Magical Realism, Writing, Fiction, Politics, Haiku, Books

viernes, marzo 23, 2007

Nicaragua: Free Eric Volz

Eric Volz

cross-posted from dailyKos

You probably never heard of Eric Volz. He's a 27 year old American ex-pat who was convicted in Nicaragua in February, 2007, of a murder he didn't commit. In fact, there's an entire mountain of proof that he was 2 hours away in Managua when the murder was committed in San Juan del Sur. But that so far hasn't seemed to matter.

Doris Jimenez was killed Tuesday, November 21, 2006, between 11:45 am and 1:00 pm, in San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua. Her body was found at about 2:00 pm inside a clothing store she owned. She was tied, strangled and asphyxiated. Doris was popular and attractive and her murder deeply unsettled this small tourist town.

Eric Volz was two hours away in Managua at the time of the murder. Eric, a 27-year old American, had been living in Nicaragua for some two years. Not only were there 10 witnesses who saw him in Managua during the time of the murder, none of the physical evidence recovered from the scene linked Eric to the crime. Indeed, none of the blood, fluid, hair, or other physical evidence collected at the scene had any tie to Eric.

As you probably realize, things that happen south of the big river tend to stay there. You don't hear about events in Nicaragua by reading the MSM. The only way you hear about these things in the US is when US people involved in them campaign to break the silence. Eric is lucky. He has this campaign:

What else do we know about this case? It has barely been reported. Volz is from Nashville, so there is reportage in the Tennesseean.
The story has also pierced the Wall Street Journal(subscription needed).

But in Nicaragua it's big, big news. It is something of a different sort entirely.
The case has become a tabloid sensation in the Central American country, left the family broke and desperately seeking his release through lobbying members of Congress and other officials in Washington — while also appealing the case through the Nicaraguan courts.


The case has fanned anti-American feelings there. His family said at one point early on, a mob of 300 locals wielding machetes and clubs outside the courthouse tried to lynch Volz, who narrowly escaped the crowd as it yelled "gringo." The mob then turned on Volz's attorney and his father, Jan Volz, who said they narrowly escaped as the angry crowd tried to hold back their car.

Of course, Volz and his family need financial and other help. But that's not the reason for this diary.

Volz's problem highlights another issue. Remember Somosa? Iran-Contra? Ronald Reagan? Daniel Ortega, the former Sandinista and the present president of Nicaragua? Remember Ollie North's recent trip to Nicaragua before the presidential election to flex US muscles? Well, the Nicaraguans probably remember all of that pretty doggone well, and they probably remember the US role in aiding the contras, the disappearances, the murders, the dirty war, and on and on and on. They recall their recent misery and who was responsible for it.

Volz personally had nothing to do with any of that history. As a US citizen, can he expect assistance from his government when he has a major problem in a country with which the US has diplomatic relations? Or has the US under Bush finally squandered so much good will in Central America that it really has become an irrelevancy, a paper tiger? Volz needs US diplomatic help. And his case highlights the direct, personal costs to US citizens and tourists of US policies in Central America. It's simply unbelievable that Volz, who desperately needs his country's assistance, has a government that may have thrown away its credibility as well as its ability to be of assistance to him.

martes, marzo 20, 2007

Remembering Brad Will and Oaxaca

Brad Will

cross posted from
Brad Will, an Indymedia journalist from New York, was shot to death in Oaxaca, Mexico, on October 27, 2006. He was in Oaxaca to video protests against Governor Ulises Ruiz that paralyzed Oaxaca throughout the summer and the fall. No arrests have been made in the case. And, apparently, there is no investigation either. In fact, as Oaxaca has faded from the media, questions about this and other homicides and disappearances seem further than ever from being answered.

This from El Universal:
Almost four months after U.S. video-journalist Brad Will was killed while filming protests in Oaxaca, members of the Will family have arrived in Mexico City to push federal and state authorities to get serious about bringing their son and brother´s murderers to justice.

"Our goal is for there to be a legitimate investigation," said Kathy Will, mother of the 36-year-old New York-based journalist who was shot to death on October 27, 2006. "There hasn´t been one."

How can this kind of thing happen?

Wills' family arrived on Tuesday in Oaxaca.
In the city of Oaxaca, the family plans to meet with Lizbeth Caña, the controversial state prosecutor who has refused to pursue photographic evidence implicating municipal employees of Santa Lucía del Camino, the pueblo where Brad Will was shot.

Instead, Caña has suggested that members of the Oaxaca People´s Assembly (APPO) killed Will at close range.

The Will family isn´t buying that theory.

"It´s pretty obvious that they (Oaxaca state officials) are covering up for their own paramilitaries, who were instructed by somebody at some level to disrupt the protests," Hardy Will says. "Men were going around without uniforms shooting and killing protesters."

Alas, the Wills family isn't alone in wanting answers an investigation might provide. There were numerous people killed during the Oaxaca protests, and numerous others who were disappeared.
Hardy and Kathy [Wills] are both aware that at least 20 other families are going through the same thing as a result of the Oaxaca unrest of 2006.

"Brad was one of three killed that day," Kathy Will. "And how many were killed before and after that without any investigations? Whatever the number is, it´s disgraceful."

There are many accounts of Brad Will's death. This Wikipedia account has its sources in its footnotes.
On October 27, he was videotaping near a barricade erected by pro-strike protesters when gunmen approached and opened fire. Will was shot twice and died while he was being carried away from the area. Along with Will, two protesters – Esteban Zurita López and teacher Emilio Alonso Fabián – were also killed. Several others were injured. Mexican daily newspaper El Universal published photos of the suspected gunmen, who are believed to be local officials. [7][8]

A Oaxaca news organization has claimed that Pedro Carmona, a local politician and member of the Institutional Revolutionary Party, shot Brad Will.[9] [10] During a news conference on October 29, Oaxaca mayor Manuel Martínez said that four men, all local public officials, were being detained in connection with the shooting.[11]

Those four men were ultimately released. No investigation was completed. And there have been no arrests in connection with any of the demonstrators who were killed or disappeared.

Has the US Government had any contact with the Mexican Government about this homicide of a US citizen? President Calderon, according to a March 14 Washington Post story preceding Bush's visit to Merida was to discuss difficult issues with Bush.
Mexican President Felipe Calderón chided President Bush on Tuesday for trying to build a wall between their two countries and lamented that the American leader never made Mexico the priority he once promised it would become during his presidency.

As he welcomed Bush for their first meeting since taking office in December, Calderón set a polite but firm tone, raising some of the toughest issues in U.S.-Mexican relations. The comments at a ceremony for Bush's arrival underscored the difficulties that lie ahead in two days of talks between the leaders.

If Brad Will's death was a topic between the two-- it might deserve to be one of the "toughest issues in US-Mexican relations"--it has never been reported.

This story of official laissez faire and inaction has a creepy parallel. It reminds of Charles Horman, a US journalist who disappeared in Chile in the aftermath of the coup that overthrew Salvador Allende in 1973. Horman's story was told in the Costa Gavras film Missing. And the issue who killed Horman and the role of the CIA in his death has never been resolved.

There need to be answers to Brad Will's death. And there need to be answers about the other Oaxaca deaths and disappearances. And beyond that, there needs to be justice. I'm not betting that we'll ever see that. Sadly, it's likely that the entire matter will eventually just fade away.

lunes, marzo 19, 2007

Marking Four Years; Seeking Peace

cross posted at dailyKos
Today I went for a walk in New York City. At 29th Street and 5th Avenue, Marble Collegiate Church has put up this memorial:
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Each ribbon tied to the wrought iron fence around the church, has the name and rank of a US soldier killed in action. I was moved deeply by this.

And I wondered whether it might hasten the end of this dreadful war, if memorials to the many dead, US and Iraqi, were now to spring up everywhere, just like the many roadside shrines in the US and Mexico, along with the early spring flowers:
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Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket
Would constantly seeing these memorials, these Descansos, change anything? Would these reminders of the huge number of the dead motivate us? Would they move us to stop the killing? Would they move our tone deaf Congress? Would they end the war even a minute sooner? Would they help us to remember that it is now time to learn how to make peace?

viernes, marzo 16, 2007

Guatemala: Cleansing Bush

Cross posted and updated from daily Kos
Following Bush's visit to Guatemala, a complete and total PR disaster, Mayan people gathered to cleanse the pyramid Bush visited. This cleansing has some important context.

Mayan spiritual leaders held a purification ritual at the top of a pyramid visited days earlier by US President George W Bush.

Some Guatemalans dislike Mr Bush and the US because of foreign policies going back to Central America's civil wars.

With coloured candles on the four corners of the reconstructed ruins representing different elements in nature, burning incense and a ceremonial drum two Mayan priests restored the balance and harmony to the place.

What exactly did Bush do at the pyramid?
Mr Bush toured the site on Monday with Guatemalan President Oscar Berger.

Mr Bush watched a re-enactment of an ancient Mayan ball game at the Iximche ruins played by young men in costumes using a soccer ball painted gold.

The event offended some Mayans who said it portrayed their culture as a tourist attraction.

It offends me for the same reason and also because it's a glaring example of Gringo exoticism. The game played at the ball court was not authentic. It was the kind of baloney tourist nightclubs and hotels have been purveying to rum drinking foreigners for centuries. And that should have been obvious to everyone involved in this spectacle. But it didn't seem to matter. So much for the cultural sensitivity of Bush and his Guatemalan sockpuppet, President Oscar Berger.
"The fact that [the pyramid's] served as a rug to a mass murder[er] is infuriating, it's repugnant," said Mayan leader Jauna Bazival, "and he's thrown our dignity as Mayan human beings on the ground."

But that's not all. At the end of this month the very same pyramid is scheduled to be the site of the third Continental Indigenous Summit, a gathering some 2,000 national and international delegates from March 26-30. It's expected to be attended by Bolivian President Evo Morales, Argentine Nobel Peace Prize winner Adolfo Perez Esquivel, Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeno and other figures. In other words, the next gathering isn't the Gringo one, it's the indigenous one, the one at which the pyramid will have actual cultural and spiritual resonance.

So, just as Bush's visit was intended to compete with a rival tour by Venezuela's Hugo Chavez, it also picked a site in Guatemala to compete with the Indigenous Summit. This propaganda use of sacred sites is old news. A few years ago an irreplaceable part of a sacred altar in Machu Picchu was damaged by a falling camera that was taking images for a Cusquena beer commercial.

But that's not all either. The visit by a sitting US president to Guatemala, a country the US has repeatedly invaded, subverted and manipulated brings with it frightening echoes of the US continuing to play Edgar Bergen to Guatemala's Charlie McCarthy.
The US supported military governments in Guatemala during the country's 1960-96 civil war, which traces its roots to the overthrow of a left leaning government by a CIA-supported coup in 1954.

Entire Mayan villages were destroyed during the military's scorched earth counter-insurgency campaign that left nearly a quarter million people dead or missing.
The appearance in Guatemala of Bush presents a not particularly veiled threat against any political moves to the left, toward land reform, toward nationalizing industry, toward resisting CAFTA. Put another way, it's a reminder that the US has some interest in Guatemala, that it has treated Guatemala as lacking sovereignty before, and that in some circumstances, it wouldn't hesitate to do so again. So much for US friendship.

New At The Dream Antilles

Today I find myself looking out the window. And what do I see? Lots of red wing blackbirds gorging themselves, because it's snowing, and it's snowing hard. Yuck. The Prognostico: a nor'easter with deep snow by tomorrow afternoon. Let's call this new, late storm "The March Madness Blizzard."

If you've been here before, you'll notice some changes. First, at the suggestion of somebody who shall remain nameless but who really knows and understands these things, this blog is now no longer white on black. Why? Because this way it'll supposedly be easier to read. At least I think so.

It's easy to change these kinds of things. The problem is that when you make changes, you lose all of your "custom content". So today, dear reader, I spent some time searching for and then re-installing the "custom content."

The best part of this change? If you click on the badge/button for "map stats" (it's on the right with the other badges) you can see the location of whoever is then reading the Dream Antilles. If there's just you, you'll see a little arrow marking where you are.

The other good thing, especially considering the weather, is that if you click this you can see the beach in Playa del Carmen, Q.Roo, Mexico in real time. You can imagine the warmth. You can imagine the turquoise sea. Maybe the picture and your imagination make the snow a little easier to bear.

domingo, marzo 11, 2007


Jarvis Jay Masters
On Saturday there was dramatic news about a 22 year old California death penalty case. According to the San Francisco Chronicle
The California Supreme Court, in an unusual step, has ordered state prosecutors to respond to defense lawyers' claims that new evidence shows a San Quentin State Prison inmate is innocent of the 1985 murder of a prison guard that sent him to Death Row.

Jarvis Masters' appeal is still a longshot in a court that upholds more than 90 percent of the death sentences it considers. But the circumstances of the Feb. 14 order signed by all seven justices have given Masters' lawyers a glimmer of hope that their 45-year-old client will be vindicated.

The order was "unique and breathtaking in its scope," said Joseph Baxter, one of Masters' appellate lawyers.

I've known Jarvis for years and corresponded with him. We share interests in Buddhism and writing and the law. I'm not his lawyer. I'm delighted with Saturday's news. I'm writing this diary because I want all of us to know about Jarvis, and because I would like all of us to oppose not only his execution, but all others as well.

There are several parts to this story. If this seems long, I apologize in advance.

First, there is the 1985 crime for which Jarvis was sentenced to death in 1990 and which has kept him on death row for 22 years. In 1985, Jarvis was 22 and serving a sentence for robbery. According to the Chronicle
Masters was in prison for armed robbery when he was accused of conspiracy and murder in the death of a San Quentin guard, Sgt. Dean Burchfield, 38. Burchfield was stabbed with a prison-made knife in June 1985.

Prosecutors said the slaying was ordered by the Black Guerrilla Family, a prison gang to which Masters belonged. Two other members were convicted and sentenced to life without parole. Masters -- who prosecution witnesses said took part in the planning, sharpened the knife and gave it to the inmate who stabbed Burchfield -- was sentenced to death.

In other words, the person convicted of the stabbing received a lighter sentence than Jarvis, who was on the 4th tier of the prison, when the stabbing occurred on the first tier. And there are legal problems with the death penalty because Jarvis was not the "stabber." Regardless, even the conspiracy to murder case against Jarvis has since fallen into rubble.

According to the Chronicle
Papers filed with the court by Masters' lawyers include statements from three fellow inmates who testified against him at trial and in the penalty phase, recanting their testimony. His co-defendants also submitted statements saying Masters had not been involved in the murder.

One inmate who testified that Masters had helped plot the killing, Bobby Evans, said in his statement that he had been promised a break in his sentences for attempted robbery and a parole violation, contradicting his trial testimony that he had not been offered leniency. Another inmate, Johnny Hoze, who testified that Masters had fatally stabbed another prisoner in 1984, said in his statement that he had lied because he held a grudge against Masters.

The prosecution's key witness, Black Guerrilla Family leader Rufus Willis, was granted immunity and testified that Masters helped plot the killing and wrote self-incriminating notes about his role. In his statement disavowing his testimony, he said a prosecutor threatened to return him to San Quentin if he didn't cooperate, which he said would have amounted to a death sentence because he had been identified as an informer.

Prosecutors knew about the flaws in their case but hid them from Masters' trial lawyers and the jury, defense lawyers said.

So what else is new, especially in death penalty cases? This case has flaws that tend to lead to exonerations: jail house testimony, promises of leniency for incriminating testimony, hidden promises to witnesses from law enforcement. And the Court in February seems to have recognized this and Jarvis's possible innocence in its order.

But that's just the first part of why I'm writing this diary. Jarvis wrote a book, Finding Freedom,that is absolutely a must read to understand what long term incarceration is all about. He writes with amazing force. Some of the short stories in the book make me cry. Jarvis's insights are tempered by his practicing Buddhism for about 20 years while incarcerated, which is no easy task.

How did Jarvis ever become a Buddhist and nonviolent? He was introduced to Buddhism by Melody Ermachild, who was working on his case as an investigator, and who arranged for an empowerment ceremony to be conducted at San Quentin by Chagdud Rinpoche. Since then, Jarvis has been a practicing Buddhist. According to Pema Choedron, who is one of America's best known Buddhist teachers, and is one of Jarvis's principle teachers
"Jarvis is an easy man to respect and an easy man to love. What I learn from him all the time is what it really means to keep one's vows of not harming and of helping other people in whatever ways one can. I always think, 'If Jarvis can do it in those most challenging and difficult situations, I can do it too.' It is a continual aspiration from my heart that Jarvis Masters not be killed and that I have the pleasure of knowing him as a free man; a free man who I know will benefit all the people he encounters."

But there's much more to this. This isn't a diary about a jailhouse conversion. It's more about our connection to this man.

Several years ago, I was traveling in India and Nepal with my middle son. Among other things, we visited important Buddhist sites, including Bodhgaya, where the Buddha 2500 years ago reached his enlightenment. The story is that the "tree of enlightenment" in Bodhgaya now is the decendent of the very Pippa tree the Buddha sat under. While we were standing under the revered tree-- it has been partially painted in gold leaf-- some leaves fell to the ground. I picked them up and put them in my pocket. Later, I realized that I wanted to send one of them to Jarvis, because I was thinking about him and thought it might be of help to him.

When I returned to the US, I sent Jarvis the leaf. But after I mailed the leaf, I was stricken with doubt. Would San Quentin confiscate the leaf and throw it in the garbage? Would Jarvis actually receive it on his most segregated part of death row? Would it be contraband? Would guards defile the leaf or mock Jarvis for receiving it? Eventually, I stopped thinking about the leaf because I realized that I had two others I could send if the first one didn't arrive.

About three weeks later, I got a note from Jarvis thanking me for the leaf, that he had received it. I was extremely happy about this. I liked thinking about how the leaf of the tree of enlightenment had made it all the way to San Quentin's death row.

So now when I think about this man I think about him as a point on a triangle. There's his point, stuck deep in San Quentin's death row, where he has the leaf of the enlightenment tree and can use it however he finds helpful. And there's a point in Bodhgaya, which is connected to embodying with every breath nonviolence and compassione and helping others. And then there's the third point, which is me, and if you've read this far, you, who recognize that Jarvis shouldn't be killed, and that the death penalty must be abolished.

If you want to, you can write to Jarvis:
Jarvis Jay Masters
San Quentin State Prison
San Quentin, California 94974.