Friday, May 06, 2016

Et voilà...


The cover for my new book, Haiti Will Not Perish: A Recent History, out from Zed Books this autumn.

Tuesday, May 03, 2016

A few thoughts on Puerto Rico's debt crisis


Make no mistake: The terms set up for Puerto Rico's $422 million payment to its debtors this week were ones that no one - including the creditors - believed that Puerto Rico could meet (nor do they have any chance of meeting the $2 billion - yes, billion - payment due in July).

How much more could the island reasonably cut by way of services as cuts have already pushed it to the brink? In the last two years, the island has laid off tens of thousands of employees, raised its sales tax to 11.5%, closed 10% of the its schools, shuttered dozens of hospitals and clinics, watched 
84,000 of its sons and daughters depart for the mainland United States last year alone and seen nearly half the island's population descend into poverty.

The logic behind this is similar to the austerity package that was pushed on Greece, the one that Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis resigned over last September. It is all about punishment. The hedge funds and vulture funds such as BlueMountain Capital Management that own a significant chunk of Puerto Rico's debt (and their front organizations, such as the
Center for Individual Freedom and Main Street Bondholders, pressuring Congress) are sending an unambiguous message not only to Puerto Rico's citizens but to those of other countries in which they operate: Fuck with us and we'll make you scream. If this is how we treat U.S. citizens, imagine how we will treat you?

It is a scandal that 3.5 million Americans are being subjected to the economic equivalent of waterboarding, and Congress should act to reign in the island's usurious creditors and bring some relief to its citizens. Having colonies comes with responsibilities, too.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Book Talk: "Haiti Will Not Perish" with Michael Deibert



Here is the video of my talk on Haiti at Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs. Thank you so much to Severine Autesserre for making it happen.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Review of In the Shadow of Saint Death: The Gulf Cartel and the Price of America's Drug War in Mexico


Review of In the Shadow of Saint Death: The Gulf Cartel and the Price of America's Drug War in Mexico

From "Drugs, Violence, and Corruption: Perspectives from Mexico and Central America" By Sonja Wolf in Latin American Politics and Society, Vol 58, Issue 1

(Read the original here)

In the Shadow of Saint Death, the third book from independent journalist Michael Deibert, is a superb piece of reporting on U.S. drug policy and its devastating effects on drug-producing and transit countries in the Western Hemisphere. Ambitious in scope, the volume touches on themes such as violence and sleaze, media censorship, and the survival and resistance of local heroes. With rich descriptions, the author effortlessly recreates the atmosphere in villages and towns across Mexico and Central America that are reeling under the impact of the drug war. The narrative is constructed around the history of the Gulf Cartel and events in its home state of Tamaulipas. But the book is really addressed to a U.S. audience, to whom Deibert aspires to convey the bloody consequences of an insatiable drug demand and a futile prohibitionist approach to drug control.

In his biting critique of U.S. policy, Deibert shows how historically the prohibition of certain substances and the criminalization of their consumers have created corruption and illegal markets. Successive administrations—from Richard Nixon through Barack Obama—have pursued the drug war both at home and abroad, costing the country more than one trillion dollars without ever making significant inroads into this public health issue. In a brief but fascinating section on the Reagan years, the journalist reminds readers how political goals even prompted the United States to collude with known drug traffickers. If the drug war has not yielded the expected results, why does the United States insist on fighting it, and how has it been successfully exporting it around the world for so long? Deibert does not concern himself with the second question and answers the first puzzle by pointing to business interests— notably the private prison industry—and the electoral interests of politicians.

The author is adamant that current drug policies must change and alternatives to drug control and addiction be explored. In the epilogue, the most reflective part of the book, he predicts more violence for Mexico and its southern neighbors unless a fundamental shift in strategy occurs. The terms of the debate have altered, although the fight for drug policy reform is bound to be a long one. Sounding a hopeful note, Deibert cites a 2009 report by the Latin American Commission on Drugs and Democracy—which pronounced the failure of the eradication and interdiction approach—and a 2011 document by the Global Commission on Drug Policy that urges experimentation with government regulation of drugs.

In the Shadow of Saint Death went to press before the publication of the GCDP’s successor report (2014), which set out a roadmap for the creation of more effective and humane drug policies. Deibert identifies Guatemalan president Otto Pérez Molina as an example of leadership on drug decriminalization, even as he recognizes that the unexpected espousal of a progressive standpoint may mask other agendas. The book certainly makes a strong case for drug policy alternatives, but scientific research will need to demonstrate the viability of unconventional approaches.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Paris

Photo © Michael Deibert

Friday, February 26, 2016

Notes from a fading democracy?

Donald Trump - who I have resisted writing about until now - has for months advocated deporting/excluding millions of people on an ethnic/religious basis and seen his poll numbers continue to climb and won three primaries in a row. You think the fact that Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz yelled at him last night will halt his ascent? Don't be so naive.

What I watched last night, as I have noted before, appeared to be half reality tv show, half Nuremberg Rally, with Trump playing his rivals so skillfully that at one point he had Rubio and Cruz arguing over who would be more willing to let people die in the street without healthcare as if it were a good thing. 

Make no mistake, terrifying as he is - xenophobic, bigoted, corrupt, tapping into a fetid well of nativism, racism and paranoia - Trump is one of the most naturally gifted politicians to come along in many years. The Dems need to seriously weigh their options this fall. I was leaning towards Sanders - though I am not a reflexive Clinton hater like some - but if Facebook news feeds convinces you that endorsements by the Cornel Wests of the world will sway voters in places like Lancaster Country, Pennsylvania and Hillsborough County, Florida, I ask you to step outside your bubble and the weird religious cult aspects the Sanders campaign has begun to assume. Hillary has her own stark negatives, as well. 

The Dems have two flawed candidates, and whoever wins will have their work cut out for them beating someone who represents a lot of things in America I think many wish we had left behind.

We should be worried.