sábado, febrero 28, 2009

martes, febrero 24, 2009

Todo lo que usted quiere saber sobre el origen de esta crisis pero teme no entenderlo

from the original version in english

Walden Bello
Sinpermiso.info, 5 October 2008

El derrumbe de Wall Street no se debe solo a la codicia y a la falta de regulación estatal de un sector hiperactivo. Procede también, y sobre todo, de la crisis de sobreproducción que ha venido minando al capitalismo remundializado desde mediados de los 70. Así ve esta crisis de fin de época Walden Bello.

Muchos en Wall Street todavía están digiriendo los acontecimientos epocales de las últimas semanas:

* Entre 1 y 3 billones de dólares de activos financieros evaporados.
* Wall Street, nacionalizado, con la Reserva Federal y el Departamento del Tesoro tomando todas las decisiones estratégicas importantes en el sector financiero, y a todo eso, con un gobierno que, tras el rescate de AIG, pasa a dirigir la mayor compañía aseguradora del mundo.
* El mayor rescate desde la gran depresión, con 700 mil millones de dólares reunidos a la desesperada para salvar al sistema financiero global.

Las explicaciones habituales ya no bastan. Los acontecimientos extraordinarios precisan de explicaciones extraordinarias. Pero antes…

¿Ya pasó lo peor?
No, si algo ha quedado claro con los movimientos contradictorios de estas semanas en que, al tiempo que se permitía la quiebra de Lehman Brothers, se nacionalizaba AIG y se fraguaba la toma de control de Merril Lynch por el Bank of America, es que no hay una estrategia para afrontar la crisis; a lo sumo, respuestas tácticas, como bomberos que se pisan la manguera, abrumados por la magnitud del incendio.

El rescate de 700 mil millones de dólares de las obligaciones hipotecariamente respaldadas en poder de los bancos no es una estrategia, sino, básicamente, un esfuerzo a la desesperada para restaurar la confianza en el sistema, para prevenir la erosión de la fe en los bancos y en otras instituciones financieras y para evitar una afluencia masiva de retirada de fondos de los bancos como la que desencadenó la Gran Depresión de 1929.

¿Qué causó el colapso del centro neurálgico del capitalismo global? ¿Fue la codicia?
La vieja y venerada codicia jugó su parte. A eso se refería Klaus Schwab, el organizador del Foro Económico Mundial, el jamboree de la elite global celebrado anualmente en los Alpes suizos, cuando dijo a su clientela en Davos este año: "Tenemos que pagar por los pecados del pasado".

¿Fue el de Wall Street un caso de alguacil alguacilado?
Desde luego. Los especuladores financieros rizaron el rizo hasta confundirse ellos mismos con la creación de contratos financieros más y más complejos, como los derivados, tratando de ganar dinero a partir de todo tipo de riesgos (incluidos exóticos instrumentos de futuros, como los credits default swaps o contratos de protección de derivados crediticios, que permitían a los inversores apostar, por ejemplo, a que los prestatarios de la propia corporación bancaria ¡no serían capaces de devolver su deuda! Tal es el comercio multibillonario no-regulado que acabó tumbando a AIG.

El 17 de diciembre de 2005, cuando la International Financing Review (IFR) anunció sus premios anuales del año –uno de los programas de premios más prestigioso del sector—, dejó esto dicho:

"Lehman Brothers no sólo mantuvo su presencia global en el mercado, sino que dirigió la penetración en el espacio de preferencia… desarrollando nuevos productos y diseñando transacciones capaces de subvenir a las necesidades de los prestatarios… Lehman Brothers es el más innovador en el espacio de preferencia precisamente por hacer cosas que no pueden verse en ningún otro sitio."

Huelgan comentarios.

¿Fue falta de regulación?
Sí. Todo el mundo reconoce ahora que la capacidad de Wall Street para innovar y excogitar instrumentos financieros más y más sofisticados ha ido mucho más allá de la capacidad regulatoria del Estado, y no porque el Estado no fuera capaz de regular, sino porque la actitud neoliberal, de laissez-faire, imperante impidió al Estado diseñar mecanismos efectivos de regulación.

Pero ¿no hay nada más? ¿No hay nada sistémico?
Bien, Georges Soros, que lo vio venir, dice que lo que estamos pasando es la crisis del sistema financiero, la crisis del "gigantesco sistema circulatorio" de un "sistema capitalista global… que está reventando por las costuras".

Para seguir con la idea del archiespeculador, a lo que estamos asistiendo es a la intensificación de una de las crisis o contradicciones centrales del capitalismo global, cual es la crisis de sobreproducción, también conocida como sobreacumulación o sobrecapacidad.

Se trata de la tendencia del capitalismo a construir una ingente capacidad productiva que termina por rebasar la capacidad de consumo de la población debido a las desigualdades que limitan el poder de compra popular, lo cual termina por erosionar las tasas de beneficio.

Pero, ¿qué tiene que ver la crisis de sobreproducción con los acontecimientos recientes?
Muchísimo. Pero, para entender la conexión, tenemos que retrotraernos a la llamada Época Dorada del capitalism contemporáneo, al período comprendido entre 1945 y 1975.

Fue un período de rápido crecimiento, tanto en las economías del centro como en las subdesarrolladas, un crecimiento propulsado, en parte, por la masiva reconstrucción de Europa y del Este asiático tras la devastación de la II Guerra Mundial, y en parte, por la nueva configuración socio-económica institucionalizada bajo el nuevo estado keynesiano. Un aspecto clave de esta última fueron los severos controles estatales de la actividad de mercado, el uso agresivo de políticas fiscales y monetarias para minimizar la inflación y la recesión, así como un régimen de salarios relativamente altos para estimular y mantener la demanda.

¿Qué pasó, pues?
Bien, este período de elevado crecimiento terminó a mediados de los 70, cuando las economías del centro se vieron inmersas en la estanflación, es decir, en la coexistencia de un bajo crecimiento con una inflación alta, lo que la teoría económica neoclásica suponía imposible.

Sin embargo, la estanflación no era sino el síntoma de una causa más profunda, a saber: la reconstrucción de Alemania y del Japón, así como el rápido crecimiento de economías en vías de industrialización, como Brasil, Taiwán y Corea del Sur, añadió una enorme capacidad productiva e incrementó la competición global, mientras que la desigualdad social, dentro de cada país, y entre países, limitó globalmente el incremento del poder adquisitivo y de la demanda, resultando así erosionada la tasa de beneficio. La drástica subida del precio del petróleo en los setenta no hizo sino agravar la cosa.

¿Cómo trató de resolver el capitalismo la crisis de sobreproducción?
El capital ensayó tres vías de salida del atolladero de la sobreproducción: la reestructuración neoliberal, la globalización y la financiarización.

¿En qué consistió la reestructuración neoliberal?
La reestructuración neoliberal tomó la forma del reaganismo y del thatcherismo en el Norte y del ajuste estructural en el Sur. El objetivo era la revigorización de la acumulación de capital, lo que se consiguió: 1) removiendo las restricciones estatales al crecimiento, al uso y a los flujos de capital y de riqueza; y 2) redistribuyendo el ingreso de las clases pobres y medias a los ricos, de acuerdo con la teoría de que se motivaría así a los ricos para invertir y alimentar el crecimiento económico.

El problema de esa fórmula era que, al redistribuir el ingreso en favor de los ricos, estrangulaba el ingreso de los pobres y de las clases medias, lo que provocaba la restricción de la demanda, sin necesariamente inducir a los ricos a invertir más en producción.

De hecho, la reestructuración neoliberal, que se generalizó en el Norte y en el Sur a lo largo de los años ochenta y noventa, tuvo unos pobres registros en términos de crecimiento: el crecimiento global promedio fue de un 1,1% en los 90 y de un 1,4 en los 80, mientras que el promedio en los 60 y en los 70, cuando las políticas intervencionistas eran dominantes, fue, respectivamente, de un 3,5% y de un 2,54%. La reestructuración neoliberal no pudo terminar con la estanflación.

¿En qué medida la globalización fue una respuesta a la crisis?
La segunda vía de escape global ensayada por el capital para enfrentarse a la estanflación fue la "acumulación extensiva" o globalización, es decir, la rápida integración de las zonas semicapitalistas, no-capitalistas y precapitalistas a la economía global de mercado. Rosa Luxemburgo, la celebrada economista y revolucionaria alemana, se percató de este mecanismo hace mucho tiempo, viéndolo como un mecanismo necesario para restaurar la tasa de beneficio en las economías metropolitanas. ¿Cómo? Ganando acceso al trabajo barato; ganando mercados, aun si limitados, nuevos; ganando nuevas fuentes de productos agrícolas y de materia primas baratos; y creando nuevas áreas para inversión en infraestructura. La integración se produce a través de la liberalización del comercio, removiendo los obstáculos a la movilidad del capital y aboliendo las fronteras para la inversión exterior.

China, ni que decir tiene, es el caso más destacado de un área no-capitalista integrada en la economía capitalista global en los últimos 25 años.

Para contrarrestar sus declinantes beneficios, un considerable número de corporaciones empresariales situadas entre las primeras 500 del ranquin de la revista Fortune han trasladado una parte significativa de sus operaciones a China, a fin de aprovechar las ventajas del llamado "precio chino" (las ventajas de costes derivadas de un trabajo barato chino aparentemente inagotable). A mediados de la primera década del siglo XXI, entre el 40 y el 50 por ciento de los beneficios de las corporaciones estadounidenses dimanaban de sus operaciones y ventas en el exterior, y señaladamente, en China.

¿Por qué la globalización no pudo superar la crisis?
El problema con esta vía de salida del estancamiento es que exacerba el problema de la sobreproducción, porque añade capacidad productiva. La China de los últimos 25 años ha venido a añadir un volumen tremendo de capacidad manufacturera, lo que ha tenido por efecto deprimir los precios y los beneficios. No por casualidad, los beneficios de las corporaciones estadounidenses dejaron de crecer hacia 1997- De acuerdo con un índice estadístico, las tasas de beneficios de las 500 de Fortune pasó de 7,15 en 1960-69 a 5,30 en 1980-90, a 2,29 en 1990-99 y a 1,32 n 2000-2002.

Dadas las limitadas ganancias obtenidas en punto a contener el impacto depresivo de la sobreproducción, ya a través de la reestructuración neoliberal, ya con la globalización, la tecera vía de salida resultó vital para mantener y elevar la rentabilidad. La tecera vía es la financiarización.

En el mundo ideal de la teoría económica neoclásica, el sistema financiero es el mecanismo, merced al cual los ahorradores, o quienes se hallan en posesión de fondos excedentes, se juntan con los empresarios que tienen necesidad de sus fondos para invertir en producción. En el mundo real del capitalismo tardío, con la inversión en industria y en agricultura arrojando magros beneficios por causa de la sobreproducción, grandes cantidades de fondos excedentes circulan y son invertidas y reinvertidas en el sector financiero. Es decir, el sistema financiero gira sobre sí mismo.

El resultado es que se ensancha el hiato abierto entre una economía financiera hiperactiva y una economía real en estancamiento. Como bien observa un ejecutivo financiero: "ha habido una creciente desconexión entre la economía real y la economía financiera en estos últimos años. La economía real ha crecido, pero nada comparable a la economía financiera… hasta que estalló".

Lo que no nos dice este observador es que la desconexión entre la economía real y la economía financiera no es accidental: que la economía financiera se disparó precisamente para hacer frente al estancamiento dimanante de la sobreproducción de la economía real.

¿Cuáles fueron los problemas de la financiarización como vía de salida?
El problema de invertir en operaciones del sector financiero es que equivale a exprimir valor de valor ya creado. Puede crear beneficios, de acuerdo, pero no crea nuevo valor –sólo la industria, la agricultura, el comercio y los servicios crean valor nuevo—. Puesto que los beneficios no se basan en la creación de valor nuevo o añadido, las operaciones de inversión resultan extremadamente volátiles, y los pecios de las acciones, las obligaciones y otras formas de inversión pueden llegar a divergir radicalmente de su valor real: por ejemplo, las acciones en empresas incipientes de Internet, que se mantuvieron por un tiempo al alza, sostenidas principalmente por valoraciones financieras en espiral, para luego desplomarse. Los beneficios dependen, entonces, del aprovechamiento de las ventajas orecidas por movimientos de precios que divergen al alza del valor de las mercancías, para vender oportunamente antes de que la realidad fuerce la "corrección" a la baja para ajustarse a los valores reales. El alza radical de los precios de un activo, mucho más allá de los valores reales, es lo que se llama la formación de una burbuja.

¿Por qué la financiarización es tan volátil?
Con la rentabilidad dependiendo de golpes especulativos, no resulta sorprendente que el sector financiero vaya de burbuja en burbuja, o de una manía especulativa a otra.

Puesto que está sostenido por una manía especulativa, el capitalismo inducido financieramente no ha dejado de batir registros en materia de crisis financieras desde que los mercados de capitales fueron desregulados y liberalizados en los 80.

Antes de la actual debacle de Wall Street, las más explosivas fueron la crisis financiera mexicana de 1994-95, la crisis financiera asiática de 1997-1998, la crisis financiera rusa de 1996, el colapso del mercado de valores de Wall Street de 2001 y el colapso financiero argentino de 2002.

El antiguo secretario del Tesoro con Bill Clinton, un hombre de Wall Street –Rober Rubin—, predijo hace cinco años que "las crisis financieras futuras serán con casi toda seguridad inevitables, y podrían llegar a ser hasta peores."

¿Cómo se forman, crecen y estallan las burbujas?
Sirvámonos, a modo de ejemplo, de la crisis financiera asiática de 1997-98.

* Primero: balanza de pagos y liberalización financiera impuestas por el FMI y el Departamento noteamericano del Tesoro.
* Luego, entrada de fondos extranjeros en busca de rápida y elevada rentabilidad, lo que significa que entraron en el Mercado inmobiliario y en el Mercado de valores.
* Sobreinversión, lo que llevó al desplome de los precios en el Mercado de valores y en el Mercado inmobiliario, lo que, a su vez, condujo al pánico y a la coinsiguiente retiada de fondos: en 1997, en unas pocas semanas 100 mil millones de dólares abandonaron las economías del este asiático.
* Rescate de los especuladores extranjeros por parte del FMI.
* Colapso de la economía real: la recesión se extiende por todo el Este asiático en 1998.
* A pesar de la desestabilización a gran escala, todos los intentos realizados para imponer regulaciones nacionales o globales del sistema financiero fueron rechazadas con razones puramente ideológicas.

Volvamos a la presente burbuja. ¿Cómo se formó?
El actual colapso de Wall Street arraiga en la burbuja tecnológica de fines de los 90, cuando el precio de las acciones de las empresas incipientes en el mundo de Internet se disparó, para luego desplomarse, resultando todo ello en la pérdida de activos por valor de 7 billones de dólares y en la recesión de 2001-2002.

Las laxas políticas monetarias de la Rerserva Federal bajo Alan Greenspan estimularon la burbuja tecnológica, y cuando está colapsó dando paso a la recesión, Greenspan, tratando de prevenir una recesión duradera, rebajó en junio de 2003 los tipos de interés a un nivel sin precedentes en 45 años (al 1%), manteniéndolo en ese nivel durante más de un año. Con eso lo que consiguió fue estimular la formación de otra burbuja: la burbuja inmobiliaria.

En fecha tan temprana como 2002, economistas como Dean Baker, del Center for Economic Policy Research, alertaron sobre la formación de una burbuja inmobiliaria. Sin embargo, en fecha tan tardía como 2005 el entonces presidente del Consejo Económico de asesores de la Presidencia de la nación y actual presidente de la Reserva Federal, Bern Bernanke, atribuía el incremento de los precios de la vivienda en EEUU a "unos fundamentos económicos robustos", y no a la actividad especulativa. ¿A quién puede sorprender que el estallido de la crisis subprime en verano de 2007 pillara a este hombrecito con la guardia totalmente baja?

¿Y cómo creció?
Oigámoslo de boca de uno de los propios jugadores clave en los mercados, de George Soros: "Las instituciones hipotecarias animaron a los hipotecados a refinanciar sus hipotecas aprovechando la revalorización experimentada entretanto por sus casas. Rebajaron sus criterios de préstamo e introdujeron nuevos productos, como hipotecas a interés variable, hipotecas que 'sólo servían intereses' y 'ofertas promocionales' con tipos de interés para partirse de risa. Todo eso animó a especular con la vivienda. Los precios de las casas comenzaron a subir a un ritmo de dos dígitos. Eso sirvió para retroalimentar la especulación, y el alza de los precios inmobiliarios consiguió que los propietarios de casas se sintieran ricos; el resultado fue el boom consumista que ha sostenido a la economía estos últimos años."

Observando las cosas más de cerca, se ve que la crisis hipotecaria no resultó de una oferta superior a la demanda real. La "demanda" estaba, por mucho, fabricada por la manía especulativa de promotores y financieros empeñados en conseguir grandes beneficios a partir de su acceso al dinero foráneo que inundó a los EEUU de la última década. Ingentes volúmenes hipotecarios fueron agresivamente ofrecidos y vendidos a millones de personas que, normalmente, no habrían podido permitírselo ofreciéndoles unos tipos de interés ridículamente bajos, ulteriormente ajustables para sacar más dinero de los propietarios de casas.

¿Pero cómo pudieron las hipotecas subprime degenerar en un problema de tales dimensiones?
Porque los activos pasaron entonces a ser "segurizados": quienes habían generado las hipotecas, procedieron a amalgamarlas con otros activos en complejos productos derivados llamados "obligaciones de deuda colateralizada" (CDO, por sus siglas en inglés), lo cual resultó relativamente fácil dado que trabajaban con diversos tipos de intermediarios que, sabedores del riesgo, se deshacían de esos títulos de valores lo más rápidamente posible, pasándolos a otros bancos e inversores institucionales. Esas instituciones, a su vez, se deshacían del producto, pasándolo a otros bancos y a instituciones financieras foráneas.

Cuando aumentaron los tipos de interés de los préstamos subprime, de las hipotecas variables y de otros préstamos inmobiliarios, el juego tocó a su fin. Hay cerca de 6 millones de hipotecas subprime, el 40% de las cuales entrarán en impago en los próximos dos años, según estimaciones de Soros.

A los que hay que añadir otros 5 millones de impagos en los próximos 7 años, derivados de los tipos hipotecarios variables y de otros "préstamos flexibles". Pero los títulos, cuyo valor se cuenta por billones de dólares, ya se han infiltrado como un virus en el sistema financiero global. El gigantesco sistema circulatorio del capitalismo global ha sido fatalmente infectado.

¿Pero cómo pudieron los titanes de Wall Street desplomarse como un castillo de naipes?
Lo que ocurrió con Lehman Brothers, Merrill Lynch, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac y Bear Stearns fue, simplemente, que las pérdidas representadas por esos títulos tóxicos rebasaban por mucho sus reservas, lo que condujo a su caída. Y más caerán, probablemente, cuando sus libros de contabilidad, que en los que ahora esos títulos figuran en el Haber, se corrijan para reflejar el actual valor de esos activos.

Y muchos otros les seguirán, a medida que vayan quedando expuestas otras operaciones especulativas, como las centradas en las tarjetas de crédito y en las diferentes variedades de seguros contra riesgos. AIG cayó por causa de su gigantesca exposición en el área no-regulada de los contratos de protección crediticia derivada (credit default swaps), unos derivados financieros que permitían a los inversores apostar dinero a la posibilidad de que las empresas no pudieran devolver los préstamos.

Tales apuestas sobre impagos crediticios representan ahora un mercado de 45 billones de dólares, un mercado, como dicho, que carece de toda regulación. La ciclópea dimensión de los activos que podrían quedar dañados en caso de que AIG colapsara fue lo que movió a Washington a cambiar de idea e intervenir para rescatarlo, luego de haber dejado caer a Lehman Brothers.

¿Qué pasará ahora?
Puede decirse sin avilantez que habrá más bancarrotas y más nacionalizaciones e intervenciones públicas, desempeñando las instituciones y los bancos extranjeros un papel auxiliar del gobierno de los EEUU. Que el colapso de Wall Street irá a más y prolongará la recesión norteamericana. Y que la recesión en EEUU se comunicará a Asia y al resto del mundo, que sufrirá también una recesión, si no algo peor. La razón de esto último es que el principal mercado exterior de China son los EEUU y que China, a su vez, importa materias primas y bienes intermedios –de los que se sirve para sus exportaciones a los EEUU— de Japón, Corea y el Sudeste asiático. La globalización ha hecho imposible el "desacoplamiento". Los EEUU, China y el Este asiático andan ahora como tres prisioneros atados a una misma cadena.

¿Y en suma?
El desplome de Wall Street no sólo se debe a la codicia y a la falta de regulación estatal de un sector hiperactivo. El colapso de Wall Street hunde sus raíces en la crisis de sobreproducción que ha sido la plaga del capitalismo global desde mediados de los 70.

La financiarización de la inversión ha sido una de las vías de escape para salir del estancamiento, siendo las otras dos la reestructuración neoliberal y la globalización. Habiendo resultado de poco alivio la reestructuración neoliberal y la globalización, la financiarización pareció atractiva como mecanismo de restauración de la rentabilidad. Pero lo que ahora ha quedado demostrado es que la financiarización es una senda peligrosa que lleva a la formación de burbujas especulativas, capaces de ofrecer una efímera prosperidad a unos cuantos, pero que terminan en el colapso empresarial y en la recesión de la economía real.

Las cuestiones clave son éstas: ¿Cuán profunda y duradera será esta recesión? ¿Necesitará la economía de los EEUU generar otra burbuja especulativa para salir de esta recesión? Y si tal es el caso, ¿dónde se formará la siguiente burbuja? Algunos dicen que la próxima surgirá en el complejo militar-industrial o en el "capitalismo del desastre" sobre el que escribe Naomi Klein. Pero eso es harina de otro costal.


Walden Bello, profesor de ciencias políticas y sociales en la Universidad de Filipinas (Manila), es miembro del Transnational Institute de Amsterdam y presidente de Freedom from Debt Coalition, así como analista senior en Focus on the Global South.

Traducción para www.sinpermiso.info: Ricardo Timón y Mínima Estrella

lunes, febrero 23, 2009

Green (1999). Fear as a Way of Life.

Laura Green. 1999. Fear as a Way of Life. Mayan Widows in Rural Guatemala. New York: Columbia University Press.

In an environment of violence, fear and impunity the Guatemalan Mayan sense of collectivity and community, and the social connections among people, when completely destroyed and demolished, had to be constantly rebuild. In this book, Green tries to understand and represent the contradictions and (im)possibilities that Maya widows and orphans who survived the military and guerrilla violence, especially the (para)military destruction of hundreds of rural Maya communities, mass-massacre of at least 80.000 people (mostly men), face in their everyday life.

In a constantly shifting social landscape filled and formed with violence and impunity, fear could be considered as a logic response, some sort of tactic according to Green, by which Maya widows embody the memory of their lost husbands, cousins, parents, uncles, brothers and (re)create affirmative actions in their realities of suffering and oppression when now they have to become “mothers and fathers” at once. In a context of structural violence, when humiliation and fear, denial of dignity and integrity are over-present forms of micro-social processes of domination, when local communities are traversed by relationships of victim-witness-victimizer between neighbors and even family members are shaping the intricate forms of political and micro-social violence. One of the main forms of dominance and destruction created by the Guatemalan army was to use Maya boys as foot soldiers and local men as civil patrollers and military commissioners for surveillance and often for murdering, digging deeper fissures in family and community social relations. Maya women have to work to sustain their families, organize themselves and re-territorialize forms of political and community action when working in the milpas, something that before was usually done by men, producing corn in the same land in which the ancestors had cultivated and worked and harvested it. Here, the psychological, emotional, social and spiritual connection that Maya people have with their land is something worth noting. The massive destruction of hundred of rural communities not only killed and displaced thousands of people but also helped to augment the concentration of land and the exclusion of Maya people from their own lands. But this is a long process in which non-Maya Ladinos have used force, torture and the disappearance of Maya men for their own political and economical interests: forces of structural inequalities and political violence created a deadly cocktail. As Green says, “War, trauma, Christianity, loss of land, loss of control over their labor, poverty, and the introduction of farming crops and modern institutions have influenced who the Mayas are today” (52) and each generation have to confront the causes and conditions of their Mayaness.

And fear, when becomes chronic, when inscribed in the body and the collective imagination, when is the referee of power, it grows and grows and becomes a way of life: a meta-narrative of people living in a constant macro and micro “state of exception” when injustice is the rule. And this endless state of violence cannot and should not be taken in any abstract way, these are specific forms of fear and (in)visible violence which concretely traversed people’s lives in this capitalist neo-colonial Guatemala (with a huge portion of violence produced by the same state). Fear turns into the very nature of interactions and relations among people in rural communities (and perhaps in all the country). For Greeen one of the main “quality” of fear is its power to produce a sense of doubt in our own perception of reality: a self-censorship that internalize and anestheticize fear when situations of fear are constantly being repeated. Moreover, when people are living under constant surveillance and scrutiny by the military forces surrounding the Maya villages and the inner Maya people working for the army is not easy to felt overwhelmed by the (in)capacity to be in a continuous state of alertness.

The internalization of war and the militarization of everyday life in the context of Guatemala, some sort of “militarization of the mind” (Martin-Baro 1990), was a consequence of the continuous and very visible presence of soldiers and paramilitary personnel all over the country. So one relation between silent, fear and secrecy could be that silence can work as a survival tactic, but on the other hand, silencing is a brutal mechanism of control imposed through fear. When fear is a constant state in everyday life how can people act and react to it? Thus, silence via terror is not only psychological and individual but also collective and social as well. Added to this the fact that these women were transformed from wives to widows aggravating their suffering, and their need for economic, social and emotional support. With fear to return to their own villages and the kin ties completely destroyed and transformed many women and children left their villages as inner displaced within Guatemala or went to exile in Mexico in order to overcome their fear and suffering and re-start their lives economically, socially and politically renovating their network of support. These women live in a “chronic state of emotional, physical, spiritual, and social distress” (112), thus, I agree with Green that considering their organic disorders and their “folk illnesses” as manifestations of “clinical syndromes” or “culture-bound” illnesses is to “dehistoricize and dehumanize the lived experiences of the women” (112).

Green criticizes certain assumptions within anthropology, particularly how embodiment and the body are taken for granted in many theorizations when trying to understand everyday forms of violence. For Green, an analysis of the relation between violence and embodiment clearly shows the incapacity to split experience and cultural representation, and also reveals how power, gender and history work via “embodied subjectivity” and “concrete bodily activity.” Green considers that the body “is both a sociological and historical phenomenon, and knowledge is gained though the senses and sensory immersion in the natural and supernatural world” (114). This particular definition emphasizes embodiment as the territory in which human beings struggle beyond its usual consideration as a metaphor of human action or a mere text. What these women had and felted and experienced was connected with their emotional memory and bodily pain, their ill conditions had an obvious political causation. And when the women were meeting together and discussing about their common condition certain forms of community of pain and healing were being developed. For Green naming their suffering as illness had powerful results, “[it] created spaces for struggle while giving bodily shape to the image the women have of themselves as widows. Memory and pain served as a source for regenerating community and identity and for political consciousness” (117). The body in “itself” was the center of political demonstration due to women’s bodies were indeed the physical representation of the violence against the Maya population.

What I take from this book is a couple of things. I will have to come back often to issues of fear and other strong embodied emotions when dealing with children's end of life, family members and medical professionals for my dissertation. Also I will have to consider the role of the state as provider and mediator of services for terminally ill children. So in many ways Green's book would be useful to think on how to approach these issues. The situation is totally different because these women's fear comes from other sources, the state was the main producer of violence, death and fear; whereas in Argentina fear, anxieties and distress is mainly produced by the awareness of children's dying process. But still I think I will have to re-consider very closely if fear does not transform as a way of life for these people and what's the role of the state promoting or precluding those feelings and emotions of fear in children and their families.

lunes, febrero 16, 2009

fotos con caro

vino nuestra amiga caro a visitarnos, y aca hay algunas fotos comiendo sushi y (algo menos alegre) sobre una marcha que hicieron en el este del centro por mujeres indigenas que han sido asesinadas y desaparecidas en los ultimos 18 anios.
salutti
r

martes, febrero 10, 2009

reflejo

...tal vez tenia razon

en una entrada anterior decia que de las miles de causas y condiciones que llevaron a Israel a atacar Gaza una de la que me parecia logica (con un pensamiento conspirativo) era que el partido principal de la coalicion del gobierno (kadima) estaba perdiendo las elecciones (estaba 10 o mas cargos de bajo del likud). hoy, despues de las elecciones, parece que esta 2 cargos por encima del likud, sino vean esta nota....

Briggs (2003) Stories in the Time of Cholera: Racial Profiling During a Medical Nightmare.

Briggs, Charles. 2003. Stories in the Time of Cholera: Racial Profiling During a Medical Nightmare. Berkeley: University of Berkeley Press.

This book is about social imaginary and social inequality. It is also about the modern projects of creating different kinds of citizens. For Briggs, the creation of denigrating images, its circulation and consumption shapes public perceptions and the creation of public policy. He situates these tensions between the social production of sanitary citizens (capable of understanding modern medicine and providing self-care) and unsanitary subjects (inept to self-care and/or understand medicine) such as the Warao indigenous people in Venezuela as the struggle for appropriating or denying basic social and political rights. In this line he is very close to Paul Farmer’s approach. Briggs considers that the associations between Cholera and poverty and cultural difference facilitate the legitimacy of social inequality in each place. Thus, to think about disease and inequality without blaming the others creates the need for practicing health and social sciences on the “basis of a shared sense of responsibility and justice” (xviii).

Like Chagas, Cholera is considered a “disease of poverty”, in which certain forms of orientalism produce associations with pre-modernity and superstitions, although many epidemiologists think it is indeed a modern disease. For instance, if you one considers that national-states in Latin America have been attacked by, and shaped their practices because of, international monetary organizations such as IMF or World Bank in the 1980s and 1990s (and before in the 1970s helping with money dictatorships) and the involvement of US and other rich nations in Latin America supporting military governments, one could conclude that these other forces have “modernized” (in a narrow sense of producing more and more unsanitary subjects and less and less sanitary citizens) and help to produce the conditions that create cholera. Another problem is the creation of images of dirtiness and primitiveness of these other people that lack hygiene and “modern habits”.

The images of the cholera were mainly produced by a knowledge highly medicalized by biomedical professionals, and disseminated by the media with almost no criticism to the types of images and stereotypes they (re)produce. There was a big contrast, according to Briggs, between the medical personnel in situ trying to keep indigenous and criollos alive, and the governmental anti-cholera campaign that was hegemonizing the information and were portraying the general image that the situation was under control. In these circumstances, a general racialization of death as “local” (cholera was always there) and “natural” (for the indigenous people) phenomenon was produced using narratives of modernity, science and hygiene (or lack of). So the information produced to the middle-class urban population was under strict governmental control and has a direct aim: to blame indigenous for their fault in contracting cholera.

For Briggs, a process of racializing and spatializing cholera was developed although it contradicts in itself when not only indigenous people but also criollos became affected. But the media rarely criticized the official discourse in relation to cholera, and when they did so, when they create what Briggs calls as “intertextual gap” and criticized the government, they implicitly assumed the rhetoric that racialized and spatialized cholera. Moreover, both physicians and media believed that indigenous people were incapable of understanding biomedical concepts or appropriating of hygienic practices according to their own perspective. The ultimate effect of the governmental and media message was a meta-communicative message: “if you die it is your fault”. In the same line that with the Peruvian case, Venezuela did only attack the symptoms but never embarked in attacking the structural causes: access to potable water and waste disposal, medical care and education, and reducing social inequality. 1991 and 1992 were critical years to the indigenous people, and specifically to their claims for land, human rights, and access to medical care so these struggles were overlapped with the cholera crisis and thus created an explosive situation in Delta Orinoco. Ultimately, the cholera crisis deepened the social and racial inequalities of the region.

I am trying to think on the double side of poverty-disease. It is a tricky exercise. On the one hand, people get sick because they “are” poor, and this means because they have an unequal “access” (this is a neutral word) to drinkable and potable water, to sewage systems, to education, to health services, to different part of the state. And then, on the other hand, people are poor because they “are” sick? This is the main corollary of neo-liberal policies at the regional, national and transnational levels. Briggs and Cueto show how cholera was stigmatized, racialized and spatialized in a very particular way. So one can assume that for many parts of the “society” (or whatever we may call it) the association is first, they are sick, second they are poor. All these types of stereotypes such as “they are filthy”, “they eat raw fish” (very different from sushi, that’s is cool), “they do not have any kind of hygienic habits”, are constantly (re)produced in the mass media and in the self-prophetical discourses of middle and upper classes that are (re)assured they are not like them, these others. But how are we going to take this knowledge, and act upon it? In both sides of the equation, poverty=disease, or disease=poverty people are actively engaging with these struggles over meaning, values, practices and actions. Said that, I still do not know how to work and produce a critique to this. Of course, showing these contradictions can help to see how the logic of disease=poverty is manipulated to cover up what we all know, that poverty=disease. But still, if we say so, we are somehow playing the game we do not want to play, which is to give a passive role to the subaltern (or whatever we may call it) that can only criticize this depiction of their reality but not actively produce a different space where to destroy and overcome these two logics.

Cueto (2003). Stigma and Blame during an Epidemic. Cholera in Peru, 1991.

Cueto, Marcos. 2003. Stigma and Blame during an Epidemic. Cholera in Peru, 1991. In Diego Armus (ed.) Disease in the History of Modern Latin America. Durham: Duke University Press.

Looking at epidemics in specific societies can lead to understand social production of inequalities or can lead to reinforce them through strategic uses of blaming-the-sick rhetoric. Something like this happened with the Cholera in Peru in 1991 when “inner forces” (Sendero Luminoso) and “outer forces” (World Bank, IMF) put Peru under major sets of “crisis”: economic, political violence, collapse of public services, reduction of the state under neo-liberal policies, etc. One thing that underscores this article is the political manipulation and masking of the key role of (poor or inexistent) water and sewage systems that made possible the epidemics of Cholera (and the individualization of the problem), the fight that health workers made to the disease, and the general and governmental perceptions and images that emerged during and after the epidemic and the after effects in the general public health.

When Cholera started to spread in some parts of the country, the first reaction was to develop radical measures that would control the Cholera (ban of fish, veggies, fruits, raw, and canned food, then quarantines of Peruvian passengers in international airports, etc.). In the first months Cholera had a different impact in the urban, rural, highlands or Amazon areas according to the distinct access (or not) to (un)contaminated water (safe drinking water was unequally accessible: in rural areas only 22%, in cities 67%, and in shantytowns 24% of the population). Although diarrheal diseases was always present, and even though Peru had the 3rd highest rate of infant mortality mainly caused by these types of diseases, the extension of the Cholera epidemic was immense. And it came in the “worst moment”, when hyperinflation, political violence and terrorism (both military and guerrilla were terrorists killing and disappearing thousands of people) were devastating the country (although one would be inclined to think that Cholera came because of the social conditions).

At this juncture Dr. Vidal, the Peruvian minister of Health at that time, started a campaign to change the behavior and perceptions of common people, he follow WHO indications and implemented oral rehydration therapy and wide use of antibiotics to help patients in the overcrowded public hospital of Peru. During the epidemics Peruvian researchers found out that the literature in relation to treatment to severe cases of Cholera was wrong and they developed low-cost effective treatments using saline solutions. Another thing that happened was that people went massively to the public and free hospitals in contrast with the 1980s when a movement of de-centralization of public health, with the influence of primary health care movement, was de-hospitalizing public health. But much criticism arose to Dr. Vidal’s policies and he eventually quitted his job. Fujimori denied that eating raw fish could lead to Cholera and the government changed its campaign focusing on the individual behavior, especially poor individual behavior, for the government and media the equation was clear filthiness + poor areas (slums) = Cholera. This, indeed, masked the deeper? real? causes of the problem, that unequal access to water & sewage & health services = Cholera. It became a self-fulfilling prophecy, because the majority of the people that died from Cholera came from the slums and the lower classes of the urban spectrum, this should lead to conclude that it is their fault, and they are the causes of Cholera. In fact, as Naomi Klein suggests with her “shock doctrine”, Cholera reinforced the neoliberal trend, and Charles Briggs also implies that Cholera stigmatization was instrumental in further marginalizing of the poorest inhabitants of the cities. The final note to highlight is that after the epidemics many Peruvians “realized that taking care of the sick was an individual and family responsibility and expected less from the state” (285), and if this is true it means that the neoliberal policies and the idolaters of the shrinking of the state have won.

sábado, febrero 07, 2009

como diria juan carlos pelotudo "es imposible"



MysteryGuitarMan dice: "Over 1000 cuts. 6 hours of guitar tabbing. 1 hour of shooting. God knows how much editing. I know. I was bored."

miércoles, febrero 04, 2009

Naive thought: "buy local"

Now, with this hugely expected financial/economic crisis, US, UK, and the rest of the world are starting to talk about buying local. And EU and Canada are starting to complain to USA if they'll be more prectionist, and so on. There's tons of website like "buyinus.com", "buyinghana.com", "buyinuk.com", etc. People say things like "if we buy locally, then we are creating more local jobs, and the money stays in the system". But, wait a minute: no one talks about how this money would ever be distributed! This is the big naivity and the main tactic used by the non-poor, non-survivers of everyday life. We do not push for new forms of re-distribution.

USA is the big example. They have had an enourmous transference of public money to private corporations with the so-called war on irak. Trillion of dollars went to the multinational companies in the euphemistic neo-colonial process called "reconstruction of irak". Now, trillions of dollars from the state, although it's only electronic money because no one has that money in cash, is going again to the private companies who owns banks, funds, and car makers. In all this mess, some one has said something like, "wait a minute, stop, let's talk about how are we distributing this money? who own these companies? what they have done and how much money they have earn?" Again, concentration, exclusion, pauperization of the society and multimillionarization of the "super-rich". Fuck, we have to change the discourse and practice and start scratching where really itch!

martes, febrero 03, 2009

Benjamin. The Flaneur

Benjamin. The Flaneur.
The task Benjamin wants to undertake is to develop a certain “physiology” of urban life where the “street becomes a dwelling for the flaneur” (37). Walter Benjamin takes the notion of the urban observer (“who goes bothanizing on the asphalt” [36]) both as an analytical tool and as a modern lifestyle. From his historical materialism, Benjamin portrays the flaneur as a result of modern/urban life and the capitalist and colonial development. The Arcades Project comes from Benjamin's analytical and philosophical obsession with the arcades, which he found were key to understand the social changes occurred in the 19th century. Benjamin is also aware of the predominance of the seeing over the rest of the senses, this ocular scopic order, the flaneur with a male gaze and modern mobility (where "respectable women" were dominated by male and recluded to the opposite: immobility; and the only mobile women were the prostitutes also very central to late 19-early 20 century masculinity/modernity).

Benjamin quotes Simmel who says, “Interpersonal relationships in the big cities are distinguished by a marked preponderance of the activity of the eye over the activity of the ear. The main reason for this is the public means of transportation. Before the development of the buses, railroads, and trams in the nineteenth century, people had never been in a position of having to look at one another for long minutes or even hours without speaking to one another” (38). This unpleasant situation is what became central to the modern life, the importance of seeing (and, of course, of being seen). And also the intoxication of commodities. But the movement of modernity is prefigured by technology or by desire and trascending? There is a big difference between the flaneur and the pedestrian in that the flaneur does not have any propose in his strolling, he is looking at the commodities and his own strolling becomes a commodity.

Simmel. The Stranger.

Simmel. The Stranger.
The stranger is the one that unify the wanderer in movement and escaping any possible fixation. To be a stranger is a specific form of interaction that implies remoteness and closeness, indifference and involvment. When considering mobility in relation to trading the position of the stranger becomes relevant. Because the primary producer tries to sell within his short circle and is attached to his land, the stranger intervenes in the sphere of trade as an outside force who cannot be “owner of soil”. She is a stranger in the eyes of the other. Usual restrictions to intermediary trade and finances give the stranger her feature of mobility. Although she is outside the social rules that condition local social relations (does not have ties of kinship, locality, occupation) she gradually knows every individual of the specific place. The objective situation of the stranger (always in-between near and close) makes she freer practically and theoretically. The stranger is close to us (common features: national, occupational, social, human) and is also far to us (we are connected but we are part of greater group). There is also strangeness when possibilities (for instance the love between a couple) become real, when this realization brings the awareness that this relationship has no inner and exclusive necessity. Strangers are near and far at the same time and at different levels. And in spite all they are an organic part of the group, but a “special proportion and reciprocal tension produce the particular, formal relation to the ‘stranger’” (3).

Chakravarty (2000). Provincializing Europe. Ch7.

Chakravarty (2000). Provincializing Europe. Ch7.
Chakravarty focuses in this chapter in a very rich and complex term in the Bengali society, Adda, something that can be translated as “chat of intimate friends”. For Ch. it is more the story of desire for –or against- the Adda in the process of modernization in Bengal. It is associated with maleness, public life, and middle-class, but yet it is also a central part of Bengali’s identity that now is disappearing. But Adda was seen by the elites as a lazy activity. But Adda’s places were also connected with spaces for the production of modern Bengali reading public. (It seems there is certain similarity with Habermas’ ideas of the coffee-houses deliberations in the Enlightenment effervescence with one difference: here is not only reason what counts, for many authors of that time and even now Addas was considered a more democratic reunion of equals –different from the Majtish- with strong sentiments of friendship and intimacy.) This grouping of mainly middle-class male was in the 20th century a center of a literary, artistic and then political sociability that was held in the rooftops and parks of Calcutta. For Chakravarty there is a tension between the Addas and the modern civil society in the Addas one could say the mean of having an intimate chat with friends was an end in itself, “the pure art of conversation” (205), whereas in the modern civil society time and space are rationalized in the search for certain goals. There are still many debates in the relation between Addas and modernity and capitalism: discipline vs. laziness, women’s confinement in domestic sphere vs participation in public sphere, separation of male and female spaces vs. shared public life for both, leisure classes vs. working classes, an openness to the world vs. responsibilities of domestic life, etc (284). Another central tension is this idea of modernity that is dissociated with a linear temporality of progress, here the conversation and the sense of grouping is first and the outcome is not important.

Rebhun (1994) Swallowing frogs: Anger and Illness in Northeast Brazil

Rebhun, LA. 1994. Swallowing Frogs: Anger and Illness in Northeast Brazil. Medical Anthropology Quarterly 8(4):360-382. Conceptual Development in Medical Anthropology: A Tribute to M. Margaret Clark. (Dec., 1994).

Women in Northeast Brazil employ the term "swallowing frogs" to explain from their own perspective what happened when hatred, frustration, anger and strong (negative) emotions are trapped or suppressed by social forces and cannot be exteriorized. These women are traversed by very distressful situations, and their anguish is allegedly “canalized” via folk illnesses that somatize distress such as evil-eye sickness, nerves, or susto. In this context we have a whole description of boiling machines under pressure, which are almost to explode. There is a tension between what these women feel (anger, anguish, anxiety, envy, etc.) and what others are expecting them to (properly) express at a social level (self-sacrifice, generosity, love). Because, if they don’t control their negative emotions not only they would be physically hurt but also socially devaluated. These are “embodiments of distress in which body symptom and psychological experience are one and the same” (361); so to say that someone is having susto is to imply that this person has both symptoms and a distressful psychosocial situation (something that usually is not so emphasized).

In a way, what we have seen before with susto is also happening here, the idea that people are catching up with, and there is a gap between, cultural expectation and personal experience. One thing that Rebhun remarks that I did not find in the other text is the “use” of these “folk illnesses,” some women may use them for their own propose, perhaps not even consciously; the author says, “Because of embedded moral discourses, emotional folk medical syndromes cab become powerful tactics in the struggle to control and manipulate friends, neighbors, and family members” (361).

One important question Rebhun makes, after showing that these illnesses can be considered in many different ways according to the region and socio-cultural contexts in which we locate the analysis, is “what do these diagnoses mean, how are they interrelated, and how do they fit into the micropolitics of power in families and local communities?” (364). For her, the question of whether, when and how get sick is very important, because naming someone as having “susto” or “evil-eye” is moral judgment (the same happen with biomedicine) about the situation and condition of the sufferer, especially in terms of gender, men and women would feel and express their emotion in very different ways according to each society. For instance, women and men would feel very different emotions and causes of their emotions, Rebhun says, “people encounter many reasons to feel these, from the anguish of frequent bereavement, to the frustrating humiliations of trying to get basic services from an uncaring government bureaucracy, to the injustices of poverty, to the many betrayals perpetrated by those who are supposed to love one another” (364).

Therefore, as we can see these emotions are not so easy to categorize, and the limits between “sickness”, “morality”, “emotion”, and “social condition” are blurry and difficult to separate, and so “Emotional life becomes a series of battles over interpretation and consequences of moral behavior” (365). What is clear here that there is a micro-politics of “swallowing frogs”, of silencing strong emotions for not causing familiar and social problems, but ultimately is producing physical and psycho-social instability, but there is always as a background a latent explosion of uncontrollable anger and fury. Rebhun concludes that through all theses “folk illnesses” in Northeast Brazilian women and men “discuss their traumas, weaknesses, and victimization, and negotiate social relations” (375). I can see Rebhun's main points and the contradictions she is trying to highlight between pure organicistic and scientific vision of "culture-bound" syndromes and her more complex approximation to social and emotional aspects of everyday experience that are self- and alter-categorized as illnesses. I prefer her approach, which is more sensible to the social fabrics of suffering, emotions and illness than others that are more centered in identifying etiologies, diagnoses and treatments but seems far of understanding what’s really going on people’s hearts and minds.

Mysyk (1998) Susto: An Illness of the Poor.

Mysyk, Avis. 1998. Susto: An Illness of the Poor. Dialectical Anthropology. 23(2): 187-202.

In Latin America the “folk illness” commonly known as “susto”, also called as “pasmo”, “espanto” and “perdida de la sombra” can be defined as “soul (or vital force) loss through magical fright”. The associated symptoms are usually: listlessness, weakness, loss of appetite, lost of interest in personal appearance, restlessness during sleep, and often more acute symptoms such as fever, vomiting, and diarrhea and may even cause death. The basic pattern to treat susto was to recognize the event that caused the fright, to search and find the lost soul (vital force) and eventually its re-appropriation into the body. Mysyk find three common explanations for susto, which were reciprocally exclusive: physiological (hypoglycemia), psychological (hysterical-anxiety disorder), and social (incapability to live up to social relations).

The main goal of this article is to reconsider who suffers and why. Mysyk wants to highlights the relationship between susto and class situation, which according to him has been almost ignored. He traces the Nahua explanation of loss of the vital force or tonalli, which could be lost or harmed by witchcraft. Then he refers to Rubel who finds that susto occurs in social situations which people sense as stressful, situations that are intracultural and intrasocietal, stressful situations that depend on the significance of each particular task and the failure to achieve it in each society, and therefore individual’s personality, his/her health status, and society are all implicated in the production of susto. Then, O’Nell found two types of fright: a “rationalized” connected with nonhumans, which has a slow symptomatology and the “precipitating” connected with humans, which has a fast symptomatology, and the author identifies a symbolic reflection of the “victim’s” stress pattern.

But for Mysyk, it is not clear if O’Nell consulted with the “victims” if there is actually a symbolic relation between the frightening event and the stress patterns. One could say that poor people and low class conditions are traversed by violence and constant forms of fear (Green would call it “fear as everyday life”), so the question is way certain people in these types of conditions develop susto? For Mysyk is clear that class position and cultural marginality and social mobility are central in the explanation of susto. But “susto” is embedded in a continuum from indigenous people that treat it with indigenous healers to ladinos that see it only as a term (this is what Mysyk says) that refers to intestinal parasites and which are treated with biomedical medicine. He then says that susto is “symbolical statement of an individual’s position in the community, whether self- or other-perceived” (195) and it implies different “message” depending the class position and social mobility; for instance, in case of mestizos in Bolivia the symbolic statement is their “downward mobility”.

For Mysik the corollary is that susto is the result of social conditions that turn unmanageable by the poor people, mainly poor peasants and landless laborers. What strikes my attention is that Mysyk is fast to dismiss explanations centered in role stress to put his explanation of class position but I still cannot understand what he means by class position. It seems that structural-functional ideas of (mis)adaptation are brought into the discussion without explicitly referred to them.

Weller et al. (2002) Regional Variation in Latino Descriptions of Susto

Susan Weller et al. 2002. Regional Variation in Latino Descriptions of Susto. Culture, Medicine and Psychiatry 26:449-472.

In the literature Susto is considered to be cause by a frightening event (specific in time) involving another person, an animal, a spirit, or a situation. It can cause either a displace of “an immaterial substance, an essence” (Rubel et al. 1984: 8, cited in Weller et al. 2002: 449) from the “body” that would cause the “victim” to become ill, but in other cases (which they don’t consider so much) susto can be caused not by a subtraction of vital force but by addition of vital force, in this case by an introduction of a spirit into the body (something very frequent in shamanic societies in which the shaman has to make certain rituals to expel the intruder). In the literature it was also common to find susto associated with a higher risk of anemia and parasitic infections, and overall a higher mortality rate. The key point when considering the “frightening event” is that it has a negative effect in interpersonal relationships. Stop here. A brief note: can we be very sure that the event that causes susto has an effect in interpersonal relationship? Could it not be also a cause in itself? In the classic anthropological literature in the Chaco region, for instance with Toba people, in many cases the (negative) interpersonal relationships were the cause of conflicts, that would eventually lead to people making harm one another via shamans and so loosing one of their many souls, and therefore causing susto. So here the effect is susto and the cause is the change in social relationships not the other way around.

But Weller et al do not consider this. They cite Logan (1979) who refers to competency for resources as a cause for sorcery, and the need for a healer to cure this “supernatural” causes of frightening, but then during their own research they give less weight in their analysis. They consider more the situation in which the “essence” is lost, and there is a subtraction of vital force. Their focus is more on “community descriptions of susto”. And they center their research in three “communities”, one in Guatemala, another in Mexico (although Guadalajara is not precisely a small community, it’s a 3M city), and the last in a small town in Texas, US. They develop a 127-question questionnaire. Another brief note: Why so many question? Who would answer them? The interesting thing about their inclusion criteria is that people have to know and believe in the existence of susto. In the US they chose people self-identified as having Mexican descent, and I wonder why? Non-Mexican people cannot have susto?
In only one point the researchers mentioned non-traditional, they put it as “more contemporary”, causes such as use of drugs in Mexico. But besides this there is still a big divide between “culture-bounded” syndrome such as susto, and “more contemporary” types of illness, it seems that susto is seen as a traditional believe that people somatized but it is not actually “true”. I wonder which would be the difference in approaching and understanding susto if researchers would actually know, believe, perceive, and experience it?

domingo, febrero 01, 2009

Nelson (1999). A finger in the wound.

Diane Nelson. 1999. A finger in the wound. Body politics in Quincentennial Guatemala. Berkeley: University of Berkeley Press.

Chapter 1 Intro:
Nelson uses the metaphor of a wounded body politics, and a finger that deepen the wound in a still postcolonial and post-civil war Guatemala with multiple sub-divisions and tensions en carne viva. In the introduction she set up her journey through a highly complex and very frequently re-visited social landscape: ethnic relationships, nationalism and the state, gender violence, modernity vs. tradition, and racism just to mention some. But she manages to give new insights and a fresh look to what was going on in Guatemala at the late 1980s and beginning of 1990s. Nelson says that her book is not only “an ethnography of the state as it emerged from thirty years of civil war and military dictatorship” (4), but also is an ethnography of the emerging Maya’s and Ladino’s identities that are intricately related with the reconfiguration of the nation-state as a producer of articulations between modernity and tradition, nation and ethnicity. Nelson tries to grasp the articulations that cause, and are the condition of, Quincentennial Guatemala as a moment of danger and fear. Following Hall she defines articulation as “a relation, a joining that creates new identifications and social formations” (2). She also defines Quincentennial Guatemala as the “sickening fear, the fierce exhilaration, and the doggedly persistent hope of these intricately articulated emergings” (4).

An important thing worth to remember is that Nelson is analyzing a process, and she reminds us that 20 years ago (in 2009 this means 30 years ago) “Maya” in Guatemala was either part of Archeological knowledge, something of the distant past; or when referring to linguistic difference; or when government were making tourism promotion. However, for 1992 it was clear that Maya people were following a deep reorganization through indigenous activism with pan-indigenous goals (to move beyond the local ethnic differences). But Nelson is aware that identity should not be seen as “easily taken” or “willfully discarded” (5), instead identification occurs through the small buildup of slight effects of “orthopedic change”, and she takes orthopedic in a Foucaultian way, is an endless recurrence of sites of power that are historically overdetermined, and through “unconscious investments and resistances” (5). Nelson ultimate aim in this book is to show how ethnic, gender and nation-state identities are reciprocally produced, and those they do not exist outside their relationship to each other.

History as Catastrophe: First of all, between 1978 and 1984 an estimated 70.000 people (mostly indigenous) were killed, 40.000 disappeared, and more than one million (1M out of 8M, to compare with Canada would be if 4.25M would have to escaped) flee the country during the civil war. The military contra-insurgency literally wiped out hundred of indigenous villages in the highlands and created a political economy of violence that was loaded with feelings of fantasy and paranoia.

Because Nelson focus is indigenous activists, she made the distinction that themselves do between “cultural rights groups” and “popular” sector with a more classic leftist and Marxist class orientation. She focuses only in the first group because she considers the latter organizations underestimate the power of race and racism and she will concentrate in organizations that focus on linguistic, education and development issues. But she always has in mind the inter-relationship between Maya organizations and the Ladinos reactions, and how they in turn are forced to think critically of their own identity. Both identities are embedded in myriads of meanings and stereotypes; Indian is sometimes coded as female, others as child. Therefore, the Quincentennial Guatemala is a strange site for ladino identification because it recognized it’s own body politics as wounded. But also is central here the role of the state, a schizophrenic state, that on the one hand tried to wipe out or force assimilation Maya indigenous people but on the other used them as tourist resource and workers. This double bind in Batesonian terms of love and hate is what characterizes the relation between Guatemala’s state and Maya organizations.

Nelson relies in the idea of “body image”, how a subject represents his/her own body, other bodies, and how other people represent the subject’s body to talk about the wounded body politics, because the body image is required to manage any prosthetic. But she is also concern with multiple dimensions of popular culture such as pleasure and laughter and therefore jokes, movies, fashion, and science fiction would be central. Her approach to these issues is using a “methodology of fluidarity”, a “practice and analytics that combine solidarity –being partial to, as in the side of, the people I work with- with an acknowledgement of how partial, how incomplete, my knowledge and politics have to be” (31).

Chapter 3: State Fetishism and the Piñata Effect.
Nelson says, “Although most agree that the Guatemalan state is politically exclusive, ethnically discriminatory, and economically monopolistic, it may be precisely because of this insecurity, this tenuousness, that the state is also open in some ways” (84). This is what she calls the “Piñata Effect”: the idea that if you shake it, you’ll take the sweets. This attraction and repulsion to the State not only from the Maya’s but ladino’s (and other minority groups) point of view create multiple tensions, desires, and jokes. One central notion here is that the nation-state is in ruins. Perhaps because ladinos now are recognizing that are not an homogenous category (there are struggle between which ladinos will control the state apparatus). Or, perhaps, because class is interpenetrated with ethnicity and so what was a given now it is not any more. In any case, Maya are becoming cultural stronger but ladinos feel cultural weaker, and so it is projected an identity crisis onto the nation-state. But at the same time the process has produced a certain denaturalization of the relation ladino-national identity-control of the state: now ladino’s identity is a problem. Before culture was a sign of Maya’s powerless but now that they are organized culture made them more fashionable (and relatively more powerful), whereas, in contrast, ladino’s identity become more problematic.

There is the image of the ruin, the state is in ruins, the ladino’s identity is in ruin, Guatemala lives for and of the (Mayas) ruins; all this fueled by the sense that the state has no legitimacy after decades of military and civil elite government (with no clear line between both) and under constant suspicious of being a bunch of corrupted and ignorant people. Indeed, the state was a military state, and by the 1980s the counterinsurgency had affected directly or indirectly almost all Guatemalan families. During 1985 and 1996 many things remained the same (violence and assassinations were still happening) but others started to change. In 1996 there was the Peace Accords and the feeling of “democratic spring”, although Guatemala kept being a militarized state (the Army still today holds an enormous economical, political and legal power). Nelson also considers Chatterjee’s idea that the colonies were the first places in which the metropolis tried modernity, and she shows how in Guatemala the highlands were a “modern laboratory” in which model villages as state policy reterritorialized the indigenous villages in order to gain a better control and particular forms of governmentality in the “counterinsurgency war”. But in this process, Nelson also shows how the “new” army was the only state institution that really understood indigenous issues (trying to transform the womanized Maya into masculine bodies in the army, using Maya symbolism, etc.).

The “state” is neither different from the “civil society” but not the same, there is a complex intricate relation of interpenetration in which state policies tried to fix in a double way of stabilizing (homogenizing, erasing and dominating) and repairing Maya culture (Maya language unification and approval of new laws protecting indigenous rights). These paradoxes, Nelson asks, can be grasped with the idea of state fetishism? And what about the idea of “piñata effect”? For Nelson it represents the contradict sense of hitting the state for being corrupt, racist, and responsible of ethnocide and at the same time waiting to gain the power and resources that are magically projected onto the state. Both Maya and ladino relations in the topography of the state are overdetermined by what Zizek calls “ideological fantasy” (I made a typo, that now I’ve found interesting to consider, I typed indeological fantasy), a sort of dreamwork process through which social relations take contingent forms. The tension between “Maya” and “ladinos,” as heterogeneous as they may be, was also centered in terms of modernity and tradition. The visible emergence of Maya organizations made clear that national and ethnic identities, and modern and traditional claims, are not given but subject to struggles and contestations. Things changed and Maya organizations started to adopt the symbols of modernity while at the same time contested ladinos’ use of Maya images, especially gender uses of Maya women, for their own particular interest.

Chapter 6: Bodies that splatter.
There is certainly a battlefield of the allegedly integrated national ethnicity of mestizaje shaped by the elites’ racializing and womaining discourses and practices that interconnect nation, gender, race, ethnicity, class, sexuality as reciprocally constitutive. The tortured and wounded and massacred splattered bodies are polysemic and mean differently according to each specific body and the particular audience (for the army is an enemy that in 40.000 times had to be disappeared, for the Maya is a sign of injustice and impunity), and this also means that Guatemala as an ethnic-nation is split (“a nation that is not one”). The body politics of Guatemala also splatter because it is in constant malfunction, ladinos, mestizos, and Maya are mutually constituted as others, the political production of difference is what makes splattered bodies and what can help us to understand some of the national fixations with the Maya as woman and ladino as man (woman as the “universal donor” to the blood politics of mestizaje). For Nelson, this fixated claim that in Guatemala everyone is mestizo, and because of this the racialized body does not count and only culture counts, creates the belief produced by elites and ladinos that “because we are all racially mestizo, then we can escape racism” (240). But instead this shows the fragile instability in which ethnic and racial categories are built in Guatemala in which a ladino is anxious to be taken as an Indian and where ladino elites are trained to “see” (through some kind of false consciousness) the difference between Indian and white bodies while at the same time hide that they may actually be mestizos.

Chapter 9: Global Biopolitical Economy
Maya are a source of all kinds of labor and forms of cultural and material production that depend on the state regulation and on contingent articulation of identifications, which Nelson calls “prosthetic dependence on gendered bodies” (350), and she describes the way gender and sexuality are linked with a body politics as a biopolitical economy. But a third-world biopolitical economy, with a wounded and incomplete body politics, it is also a source of inner and outer conflicts. For instance, Maya culture was considered as an obstacle to the development of Guatemala in both left and right narratives (its backwardness and its incapability for revolution). But the same Maya culture helped Guatemala to organize its participation in the global economy after 1985. And Guatemala was not the only Latin America country that during the 1980s and 1990s was object of IMF and World Bank neoliberal policies intended to “adjust” and modenize the pre-modern and traditional nation reducing the state (and leaving it open to the penetration of international policies) but at the same time re-producing culture as a “productive resource” when tourism became the main industry (fueled by the same images of pre-modernity and tradition that were supposed to be erased). Here Nelson brings again the idea of prosthetic, this medium that inter-connects different bodies politics images: between Maya and ladino, women and men, poor and rich, modernity and tradition, which all work inseparably together.

But ultimately, Indian women as the concentration of indianness are key to both the national and international biopolitical economy. They are working in many cases in unpaid jobs and supporting their families, speaking out in the peace process (in which Rigoberta Menchu is only one of them), they are pushing to reconsider machismo within Maya organizations, but they are also the images that attract tourists who would look for them when traveling to Guatemala. But now that the constant articulations of identities made the state and Maya organization reformulate themselves and one to another, now that Maya identity is powerfully shaped by the state and vice versa, still many more contradictions are being inscribed and explode in more prosthetic relationality because these bodies politics are gendered, racialized, imagined, and fantasized in vulnerable and incomplete fluid ways.

After this overview I think I don’t find much to criticize or even to problematize Nelson’s work because it is a very fresh and rich study with a broad aim and profound intrincacies. She is conscious of her own gringa position and she takes a political and epistemological stand on the side of the heterogeneous Maya collective, and especially on the Maya women. Her emphasis on the relational aspects of history and bodies politics the need to see the interconnections and mutual influences between gender, race, ethnicity, nation, sexuality, modern and traditional discourses and practices, and national discourses of mestizaje is what I found very interesting about her book. The only question I have is now, in 2009, ten years after she wrote her book, how cynical (disbelieve in politics) and/or pragmatic (believe in micro-politics) Maya women and men, Maya organizations have become in relation to the spaces of maneuverability within their own organizations, with the state, and with international agencies? How much pragmatic cynicism or cynical pragmatism is part of our everyday experience as citizens of the modern states in which more or less all feel that talking about, acting upon, and producing a practice in relation to our inequalities and inner divisions is like putting a finger in the wound?