Chile’s Bicentennial: Mapuche Resistance Amid the Celebrations



AS CHILE CELEBRATED ITS BICENTENNIAL last weekend, more than 30 political prisoners of the indigenous Mapuche entered the 73rd day of a hunger strike. The Mapuche prisoners want to call attention to their struggle for land rights and bring an end to anti-terrorism laws used to criminalize them.

The Chilean government seems to be taking notice: President Sebastián Piñera offered a dialogue and pledged to invest $4 billion in the Araucania region. Meanwhile, four Congressional members of Chile’s opposition parties joined in solidarity with the prisoners.

Piñera is on a media blitz lately, chatting up Chile’s rising currency and plans for recovery after the February earthquake.

You can always count on Chile to project a strong democracy and stable economy, no matter what the circumstances below the surface. This is an opportunity for Piñera’s young administration to right some wrongs of the past. But the biggest story on people’s minds still seems to be the rescue of the trapped miners.

At least one Chilean artist, Guillo, cuts through it all and gets to heart of the matter, with his take on the word “unity” (“Unidad”):



For more response on what citizens and activists are doing to call attention to the Mapuche struggle, see this photo essay about a demonstration in Santiago, Chile, published by user-generated news site Demotix.

Top Tweets for Activists (Week Ending August 5)

Welcome to Top Tweets for Activists: a selection of tweets, blog posts, media, and news stories.

If you’d like to suggest a topic or news story, please leave a link in the Comments.


This advocacy video by @icsdp makes good use of info graphics + data visualization to tell a story about the “war on drugs”:


The link between human rights and the rule of law. @SusanneUre

Prop 8 Out, Equality In @amnesty

COLOMBIA Former Prisoners Of Conscience Take Protest To Military Base In Colombia @RayBeckerman via @SOAWatch

CHILE Mapuche on Hunger Strike over Chile’s Militancy @RayBeckerman


UN official stresses the importance of human rights in overcoming poverty @jnascim

Heavy rains expected in Pakistan for the rest of week @povertynewsblog


IMMIGRATION The 1868 debate over the 14th Amendment actually DID mention immigrants, thank you very much @MotherJones

FREEDOM OF SPEECH Vietnam: Writers Honored for Commitment to Free Speech: (New York) – Six Vietnamese writers are among a diverse gr… @HRW

CPJ welcomes arrests in Mexican journalists’ abductions @pressfreedom

PEACE Noam Chomsky’s Recorded Address to the United National Peace Conference @commondreams via @MADREspeaks

CONGO/CONFLICT MINERALS Listen to @NPR’s @OnPointRadio interview w/ @LisaJShannon & @EnoughProject on #Congo conflict minerals @jonhutson

KENYA Kenyan constitution: History in the making @pambazuka via @firozem

The Case of Runggye Adak and Repression in Tibet

Runggye Adak speaking out for Tibetan freedom at Lithang Festival

RUNGGYE ADAK is a Tibetan nomad who is serving an eight-year prison sentence for expressing loyalty to the Dalai Lama in front of thousands attending a public ceremony. This week video of those remarks were made public by the International Campaign for Tibet (ICT). The footage was made available to ICT by a foreigner who had attended the event.

Three years ago on August 1st, Adak, a nomad from Lithang, took the microphone during the traditional Lithang Horse Festival in eastern Tibet. He spoke for several minutes before being taken from the stage and arrested. Shortly thereafter, police and soldiers used shock grenades and tear gas to disperse a peaceful demonstration calling for his release. Runggye Adak’s nephew was also taken into custody.

At his sentencing, Adak told the court, “I wanted His Holiness to return, and I wanted to raise Tibetan concerns and grievances, as there is no outlet for us to do so. That made me sad and made me act.”

Watch footage of the video at the website of the International Tibet Support Network (ITSN).

Read more about China’s human rights record.

What Does Democracy Mean for Women in Afghanistan?

Photo: © Jodi Bieber/Institute for TIME

THE IMAGE ON THE COVER OF TIME MAGAZINE this week is the disfigured face of a young woman, Aisha, a victim of the Taliban. Time‘s article argues that the situation for women in Afghanistan will only get worse if there is a negotiation for peace between the U.S. and the Taliban.

With or without a U.S. presence, however, the daily lives of women have not improved. As this July 14th report from Human Rights Watch states, the war against women never ended.

Rachel Reid, Afghanistan researcher for HRW, writes,

The Afghan government should have women’s rights at the center of the reintegration programs. But the experience of the past nine years has been one of hasty deals and impunity for serious crimes. And with the need for an exit strategy weighing heavily on the minds of U.S. policy makers, there’s a strong chance that justice and principle will once again be sacrificed.

It is more important than ever to listen and hear the voices of women in Afghanistan. The Afghan Women’s Writing Project, founded in 2008, publishes the essays and stories of Afghan women. Participants write in secret and their work is posted anonymously.

Here is an excerpt from “The Meaning of Democracy,” written by Roya:

We experience Democracy when a man doesn’t beat his wife for not having a son, when a young girl dares to go to school in provinces like Kandahar, Ghazni, and Paktia, when a female doctor works safely in a hospital in an unsecure and remote area, when a woman teaches school in Bamyan, when a sister works in a bank in Kabul, when a mother is a university teacher—and when I take my pen and write, when I am not only an Afghan woman, but an Afghan woman writer.

To read more of the writing of Afghan women, visit

Syria: Clamping Down on Human Rights

IN THE TEN YEARS since Syrian President Bashar Assad took power, hoped-for democratic freedoms remained unfulfilled.

According to a new report from Human Rights Watch,

The Damascus Spring that followed al-Asad’s ascent to power, during which a number of informal groups began meeting in private homes to discuss political reform, was a short-lived experiment; its highpoint was the shutting down of Mazzeh prison in November 2000 and the release of hundreds of political prisoners shortly thereafter. It came to an abrupt end in August 2001; Syria’s prisons are filled again with political prisoners, journalists, and human rights activists.

Suhair Atassi, an outspoken advocate for reform who runs a democractic forum on Facebook spent time in prison five years ago for her activities, but refuses to shut down her political salon. Two weeks ago she was once again threatened with a jail sentence if she does not close her forum.

In this interview published on with writer and founder of Syrian Youth For Justice, Ahed al Hendi, Atassi said, “If each one of us only thinks of his or her life, then who would care about the future? My work is to bring about a better future for you, for me and for all of society.”

Read more about Syria’s human rights record.

Artists in Zimbabwe Face Prosecution for Speaking Out

They Made Us Sing © Owen Maseko

THIS PAST MARCH, artist Owen Maseko exhibited his work at the National Gallery of Zimbabwe and was swiftly arrested for what authorities claimed was inciting anti-government violence.

His work includes graffiti, 3-D installations and paintings that confront his frustration with a repressive government. Because many of the works in the exhibition were painted directly on the gallery walls, police could not confiscate it and had to cover the windows with newspapers so passerby could not see it.

Maseko was released on bail in April, and is currently awaiting trial on August 18.

In May he participated in yet another exhibit called “Truth Telling: The Truth Will Set You Free.” On his website, he’s outspoken and resolved, writing, “Being an artist is about being brave and using art to challenge attitudes. People in Zimbabwe are waiting for change, but we as Zimbabweans are the change.”

Read more about how the Zimbabwe Human Rights Association’s (ZimRights) succeeded in showing banned works this past week.

Where are today’s anti-war novels?

Image: French Troops Resting © Estate of Christopher Nevinson/The Bridgeman Art Library

IN THE ANTI-WAR BOOK THREE GUINEAS Virginia Woolf writes, “You must educate the young to hate war. You must teach them to feel the inhumanity, the beastliness, the insupportability of war.”

Woolf was a pacifist and her novels are filled with anti-war feeling. The devastating effects of the first World War, the greatest conflict of her generation, are everywhere: Andrew Ramsey dies in WWI in To The Lighthouse; in Mrs. Dalloway, Woolf explicitly deals with the relationship between civilians and veterans through the story of Septimus Smith and Clarissa. And in Jacob’s Room, the whole of the narrative is the story of one young man’s life who dies in the war.

The English language anti-war syllabus is of course chockful of books by men, including Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front, Heller’s Catch-22, and Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five.

These novels were released in, respectively, 1929, 1961, and 1969.

So where are today’s anti-war novels?

Pat Barker’s World War I trilogy, beginning with Regeneration and concluding with the Booker Prize-winning The Ghost Road is a poetic, incisive exploration of the effects of WW I. There are the aforementioned titles by Woolf. And there are scattered titles dealing with Eastern Europe.

It’s clear the two major wars continue to inspire writers. But where are the novels dealing with current armed conflicts like Iraq or Afghanistan? Are writers simply not writing them, or are publishers not putting them out?

The focus to nonfiction is behind the shift, Geoff Dyer says in his piece for The Guardian, ““The human heart of the matter”:

Reportage, long-form reporting – call it what you will – has left the novel looking superfluous. The fiction lobby might respond: it’s too soon to tell. A decade of literary silence followed the armistice of 1918. It wasn’t until 1929 that a novel appeared that made imaginative sense of the first world war.

If that timeline is to be followed, next February marks the twentieth anniversary of the “official end” of the Gulf War, which means we’re long overdue for a novel dealing with the events in Kuwait.

Dyer argues that readers can find novelistic control of tone, phrasing and the “moral resolution of fiction” in current war-themed books like Rajiv Chandrasekaran’s Imperial Life in the Emerald City and Dexter Filkins’s The Forever War.

No matter how well-written these real-life experiences are, they remain nonfiction, an extended riff on the in-depth news piece. If all that readers are getting is the visceral experience of the grunt’s wartime experience or the author’s embedded observations, we’re still missing the depth of a novel. A subject as big as war needs an approach like Heller’s and Vonnegut’s satire or a political polemic in the style of Woolf’s novel-essays.

And there’s need for one than one point-of-view. War is still a man’s pursuit, one that despite all his protestations about peace, he clearly relishes. And then he crafts stories around his male-generated, male-run wars.

Is there a different kind of war book yet to be written, about the Gulf War, or Afghanistan or Iraq, which becomes part of the high school syllabus for tomorrow’s students?

What’s needed is a story that transcends gender and politics, whether written by male or female. Woolf touches on this when she writes, “In fact, as a woman, I have no country. As a woman I want no country. As a woman my country is the whole world.” For a novelist writing about war, the whole world must be his country.

New writing: poetry for human rights is a poetry journal devoted to new poetry that tackles human rights issues worldwide. They are open to submissions, so if you are a poet, please visit their site and submit your best words that “Rage. Celebrate. Mourn. Demand. Scream. Dance.”

Here is a sample of what the site publishes, a poem by Heather Derr-Smith:

Interrogation IV

When he sits in the chair
It’s my job to open him up. He transforms into you.
Unrecognizable as the resurrected,
Worm casings shed, azaleas blooming from the closing wounds–

In person your voice sounds nothing like this.
I hear you, otilith swinging on its diminutive thread, singing.

Your lips look like candy, blown like glass.
In real life your morning body
Is stretched out, mouth opened,
Full of night’s dew,
a cup spilled,
sometimes blood.

Supporters mark birthday of Aung San Suu Kyi

image credit:

As a tribute to Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, an empty chair is kept open at each meeting of The Elders. Today marks her 65th birthday, and it is also the 15th year the Nobel Laureate has spent in detention. After nearly a decade under house arrest, much more must be done to secure her release, as well as the unconditional release of over 2,000 political prisoners.

Read more about Burma’s first planned national elections since 1990 from a human rights perspective.

Iran: secularism, religion and an uncertain future

image credit: Iran Voices of the Unheard

Iran: Voices of the Unheard is a documentary film about secularists in Iran: a pair of old agitators who despite their political activities have posts in the establishment; a family from the nomadic Ghashghaii tribe; and a young urban intellectual living in Tehran. The filmmaker, Davoud Geramifard, one of many Iranian expatriots, secretly shot the film a few months before the disputed re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the bloody crackdown that followed against pro-democracy demonstrators. His film captures the feeling among a few of Iran’s citizens before the elections exposed their society’s frustration with a theocratic government.

Words from the old guard

Geramifard unfolds the protagonists’ stories in three parts. It begins with Hadi and Kazem, who spent seven years in prison for their political activities. After the 1979 revolution they were freed, Hadi becoming a teacher and Kazem working for the government. While Hadi is depicted in the classroom, teaching Socrates to his male (and very bored) students, Kazem mostly sits behind his desk and explains his philosophy for a new Iranian society. It’s his belief that Iran can find a way to have Islam and freedom at the same time. For Hadi, he believes “there’s no place for someone like me,” and the segment ends with his frustration at the outside world’s indifference.

On the verge of extinction

The second part, by far the film’s most effective, takes us to Southern Iran where the Ghashghaii tribe squeezes out a meager existence against famine and years of drought. After the revolution, the tribe lost its lands and were decimated in an armed struggle against the new power structure. Today, they receive no support from the government.

Near the end, after we have watched a Ghashghaii family herding their goats, gathering water from a well, and subsisting on thin flatbreads cooked over a single iron pot, a remarkable thing occurs: the film’s first female voice is heard. “I want to build a house,” this wife and mother says. “But our situation never gets better.” Considering how important and how visible women eventually were in the protests, it is startling that the film gives so little focus to the female perspective.

Boiling point of rage

Geramifard once again turns to another male voice. We’re back in Tehran, listening to the angry, strident Babak. He works for the governmental Cultural Office, and hates his position. In fact he sounds like many young men slowly dying in soulless jobs.

He breaks down the fourth wall by directly addressing the filmmaker and challenging “your viewers.” In addition to the frustration he feels towards society, Babak is in the throes of a deep self-loathing. “The hell with life. I am not up to the challenge,” he says. “In 15 days I’m thirty years old, and I’ll wish again I was never born.”

The film closes with footage of the violent aftermath of the elections. One wonders if Babak, and his friends (again, almost exclusively male), who we see discussing politics in his apartment, joined the millions of others in the streets. It is hard to know for sure, since the people Geramifard’s film focuses on are trapped in their roles as the muzzled secularists. Yes, Iran is a closed, repressive society. But here is a chance to speak out.

Babak’s thoughts run circles in his head, constantly turning over the repercussions of the revolution. He never looks to the future. This resignation is a thread that runs throughout the entire film. Time and again the protagonists ask, what will happen? What will become of us? Today, in Iran, they are no answers.

“Iran: Voice of the Unheard” is screening as part of the Human Rights Watch Film Festival, co-presented with the Film Society of Lincoln Center.