Thursday, March 25, 2010

Like shooting puppies: Guatemala's Iran-Contra war on the Mayans

If there's one thing that I have learned for sure down here in Central America, it is this: Mayans love brilliant colors. Everything they wear, everything they use and everything they touch just explodes with color. Back in the day, approximately 2,000 years ago, their temples and pyramids used to be painted like psychedelic dreams -- and even now the direct descendants of the people who built those amazingly colorful temples are still robing themselves in rainbows.

The main difference that I can see now between the Mayans of the old days and Mayans today is that modern-day Mayans seem to be ashamed of their love of colors. Mayans of 2,000 years ago used to positively swim through a world of beautiful colors. But all too many Mayans right now seem to be actually ashamed to wear anything more colorful than a pair of faded jeans and a tee.

How did things in Guatemala come to reach this sorry pass? It's a long story.

Back in the 1970s, the Mayans of Guatemala finally got sick and tired of surviving in the same way that sharecroppers in the segregated American south used to survive -- by working their butts off but only getting paid enough to stay just barely alive. And like the Freedom Riders of Mississippi and Alabama before them, the Mayans of Guatemala began to protest their lot as third-class citizens who were being treated like dirt. But instead of staging sit-ins at lunch counters, the Mayans in Guatemala simply and quietly asked to be able to own their own land.

Well. The way that the Guatemalan government reacted to the Mayans' humble demands, you would have thought that the Mayans had started raping white women, being uppity to rich folks or something equally worse. But no. Mayans were just simply tired of being treated like the N-word all these years. Wouldn't you have been tired too? And, like our own Rosa Parks, their feet hurt and they were tired of sitting in the back of the bus.

And so Guatemalan government troops, using all kinds of weapons given to them by Nixon, Reagan, the Iran-Contra cartel and the rest of that blood-thirsty bunch, set about killing as many Mayans as they could. And, trust me, they could (and did) kill a lot.

But after having spent the last few weeks among Mayans in the Guatemalan highlands, I have come to the conclusion that Mayans are a gentle people. A kind people. And a spiritual people too. And killing all those Mayans must have been like killing Bambi, like shooting puppies, like raping nuns.

And another sad thing about the 36-year U.S./Guatemala war on the Mayans was that the Mayans' creative, intense and spiritual love of brilliant colors has apparently also been killed off too -- except for some isolated communities up in the highlands that still hold onto the grand tradition of dressing themselves each morning like a rainbow. And that is a very great shame too.

PS: Here's my video report on this part of my trip, including a brief tour of Guatemala City's main cathedral, almost getting arrested in a shopping mall near Chiquimula but escaping by hiding behind the Buzz Lightyear kiddie ride, an entire city devoted to prostitution and to repairing cars and school buses brought down from the U.S., a brick factory, my first encounter with Mayans and a Mayan cemetery at Solola, up near Lake Atitlan:

And here's another of my fabulous home videos on the Mayans, featuring a trip through the bridal section of a Mayan textile museum.

PPS: Meanwhile back in the States, I've just heard that Fox News is getting its knickers all in a twist over a new pseudo-snuff music video by Lady Gaga and Beyonce. Which leads me to ask, "Why hasn't Fox News gotten its panties all in a bunch over all the millions of men, women and children that have been actually snuffed out -- by American weapons raining down on Iraq, Palestine and Afghanistan? And also let's also not forget the deaths of approximately 250,000 Mayans, thanks to Reagan and his pals."

Now there is a REAL snuff movie for you, Fox News. Where's your outrage about that?

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Mayan ruins in Honduras: An ode to knee replacement surgery!

45,000 Mayans used to live in Copan at its heyday, back in 900 AD. And apparently all of them thought that if they could only get closer to the skies, they could also get closer to the gods. So they built a bunch of step pyramids. Obviously no one lived to be really old in Copan -- because if they did, they probably would have invented knee replacement surgery so that they could still go up and down all those stairs.

Or maybe the Mayans did have knee replacement surgery. Who knows? They probably even had a decent healthcare plan too. And as I hobbled around the Copan ruins in the hot morning sun, the whole idea of knee-replacement surgery became more and more attractive to me. But will MediCare pay for it? I'll find out when I get back to the states.

PS: Here´s a video I took of the Mayan ruins in Copan. And also the guides here asked me to tell you that going to Copan these days is perfectly safe and that the town badly needs money from tourists and to get yourselves down here ASAP!

PPS: When I got back from visiting the ruins, I cornered some Honduran guy in a restaurant (excellent tacos!) in the town of Copan and grilled him regarding his opinions on Honduran politics. Our conversation went something like this:

Me: "Perhaps I probably shouldn't be asking you about Honduran politics?"

Him: "Sure, go ahead. Ask away."

"What´s the story with former president Zelaya? What do you think about him?"

"Zelaya was a good guy but he was bucking the system. People in charge here didn't like it that he was spending so much money on healthcare and education so they started a media campaign to discredit him. And it worked. Honduras is run by the rich."

"Hey, that's just the same as like in the United States!"

"And the wealthy here own all the media..." Same thing as back in the States!

"And so the privileged classes started a smear campaign against Zelaya, telling the people that he was planning to take over and make himself President-for-Life." Spreading evil rumors about good men and women who only want to be of service to their fellow citizens? How American is that! Is there a Honduran equivalent of Sarah Palin, Fox News and Rush Limbaugh down here? I wonder.

"Anyway, the press had all the Hondurans tied up in knots with fear. And so some of them turned against Zelaya because they were made afraid. But others still supported Zelaya. And pretty soon half of the country was turning against the other half -- while the rich stole everything right out from under their noses."

Yep. The U.S. is exactly like that.

"And of course the money that would have gone for healthcare and schools under Zelaya is now going into the pockets of wealthy bankers, landowners and contractors and to pay for 'security teams' and drivers and fancy cars and maids and nannies for rich senators."

Wow! We have that happening in the U.S. too.

PPPS: The Mayans ran a powerful civilization here for centuries, but then they started fighting among themselves and also making their class system more and more stringent, like some elite system of feudal lords and their serfs. The wealthy ran everything here -- and look what happened to them! Copan is now just a big pile of ruins out in the jungle.

So. If the elite of Honduras keep on plundering the working classes here today in the same way that the Mayans did here a thousand years ago, will the modern-day capital of Honduras also someday be reduced to just another ruined pile of broken stones?

And will this guaranteed repetition of history -- which always occurs sooner or later whenever rich guys exploit the people under them -- also be happening soon in Washington DC?

"Hey, that's just the same as like in the United States!"

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Report from El Salvador: Tears for a great man

How quickly we forget and how quickly things change. On March 9, 1980, Archbishop Oscar Romero, one of the most holy and compassionate men who ever lived, was shot down like a dog in the streets of El Salvador because he stood in opposition to war. It's been almost thirty years to the day since the archbishop's death and I am standing here in front of his crypt with tears streaming down my cheeks.

Would I cry like this if we lost George Bush or Dick Cheney or any of the other dreary heads of state who have engineered so many mass murders and mass graves in the last 30 years? Did I cry when Ronnie Reagan died? Hardly. My ideal of a great man is one who stands up for what is right no matter what the odds -- not some cheap-suit Hitler wannabees who seek to rule the world by torture, mass murder and brute force.

Archbishop Oscar Romero was one of those men who give us hope in the possible evolution of the human race away from greed and caveman behavior and toward the image of Christ and Buddha and Gandhi.

We can't all be Christs or Buddhas or freaking Gandhis -- but at least we can damn well try.

When I arrived at the airport in San Salvador, there was a delightful and friendly poster that read, "El Salvador welcomes you with open arms." What a good change from the horrible days of the 1980s Iran-Contra wars when thousands were slaughtered in El Salvador. From what I can see from a quick visit windshield tour, El Salvador has apparently healed itself since then. There's no fighting in the streets now, and members of the old guerrilla FMLN force now sit in congress.

I can only hope and pray that 30 years from now, I will be able to return to Iraq and Afghanistan and Palestine and be able to say the same thing about them.

PS: Here's my video of the Archbishop's crypt:

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Stand up for the Palestinian middle class!

"What Palestinian middle class?" you might ask. "Does Palestine even HAVE a middle class?" My point exactly.

60 years ago, there was a thriving middle class in Palestine, but now almost everyone in Palestine is economic toast. Their homes have been foreclosed on. Their jobs have been eliminated or outsourced. Their schools are all shabby. Their universities are downsized, expensive and hard to get into. Fuel prices there are sky-rocketing. And they are also being told what to say and what to think.

And if Palestinians dare to take up arms in protest or to demonstrate non-violently against this rising tide of oppression, they are accused of "going rogue".

Palestine no longer has hardly any middle class left at all. And I find this situation to be sad, unjust, unfair and not right. And I object to its disappearance. "But, Jane," you might ask, "why should you take the risk of standing up for something that doesn't even barely exist any more?"

Why? Because Palestinians remember the old days -- when there WAS a Palestinian middle class. And 60 years from now, after the same U.S. corporatists and weapons manufacturers who have turned Israel into one of the major weapons manufacturing countries in the world and one of the largest military machines on the planet and have finished destroying Palestine's middle class, they will more than likely have finished destroying America's middle class too.

"Good grief, Jane," you might say next, "what in the world has brought on this latest attack of the glooms?" It's because I recently went to a "Friends of Sabeel" conference.

Sabeel is the name of an organization of Palestinian Christians -- but much to my surprise, most of the people at the conference weren't Palestinians at all. They were mostly middle-class, middle-aged Americans. The conference took place in Marin County for crying out loud. And there wasn't a terrorist or terrorist sympathizer in the lot.

So. Why are approximately 500 middle-aged, middle-class Americans all so concerned about the plight of poverty-stricken Palestinians that these Americans are willing to give up an entire weekend in order to learn more about the different kinds of shenanigans that U.S. and Israeli corporatists are up to in the Occupied Territories? "See above."

At the conference, a local college professor gave a slide show presentation regarding the huge cement Wall fencing in Palestinians, and which showed us overlays of how The Wall would look if it were used to fence in elite parts of cities like San Francisco or Washington DC or Dallas -- protecting corporatist bullies and creating concentration camps for its victims. (Link:

Jeff Halper, an Israeli university professor, then gave us a talk regarding how we must re-frame the Israel-Palestine debate. "You can't keep letting Israel frame itself as a victim," he told us. "It just isn't." Not when Israel possesses the third-largest nuclear arsenal in the world and has one of the world's largest armies. "Israel is the second-largest weapons manufacturer in the world as well, even larger than China." The word "bully" comes to mind here -- much more easily than the word "victim".

And then Norman Solomon spoke and he told us that it was inaccurate when people label Israeli aggressors simply as Jews. "We need to call them by their correct name -- Israelis." But since not all Israelis are aggressors either, I suggested that Solomon might call them "Israeli neo-cons" instead.

"But Bill Clinton wasn't a neo-con," Solomon replied. Yeah he was. If you define a "neo-con" as any corporatist who has gotten religion and come to believe that war is the ultimate consumer and therefore "War is a good thing!" then every American president since Truman has been a neo-con by definition -- with the possible exception of Jimmy Carter and the definite exception of John Kennedy (not that it did Kennedy any good).

Then Solomon talked about the loss of freedom of speech -- but he wasn't referring to its loss in the Occupied Territories. He was referring to the loss of freedom of speech right here at home.

Stephen Zunes talked next -- about how the last 60 years of Israel's systematic oppression of Palestinians has created a whole bunch of terrorists and extremists that never existed before. "Without the brutal Israeli Occupation, there would have been no suicide bombers, no Al Qaeda and no problems with Iran. Occupation leads to the kind of anger and desperation that creates suicide bombers."

Then Zunes talked about anti-Semitism. "Historically, rulers got Jews to do their dirty work for them -- such as collecting taxes and charging high interest rates. And then if things went wrong, they could point at the Jews and say, 'It's their fault'. And that is still going on today."

According to Zunes, having Israel as DC's bulldog in the Middle East is the same sort of set-up. "Washington can simply claim that anything going wrong in the Middle East is Israel's fault. For instance, it was pressure from Washington that started Israel's invasion of Lebanon, not the two captured Israeli soldiers. So in the long term, the U.S. alliance with Israel is disastrous. Keeping Israel armed and belligerent is more in Washington's interest than in Israel's. And it's working. Even now Arab states are saying, 'We understand that Israel runs the cabal -- it's not the fault of Western imperialism'." Yeah right.

Next George Bisharat spoke. "Israel now calls the Occupation an 'Armed Conflict' situation. They have switched to the 'Armed Conflict' model re-framing in order to justify killings. But 'Occupation' is defined by 'Total Control' of the country being occupied, and Israel is still in total control of Gaza. However, if you do something long enough, it becomes permitted -- and now even the 'Targeted Assassination' rule initially invented by the U.S. is being accepted by international law; allowing Israel to state that police cadets, government secretaries, housing authority workers and local court clerks are now valid targets for assassination simply because Hamas was elected."

To make an analogy between this kind of action in Israel-Palestine and this kind of action in America, it would be as if a group radical Republicans seized and occupied Washington -- and then killed off as many people who were working for the elected government as they could. Yuck!

"Cruelty has become unremarkable."

Next former CIA operative Bill Christison spoke. "What happens next in Iran, in the next three months, is most important. An invasion of Iran would create a massive distraction from what is going on in Palestine. And Israel's right-wing government will be allowed and encouraged to do whatever it wants in Palestine. There WILL be another Gaza. We MUST prevent any widening of hostilities in Iran."

Hmmm. That would be like how the 9-11 tragedy and the fake war on Iraq "justified" the shut-down of all too many American civil rights. I can identify with that. And so could all the middle-class, middle-aged Americans here at the conference as well. And so should you.

And while the conference was going on, I also manned a table, sold beautiful hand-crafted jewelry for my friend Katie Miranda ( and flogged my two books, "Mecca & the Hajj: Lessons From the Islamic School of Hard Knocks" and "Bring Your Own Flak Jacket: Helpful Tips for Touring Today's Middle East". Hey, I sold three copies! Plus during the down time I re-read parts of both books. Totally funny! I guess I must have written them back when I still had a sense of humor.