Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Hace un chingo de años...

I have published discussion of zapatista healthcare infrastructure on the Left Turn blog. Check that out.

Also, I want to leave everyone with this pleasant image from the road in front of the caracol Oventik. Chingo, chingado , and chingon, for those that don´t know, are slight profanity that mean "a lot," "screwed over" and "someone who screws over" (roughly, i want to keep this post PG).

Unfortunately i cannot upload the photo because of technical limitations, me han chingado as it were. I'll put it up as soon as i can.

Blogging from Haiti and Tsotsil update

First and foremost, a colleague will now be blogging from Haiti at
The Haiti Report. Let`s see what news he breaks in the next week and a half he is on the island.

From Chiapas I must say that the lesson on the Mayan concept of time and "intersubjectivity" must wait. My lesson on the latter has been postponed and my understanding of the former has been challenged by some material that I have just read by a French anthropologist. It will surely come this week.

Another interesting feature of most (if not all) Mayan languages is the system of numeration. Mayans use a base 20 rather than a base ten system. Even the calender is split up into 18 different twenty day months (as well as several "days out of time" which align the calender to the 365 day year).

Furthermore, the number twenty-one is given as (in the Tsotsil of Oventik) "Jun Cha`vinik," or basically, "one of the second man" (as my teacher points out, this implies a certain bit of machismo in the Mayan culture since it is thusly man-centered). As some may have already figured out, this numbering system is based on the number of fingers (including the dedos del pie) on every person. The number 21 is the first finger on the second person, the number 42 is the second finger on the second person, 65 is the fifth finger on the third person, etc.).

Above about 400 (20x20) these names get rather excessive, and many Tsotsil speakers use spanish numbers above twenty or so.

Friday, August 26, 2005

Algunos aspectos interesantes del Tsotsil

Estudiar Tsotsil

At the Oventik Language School, a 45 minute drive from the tourist destination of San Cristobal, activists can always go to study in the mist of the mountains of Southern Mexico. I say activists, because before anyone can study in Oventik, they must have a social justice or international solidarity organization send a recommendation to one of the school’s partner organizations stating that the potential student is a friend in struggle. This may seem strange, but Oventik falls in EZLN territory, the Zapatista Army for National Liberation. The group was involved in a 2 week armed struggle starting Jan.1 1994, the day the North American Free Trade Agreement came into effect (more info about them can be found in my previous writing on the subject mentioned in yesterday´s poost). Despite the tourist interest in the Zapatistas (or perhaps because of it), the Zapatistas want to assure that all students, human rights observers, and other long term visitors to their territory consider themselves part of a global struggle for social justice. In other words, rather than just a “fellow traveler,” they want all students to be "compañer@s de lucha."

The language school, on the first floor of the Autonomous Rebel Zapatista Secondary School, mainly teaches Spanish, especially to North Americans. However, those that already speak Spanish can choose to study the local Mayan language Tsotsil.

Some Interesting aspects of the Mayan language Tsotsil

Tsotsil (or Tzotzil as it is sometimes written) is one of at least 30 distinct documented Mayan languages in Southern Mexico and Central America. These languages are said to have descended from a common root “proto-Maya” which existed some 4000 years ago. Zapatitsa communities in the state of Chiapas speak some 7 or so of these languages including Tsotsil, Tseltal, Chol, and Tojolabal. While Tseltal and Tsotsil said to be mutually intelligible, it does not so seem to be so easy with the other languages.

As these languages have never been official languages since the Spanish conquest, even within the Zapatistas, community representatives have to learn Spanish to be able to communicate with Zapatistas from different linguistic zones. Furthermore, the isolation imposed on many communities has caused each language to have numerous regional variants with different pronunciation, different conjugation and some different vocabulary.

Study of the Mayan languages seems to be increasingly popular, perhaps because of the Mexican and international interest in the indigenous communities that have risen up in the “War against oblivion” (“Guerra contra el olvido”) to demand rights and respect. Of the three books I found to help me learn, one Spanish-Tsotsil-Tseltal-Chol-Tojolabal dictionary and two Tsotsil workbooks all were printed in this millennium (2001, 2004, 2005). Unfortunately, they contain two different variants of Tsotsil, both of which are different from what is taught at Oventik.

Other interesting aspects about the Use of Tsotsil.

Tsotsil, like other indigenous languages of the Americas, has incorporated a lot of Spanish influences in its day to day use. Nevertheless, many concepts, sounds, and forms of expression that pre-date the European presence here make Tsotsil a very interesting language to learn.

For example, the Tsotsil alphabet contains glottal morphemes not found in any Western language. In other words the sounds ch’, k’, p’, t’, ts’ and a’,e’,I’,o’,u’, are different from ch,k,p,t,ts,a,e,I,o, and u. To pronounce the vowels with apostrophes, one closes the vocal chords after making the vowel sound. This is akin to the effect produced when some drop the ‘th’ in “nothing” to say “nu’in” (like the “nu’in” Honey Crunch commercials).

The glottal consonants are even more interesting. They are called “explosive” because one produces these sounds by momentarily blocking air movement, building up pressure with the lips and/or the tongue. When this pressure is released, it sends out a blast of air that causes a strong consonant sound and a momentary pause before the enunciation of the following sound.

Since language is also an expression of culture, Tsotsil offers an interesting glimpse into Mayan concepts. For example, Tsotsil, like English but unlike Spanish, does not differentiate between formal and informal usage of “you” in its pronouns or conjugation. However, there are two distinct concepts of “we.” “Jo’otik” means “we” including the listener/audience, “Jo’onkutik” excludes the audience. Notice, these words are from the vocabulary of the area around Oventik. In Zinancantan they say “Vo’otik” and “Vo’onkotik.”

The two most interesting concepts reflected in the Tsotsil have to do with 1) the concept of time and 2) the relationship between the subject and object of an action. Both of these are very different from the European concepts, so be sure to tune in to tomorrow´s addition.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Chano Bats´i K´op

Chano Bats´i K´op is Tsotsil for "Aprenda Tsotsil" or "Learn Tsotsil." Of course, I am currently in Zapatista rebel territory learning this Mayan language. For those who aren´t familiar with the Zapatistas, there are plenty of sources out there. MKristin Bricker and I, for example, wrote a piece called Zapata Vive y La Lucha Sigue which I translated into Spanish under the title Dos Gringos en Territorio Rebelde.

Kristin is currently blogging for Left Turn Magazine.
Meanwhile, what follows will be a series of posts on my experiences learning Tsotsil in a Zapatista Autonomous School.


Sunday, August 21, 2005

Kevin Pina and the Haiti Information Project

“You are always making trouble for us. I have taken your picture and I am going to give it to the Haitian police. They will get you.”
- Brazilian officer speaking to journalist and film-maker Kevin Pina in Haiti

Kevin Pina previewed footage from his upcoming movie “Haiti: Betrayal of Democracy” in Washington D.C. on July 25th, days after another arrest of a well-respected supporter of the deposed president of Haiti Jean Bertrand Aristide and his Lavalas Movement. With congresswoman Maxine Waters in attendance, Pina dedicated the showing to the freedom and vision of Fr. Jean-Juste, who sits in a Haitian jail without written charges as what Amnesty International calls a “Prisoner of Conscience.”

Many people have already seen still shots from Pina’s movie without even realizing it. He has become the front man for a group of (anonymous) Haitian journalists, the Haiti Information Project, which has put the mainstream media to shame. The group consistently scoops stories about governmental violence against Haiti´s poor and takes photographic evidence that contradicts the assumptions and conclusions of international media about the daily reality of post-coup Haiti. Almost all of the recent photos of pro-democracy protests as well as the pictures of casualties caused by the Haitian police or the UN come from HIP. Months prior to the film showing this work manage to show up on the BBC when HIP showed Haitian police planting guns on the bodies of murdered Lavalas protesters. Such footage is often disturbingly graphic, which Pina warned the crowd as the lights in the Plymouth Congregational churched dimmed. But as the filmmaker added, “it is important for everyone to see this footage to understand what is really going on in Haiti.”

What is going on in Haiti?
From the film’s opening scene that shows U.S. Marines blocking the path of pro-democracy Haitian protesters in the wake of Aristide’s “kidnapping” by U.S. forces, the documentary paints a picture of internationally sanctioned campaign of violent repression against the poor communities of Haiti in general and Aristide’s Lavalas movement in particular.

“Betrayal of Democracy” is Pina’s second film on Haiti after “Harvest of Hope.” This sophomore effort exposes the role of United Nation’s forces in the current campaign of political violence in Haiti. With footage starting from January 2005, Pina documents aggression by the UN on behalf or in coordination with the Haitian Police.

The fact that the Haitian police are murdering political dissidents is not news in Haiti. As human rights investigators have proven, many of the coup leaders from the former military that have been responsible for numerous coups against the elected leaders of Haiti have been reincorporated into the police force. The resulting violence including indiscriminate shooting during raids in poor neighborhoods, arrests without charges, and outright assassinations is a pattern that has been repeated today from the coups of the past generation.

“Betrayal” surprises its audiences by showing how the deeply the UN first became complacent and then participatory in this pattern of violence. One resident of Cite Soleil commented that the UN is doing nothing serious in Haiti “except to massacre all those in favor of Aristide’s return.” With a series of interviews and graphic photographs from the aftermath of police and UN actions, the movie describes how the role of UN troops in HNP lead violence has continuously escalated.

On one occasion described in the film, it becomes clear that journalists from the HNP were preventing a massacre by filming masked Haitian police in black SUVs who had their guns drawn on the crowd. Since most pro-democracy demonstrations in Haiti include police assassinations, the crowd anticipated the type of killing seen during the anniversary of the Haitian coup on Februar 28th , but Pina and other photographers caused the police to hesitate because of the presence of international journalists. The Brazilian officer in charge UN forces on the scene responded to Pina by screaming “F*ck you!” repeatedly and telling him to “Go F*ck himself.” The Brazilian general then took Pina´s picture and threatened to pass the photo on to the Haitian Police so they could “take care of him.” Though the masked police withdrew from that confrontation, the movie then shows the footage from later that day on another street corner of the bodies of protesters lying on the ground, reportedly killed by police in black SUVs.

As this interaction shows, the UN has come to support the Haitian police unquestionably. In this case they threatened to help the police identify and target a pro-democracy activists, but the heart of the film shows repeated evidence of UN raids into poor neighborhoods like Cite Soleil that end in unwarranted arrests, destroyed houses, and indiscriminate firing on civilians.

The most graphic and shocking evidence of UN violence against the Haitian people came from the Cite Soleil on July 6. Scene after scene of that time shows Haitian men, women and children in their houses, in their beds or in the streets with gaping head wounds. While the UN for a long time claimed that they “knew of no civilian casualties” from this operation, the Haiti Information Project managed to confirm at least 20 deaths, almost all from head shots at relatively close range.

Pina underlined the fact that “the UN brought no medics to support this operation because they were not anticipating any injured civilians. They were shooting to kill. These were all headshots.” While the idea that the UN “peacekeeping” forces were assassinating civilians in Haiti´s poorest neighborhood to support the coup is difficult to accept, the footage is incontrovertible.

When seen with Pina´s first film on Haiti “Harvest of Hope,” the new “Betrayal” is even more sad because of how much history has repeated itself, and how little most people are aware of that fact. “Harvest of Hope” focuses on the first coup against president Aristide in 1991 when Aristide is arrested by the military, and bodies appear in the mourgue of Lavalas activists. That film reports 4000 killings, 250,000 people in hiding, and 43,000 boat refugees because of the 1991 coup. Indeed, the film goes back to the elections of 1987 to show that the military created panic and chaos in Haiti to disrupt the democratic process and maintain their hold on power. In all of this political violence, then as now, the hardest hit area is Cite Soleil, one of Lavalas´ strongest bases of support. Most of this political instability was lead by Haitian military figures on the CIA payroll, just as the current political situation was brought about by some of the same Haitian military figures with the help of the US marines.

Who are the UN force
The Haitian citizens repeatedly complain in the film that the Jordanian forces are the most violent and brutal, and complain that an army of a dictatorship should not have forces in the country supposedly to bring about democracy. But the UN led violence brings up questions about the other forces in the country, including Argentine, Chilean, and Brazilian forces. Pina took questions about this point, answering that “all of these militaries have sordid histories within their own countries,” referring to the military juntas that ruled these countries about a generation ago. But why would the “progressive” government of Lula in Brazil support this killing? Pina answered with two possibilities “Lula is trying to get Brazil a permenant seat on the UN security council among other strategic concerns, and he hopes that his soldiers’ role in Haiti will mollify American objections to that position,” adding that there is also an advantage to Lula of getting a troublesome military out of Brazil so it can do no harm there.

For whatever reason, the United Nation`s force in Haiti continues to act as an accomplice in the murder of Lavalas basis of support before the upcoming elections planned for the end of the year. Such elections, like the UN “peace-keeping force” only serve as political cover for theft of Haitian democracy.

The importance of the HIP
What Pina´s two movies, along with theShows the bankruptcy of current journalism out of Port Au Prince. While most individuals interpret Haiti’s current situation as somehow inherent in the Haitian people, and major media outlets continue to blame the violence in Haiti on “The Shadow of Aristide,” the Haiti Information Project continues to show graphic evidence of a widespread campaign of violence to restore to power the Haitian ruling class after the people voted them out of power. Taken in combination with previous works, “Betrayal” and the HIP give a historical context to today’s events, showing how the military players killing to stay in power and those in neighborhoods like Cite Soleil fighting for their democracy and survival have been locked in this battle since before the first democratic election went forward and was then overthrown,As such powerful testimony, HIP’s work has the ability to shock and inspire pro-democracy forces around the world to stand with the Haitian people to demand truth, justice and democracy. As one Lebanese-American activist said after seeing “Betrayal” in D.C . and trying to explain its importance to his colleagues “this is extremely important. Haiti is much worse than even Palestine.”

In short the work of HIP on http://www.haitiaction.net and in Pina’s films threaten to ignite the type of concentrated and long-term Haiti solidarity movement, if enough activists take the initiative to force these images and stories on the public conscience. (Truth in advertising, I have done voluntary translations of HIP stories into Spanish for dissemination in Latin America).

Thursday, August 11, 2005

He estado muy ocupado. De hecho, ahorita estoy en Chiapas, y no tengo mucho tiempo para trabajar en el internet, aunque tengo tanto que quisiera decir. En los días siguientes, tendré mas para escribir. Abajo usted puede leer mi "personal statement" que entregué como parte de mi solicitude de estudiar medicina.

I want to be a physician with a Masters degree in public health because it will enable me to contribute to the health and well-being of the refugees of war, famine and violence through organizations like Medecins Sans Frontieres. In places of profound instability such as the slums of Mogadishu, the generations-old Palestinian refugee camps in Gaza or Lebanon, and the deserts of Darfur, vulnerable people can become desperate. With a dual clinical and community health background I can both offer the care and support that every human being deserves, and I can collaborate on community health projects in the affected communities. Thus, rather than allow such people to become disillusioned, I can use my training to respect and engage the intrinsic value of the world's poorest citizens.

This world is an unhealthy and dangerous medium for the growth of many of its inhabitants, and I hope to help reverse the trends that perpetuate this unfortunate situation. There are, of course, many root causes of global problems such as environmental devastation, political instability and epidemic disease. Furthermore, each locale has its own epidemics and environmental dangers. For example, Baltimore, the city I was raised in, suffers from excessive addiction rates and pervasive violence that threaten entire communities on a daily basis.Since the causes of suffering are numerous, I could approach these problems from many distinct perspectives. However, since many of these problems are rooted in unhealthy and fractured communities, I intend to help heal communities with knowledge of clinical medicine and an informed background in public health.

While I am convinced of the nobility and necessity of such projects, I do not intend to become a medical nomad wandering the world and treating the sick. I have deep respect for individuals like Paul Farmer that work full time on health projects in endangered communities such as the AIDS patients of Haiti. Nevertheless, I will probably only do such work on temporary basis, eventually returning to my home community.

On the other hand, I am no less concerned about the security, health and harmony of communities that are not in such a dramatic stage of social breakdown. Poor and wealthy communities alike suffer from dangers as disparate as cancer and handgun violence that necessitate both individual medical treatment and community-wide knowledge and action.

For example, the citizens of the Wagner's Point neighborhoods in Baltimore City complained for years about their isolation from the rest of the city by several large chemical plants. These plants had a history of dangerous accidents and the only road out of the neighborhood went between two such chemical manufacturing facilities. The community organized itself and, with the help of public health professionals, articulated its concern that a strategically unfortunate chemical spill could trap and poison residents. The city finally bought out the neighbors after a dramatic chemical leak highlighted this real and present danger. While this may not have been exactly the resolution that the community wanted, my mother's role as an physician with a master's degree in public health was important in allowing the neighborhood's concerns to be taken seriously.

It is exactly this type of work that I hope to combine with the classical, clinical role of a physician. I am convinced that the best way to keep a community safe is not only to have enough doctors to treat all the possible chemical burns, but to use public health experience preventatively and in collaboration with the residents to allow them to provide for their own health and well-being.

That being said, I know my role as a clinical physician will bring me into close contact with the communities I treat. I intend to live in the neighborhoods of my patients if possible and encourage values of collective well-being as I care for individuals' well-being. Furthermore, it is in the separation of the poor and the rich and the segregation by race and religion that other profound fractures in society become institutionalized. I hope that in addition to simply treating individuals from all backgrounds, I can help build a community between them and overcome societal divisions that underlie many societal faults. These fault lines are often the basis of societal instability, violence, and ill will.

In my time abroad I have met and spoken with Argentine textile workers, Salvadoran-American housekeepers, Mexican peasant farmers and all measures of Cuban society. Getting to know such people was occasionally awkward for a relatively wealthy North American student like myself. Nevertheless, with a common language, a little bit of shared context, and some effort I got to know many of them as equals and build some form of communal bonds with them.

In some ways, I want to be a doctor in order to become wealthy. However, I define wealth by the strength and support of my community, and in this way I want to create such wealth for myself and my community.