Monday, December 30, 2013

2013: A Reporter's Notebook of the Year Gone By

Busy as I was working on two books this year, my output in terms of articles was minimal. Nevertheless, I did manage to address some issue confronting Miami, the city that I live in, as well as Mexico, Haiti and a few other locales. I was also fortunate enough to have my book on the Democratic Republic of Congo reviewed by Kris Berwouts, an always-perceptive veteran analyst of that country.

In hopes for a more gentle 2014, and with much love,

MD


Letter From Miami for the Huffington Post (9 August 2013)

Why Arrest of Zetas Leader Does Not Mean End to Mexico's Drug War for the Huffington Post (16 July 2013)

CAR rebel victory throws resource deals into doubt for FDI Magazine (12 June 2013)

What Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez left behind: A Review of Rory Carroll's Comandante: Hugo Chavez's Venezuela for the Miami Herald (24 March 2013)

Michael Deibert's Haiti Bookshelf for the Huffington Post (18 March 2013)


A journalist ventures back to a troubled, seductive Haiti: A Review of Amy Wilentz's Farewell, Fred Voodoo: A Letter from Haiti for the Huffington Post (18 January 2013)

Reporter depicts events surrounding Haiti earthquake: A Review of Jonathan M. Katz's The Big Truck That Went By: How the World Came to Save Haiti and Left Behind a Disaster for the Miami Herald (14 January 2013)

Reviews of my work

The Democratic Republic of Congo: Between Hope and Despair reviewed by Kris Berwouts for African Arguments (10 December 2013)
 

Books in 2013: A Personal Selection

During a year in which I published one book, The Democratic Republic of Congo: Between Hope and Despair (Zed Books), and finished another, the forthcoming In the Shadow of Saint Death: The Gulf Cartel and the Price of America's Drug War in Mexico (Lyons Press), I also got a fair amount of reading done. As has become something of a yearly tradition, here are the books that made the biggest impression on me in 2013.

Oblivion: A Memoir by Héctor Abad

This work of non-fiction by one of Colombia’s best-known novelists is the moving and painful story of his father, Héctor Abad Gómez, an idealistic physician who was slain by right-wing paramilitaries in 1987 for his work on behalf of the country’s poor and disenfranchised. In the story of his family and of his father, Abad manages to evoke the as-yet-unresolved struggles of an entire country.

Book of Clouds by Chloe Aridjis

A dreamlike and often eerie depiction of a young woman adrift in Berlin, this first novel by the Mexican writer Chloe Aridjis bodes for great things in the future.

The Corpse Had a Familiar Face by Edna Buchanan

An essential bit of Miami noir, this memoir was first published in 1987, the world this book by a former Miami Herald crime reporter depicts was wistful and vanishing (and quite dark) even then. It was a world where much of Miami Beach was still populated by retirees rather than club kids and where journalism was made up largely of regular working stiffs like everybody else and the idea of a journalism “school” was letting someone getting their hands dirty on a tough beat rather than further lining the coffers of  elite universities. “Once a sleepy resort that shut down during the off season,” Buchanan writes, “Miami now copes year-round with concentrations of everything corrupt, bizarre or dangerous from everywhere in the world.”

The Accidental President of Brazil: A Memoir by Fernando Henrique Cardoso

A presidential memoir that is actually more engaging before the subject becomes president, this book by Brazil’s 34th president is most interesting in its depiction of the long, arduous struggle that often diffuse democratic forces there waged against a durable military dictatorship. An interesting portrait of statecraft and democratization. 

Comandante: Hugo Chavez's Venezuela by Rory Carroll

A penetrating and tragicomic look inside the country that Hugo Chávez ran from 1999 until his death this year, this book by the Guardian’s former Caracas correspondent, examines how Chávez created something unique in the country, “an authoritarian democracy...a hybrid system of personality cult and one-man rule.” Examining how, after a failed 2002 coup attempt, Chávez fell ever-more under the spell of Cuban leader Fidel Castro (“The Cubans took us over” states a former ally glumly), Carroll examines how the Cubans supplied revolutionary manpower in exchange for cheap Venezuelan oil, with Cuban doctors pouring into the country to provide their services in the slums , but soon enough returning to Cuba, moving on to work in Bolivia or defection to Colombia or the United States. Their clinics were abandoned, as government officials sought care from elite private hospitals. Roads, bridges and factories all crumbled due to mismanagement and lack of maintenance. And as Chávez’s revolution went along, Venezuelans killed one another in ever greater numbers, with Carroll finally concluding that “the revolution inherited grave social problems and made them worse.” Required reading for anyone interested in modern Latin America. You can read my review in the Miami Herald here.

The Mind of the South by W.J. Cash

A curious amalgam of history, sociology and journalism, this pioneering 1941 work by South Carolina native W.J. Cash lays bare some of the attributes and many of the deficits of his native region, including an exaggerated (and easily offended) sense of honor, a florid religiosity and a maudlin sentimentality focused on a mythology of a past that had never in fact existed. Cash witheringly analyzes “the cult of the Great Southern Heart” that ceaselessly attempted to recast the pre-Civil War era south as “the happy country,” and asserts that the south’s view of itself and the outside world was a “tribal complex” which he compared to fascist Italy, Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia. As with the writing of the great historian John Hope Franklin, the book also serves as a reminder of how, for decades after the Civil War, the Democratic Party was the party of white supremacy, built on white poverty, a commitment that only began to change under Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Harry S. Truman during the 1940s. Essential reading.

Midnight in Mexico: A Reporter's Journey Through a Country's Descent into Darkness by Alfredo Corchado

An immigrant’s memoir as much as a drug war thriller, this book is the heartfelt and affecting story of a Mexican native son who crossed to El Norte with his family’s dreams and then returned to Mexico as a reporter, only to watch a long hoped-for democratic transition descend into a mire of drug-related violence.



Walking Ghosts: Murder and Guerrilla Politics in Colombia by Steven Dudley

As peace talks between the government of Colombia’s president Juan Manuel Santos and the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC) rebel group dragged on throughout much of 2013, perhaps few observers watching them, hoping for a breakthrough and a political opening, realize that the FARC already had a political opening. The Unión Patriótica, a political party founded by the FARC in 1985 in the midst of negotiations with the government of then-president Belisario Betancur, in fact contested elections around the country for several years. That is, before they were all but wiped out by a savage extermination campaign launched by right-wing death squads collaborating with the Colombian military, and undermined by the wild-eyed paranoia and authoritarianism of FARC leader Jacobo Arenas (who died in 1990). The story of of the UP’s creation and extermination forms the crux of this book by veteran Latin American journalist Steven Dudley (who co-founded InSight Crime, a joint initiative of American University in Washington DC, and the Foundation InSight Crime and currently serves as its co-director). The book’s style can at times be distractingly repetitive, but there are still sobering lessons here about the difficulty for Latin America’s oldest and largest rebel group to “come in from the cold” and why Colombia’s long war may not be over yet.

In Evil Hour By Gabriel Garcia Marquez

For a writer who had such such progressive, even utopian, dreams in the political realm, Colombia’s most famous author could certainly have a rather misanthropic view of human beings themselves, and nowhere more so than in this 1962 novel originally titled Este pueblo de mierda (This Town of Shit) but finally published as La mala hora and translated into English as In Evil Hour. Centering around the intrigues of a small Colombian town and a series of poison pen letters posted in public places, the book is a fascinating insight into the beginnings of one of the 20th century's most important writers.

Hemingway's Boat: Everything He Loved in Life, and Lost by Paul Hendrickson

Overlong and sometimes given to trying to copy its subject’s distinctive prose style, this book by journalist Paul Hendrickson focusing on events connected to Ernest Hemingway's 38-foot fishing boat named Pilar is still moving and troubling, particularly when looking at Hemingway's slide into instability, mental illness and eventually suicide and the wreckage this left for his family. Often moored in Key West or near Havana (where she now rests), the Pilar was the vessel that shuttled one of America’s greatest writers through some of his most pivotal, and often happiest, moments, and Hendrickson has found a compelling new angle to cut through the Papa myth and see the troubled and acutely sensitive man behind it.

Franklin D. Roosevelt and the New Deal: 1932-1940 by William E. Leuchtenburg

A fascinating depiction of the extraordinary political skills and accomplishments of one of our greatest presidents, who took the helm of the ship of state at one of its moments of greatest need.


The Death of a President: November 20–November 25 by William Manchester

Key scenes that have faded away in the mists of history - the political infighting that brought John F. Kennedy to Dallas, the chaos at Parkland Hospital following the shooting, the vigil at the airport in Washington as the plane bearing the president’s body landed that cool, damp November night - are brought vividly to life in this excellent book by William Manchester on Kennedy's November 1963 assassination. Other aspects of the story, such as the poisonous right-wing hatred of the president that found Dallas at its epicentre and the pivotal role Ethiopia's Haile Selassie played during Kennedy's funeral and after are also presented to great impact.

The Beast: Riding the Rails and Dodging Narcos on the Migrant Trail  by Óscar Martínez

This book by a reporter for El Salvador’s El Faro website is a terrific example of what fearless enterprising reporting can accomplish, tracing the grinding and danger-filled journey of Central American migrants from the Guatemalan border all the way through Mexico and to the border with the United States, the promised El Norte so close and yet so far behind a border wall and across scoring desert and treacherous rivers Martínez does a stellar job of humanizing the immigration debate in the stories of the men and women willing to risk everything for the chance at a better life and the predators that dog them every step of the way.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

The Democratic Republic of Congo: Between Hope and Despair by Michael Deibert – Reviewed by Kris Berwouts

The Democratic Republic of Congo: Between Hope and Despair by Michael Deibert

Reviewed by Kris Berwouts 

Posted on December 10, 2013 by AfricanArgumentsEditor

(Please read the original review here)

Joséphine Mpongo Nsimba has a difficult life but despite this, she tries to enjoy it. She wakes up before dawn and leaves the house to sell omelets at Kinshasa’s main market. Her income is hardly enough to make a living for herself and her children – prices have fallen recently because cheap eggs coming from outside the continent spoiled the market.  After work, she rehearses.

Josephine plays cello in a symphonic orchestra of gifted amateur musicians, determined and passionate to perform music together in one of the most chaotic cities in the world.  The Film ‘Kinshasa Symphony’ shows how a group of Congolese citizens has managed to forge a system as complex as a symphonic orchestra in a town as complicated as Congo’s capital. The movie is deeply human, intensely real, it paints scenes of extreme grimness as well as portraits of people determined to follow their dreams. Ther are people who continue to believe that, one day, the future will be better despite current indications to the contrary.

Josephine is also pictured on the cover of Michael Deibert new African Arguments book ‘The Democratic Republic of Congo: Between Hope and Despair’, a groundbreaking examination of one of Africa’s most iconic and tragic countries and  a must-read for people interested in contemporary African politics in general and the Great Lakes Region in particular. Deibert is a journalist and author who has written for the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, the Guardian and Le Monde Diplomatique. He has also been a featured commentator on international affairs for the BBC, Channel 4, Al Jazeera, WNYC New York Public Radio and many others. He is the author of Notes from the Last Testament: The Struggle for Haiti (2005).

Congo and Central Africa have been shaped by complex regional dynamics, through which local cleavages and national conflicts have spilled over national borders. Each country in the region has a complex internal situation and a violent recent history, where local contradictions have become polarized and entangled with those of neighbouring countries. Following the end of the Cold War and throughout the 1990s these regional dynamics developed into an avalanche of killing and destruction. During the two wars in the DRC (1996-1997 and 1998-2002) which followed the genocide in Rwanda, the Congo and particularly its eastern provinces became the battlefield of “Africa’s First World War”.

In the book, Michael Deibert has connected thousands of threads to weave into a variegated and subtle tapestry which paints Congo’s history from the dark days of Belgian conquest and tyranny to the modern day atrocities carried out by warring militias and their legions of child soldiers.

Between Hope and Despair closely examines the Congolese state – the result of half a century of post-colonial history and a country that faced its first threat of implosion only days after it achieved independence, became a major pawn on the chess board of the cold war and developed under Mobutu a system for which the word ‘kleptocracy’ had to be invented. Deibert describes how this state was shaped by the long-term involvement of the United States and Europe in supporting and arming many of the belligerents in Congo’s conflicts, the ongoing murky role played by foreign interests in exporting mineral resources linked to the country’s  continuing instability and Congo’s own tortuous political and ethnic legacies.

His judgment is hard: “Drifting and myopic policies drawn up by a succession of international leaders were most often forged in the context of imagined grand geo-politics rather than the realities on the ground, allowing both Kabila and Congo’s neighbor to operate with brutality and impunity. Predatory and unscrupulous foreign business practitioners stepped into the void left by corruption and nepotism and continue to bleed the country dry of its mineral riches.”

Michael Deibert takes us with him on his journey down Congo’s muddy roads from the war-torn hills in the Kivus to the chaotic, pulsing capital of Kinshasa, presenting us the  Congolese polyphony  from impoverished gold prospectors and market women to government officials. His heart is with the communities and his book blames the world leaders who’ve either turned a blind eye to or directly fomented the misery of the Congolese people.

“… the bloodshed that has befallen the country (…) is not the result of some sort of indigenous, irresistible, immemorial blood lust on the part of the Congolese, but rather has been a tool used by individuals and governments  to advance their own political and economic goals throughout the territory Congo occupies, a state of affairs that has been true for the last 140 years.”

I don’t think I will put Deibert’s work back on the bookshelf. I will keep it within reach on my desk. Apart from an empathic narrative of hope and despair and a solid holistic analysis grounded in history, it is also a very practical mini-encyclopedia on Congo’s devastating conflicts and the many attempts to end them. If something happens tomorrow – the death of a key player of the last two decades, the outbreak of new violence in Ituri or the province of Bas-Congo, a new arrest warrant issued by the ICC -  it would only take me a few minutes to freshen up with the necessary background knowledge from Deibert’s book, allowing me to fully understand any new development.

Kris Berwouts has, over the last 25 years, worked for a number of different Belgian and international NGOs focused on building peace, reconciliation, security and democratic processes. Until recently, he was the Director of EurAc, the network of European NGOs working for advocacy on Central Africa. He now works as an independent expert on Central Africa.

One of the greatest


Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Ai Weiwei at the Pérez Art Museum Miami


Ai Weiwei's commentary on the 2008 Sichuan earthquake, which killed nearly 70,000 people, a death toll blamed largely on government corruption and shoddy contruction. On the ground, rebar recovered from the rubble of collapsed schoolhouses and then painstakingly straightened again. On the wall to the left, a list of names of Chinese students who died in the earthquake. On the far wall, photos of the construction of the Beijing National Stadium, constructed for the 2008 Olympic Games.

Sunday, December 08, 2013

Friday, December 06, 2013

RIP, Madiba


"I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal, which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die."

Monday, November 25, 2013

Miami Book Fair

Former United Nations official Mukesh Kapila, author of Against a Tide of Evil: How One Man Became the Whistleblower to the First Mass Murder of the Twenty-First Century, and I holding one another's books at the Miami Book Fair. We spoke about Sudan's Darfur region and the Democratic Republic of Congo, respectively.

Photo © Michael Deibert

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Saturday, November 02, 2013

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

SOAS Book Launch for The Democratic Republic of Congo: Between Hope and Despair

The good people at the School of Oriental and African Studeis (SOAS) in London, along with Zed Books and the Royal African Society, earlier this week held a launch event for my new book, The Democratic Republic of Congo: Between Hope and Despair. I was honored to be part of a panel discussion with both former Coordinator of the United Nations Group of Experts on the Democratic Republic of Congo Fred Robarts and Coordinator of the UK Voices of African Women Campaign Marie-Claire Faray-Kele. The spirited and well-informed discourse both among the panelists and the audience gave me great hope that perhaps the world is finally becoming aware of what has been going on in Congo over the last 15 years and that, perhaps, things may even begin to change. My sincere thanks to all the thoughtful, committed people who showed up on Monday night.




Photos © Michael Deibert

Monday, October 21, 2013

London


"I love this place. It's just like home, filthy and full of strangers."

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Tuesday, October 01, 2013

A note on the debt ceiling debate and the government shutdown

Just so everyone is clear: The debt ceiling vote involves paying for spending that the congress already voted to authorize, not future spending. In other words, the same Republican-controlled House of Representatives that signed off on future spending last year is now refusing to pay for it when the bill comes due. A lot of people seem to think it means future spending, but it does not. In exchange for paying debts they have already incurred, the House Republicans are demanding that president jettison the Affordable Care Act, his signature piece of legislation, which was passed by both houses, signed into law, found constitutional by the Supreme Cort and reinforced by the 2012 election. He's not going to reverse his own greatest legislative victory, Tea Party, no matter how many Civil War reenactments you stage.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

New report by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights on the Democratic Republic of Congo

The new report by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on the Democratic Republic of the Congo in important, if troubling, reading. It says, in part:

The High Commissioner notes that the situation of human rights had significantly deteriorated since her previous report to the Council, especially in the eastern part of the country, where...an important increase in the number of human rights violations and serious violations of international humanitarian law that could amount to war crimes, committed by national security and defence forces, as well as by foreign and national armed groups. The increase in gross human rights violations during the period under review can be attributed to various armed groups, including Mouvement du 23 mars (M23), and to the security and defence forces, in relation to M23 activities. M23 combatants were indeed responsible for gross human rights violations and serious violations of international humanitarian law, including summary executions, rape and child recruitment. Other armed groups, which took advantage of the security vacuum that followed the redeployment of FARDC units to combat M23, since May 2012, were also responsible for gross human rights violations and serious violations of international humanitarian law. Such groups have sought to extend their influence and control over areas rich in natural resources in the eastern part of the country, committing attacks against civilians, often on ethnic grounds. In addition, in the context of operations against M23, members of the Congolese defence and security forces allegedly committed gross human rights violations and serious violations of international humanitarian law...
The full report can be read here.

Monday, September 23, 2013

The Democratic Republic of Congo: Between Hope and Despair events


The autumn book tour schedule thus far for my new book, The Democratic Republic of Congo: Between Hope and Despair, published by Zed Books in cooperation with the Royal African Society, the International African Institute and the World Peace Foundation, will be as follows. One or two other events are in the works, as well, and the schedule will be updated in due course.

October 14 

Books & Books in Coral Gables, Miami, Florida, at 8pm.

October 21 

The School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in London, at 6pm. Book launch and panel discussion with Coordinator of the UK WILPF Voices of African Women Campaign Marie-Claire Faray-Kele. Event held in partnership with ZED Books and the Centre of African Studies.

October 30 

Tulane University in New Orleans, Room 201 of the Lavin-Bernick Center for University Life from 4pm to 6pm. Event sponsored by Department of Political Science

November 7 

The University of South Carolina in Columbia, Gambrell 431at 4pm. Event sponsored by the African Studies Program.

November 11

Busboys & Poets (5th and K Street Branch) in Washington, DC. Time 6:30-8:00pm. Events co-sponsored by Friends of the Congo.

November 15 

Bluestockings in New York City. Time TBA.

November 23 & 24 

The Miami Book Fair in Miami, time and location TBA.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Letter to The New York Times' Public Editor Margaret Sullivan on photos of the Westgate Mall shootings in Kenya

Greeting, Ms. Sullivan,

My name is Michael Deibert and I am an author and journalist who has reported from Africa off and on since 2007, having most extensively worked in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

I am writing to you in your role as Public Editor to express my concern at the photos of dead bodies from the Westgate Mall shootings in Kenya - their faces fully visible - that were published on the New York Times website yesterday. The URL can be found here: [not linking to photos here]

Quite honestly, as a journalist who has reported on conflict for going on quite a number of years, I was shocked and dismayed by this. Would the New York Times run photos of blood-soaked dead white Americans after one of the many mass shootings that occur in the United States? I doubt it. That they did so after the mass killings in Nairobi yesterday is very troubling, not just to me, but also to many other journalists, academics and analysts who focus on Africa.

There are ways to depict violence so that people are not immediately recognizable to their loved ones, friends, and so on, and everyone, American, African, or whatever their nationality, deserves some dignity in death. One can show dead bodies without showing their faces, leaving people confronted for the rest of their lives with images of their family members and other loved ones soaked in blood and torn asunder. I've seen plenty of bodies dead through violence over the years, so I am not asking that the end result be sanitized, but rather wondering why some slight restraint was not used in allowing the bodies to be so immediately recognizable.

I would also stress that I am
not at all taking the photographer to task for shooting as many images as he could in such chaotic circumstances - and showing great personal bravery in the process - but rather why the editors would chose to run some of them.


So, I ask, why this apparent double-standard when it comes to the sensitivities of people in Africa as opposed to people in the United States?

If you choose to reproduce this message, please reproduce it only in its entirety.

I appreciate any light you may be able to shed on this matter.

Sincerely,

MD

Wednesday, September 04, 2013

Mexico City

Photo © Michael Deibert

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Justice for Israel

Photo © Michael Deibert

Letter From Miami

 Letter From Miami

By Michael Deibert

The Huffington Post


Posted: 08/09/2013 11:44 am
 
(This article originally appeared here

At about the time Miami Beach Police Department officers were fatally tasing 18-year-old artist and skateboarder Israel Hernandez-Llach, I was rising for the day in my apartment a few blocks away. Morning is generally the most sedate and appealing of time in the tropics, and as one side of my building faces east towards the sea, watching the sunlight cut blazing and orange through the gossamer clouds at dawn while drinking a coffee is one of the great pleasures of living here. In the midst of writing a particularly dark book about Mexican drug cartels, the moment also serves as a kind of respite, as well.

As I was sipping my coffee, Hernandez-Llach, a lithe fellow who had moved to Miami with his family from Colombia a few years ago, was confronted by police as he began tagging his graffiti name -- Reefa -- on a building at the corner of Collins Avenue and 71st Street. He only had time to write the "R" before police started chasing him. The building -- an abandoned shell that used to be a McDonald's whose windows are now covered in newspaper -- was hardly an architectural gem, and a number of other residents and I had actually commented how the look of the place had been improved by the graffiti that had started appearing there.

The police -- by most accounts almost half a dozen -- chased Hernandez-Llach throughout the neighborhood before cornering him, tasering him and reportedly high-fiving one another as he lay on the ground. Hernández was taken to the hospital where was pronounced dead. The official cause of death is still pending.

The news that authorities in Miami place a higher value on real estate -- however derelict -- than human life will come as little surprise to anyone who has been living here for the last several years, nor will the fact that the various police forces operating in Miami-Dade County (as the wider conglomeration of which Miami Beach is a part of is known) are largely out of control.

Just last month, a U.S. Department Of Justice report on the City of Miami Police Department, just across the glittering waters of Biscayne Bay from Miami Beach, found that the department "has engaged in a pattern or practice of excessive use of force through officer-involved shootings in violation of the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution" and that the Department was also tainted by "deficient tactics, improper actions by specialized units, as well as egregious delays and substantive deficiencies in deadly force investigations."

Back here on the beach, one often gets the impression that many police feel they they're on Spring Break, rather than policing those who are, such as when a uniformed cop took a woman on a drunken pre-dawn joy ride on his department-issued ATV and ran over -- and then left -- two tourists waiting to see the sunrise. In another incident, the city had to pay out a $75,000 settlement after two officers were accused of beating a handcuffed gay man, attacking a witness and spewing anti-gay epithets. One officer was fired, then reinstated. The circumstances of the 2011 fatal shooting of Raymond Herisse during the largely African-American Urban Beach Weekend have yet to be fully explained. Meanwhile, in tony Bal Harbour, the police force there treated itself to $3,200 golf outings, trips to Puerto Rico and shopping sprees at the exclusive Bal Harbour Shoppes mall with millions of dollars the department had seized from drug dealers.

The death of Hernandez caps a summer during which a kind of malaise has settled over the city that even a second consecutive Miami Heat NBA championship can't quite dissipate.

Miami-Dade County is governed by a convoluted system whereby the mayor and the Board of County Commissioners run the county as a whole, but within the county there are innumerable little quasi-independent "cities" (some only stretching a few blocks) that have their own police forces, zoning ordinances and so on. One county commissioner, Javier D. Souto, said at a recent special session of the commission that I attended that the system was so complex that even some of the commissioners themselves didn't fully understand it.

Carlos A. Giménez, a retired Cuban-American firefighter, was elected Miami-Dade County mayor in June 2011 following the recall of Mayor Carlos Alvarez (largely bankrolled by former Philadelphia Eagles owner Norman Braman). Promising reform and clean governance, Giménez has thus far seemed to have forgotten that governing a city is about more than lining the pockets of its already fabulously wealthy real estate developers.

Miami's skyline is dotted with construction cranes servicing a luxury apartment boom (a 2011 UBS study ranked Miami as the richest city in the country by pure domestic purchasing power), but the city also has the second-highest income inequality rate in the United States.

Miami-Dade County borrowed about $400 million to pay for a new stadium for the Miami Marlins baseball team by selling bonds on Wall Street, and one set of stadium bonds - worth about $90 million - will now cost the county more than $1 billion to pay back.

After proposing a small property tax rate hike to enable to county to maintain basic services such as fire rescue, libraries and no-kill animal shelters, Giménez reversed course and supported the country commission's 8-4 vote to cut services, later declaring "the age of the library is probably ending" when people questioned the wisdom of the county closing nearly half its branches. This no doubt came as music to the ears of Commissioner Juan C. Zapata, who voted to defund the libraries and whose "non-profit" Read2Succeed! "actively promotes the importance of literacy and unites our community through the power of reading." Or, in other words, does what libraries do but less efficiently and on a far smaller scale.

One must also wonder, given the role of libraries as internet centers, where Miami-Dade's 10 percent unemployed will now apply for unemployment online, as Florida Governor Rick Scott recently required they do (such measures are taken when Scott is not busy trying to purge voters from state rolls) or where they will find free internet to find a new job online.

It seems as if not a single week passes without some elected official being lead away in handcuffs. This week it was Sweetwater Mayor Manuel Maroño and Miami Lakes Mayor Michael Pizzi hauled in by FBI agents for conspiring to commit extortion. A few weeks before that it was Former Hialeah Mayor Julio Robaina (who finished second in the 2011 Miami-Dade County mayoral race behind Gimenez) for tax evasion. Who it will be next week is anybody's guess.

The charms of the city remain considerable. The lavender twilights, the musical lilt of Spanish, Portuguese and Haitian Creole one hears on the streets, the festiveness with which the city explodes into a street party at the drop of a hat. And what other municipality in the United States would declare 3:05 p.m. an official coffee break time, when all should pause and reflect on the magnificence of the cafecito?

Nevertheless, in the needless death of Israel Hernandez-Llach, who was just starting his life, one can briefly glimpse a city whose values seem increasingly awry, putting the almighty dollar reflected in that famous skyline above the citizens who live beneath it and, now, above human life itself.

This evening, just as the rain clouds were getting ready to roll onto the beach from the ocean, I went and looked at the makeshift memorial that had sprung up outside the derelict building that Israel Hernandez-Llach had been spray painting when Miami Beach police set upon him. "I'll see you around" read one note. "Rest in Paradise" read another. And "I'll miss you so much, brother." As I stood there, a young man with a ponytail and a goatee, probably also about 18, pulled up on his bike and gently placed two spray paint cans above the doorway where someone had place a bouquet of flowers.

"I didn't know him personally," the youth said to me. "But you've got to give mad respect to him. As a street artist."

And then he got on his bike and peddled away just as it began to rain.

Friday, August 09, 2013

Monday, July 29, 2013

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Why Arrest of Zetas Leader Does Not Mean End to Mexico's Drug War

Posted: 07/16/2013 8:34 pm
Why Arrest of Zetas Leader Does Not Mean End to Mexico's Drug War
By Michael Deibert
The Huffington Post
(Read the original article here

In the violence that has claimed more than 60,000 lives in Mexico since 2006, the criminal organization know as Los Zetas have been the perpetrators of some sickening crimes.

Originally made up of largely of deserters from a special forces unit of the Mexican army and since buffeted by rogue elements of the Guatemalan military and common thugs, Los Zetas (named after a Mexican radio code for high-ranking officers) were originally recruited in the 1990s by the Gulf Cartel, based in Matamoros, Mexico, just across the Rio Grande from Brownsville, Texas.

With its roots stretching all the way back to Prohibition, the Gulf Cartel at the time was battling the Sinaloa Cartel from Mexico's Pacific Coast for control of its slice of the country's border with the United States. The battle ended with a Gulf Cartel victory, but shortly thereafter the alliance splintered when Gulf gunmen killed a deputy of one of the leaders of Los Zetas, a smuggler born in Mexico but raised largely in Texas named Miguel Ángel Treviño Morales, aka Z-40.

What followed was a war between the Gulf Cartel and Los Zetas for control of the states of
Tamaulipas and Nuevo León that, in its savagery, surpassed nearly anything the country had seen before.

In these states Mexico's Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI) -- which ruled the country for 71 years until 2000 and to which Mexico's current president, Enrique Peña Nieto, belongs -- was often viewed as little more than a Gulf Cartel vassal, and a series of governors were later indicted for links to organized crime. Los Zetas, for their part, expanded their influence to the nearby states of Coahuila, Hidalgo and Veracruz. The two cartels appeared to try and outdo one another, with gruesome public displays and videotaped executions becoming commonplace. Ironically, the Gulf Cartel was forced to form an alliance of convenience with its former enemies in the Sinaloa Cartel to fend off their one-time employees.

Los Zetas' actions often seemed demonic in their ferocity. The organization committed a series of massacres in the San Fernando Valley region of Tamaulipas between August 2010 and April 2010 that left over 260 people dead, many of them immigrants en route to the United States from Mexico and elsewhere in the Americas, or otherwise-uninvolved civilians. In August 2011, Zetas hitmen set fire to a casino in the city of Monterrey in a dispute of extortion money, killing 53 people.

Through it all, cartel bosses and henchmen were falling like flies. The Gulf Cartel's former boss of bosses, Osiel Cárdenas Guillén, was extradited to the United States in 2007. His brother Antonio Ezequiel Cárdenas Guillén, better known by his nickname Tony Tormenta (Tony the Storm) was killed by the Mexican military in Matamoros in November 2010. Jorge Eduardo Costilla Sánchez aka El Coss, a former Matamoros municipal police officer with whom Tony Tormenta had shared co-governing duties, was arrested in Tamaulipas in September 2012, as was anther Cárdenas brother, Mario Alberto. The Gulf Cartel had fallen into a vicious bout of infighting.

As for Los Zetas, their original founder, Arturo Guzmán Decena, was long dead, slain in 2002, and his subsequent replacement, Heriberto Lazcano, aka El Verdugo (The Executioner), was killed by the Mexican Navy in October 2012. Displaying the esprit de corps for which they were known, Los Zetas stole both corpses rather than allow them to remain in government hands. Leadership of the group fell to Miguel Treviño -- Z-40 -- a man who seemed determined to compensate for his lack of military background by being the most brutal leader of all. When Treviño was arrested in Tamaulipas on Monday, many there and beyond breathed a sigh of relief.

But there is little reason to think that Treviño's arrest will mean an immediate decrease in violence in Mexico, violence that is inextricably linked to U.S. policy both on narcotics and firearms.

The violence that has torn Mexico apart for the last several years is often misunderstood, even down to the fact that it was President Vicente Fox, in office from 2000 to 2006, and not his successor Felipe Calderón, who began the war against Mexico's narcos, declaring upon taking office that he was "going to give the mother of all battles against organized crime in Mexico." But Calderón, in office until last year and like Fox a member of the Partido Acción Nacional (PAN), expanded and deepened the policy with the enthusiastic support of both the administrations of George W. Bush and Barack Obama.

The amount of money the cartels make from the ravenous appetite for drugs in the United States -- and the perfect market conditions created for criminals by their very illegality -- beggars belief. The Mexican newspaper La Reforma recently reported that Los Zetas were making $350 million a year from importing cocaine to the U.S. alone, but that they were having to spend all of that money trying to fight off the Gulf Cartel. The very lowest figures given for the revenues derived by the Mexican cartels exporting drugs to the United States are in the neighborhood of $6.6 billion a year, with some estimates suggesting five times that.

Easy access to firearms in U.S. states that border Mexico has also helped fuel the violence there.
In 2009, a 26 year-old Houston man, was sentenced to eight years for purchasing or helping to purchase more than 100 military-style firearms which ended up in the hands of Mexico's cartels, including one that was used during a February 2007 assault on the attorney general's office in Acapulco, an attack that left seven people dead. His case was not unique. A pair of poorly thought-out policies under both Bush and Obama -- Operation Wide Receiver and Operation Fast and Furious, respectively -- allowed weapons to flow into cartel hands under the (often erroneous) supposition that the U.S. government could then track them. One such weapon was used when U.S. Border Patrol Agent Brian A. Terry was shot to death in a December 2010 gunbattle in Arizona.

Some of the largest banks operating in the U.S. -- including Bank of America and HSBC -- have shown little appetite for monitoring hundreds of billions of dollars of drug profits laundered through their channels.

And finally, like Treviño, a number of the grandees of the Mexican drug world responsible for so much violence have roots in the United States. Martín Omar Estrada Luna, alias El Kilo, who had been in command of the Los Zetas cell in San Fernando during the massacres there, grew up largely in central Washington State in the farm town of Tieton. More famously, Edgar Valdez Villarreal, a former high-school football star from Laredo, Texas know as La Barbie, went on to became one of the chief lieutenants of the the Beltrán-Leyva Cartel. Both men have since been arrested

Thus, the violence afflicting Mexico is not only Mexico's violence. It is our violence, as well. Try as it might, the United States cannot, and by proxy cannot ask Mexico, to shoot and jail its way out of this problem.

Waiting in the wings in Mexico, Miguel Treviño's brother, Omar Treviño Morales, is believed to be poised to step into the leadership of Los Zetas. A former Gulf Cartel lieutenant, Mario Ramírez Treviño aka El Pelón, is believed to have assumed command of what is left of that organization. The Gulf Cartel's connections among the state police in Tamaulipas remain strong.

And so the battle for Mexico goes on.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Letter to Miami-Dade County Commission on plans to close nearly all public libraries

13 July 2013

Greetings, Commissioner Sally A. Heyman. My name is Michael Deibert, and I am a journalist and author who currently resides in your district - Distirct 4 - in Miami Beach. I am the author of three books, In the Shadow of Saint Death: The Rise and Fall of the Gulf Cartel (Lyons Press, 2014), The Democratic Republic of Congo: Between Hope and Despair (Zed Books, 2013) and Notes from the Last Testament: The Struggle for Haiti (Seven Stories Press, 2005), and my writing has appeared in the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, the Guardian, the Miami Herald, Le Monde diplomatique, Folha de Sao Paulo and the World Policy Journal, among other venues.

I have just become aware via an article in the Miami Herald of the county's plans to close nearly all of its public libraries, potentially shuttering 42 locations and laying off 260 employees. It is hard for me to envision, after the millions of dollars that the county was willing to advance towards the new Marlins Stadium, a more short-sighted or destructive move than for the Commission to deprive the citizens of Miami-Dade of one of the few free sources of information and education left in the city today.

The library remains among our most precious democratic institutions. When I first moved to Miami in 1997 I was quite poor indeed, and access to the books at the Miami-Dade Public Library branch on Washington Avenue in South Beach was an essential part of my being able to make through those difficult months, with the free access to books providing me with important spiritual and intellectual sustenance. I honestly don't know what I would have done without it. As the American author Kurt Vonnegut once wrote "the America I loved still exists, if not in the White House or the Supreme Court or the Senate or the House of Representatives or the media. The America I love still exists at the front desks of our public libraries."

I couldn't agree with that sentiment more. I know that many of my fellow Miamians involved in the arts and simply ordinary citizens are just as outraged as I am at the thought of depriving our city of this essential facet of our democracy. I am urging them to contact you, as well, and I urge you to reconsider a move that would be so disempowering and wantonly harmful to the city that we all call home.

I have cc'd Miami-Dade County Commission Chairwoman Rebeca Sosa and Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos A. Giménez on this email, as well.

Best regards from Miami Beach,

MD

**********************************************

Note: Commissioner Sally Heyman was the only person to respond to this email. Her response was as follows.

---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: District4
Date: Thu, Jul 25, 2013 at 10:37 AM
Subject: RE: Hello Commissioner Heyman regarding potential library closures in Miami-Dade County


Sent on behalf of Commissioner Sally Heyman:

Thank you for your email RE: shutting fire stations and libraries. 

I voted NO to keeping mileage "flat," as it meant limiting negotiations regarding the budget, AND cuts in services as we started the budget discussions.  UNACCEPTABLE!

OUR FIRE STATIONS are essential to public safety, both person and property.  Restoring FIRE SERVICES to the current level in the budget does NOT mean raising taxes; it means we need to reduce costs, frills, duplicity and waste in our budget.   

I am also committed to keeping more of our libraries open, for the value it has to our communities.   Closing 22 of our 49 libraries is way too many, especially for our children and seniors.

Please continue to reach out to our MAYOR and County Commissioners; especially those that voted to accept this terrible proposal: Commissioners Barreiro, Bell, Bovo, Diaz, Suarez, Sosa, Soto, Zapata.  They all need to hear we need to keep valued services in place.... That does not mean raising taxes.

Thank you,

Commissioner Sally Heyman

Brief note on the capture of Miguel Angel Treviño Morales

Among the most difficult passages to write in my new Mexico book have been those on the atrocities Los Zetas have committed during their long war against their rivals, the Mexican state and ordinary Mexicans. The Sinaloa Cartel and Mario "El Pelón" Ramírez Treviño and what's left of the Gulf Cartel will undoubtedly view the capture of Los Zetas leader Miguel Angel Treviño Morales in Tamaulipas as an opportunity for expansion and reconquest, but this does mark an important moment in Mexico's long national nightmare.


Sunday, June 30, 2013

Happy 53rd Birthday, Democratic Republic of Congo

From your serpentine, churning namesake river to your beautiful mist-shrouded mountains to your inscrutable steaming jungles and your rolling savannas, in appreciation for your incredible sinuous soukous music, the beautiful artistry of your carved masks and the power of the literature of writers like Sony Lab'ou Tansi and also in appreciation of delicious cosa-cosa served with pili-pili, the view from Chez Tintin at sunset and, most of all, your indomitable, courageous people, Happy 53rd Birthday, Democratic Republic of Congo. May we all work to give you a brighter future.


Thursday, June 27, 2013

A melancholy anniversary

It was 59 years ago today that Guatemala's democratically-elected president Jacobo Árbenz was overthrown in a CIA-engineered coup. Among those caught up in the upheaval in Guatemala at the time - and the mass repression against Árbenz's partisans and the left in general - was an Argentine physician named Ernesto "Che" Guevara. Guevara subsequently fled to Mexico where he met a Cuban exile there named Fidel Castro...The complicating ironies of history...


Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

"The only thing they gave us was a stadium"

Some São Paulo protesters explain why they took to the streets.


Monday, June 17, 2013

CAR rebel victory throws resource deals into doubt

12/06/2013 9:02 am

CAR rebel victory throws resource deals into doubt
 

By Michael Deibert

FDI Magazine


(This article first appeared in FDI Magazine. Please read the original article here.)

As the Central African Republic reels from the instability brought about by the overthrow of its government, observers are questioning South Africa’s role in the country, resource deals signed by the previous regime could be undone.

When François Bozizé, the president of the Central African Republic (CAR), was overthrown in March 2013 by a ragtag band of militiamen and child soldiers, few observers thought it heralded a brighter chapter in the history of one of Africa’s more tragic countries.

The Central African Republic, or Centrafrique, as it is known in French, is a former French colonial territory whose colonial history was marked by widespread forced labour and often outright slavery. The country's first prime minister died in a mysterious plane explosion in 1959, and independence eventually saw a coup by French-trained general Jean-Bédel Bokassa, a recipient of the Croix de Guerre who went on to become one of the continent’s most garish tyrants, crowning himself emperor in 1977 as his countrymen starved. Coups and counter-coups continued before elections in 1993 saw Ange-Félix Patassé ascend to the presidency, only to be overthrown by his former chief of staff, François Bozizé, a decade later.

Rise to power

Mr Bozizé had been orbiting around circles of power for years before his victory. The background of the man who has replaced him, however, is more obscure. Michel Djotodia is a former low-level government official who lived and studied for many years in the former Soviet Union, and who was only one of many leaders of the Union des Forces Démocratiques pour le Rassemblement, a rebel group that preceded the Séléka rebel coalition he led to power. Mr Djotodia was unanimously elected CAR’s president in mid-April by a transition council after a ballot in which he was the only candidate.

By the time the Bozizé government fell in March, nearly 300 South African soldiers were in the CAR defending his regime. As rebels stormed the capital Bangui in March, 13 South African soldiers were killed and 27 wounded. South African soldiers later expressed anguish when they realised that many of those they were fighting were mere children (the recruitment of children under the age of 15 to fight in combat is a war crime prosecutable by the International Criminal Court).

South African presence

South Africa’s involvement in the CAR has as much to do with business deals linked to the former's ruling African National Congress (ANC) party as it does with regional solidarity. A report by South Africa’s Mail & Guardian newspaper concluded that the country’s “military involvement in the Central African Republic has from the start been entwined with ANC-linked deals”.

The South African oil exploration company DIG Oil, which is closely linked to the ANC, boasted a Bozizé-era oil concession in CAR’s south-west, near the town of Carnot.

A public-private partnership company, Inala Centrafrique, was registered in 2006, with ownership divided between the South African entity Serengeti Group Holdings (65%) and the CAR government (35%). The former company was majority owned by ANC grandee Joshua Nxumalo. The venture appeared chiefly designed to gain access to diamond mines in CAR. The DIG Oil and Inala Centrafrique deals appear to be only two of many.

Shortly after Mr Bozizé was overthrown, Mr Djotodia announced that the new government would be reviewing all resource deals signed by the previous regime, including DIG Oil’s and the contract awarded to the China National Petroleum Corporation for rights to explore for oil near CAR’s border with Chad. The move is somewhat reminiscent of a special parliamentary commission chaired by Christophe Lutundula in the Democratic Republic of Congo, whose 271-page June 2005 report found that many contracts signed during that country’s civil wars were either illegal or of little value.

Mr Djotodia’s public comments have also indicated a possible shift toward seeking investment in CAR from the EU. Whether or not the Djotodia government’s review of foreign investment marks a serious attempt to increase transparency in the country’s resource deals remains to be seen, but the signs of good governance are thus far not encouraging.

The UN high commissioner for human rights says that a pattern of violence has continued in the country following Mr Bozizé’s overthrow, including cases of summary executions and sexual violence. Disgruntled members of the Séléka rebel coalition have been demonstrating in the capital over pay they say they were promised, and angry citizens recently killed a 17 year-old Séléka fighter, as resentment of the rebel coalition – now ensconced at the five-star Ledger Plaza Bangui hotel – continues to grow.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Congo Mask



I bought this mask while living in the Democratic Republic of Congo, one of about a dozen that I own. Beautiful, I think, in its craftsmanship and simplicity.

Photo © Michael Deibert

Sunday, June 09, 2013

Los Zetas spend all drug profits fighting off the Cártel del Golfo?

Here's a drug war statistic for you, courtesy of Mexico's Reforma newspaper: Los Zetas earn $350 million annually by importing 40 tonnes (80,000 pounds) of cocaine a year into the United States alone, but since 2010 have had to spend practically all that money trying to fight off their former employers, the Gulf Cartel.

Friday, May 31, 2013

Reinaldo Arenas on Miami




The typical Cuban machismo has attained alarming proportions in Miami...[It] was like a caricature of Cuba, the worst of Cuba: the eternal gossip, the chicanery, the envy. I also hated the flatness of the scenery, which could not compare with the beauty of an island, it was like a ghost of our island, a barren and pestiferous peninsula, trying to become, for a million exiles, the dream of a tropical island, aerial, bathed by the ocean waters and the tropical breeze...I was used to a city with sidewalks and streets, a deteriorated city but where a person could walk and appreciate its mystery, even enjoy it at times. Now I was in a plastic world, lacking all mystery...An exile has no place anywhere, because there is no place, because the place where we started to dream, where we discovered the natural world around us, read our first book, loved for the first time, is always the world of our dreams...The exile is a person who, having lost a loved one, keeps searching for the face he loves in every new face and forever deceiving himself, thinks he has found it.

-Reinaldo Arenas, Antes que anochezca

Monday, May 20, 2013

Monday, May 13, 2013

On Writing




In going where you have to go, and doing what you have to do, and seeing what you have to see, you dull and blunt the instrument you write with. But I would rather have it bent and dulled and know I had to put it on the grindstone again and hammer it into shape and put a whetstone to it, and know that I had something to write about, than to have it bright and shining and nothing to say, or smooth and well oiled in the closet, but unused.

-Ernest Hemingway,  Preface to The First Forty-Nine Stories (1944)

Friday, May 10, 2013

Wednesday, April 03, 2013

Thanks to the International Studies Program...

...At Franklin & Marshall College for hosting my talk on the Democratic Republic of Congo and the most interesting Q&A session that followed it. Cheers!




Photo © Michael Deibert

Monday, March 25, 2013

BOOK REVIEW: What Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez left behind

(Note: The Miami Herald published a somewhat-mangled edit of a review I wrote of the fine new book on Venezuela by Guardian reporter Rory Carroll. I don't know if wires got crossed with the Herald's impending move or what, but the version of the text that was agreed to - and which they somehow forgot about - is below. MD)

BOOK REVIEW: What Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez left behind

By Michael Deibert

Comandante: Hugo Chavez's Venezuela. 
Rory Carroll. 
Penguin. 320 pages. $27.95

Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/2013/03/24/3304106/what-venezuelan-president-hugo.html#storylink=cpy

In his new book Comandante: Hugo Chavez’s Venezuela, Irish journalist Rory Carroll delivers an authoritative account of the complicated legacy of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, who died earlier this month.

Carroll — who served as The Guardian correspondent in Caracas from 2006 until 2012 — describes in minute detail how Chávez, who ruled Venezuela from 1999 until his death on March 5, created something unique, “an authoritarian democracy . . . . a hybrid system of personality cult and one-man rule.” Here is Chávez not as a one-dimensional symbol but in all his complexity: The utopian socialist, the voracious reader, the vainglorious militarist, the bad husband, the doting father.

Even as he describes how Chávez empowered poor communities in Venezuela by creating communal councils and built homes for thousands of people who had never known decent shelter, Carroll succinctly outlines how the president squandered the great opportunity for durable development afforded to him by record-high oil prices, failing to diversify the country’s economy.

At the heart of this failure proves to be a desire — above all else — for power. Chávez had a digital record of the names of three million people who had voted against him in a 2004 recall referendum which was then used “to purge signatories from the state payroll, to deny jobs, contracts, loans, documents, to harass and punish, to make sectarianism official.” The mastermind behind the list, Luis Tascón, went on to become a strident critic of government corruption and was banished from Chávez’s inner circle before his own untimely death in 2010.

Giving the reader a brief tour of the Venezuela’s tangled and often violent history, Carroll shows how intimately Venezuela’s underclass knew — or thought they knew — the country’s wealthy and how the wealthy understood that underclass not at all and cared still less.

Chávez’s opposition - a diffuse and disorganized group of former military allies, civil libertarians, the country’s besieged middle class and what Chávez would doubtless refer to as the country’s rancid oligarchy - never managed to unseat him through means fair or foul. This is perhaps not surprising as they were faced with the cheerleading omnipotence of state media — its ubiquitousness the result Chávez’s war against Venezuela’s virulently hostile private media — and massive slush funds paid for with money siphoned off from the state oil company.

Chávez did not ascend to and retain power alone, though, and contained in Carroll’s book are revealing snapshots of those who accompanied the president during his time in office: The Machiavellian academic turned government official Jorge Giordani; the gruff bus driver who would become foreign minister (and now President) Nicolás Maduro; the slippery former army officer Diosdado Cabello.

Outside the sphere of officialdom, those in the Chávez camp are a diverse bunch, with some appearing earnest and committed, such as members of an agricultural cooperative Carroll visits in Chávez’s native state of Barnias, Others, such as the Venezuelan-American attorney and government apparatchik Eva Golinger, coming across as slightly mad in their cultish devotion to El Comandante. Those who fall out of favor, such as former Minister of Defense Raúl Baduel, who helped crush a 2002 coup attempt against Chávez but then denounced the president’s 2007 bid for perpetual reelection, are dealt with harshly.

But despite Chávez’s political domination of the country, so many of his grandiose ideas came to naught

After the 2002 coup attempt, Chávez fell ever-more under the spell of Cuban leader Fidel Castro (“The Cubans took us over” states a former ally glumly), who supplied revolutionary manpower in exchange for cheap Venezuelan oil. Cuban doctors poured into Venezuela to provide their services in the slums of Caracas, but soon enough they returned to Cuba, moved on to work in Bolivia or defected to Colombia or the United States, leaving their clinics abandoned. Government officials, meanwhile, sought care from elite private hospitals. Roads, bridges and factories all crumbled due to mismanagement and lack of maintenance.

And as Chávez’s revolution went along, Venezuelans killed one another in ever greater numbers. In 1998. there were 4,500 murders in Venezuela. In 2008, there were more than 17,000, less than 1% of which were ever solved. The prison population tripled to 50,000 in a prison system built for 12,000.

“The revolution inherited grave social problems and made them worse,” Carroll writes. “The maximum leader who liked to micromanage everything lost control of society’s most fundamental requirement, security.”

To compare Chávez’s, as some did, to his allies such as Castro, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran or Alexander Lukashenko of Belarus was absurd, and Carroll does not fall into this trap. Rather, even before Chávez died after ruling Venezuela for 14 years, Carroll reveals a creaking authoritarian edifice that may or may not outlive its maker. A leader who once filled the television screens of his country non-stop has now fallen silent. And Venezuela is left to wonder what will come and fill the void.


Michael Deibert is the author of Democratic Republic of Congo: Between Hope and Despair (Zed Books).

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Michael Deibert's Haiti Bookshelf

18 March 2013

Michael Deibert's Haiti Bookshelf

The Huffington Post

(Read the original article here)

Despite its image of relentless poverty and political unrest, Haiti is the most beguiling and charming of destinations for foreign observers, but also one of the most maddeningly complex. From broad brushstrokes outlining the surface of events, outsiders, often devoid of context, are sometimes forced to draw not-always-accurate conclusions. As the place that gave me my start as a foreign correspondent and which was the subject of my first book, Notes from the Last Testament: The Struggle for Haiti (Seven Stories Press, 2005), Haiti has always had a special place in my heart and trying to inject some history into the discussion of the country has become something of a personal mission. Below are several books that I think would add greatly to our general understanding of Haiti. Though I am sure readers would care to add their own to this list (and though I am sure I have forgotten something essential), this strikes me as a good place to start. MD


Nonfiction

Divine Horsemen: The Voodoo Gods of Haiti by Maya Deren
This book, poetic and impressionistic much like the author's more-famous experimental cinema, was the result of years of immersion in Haiti's religious culture, and acts as a worthy companion to the film of the same name.

Papa Doc: Haiti and Its Dictator by Bernard Diederich & Al Burt
This book by two veteran journalists bring to life the tyranny of the dictator François "Papa Doc" Duvalier, who ruled Haiti from 1957 to 1971 and set a bloody benchmark for despots ever since.

Island Possessed by Katherine Dunham
A memoir by the famous African-American choreographer, who lived in Haiti and became the lover of its future president, Dumarsais Estimé, this book is eloquent testimony to the power of Haiti to move and change those who visit her.

The Prophet and Power: Jean-Bertrand Aristide, the International Community, and Haiti by Alex Dupuy

This important book by the Haitian sociologist and Wesleyan University professor looks with an unsentimental lens at the the second mandate of Haiti's twice-ousted president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

Never the Hope Itself: Love and Ghosts in Latin America and Haiti by Gerry Hadden
A former National Public Radio correspondent who covered Haiti's chaotic 2000 to 2004 era gives us an eyewitness account of how the government of Jean-Bertrand Aristide came to an end amidst a tidal wave of corruption, violence and dashed dreams.

Written in Blood: The Story of the Haitian People 1492-1995 by Robert Debs Heinl and Nancy Gordon Heinl

The best general history of Haiti available in English comes from perhaps an unlikely source, a former chief of the U.S. naval mission to Haiti who ran afoul of dictator François Duvalier. Nevertheless, over a gripping 889 pages, the military man and his journalist wife sustain a compelling narrative of Haiti's tumultuous history, resurrecting names and events that have been all-but-forgotten in most English-language writing on the subject.

Voodoo in Haiti by Alfred Métraux
The result of travels through the Haitian countryside by the Swiss Métraux along with his friend, the great Haitian author Jacques Roumain, this decades-old work remains the best overview of Haiti's syncretic indigenous religion.

Red and Black in Haiti: Radicalism, Conflict, and Political Change, 1934-1957 by Matthew J. Smith

This book by a young Jamaican historian covers the period between the departure of the U.S. Marines after a 20-year military occupation and the coming to power of François Duvalier. In doing so, it demonstrates how the dysfunctional nature of Haiti's politics cannot be blamed on a single source, but is rather the product of decades of political and economic miscalculation and ill-intention on the part of both Haiti's leaders and the international community.

Bonjour Blanc: A Journey Through Haiti by Ian Thomson
The English author's experiences traveling through Haiti may be 25 years old, but this book reveals the colour, grime exhilaration and despair which foreigners often experience when ranging through Haiti better than almost any book before or since.

The Rainy Season: Haiti Since Duvalier by Amy Wilentz
A beautifully-written account of the years immediately following the fall of the 29-year Duvalier family dictatorship, this book also served to bring to international prominence a young Haitian priest named Jean-Bertrand Aristide, whose depressing legacy once he entered politics gave lie to the man's once-rich promise.

Fiction

General Sun, My Brother by Jacques Stephen Alexis
A timeless novel of poverty, oppression and flight, this enthralling work is the most famous by the author, who died in an unsuccessful 1961 attempt to overthrow François Duvalier.

Brief Encounters with Che Guevara: Stories by Ben Fountain
This PEN Award-winning 2007 collection of short stories contains several set in Haiti that are obviously the work of someone who has experienced the country at great length.

Vale of Tears: A Novel from Haiti by Paulette Poujol Oriol
A vivid depiction of Port-au-Prince and the life of a woman whose existence has been one of endless struggle, this book is one of the key works from one of Haiti's most important novelists.

Masters of the Dew by Jacques Roumain
This 1943 novel by a Haitian author and diplomat eloquently addresses the plight of Haiti's peasantry in terms that sadly are as relevant today as when the book first appeared.

Children of Heroes by Lyonel Trouillot
A short novel by the man who is probably Haiti's greatest living author, sensitively translated by Linda Coverdale, this book tells the bleak story of two children attempting to flee a Port-au-Prince slum after killing their abusive father.

En français

The works of the Haitian scholars Roger Gaillard, Suzy Castor and Laënnec Hurbon, novelists such as Gary Victor, and others such as the French anthropologist Gérard Barthélemy, are indispensable to any serious understanding of Haiti.