The streets of Baghdad are a swamp of uncollected garbage and crime.
Battered local businesses are going bankrupt, unable to compete with cheap imports. Unemployment is soaring and thousands of laid off state workers are protesting in the streets.
In other words, Iraq looks like every other country that has undergone rapid fire "structural adjustments" prescribed by Washington, from Russia's infamous "shock therapy" in the early nineties to Argentina's disastrous "surgery without aesthetic" a few years later. Except that Iraq's so-called reconstruction makes those wrenching reforms look like spa treatments.
Paul Bremer, the U.S. appointed governor of Iraq, has already proved something of a flop in the democracy department in his three weeks there, nixing plans for Iraqis to select their own interim government in favour of his own handpicked team of advisors. But Bremer has proved to have something of a gift when it comes to rolling out the red carpet for U.S. multinationals. No wonder George Bush looked so pleased when he met Bremer in Qatar.
Jessica Lynch and Rachel Corrie could have passed for sisters. Two all-American blondes, two destinies forever changed in a Middle East war zone. Private Jessica Lynch, the soldier, was born in Palestine, West Virginia. Rachel Corrie, the activist, died in Israeli-occupied Palestine.
Corrie was four years older than 19-year old Lynch. Her body was crushed by an Israeli bulldozer in Gaza seven days before Lynch was taken into Iraqi custody on March 23. Before she went to Iraq, Lynch organized a pen pal program with a local kindergarden. Before Corrie left for Gaza, she organized a pen pal program between kids in her hometown of Olympia, Washington, and children in Rafah.
Lynch went to Iraq as a soldier loyal to her government. In the words of West Virginia Senator Jay Rockefeller, "she approached the prospect of combat with determination rather than fear."
In most of the world, it's the sign for peace, but here in Argentina it means war. The index and middle finger, held to form a "V" means, to his followers, "Menem Vuelve," Menem will return. Carlos Menem, poster boy of Latin American neo-liberalism, president for almost all of the 1990s, is looking to get his old job back on May 18.
Menem's campaign ads show menacing pictures of unemployed workers blockading roads, with a voice-over promising to bring order, even if it means calling in the military. This strategy gave him a slim lead in the first election round, though he will almost certainly lose the run-off to an obscure Peronist governor, Nestor Kirchner, considered the puppet of current president (and Menem's former vice-president) Eduardo Duhalde.
In 1812, bands of British weavers and knitters raided textile mills and smashed industrial machines with their hammers. According to the Luddites, the new mechanized looms had eliminated thousands of jobs, broken communities, and deserved to be destroyed. The British government disagreed and called in a battalion of 14,000 soldiers to brutally repress the worker revolt and protect the machines.
Fast-forward two centuries to another textile factory, this one in Buenos Aires. At the Brukman factory, which has been producing men’s suits for fifty years, it’s the riot police who smash the sewing machines and the 58 workers who risk their lives to protect them.
Review of Letters to a Young Activist, Todd Gitlin, Basic Books: 174 pp.,$22.50
Two years ago, I was invited to the South Australian desert to meet a group of Aboriginal elders who were fighting a radioactive waste dump on their land. I went to Coober Pedy expecting to be bombarded with alarming facts about toxic waste leaking into groundwater, cancer risks and the half-life of radium. Something else happened instead. Immediately upon my arrival, I was scooped up by a group of young environmentalists who dressed like "Mad Max" characters and took me camping.
For five nights we slept by a bonfire on the cracked red earth under the stars. During the days they showed me secret sources of fresh water, plants used for bush medicines, hidden eucalyptus-lined rivers where the kangaroos come to drink. It was amazingly beautiful, but by the third day I started getting restless. When, I asked 22-year-old Nina Brown, were we going to get down to work? She replied that the senior Aboriginal women, who called themselves the Kupa Piti Kungka Tjuta, had taught her that before you can fight, you have to know what you are fighting for.