A bit of a bumper edition for October, as September passed me by. Here in Mexico City the marigold carpets are being rolled out to welcome our departed loved ones on Day of the Dead. But first, to a hostel room in Port Moresby, capital of Papua New Guinea, where a Kurdish man wrongfully detained by Australia is a vector of news on the war in northern Syria.
Behrouz Boochani, foreign correspondent
Many of you will have heard of Behrouz Boochani. He is a Kurdish author, journalist and academic imprisoned indefinitely by Australia on Manus Island, a province of Papua New Guinea. His ‘crime’ was to travel Australia-ward by boat to seek asylum from persecution in Iran. He’s become well-known, not least for the covert production of his award-winning book, No friend but the mountains, and film, Chauka, please tell us the time; he also uses social media to speak directly to Australians about the atrocities being committed in our name.
In what I guess we might now call a Boochani-esque situation, the 36-year-old has won acclaim after acclaim for the truth and beauty of his creative work and has become a global face of Australia’s ongoing abuse of refugees and asylum seekers. The boundaries of administrative national belonging were deliberately stretched by the committee of the Victorian Premier’s Awards so that he could win Australia’s richest literary prize. And he remains a prisoner. Right now, as Boochani tells Abu Dhabi’s The National, he is “locked in a room” in Port Moresby, the capital of Papua New Guinea, to where, following the closure of the detention centre on Manus Island, its captives were moved to basic accommodations. Their future remains uncertain: many who are gravely ill await the passing of a law in Australia to bring them ashore for medical treatment; others are waiting, again, still, for reviews of their cases, for transfer to the US, for some kind of mercy. Others are still being held by Australia on the island nation of Nauru.
A Kurdish man who sought refuge in Australia from persecution in Iran, was detained for six years on Manus Island and now again in Port Moresby; Boochani is also one of Australia’s primary sources of comment on the impact of the US army’s departure last week from northern Syria, which everybody knew would make way for Turkish forces to attempt to destroy Rojava, the Kurdish-controlled area. Speaking to Australia’s SBS News, Boochani noted that "[Rojava] is the most progressive and democratic system in the history of the Middle East” and that the Kurds who live there have been fighting Islamic State, a debt that liberal democracies like Australia are duty bound to repay as Turkish forces attempt a “genocide”. Boochani also remains active on Twitter and regularly appears via video conference at international literary and human rights events.
With others currently or formerly imprisoned in Australian immigration detention such as Shamindan, Abdul Aziz Adam, Kaleem, Mohamed Sunosi, Zazai Walid, Nauroze Anees - these are some of the most visceral storytellers of Troubled Regions, In These Times. Whatever the future of foreign correspondence is, they are indelibly shaping it.
Cartel land, October 2019 edition
The scenes last week in Culiácan, capital of the northern Mexican state of Sinaloa and birthplace of El Chapo’s Sinaloa cartel, shocked Even The Most Hardened of local and foreign journalists here. You might have seen the footage of cartel ‘footsoldiers’ storming the city with machine guns and plumes of smoke rising over the city. This kind of terror unfortunately isn’t new in Mexico, but the show of firepower that resulted in the capitulation of the Mexican army, apparently tasked with the arrest of Ovidio Guzmán for extradition to the USA on charges of drug trafficking, to the Sinaloa cartel seems to mark a particularly bottomless black hole in the security situation in Mexico in a political era where promises of improvement are still a source of great hope and faith.
International MSM reports of the events are falling into place with angles like Mexico’s Latest Cartel Battle Looks Like Syria, Who Had The Bigger Guns, AMLO Fails?, and Is There Any Hope For Mexico. At any rate, today’s edition of Culiácan’s independent outlet Riodoce (founded by Javier Valdez, a high-profile journalist murdered in 2017) calls it “a failed operation” and tells the story of “how Los Chapitos [the little Chapos/Chapo’s children] brought the government to its’ knees” (my translation). It’s also worth noting that a poll today put Mexicans at 45%/49% agreeing/disagreeing with the Mexican government’s decision to release Ovidio Guzmán to prevent more deaths, and that a lot comes down to America’s guns and the ongoing agreement of the Mexican government to co-operate with the US.
See also, some clear analysis from Deborah Bonello here, speaking to PRI’s The World; and an account from Jan-Albert Hootsen (Committee to Protect Journalists) on Twitter here. For context on Sinaloa from the perspective of young women writers who grew up there, these stories from Melissa Amezcua and Ana Karina Zatarain offer insight.
In other news:
- Listen to fierce rapper Ana Tijoux from the turmoil in Chile, where protests against precarity and inequality have had a frighteningly familiar response from the government
- Follow Brazil’s Articulation of Indigenous Peoples on their journey through 12 countries and 18 cities in Europe in 35 days: the ‘Not one more drop of Indigenous blood’ campaign to save their Amazon homelands
- Boosting community radio in South Africa (Nieman Lab)
- Against green nationalism (OpenDemocracy)
- Canada’s broken pledge to human rights defenders (NACLA)
- How does the public think journalism happens? (Columbia Journalism Review)
- Afghanistan's all-female orchestra is hoping to revive music banned under the Taliban (SBS News)
Until next month, friends — thanks for reading,