“I leafed through the letters, looking for a birth certificate, a passport, something that anchored this family in the factual world. What I found instead was a chronicle of 30 years of interactions with journalists.”
Did you see Ellen Barry’s ‘The Jungle Prince of Delhi’ in the NYT in November?
“ ‘India Princess Reigns in Rail Station’, a Times correspondent wrote in 1981, describing her “genuine commitment to redeem the ancestors, to right wrongs suffered over centuries and to obtain justice.” People magazine recorded her declaring, “Let the world know how the descendant of the last nawab of Oudh is treated.”
Foreign correspondents arrived, one after another, and readers began to send letters from all corners of the world, expressing outrage on her behalf. The begum imposed stringent conditions — she “could only be photographed when the moon was waning,” United Press International reported — and journalists complied, delighted with the Gothic peculiarity of it all.”
In her search for Wilayat, long-lost begum of the kingdom of Oudh, Barry also located a certain legacy of post-colonial foreign correspondence. Check it out if you haven’t - it’s a well-told tale of the role of international reporting in creating ‘quirky other’ narratives that resonate around the globe for decades.
What happened in Bolivia?
On November 12, as rightwing elites returned in force to the streets of Bolivia following findings by the Organization of American States that the Evo Morales government had committed electoral fraud, Morales arrived to Mexico City as a political refugee.*
Some analyses, from important Bolivian political actors, of the fall of Morales, and Bolivia’s current reality:
- Silvia Rivera Cusicanqui, Evo and the movements
- Maria Galindo (Mujeres Creando), What happened in Bolivia? [en español]
- Pablo Solon, What happened in Bolivia? Was there a coup? and Letter to the alternative globalization movement on the situation in Bolivia
With the white, Christianist, wealthy, conservative order back on the ascendancy, the hope in Bolivia is that new democratic elections are held sooner rather than later in this country. It’s a frightening time for many, especially indigenous people.
Narcostates of mind
Heading back north, in the same week as Mexico’s ratification of the new NAFTA began, the US arrested Genaro García Luna, the overseer of Mexico’s ‘war on drugs’ as Secretary of Public Security 2006-2012, who - surprise! - was taking bribes from the Sinaloa Cartel over this time.
It’s as good a time as any to consider new frameworks for reporting on and understanding the violence and impunity associated with the transnational trade in banned drugs, especially cocaine and heroin. They’re desperately needed (as I lament in this piece for Aussie publication Crikey) - and lately I’ve been finding Dawn Paley’s Drug war capitalism and Oswaldo Zavala’s The cartels do not exist useful to this.
For Paley, the ‘war on drugs’ being fought by the governments of nation-states (US, Canada, Mexico, etc) is a convenient smokescreen for transnational corporations and neoliberal governments to acquire wealth through militarisation.
For Zavala, the ‘narcos’ and ‘drug cartels’ portrayed in news and entertainment media are folk devils whose apparent almighty power to buy governments is, well, fictional. Instead, as he explains in this The Nation Q&A:
“That’s not to say that drug traffickers aren’t real or that the violence isn’t real—of course they are—but that our understanding of all that has been filtered through what UNAM [National Autonomous University of Mexico] sociologist Luis Astorga calls the “narco matrix.” This is the idea that drug traffickers are a separate entity from the government and that they’ve amassed so much power that they pose a threat to the state. That’s completely wrong.
Traffickers have never really had any say in political life in Mexico because they’ve always been subordinate to the state.”
In this vein, as Zavala tweeted this week:
Other notes on re-focussing foco**:
- Why we're rethinking the images we use for our climate journalism - The Guardian
- 'I feel like a foreign correspondent in my own land' - The Guardian [2015, but relevant: see also, ‘Court to decide whether Indigenous people can be deported from Australia’]
- The New Humanitarian’s Heba Aly on ‘junk news’ and re-narrating the conflict in Darfur - TEDxChamonix
Adjacent foco provocation (foco-provo, if you will***)
- Chilean anti-rape anthem becomes international feminist phenomenon
- The Gambia v Myanmar
- Australia: world’s biggest hoax?
- How fiction can defeat fake news
- The core of Costa Rica’s foreign policy - Costa Rica’s ambassador to Indonesia writes for The Jakarta Post on CR’s decision to abolish the military in 1948 and its legacy today
- “Tuk Tuk” a Newspaper for the Iraqi Protest Movement
Finally, from the ongoing struggle for the Amazon:
And that’s a wrap.
Do stay tuned for the January edition of The Troubled Region, which will feature an exclusive interview with Zahra Hankir, editor of the ground-breaking anthology Our women on the ground: Essays by Arab women reporting from the Arab world.
Wishing you all an end-of-year worthy of Pope Greg, and extending my deepest gratitude for your support for this project - it’s been such a pleasure to share with you all and to have a community of critical friends grow around the question of foreign correspondence in a world on fire in more ways than one.
*this Financial Times piece discusses the history of Mexico taking in high-profile political refugees, such as Leon Trotsky, and notes the difference with Mexico’s current treatment of Central American asylum-seekers passing through the country.
**sorry but it’s December and I used up all my good jokes in November