Yuri Kozyrev / dispatches © Copyright 2008 dispatches magazine
For the Beyond Iraq issue at the dispatches website, Yuri Kozyrev has published the photo essay ирак, documenting post-invasion Iraq, what struck me the most was the above photo. Besides from making me think of the iconic scene of surfing soldiers after napalming a vietnamese fishing town in Apocalypse Now, it kind of sums up a great deal of what I’ve been learning for the past five months; about a war that has obviously failed, and while bringing about a deepening segregation between cultures, has cultivated ideological blowback and left a culture as old as civilization in rubble. The soldiers on the image celebrate their Independence Day amid the wreckage of a country that has not only been robbed of its promise of own national independence, but also looted of its cultural heritage, its infrastructure, and history – literally loaded onto trucks and disappeared. And while the soldiers were high on a sense of victory and, I suppose, of liberation, the country was in flames while the priority of the Bush administration was to fling open the borders for foreign multinational investment, privatize all institutions, industries and social services to non-Iraqi companies, and creating the widest of free-market zones anywhere in the world; an Iraq open for business, a shopping mall for disaster production and relief industries. According to Michael Ledeen, adviser to the Bush administration, invading Iraq was an attempt at “a war to remake the world” – and Thomas Friedman of the New York Times proclaimed that “we are not doing nation-building in Iraq. We are doing nation-creating,” as if there was nothing there to begin with.
Back in the seventies in military governments throughout Latin America, it was decided that in order to build and maintain stable societies and economies, “whole categories of people and their cultures would have to pulled up “from the root”" (quotes so far from Naomi Klein in The Shock Doctrine), including their cultural heritage, more often than not in order to make way for economic policies beneficial to investors. Full circle back to Guatemala, where the recent trend of United States sponsored military interventions had its kickoff. In these parts, little over fifty years ago, business had its buddying introduction into transnational politics when a banana company managed to have the U.S. overthrow the democratically elected government and install the first military dictatorship in a long row that went on until the nineties. They also witnessed the worst genocide in 20th century Latin America; the attempt to pull up from the roots the indigenous Mayan population, another culture as old as civilization, one of the richest and most beautiful I’ve encountered.
Now I’m back in Quetzaltenango, Guatemala. I hope to be able to address these things more, in the very least understand it and the context around me, and in the meanwhile keep looking for a voice and a medium. The policies and politics of these events of the past continue today, in other parts of the world, and continues to reverberate right here where it started; the Mayans are still targeted, now by static and insufficient social policies and discrimination and a still corrupt government. One of the better (or worse) examples is that of Efrain Rios Montt, the man responsible for ordering the destruction of some 400 Mayan villages during his presidency thirty years ago, who to this day retains a seat in the Guatemalan parliament.
By the way I’m violating the copyright acknowledged above as the image is reproduced without permission. If anyone has a problem with it contact me and I’ll remove the photograph from here right away. It’s taken from the photo essay by Yuri Kozyrev linked to in the first paragraph (and here).