modify the law on agrarian reform and draft six decrees that will complete the new legal framework for land tenure and agricultural and livestock production.
According to the latest figures available from the National Institute of Statistics (INE), 63 percent of Bolivia's population of 9.2 million lives in poverty. The situation is even worse in rural areas, where 79.5 percent of the population is poor. Although the precise number of people demanding productive land is not known, Omar Quiroga, an analyst at the Centre for Research and Advancement of Small Farmers (CIPCA), told IPS that leaders of indigenous peoples' organisations had already registered 22,000 families who were landless or land-poor, in the eastern department of Santa Cruz alone. Bolivian Vice President Álvaro García Linera said the government urgently wanted to give productive employment to a sector that represents 40 percent of the economy in rural communities, and is made up of 650,000 families living on incomes of less than 600 dollars a
From October 1996 to last April, the state National Institute for Agrarian Reform (INRA) has spent nearly 100 million dollars revising titles to barely 17 percent of the 107.5 million hectares of arable land, a task that law 1715 of the National Service of Agrarian Reform
stipulated should be completed in 10 years, according to information from the Vice Ministry of Lands. Their estimates indicate that at the end of the process, there will be about 14 million hectares of land available for distribution, including lands that are to be confiscated. These lands are in the lowlands of the departments of Pando, Beni and Santa Cruz, an extensive northern region that spreads from the west to the east of the country, and in Chuquisaca and Tarija, to the southeast.
Land ownership in Bolivia has unique features. After the agrarian reform of 1953, large estates in the western highlands region and in the valleys were shared out among small farmers, and over half a century they have passed from generation to generation and have been subdivided repeatedly. At the time of the first agrarian reform, the western region was the economic powerhouse of Bolivia, with silver and tin mining at their peak. But the dictatorships in power from 1964 to 1978 - with brief periods of democracy in between - changed the face of agriculture in the east by assigning the best land to influential families and relatives of those in government at the time, which led to the concentration of
property in only a few hands.
That vast region in the lowlands of the departments of Pando, Beni, Santa Cruz and Chuquisaca, with estates of up to 50,000 hectares, is the area that the government is targeting now for land reform. A study by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) found that in this region, just 100 families own 25 million hectares, while two
million families of small farmers have barely five million hectares. Enrique Ormachea, an agricultural analyst with the Centre for Research on Labour and Agrarian Development (CEDLA), pointed out that "the limited state lands to be distributed are in the departments of Santa Cruz, Beni and Pando, and the small farmers living in those departments
will have priority."
The 1953 land distribution affected large estates in the altiplano (highlands) and valleys in the departments of La Paz, Oruro, Potosí and Cochabamba, in the west, centre and southwest of the country. As a result, there is little land left to be distributed in that region. Ormachea is concerned about the future of small farmers from the altiplano, where land can no longer be found, who have no option but to migrate to the cities and hire themselves out as cheap, unskilled labour. So far, the government has not announced a plan to relocate families, or a settlement policy, in relation to the agrarian reform measures.
Saravia agreed with Ormachea that "the small size of the plots of land are the cause of extreme poverty in several small farmer sectors." "That's why it's not good enough to give them small parcels of land; it would be better to form a large collective or communally owned farm in which technology can be used to boost productivity," he added. Quiroga, in turn, emphasised the urgent need for a broad government programme, to include technical assistance, productive infrastructure, provision of farm machinery through cooperatives, access to soft credit, and guaranteed markets for producers.
Nevertheless, he predicted there would be a land struggle between small farmers, indigenous people and agribusiness. "Agriculture and livestock owners' associations, and one sector of
small producers' associations, are being led by dishonest businessmen or pseudo-businessmen, who are bent on embezzling banking institutions by taking out 'linked' loans (given to bank shareholders) or simply not paying them back," Quiroga said.
The government has also said that large rural properties have been used as collateral against loans that were left unpaid, driving financial institutions into bankruptcy. Even now, the state is still trying to collect debts amounting to 70 million dollars, contracted in the early 1990s by influential members of the business community.
Ormachea and Quiroga also foresee problems in the land distribution process, and in deciding who will benefit. The executive secretary of the Bolivian Confederation of Rural Workers'
Unions (CSUTCB), Felipe Quispe, an indigenous leader from the western region, was critical of the government's plan because, he said, it aims at reaching an accommodation with "owners of vast estates and landholders who have historically exploited rural workers."
For the time being, Quispe has not called for seizures of private lands, in contrast to the small Landless Movement (MST), which is divided into a wing that supports the government, and one that is in radical opposition.
Bolivia Claims Bolivian Natural Resources: http://www.progress.org/2006
Bolivia's Indian Chief: http://www.progress.org/2005
Most Land Reform Efforts Fail: http://www.progress.org/2005