Refugees, Portugal's Left & Death of the Nation

Submitted by admin on Fri, 10/14/2016 - 09:47
Chika Aniakor, The Elders, 1967
Chika Aniakor, The Elders, 1967


Dear Friends,

On October 13, the UN General Assembly - by acclamation - elected the former Portuguese Prime Minister and former head of the UN Refugees Agency Antonio Guterres as the next Secretary General. Guterres has a difficult job ahead of him. The refugee crisis, which he knows a great deal about, shows no sign of abating. The core issues that drive this crisis - war and poverty - are not really on the agenda. Keep in mind that the five permanent members of the UN Security Council - the United States, Russia, China, France and the United Kingdom - are the five largest arms sellers in the world (Germany and the UK are almost tied in fifth place). Those who hold a veto on decision making are the ones who flood the planet with weapons. Morality is compromised around the horseshoe table of the Security Council.

This week I come to you with some - parenthetically - related reports.

First, at Alternet, there is a plea from the heart about the refugee crisis - based to some extent on a new Amnesty International report. My report was written before I heard that Bob Dylan won the Nobel Prize for Literature. I quote from his guru, Woody Guthrie, who sang a powerful song called Deportee about the death of deported migrant laborers from Mexico who died in a plane crash in 1948. My report opens with the following sentences,

  • There are countries in the atlas that barely exist in the world. There is no Palestine. Afghanistan can be found there, but on the ground it is a phantom. Like Syria, another ghost of an earlier time. Or Somalia, a metaphor for the destruction of nations. ‘Libya has become Somalia,’ we say casually, erasing the fact that Somalia is a real place with a population of over ten million people.

And then, for the rest, read it here.

I was recently in Portugal - Guterres' home country - where I conducted a very long interview for Frontline with one of the leaders of the Portuguese Communist Party - Jose Angelo Alves. Alves provided a very detailed and useful account of Portugal's modern history, from the fight against the fascist dictatorship (1926-1974) to the surrender to IMF policies in the decades afterwards. Guterres' first term in office during the 1990s was successful to the extent that it oversaw the expansion of the economy and the creation of a welfare net (a singular promise of his Socialist Party). The second term was so disastrous, with the pain of IMF policies driving people to deep despair, that Guterres resigned saying he wanted to prevent Portugal from falling into a 'political swap'. Alves did not mention Guterres in the interview. But the shadow of that period of the Socialist government is in discussion, largely because the Socialist Party - with outside support from the Communists, the Left Bloc and the Ecologists - are back in power. Alves is also fascinating on why there is no fascist party in Portugal at this time. To read the interview, please go here.

For your interest, two places to point toward about my new book - The Death of the Nation and the Future of the Arab Revolution. A positive review in The Wire (India) can be read here and a long interview with Brian Becker of Loud and Clear can be listened to here.

Today, as Dylan won the Nobel, another laureate -  Dario Fo - decided to leave the stage. I think Fo would have liked Dylan's great anthem of the war-makers, whose lyrics should be played by the new Secretary General in the halls of the United Nations, 

Let me ask you one question
Is your money that good?
Will it buy you forgiveness
Do you think that it could?
I think you will find
When your death takes its toll
All the money you made
Will never buy back your soul.

(Masters of War, 1963).

The image above is by the Nigerian artist Chika Aniakor, It is from 1967 and is called The Elders. Where have they gone?