How the Zapatistas Resisted Neoliberalism

Zapatistas2

When they first emerged out of the jungle early that morning, New Year’s Day 1994, it seemed at first that the Zapatistas materialized out of nowhere.

Their takeover was quick, a flash of ominous lightning that struck Mexico with a force unseen since the sepia-tinted, early days of the Revolution.

Within the space of just a few hours, the scantily armed rebels of the Ejercito Zapatista Liberacion Nacional (Zapatista National Liberation Army)- black-masked mountain dwellers who looked out upon the world with dark, mysterious, indigenous eyes- overran the numerous large towns that strung across Chiapas, the southernmost
zapatistas4Mexican state whose rainforests border Guatemala to the south, effectively taking over the entirety of the state. By the time the millions of urban dwellers in Mexico City several hundred miles to the north, presumably reeling from the previous night’s drinking, awoke to this development, the rebels had already broken the news, having issued their startling ultimatum to the world: the Zapatistas had declared war on the Mexican government.

Not only had they declared war on their own government; they had begun the first leg of a cosmic battle against the brutal economic ideology of neoliberalism, whose coercive and terrifying tendencies was the symbolic culmination of the more than five hundred year tradition of exploitation, abuse, and genocide directed against the indigenous peoples of Mexico.

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A Dark History of Neoliberalism

Neoliberalism- Corporations

The Neoliberal Coup d’état, which took place in the late 70’s and early 80’s, has solidified corporate power in the world to an extent beyond imagining

In my upcoming piece about the 1994 Zapatista Uprising in Mexico, I had made, as part of the essay, an attempt to explain the economic ideology that was responsible for sparking of this rebellion.

The ideology is a brutal, austere doctrine that often involves the use of torture and propaganda to coerce populations to accept it’s disastrous programs, which more often than not deal a death-knell to the poor. I soon realized, however, that a few skimming paragraphs wouldn’t do justice to understand the immense power this ideology wields. The only way for people to understand this monster- which is called Neoliberalism- would be to dedicate an entire piece to it.

Neoliberalism- Friedrich Hayek
Friedrich Hayek- considered by many to be the Grandfather of Neoliberalism. His ideas were later transmuted to American Economist Milton Friedman, who won a Nobel Prize for his work.

Originally a fringe intellectual movement that could hardly get enough steam to garner
mainstream academic notoriety, the political doctrine of Neoliberalism was founded by German economist Friedrich Hayek in the steaming wreck of post-war, 1940’s Europe.

Centered around the deregulation of all corporate laws (which were then, as they often are now, perceived as corrupt remnants of FDR’s New Deal interventionism), Neoliberalism views the whims of the market, even with its rollercoaster-like fluctuations, as the highest aspiration of the human spirit. Nothing could interfere with the rhythms of the free market, Hayek argued- not even, or perhaps especially– the government. Continue reading “A Dark History of Neoliberalism”

Economic Gods and the Destruction of the Planet

Burning EarthA couple million years ago, God granted humanity a lease that may soon be running out.

This lease was a very unique one, for it allowed us as the human species to live on Planet Earth, a planet that, as far as we know, is the only celestial body capable of supporting life.

And yet, despite the refuge Earth gives us in the freezing vacuum of space, we have turned it into a ticking time bomb.

In the past century and a half, three Gods, which I call the “Economic Gods,” have seduced humanity into the destruction of its own planet: Growth, Capitalism, and Free Markets.

Economic Gods Image
The Economic Gods have reconfigured our worldview to only see the world in a manner that conforms to Economic Growth: where wildlands are called “resources” and “resources” need to be supposedly “developed”

These three Gods, to whom we’ve all become unwitting servants, rule the world unquestioned, with hardly a murmur of dissent- it is broadly assumed that Global Capitalism is the only viable model for a sustainable world economy, and that if Capitalism as it stands (which has now entered its volatile and dangerous Late Stage) entails a new, genocidal era of mass extinction, that “we had better get over it” because “new jobs and a growing economy are more important anyways.” Continue reading “Economic Gods and the Destruction of the Planet”

The Eleventh Hour

Havana
The world is beautiful yet painfully precious

 

A few weeks ago I had an experience that I can’t seem to get out of my mind.

I was in Havana, Cuba, sitting on the seawall that lines the city, watching the rows of the mirrorlike waves as they rolled in from the emptiness of the ocean. The night had a strange beauty to it: an incandescent fan of sunlight had gathered over the western horizon, and the heavy swells of the Atlantic heaved up slowly, unfurling over the barnacle-encrusted rocks with an oil-like fluidity.

Contemplating this scene, I remember thinking what a beautiful, what a magnificent, what an utterly precious planet we live on. Though that thought inevitably led me to a horrible question, a question that’s haunted me for the majority of my life: what would it be like if our Earth were to die.

And then I grew sad, for I remembered, in that moment, that such a possibility is right on our doorstep.

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Cuba Unveiled, Dispatch #6: Raúl

Estan abierto– Are you open?”

The waiter on the dirtied steps of the cafe shook his head disinterestedly, sucking in on his cigarette for a lingering breath of blue tobacco smoke. Raul grunted mutedly and shot off down the street, motioning impatiently for the three of us to follow suit.

“Abierto?” he shouted out at the next place we ran into.

No answer. We continued walking.

“Abierto?”

Nope.

“Abierto?”

Nope.

“Abierto?”

“Señor,” the latest restaurateur said, regarding us in the flickering lights of his establishment like a flock of miscreant teenagers. “You’re from Habana. You should know better. There are no restaurants open this late. It’s fucking Tuesday night. Dios mío.”

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Cuba Unveiled, Dispatch #5: Rachael

Rachael

Rachael (pronounced with an emphatic rolling of the beginning R- “Rrrrachael”) was a short, melancholic student who had been a student of English and French at the University of Havana for the past three years. She came up to the door downstairs wearing bronze-tinted knockoff sunglasses and listened quietly to the instructions of our hostess Marta, who spoke to her with the same grandmotherly slowness with which she had originally addressed us. Rachael nodded as she listened to the lecture, though already, you could tell, she was in no mood to follow any sort of itinerary.

Despite the slight rung of body fat that clung against her torso, she was nonetheless a beautiful girl, and managed to hide her depressive nature with a quiet charm and inclination to laugh that suited her perfectly to the task of guiding us around town for the first time.

Eating in a crowded, sweaty, streetside café where a mass of people had conglomerated IMG_20170312_121442under the fans of the open-air veranda to escape the oppressive mid-afternoon humidity, we dug into heavily loaded plates of arroz y pollo while Rachael, at our curious requests, regaled us with different aspects of her life.

Her fiancée, who she spoke about with a wispy glow of longing in her eyes, had escaped to Miami in search of better job opportunities (when, or more importantly how he got to Miami, I didn’t bother to ask.) One day, she hoped, she’d be able to join him in south Florida and perhaps create a new life with him there.

 

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Cuba Unveiled, Dispatch #4: Visions of Havana

How long does it take to become entranced by a country?

Does it take a day?

A week?

A month?

A year?

It took me barely thirty minutes after our jet skidded down on the tarmac to become possessed by the allure of Cuba- a land to whose ecstasies I’ve been forbidden most of my life.

We had been riding in the taxi for barely twenty minutes, the driver revving us up onto the highway, or autopista. Wilting fields of sugar cane attended to by sweaty men with machetes, peeling revolutionary-era murals lining walls of weathered cement, salt-rusted train crossings shaded by thick groves of palms, and aquamarine apartment buildings slid past in a feverish tropical landscape, like something drawn straight out of a García Márquez novel. A scorching mosaic of government-run plantations stretched out in all directions, and as we rode we kept the windows rolled down, the humid wind wafting our hair as we happily contemplated the sun-beat earth.

Traintracks
El Campo- the country- surrounding Havana

Our taxi driver, a saturnine old African who spoke the slurred Cuban dialect of Spanish, shot haphazardly through the streams of traffic, careening his Mazda through different lanes with complete and utter abandon.

For a few minutes I tested my Spanish on the man, asking about where he was from and how long he’d lived here and what it was like to grow up in such a country. My Spanish was working well, despite periodic misunderstandings due to his accent. Thinking about the raft-bound immigrants that’ve made the crossing to Miami, especially the recent wave in 2014, I asked if he knew anyone who’d escaped to the other side of the Gulf Steam.

He was consumed with a sudden, snorting laugh. “Half of Havana,” he said, his answer uttered without any discernable traces of sarcasm. He jammed the stick backwards and jerked into the left lane.

We were in Havana now. Buildings closed in on us, accumulated, grew close together as we came into view of the city.

Continue reading “Cuba Unveiled, Dispatch #4: Visions of Havana”

Cuba Unveiled, Dispatch #3: The Unsettling Legacy of Castro

The first dose of Cuba you get when you touch down at Jose Marti international and take a taxi through the scorching plains towards Havana is, unsurprisingly, an unending stream of Barbudos.

Barbudos everywhere: on cracked streetside murals with paint peeling under the IMG_20170314_160319weight of Caribbean humidity, on the great, mold-stained billboards that line the autopista, on the side of foodtrucks propped up on bricks, or on heart-shaped posters seen fleetingly through the passing windows of
schoolhouses.

They are inescapable, these Barbudos. You can hardly walk twenty minutes throughout any point in Cuba without seeing a public reference to them.

Named for the roughshorn beards they cultivated during the Revolution’s early years in the Sierra, these three men- Fidel Castro, Che, and Camilo- have attained a level of grandeur unmatched in any third-world country.

Most prominent of these three, also unsurprisingly, is the gleaming image of Fidel. His face is such a common sight that it is easy to forget his posthumous presence, so muchIMG_20170315_175332 so
that his memory quite literally permeates the geography of the island.

So I ask the taxi driver the question on the first day, watching him weave easefully through the frightening traffic towards Havana: what do you think of Fidel?

Pues, he said, enunciating his answer in his thickly accented Cuban Spanish, siempre me ha gustado el. Hizo mucho para nuestro pais.

            It was only the first of many times I received a pleasing review of the dead leader- a characteristic introduction to the convoluted, unsettling, legacy of Castro.

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Cuba Unveiled, Dispatch #2: The Cuban Intervention in Angola

If you walk the corridors of Old Havana, you can still see them gathered on the cobbled street-corners, these quiet old men. Grizzled and misty-eyed, often afflicted with PTSD, they sit in circles of plastic chairs and amicably discuss their pasts.

If you look into their eyes, you can see the memories of a war slowly fading into obscurity.

Veterans of Cuba’s fifteen year intervention in the Angolan Civil War, these viejos haveAngolan War 1 seen their fair share of warfare- the most vicious, in fact, that the island nation experienced in its whole three decades of militarily supporting leftist movements in Africa.

But it’s all disappearing now. As these men die, the herculean drama once played out by the Cuban people- whose retrospective numbers totaled hundreds of thousands by the end of the war- against UNITA, Zaire, the CIA, and South Africa in the name of international solidarity and anti-colonialism, is being forgotten by much of the Western World.

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Why am I going to Cuba? Cuba Unveiled, Dispatch #1

Next Sunday, March 12th, I will be boarding a flight to take a journey back in time.

Arriving before dawn at Orlando International that morning, two friends and I will check our bags, file through security, and board a JetBlue flight that will deliver us back several decades into the past.

cojimar-cubaRearing up into the atmosphere as the first rims of sunlight break the eastern horizon, our plane will follow southwards along the Florida peninsula and, after that, cross the glimmering cobalt emptiness of the Florida Straits. Then, if we are angled correctly against the windows, “it” will slowly begin to materialize: at first as an etching against the horizon, then as a green, wavering, oceanic mirage, gradually rising up into the assured image of tropical mountains and a city- a Botero painting rising like bread out of the sea. We will skid down onto the tarmac and, a few minutes later, take in our first breaths of the thick, palm scented breeze.

We will be in Cuba, and our journey into the past will have begun.

Continue reading “Why am I going to Cuba? Cuba Unveiled, Dispatch #1”