Kyrgyzstan ~ A Country Remarkably Unknown

Kyrgyzstan is a remarkably unknown country to most world citizens. Since its conception in the 1920s, outside observers have usually treated it as a backwater of the impenetrable Soviet Union.
There was little interest and even less opportunity to gather information on this particular Soviet republic. But even within the Soviet Union, Kyrgyzstan was relatively unknown. It is as likely to meet a person from Russia or the Ukraine who has never heard of Kyrgyzstan as someone from the Netherlands or the USA. As one of my informants who has a Kyrgyz father and a Russian mother said:
I was raised in Kazan in Russia and went to school when the Soviet Union still existed. The kids in school did not understand that I was Kyrgyz. I sometimes explained, but they still thought I was Tatar, or from the Caucasus. We were taught some facts and figures about Kyrgyzstan in school, but that was it.

Kyrgyzstan briefly became world news in March 2005, when it was the third in a row of velvet revolutions among former Soviet Union countries. President Akayev, who had been the president since 1990 (one year before Kyrgyzstan’s independence) was ousted, to be replaced by opposition leaders who had until recently taken part in Akayev’s government.

A few years before that, Kyrgyzstan had become a focus of interest in the War on Terrorism, because of its majority Muslim population and its vicinity to Afghanistan. The country opened its main airport Manas for the Coalition Forces, who all stationed troops there.
The lack of a solid general base of background information gives the study of Kyrgyzstan a special dimension. Researchers and audience do not share images of the country that are based on a large number of impressions from different sources. Thus, every morsel of new information becomes disproportionally important in the creation of new images, and may be taken out of perspective. It also means that the researcher does not have an extensive body of knowledge to fall back on. Questions that are raised can often not be answered, as there is no corpus of data and general consensus. This can give the researcher a sense of walking on quick sand, but it also keeps the researcher, and hopefully her audience as well, focused and unable to take anything for granted.
In this paper I will give an overview of images of Kyrgyzstan as it is portrayed in journalist reports, travel guides, and works of social scientists. This will provide the reader unfamiliar with Kyrgyzstan with a framework of background information that cannot be presupposed.

Kyrgyzstan Located

Kyrgyzstanmap.jpg

Map of Kyrgyzstan

Kyrgyzstan, a country of 198,500 square km, is about the size of Great Britain. Its population of 5 million is considerably less than that of the UK, however, because of the mountains that cover the larger part of the country. Kyrgyzstan’s impressive mountain ranges, known as the Tien Shan, Ala Too and Alay ranges, are extensions of the Himalayas. Ninety per cent of Kyrgyzstan’s territory is above 1,500 metres and forty-one per cent is above 3,000 metres. Perpetual snow covers about a third of the country’s surface. Large amounts of water, in the form of mountain lakes and wild rivers, are a consequence of this landscape.
Kyrgyzstan is landlocked and bordered by four countries, three of which are former Soviet Union republics. Kazakhstan lies to the North, Uzbekistan to the West and Tajikistan to the South. The Eastern border is shared with China, or more precisely: with the Chinese province Xinjiang, home of many Turkic and Muslim peoples.
Administratively, Kyrgyzstan is divided into seven provinces (oblus, from Russian oblast) and two cities (shaar). The two cities are Osh city and the country’s capital Bishkek. Bishkek was known as Frunze during Soviet times, named after Red Army hero Mikhael Frunze. In 1991, four months before independence, the city was renamed Bishkek (Prior, 1994:42).
Kyrgyzstan is commonly divided in the North and South. The South consist of three provinces: Jalal-Abad, Osh and Batken. Batken was separated from Osh after the invasion of Islamic guerrillas in August 1999. The North consists of the Chüy, Talas, Ïssïkköl and Narïn provinces. Looking at the map, it is clear that ‘North’ and ‘South’ are not so much geographical indications, as Ïssïkköl and Narïn are at the same latitude as Jalal-Abad. A mountain ridge with very few passages, however, separates the North from the South, making them far apart in people’s experience. If one travels from Osh to Narïn, for instance, one usually takes a triangle route through Bishkek. There is a road that traverses the mountain ridge that separates them, but snow often renders it impassable. Until 1962, there was not even a road between Osh and Bishkek (then: Frunze), the railway that connected the two cities ran by way of Tashkent.
The term ‘Kyrgyzstan’ is a choice out of a number of names for the country. Presently, the official name in the Kyrgyz language is Kïrgïz Respublikasï. In English, it is ‘the Kyrgyz Republic’, after the ‘h’ in Kyrghyz was dropped in 1999. One year before independence, shortly after Akayev’s appointment as president, the Republic of Kyrgyzstan became the official name for the republic after it announced its sovereignty (Rashid, 1994:147). In May 1993, this was changed to the Kyrghyz Republic. Another often-heard name for the country is Kirgizia, which is based on Russian, who substituted the ï (usually transliterated as y) by an i to fit Russian grammatical rules. Popular in the country itself is the word ‘Kyrgyzstan’. This term is not new, but was already in use in the early days of the Soviet Union. In this dissertation, I will join with popular habit and refer to the country as Kyrgyzstan. Read more

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The U.S. Foreign Policy Establishment Proves In Ukraine That It Forgot The Lessons of Vietnam

James W. Carden – Photo: Independent Media Institute

Friday, January 27th, marks 50 years since the signing of the Paris Peace Accords by representatives from the United States, North and South Vietnam effectively ending American participation in the Vietnamese civil conflict. What the Georgetown University international relations scholar Charles Kuphan calls an “isolationist impulse” made a “significant comeback in response to the Vietnam War, which severely strained the liberal internationalist consensus.”

As the Cold War historian John Lamberton Harper points out, President Jimmy Carter’s hawkish Polish-born national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski scorned his intra-administration rival, the cautious, gentlemanly secretary of state Cyrus Vance as “a nice man but burned by Vietnam.” Indeed, Vance and a number of his generation carried with them a profound disillusionment in the aftermath of Vietnam which shaped their approach to the world. And for a short time, the “Vietnam Syndrome,” (shorthand for a wariness and suspicion of unnecessary and unsupportable foreign interventions) occasionally informed policy at the highest levels and manifested itself in the promulgations of the Wienberger and Powell Doctrines which, in theory anyway, were set up as a kind of break on unnecessary military adventures.

But only hours after the successful conclusion of the First Gulf War, President George H.W. Bush declared, “By God, we’ve kicked the Vietnam Syndrome once and for all.”

And kick it Bush did: In the decades following his 1991 pronouncement, the United States has been at war in one form or another (either as a belligerent or unofficial co-belligerent as is the case with our involvement in Saudi Arabia’s war on Yemen and in Ukraine) for all but 2 of the 32 years that have followed.

The political-media atmosphere that now prevails in Washington makes it exceedingly difficult to believe such a thing as a ‘Vietnam Syndrome’ ever existed. Indeed, President Joe Biden’s handling of the war in Ukraine has been met with rapturous approval from the Washington media establishment, winning plaudits from all the usual suspects.

But what kind of success is it really, when the entire thing might have been avoided by judicious diplomatic engagement? Are we really to believe that a war resulting, so far, in 200,000 dead and 8 million displaced, has been worth an empty promise of NATO membership?

While the war has currently ground to a stalemate, the legacy media and various and sundry think-tank-talking-heads issue regular assurances of steady progress in the field and victory soon to come.

Writing in the Journal of Democracy this past September, political scientist and author of the End of History and The Last Man Francis Fukuyama exulted: “Ukraine will win. Slava Ukraini!”

Washington Post reporter Liz Sly told readers in early January 2023 that “If 2023 continues as it began, there is a good chance Ukraine will be able to fulfill President Volodymyr Zelensky’s New Year’s pledge to retake all of Ukraine by the end of the year — or at least enough territory to definitively end Russia’s threat, Western officials and analysts say.”

Newsweek, reporting in October 2022, informed readers by way of activist Ilya Ponomarev, a former member of the Russian parliament, that “Russia is not yet on the brink of revolution…but is not far off.”

Rutgers University professor Alexander J. Motyl agrees. In a January 2023 article for Foreign Policy magazine titled ‘It’s High Time to Prepare for Russia’s Collapse’ Motyl decried as “stunning” what he believes is a “near-total absence of any discussion among politicians, policymakers, analysts, and journalists of the consequences of defeat for Russia. … considering the potential for Russia’s collapse and disintegration.”

Also in early January, the former head of the U.S. Army in Europe, Lt. General Ben Hodges told the Euromaidan Press that, “The decisive phase of the campaign…will be the liberation of Crimea. Ukrainian forces are going to spend a lot of time knocking out or disrupting the logistical networks that are important for Crimea…That is going to be a critical part that leads or sets the conditions for the liberation of Crimea, which I expect will be finished by the end of August.”

As Gore Vidal once quipped, “There is little respite for a people so routinely—so fiercely—disinformed.”

Conspicuous by its absence in what passes for foreign policy discourse in the American capital is the question of American interests: How does the allocation of vast sums to a wondrously corrupt regime in Kiev in any way materially benefit everyday Americans? Is the imposition of a narrow, sectarian Galician nationalism over the whole of Ukraine truly a core American interest? Does the prolongation of a proxy war between NATO and Russia further European and American security interests?

In truth, the lessons of Vietnam were forgotten long ago. The generation that now largely populates the ranks of the Washington media and political establishment came of age when Vietnam was already in the rearview. Today, the unabashed liberal interventionists who staff the Biden administration came up in the 1990s when it was commonly thought the United States didn’t do enough, notably in Bosnia and in Rwanda. As such, and almost without exception, they have supported every American mis-adventure abroad since 9/11.

The caution which, albeit all-too-temporarily, stemmed from the “Vietnam Syndrome” is today utterly absent in the corridors of power in Joe Biden’s Washington. The Vietnam Syndrome is indeed kicked: Dead and buried.

But we may soon regret its passing.

Author Bio:
This article is distributed by Globetrotter in partnership with the American Committee for U.S.-Russia Accord.

James W. Carden is a former advisor on Russia to the Special Representative for Intergovernmental Affairs at the State Department and a member of the Board of ACURA.

Source: Globetrotter

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Why A Small City In Ukraine Is A Focal Point In The War

John P. Ruehl

The small Ukrainian city of Bakhmut has seemingly limited strategic significance. But coupled with its growing psychological value, Russia will continue attempting to take the city, despite high casualties, by whatever means necessary.

Since the Ukrainian army’s counteroffensive started gaining momentum in September 2022, the Russian army has largely been on the defensive. Russian drone and missile strikes continue to target Ukraine’s major cities, but its military forces have retreated from attempts to take Kherson, Kharkiv, or any other major Ukrainian settlement. Strong defensive fortifications built by Russian and Ukrainian armed forces across the frontline have stalled major advances as troops from both sides have mostly opted to dig in.

But the Kremlin has directed thousands of its forces since August 2022 to attack the small Donetsk city of Bakhmut. The war has in several ways been an “old-fashioned conflict, based on attrition, on devastating artillery strikes, and on dug-in positions reminiscent of the trenches of World War I,” as opposed to some of the quick offensives and counteroffensives that were seen during the first part of the current conflict.

According to a January 10, 2023, article in PBS NewsHour, the Ukrainian-backed governor of the Donetsk region, Pavlo Kyrylenko, “estimated more than two months ago that 90 percent of Bakhmut’s prewar population of over 70,000 had fled since Moscow focused on seizing the entire Donbas.” The fighting and destruction have only intensified since Kyrylenko made this statement, but the Kremlin appears intent on capturing Bakhmut for propaganda purposes and to tout a tactical victory after months of retreats. According to a Ukrainian analyst, “Bakhmut is mostly a political goal for Russia—it’s being done mostly for the sake of propaganda reasons to show everybody that after so many months and utter failures in Kherson and Kharkiv, it still can capture a more or less significant city,” stated a TRT World article.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has sought to prove that Ukrainian forces still have the capability to hold back the Russian advance, and made a surprise visit to Bakhmut on December 20. On January 9, 2023, Zelenskyy declared that the defense of the nearby city of Soledar had led to the gain of “additional time and power for Ukraine.” But the Ukrainian armed forces have had to divert “significant reinforcements” to the battle from other parts of the country since January, according to Britain’s Ministry of Defense. And despite heavy Russian casualties, high Ukrainian casualties have also become a concern for Kyiv.

Western and Ukrainian officials have often downplayed the strategic importance of Bakhmut, depicting it as a sinkhole for Russian forces that may result in a “Pyrrhic victory.” Nonetheless, the phrase “hold Bakhmut” has become a Ukrainian rallying cry, and Zelenskyy’s visit demonstrated the growing symbolic importance of controlling the city.

Bakhmut, however, does possess some strategic value. Few major settlements exist to its west until the Dnieper River, and the flatter and open terrain would make Ukrainian attempts to reinforce from this direction vulnerable to Russian surveillance and firepower. Ukraine also has relatively poor road infrastructure, and Bakhmut serves as a critical juncture of transport and communication lines for Ukrainian forces in the region, including strategic supply lines to the Ukrainian-controlled settlements of Siversk, Lyman, Slovyansk, and Kramatorsk.

For Russia, seizing Bakhmut would allow it to disrupt these supply lines, as well as take pressure off the battle over Russia-controlled Kremmina, which Ukrainian forces have been fighting to recover. Bakhmut is therefore key to Russian attempts to consolidate and stabilize the Donbas, where Russia has fought since 2014 and initially made gains in 2022, before the Ukrainian counteroffensive in September.

Taking or destroying key industrial centers in the Donbas region will also reduce Ukraine’s industrial output, leading to its economy suffering further.

Bakhmut stands out as the only major area where Russian forces are on the offensive, but the frontline has been relatively stable up until recently. Yet throughout January 2023, Russian forces have moved to the city’s flank and made increasing gains in the nearby town of Soledar. After weeks of fighting, the Kremlin stated that Soledar had been captured on January 13, this was later confirmed by the Institute for the Study of War and Ukrainian armed forces.

Russian forces have enjoyed an advantage over Ukrainian forces in artillery numbers, and an early transition to a wartime economy by the Kremlin has further helped sustain months of relentless artillery strikes by it. Nonetheless, Russia has turned to countries like North Korea in recent months to obtain more artillery, and its artillery fire has decreased in recent days, according to U.S. and Ukrainian officials.

But Ukraine’s more limited artillery capabilities have also recently been threatened. Despite pleas for more 155-millimeter artillery rounds, Western manufacturers have struggled to supply an adequate quantity and ramp up production. This has forced the U.S. to ask South Korea for artillery and Washington also secured hundreds of thousands of 155mm artillery shells for Ukraine from its stockpiles in Israel. Meanwhile, according to U.S. defense officials, “A third of the roughly 350 Western-made howitzers donated to Kyiv are out of action at any given time.”

Western countries have now been focusing on delivering more advanced weapons to Ukraine, such as missile defense systems, tanks, and armored vehicles. Recent pledges by the UK and Canada to supply Ukraine with heavy vehicles (as well as pressure on Germany and the U.S. to do so as well) will no doubt help Ukrainian forces on the frontline. But with Russia currently dictating where the fiercest fighting will take place, Bakhmut’s vulnerability to artillery has made holding it a significant challenge.

Local militia groups and the Russian military have naturally played essential roles in the ongoing battle for Bakhmut and its surrounding regions. But perhaps most notable is that much of Russia’s recent progress has been made by the Russian private military company, Wagner.

Wagner has operated in Ukraine since 2014 and has expanded its reach to countries across Africa and the Middle East, while the company’s owner, Yevgeny Prigozhin, has been keen to demonstrate his private army can accomplish major military objectives. Additionally, the deaths of Wagner mercenaries are not counted as official Russian casualties, making the costly effort to take Bakhmut easier for the Russian public to stomach. In early January 2023, the first Wagner fighters, who were “secretly pardoned convicts” recruited by the company returned home after completing their contracts, causing controversy in Russia and highlighting the role of the non-state actor in the conflict.

Western and Ukrainian observers believe that Wagner troops have suffered casualties in the thousands. Prigozhin, meanwhile, stated on a telegram channel in November 2022 that “Our goal is not Bakhmut… [itself] but the destruction of the Ukrainian army and the reduction of its combat potential, which has an extremely positive effect on other areas, which is why this operation was dubbed the ‘Bakhmut meat grinder.’”

It is also suspected that Prigozhin aims to seize the salt and gypsum mines in the region, similar to other Wagner efforts to gain access to resources across conflict zones in Africa and the Middle East.

The outsized role of Wagner in the battle, as well as Prigozhin’s growing profile in Russia, has led to significant tension between the oligarch and the Russian military. After the capture of Soledar, Prigozhin claimed this was solely due to Wagner, while the Russian Defense Ministry claimed a few days later that victory was thanks to the Russian armed forces without mentioning the Wagner mercenaries.

The dispute between the Russian military and Wagner has come amid a leadership shakeup among the top brass of the Russian military. Valery Gerasimov, chief of the Russian general staff, replaced Sergei Surovikin as the Ukraine campaign’s overall commander on January 11. The change indicates the Kremlin’s frustration with the fledgling promises of the Russian armed forces. Nonetheless, the slow success of Russian artillery strikes in Soledar combined with Wagner troops shows that the two can work together.

But Bakhmut, so far, remains elusive for the Kremlin. Whichever side controls the city will have an advantage over any potential offensives later in 2023 and will have more say over where the next major battles take place. While Ukraine’s armed forces remain united under a more centralized command, the Kremlin will have to be careful of the growing tension between its armed forces, local militia groups, and private military companies.

Author Bio:
This article was produced by Globetrotter

John P. Ruehl is an Australian-American journalist living in Washington, D.C. He is a contributing editor to Strategic Policy and a contributor to several other foreign affairs publications. His book, Budget Superpower: How Russia Challenges the West With an Economy Smaller Than Texas’, was published in December 2022.

Source: Globetrotter

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Burkina Faso Ejects French Troops

Vijay Prashad

On January 18, 2023, the government of Burkina Faso made a decision to ask the French military forces to depart from the country within a month. This decision was made by the government of Captain Ibrahim Traoré, who staged the second coup of 2022 in Burkina Faso in September to remove Lieutenant Colonel Paul-Henri Sandaogo Damiba, who had seized power in a coup d’état in January. Traoré, now the interim president of Burkina Faso, said that Damiba, who is in exile in Togo, had not fulfilled the objectives of the Patriotic Movement for Safeguarding and Restoration, the name of their military group. Traoré’s government accused Damiba of not being able to stem the insurgency in the country’s north and of colluding with the French (alleging that Damiba had taken refuge in the French military base at Kamboinsin to launch a strike against the coup within a coup).

France entered the Sahel region in 2013 to prevent the southern movement of jihadist elements strengthened by the war in Libya, prosecuted by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). In the past few years, anti-French sentiment has deepened in North Africa and the Sahel. It was this sentiment that provoked the coups in Mali (August 2020 and May 2021), Guinea (September 2021), and then in Burkina Faso (January 2022 and September 2022). In February 2022, Mali’s government ejected the French military, accusing French forces of committing atrocities against civilians and colluding with jihadi insurgents. Burkina Faso has now joined Mali.

The ejection of France does not mean that there will be no NATO countries in the region. Both the United States and Britain have a large footprint from Morocco to Niger, with the United States trying to draw African countries into its contest against China and Russia. Regular trips by U.S. military leaders—such as U.S. Marine Corps General Michael Langley (commander of U.S. Africa Command) to Gabon in mid-January – and by U.S. civilian leaders—like Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen to Senegal, South Africa, and Zambia—are part of a full-court press to ensure that African states forge closer ties with the United States and its allies over China. The designation of Russia’s Wagner Group—which is said to be operating in the Sahel—as a “transnational criminal organization ” by the United States and the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit, held in mid-December, are both attempts to draw African states into a new cold war.

Almost half of the Burkinabé population lives below the poverty line, and “more than 630,000 people are on the brink of starvation,” in the country, according to the UN. The country is, however, not poor with its gold export reaching $7.19 billion in 2020. These gains do not go to the Burkinabé people but go to the large mining companies. Ejection of the French military will not be the answer to these deep-seated problems faced by Burkina Faso.

Author Bio:
This article was produced by Globetrotter.

Vijay Prashad is an Indian historian, editor, and journalist. He is a writing fellow and chief correspondent at Globetrotter. He is an editor of LeftWord Books and the director of Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research. He is a senior non-resident fellow at Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies, Renmin University of China. He has written more than 20 books, including The Darker Nations and The Poorer Nations. His latest books are Struggle Makes Us Human: Learning from Movements for Socialism and (with Noam Chomsky) The Withdrawal: Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan, and the Fragility of U.S. Power
Source: Globetrotter

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An Ancient Recipe For Social Success

Zona Arqueológica Monte Albán Vista – Photo: wikimedia commons

New evidence and understandings about the structure of successful early societies across Asia, Africa, and the Western Hemisphere are sweeping away the popular assumption that early societies tended toward autocracy and despotism.

Archaeology has a more valuable story to tell: Collective action and localized economic production are a recipe for sustainability and broader well-being. The Mesoamerican city of Monte Albán, which was a major regional urban center for 1,300 years, is a shining example. It is a powerful case study that early investments in public infrastructure and goods foster longer-term sustainability.

There is a rich vein of insight here for some of the most pressing challenges faced by humanity: billions of people living in poverty, and collapsing social structures in the developing world. And in the wealthy industrialized world, many are increasingly disillusioned by the flaws in our political and economic models.

But if we’re going to use the models from the ancient past, can we be confident about how early societies really operated?

Researchers have begun to identify archaeological evidence that works as indicators for political and social behaviors and institutions:

– Is there evidence of extreme wealth disparity or equality in lifestyle or burial?
– Does monumental architecture foster exclusivity (elite tombs, aggrandizing monuments, evidence of dynastic legitimation) or access (e.g., open plazas, wide access ways, community temples)?
– Are palaces prominent or is it not clear where the leader resided?
– Does art emphasize lineal descent, divine kingship, and royal patron deities or does it feature more abstract themes such as fertility or integrative cosmological principles?

There is a lot we can determine from a society’s tendency toward the first or second option in each of these questions about whether it was more autocratic or associated with collective/good governance.

In a study of 26 early urban centers in Mesoamerica, Monte Albán was one of 12 that was characterized as a collectively organized city based on a series of indicators. Prior to the city’s abandonment, Monte Albán was not highly unequal: there were few, if any, lavish tombs, no great caches of household riches or other evidence of extreme wealth differences, and no large, ornate palace that was unequivocally the ruler’s residence.

From early in the site’s history, the city’s core was centered on a large plaza that could have accommodated a significant proportion of the site’s population. Flattening the hill’s rocky top and then defining and creating this large open space entailed planning, coordination, and cooperation. Until very late in the city’s history, material representations of rulers were relatively rare, and there is an overall lack of ruler aggrandizement. During the city’s first four centuries (500–100 BCE), there were few depictions of seemingly important individuals or leaders. Rule was largely faceless.

How did it happen?

In this light, let’s travel to the early sedentary villages (c. 1500–500 BCE) in the Valley of Oaxaca—the largest expanse of flat land in Mexico’s Southern Highlands. They were situated on or near well-watered land.

Around 500 BCE, however, a new hilltop center, Monte Albán, was established at the nexus of the valley’s three arms, where agriculture was far riskier due to unreliable rainfall and a dearth of permanent water sources. During the era of its establishment, not only was Monte Albán larger than any earlier community in the region, but many other settlers moved into the rural area around Monte Albán.

This marked shift in settlement patterns and the underlying processes associated with the foundation of Monte Albán have long been debated. How can we account for the immigration of people, some likely from beyond the region itself, to an area where they faced greater risks of crop failure?

One perspective, reliant on uniform models of premodern states as despotic, viewed the process from a basically top-down lens; leaders coerced their subjects to move near the capital to provide sustenance for the new center.

Yet more recent research has found that governance at Monte Albán was generally more collective than autocratic, and in its growth period, productive activities were collective, centered in domestic units and not managed from above.

By the time Monte Albán was established in the Valley of Oaxaca, more than a thousand years had passed since foragers transitioned from mobile lifeways to sedentary communities. Maize, beans, and squash, which had been domesticated prior to village formation, were key elements of an agricultural economy, with maize providing the bulk of calories. Early villagers also exploited a mosaic of other natural resources including clay for making ceramic vessels and figurines, stone for making tools and ornaments, and plant materials for processing into a range of woven products.

The shift to sedentary life was a long social process through which formerly dispersed populations not only adjusted but committed to living in larger communities and interacting with more people on a daily basis.

The Valley of Oaxaca has a climate that is semiarid, rainfall is unpredictable and spatially patchy across the region, and not all sectors of the valley floor receive the minimum annual precipitation necessary for reliable rainfall farming of maize, the region’s staple and culturally most important crop.

The prime factor that determines the productivity of maize is the availability of water, and a diversity of water management practices have been used since prehispanic times. These manipulations, which increase agricultural yields, include wells and pot irrigation, check dams, and small-scale canals, all of which were easily managed or implemented at the household level.

The Valley of Oaxaca was a core politico-economic region. Prior to Monte Albán’s founding, most of the populace resided in one of three clusters of settlements that were separated from the others by largely unoccupied areas, including the center of the valley where Monte Albán was later situated. In each arm, a cluster of smaller communities surrounded one larger settlement that had special functions and served as the “head towns” of small competing polities.

This millennial pattern was broken when Monte Albán was built on a steep hilltop in the center of the valley. The settlement’s establishment and rapid growth in size and monumentality set off a dynamic episode of innovation and change that included demographic, dietary, and other economic shifts. Populations grew rapidly not only at the new center, which became the largest and most monumental city in the valley’s early history, but also in the surrounding countryside. The center and rural communities were integrated through an emergent market network that provisioned the city.

This dramatic episode of change required the coordination of labor to build the new city. The rocky hilltop was flattened into a large main plaza with monumental buildings constructed along its edges. The scale and orientation of this central plaza represent a key transition from prior community plans in the region. Residences for the city’s burgeoning population were constructed on the steep slopes of the hill by creating flattened spaces, or terraces, shored up by stone and earthen retaining walls, each of which sustained a domestic unit.

The allocation of the hill’s apex for civic-ceremonial space and the lower slopes for commoner residences was a blueprint for a broad social accord. Built environments are not neutral, but political, and Monte Albán’s footprint with a large, relatively open central space and little display of hierarchical leaders points to a collective arrangement.

The city’s concentrated residential precincts comprised strings of artificially flattened terraces that shared long retaining walls. Construction of the terraces required allotments of domestic labor to clear trees, flatten steep inclinations, erect stone walls to retain flat spaces where houses would be built, and construct drainage channels to divert rainwater from living spaces. The construction, sharing, and maintenance of front retaining walls involved high degrees of interhousehold cooperation between neighbors.

Additionally, commoners adopted construction techniques and basic ceramic wares that previously were the domain of high-status families. In the early city, most houses included contiguous rooms with plaster floors, often constructed around a patio; they were built with adobe bricks on stone foundations instead of the mud and thatch typical of earlier commoner houses. The pottery wares that previously were largely used by higher-status families or as ceremonial vessels became more broadly distributed in the centuries after Monte Albán was established. This level of cooperation and coordination is evidence of a social charter or norms, in which a wider array of residents had access to what previously had been higher-status materials and goods.

No large-scale production has been uncovered, and there is no indication of central-governmental food storage at Monte Albán, as one might expect with top-down economic control or redistribution.

Economic production at Monte Albán was situated in domestic contexts. Instead of being coerced to move to Monte Albán, people were attracted to the city. Monte Albán was settled by a sizable group, possibly as large as 1,000 people, and rapidly grew to about 5,000 people within a few hundred years. Populations also increased in the rural areas around Monte Albán, and the annual rate of population growth in the valley exceeded what could have been maintained by natural increase alone. Populations expanded again in and around Monte Albán after c. 300 BCE. The threefold growth was too large to be accounted for by local, “natural growth,” so that people must have been drawn to Monte Albán and the valley from more distant, extra-regional locations.

Evidence indicates that the agricultural catchment for feeding Monte Albán likely extended 20 kilometers from the city. The market and exchange networks that moved food to the city created a high degree of interconnection among small settlements and Monte Albán. This interdependence required cooperation, infrastructure, and institutions that together provided the means of moving food and distributing seasonal surpluses.

Prior to Monte Albán, early “head towns” were generally positioned adjacent to good farmland. But the new city was located in an area of the valley where agriculture was riskier and largely dependent on unpredictable rainfall. Why would people move to a place where they faced a high risk of crop failure, where they could have been taxed more highly, and where, if governance were coercive, they had little voice? Such a scenario seems improbable, and it is far more likely that people moved to Monte Albán to take advantage of economic opportunities, a parallel to most migrants in the world today.

Author Bio:

Linda M. Nicholas is an adjunct curator of anthropology at the Negaunee Integrative Research Center at the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago, Illinois.
Gary M. Feinman is the MacArthur curator of Mesoamerican, Central American, and East Asian anthropology, also at the Negaunee Integrative Research Center.

Source: Independent Media Institute

Credit Line: This article was produced by Human Bridges, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

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The U.S. Blockade Of Cuba Hurts Medical Patients In Both Countries

Natalia Marques – Photo Twitter

The blockade of Cuba limits its ability to share its scientific and technological advances with the rest of the world.

Scientists in Cuba believe that the breakthroughs they have made in the health care and technology sectors should be used to save and improve lives beyond the country’s borders. This is why the island nation has developed important scientific and medical partnerships with organizations and governments across the globe, including with those in Mexico, Palestine, Angola, Colombia, Iran, and Brazil. However, such collaborations are difficult due to the blockade imposed on Cuba by the United States, which has now been in place for the last six decades.

In a conference, “Building Our Future,” held in Havana in November 2022, which brought together youth from Cuba and the United States, scientists at the Cuban Center of Molecular Immunology (CIM) stated during a presentation that the blockade hurts the people of the United States, too. By lifting the sanctions against Cuba, the scientists argued, the people of the United States could have access to life-saving treatments being developed in Cuba, especially against diseases such as diabetes, which ravage working-class communities each year.

A Cure for Diabetes

Cuban scientists have developed both a lung cancer vaccine and a groundbreaking diabetes treatment. The new diabetes treatment, Heberprot-P, developed by the Cuban Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (CIGB), can reduce leg amputations of people with diabetic foot ulcers by more than four times. The medication contains a recombinant human epidermal growth factor that, when injected into a foot ulcer, accelerates its healing process, thereby, reducing diabetes-related amputations. And yet, despite the fact that the medication has been registered in Cuba since 2006, and has been registered in several other countries since, people in the United States are unable to get access to Heberprot-P.

Diabetes was the eighth leading cause of death in the United States in 2020, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, killing more than 100,000 patients in that year. “Foot ulcers are among the most common complications of patients who have diabetes,” which can escalate into lower limb amputations, according to a report in the National Center for Biotechnology Information. Each year, around 73,000 “non-traumatic lower extremity amputations” are performed on people who have diabetes in the U.S. These amputations occur at a disproportionate rate depending on the race of a patient, being far more prevalent among Black and Brown people suffering from diabetes. Many point to racial economic disparities and systemic medical racism as the reason for this.

“If you go into low-income African American neighborhoods, it is a war zone… You see people wheeling themselves around in wheelchairs,” Dr. Dean Schillinger, a medical professor at the University of California-San Francisco, told KHN. According to the KHN article, “Amputations are considered a ‘mega-disparity’ and dwarf nearly every other health disparity by race and ethnicity.”

The life expectancy of a patient with post-diabetic lower limb amputation is significantly reduced, according to various reports. “[P]atients with diabetes-related amputations have a high risk of mortality, with a five-year survival rate of 40–48 percent regardless of the etiology of the amputation.” Heberprot-P could help tens of thousands of patients avoid such amputations, however, due to the blockade, U.S. patients cannot access this treatment. People in the U.S. have a vested interest in dismantling the U.S. blockade of Cuba.

“So after five years [post-amputation], that’s the most you can live, and we are preventing that from happening,” said Rydell Alvarez Arzola, a researcher at CIM, in a presentation given to the U.S. and Cuban youth during the conference in Havana. “And that also is something that could bring both of our peoples [in Cuba and the U.S.] together to fight… to eliminate [the blockade].”

Cuban Health Care Under Blockade

Perhaps one of Cuba’s proudest achievements is a world-renowned health care system that has thrived despite economic devastation and a 60-year-long blockade.

After the fall of Cuba’s primary trading partner, the Soviet Union, in 1991, the island saw a GDP decrease of 35 percent over three years, blackouts, and a nosedive in caloric intake. Yet, despite these overwhelming challenges, Cuba never wavered in its commitment to providing universal health care. Universal health care, or access to free and quality health care for all, is a long-standing demand of people’s movements in the United States that has never been implemented largely due to the for-profit model of the health care industry and enormous corporate interests in the sector.

As other nations were enacting neoliberal austerity measures, which drastically cut social services in the 1980s and 1990s, Cuba’s public health care spending increased by 13 percent from 1990 to 1994. Cuba successfully raised its doctor-to-patient ratio to one doctor for every 202 Cubans in the mid-1990s, a far better statistic than the United States’ ratio of one doctor for every 300 people, according to a 2004 census.

As the blockade begins its seventh decade, Cuba is not only upholding universal health care but also continues to be at the forefront of scientific developments globally.

This was evident during the COVID-19 crisis. Cuba, faced with the inability to purchase vaccines developed by U.S. pharmaceutical companies due to the U.S. blockade, developed five vaccines. The nation not only achieved its goal of creating one of the most effective COVID-19 vaccines but also launched the first mass COVID-19 vaccination campaign for children from two to 18 years old in September 2021.

To Share Knowledge Without Restrictions

Despite its achievements, Cuban health care still faces serious, life-threatening limitations due to the economic blockade. CIM, for example, has struggled to find international companies willing to carry out vital services for them. Claudia Plasencia, a CIM researcher, explained during the conference that CIM had signed a contract with a German gene synthesis company which later backed out because it had signed a new contract with a U.S. company. “They could not keep processing our samples, they could not keep doing business with Cuba,” Plasencia said.

Arzola explained how it is virtually impossible to purchase top-of-the-line equipment due to trade restrictions. “A flow cytometer is a machine that costs a quarter-million dollars… even if my lab has the money, I cannot buy the best machine in the world, which is from the U.S., everyone knows that,” he said. Even if CIM were to buy such a machine from a third party, it cannot utilize the repair services from the United States. “I cannot buy these machines even if I have the money, because I would not be able to fix them. You cannot spend a quarter-million dollars every six months [buying a new machine]… even though you know that this [machine] is the best for your patients.”

I spoke to Marianniz Diaz, a young woman scientist at CIM. When asked what we in the U.S. could do to help CIM’s scientists, her answer was straightforward: “The principal thing you can do is eliminate the blockade.”

“I would like us to have an interaction without restrictions, so we [Cuba and the U.S.] can share our science, our products, [and] our knowledge,” she said.

Author Bio:
This article was produced in partnership by Peoples Dispatch and Globetrotter.

Natalia Marques is a writer at Peoples Dispatch, an organizer, and a graphic designer based in New York City.

Source: Globetrotter

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The Role Of The Brazilian Military In The Coup Attempt

Pedro Marin – revista opera

The far-right mob that invaded the federal building, Congress, and the Supreme Court and vandalized government buildings at Three Powers Plaza in Brasília on January 8, demanded a “military intervention” in Brazil. They had set up camps that had assembled in front of army barracks throughout the country since November demanding the “military to overturn” the election of Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (known as Lula). On November 11, 2022, the commanders of the armed forces released a note giving the coup camps a safe haven—not only physically but also legally. It is important to note two elements of that document: first, the commanders stated, through an illogical interpretation, that the camps in favor of a coup were legal because the protesters were peaceful, and that “both possible restrictions on rights by public agents and possible excesses committed in demonstrations” would be reprehensible, despite the fact that demanding the military to stage a coup is a crime (Article 286). In practice, the commanders of the three armed forces acted as constitutional interpreters, defending the democratic legitimacy of the coup camps and saying, in advance, that any measure taken by the institutions against the camps would be considered illegal by them.

The second element of the note made reference to the concept of “moderating power.” Reaffirming their commitment to the Brazilian people, the commanders said the armed forces were “always present and moderators in the most important moments of our history.” The moderating power was introduced as part of the constitution of 1824, based on the ideas of Benjamin Constant, who predicted that to avoid “anarchy” that marked the concept of the three branches of the government, it would be necessary to grant one of the powers (in Brazil, the monarch) a fourth power, capable of solving institutional disagreements.

On January 2, when Lula’s Minister of Defense José Múcio ideas that he considered the camps to be a “manifestation of democracy,” and that he had “friends and relatives” who were part of these camps, he was only repeating what the military had been saying since November.

Brazil has a long history of military intervention in politics. The Brazilian republic was founded through a military coup in 1889. From then until 1989, Brazil experienced at least 15 coups d’état attempts, of which five were successful: including a 21-year-long military dictatorship. After the fall of the dictatorship, in 1985, there was an expectation among Brazilians that civilian control would be established over the military and that respect for democracy would prevail among them. But the redemocratization process itself was controlled by the outgoing military government, through a “slow, gradual, and safe political opening,” in the words of then-military President Ernesto Geisel, and the pressure of the army on the Constituent Assembly that wrote the 1988 constitution guaranteed them the role of “[guarantors] of the powers and defenders of law and order.”

During Lula’s first two terms (from 2003 to 2011) as president, the military adopted a lobbying strategy in dealing with the government. Since the impeachment of former Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff in 2016, however, they seem to have returned to the forefront of politics. Statements encouraging coups began to emerge from among the reserve and active military personnel, without punishment, and even the then-commander of the armed forces, General Eduardo Villâs Boas, stated in a tweet that he “repudiates impunity” when the Supreme Court was preparing to decide on a habeas corpus petition filed by Lula in 2018. Villâs Boas later would describe his tweet as an “alert.” The army took important positions in former President Michel Temer’s government and expanded its political participation under the government of former President Jair Bolsonaro, and has continuously threatened the electoral process in 2022.

On January 8, as the governmental buildings in Brasília were vandalized by the angry mob, a Law and Order Guarantee (GLO) decree was discussed and 2,500 military personnel were mobilized, ready to respond to the escalating situation. If such a decree had been signed, the armed forces would have been responsible for controlling the security of Brazil’s federal capital. Lula, instead, decreed a federal intervention “in the area of security in the Federal District,” appointing Ricardo Capelli, executive secretary of the Ministry of Justice, to command it. The president later declared that if he had carried out a GLO, “then the coup that these people wanted would be taking place.”

The involvement of the military in the acts of January 8 is being investigated. Many reserve members of the armed forces participated in the acts. The reasons why the Presidential Guard Battalion, the army battalion responsible for the security of the Planalto Palace, did not prevent the demonstrators from invading the government headquarters is also under investigation. “There were a lot of conniving people. There were a lot of people from the [police] conniving. A lot of people from the armed forces here were conniving. I am convinced that the door of the Planalto Palace was opened for these people to enter because there are no broken doors. This means that someone facilitated their entry,” said Lula.

After the establishment of the federal intervention, the security forces, led by the intervenor Ricardo Capelli, repressed and arrested the coup demonstrators.. The army mobilized armored vehicles to block and prevent the police from entering the camp and arresting those responsible on January 8. According to the Washington Post, senior army commander, General Júlio César de Arruda, told the Minister of Justice Flávio Dino: “You are not going to arrest people here.” The police were only allowed to enter the camp the next day.

This incident is just a manifestation of what the armed forces have been saying since November 2022: that they consider themselves a moderating power and that they will not allow—even after the destruction on January 8—“public agents” to carry out any act they consider a “restriction of rights” of the coup demonstrators.

The army gave a safe haven to the coup demonstrators before and after they vandalized the buildings in Brasília and while they were asking for an army intervention against the president. At the same time, it was unable to protect the presidential palace from such a crowd. This sends a clear message about who the army was trying to defend and what it considers its true mission.

In Brazil, it becomes more and more urgent that the masses, who shouted in chorus “No amnesty!” for Bolsonaro during Lula’s inauguration on January 1, 2023, include the military in their demand.

Author Bio:
This article was produced by Globetrotter in partnership with Revista Opera.

Pedro Marin is the editor-in-chief and founder of Revista Opera. Previously, he was a correspondent in Venezuela for Revista Opera and a columnist and international correspondent in Brazil for a German publication. He is the author of Golpe é Guerrateses para enterrar 2016, on the impeachment of Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff, and coauthor of Carta no CoturnoA volta do Partido Fardado no Brasil, on the role of the military in Brazilian politics.

Source: Globetrotter

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