Saturday, February 12, 2011

Military blues: Down & out in Argentina & Egypt

I hate air travel. If you can't sleep on a plane, then you're screwed. But on my flight down to Tierra del Fuego this week, I flew into Buenos Aires -- and learned a lot.

The first thing I learned was that you no longer have to go through those awful body-scanning machines at either SFO or LAX. "We don't have them at this terminal's security checkpoint," a really nice TSA worker told me, "but if you really want to go through one, I think there is one over at some other terminal somewhere." Er, that's okay.

Second, I once again learned that the more tired I get, the less likely I am to be able to get to sleep -- and so after three sleepless nights spent on planes and in airports, I found myself wandering around Buenos Aires like a zombie.

Buenos Aires is called the "Paris of South America". It's a beautiful European-designed city with historical architecture that will knock your eye out. And they just re-opened the famous old Colon opera house after giving it a 100-million-dollar rehab. Built in 1909, it rivals La Scala for both opulence and acoustics. Just seeing it was worth this whole trip. However, I toured it with eyes sagging and looking pretty much like a bum.

Third, I learned more about Argentina’s tragic military take-over in 1976. “After Juan Peron died," I was told, "his third wife – not the wonderful Evita but the one who used to be an exotic dancer – turned the reins of government over to the military. But while the military was good at building its power-base, it was not good at running the economy.”

Not only that but the military was used to fighting wars, and so it did what a military organization does best, and began a military operation against its opposition and started a war on Argentina's citizens -- sort of like a PATRIOT Act gone wild. And the predictable result was a reign of terror and disaster.

Eventually the US-backed Argentine military was forced to step down and then the new government cut back the military's funding drastically, so that it would never be able to meddle in Argentina's politics again.

But even in my sleep-deprived stupor, I was still able to wonder what would happen if the new US-backed Egyptian military regime also made this same mistake – and started to make war on its own citizens too.

“That will never happen,” I was told. “World-wide human rights organizations are too strong now to let a tragedy like that ever happen again. Yeah right. Just like they stopped human-rights abuses, torture and renditions from happening in US-backed present-day Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Israel-Palestine, Mubarak's Egypt and Tunisia -- not to mention former US-backed dictatorships in Iraq and Iran.

PS: I also got to visit the tomb of Evita Peron again yesterday. Back in the 1950s, she and her husband changed the entire face of Argentina by helping to develop a much larger middle class. And another of the major things that they did was to make all public universities in Argentina free for anyone who wanted to attend.

Unlike in America today, there is no war on students in Argentina.

PPS: I just learned that there is going to be no internet access when I get to Antarctica! What am I going to DO for two weeks! I'll get withdrawal symptoms! I'll start having nightmares about freelance unpaid penguins blogging for the Huffington Post!