Sunday, 12 May 2019

HUMAN RIGHTS and THE MIDDLE EAST

Billions of our species, Homo sapiens, individually and in groups, enjoy helping others navigate through this Life that can range from most pleasurable to most painful.  A smaller number, I refer to as Homo the Sap, have become dangerously powerful through worshiping the God of Greed.  How fares the Middle East? 
SAUDI ARABIA:  here was hope, starting in June 2017, when Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud,  (known as bin Salman or MbS) was appointed by his father, King Salman, a Sunni Muslim and king since January 2015, to be his deputy prime minister on a platform of needed reforms.  MbS  is also chairman of the Council for Economic and Development Affairs, chairman of the Council of Political and Security Affairs, and minister of defense.  He has led several successful reforms, including regulations restricting the powers of the religious police,  removing of the ban on female drivers (except for those who first proposed it), the first Saudi public concerts by a female singer, the first Saudi sports stadium to admit women, an increased presence of women in the workforce, and opening the country to  tourists by introducing an e-visa system which can be issued to foreigners from the Internet to attend events.   Since 2011 Saudi Arabia has accepted 500,000 Syrian refugees.
Despite praise for his strides towards social and economic freedoms, human rights groups are frightened at bin Salman's leadership and the shortfalls of his reform program, citing a rising number of detentions and  torture of human-rights activists, his bombing of Yemen, the escalation of the Qatar crisis, the Lebanon–Saudi Arabia dispute, the diplomatic spat with Canada, the arrest of members of the Saudi royal family in November 2017, the assassination of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, and of being an autocratic leader with no tolerance for dissidents.
On 24 April 2019 the Iranian Foreign Minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, condemned the silence of US President Donald Trump's administration on Saudi Arabia's mass execution of 37 people convicted of terrorism.   He complained:  "After a wink at the dismembering of journalist, Jamal Khashoggi, not a whisper from the Trump administration when Saudi Arabia beheads 37 men in one day -- even crucifying one two days after Easter." 
Nothing new for King Salman.  In January 2016, he executed 47 civilians, tortured and convicted for terrorism in 12 provinces. Also killed was Shi’a Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr.  The executed included 11 men convicted of spying for Iran, and 14 others convicted of violence during their participation in anti-government demonstrations in the Shi’a majority Eastern Province between 2011 and 2012. The 14 men were subjected to prolonged pre-trial detention and were tortured for ‘confessions’.  Also, among those executed is Abdulkareem al-Hawaj – a 16-year-old Shi’a man - for anti-government protests. Under international law, the use of the death penalty against those who are under the age of 18  is strictly prohibited.
The House of Saud was founded in 1744.  King Salman has a net worth estimated at $17 billion. The net worth of the entire royal family has been estimated at well over $1.4 trillion,  making them one of the wealthiest families in the world if not the wealthiest.   Power and wealth is possessed by a group of about 2,000 of them.
YEMEN: In 2015, the Saudis led 8 other Sunni states to join the Yemeni conflict, supporting the government against the Iran-aligned Shi'a Huthi rebels.  One of the poorest Arab-World countries, Yemen is being devastated largely by Saudi indiscriminate airstrikes using aircraft and help from the USA, UK, and France, blamed for up to 65% of the reported 68,000 deaths.  A war-induced famine puts 13 million at risk of starving.  Cholera has  1.5 million suspected cases with 3,000 deaths.  More than 3 million people - including 2 million children - are acutely malnourished, making them more vulnerable to disease. The charity, Save the Children, estimates that 85,000 children with severe acute malnutrition may have died between April 2015 and October 2018.
Aden, a trading port for some 3,000 years and former capital of South Yemen, was occupied in January 1839 when the British East India Company landed Royal Marines to stop pirate attacks on shipping to India. Aden’s importance greatly increased when the Suez canal opened in 1869.  It became the British Aden Protectorate and one of the world’s busiest trading ports.  Northern Yemen remained part of the Ottoman Empire until 1918.  The British left in 1967 and Aden became The Republic of South Yemen with the capital in Sanaa which Houthi rebel fighters entered in September 2014 and took full control by January 2015.  The conflict has its roots in the failure of a transition supposed to bring stability to Yemen following an Arab Spring uprising that forced its longtime authoritarian president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, to relinquish power to his deputy, Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi, in 2011.
     Hadi struggled with jihadists, a separatist movement in the south, Saleh loyalists, as well as corruption, unemployment, and food insecurity.  It was a divided country that he Saudis invaded to destroy Iranian influence.
DAESH or ISIS is clearly responsible for genocide against Yezidis, Christians, and Shi'a Muslims in areas it controls.  ISIS evolved from the jihad mujahideen guerrilla fighters employ by western forces to oppose the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, greatly augmented by the disbandment of Saddam Hussein’s Sunni army in Iraq.
MOSUL: Left in a crippled state after the 2003 US-led invasion, Iraq was unable to prevent Daesh from capturing and controlling Mosul in 2014.  The 9-month, 2016-17, street-to-street battle to retake it by Iraqi, Kurdish, and Western forces caused up to 11,000 civilian casualties and widespread devastation and disease.  Reconstruction is plagued by corruption.  The 2019 budget of $560 million allocated, in face of $1.8 billion needed, is largely misspent.  There are still 4 million tons of debris to be cleared.  
The total estimated population of 1,377,000 is over 60% Sunni Arab, 25% Kurds, and smaller numbers of Shi’a Arabs, Turkmen, Shabak, and Christians. Mosul is divided by the Tigris River, which creates different dynamics. The much longer occupation of West Mosul and the higher scale of damage incurred during the liberation of West Mosul create different priorities.
PALESTINE and ISRAEL: 137 of the world’s 193 nations recognize Palestine as an independent nation.  The US is the leading denier.  With considerable help from the US president, Donald Trump, Israel’s Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu  has won a 5th term (1996-1999 and 2009 to the present) as  prime minister.  It was a close and  hard fight with challenger Benny Ganz, a centrist and former military chief whose Blue and White alliance promises a continued opposition to the right wing policies of the Likud Party and personal corruption charges Netanyahu needs to face.
Netanyahu plans to continue expanding Israel at the expense of Palestine and Iran.  Palestinian frustration increases the number of missiles fired into Israel most of which are intercepted by the Iron Dome’s increasing deployment since 2011, even out to sea.  Foreign sales have been made and financial help received from the USA.  Hamas rocketing seems foolish, doing little harm compared to massive Israeli reactions that kill hundreds and destroy much infrastructure.  During the 3-day conflict in May 2019, of the 600 rockets Gaza fired into Israel about 155 were nullified by the Iron Dome.  The others killed 4 Israelis.  Israeli air strikes killed 27.  
The long-standing belief in the USA that Israel can do no wrong is now shifting towards Palestinian sympathies.  When Roger Waters, a world-renowned musician, organized at the University of Massachusetts, for May 04, 2019, a panel named “Not Backing Down”, 80 right-wing organizations, demanded that the event be cancelled and that the university disassociate itself from anything to do with it.  A judge ruled it could proceed.  The university invited as a speaker Hanan Daoud Mikhael Ashrawi,  age 72, a Palestinian leader, legislator, activist, and scholar who served as a member of the Leadership Committee and as an official spokesperson of the Palestinian delegation to the Middle East peace process, beginning with the Madrid Peace Conference of 1991. The Trump administration denied her a visa.
HEZBOLLAH:  After its invasion of Lebanon in 1982, Israel occupied a strip of south Lebanon, which was controlled by the South Lebanon Army (SLA), a militia supported by Israel. Hezbollah was conceived by Shi’a Muslim clerics and funded by Iran primarily to harass the Israeli occupation.
HAMAS:  A Palestinian Sunni-Islamist fundamentalist organization. It has a social service wing, Dawah, and a military wing, the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades. It has been the de facto governing authority of the Gaza Strip since its takeover of that area in 2007. During this period it fought several wars with Israel.
IRAN:  Human Rights activists may operate in Iran and some progress has been made, but the UN criticizes its abuses.  There were 273 executions in 2018 and in 2019 two teenagers were flogged and executed.
    In 1901 a British speculator got a concession to explore for oil in southern Iran and to develop any found.  Oil was found in 1908.  Since then Iran has been exploited by the UK, US, USSR, and various companies, while receiving a pittance for its oil and being charged inflated prices for the goods it imported.
In 1941 the UK imposed Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavin to rule Iran and the US even offered him nuclear weapons.  Iranian resentment continued to grow.  In 1951 the Majlis (Iranian parliament) forced the Shah to allow  Mohammad Mosaddegh to nationalize the oil.  In reprisal Iranian oil was boycotted and the Abadan Refinery, one of the world’s largest was forced to close.  In 1953 Prime Minister Mosaddegh was overthrown by a military coup by the CIA and UK MI6 and kept under arrest until his death in 1967.
In 1979 Iranian college students took over the US embassy, holding 52 diplomats hostage for 444 days.  Six other US diplomats were smuggled out by the Canadian diplomatic staff.    In 2015 a deal was signed curtailing Iran’s ability to start a nuclear weapons program.  Iran has lived up to  it but Trump withdrew the US in 2018, tightening sanctions.  Survival forces Iran into closer ties elsewhere.
  Unbelievably bizarre, apparently at the bequest of Netanyahu, is Trump’s inhumane treatment of Iran, Aiming to destroy it economically, he is actually misusing US economic might by weaponizing it and dictating to the world that they must not trade with Iran or face crippling sanctions.    Trying to cut Iran’s oil revenue from $50 billion annually to zero, he imposed sanctions in 2018, allowing a 6-month exemption to those dependent on Iranian oil: China, Greece, India, Italy, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, and Turkey to find other sources.
A year after Tump pulled out of the nuclear pact with Iran, Iran, having lived up to its terms and getting nothing in return, announced it would start enriching uranium for peaceful purposes while Trump sends a carrier group to the Mediterranean to teach Iran a lesson.
EGYPT:  An absolute and very dangerous scoundrel, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, in a controlled election, has won a second term as president.  And, what is so demoralizing is the presidential praise he got during a New York visit and the restoration of US military aid.   The EU adopted a strong resolution against Egypt’s behaviour and the UN detailed a long list of abuses including widespread torture and execution for mild dissent.  Canada complained: “ In 2013, General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, grabbed power from the democratically elected president Mohammed Morsi in a coup d'etat, cheered on by Washington.  El-Sisi has tortured and killed thousands of followers of Morsi's Islamic Brotherhood, most of the rest of whom rot in prison, along with Morsi.”
TURKEY:   June 2018 saw President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan re-elected president, but his AKP party lost control of Ankara and Istanbul.  Turkish human rights are protected by  international law treaties, Yet they are of high importance for the negotiations to join  the European Union.  They include the status of Kurds and numerous human rights violations over the years. There is an ongoing debate on the right to life, torture, freedoms of expression, religion, assembly and association. Minorities cannot get a primary education in their mother tongue. The largest minority, the Kurds, 15% of the population, have no right to self-determination yet Turkey signed the ICCPR (International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights). In March 2017, the UN accused the Turkish government of "massive destruction, killings and numerous other serious human rights violations" against the Kurds.  Turkey has imprisoned more journalists than any other country.
But, to many in the US and NATO, Turkey’s major crime is their purchase of the cheaper Russian S-400 Triumph surface-to-air missile defence system, currently deployed in China and Syria, and is not NATO compatible.
ALGERIA:  Free elections were held from 1988, but a victory by the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) in 1991 sparked a military coup d'état and the imposition, of a state of emergency under which basic human rights were suspended. Freedom of expression, association, and assembly were severely restricted, and many were arrested without charge. A civil war raged from 1991 to 1999, and there have been no official investigations into the massive human-rights violations during the conflict.  The government's main opponent was the Armed Islamic Group (GIA), a violent Al Qaeda affiliate also causing a wave of bombings in Paris in 1995.  The terrible fratricide got little coverage in Western media, despite the fact that it probably claimed twice as many lives as the Bosnian conflict, which ran concurrently and received nonstop Western attention.
Abdelaziz Bouteflika, president since 1999, lifted a state of emergency in 2011 and human rights have improved recently, but large scale protests continue over restrictions on freedom of expression, of the press, of association, of assembly, and of movement.  Extensive corruption and discrimination against women remains.
There is so much more; I do need to continue in my next blog.  May I leave you with a frightening example?
PAKISTAN:  ASIA BIBI,  a poor Pakistani Christian woman farm worker spent 8 years on death row for insulting Islam, a charge she denies.  In 2009 she was convicted of blasphemy after a dispute with 2 farm workers who refused to drink out of the same container as a Christian.  She was sentenced to be hanged.
The case got international attention as it emphasized Pakistan’s harsh laws that harass minorities such as Christians who make up 1.6% of the population. In 2011 her case sparked the assassination of Salmon Taseer, governor of Punjab by his own bodyguard claiming it was their duty because he supported Bibi.
Shahbaz Bhatt, the only Christian member in the cabinet, was also killed.
In Oct 2018, the Pakistan Supreme Court overturned Bibi's conviction.  Thousands took to streets protesting acquittal.  In Nov 2018 Canada asked that she be allowed to fly to Canada where her husband, Ashiq Masih, and her two daughters lived having fled Pakistan during her incarceration.           She has arrived in Canada but her location is being kept secret as hard-line muslims have vowed to pursue and kill her.
Over 1,300 in Pakistan have been accused of religious offences since 1987.
  
Ye Olde Scribe


Saturday, 20 April 2019

RWANDA, KAGAME, and the FUTURE


     On Sunday, 07 April 2019. at the capital, Kigali, where 250,000 victims are buried, President Paul Kagame, and his wife, Jeannette, returned world attention to the 1994 100-day orgy of ethnic murders of 800,000 minority upper-class Tutsi by the majority lower-class Hutu. They organized a 25th anniversary memorial aimed to impress guests from the African Union, Belgium, Canada, Chad, the Congo. Republic, Djibouti, Ethiopia, the European Union, and Niger with the impressive improvement they had made. The memorial also prompted French president, Emmanuel Macron, to order a thorough investigation into the role of France that had helped both sides.
     This wave of ethnic cleansing exploded when an aircraft, carrying Burundi president, Cyprien Ntaryamira, and Rwanda president, Juvenal Habyarimana, both Hutu, was shot down with surface-to-air missiles while landing at Kigali 06 Apr 1994. Hutu blamed the Tutsi, but doubts remain.
      Conflict was ongoing at the time.  In 1993, a UN peacekeeping force under command of Canadian general Roméo Dallaire was sent in. He became disillusioned with inadequate and indifferent world support.  Overwhelmed by the Hutu, and, after 10 of his Belgian troops had been murdered, he withdrew, leaving behind a token force of mainly Ghanaian and Tunisian volunteers until the Hutu victory in 1996. In 2003, Dallaire published his book “Shake Hands With The Devil - the Failure of Humanity in Rwanda” He remains an outspoken critic of world ethnic cleanses and the use of child soldiers.
     Today, Rwanda remains one of the smallest countries in Africa. It has 12 million predominantly young, densely-packed rural people speaking 3 official languages: Kinyarwanda, French, and English. It has a temperate climate with 2 dry and 2 rainy seasons per year. It is bordered by Burundi, the Congo Republic, Tanzania, and Uganda. Its people are one linguistic group containing: Hutu, Tutsi, and Twa, a forest-living pygmy group descended for the first humans there.
     The 1884 German and 1916 Belgian colonial periods introduced and promoted Christianity. The Rwandan Banyarwanda religion’s creator, Imana, is now considered the same as Jesus Christ.  Roman Catholicism is the leading religion at 43%, followed by Protestantism at 37%, and Islam 2%. All must now be proud Rwandans.
     There is much to support this unified belief: There is low corruption, and;
     Rwanda is one of only two countries with a female majority in its parliament;
     Rwanda is one of only two countries where mountain gorillas can be visited safely;
     Access to electricity has increased from 18 to 70%.
     The GDP has increased from $416 in 1994 to $2,225 in 2018.
     The World Economic Forum rates Rwanda as the world’s 9th safest country to visit.
     Free education has been increased to 12 years and professional sports teams compete well                   internationally.
  Yet Rwanda rates among the lowest in happiness, Critics claim that only tourists and local politicians enjoy Rwanda’s stability. There is a climate of fear imposed by intimidation and restrictions on freedom of speech with frequent suppression of opposition groups. Reporters Without Borders calls Kagame a predator who attacks press freedom, citing the fact that in the last two decades, eight journalists have been killed or have gone missing, 11 have been given long jail terms, and 33 forced to flee Rwanda. Anjan Sundaram in his book “Last Journalists in a Dictatorship” details Rwanda’s suffocation of a free press, giving a 12-page list of journalists harmed.  He also tells of rows of homes in a rural province made roofless by owners to please Kagame who objects to thatched roofs that he considered non-modern. The country has been governed by a strict administrative hierarchy since precolonial times; there are five provinces with borders established in 2006. Kagame, president since 2000, admits there are large areas of poverty and that most children are malnourished.
     For a better understanding of this dilemma, we do need to look at still-controversial Rwandan history:
     Hunter-gatherers settled the area in the stone and iron ages, followed by the Bantu, first with clans then with up to 8 kingdoms, all including Tutsi Hutu, and Twa. The Kingdom of Rwanda dominated from the mid-eighteenth century, with the Tutsi kings conquering others and enacting anti-Hutu policies. In 1884 Germany colonized Rwanda as part of German East Africa. Gustav Adolf von Götzen, was the first European to effectively explore it. The Germans ruled by backing the king and local chiefs . In 1916, during World War 1, Belgium invaded and exerted more direct colonial rule but still through local kings who perpetuated a pro-Tutsi policy.
     In 1959 the Hutus revolted, massacred numerous Tutsi, and established an independent, Hutu-dominated, state in 1962. A 1973 military coup changed leadership, but pro-Hutu policy remained. Some 500,000 Tutsi had fled Rwanda. Their request to return home peacefully was refused by the Hutu Habyarimana, president since 1973.
     The Tutsi-led Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) under Paul Kagame, launched a civil war in 1990 ending in 1993 when the Hutu accepted a peace deal. The RPF had won a military victory only to face the 1994 uprising.
      An amazing example of the current wave of forgiveness is the 15 April Christiane Amanpour PBS interview of Tutsi genocide survivor, Denise Uwimana, who lost her husband but saved her family including the baby she gave birth to under a bed while soaked in the blood of victims. This son, now 25, was due to a Hutu rape.  She forgives all for a better future.
     The economy is recovering from the great harm of the genocide. Major exports are coffee, tea, tin,
cassiterite, wolfframite, and pyrethrum. Also mined are sapphires, gold, and coltan, Manufacturing contributes 17% of the GDP.  By 2017 tourism generated $444 million from 1.2 million visitors. The RwandAir fleet of a dozen, mainly Airbus, aircraft flies to Brussels, London, Nairobi, Entebbe, Lagos, Mumbai, Johannesburg and Cape Town. with the motto “Come, Grow With Us”.
     Ethiopia is achieving a similar resurrection from a civil war that inflicted over 1.4 million casualties, 400,000 from conflict and a million by a ruinous famine.
     Benedict Oramah, president of the African Export-Import Bank, has invested over $200 million in Rwandan development, praising its can-do spirit. The Africa boss at the World Health Organisation (WHO), Dr Matshidiso Moeti, chose Kigali for this year’s first ever Africa Health Forum. She praised Kagame for remarkable leadership, creativity, tenacity and resolve in achieving health progress in a short space of time.
     Elder Nigerian statesman, Olusegun Obasanjo, announced “Rwanda has made difficult trade-offs. But as an African leader, I would make the same trade-offs.”
     Kagame was elected to chair the African Union’s April summit in Addis Ababa.
     Big money interests are embracing Rwanda.  Kagame has made Kigali his show case. The city is
immaculate, Its streets can be walked safely anywhere at any time. There are fancy hotels and restaurants. parks, urban farms, and golf courses are springing up and the views are spectacular. New housing developments attract so many that prices become inflated and renters must move on to high-rise rather than single-family houses.
     Some of the trade-offs include shades of totalitarian Nazi-Germany, the USSR, and China.  For example:  one day each month, villages must come together to participate in Umuganda, a nationwide community service day. Afterwards, villages will meet to discuss issues, such as directives from the national government. Those who do not toe the line, who have not signed up for mandatory health insurance, or who have not delivered on personal pledges may be reprimanded or, on occasion, kicked out of the community. Each layer of society must answer to the one above it.
     A resultant improvement can be seen in healthcare. In 2000, life expectancy was 49 years. It is now 64.5.  Child mortality is down over two-thirds. Maternal mortality is down about 80%.  HIV/Aids prevalence is down to 3% from 13%. There is now one doctor for every 6,000 people, compared 10,555 in 2000.
     But, there is Anjan Sundaram’s “Last Journalists in a Dictatorship” detailing Rwanda’s suffocation of a free press with a 12-page list of journalists who have allegedly been beaten, tortured, exiled or killed by Kagame’s government. It is not, Sundaram says, an exhaustive list.
     Kagame’s forces were also implicated in atrocities – and, later, were to contribute to a devastating war in neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo that left millions of civilians dead.
     The arbitrary arrest of poor people is part of an unofficial government practice to hide ‘undesirable’ people from view, and contrasts with the Rwandan government’s impressive efforts to reduce poverty,” said Human Rights Watch.  One of these detention centres is the notorious Iwawa Island. Officially, it’s a rehabilitation centre for drug addicts, set in the glittering blue waters of Lake Kivu.  Unofficially, it’s often described as Rwanda’s Alcatraz, where enemies of the state, along with its poor and homeless, are kept in prison-like conditions.
     While Kagame’s impressive improvements in Rwanda deserve praise, his disdain of those who do not fit into his agenda is unforgivable, especially as the rising wave of far-right-wing groups are prone to copy such strongarm tactics whose true costs need exploring.
     Those who create good for all, including the environment, must have the last word.

www.yeoldescribe,com                                                                          georgesweanor@comcast.net

Saturday, 30 March 2019

VENEZUELA AND MAN'S CONTINUED INHUMANITY TO MAN

When consulting History to assess the crisis in Venezuela, we must remember that it has the world’s largest reserves of oil and is also rich in bauxite, coltan, and gold, all of which have been nationalized, perhaps overly.
       Venezuela (Little Venice) was named after Venice, Italy, in 1499  by the 2nd Spanish expedition, led by Alonso de Ojeda, sailing along the length of the NE coast of South America.  The first  European to reach South America was Columbus in 1498, on his 4th voyage.  He found the pearl island of Venezuela, stating natives could be used to harvest them for us.  In 1521 Spain built its first permanent American settlement in the what became the city of Cumaná (translated as “union of the river and sea”), Venezuela.  When the Spanish arrived Venezuela had a native population of one million.  From Columbus on, all were considered inferior but useful a slaves.
Original human settlements originated 9,000 years ago by hunter-gatherer groups that had evolved into tribes, such as the Kalina (Caribs), Auaké, Caquetio, Mariche, and Timoto-Cuicas. The Timoto-Cuicas culture was the most complex  with pre-planned permanent villages, surrounded by terraced fields, irrigated by water stored in tanks. Their houses were made primarily of stone and wood with thatched roofs. They were usually peaceful, and depended on growing crops including the root crops, potatoes and ullucos. They left us works of art like ceramics, but no major monuments. They spun vegetable fibers to weave into textiles and mats for housing. They invented the arepa (ground maize dough), a  Venezuelan staple.
Native caciques (leaders), such as Guaicaipuro and Tamanaco, attempted to resist Spanish incursions, but were subdued.  The Spanish founder of Caracas, Diego de Losada, had Tamanaco executed.
In 1528, to pay off debts owed by Charles I of Spain, Venezuela was given to the Augsburg, Germany, Welser banking family that then searched extensively for the legendary golden city of El Dorado, founding Maracaibo in 1529.  In 1546 Charles revoked the Welser contract.  There were about 2,000 European settlers.
The opening of gold mines in 1632 increased slavery of the natives, then of imported Africans. The first real economic success was the raising of livestock on the grassy plains known as llanos.— a few Spanish landowners and widely dispersed native herdsmen on introduced horses copied the old latifundia feudal estates of Rome.
During the 16th and 17th centuries, the cities suffered relative neglect. The Viceroyalties of New Spain and Peru, headquarted on the sites that had been the capital cities of the Aztecs and Incas, showed more interest in their nearby gold and silver mines than in the remote agricultural societies of Venezuela. Responsibility for the Venezuelan territories shifted to and between the two viceroyalties.
In the 18th century, a second Venezuelan society formed along the coast with the cocoa plantations manned by much larger importations of African slaves, many of whom also worked in the haciendas of the grassy llanos. Most surviving natives had migrated to the plains and jungles where only Spanish friars took an interest in them — especially the Franciscans who compiled grammars and small lexicons for some of their languages. 
Under the Viceroyalty of New Granada, established in 1717, Caracus had a close monopoly on trade with Europe.  Cacao had opened Venezuelan ports to foreign commerce. Unlike other Spanish American dependencies, Venezuela had many more contacts with Europe through the British and French  Caribbean islands.  Caracas had become an intellectual powerhouse. From 1721, it had its own university, teaching Latin, engineering, medicine, and the humanities. Its most illustrious graduate, Andrés Bello, became the greatest Spanish American polymath of his time. In Chacao, east of Caracas, there flourished a school of music whose director, José Ángel Lamas, produced impressive compositions.  The Mantuanos (white Creole elite, wealthy from cacao) had access to a solid education, but became overbearing, and zealous in affirming their privileges against the pardo (mixed-race, free blacks and slaves) majority.  Creoles are Spaniards born in America not Spain as were Peninsulares.
Influenced by the French Revolution, the first organized resistance against the regime occurred in 1797, but was put down with the collaboration of the mantuanos who were afraid of radical social changes.
The Napoleonic Wars in Europe weakened Spain's imperial power and put Britain on the side of the independence movement. In May 1808, Napoleon Bonaparte won the abdication of Ferdinand VII of Spain, replacing him with his brother, Joseph Bonaparte. That was the beginning of Spain's own War of Independence from French hegemony and partial occupation before the Spanish-American wars of independence began. The first major defeat that Napoleonic France suffered was at the Battle of Bailén in Andalusia in July 1808. The French rebounded to invade southern Spain. The Spanish government fled to the island redoubt of Cádiz. 
Taking advantage of Spain’s problems, The Caracus city council in 1810 set up a new, self-appointed, junta, claiming it also supported the pardos.  In 1811, seven of the ten provinces of the Captaincy General of Venezuela declared their independence from Spain.  The Venezuelan War of Independence ensued, along with that of New Granada. The First Republic was lost in 1812 following the 1812 Caracas 7.7 earthquake that killed 20,000 and the Battle of La Victoria.  The campaigns of 1813 saw many rivals contesting for power as loyalists to Spain or to independence parties seeking the Second Republic of Venezuela.  Simon Bolívar recruited a Mantuanos army and invaded Venezuela from the southwest by crossing the Andes and re-establishing the Republic of Venezuela on 6 August 1813,   Santiago Mariño and Manuel Piar, a pardo from the Dutch island of Curaçao, were successfully fighting royalists in eastern Venezuela. So two independent Venezuelan states were set up, one in the west headed by Simon Bolívar at age 27, and one in the east headed by Mariño.
      José Thomás Boves, initiated a widespread pardo movement against the restored Republic. Bolívar and José Félix Ribas held and defended the mantuano-controlled center of Venezuela. In the east, the royalists started recovering territory. After suffering a setback, Mariño and Bolívar joined their forces, but they were defeated by Boves in 1814. Republicans were forced to evacuate Caracas and flee to the east, where, in the port of Carúpano, Piar was still holding out. Piar did not accept Bolívar's supreme command, and once again Bolívar left Venezuela and went to New Granada (1815) to liberate it.
In 1820, liberal sections of the military under Rafael del Riego established a constitutional monarchy, which precluded new Spanish invasions of America. Before his recall to Spain, Morillo signed a truce with Bolívar. In 1821 at the Battle of Carabobo Bolivar’s 8,000-strong Gran Colombian army defeated the 5,000-strong Royalist army that included British volunteers.  The victory ended the Royalist cause. 
In Venezuela, a province of Gran Colombia, José Antonio Páez, backed by the ruling clique in Caracas, initiated the separation of Venezuela in 1826. Bolívar returned to Bogotá, where vice-president Francisco José de Paula Santander complained about Venezuelan insubordination. 
In 1828, due to opposition he faced both in Venezuela and in New Granada and because his Great Colombia had started to disintegrate, Bolívar named himself dictator. After escaping an assassination attempt, he arrested suspects including Admiral José Prudencio Padilla, a pardo who had fought Nelson at Trafalgar and became the founder of the Colombian Navy, executing him for treason.  Later he was exonerated.  Santander was also suspected and sentenced to die but Bolivar exiled him   He returned in 1832 to lead a 2nd administration, continuing to execute most of the rest of the Spanish officers still in captivity, who had been saved by Bolivar  Santander's murderous pursuit including General José Sardá, accused of leading the plot to kill Bolivar.  
Peruvians invaded Guayaquil so Bolívar returned to Quito in 1829 to repulse them, but the invasion had petered out before he arrived. Back in Bogotá, Bolívar pleaded for unity and, though he had offered to resign various times, this time, when Great Colombia had a new constitution and a president, Joaquin Mosquera, Bolívar finally did resign in 1830.  The same year his close friend, Antonio José de Sucre y Alcalá, the 4th president of Peru and the second of Bolivia was assassinated  Páez not only had declared the second independence of Venezuela but also had promoted a campaign against Bolívar who, sick ans exhausted, rode to the coast with the intention of leaving the country, He died near Santa Marta in Colombia at the age of 47.
Turmoil continued.  The Federal War, 1859-1863, was the most bloody since the War of Independence. The start of the 20th century saw several notable international crises: the Venezuela Crisis of 1895 under Joaquín Crespo (a dispute with Britain over Guayana Esequiba) and the Venezuela Crisis of 1902–1903 (Venezuela's refusal to pay foreign debts) under Cipriano Castro. There were coups in 1945, 1948, 1958, 1993, and 2002. 
Venezuela suffered political turmoil and autocracy, remaining dominated by regional caudillos (military strongmen) until 1958, when the country started a series of democratic governments. But problems continued. 
Despite being elected twice as a populist, 1974-79, and 1989-1993,  Carlos Andrés Pérez proved less generous with hand-outs.  He supported: no price controls, privatizations, and laws to attract foreign investment.  His 10% increase in the cost of gasoline caused a 30% jump in fares for public transportation. An 1989 popular uprising was crushed by the army with an official death toll of 276, but actually higher.  There were 2 attempted coups in 1992.  In 1996 Pérez was impeached for embezzlement of funds and sentenced to 28 months in prison.
Venezuela had 4 presidents before Hugo Chávez who was elected in 1999.  John Bolton, US National Security Advisor,  accused Venezuela, Cuba and Nicaragua of being part of a “troika of tyranny.”  Chávez served until 2013 when he died and his vice president, Nicolas Maduro, took over.  Chávez had humble origins but did graduate from high school then, seeking social justice, he joined the academy of military sciences, took part in many activities, attaining the rank of lieutenant colonel.  After a failed 1992 coup, he turned himself in and was arrested.
In 2000, with a new set of relations between socioeconomic classes, voters approved a new constitution and re-elected Chávez, placing many members of his Fifth Republic Movement party in the National Assembly, calling the process the Bolivarian Revolution, organised into different government-funded groups.
In April 2002, Chávez was ousted in a coup by military and media groups, hut he was returned to power after two days due to demonstrations by the majority. He then embarked on a long process of sharing the benefits of the county’s resources that had been enriching the Venezuelan elite and foreign companies.  Its oil reserves had been tied to 32 agreements with 22 companies.  Revenues became 30% of GDP and  80% of export revenue by 2001.  To share the profits with all, he raised taxes 80%.  Companies fled so he nationalized oil in 2007, losing the means to sustain and increase production, yet in 2012 he was easily re-elected.  A member of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries. Venezuela is highly dependent on oil whose price fluctuates rapidly. In 2014, it dropped, causing the economy to contract each quarter since.  The Central Bank's monetary reserves also declined. A severe shortage of goods followed, with necessities in short supply. In 2007, on paying off its debt 5 years ahead of schedule,  Venezuela terminated official financial relations with the IMF and the World Bank that it joined in 1946.  Both say they will offer assistance if called upon.
Chávez nationalized oil production, banking, telecommunications, metallurgy and mining. The high price of oil allowed him to fund ambitious public programs. This included a Caracus - Buenos Aires rail link that was to service places in between.  Due to all this, plus redistributive policies, the poverty rate was cut from 50 % in 1998 to 30% in 2013,  When Chavez died in Mar 2013, Vice President Nicolás Maduro was elected narrowly, determined to continue social equality.   But the price of oil sank and the economy worsened.  Maduro opposed daily street protests using lethal force.  The UN reported 8,292 executions, 2015-17, yet he won re-election in 2018 by jailing opposition leaders and threatening job losses.  Canada, Panama, and the USA imposed sanctions.   
The per capita income was $7,808 in 2013.  Inflation accompanied falling income. By 2017 it was predicted to reach 720%.  This affected the ability of the economy to remain viable.  A US  financial embargo in Aug 2017 plus a trade embargo in Jan 2019 have hurt considerably.  Of a 32 million population, 3 million destitute and hungry people have fled the country.  This is forecast to rise to 8 million.  Reported refugee destinations are:  Colombia 1.1 million, Peru 520,000, Ecuador 220,000, Argentina 130,000, Chile 100,000, Panama 94,000, and Brazil 85,000.  Canada resettled 40,000 Syrian refugees but has taken in only just over 100 Venezuelans.  In the USA the Trump administration has brought refugee admissions to historic lows, from the 110,000 yearly limit set by Obama in 2017, to 45,000 in 2018, and now 30,000 officially but much lower actually. 
Maduro’s main opponent is Juan Guaidó, a founder in 2009 of the Popular Will Party, a member of the 153-member Socialist International, an organization promoting a fairer world.  Guaidó argued that Chávez had become too totalitarian and that Maduro had seized power illegally.  Building a following he declared himself president, immediately accepted by the US that led a group of 65 Nations to support him against Maduro who was supported by the UN itself and 50 nations including  China, Cuba, Iran, Turkey and Russia from whom Venezuela has bought fighter jets. In August 2018 Maduro survived an assassination attempt when he was attacked by a small drone. He accused the U.S. and Colombia.
After Trump abandoned nuclear disarmament treaties, Russia retaliated in December 2018 with a visit of Tupolev-160 supersonic bombers to Venezuela’s La Orchila Island air base, then announced Maduro’s  approval to base some there.  Russia then landed 200 troops and can justify this dangerous move by citing NATO bases on its borders as well as the fact that the US has interfered in far more countries for decades.  Despite closing hundreds of bases in Iraq and Afghanistan, the United States still supports almost 800 military bases in over 70 countries.  The UK, France, and Russia, have about 30 foreign bases combined.
Venezuela is now a battleground among socialism, capitalism, dictatorial regimes, reformers, and the Supreme Tribunal of Justice in Exile that sentenced Madura to 18 years in prison.  We need to negotiate, peacefully without cruel sanctions.  Venezuela needs help without the fear of a commercial or military takeover.  Current flash points include: the US withdrawal of diplomatic staff, the financing of 90 Guaidó trips to foreign countries, his taunt that Maduro’s administration was too dysfunctional to arrest him, Maduro’s response of arresting him and barring him from civic office for 15 years, and Trump’s Oval office hosting the wives of Gaidó and his chief of staff.  This is another world-threatening situation that demands immediate dialogue and cool heads.  Many of the Latin American countries that the US has persuaded to join the Guaidó camp are those in which the US has supported cruel dictators that have caused the exodus of millions of persecuted migrants against whom the Trump administration is insisting  on completing a formidable, expensive, and unnecessary wall to deny them refuge.  In controllable numbers, migrants have been beneficial to receiving countries.  But they invoke genocide, war, disruption, disease, ethnic hatreds, and terrible suffering.  It is so much cheaper and sensible to support world organizations that promote and finance the eradication of problems at home that incubate such infections.  We do have the intelligence and wherewithal. Yes, remedies can be very painful, but do we have a choice if our goal is to save our planet and the treasures it still offers? 

www.yeoldescribe.com georgesweanor@comcast.net

Saturday, 23 February 2019

OUR NUCLEAR THREAT AND ITS TREATIES

In Feb 2019 Donald Trump, followed by Vladimir Putin, announced withdrawal from The Intermediate range Nuclear Forces Treaty, both accusing the other of violations.  The world shudders again.  The God of Greed applauds.  Currently, the two greatest threats to our survival, Climate Change and Nuclear War, are creations of Homo the Sap. 
From 1900 to 2000 the percentage of civilians killed in wars rose from 10 to 75%.  Collateral damage is already enormous, but Nuclear War would encompass everybody and everything. Our amazingly-complex species, evolving in an amazingly-complex universe, has achieved the ability and intelligence to save, or to destroy, Life as we know it.  To correct the dangerous attitudes of humans like Donald and Vladimir, and too many others, in the limited time we have to guarantee behavioural changes, we need all the help we can muster.
Billions of us humans cherish our current inquisitive, fact-finding-and-analyzing quest to know and improve ourselves and our home, temporary as they are.  We have negotiated, over the centuries, treaties and alliances to lessen, nullify, and change threats; but our failure to disown the God of Greed has both weakened and strengthened our resolve. We still need more unity of peaceful purpose, but how do we convince the powerful few who place short-term Greed ahead of long-term Survival? 
  Origin of Atomic Thought:  After some 4 billion years of evolution, a few of us, 2,600 years ago in the Greek city of Miletus on the western Aegean coast of today’s Turkey, abandoned widespread myths to concentrate on examining facts.  They were led by Thales, his pupil Anaximander, and Hecataeus.  We entered the new, inquisitive, and uncharted territory of science.
This new approach to science spread so, after the expanding Persian Empire under Cyrus the Great (600-530 BC) took over Miletus in 540 BC, there was a revolt that was crushed ferociously in 494 BC.  Other Greek city states united to, in 474 BC, oust the Persians.  Many famed philosophers had fled Miletus to found the colony of Abdera in Thrace.  The oldest may have been Pythagoras.  In Abdera, Leucippus (480-420 BC), born in Miletus had fled north to Abdera.  There he joined Abdera-born Democrates, to found a scientific and philosophical school and wrote “The Great Cosmology”, stating that Matter is composed of Atoms separated by empty Space through which the atoms move.  Atoms are solid, homogeneous, indivisible, and unchangeable.  Dozens of  books on every field of knowledge were written.  Philosophers argued that Space is unlimited with enormous numbers of atoms.  Sweetness, bitterness, heat, cold, and color are all opinions.  Reality exists with  atoms and vacuum.  There is no finality, no purpose, just an endless dance of atoms.
This line of thought became dormant for centuries until  John Dalton in England, 1803-08, converted the Greek atomic philosophy into a scientific theory.
Between 1899 and 1936 several important treaties were signed and provide a background for the nuclear age treaties that followed:
The 1899 and 1907 Hague Conventions outlawing poison gas in warfare were signed by all major nations, but violated by Germany in April 1915 at Ypres, Belgium, during WW1.  On 25 September Britain retaliated with chlorine during the Battle of Loos and the use of poison gas became widespread by all parties with the UK producing 25,400 tons of it.  By 1918 25% of artillery shells were gas filled.
The 1919 Geneva Convention protecting Prisoners of War: These specific rules were refined in the third 1949 Geneva Convention, following the lessons of World War II, as well as in Additional Protocol I of 1977. The status of POW only applies in international armed conflict.  Although 196 countries signed on there have been widespread violations, even by the USA in its treatment of Al Quaeda, and Taliban POWs in places like Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo.
As a POW of the German Luftwaffe for 800 days I can vouch for their correct and polite behaviour unlike the inhumanity of the German Gestapo and SS towards their POWs as well a Soviet and Japanese inhumanity of their captives.
The Luftwaffe did have difficulties in feeding us but did allow in large shipments of UK, Canadian, and USA Red Cross food parcels.  Other Allied countries helped in financing this.
Naval Treaties between  WWI and II: After WWI Britain’s Royal Navy was the most powerful, followed by the USN then distantly by Japan, France, and Italy.  Britain also had control of the German navy which the German crews soon scuttled.  In the USA Woodrow Wilson planned to increase the USN to 50 capital ships, highly unpopular with the electorate.  Japan started on 4 new warships and the UK planned for 12 new ones. 
In 1922, to forestall a new arms race, a conference was convened in Washington, followed by 1930 and 1936 conferences in London that resulted in a 10 year pause in the construction of battleships and battlecruisers and adherence to highly detailed restrictions ending in 1936 after Japan and Nazi Germany had withdrawn. 
The Growth of the Nuclear Bomb Club: The concept of a nuclear bomb is credited to Leo Szilard in London in 1933 when he patented his ideas.  In 1938 German chemists, Otto Hahn and Fritz Strassman, bombarded uranium with neutrons and discovered barium.  Nazi Germany then began a nuclear energy project.   Warned by a Szilard-Einstein letter, Franklin Roosevelt in the USA authorized the Uranium Committee with $6,000 to commence neutron experiments which led to MAUD (Military Application of Uranium Detonation) under Henry Tizard.  The 1939-1946 Manhattan Project at Oak Ridge, Tennessee, led by the USA with the support of the UK and Canada, produced the first nuclear weapon. In 1942 Joseph Stalin started a Soviet nuclear weapons project.  Japanese scientist concentrated on radar, believing nuclear weapons would take too many years to achieve.   
Realizing the suicidal certainty of nuclear weapons most world nation chose to abstain.  The 9 who now belong to the Nuclear Weapons Club are (showing year joined and maximum number of believed warheads):
1944 USA    6,450      1949 USSR      6,850 1952 UK 215 1956 Israel 400
1960 France    300      1964 China 280 1974 India 140 1984 Pakistan 150
2006 N.Korea   20
The US has stored 222 nuclear warheads among one base in each of Belgium, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, and Turkey.  Canada had 4 in 1963 but returned 3 in 1972 retaining only a low-yield anti-aircraft one.  South Africa dismantled its 6 in the early 1990s.  Belarus, Kazakstan, and Ukraine gave theirs to Russia. Nuclear  warheads peaked 1965 for USA at 31,000, Russia in 1985 at 40,000.  They are now limited to 5.000 each.
The USA remains the only country to actually use them. “Little Boy” killed 146,000 people in Hiroshima and “Fat Man” 80,000 in Nagasaki in Aug 1945.  Debate continues on the necessity especially the second.
A brief history of nuclear treaties between the major players: 
The 1968 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty continues to be an important step in the ongoing efforts to reduce or prevent the spread of nuclear weapons. Iit had one major drawback in that two nuclear powers, France and China, did not sign on, nor did a number of non-nuclear states including Argentina, Brazil, India, Israel, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and South Africa, because they were close to being capable of going nuclear.
The treaty was a major success for advocates of arms control because it set a precedent for international cooperation between nuclear and non-nuclear states to prevent proliferation.
The 1969 and 1972 Strategic Arms Limitations Talks (SALT 1 & 2), suggested in 1967 by Lyndon Johnson, were 2 rounds of conferences and  treaties involving the USA and USSR and aimed at curtailing the manufacture of strategic missiles capable of carrying nuclear weapons. and were intended to restrain the arms race in strategic (long-range or intercontinental) ballistic missiles armed with nuclear weapons.   SALT 1 negotiations commenced in Helsinki, Finland, in Nov 1969.  Of the resulting complex of agreements, the most important were the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty and The Interim Agreement and Protocol on Limitations of Strategic Offensive Weapons.  Both were signed in Moscow by President Richard M. Nixon for the USA and Leonid Brezhnev, general secretary of the Soviet Communist Party.
The 1972 ABM Treaty limited the ballistic missiles that could be used to destroy incoming ballistic missiles (ICBMs), allowing each side only one ABM deployment area  and 100 interceptor missiles which prevented either party from defending more than a small fraction of its territory, so kept them subject to the deterrent effect.  The agreement froze each side’s number of ICBMs and submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs) at current levels for 5 years, pending a more detailed SALT 2.
A problem was the asymmetry between the strategic forces, the USSR having concentrated on missiles with large warheads while the US had developed smaller missiles of greater accuracy.  New technologies under development, matters of definition, and methods of verification were also problems..  The treaty set limits on the number of strategic launchers (missiles that can be equipped with multiple, independently-targetable reentry vehicles [MIRVs]). Limits were put on the number of MIRVed ICBMs, MIRVed SLBMs, heavy  long-range bombers, and the total number of strategic launchers. The treaty set an overall limit of about 2,400 of all such weapons systems for each side.  But, George W. Bush withdrew the USA from the treaty in 2001 with Putin calling the withdrawal a mistake.  By leaving, the USA told Russia that it wanted to gain superiority by constructing an anti-ballistic missile shield that would negate Russia’s retaliatory capability, thus subjecting Russia to nuclear blackmail.   
Russia responded with new hypersonic ICBMs that cannot be intercepted and now holds nuclear superiority.
The SALT 2 negotiations then opened in 1972 and continued for 7 years.  It was signed by Brezhnev and President Jimmy Carter in Vienna on June 18, 1979, but the December Soviet invasion of Afghanistan prompted Carter to stop treaty talks, yet both continued to abide by it.  In Geneva in 1982 Ronald Reagan proposed further large reductions for SALT 3 which became START 1 Strategic Arms Reduction Talks.
In 1987 Mikhail Gorbachev and Reagan signed The Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty.  Gorbachev called it “The first step down the road to a nuclear-free world.”  Reagan hoped war itself would become obsolete.  In Feb 2019 Trump, followed by Putin, killed the treaty.  Trump claims Russia violated it first.  Putin claims the US wants an excuse to activate launch sites in Romania and Poland to nullify Russian safeguards against further NATO encroachments.  This will force Russia to divert funds from planned social improvements in Russia to target US sites.  Russia may also launch its first unmanned nuclear submarine.  
In Oct 2016, when the US already had more than enough nuclear warheads to obliterate most of the planet, Barack Obama insisted we dedicate $1 trillion to update over the next 30 years the US nuclear arsenal.
The Nuclear Weapons Ban Treaty (TPNW), passed 07 July 2017, is the first UN-proposed legally binding international agreement to  prohibit nuclear weapons, It requires 50 nations to ratify it to come into effect. To date 21 have advised they are in the process.  For those nations that are party to it, the treaty prohibits the development, testing, production, stockpiling, stationing, transfer, use and threat of use of nuclear weapons, as well as assistance and encouragement to the prohibited activities. For nuclear armed states joining the treaty, it provides for a time-bound framework for negotiations leading to the verified and irreversible elimination of its nuclear weapons program.
In the vote on the treaty text, 122 were in favour, one voted against it (Netherlands), and 1 abstained (Singapore). 69 nations did not vote, among them all of the nuclear weapon states and all NATO members except the Netherlands.  The NO voters argued that the huge current infrastructure of the nuclear arms industry had kept the peace for 70 years. 
In Feb 2019, within days of Trump and Vladimir withdrawing from INF, Adam Smith, new chair of the US House Armed Services Committee, and Senator Elizabeth Warren, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, introduced legislation that would make the world safer: "It is the policy of the United States to not use nuclear weapons first."
This is sane news the world has yearned to hear, but we must ensure it remains implemented and that the other nuclear-bomb nations follow suit so that it will.  Putin implies he agrees.  We just need Trust.  
Other flash points we must monitor and defeat include the continuing blood-letting quarrel between two nuclear rivals, India and Pakistan over Kashmir, and the plans of members of the Trump administration to sell nuclear abilities to Saudi Arabia.
By the way, in our continued criticism of Donald Trump we do need to pause long enough to thank him for opening dialogue with Kim in North Korea, hoping he remembers that, if you want to gain something you must give something.  We left North Korea in such  an overwhelming and unnecessary mess that it has an ingrained hatred of the USA.  Kim does show signs of wanting to alleviate some of the worst aspects of his totalitarian state, but we must not rob him of his ace as a starting ploy.  Slow and patient negotiations could eventually give us what we seek.   Sanctions impede, and do not help, progress.
And, Donald, should you not be thanking, not insulting, Iran that has refused to consider weapons of mass even when suffering greatly during invasions from Iraq.  Why do you dismiss Iran’s thwarting of UK-USA dominance of its oil and the fact that the USA offered Iran, under the unwelcomed Shah whom we imposed, nuclear weapons?  What real justification is there for imposing crippling sanction, withdrawing from the successful Iranian nuclear treaty, and blaming Iran for all the area’s troubles? 
  
Ye Olde Scribe,
georgesweanor@comcast.net

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Monday, 21 January 2019

MAGNA TERRA SMOKY

     This recently published 321-page book, a true story written by my daughter, Barbara Jagoda, provides a wide-ranging insight into the world of Arabian horse racing in Arizona, California, Colorado, Delaware, Kentucky, Montana, and Wyoming.
Barbara owned, trained, raced, and loved several other horses but this story is mainly an amazing tale of deep love, respect, and understanding between a horse and a human.  It recounts enough human and horse emotions, setbacks, injuries, and amazing successes to hold the reader’s interest.
It is a story of Barbara accepting the challenge of trying to tame for its owner an Arabian colt so high spirited that no one could ride it so it was destined for the meat market.  Barbara turned it into North America’s top Arabian horse, winning 50 races.  During the process she bought Smoky.
Not wanting to spoil a god read for you, I will try in this blog to simply give you some background, introduce the book and Smoky’s web site: www.magnaterrasmoky.com.  So, Just a few comments on the book:
  It is scary to me to read of her driving alone a 5-horse trailer through the endless congestion of Los Angeles traffic.  The book includes numerous descriptions of open lands, places and people such as owners, trainers, jockeys, veterinarians, farriers, grooms, officials, and fans, 
It reveals that horseracing remains “the sport of kings” Few can afford the time and costs of breeding, selecting, raising, training and maintaining promising horses.  Then there are all the fees and costs of needed racetrack accommodation and personnel.  Thoroughbred racing remains dominant whereas Arabian is a newcomer.  Thoroughbreds are always faster but Arabs have far more endurance so can run longer distances, but there is little financial incentive for long races.  Barbara relates that almost all people associated with horse racing are honest, likable humans.  She encountered only one incident of a jockey, so vital to the strategies involved in a race, accepting a bribe to affect the outcome.
There was the constant lure of handsome offers from the Arab world to buy successful Arabian horses and many owners succumbed.  Barbara instantly rejected two offers to buy Smoky, one from the monarch of Abu Dhabi, the richest emirate in the U.A.E.  When horses were shipped to the Arab world, names were changed so it was impossible to learn what happened to them when their winning days were over.
While Joan and I helped Barbara in her pursuit of horses we flinched at the way she so naturally devoted  long hours, 7 days a week, into caring for them.  Trying to get her home for vacations was impossible. 
  Barbara’s love of horses started early.   In the book she frequently invokes the aid of her heavenly guardian, Grandpa Will Saunders.  Barbara was born 4 months after I was shot down in March 1943 to reside for 800 days as a guest of the Luftwaffe.  Joan, who would continue as my wife for 72 years, had returned home with Barbara to Leamington Spa, Warwickshire.  Will loved horses.  He was a sergeant in the Royal Horse Artillery in India pre-WW1 with the job of stopping  Kyber Pass hill tribes from raiding India.  He won awards for bringing back safely his horses and horsemen from skirmishes.  He also had high respect for India and Indians.  When WW1 came, he was sent to Egypt from where he was torpedoed going into Gallipoli, had to swim ashore, then engaged for months in the battle against the Ottoman Turks.  He was then sent to France where he lost a lung from a gas attack.  Medically discharged with no pension, he built up a dairy herd to produce and deliver the city’s best milk.  He also got an allotment to garden on a hill just a block away that was frequented by horses.  As soon as Barbara was old enough to sit on a horse’s back Will started to teach her to be comfortable on a horse.  They developed a great bond.  Wearing rubber boots and standing in a section of a large, divided, sink she passed milk bottles to him to wash.   It was a painful day for both when I had to move the family to Canada as soon as shipping for war brides became available at government expense in January 1946.
With the numerous moves of an RCAF career we had little chance to enhance Barbara’s association with horses until we were transferred in 1956 to Centralia, near Exeter north of London, Ontario.   There was a nearby riding facility frequented by Barbara so I asked her to take on weekend trail rides groups of NATO cadets from several countries undergoing pilot training.  How surprised I was when so many cadets on a Monday morning could not sit down in class, being too sore, They were too proud to admit that a mere girl could so outlast them on horseback so had endured all of Barbara’s lengthy ride.
Part of my RCAF responsibilities was to ensure good relations with the local community.  I discovered an auto dealer whose horse, “Charlie” had grown too fat because he lacked the time to ride and exercise it.  He was quite skeptical, due to Barbara’s young age of 13, when I suggested he let her exercise it.  He was satisfied when Barbara was so quick in finding a farmhouse just a short distance away where she could board Charlie.  When we were transferred to St. Hubert, Quebec, in 1958 we handed back to a highly surprised and delighted owner a horse,  slimmed down and in perfect condition.
In St Hubert it was a very worried and time-consuming task of driving 1,100 miles around the Montreal area  trying to find a house to rent, Finally I did in St. Bruno where Barbara was quick to find Jette’s Stables where I could assist her in getting daughter #4, Patricia (Trish), used to horses by copying Will Saunders’ techniques and leading her safely on horseback round and round the riding ring while avoiding the numerous chickens.  
All of our 5 daughters, Barbara, Diane, Valerie, Trish, and Linda, graduated from university in some form of biology.  Only Barbara and Trish owned horses.  Trish and Linda made careers in wildlife.
During her school years Barbara was far more interested in horses than boys.  There were many suitors, some of whom would beg me to plead with her to pay more attention to them.  Diane was considerably more social, giving me problem in keeping track of all of her suitors.  
After two years each at McGill in Montreal and the University of Colorado in Boulder we persuaded Barbara to accept a job teaching science at a local Junior High School.  This, we argued, would give her summer time with horses and the income to buy one.   Her impatience saw her buy a horse with her first pay cheque.
In 1998, when Smoky was 12 years old and still happy and healthy, Barbara knew it was the best time to give him a happy retirement that he had so richly deserved
Smokey had competed in 120 races, winning 50 of them.  He had more awards; had more articles written about him; and had earned more money (over $307,000) than any other Arabian.  He also had more fans.      
On 24 October 1998 the Los Alamitos Race Course organized its first-ever retirement ceremony.  Smoky knew the party was for him.  As the announcer, and the large TV screen, broadcast his accomplishments and the crowd roared its cheers, Smoky lifted his head, leaped into the air, kicking his hind legs to applaud his audience. 
Barbara, Smoky, her other horses, and Bryan Braithwaite with his horses returned to the ranch they shared in Kingman, Arizona.  Bryan, with amazing talent in understanding horses and the one who had chosen the mating that produced Smoky was her best friend, always helpful, especially when she was recovering from two broken arms from a horse falling on her while Smoky was mending from the removal of an infected eye to continue racing as the one-eyed marvel.  Yet Bryan persisted as her chief rival with his excellent race horses.  He gave up his smoking and drinking problems quite willingly after Barbara’s urging.
With a lot of horses to buy, condition, and sell these two strong-willed individuals argued a lot, so, in 2004, Barbara decided it best to return home, finding, after much searching, an ideal 44-acre ranch with lots of grama grass that Smoky liked.  It is 27 miles (43 km) southeast of what has been the family home since I was transferred here by the RCAF in 1963, retired in 1966, devoted 4 years to university, then 13 years to writing and teaching senior high school courses on the modular system, retiring again in 1982.   
We had hoped that Barbara would retire herself from her racing years of long, hard-working 7-days-a-week  dedication.  Now, close to home, she has been a tremendous help to me while making great improvements on her ranch, planting numerous trees, establishing gardens, helping wildlife, and providing great care to two or three horses.  By careful weeding and mowing large areas, she, her home, barn, garage and her animals were able to survive unscathed when two large grass fires suddenly raced over concealing ridges to result in police cars racing up her long road to order her to evacuate immediately.  The fires, however, split on reaching her manicured area to circle it and race on to burn other homes.  She provided a retirement home that Smoky loved along with two companions.
Smoky died in 2016 one day shy of his 30th birthday, leaving the ranch to his two friends and Barbara.        Not content to rest on her laurels, Barbara organized her numerous press clippings; wrote this book, contacting career associates for their permissions to include them; worked with Trafford Publishing; then scheduled several book-signing events with more planned.
Barbara considers herself very lucky, but I believe that I am the lucky one to have her and her 4 outstanding sisters who really deserve blogs devoted to their own accomplishments.
I MUST HAVE DONE SOMETHING RIGHT!
Ye Olde Scribe
georgesweanor@comcast.net

Tuesday, 1 January 2019

THE GREAT DEPRESSION

For years I have been receiving, via e-mails, dire warnings of the imminent collapse of the US Dollar and thus the world economy. These are quite believable when I see so many examples of man’s inhumanity to man, inequalities, reluctance of people in power to sacrifice to save our environment from the calamities of climate change, and to allow greed to kill the empathy so necessary to alleviate the sufferings of the less fortunate of our only world.
As I am now on my 100th tour around the Sun, still seeking a meaning to Life, perhaps I should review my experiences with the Great Depression with a blog that may morph into one exploring viewpoints developed over my lifetime.
From 1928 to 1932 I happened to be living on a middle-class street that had pushed one block north of the Dufferin Street area of St. Clair Avenue. the northern end of Toronto, a city that had a population of about 600,000, yet vehicular traffic was light enough to permit us to play softball on our street, retreating when the odd car appeared.  Most traffic was by horse-drawn delivery carts that I often trailed to collect manure for our backyard gardens with their fruits, vegetables, and flowers.  Scenic hikes into rural areas were numerous for my brother, sister, me, and our friends.
For my family, schools and church were just a block south.  Streets of family-owned stores were within easy walking distance.  Excellent newspapers, with world coverage, were sold  on street corners from unmanned stands that had tin cups for the two cents each newspaper cost. Even during the Depression I know of no thefts from these open cups. 
We, mainly school boys who had taken great pride in Canada’s amazing contributions to victory in WWI, especially the air war where Canada had 4 of the world’s top 10 air aces, knew of the lingering depression in Germany and Austria which we blamed on the greed of US Republicans.  Only 4 nations, Britain, the USA, Canada, and Argentina, emerged from WWI as creditor nations.  Britain had prospered by forgiving debts owed her in 1815 after the Napoleonic Wars, then selling goods to a recovering Europe, so sought similar forgiveness in 1919.  Canada agreed, but US Republicans defeated Woodrow Wilson’s constant attempts to have the US join the League of Nations and bring Germany back into the family of nations.  Insisting on repayment of all debts, yet refusing to settle for offered coal as it would hurt the coal industry in Pennsylvania and Colorado, the US caused Britain and France to strip German factories of machines to send to the USA as payment, thus causing enormous inflation and deep depression - and paving the way for Hitler.
When the Austrian-German Depression reached us in 1929, I was 10, my brother 8, and my sister 6.  At first we welcomed the falling prices.  My Dad, a pioneer with the Bell Telephone Company, had kept his job but at a reduced salary so our Christmas still saw numerous presents.  After opening, and playing with, mine, I went for a walk, meeting  a friend whose Dad had lost his job.  To my question asking what he got for Christmas I got my first painful shock of the Depression when he replied; “Nothing.  Santa forgot me this year.”
“Oh, no, he did not!” I replied.  “He must have got confused because there is a present with your name on it that he left in my house.  Wait here and I will get it for you.” 
Quickly running home, I grabbed one of my best gifts, re-wrapped it, put his name on it, and ran back to him with it.  His joy at not being forgotten was a never-to-be-forgotten gift to me.
Soon, hardships and sufferings were much more than I, my family, my church, my city could cure.  By 1933 30% of the labour force was unemployed, a rate that would remain over 12% until 1939 and WWII.  Our prairie provinces were hardest hit as wheat demand lessened and drought arrived to turn farmlands into dust bowls.  Many were the care parcels I helped organizations fill to mail to drought areas in both Canada and the USA.
As I walked along the street to school I passed an increasing number of families whose savings were depleted and could no longer afford reduced rents, so they were evicted with their furniture sitting on the lawn with no place to go.  Our government provided some financial help but mainly Welfare was the domain of neighbours, friends, grandparents, and churches, not governments.
My mother seemed to be forever cooking meals for destitute families.  The only time I was to see my father cry was when he had to layoff several of his valued employees.  He drove all over Toronto, searching for other jobs for them.  Then, in 1932,  his own department was downsized and he was transferred 70 miles east to manage the Port Hope branch. 
In Toronto a favourite pastime was the Saturday 10-cent show at theatres that featured a full-length film, a travelogue, and a serial in which the hero and heroine were always left in a life-threatening situation only to escape at the start of next week’s episode.   To save money my brother, sister, and I  took turns attending with the responsibility of returning home to tell the other two complete details.  It was good training in accurate recall.
Prior to leaving Toronto, I had applied for a free art course being offered on weekends to promising students who applied with copies of their work to be assessed.  Also applying was the daughter of a family we knew and liked.  She was rejected, I was accepted, much to the surprise of all because she was a much more talented artist than I would ever be.  Realizing that a future for me in art was highly questionable and that women suffered unfair prejudice in the job training world, my mother sought out the art school executives to give my slot to her.
In Port Hope, we first rented, for $20 a month, a 3-storey brick house, but soon updated it, for $40 a month, to a modern bungalow with a full covered front veranda.  Here we had almost daily callers for food handouts and for handyman jobs at 20 cents an hour.  These men were mainly hopefuls riding, for free, empty box cars from the prairies.   In the treed area by one of our two railway stations they built a “Tramp Jungle” that my brother and I often visited.  One Christmas day one of these tramps knocked on our door.  I still have strong memories of my parents inviting him in to share a sumptuous meal complete with a cigar.  He was a very pleasant, intelligent, man whose business had gone bust so he was seeking better fortune in Ontario.  After a most pleasant stay we were pained in having to let him return to his cold jungle temporary home.
My Mother often walked several long blocks to shop along the store-lined main street.  After school I would get to fetch items that were too many for her to carry.  I preferred to patronize family stores and there was one a the far ends of 3 streets leading off in different directions.  We had to shop at a counter where we asked the owner for each item. He or she would bring the item from a shelf to the counter, record it on a sales pad, then repeat the process for each additional item - a slow process but full of good conversations.  
In Port Hope I completed 7 years of schooling, staying on for commercial courses after Grade 13 as jobs were scarce even in this farming and light-industry town of 5,000 people.
I took an early interest in world affairs, finding pen pals in Britain, France, Germany, Malaya, Gold Coast (Ghana), South Africa, Australia, and British Guyana.  This was also the start of a fabulous stamp collection that I now should sell.  It was alarmingly foreboding to see my German pen-pal, Hugo, change from a normal, likeable school boy into one filling with hatreds.  As I told him about my joys as a troop leader in the Boy Scouts, he told me of his training in the Hitler Jugend.  I tried to find him after the war but we had bombed his street to rubble and there was no trace of him.  My French, Malayan, and South African pen pals did survive.
    I grew up among veterans of the South African Boer War and WWI, many, including 2 uncles,  suffering from physical and mental war wounds.  Some of my school friends spent hours each day caring for their war-wounded fathers, prompting my father to write many letters to government officials for financial help for them to survive the depression.  It also led to anti-war essays I wrote for school.   My physics teacher was a major in the Militia so I joined his local artillery regiment for training in fear of the dictators emerging in Europe, having read Mein Kampf and Hugo's new views.   With the depression coupled with the need to rearm that increased Dad’s taxes, Canada could not afford to give us a real gun, using 25-pound shells, which were reserved for summer camps, so we practiced on mock-ups.
In 1938 I joined the Royal Bank of Canada at a salary of $400 a year which was increased to $500 when they transferred me 70 miles east to Napanee as I would have to pay $7 a week for room and board.  Bank salaries were increased $100 per year and you had to be earning $1400 to get bank permission to marry.
I was also transferred to the Napanee Militia artillery regiment where, in our spare time, we posted guard around the local armouries with WWI rifles and bayonets but no ammunition, a fact we kept concealed.  
Depression economics persisted until we were well into the massive buildup for WWII.  Three of Canada’s major banks had branches in town so competition was friendly but keen.  We had to be well dressed at all times and eager to participate in charitable functions in spite of our low incomes.  Often we helped, for free, business customers with accounting problems.  Each bank had a staff of 8 males and one female secretary.   When we asked a girl out we walked to her home, to the entertainment, and back to her home.  Occasionally an older member of the staff who owned a car would collect 5 cents from each of 5 of us to buy a 25-cent gallon of gas (no sales tax then) to drive us to scenic places or distant dance halls.  On weekends these car owners, for a small fee, would pack their cars with bankers whose homes were between Napanee and Toronto.
Yet, I remember these Depression years as happy years.  Healthy youths with good homes do not need much money to be happy.  
         And, it was an era of no gun violence.  Weekly I would stroll to the post office with a pocket bulging with thousands of dollars in torn, worn, and soiled dollars of various denominations, parcelled to be mailed to headquarters for replacement.   This was just a safe routine job given to unarmed bank juniors.

                                                                  Ye Olde Scribe