Jardin’s ‘Maqui de Hierro’ – review

The re-released record from Peruvian duo Jardín is better described as a scientific experiment in musical form.

The themes of hypnosis, confusion and sonic discovery run through this album like an electrical current. Stressful, at times perplexing; it is a fascinating aural test.

The issues of nature are present – the complexity of the natural world? The horror reality of nature versus the fairytale elements? The title Maqui de Hierro literally means ‘hands of iron’ [maqui is the Quechua word for ‘hands’]. But larger topics are present, too, and it feels at times as though you move with the artists away from Earth, exploring deeper realms.

The song titles increase the sense of mystery surrounding this percussion-heavy and split-bit repetition, with swirling, darkened names such as “Serpientes de Humo” and “Perfume de Ceniza”.

Maqui de Hierro is not a regular dinner party soundtrack, serving better those looking to re-discover experimental sounds from Peru. The album was originally released on cassette and it is pleasing to see music from nearly 15 years ago repurposed for a new audience.

This article first appeared in Sounds and Colours

Desafíos para Chile

Subsecretario de Relaciones Exteriores de Chile ante una mesa redonda en Londres

El viernes 9 de octubre oímos las posiciones de Edgardo Riveros ante unos temas. El asunto que discutió a un nivel más profundo fue la Alianza del Pacífico, un acuerdo de comercio libre entre Chile, Colombia, México y Perú.

Frente a unos embajadores en un cuarto de lujo en Canning House, dijo que el TPP es un chance de profundizar las relaciones exteriores, un paso importante para el subsecretario, que quiere que Chile aproveche las oportunidades globales.

(Hablando, derecha) Edgardo Riveros, el Subsecretario de Relaciones Exteriores de Chile

(Hablando, centro) Edgardo Riveros, el Subsecretario de Relaciones Exteriores de Chile

Observó que el mundo funciona en bloques y redes de vínculos, notando que la Alianza del Pacífico es un “desafío especial”, diciendo que es un grupo que trae problemas para superar. Actualmente, Chile exporta más a los países de Mercosur (Argentina, Brasil, Paraguay, Uruguay y Venezuela) que a los otros tres estados miembros de la Alianza del Pacífico, algo que quiere cambiar el subsecretario.

Después de su discurso, Sr. Riveros aceptó unas preguntas: una sobre la posición de poder de Brasil en la región y la segunda que trata de la posibilidad para América Latina a transformarse y acercarse como la Unión Europea en términos de supranacionalidad.

Respondió que sí existe un parlamento de Unasur (la Union de cada país en América del Sur) pero Latinoamérica “corre un esprint, no un maratón como en el caso europeo”. Por el momento, él cree que hay muchos instrumentos internacionales que tiene que fortalecer, y el rumbo hacia una multinacional soberanía más cohesiva y de colaboración está algo para muchos años en el futuro.

La cuestión de Bolivia y el acceso al mar

Yo quise saber la visión u opinión política que nos pudo ofrecer el subsecretario sobre Bolivia y la cuestión del acceso al mar para el estado andino, que perdió su costa después de una guerra contra Chile en los finales del siglo XIX.

Cuando pregunté al político, unos gemidos y acogidas sonaron por el cuarto, pero claro que este tema trata de Chile y de las relaciones exteriores del gobierno en Santiago.

Sr. Riveros me dijo que su país está listo para discutir el tema, pero afirmó a este blog que “Chile y Bolivia tienen definidos los límites territoriales”. Nos dio una idea de la política que seguirán los diplomáticos chilenos en La Haya cuando dijo “no tiene obligación de negociar”.

Por el subsecretario, no vale mucho la idea de cuestionar acuerdos históricos – “no puede desafíar cada tratado”. Tiene razón que los mecanismos de diplomacia global quedarían paralizados si los acuerdos entre países fueron desafiadas todo el tiempo pero él no puede forzar que los bolivianos olviden sus sueños.

Es claro que Sr. Riveros cree que la posición chilena es una de poder: el territorio es reconocido internacionalmente como parte de su país. Pero a la vez Chile tiene una debilidad: Bolivia no tiene nada que perder y su postura como desamparado puede afectar a Chile, que corre el riesgo de parecer ser el bravucón en la disputa.

En septiembre, la Corte Internacional de Justicia dio a conocer la decisión que sí estaría en una posición de oír el caso sobre el acceso al mar, un paso que fue entendido extensamente a señalar que Bolivia ha marcado el primer gol de partido.

Lo que espera La Paz es que logrará la devolución de acceso al mar, probablemente por el uso mutual de un puerto chileno.

Este resultado ofrecería al país naval un regreso a las olas: Bolivia ha mantenido una marina a pesar de que el país ha sido un estado sin costa desde 1904 – el año de la cesión de la región litoral a Chile.

Pacha Mama Mia

The presidents of Peru and Bolivia face resistance from indigenous communities over environmental plans

When Evo Morales, an Aymara Indian, became the leader of Bolivia in 2005 he also became the first indigenous president. He came to power on a mandate to govern with a sort of ‘indigenous socialism’. Morales has been a strident defender of the rights of Bolivia’s native inhabitants and their stunning natural environment. He always liked to equate their struggle against colonial invaders with his fight against foreign traders, the US and Western capitalism; politics with which Hugo Chavez, the Venezuelan leader currently battling cancer, has identified very strongly.

But it has been six years since his arrival and the outlook is now different for Evo. In the past he has called any interference in the way-of-life or homeland of the indigenous communities ‘ecolocide’. Now he is the one being accused of destroying pacha mama. On 16 August indigenous activists took the first steps on a 233 mile-long protest march from the Amazon plains to the capital, La Paz. Normally, this would be a demonstration that Morales would be more than happy to join. But the march is in opposition to one of his policies, namely a government plan to build a 190 mile-long highway through a national park in aboriginal territory.

The road would potentially link the Beni plains to the Chapare, where Evo was a coca farmer before going on to lead a coca farmers’ union. Brazil has stumped up $420m for the project and certainly knows a thing or two about controversial environmental politics and upsetting local tribes, having given the Belo Monte dam the green light on 1 June. Foreign investors are on the horizon and the forest stands between them. Morales’ ‘indigenous socialism’ seems to be morphing into something more like ‘investment socialism’.

Ollanta Humala, who replaced Alan Garcia in the Peruvian presidency in July, has also found that he is having to alter the populist, pro-indigenous policies he has previously championed. In opposition he had been a creature in the mould of Chavez and Morales, denouncing free trade and capitalism but he has since ensured his new government is not seen as isolationist and instead said:

“We are building a government of national unity. This isn’t a Cabinet of the left or the right, but a Cabinet for all of Peru.”

He has angered native Peruvians with his plans for expanded oil and gas investment and exploration. And, just like in Bolivia, new roads through the Amazon rainforest have been proposed. The indigenous communities have criticised Humala and seem ready to rise, just as Bolivia’s Indians are now doing against one of their own.

Both countries could do with more infrastructural integration with neighbours and natural resources can be shared and developed but there is now a strengthening indigenous challenge. The once-quiet, Quechua and Aymara-speaking communities seem to have found a collective and growing voice.

An Arab and his amigos

Colonel Gaddafi appears to be increasingly isolated. Will he look to his Latin friends for an exit route?

William Hague, the British Foreign Secretary, suggested (erroneously) back in February that Muammar Gaddafi had fled Libya and sought refuge with the friendly face of Hugo Chavez, the Venezuelan president – a claim which Caracas criticised heavily. However, that idea was not a whimsical prospect dreamt up by Mr Hague at random – Mr Chavez has made it a habit of his to befriend states with clear anti-US rhetoric and ideals, such as Iran and Cuba. Libya has been no exception and in 2009, Gaddafi named a football stadium after the Venezuelan premier (only for rebels to rescind the honour a few weeks ago). (Football seems to be a peculiar source of mutual content for states which take pleasure in upsetting the US.)

Now Colonel Gaddafi is losing support in the Maghreb and in his own cabinet , can he look west across the Atlantic for help? Chavez has derided the ‘no-fly-zone’, calling it ‘total madness’ and his thoughts have been echoed by many across Latin America.

Brazil abstained from voting on the UN Security Council’s Resolution 1973, the document which gave the allies their international legal permission to crackdown on Gaddafi’s forces. Evo Morales, the Bolivian president, did not agreed with the UN’s decision and announced his ”condemnation, repudiation and rejection” of the intervention.

Similar noises were made by Nicaragua, where Daniel Ortega, a constant thorn in the side of the West, criticised the UN for turning itself into ”an instrument of warmongering and death for these powers”. Fidel Castro accused NATO of ”demonstrating the waste and chaos that capitalism perpetuates” and the President of Uruguay, Jose Mujica, although ‘lamenting’ the attacks by Gaddafi, pointed out that ”saving lives with bombs is an inexplicable contradiction in terms”. Argentina, Ecuador and Paraguay also came out against Resolution 1973.

But there were some resolute stances from the Latin Americans in favour of the allied action. Mexico, Peru, Chile and El Salvador all came out in favour of the Security Council’s decision. Colombia said that the Gaddafi regime had ”made fun of” the resolution and President Santos called for an end to the fighting.

So Gaddafi seemingly has a few open doors in Latin America. Whether he will choose to walk through them remains, at this stage in the crisis, very hard to predict. However, public opinion can be fickle in Latin America and presidents are always on the hunt for high approval ratings – giving the Colonel some free bed and board might not go down too well. So as this situation develops, despite their previous announcements, it is not a given that the Latin capitals will continue to be so welcoming to the dictator.

All drugged up

Evo Morales, the Bolivian president, is not best pleased with the US at the moment. He has accused the States of ‘attempted defamation’ during his ongoing battle with Washington to save his country’s beloved coca from renewed international prohibition.

Evo Morales, President of Bolivia, chewing a coca leaf at at UN Convention (from 0:50)

Source: unitednations, YouTube, 16/03/11

What has rankled with Mr Morales is criticism of the way his government is tackling drug production. He believes the US wants to destabilise him by linking his administration to drug traffickers. But there is no smoke without fire. Last week, Rene Sanabria, Bolivia’s anti-drugs chief was arrested in Panama on charges of running a cocaine-smuggling gang at the same time as heading an 15-person anti-narcotics intelligence unit for Mr Morales.

Whilst this was a frustrating setback for Evo, he needs to cool his temper if he is to achieve an end to the global moratorium on coca leaves, in place since it was condemned by the UN in its 1961 Convention on Narcotic Drugs.

Coca has been chewed for thousands of years across Bolivia and also in the highlands of Peru to combat altitude sickness, or soroche, along with other ailments and also for recreational purposes. Morales himself had a chew at a UN Drugs Convention in Vienna in 2009 (see video above).

It is a traditional pastime but a hobby that does involve the mastication of the rawest form of cocaine. And this is where the US gets nervous.

Washington wants to sort out cocaine production, the heartlands of which are in Bolivia. If it hits the war on drugs from inception point, it can get a grip on the other parts of the chain, notably Mexican trafficking and US domestic demand. But it is not convinced that Mr Morales is doing enough to cut cocaine farming. And these current problems will probably have kept La Paz off US President Obama’s schedule during his present trip to Latin America, which comes to an end on Wednesday 23 March.

Last week, the UN International Narcotics Control Board criticised the Morales government for allowing Bolivia’s coca crop to increase to 119 square miles, the largest amount of land dedicated to coca cultivation for 13 years.

But Morales maintains that he too wants to stop cocaine production and the close links to coca farming mean the line between the two is often blurred. Morales is angered by what he sees as the US-sponsored embargo of his cultural heritage and he knows that his firebrand socialism, which reaches out to Iran and Cuba, is a thorn in the side of the US.