Friday, November 18, 2005

Hardship on the border

- Joe Burgan

I recommend "
Across the Wire : Life and Hard Times on the Mexican Border" By Luis Alberto Urrea. Summary: Much has been written about the hardships faced by Mexicans who have illegally crossed over into the United States, but until now almost no attention has been paid to the terrible living conditions these people suffer "across the wire" (behind the Mexican border), which forces so many of them to make the dangerous journey to the U.S. Review: Urrea, a Mexican-born American, worked from 1978 to 1982 for a Protestant aid group in Tijuana, and he wrote these fragmentary, evocative tales of heartbreak and hope for the San Diego Reader after he returned to the region in 1990. ``Poverty is personal: it smells and it shocks and it invades your space,'' Urrea declares, and he admits to being thrilled by both the goodness and the squalor he knew intimately. He visits the dumps where people live, their possessions a bed and a car-battery-powered television. He travels with a Tijuana cop, working ``a city of famed vice,'' and learns how the cop extracts sexual favors from American women. In one arresting chapter he records his father's death in a car accident, the tragedy compounded by police and funeral costs and a battle with the father's insurance company. Urrea ends with a manic, magic ``Christmas story,'' about a gift giveaway organized by a San Diego rock radio station and attended by a band called the Trash Can Sinatras. There Urrea reunites with Negra--who as a little girl made a shrine out of the doll he gave her, and who says, ``I never forgot you, Luis.''

Monday, September 26, 2005

US Intervention and Regime Change in Nicaragua

As U.S. ambassador to Nicaragua from July 1977 to February 1979, Mauricio Solaun was optimally placed to observe and influence the events that led to the 1979 Nicaraguan revolution. In this new book he sheds light on the difficulties of being a representative in disagreement with U.S. policy towards the Somoza regime, and how he feels the Carter administration's policy of financially supporting the regime while claiming a non-interventionist stance directly contributed to the ferocity of the revolution. Most notable in Solaun's writing is the detailed description of his management of relations with the Somoza regime, the opposition and its factions, and the U.S. government. He is forced to placate all sides while trying to avoid catatrophe, while the administration that appointed him tries to enforce a "non-interventionist" policy while ignoring facts on the ground. He is repeatedly undermined by career bureaucrats sent by Washington to 'fix' the situation, all who have little knowledge of Nicaraguan politics and its players. Somoza's frustrating egomaniacal personality is also showcased here, leaving little doubt as to who was ultimately responsible for the situation. He insists that Latin Americans are ill-disposed towards democracy, and need a 'firm hand' to guide them. His inappropriately-named Liberal Party throws him an extravagant birthday party in late '78, while completely ignoring the increasingly violent demonstrations against him. Solaun's U.S. Intervention and Regime Change in Nicaragua is a well-written, detailed account of the intricate political web that was spun by all the players that influenced the eventual outcome of revolution. This work gives those interested in U.S. foreign policy a very nuanced view of the hundreds of small and seemingly insignificant actions that can lead to a catastrophic and violent outcome.