Año 2011

El Negro Cucaracha fue uno de los capos indiscutidos de una de las cárceles de Lima durante muchos años y, me dicen, tiene el cuerpo hecho un crucigrama de cicatrices de tanta cuchillada que recibió en esos tiempos turbulentos. Es un moreno alto, fornido y de edad indefinible a cuyo paso la gente de Gamarra se abre como ante un río incontenible. Me lo han puesto de guardaespaldas y no sé por qué pues en este rincón de La Victoria me siento más seguro que en el barrio donde vivo, Barranco, donde no son infrecuentes los atracos con pistola.

El Negro Cucaracha es ahora un hombre religioso y pacífico.…  Seguir leyendo »

Los llaman tecnócratas, pero son en realidad profesionales cualificados, gentes que han desempeñado altos cargos en entidades financieras públicas o privadas y que, ante la magnitud de la crisis, han sido llamados a ocupar posiciones de poder político en sus respectivos Estados, alcanzando en Grecia y en Italia la presidencia del Gobierno y aquí, en España, el ministerio de Economía. El veredicto ha sido contundente: dando la espalda a la voluntad de los ciudadanos, la tecnocracia ha sustituido a la política, o, por decirlo como nuestro tecnócrata por antonomasia, Laureano López Rodó, los profesionales de la política sustituidos por la política de los profesionales: una prueba más de la herencia franquista que contaminará hasta el fin de los tiempos a esta democracia deficitaria.…  Seguir leyendo »

La profunda crisis que padecemos no puede ya calificarse de económica, sino de social y política. Una detenida observación de su evolución revela la presencia de cierta brecha en el marco institucional de que nos dotamos hace más de dos siglos, como consecuencia de las distintas oleadas revolucionarias que cristalizaron en las cartas norteamericana y francesa.

Los mercados financieros, término con que se ha venido acuñando al conjunto de operadores económicos internacionales, está adoptando en este delicado contexto un rol alternativo al que hasta hoy habían desempeñado los tradicionales poderes públicos, legítimamente elegidos o designados. Con independencia de que tales mercados financieros hayan sido o no los causantes del actual estado de cosas, acaso por un déficit interventor de los entes reguladores internos y externos, es lo cierto que su función lleva camino de convertirse en un prius cardinal en el quehacer de la tríada de poderes surgidos tras el advenimiento de los Estados constitucionales, cuando no en su real sustituto.…  Seguir leyendo »

Alguna vez he oído que el Papa Juan XXIII creía en un infierno probablemente vacío por la infinita misericordia de Dios. Aunque semejante afirmación case con su aire bondadoso, Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli no se habría apartado tanto de la ortodoxia católica (de otros modos más humanos sí lo hizo): el infierno existe, aunque no sepamos bien dónde y cómo; es eterno, y tiene que servir para castigo de los réprobos a fin de que todos temamos, con un motivo no ilusorio, la posibilidad de un sufrimiento infinito.
Sin embargo, Juan XXIII procuró no abundar en la antigua idea del infierno y, de hecho, el Concilio Vaticano II no lo menciona en sus documentos oficiales.…  Seguir leyendo »

Yo entré en Corea del Norte en septiembre de 1992. No se puede decir que la visité porque no es país para turistas, aunque entonces apareciera por allí algún alemán nostálgico de la República Democrática (RDA). El más importante hotel proyectado nunca, el Ryukyung, de 105 plantas, lo iniciaron en 1987 y sigue en obras; aseguran que en abril del 2012 inaugurarán las 25 de abajo. Hacía años que había caído el muro de Berlín y admito que mi perplejidad ante la idea de ver en vivo y en directo una monarquía comunista, algo inédito en la historia de la humanidad, me incitó a la aventura.…  Seguir leyendo »

La súbita muerte de Kim Jong Il ha suscitado intensos debates sobre el futuro del régimen norcoreano. El interés del mundo se centra en el modo en que su hijo Kim Jong Un logrará mantener el control directo del país a pesar del poco tiempo que ha habido para preparar la sucesión. El 22 de diciembre el periódico oficial de Corea del Norte, Rodong Sinmun, se refirió a Kim Jong Un como “líder del pueblo” en un editorial de primera página. El editorial también utilizó veintiuna veces la palabra songun (primacía militar), la ideología oficial de Kim Jong Il. ¿Superará el régimen norcoreano las recurrentes penurias económicas y la presión internacional orientada al abandono del programa nuclear?…  Seguir leyendo »

“Since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defenses of peace must be constructed.”

— Archibald MacLeish, 1945,preamble to the Constitution of UNESCO

The American people hear from government officials and presidential candidates nearly every day about military action against Iran. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta recently said that the United States and Israel would not allow Iran to get a bomb. Are these words standard fare for an election year? A strategy to restrain Israel from unilateral action? Or do these threats signify that war is in the “minds of men”?

Conservative ideologues taste the possibility that a leader whom they might influence may return to the White House.…  Seguir leyendo »

With China stumping assertively on the world stage, one might think Beijing would be open, even gracious, about the country’s past. To the contrary, history remains an exceedingly sensitive subject here, drawing relentless attention from authorities anxious to keep all skeletons safely in closets.

As a university professor in China, I face the consequences of this official apprehension every day. My young, bright students know little about their country’s recent past. What they do know tends to agree with government-sponsored discourse on the pride and glory of China’s rise after a century of humiliation by Western powers. Library and bookstore shelves tell, with enviable conviction, this same story of national grandeur.…  Seguir leyendo »

Adeadly influenza virus has circulated widely in birds in recent years, decimating flocks but rarely spreading to humans. Nonetheless, because of its persistence in bird flocks, this highly pathogenic virus has loomed as a major public health threat. Seasonal influenza kills less than 1 percent of the people it infects. In contrast, human infections with the H5N1 virus, though exceedingly rare, are fatal in most cases. Should this virus mutate in a way that allows it to be transmitted as efficiently among people as seasonal influenza viruses are, it could take an unprecedented toll on human life.

A number of important scientific and public health questions regarding this virus remain unanswered, including the likelihood of such mutations arising and the mechanisms by which they may occur.…  Seguir leyendo »

Remember America’s triple-A credit rating? The benchmark that was eroded during the debt-ceiling standoff last year? The highest-quality measure of creditworthiness matters greatly in this country and beyond. Yet it is still disturbingly unclear who is responsible for safeguarding what remains of this important national attribute.

A triple-A credit rating is what economists call a public good. By reducing borrowing costs and increasing the availability of financing, it is “consumed” and is of benefit to many. But this public good is also difficult to value holistically or to sustain properly.

America’s triple-A rating is vulnerable. Two of the three major rating agencies, Moody’s and Fitch, have given it a “negative outlook,” signaling real possibility of a downgrade in the next two to three years.…  Seguir leyendo »

The Egyptian revolution did not happen last winter. It is happening now. And it is not taking place in Tahrir Square, but in towns and villages throughout the country.

Although protests and violent military responses in central Cairo have seized world attention, they involve only a small fraction of Egyptians. Much more important are the millions who voted this month in a rolling election process that will continue into January, setting the stage for a negotiation between newly elected officials and Egypt’s military rulers over the country’s political future. We must focus our attention on its outcome and, perhaps counterintuitively, try to ensure an ambiguous result so that no side is left empty-handed.…  Seguir leyendo »

The Sri Lankan government’s defeat of the separatist Tamil Tigers in 2009 ended a three-decade war that took tens of thousands of lives. But only now is the government beginning to acknowledge its huge human cost. Two weeks ago, a government-appointed reconciliation commission released a long-awaited report, giving voice to the war’s civilian victims for the first time.

From August 2010 to January 2011, hundreds of people appeared before the commission in tears, begging for news of their loved ones, many of whom had last been seen in the custody of security forces. A doctor spoke of how they managed to survive under deplorable conditions in places “littered with dead bodies and carcasses of dying animals.”

In October, I visited a rural school just 6 miles from Mullivaikkal, on the northeast coast of the island, where the army finally crushed the Tigers — an area still off-limits to civilians.…  Seguir leyendo »

Two weeks ago peasants in Wukan, a fishing village in the prosperous southern Chinese province of Guangdong, took over their village, throwing out local leaders. Because of long unanswered grievances, they risked their lives, barricading roads into the village and facing down the police. Their central concern was the sale of collectively owned village land to property developers, which has impoverished most residents while enriching their leaders.

As the Wukan protests evolved into an international media event, a provincial party official, under pressure from Beijing, stepped in and swiftly negotiated a truce acceptable to the villagers. This week Prime Minister Wen Jiabao asserted that “China can no longer sacrifice farmers’ land rights for the sake of reducing the cost of urbanization and industrialization.”

Once again China’s leadership has succeeded in the complex task of managing social unrest.…  Seguir leyendo »

What does the New Year hold for the global wave of protest that erupted in 2011? Did the surge of anger that began in Tunisia crest in lower Manhattan, or is 2012 likely to see an escalation of the politics of dissent?

The answers are alarming but quite predictable: we are likely to see much greater centralization of top-down suppression – and a rash of laws around the developed and developing world that restrict human rights. But we are also likely to see significant grassroots reaction.

What we are witnessing in the drama of increasingly globalized protest and repression is the subplot that many cheerleaders for neoliberal globalization never addressed: the power of globalized capital to wreak havoc with the authority of democratically elected governments.…  Seguir leyendo »

On July 23, 2001, a former senior Iranian intelligence officer,Abolghasem Mr. Mesbahi,learned that Iran’s plan to strike the United States had been activated. Mr. Mesbahi knew it was important and real because he had worked on this plan previously, when he had helped set up Iran’s intelligence service, the MOIS, as far back as the mid-1980s. Mr. Mesbahi – known outside Iran as one of a core of “Assassins”- told German intelligence, which had given him protected status as a key witness in German prosecutions of brutal Iranian assassinations of dozens of dissidents.

On Aug. 13, 2001, Mr. Mesbahi received greater specificity as to the plot.…  Seguir leyendo »

Ten years ago last month, the now-infamous “shoe bomber,” Richard Reid, boarded an American Airlines flight bound for Miami from Paris, intending to kill himself and all of the other passengers by detonating an explosive device he had concealed in his shoes. What was unknown at the time is that Reid was not supposed to act alone. Saajid Badat – like Reid a British citizen – was supposed to ignite his own pair of explosive shoes on a different trans-Atlantic flight, but he dropped out in the plot’s final stages.

Two years ago, on Christmas Day, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab boarded a Northwest Airlines flight in Amsterdam bound for Detroit, intending to kill himself and all 289 passengers onboard by igniting an explosive device – this time hidden in his underwear – as the plane approached Detroit.…  Seguir leyendo »

A months-long campaign against civil-society groups by Egypt’s military leadership came to a head Thursday when Egyptian security forces raided the Cairo offices of Freedom House and several other international and local nongovernmental organizations. These attacks were a major setback to the hopes that emerged this year with the revolution in Tahrir Square. If corrective measures are not taken, the attacks will severely damage Egypt’s long-term stability and prospects for a more democratic future.

The protests in January and February that led to the resignation of Hosni Mubarak offered hope to the Egyptian people for the first time in decades. Coming on the heels of the movement that brought down Tunisia’s longtime ruler, Zine el-Abidine Ben-Ali, the revolution reflected Egyptians’ pent-up frustration with endless human rights abuses, rigged elections and lack of real economic opportunity.…  Seguir leyendo »

President Obama backed down from his threat to veto the 2012 defense authorization bill that Congress passed this month. But the legislation takes a position on detainees that is misguided. It should prompt the president to fully exercise the discretion the legislation gives him.

For the first few years after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, it was not at all clear we were beating al-Qaeda: Terror attacks took place in London, North Africa, the Middle East, South Asia and the Philippines.

Today, al-Qaeda’s leadership is decimated and its regional affiliates are struggling mightily. The lone-wolf threat remains significant, but lone wolves do not represent strategic threats any more than gang killings represent the crippling of U.S.…  Seguir leyendo »

The last New Year’s Day in human history is here.

You may not believe so, but millions do. They’re convinced that ancient Maya priests calculated Dec. 21, 2012, as the end of the world as we know it. These claims and warnings, prognostications and reassurances are on bookstore shelves, on Web sites, in museum exhibits and in tourist promotions. The global doomsday industry even has a name — 2012ology.

Apocalyptic anxiety is, if anything, reassuringly familiar. This most recent phenomenon taps into a well-established tradition in our society. Just this past year, religious broadcaster Harold Camping took two swings at predicting doomsday, pinpointing one date in May and, when the world emerged unscathed, one in October.…  Seguir leyendo »

Why should we bother reading a book? All children say this occasionally. Many of the 12 million adults in Britain with reading difficulties repeat it to themselves daily. But for the first time in the 500 years since Johannes Gutenberg democratised reading, many among our educated classes are also asking why, in a world of accelerating technology, increasing time poverty and diminishing attention spans, should they invest precious time sinking into a good book?

The beginnings of an answer lie in the same technology that has posed the question. Psychologists from Washington University used brain scans to see what happens inside our heads when we read stories.…  Seguir leyendo »