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The Last Shout: Fashion is Dead, Self-Sufficiency is Born

The Last Shout: Fashion is Dead, Self-Sufficiency is Born

This is an exclusive English translation of an article that originally appeared in Periódico Mu No.78.

In her latest book ‘The Politics of Appearances’ sociologist Susana Saulquin analyses the social, labour, and political consequences of the end of fashion. It’s a true revolution that has changed all paradigms. How has it affected both hallmark labels and sweatshops? What role do social networks play in the construction of these new dynamics? What are the new values that dictate what the trends are? And how do ethics impact our decisions about what we wear? The battle upon us: the organic against the transgenic. Who is winning?

Sociologist Susan Saulquin's latest book - her fitfh - talks about her theory of the future and anti-fashion.

Sociologist Susan Saulquin’s latest book – her fitfh – talks about her theory of the future and anti-fashion.

Frenchwoman Gabrielle Bonheur once said, “fashion is in the sky, in the streets, in ideas, in the way that we live, in whatever is happening.” She said this to explain how to best interpret the impact of the Second World War on the wardrobe. Her interpretation created an empire that was baptised with her nickname, Coco, and the surname of the father who never recognised her, Chanel. Today, her tombstone is a golden logo and the company, one of the most noteworthy victims of the European financial crisis, had a growth rate of zero throughout 2013.

In the middle of this paralysis, the company received a piece of startling news concerning its main source of income: scarcely a month ago, the scientific committee advising the European Union deemed that the legendary fragrance Chanel No. 5 contains allergens and recommended the absolute prohibition of 12 of its 20 components.

Just like that and without hyperbole, Chanel became water.

Chanel’s agony represents good news, however: the spirit of its creator is alive and kicking. The sky, the street, and the ideas of this epoch have given birth to ways of being that escape the pressures of fashion.

To understand this, we need to abandon Paris -and not just metaphorically- and journey to Olivos. There, in a house next to the presidential residence, sociologist Susana Saulquin challenges all labels. She doesn’t strike you as 71 years old, nor does she have the look of a militant leftist, nor does she brag about her academic achievements, nor take interest in the media limelight.

Saulquin is something more important: she is a practical woman. Existing paradigms have turned this virtue into a description of do-it-yourself champions, but Saulquin reclaims its true value: practice makes theory. Hers is summarised in her latest book, ‘The Politics of Appearances’, but for decades she has also battled from the trenches of the public university in order to analyse fashion politically and socially. From these observations of trends, processes, protagonists, and movements, Saulquin brings us good news: fashion is dead.

Photo by Lina M. Etchesuri

Photo by Lina M. Etchesuri

We’re not talking about Oxford Pants, Mao-neck shirts, or animal print. We’re talking about the symbolic production of property and subjectivities.

What Saulquin tells us is very serious and very uplifting: fashion did not die a natural death, we killed it. How? There was a revolution, and it was ours.

Appearances and Models

Saulquin’s autopsy of fashion’s exquisite corpse reveals the following:

1) The fashion industry that has been in place for over 150 years died because the bases it was built on became unnecessary.
2) This phenomenon is part of a wider set of more complex changes that have subverted all social paradigms.
3) In the middle of this wider shake up, a new power hierarchy has arisen in the world of appearances.
4) Up until recently, and for over a century and a half, fashion was considered a necessary instrument of social integration and cohesion. As a consequence of the deep social changes currently occurring, fashion -seen as a collective conscience- has lost its privileged position and its practices are becoming more driven by individualities not truly autonomous, but imbued with many global connections.
5) Throughout the 20th century, fashion was a vehicle of an ideology that stressed the obsession with production, promoted and glorified the importance of maximum consumption, was sceptic of cultural identities, and homogenised objects, bodies, and images. To sustain this system, the fashion industry strictly followed the mandate of the trends set by the specialists at the centres of production of meaning, standarising the shapes, colours and textures of each season.
6) These dressing codes are acquiring new meanings. Among the most obvious causes, new technologies have caused great changes in social relations. There has been a re-definition of social bonds, which Saulquin encapsulates with a phrase of the French poet Arthur Rimbaud: “I is another.”
7) The matrix of fashion development responded to the functional demands of economics: everything that you wear today will be out of fashion tomorrow. And you will buy what’s new. Today’s paradigms, on the contrary, are based on two principles: simplification and sustainability. This is the soul of this revolution on the social level: the substitution of aesthetical values for ethical ones.
8) In order to reaffirm people power and their social bonds, it is necessary to move away from accelerating production and voracious consumption. Such a movement also changes the production system, as it prioritises a different way to make things, one which should be efficient, stable and sustainable, driven by responsibility and social conscience.
9) For these reasons, the codes of mass consumption, that were driven by excess and wastage, based on the fundamental premise of fashion -to produce and consume new garments each season- are being redefined.
10) In summary, the part of fashion that has died is its authoritarian and disciplinary dimension. And what is being redefined is its system of production.
11) We have thus recovered the intimate, original, and primary ceremony of creating our own image (in other words, of self-sufficiency). Hence, fashion becomes freer, more tolerant, and more democratic.

When and how did all of this happen?

At the same time and in the same place as everything changed. September 2001, in New York, with the attack on the Twin Towers. December 2001, in Argentina, with the shout, “Away with them all!”. September 2008, in Europe, to the beat of the indignados.

What happened in these moments and spaces? We were stripped of everything. And so, naked and shouting, we discovered both alone and together other possible futures.

“A possible explanation,” Saulquin tells us, “is that, as a consequence of the power of communication through social networks, we have found a new way of being and of perceiving the world, which was immediately echoed in the world of appearances, which then began to yield great transformations.”

Neither Victims nor Fashion

Saulquin has her own rules to detect the truly new:

One, that it is a curiosity.
Two, that it spontaneous.
Three, that it is a trend.

She applies it in everything that she observes: from [Marcelo] Tinelli’s [television] programme to the street markets of Lima or Medellin, to mealtime conversations, academic conferences, and digital technologies. “I have more magazines about new technologies than I do fashion magazines,” says Saulquin, showing where her social outlook is currently taking her.

Those responsible for productions that are artisanal, artistic, and self-sufficient, sold in fairs and social economic spaces. (Photo by Lina M. Etchesuri)

Those responsible for productions that are artisanal, artistic, and self-sufficient, sold in fairs and social economic spaces. (Photo by Lina M. Etchesuri)

Are you declaring the death of fashion?

The authoritarian part of fashion. The dependency on trends that come out of the centres of production of mening like Paris, London, New York, or Tokyo, which impose on you ways of dressing that have a disciplinary twist: “this is in fashion.” That is disappearing. And it’s disappearing because it doesn’t make sense, because fashion doesn’t have the social role of generating appearances anymore. At the moment, fashion has a much more tolerant dimension, which expresses a more individualistic society.

Self-centred?

No, I don’t use the term individualistic in the narcissistic sense, because within this individualism there are millions of people. That’s what, for example, digital society or social networks express. Where this is leading us remains unclear, but what is certain is that fashion is losing its privileged role as creator of appearances.

Is it the end of a dictatorship?

In terms of its strong disciplinary capacity, yes; as that projection of authoritarianism that used to tell you how to dress and how to behave. It is clear that there is now a greater tolerance, that even expresses itself in sexual matters. In this respect, at the start of the 21st century there was a clear ideological change. The 20th century ideology was based on aesthetics, in the importance of growing productivity, which gave way to industrialism and consumerism. At the start of the 21st there was a change, as ethics were wedged in.

In what way?

The ethics of individual behaviour. The beliefs that underpin this century are expressed in a type of consumption that is a lot more ethical, based on awareness of both human and natural resources. Society always makes the changes needed to guarantee its survival. And currently, its survival depends upon a concern for nature. And within this context, concern for human resources. In today’s textile industry we know that often its worst aspects are its conditions of production: sweatshops are an example of this. Now we have a spotlight focusing on them, showing how the labels produce. And this spotlight has been placed by the people who should be consuming these products. So the labels are going to have to start paying attention to these things, because the effects of losing their reputation are very big, and they can’t minimise or hide their practices any longer. It’s a reality which I don’t know these labels are ready to confront, because their goal is to continue to organise their production based on achieving a strong economic dividend, a goal which is divorced from all other contexts.

What kind of responsibility did the labels have in this death?

An enormous responsibility. The labels emerged around the years 1958 and 1960 and since then have expanded their social significance to unimaginable extremes. It is often said that labels created a modern aristocracy. For example, a Louis Vuitton purse grants you an air of nobility.

How did they lose this crown?

These labels themselves killed the goose that laid the golden egg. Fundamentally the emergence of marketing fragmented fashion’s trends. In its desire to control everything, it ended up fragmenting everything. And if there are many trends, in the end there is no real trend. Marketing killed the marriage Fashion represented: we all felt part of something, part of a very strong, specific aesthetic paradigm. The first symptom of this end was the emergence of urban tribes: but everyone’s part of an urban tribe now. Now there is a really strong sense of independence.

Self-sufficiency?

Yes, with the strong intervention of social networks. Identity is always a construction in the search for who you are, what everyone else expects of you, and what you aspire to be. Our individual identities are built within that triangle. It’s a game that we play by building an image, an appearance. The current change is represented here in that labels don’t intervene in that game anymore, but the other, the others, those to whom we constantly ask: “do you like it? do you like me?”. That’s what Facebook and Twitter express.

Where do you see images in this new paradigm?

Everywhere. And in each person who dresses exactly as they please. In the opennes that is characteristic of this new style, which is still being built. The aesthetics of the 21st century still aren’t clear. Because this century is very new, but also because this process entails a great deal of participation. It’s a condition of this new paradigm. And it’s expressed not only in how people dress, but also in how those clothes they wear are produced. Take for example the strategies of crowdfunding, groups that organise themselves to finance products. Another example: there are new groups of designers who use social networks to see what people think about the designs they are currently creating, or to sell the designs in advance. And then they only manufacture what they have already sold, which on the one hand allows them to save or concentrate resources, but also allows people to have an influence of what that designer should or should not produce.

What other characteristics of this new paradigm have already been defined?

Without a doubt, sustainability will become very important. Another characteristic: simplicity in design. Comfort is a very important paradigm. We are simplifying. If you observe those cultures with a strong sense of spirituality, their quintessential garment is the tunic, which expresses the stripping back of the worldly. I don’t mean to say that we’re all going to end up with tunics, but that it’s expressive of simplicity and today that’s increasingly valued: what’s loose, comfortable, noble. In principle, this is causing us to put into context things that we didn’t use to question. For example, men have been wearing suits for only 160 years of our history. And we view suits as intrinsic to employment. But today we are seeing work move away from the centre of our lives, giving room to values such as creativity, imagination, and the ability to make changes. So it’s logical that the suit -so related to work throughout the industrial era- is totally out of place in this new social reality.

So we’re talking about an important change in paradigm, that affects the totality of the capitalist mode of production?

That’s right. I’m not a Marxist, but I’m convinced that we have to change our system of production. With this system of production, that has hyperextended fashion and consumption, the next century will not eventuate. It cannot. It’s an unfeasible economic model that produces poverty, inequality, no future. And we’re at tipping point. You can call the new paradigm socialism, co-operativism, reciprocity, or whatever you want, but what is certain is that we are coming towards a change in the production model.

Your book makes mention of one of the symptoms of this change and suggests that it was born in Argentina: the factories recuperated by their workers.

Do you realise what that means? Something marvellous. I feel that this is what’s new: the co-operatives, working together, thinking about profound change like that. Because if you were able to change organisational structures of production to make them more humane, why can’t you imagine resources that are more ethical? Why can’t you ask yourself if the only way of making jeans is indeed by using cotton, the production of which is so harmful for the planet? Why not make them using more noble materials, like phormium? These changes happen little by little, but are very profound and daily. And that’s what I have faith in. That and the discrediting of other means of production. And so this new reality becomes clear: we can’t go on like this.

So sweatshops will be no more?

They will be no more. This has to be understood by Zara and all of those labels that are accustomed to big profit margins through their enslaving methods of production. They must understand that, since 2006, those practices were exposed to everyone through the fire in a sweatshop in the neighbourhood of Flores that cost six people their lives. Since then a sort of social criminalisation of these methods has emerged and that is something that nobody can ignore. It happened with furs and now it’s happening with sweatshops. Social condemnation is a very effective device, very strong, it draws a clear boundary. They are changes that drag the whole system of production towards more ethical methods…. But the brands are terrible: they don’t want to see these changes and continue to utilise sweatshops, to guarantee their exploitation of profits and people. They do it here, in Bangladesh, everywhere.

Paola and Eleonora, the people behind Chiri, a different form of production that is now a brand (Photo: Lina M. Etchesuri)

Paola and Eleonora, the people behind Chiri, a different form of production that is now a brand (Photo: Lina M. Etchesuri)

The New Rainbow

You also talk about a notable change in the colour palette: it’s becoming more Latin American?

Without doubt. It’s true that the colour palette is always linked to the nature of each place. In this way Argentina is expressed by sky blue, browns, grey. We’re not Brazil, but now we’re accepting that we’re part of a larger area: Latin America. This partially came though the crises that have befallen Europe and the West, and partially because Latin America is in a process of renewal. What is coming is, very possibly, being conceived of right here, right now in Latin America. And that is something that fashion already realises.

Where do you see new aspects of design emerging?

In technology. There is a fundamental change generated by 3D printers. Because of their cost, they also allow a different scale of production. I don’t mean at a house-to-house level, but in terms of small working groups. This totally changes the paradigms of the [Henry Ford] style of mechanical production, because it allows for an artisanal system of production. And if you change the scale, you change the meaning. Already, you don’t need an industrial system to produce, and so serial production has lost its social significance. It is no longer necessary socially, and it doesn’t dictate social production. What is occurring now is semi-artisanal production. And that changes everything. Everything. Just one symptom: in its boom-time, industry caused the social value of artisanal production to be extremely low. Now the artisanal has a very high social value. It’s a new status symbol.

So there’s nothing more antiquated than the red carpet…

It doesn’t mean anything. Red carpet is ridiculous. It’s the place where you show, show and show, and where you’re obliged to look, look, and look. It’s so detached from reality because current value is in the search for authenticity, creativity, imagination. And this is something that people find in public spaces, be they real or virtual.

How do you avoid the fads that conspicuous consumption generates?

It’s difficult. It’s the toughest battle. The fashion industry is always generating new fads, and it used this to make it commercially viable. We have to be very alert in this new society that is emerging, because what fashion expresses is a strategy common to all those running the old system: they mutate, change their suits, disguise themselves, do whatever is necessary to guarantee their supremacy. The only way that we can guarantee what the new fashion industry will look like is to ensure that the critical mass of creators, producers and people that sustain it grows ever larger. This and the discrediting of those who exploit is what can make the difference. I hope that there will be a change, but it will be difficult. It will cost us our heads, symbolically speaking. It will be a very tough battle to disarm this circus.

You have a trench: the public university. How do you see the battle from there?

Very badly. It’s totally politicised, but in a bad way, because it’s a politics that only fights for power – within that dynamic the university has lost the place it once had, and with that its perspective. I studied sociology at the University of Buenos Aires in the ‘60s, so you can imagine that I’m not criticising politicisation in itself. But the university is not indifferent to what is happening outside of its four walls. In a position like mine, devoted to the analysis of the production of design, of textiles, the impact that economic policies have is clear. Neoliberalism was a disaster and we saw from our trench was how the young designers fell like flies, and how the big brands have sucked them up…

Like vampires…

Exactly. But that experience now forms part of the current process, which is different. The change now comes from the other side: that of the people. Now those people are looking for something else.

What do you mean?

Experiences and sensations. You don’t want to dress to be seen, but to feel something interesting. And you can find this feeling in a texture, it’s true, but it’s stronger if you find it when you feel part of an ethical change. Those ethics that connect you with everything: the social network, nature. It expresses a fundamental question: why do you dress? Before it was to compete, to distinguish yourself, to show, to belong. Now it’s something else. It’s something emerging very gradually, but which is producing increasingly profound changes.

Could we summarise that the future possibilities will be resolved by the two paradigms that are clashing today: the organic and the genetically-modified?

Yes. Today those two paradigms are 50/50. One is sold to you by laboratories with the message that human beings have to aspire to be a perfect machine, and that implies pushing back death. They are already talking about how life will last for 13 decades, or 130 years. And this promise has an important impact on the possibilities of the future. On the other hand, I see that the craziness over eternal youth has already passed, because it raises true monsters, very ugly. And we must not forget that being natural also means aspiring to have a better life, not just more years, but better ones. In that sense, the promise of an [organic] future isn’t that different, it could even supercede the GM one. I don’t think that in the future we will be a fantastic society, but it will be different. Whether it is better depends fundamentally on our commitments to ethics. On profoundly understanding that all that we do influences everything. That’s the most revolutionary thing that we can do today.

Translation by Cameron McPhedran

lavaca logolavaca.org is a communications co-operative founded in 2001, and produces a web page, monthly magazine MU, and radio programmes that can be reproduced freely. Our home is the cultural centre ‘MU Punto de Encuentro’, at Hipólito Yrigoyen 1440, Congreso, Buenos Aires.

Posted in Fashion, TOP STORY0 Comments

President Presents Bill to Pay Bondholders Under Local Law

President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner announces debt  swap plan (Photo: Presidencia/Télam)

President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner announces debt swap plan (Photo: Presidencia/Télam)

President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner has announced plans to create domestic payment channels for holders of its dollar-denominated bonds and circumvent a US court ruling preventing credit payments. The proposal will also include an offer for bondholders to swap their titles for ones of identical value issued under Argentine law.

Argentina has been in a ‘technical default’ since 31st July after failing to make a credit payment to bondholders that entered into debt restructurings in 2005 and 2010.

Though the US$539mn payment had been deposited on time, New York Judge Thomas Griesa ordered trustee Bank of New York Mellon (BoNY) to retain the funds until Argentina reaches a settlement with vulture funds seeking full repayment on defaulted debt from the country’s 2001 crisis.

According to the proposed bill, which the president presented in a televised broadcast last night, BoNY would be replaced as the trustee bank for exchange bondholders by state-run Banco Nación. The bank would be able to make payments to bondholders via a special account at the Central Bank.

The bill also states that exchange bondholders could choose individually or collectively to swap their existing bonds for new state bonds for the same nominal value governed by Argentine law.

The new law will also create a special account for the bond holdouts, which represent 7.6% of the total defaulted debt from 2001, to deposit payments on the same terms as those who accepted the restructurings. This, informed, President Fernández, would represent a profit of 300% for the vulture funds leading litigation against Argentina.

“Let no one say that Argentina refuses to pay. The Argentine government refuses to be extorted.” said the president, who admitted she was feeling nervous due to the “great injustice” facing the country.

Reactions

The bill was sent to Congress immediately after the president’s tv address, with deliberations in committee expected to begin in the next week.

Economy Minister Axel Kicillof said today that the main purpose of the law was to complete payment obligations locally because they were obstructed in New York. “If the Bank of New York adheres to what Judge Griesa says, Argentina will present the possibility, if they want, for bondholders to be paid here,” said Kicillof. “It is not a compulsive change of jurisdiction, but a method of ensure Argentina can continue to meet its external debt obligations.”

Head of the opposition PRO, Buenos Aires Mayor Mauricio Macri, was quick to announce that his party would vote against the legislation. “It’s like saying that, in our view, the German goalkeeper committed a penalty in the World Cup final, therefore we don’t recognise Germany as World Champion and we invite them to play a rematch here in Argentina with [local judge] Oyarbide as referee,” said Macri in a press conference earlier today.

Argentina’s benchmark restructured bonds fell around 2% in early trading this morning. Bloomberg reported that JP Morgan released a note to clients calling the president’s announcement “a bucket of cold water” for those expecting a relatively swift resolution to the debt problem at the start of next year.

Economists in the US noted that some investors and banks may be reluctant to enter into a deal with Argentina for fear of being held in contempt of court by Judge Griesa, who has previously said any swap agreement would be illegal.

Posted in News From Argentina, Round Ups Argentina2 Comments

Chile: Congress Dismantles Pinochet’s Electoral Legacy System

Chile: Congress Dismantles Pinochet’s Electoral Legacy System

The hall “The Thinkers” of the national congress in Chile’s legislative capital Valparaiso was crowded until late Wednesday night when members of Congress’ lower house approved a bill to reform the country’s dictatorship-era polling system.

After almost eight hours of intense debate, the proposed electoral reform was approved with 86 votes in favor and 28 votes against. The bill will now go to the Senate.

Deputies celebrate a vote in favour of electoral reform in Chile (photo courtesy of Government of Chile)

Deputies celebrate a vote in favour of electoral reform in Chile (photo courtesy of Government of Chile)

This is a key step forward for President Michelle Bachelet’s center-left government. It succeeded in pushing the bill thanks to the support of center-right and independent representatives.

“This is a change we have been waiting for about 25 years,” says Fidel Oyarzo Saldago, Political coordinator at Television Nacional de Chile. He has covered Chilean politics for the past 40 years and hailed the day as “historic”.

President Bachelet described the bill as “a huge step” towards “better politics.” “This [reform] is not abstract. Citizens’ interests will be now better represented in the Parliament, because there are going to be more and more candidates,” she declared.

In 2013, after winning the biggest landslide since Santiago’s return to democracy, President Bachelet committed to advance her program of constitutional reforms including changing the polling system.

End of the “Binomial” System

Chile is the only country in the world to use the “binomial” system.

General Augusto Pinochet created it toward the end of the 1973-1990 military dictatorship to guarantee that right-wing parties keep power after the return to democracy.

By electing the top two finishers in each district, this polling system ensures that the two main coalitions take nearly all the Congress’ seats. In other words, it prevented any bloc from gaining a significant majority, while minor parties, such as the Communist party, were thus marginalised from the Congress.

For the 2014-2018 congressional term, the Nueva Mayoría – a center-left coalition – controls 56% of the Chamber of Deputies whilst the Alianza por Chile – right wing – holds 41%.

The new system would be based on moderate proportional representation. The approved bill would also increase the size of the lower house from 120 to 155 and senators’ seats from 38 to 50.

In addition, the law aims to improve female representation because election slates must not have more than 60 percent of candidates from either gender.

“The law will expand the political landscape,” explains Carola Delgado Ureta, who is in charge of public information of the vice presidency of the Chamber of Deputies.

“It is a more participative and more democratic law. It is an opportunity for real change,” she adds.

Yet, Ivan Moreira, Vice President of Chile’s right-wing Independent Democratic Union party and Senator of the Lagos region in the south of the country, does not entirely agree.

“I personally prefer the old system because it created democratic stability but the left wants this change,” he says.

“At the same time, I agree that it is important to change the system.”

Posted in News From Latin America, TOP STORY1 Comment

Argentina vs Vulture Funds: Wishing Won’t Make It So

Argentina vs Vulture Funds: Wishing Won’t Make It So

Last Thursday, President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner made a televised speech in which she blasted the vulture funds yet again, then told the nation how the case could be ended with one stroke of a pen.

Not her pen, unfortunately. President Obama’s, who she said has the power to veto a court decision if it compromises the United State’s relationship with another country.

President Fernández was citing an article by veteran investigative journalist Greg Palast that appeared in The Guardian on 7th August and was quickly picked up by media outlets in Argentina and all over the world (The president even later posted a translated version of it on her own web site).

Palast’s solution is straightforward:

“Obama could prevent vulture hedge-fund billionaire Paul Singer from collecting a single penny from Argentina by invoking the long-established authority granted presidents by the US constitution’s “Separation of Powers” clause. Under the principle known as “comity”, Obama only need inform US federal judge Thomas Griesa that Singer’s suit interferes with the president’s sole authority to conduct foreign policy. Case dismissed.”

“Indeed, President George W Bush invoked this power against the very same hedge fund now threatening Argentina. Bush blocked Singer’s seizure of Congo-Brazzaville’s US property despite the fact that the hedge fund chief is one of the largest, and most influential, contributors to Republican candidates.”

Great news! If only Obama will act, the default will be reversed! Except that – no. This kind of presidential intervention in an ongoing judicial proceeding, under such circumstances, is not remotely possible.

In fact, there is no “Separation of Powers” clause in the US Constitution. Oops. There is a concept of ‘comity’, but it means something very different. Oops again.

A bit of background: though Congress traditionally defers to the president regarding foreign policy, he does not have, as Palast claims, “sole authority” over its conduct. Treaties and ambassadorial appointments must be ratified by the Senate, for example, and Congress has the right to deny funding for foreign adventures if it does not agree.

As for dismissing the case, there is no mechanism for an executive override of a court decision. At best, the administration could file a legal brief on behalf of a party, which it already did in 2012, voicing strong support for Argentina. In an extreme case, he could issue an Executive Order, but given that Argentina’s case is proceeding along established legal guidelines, there is no basis to do so, and it would surely be overturned on appeal to the Supreme Court.

And as for Palast’s statement that President George W Bush “invoked this power against the very same hedge fund” – he did no such thing. The case was settled in a UK court, and though there were several parallel lawsuits in US courts, there is no sign of direct intervention by the White House. (I contacted Greg Palast for comment on these points, but he did not respond.)

Even if President Obama wanted to, there is not much he can do to help Argentina's case against vulture funds (Photo: Victor Carreira/enviado especial/Télam)

Even if President Obama wanted to, there is not much he can do to help Argentina’s case against vulture funds (Photo: Victor Carreira/enviado especial/Télam)

I’ve been an admirer of Palast in the past, but on this topic, he seems to have strayed into magical thinking. While I support Argentina in their struggle against the vultures, Obama’s signature will not cause this case to disappear. For all their moral and human failings, the vulture funds have won key court decisions and hold all the legal cards – especially in the US.

Argentina’s suit at the International Court of Justice is, similarly, no more than a publicity stunt, since the US has already said it does not recognise the Court’s jurisdiction. Even if the Bank of New York wished to abide by an ICJ decision, it could not do so.

President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner deserves better advisers, who will stop her, next time, before she gives a speech based upon demonstrably false pretenses. In their defence, the Guardian column was also republished, without challenge, by media all over the world. But wishing that it were true will not make it so.

Argentina may decide to negotiate with the vultures, or to wait them out, but there is no quick fix coming from Washington DC.

Posted in Opinion, TOP STORY1 Comment

Brazil: Presidential Candidate Eduardo Campos Dies in Plane Crash

Brazil: Presidential Candidate Eduardo Campos Dies in Plane Crash

Eduardo Campos (photo via official Facebook page)

Eduardo Campos (photo via official Facebook page)

Presidential Candidate Eduardo Campos has died after the light aircraft he was travelling in crashed in the coastal town of Santos earlier today.

Campos is among numerous fatalities after the private jet carrying him crashed in bad weather in a residential area at approximately 10am.

The candidate for the Partido Socialista Brasileiro (PSB) was travelling from Rio de Janeiro to the town of Santos, some 80km from the city of Sao Paulo, as part of his campaign.

“The whole of Brazil is in mourning,” said President Dilma Rousseff in an official press release. “Today we lost a great Brazilian, a great colleague… we were always clear that our political differences were less than the mutual respect that characterised our relationship.”

Rousseff today decreed three days of national mourning, during which she will suspend all of her own campaign activities.

An economist graduate, Campos, who turned 49 three days ago, was governor of Pernambuco for seven years. He left the position earlier this year to run in the presidential elections to take place on 5th October.

According to latest opinion polls, Campos was third favourite behind incumbent Dilma Rousseff and opposition senator Aécio Neves, with around 10% support.

Official guidelines state that Campos’ PSB party now has 10 days to decide on a replacement candidate. This could include Campos’ running mate and candidate for vice president, Marina Silva, who was not travelling on the plane.

Posted in News From Latin America, Round Ups Latin America0 Comments

Ecuador: Earthquake Leaves Three Dead, Several Injured

quito earthquakeA 5.1-magnitude earthquake struck near the Ecuadorian capital of Quito yesterday afternoon, killing at least three people and injuring at least a dozen.

Two deaths occurred when several construction workers were buried by a landslide while working on a bridge in Mitad del Mundo, 26km north of Quito. One of the bodies was found in the area this morning as rescue efforts continued. Authorities say one other person remains missing.

The third fatality was that of a 4-year-old boy who was alleged crushed by large bags of rice that fell during the earthquake.

A state of emergency remains in place in the worst affected districts. However, transport services resumed as normal today, including at Quito airport, which was closed for several hours yesterday.

President Rafael Correa expressed his sorrow for the deaths last night, noting that illegal mining activity destabilises the ground and increases the risk of landslides. “Of course, the earthquake caused the landslide,” said Correa, “but the earth was already fragile due to illegal mining and quarries exploited without technical expertise.”

Dozens of aftershocks have been registered since the first tremor, which occurred at approximately 3pm local time yesterday.

Earthquakes are relatively common in Ecuador. The worst disaster in recent history occurred in 1949, when a 6.8-magnitude tremor killed more than 6,000 people.

Posted in News From Latin America, Round Ups Latin America0 Comments

Bolivia Deports Argentine Ex-Officer Wanted for Human Rights Crimes

Jorge Horacio Páez Sinestrari (left) detained by Bolivian authorities (photo courtesy of Bolivian government)

Jorge Horacio Páez Sinestrari (left) detained by Bolivian authorities (photo courtesy of Bolivian government)

The Bolivian government has extradited Argentine ex-military officer Jorge Horacio Páez Senestrari, wanted for crimes against humanity during the 1976-83 dictatorship.

The former officer, who had been a fugitive with an Interpol red alert notice since 2011, was handed over to Argentine authorities at the border town of Yacuiba last night. He had been arrested by Bolivian intelligence officers on Friday in a flat he rented the town of Santa Cruz.

“As a result of various control checks and surveillance project being conducted by specialist intelligence teams, an Argentine national, who was verified to be Jorge Horacio Páez Senestrari, was found,” said government minister Jorge Pérez, who personally oversaw the deportation yesterday.

“It is clear that this was a person directly involved in the dictatorial governments under the Condor Plan,” added Pérez.

Páez Senestrari was a former captain of a unit based in the province of San Juan. The former captain, now 68, is accused of being involved in the kidnapping and torture of several politicians, including San Juan governor José Luis Gioja, during the dictatorship.

He had already been sentenced to 25 years prison in other trial for aggravated murder and torture, but was released in 2011 by an appeals court.

When Páez Senestrari then failed to show up for a court hearing later in 2011, he was declared a fugitive, and a $100,000 reward was put up for information leading to his capture. The trial against Páez Senestrari is now expected to resume.

Posted in News From Argentina, Round Ups Argentina0 Comments

A Play in Perpetual Motion

A Play in Perpetual Motion

‘Movimiento perpetuo’, the new play by US-born writer and performer Paz Pardo, is perhaps what most expats in Buenos Aires have been waiting for: a story about what it’s like to move … a lot.

Paz Pardo interacts with the audience during her play 'Movimiento perpetuo' (photo courtesy of Movimiento perpetuo)

Paz Pardo interacts with the audience during her play ‘Movimiento perpetuo’ (photo courtesy of Movimiento perpetuo)

And perpetual movement defines the theatrical experience that Paz and Colombian director Enrique Lozano have created. Paz explores her own family’s Argentine roots through the lens of Laura, an alien (or is she just a lonely American?) who gets trapped amid the empanaderías, late-night bars, and psychoanalytic offices of Buenos Aires. Using a combination of techniques stolen from sci-fi movies, experimental theatre, and cooking blogs, the play moves through genres and Buenos Aires apartments towards an ephemeral community. Oh, and there are also brownies.

Anna White-Nockleby sat down with Paz at Café Malvón in Palermo to ask her about the play, which she wrote during a Fulbright year in Buenos Aires in 2012.

In the play you describe that you began with the idea of movement and moving, but I’m curious, was that how you actually started writing the play?

I had this idea for a play about two sisters with a grandmother who is Argentine. And I was banging my head against a wall, going nowhere, and my Spanish wasn’t good enough to write it. But I had this image from another play that I’d tried to write before, which was a stage full of boxes, and all of the boxes getting taken off the stage as the show continues. And that image just stayed, and hung out for a few months.

Then I went to this conference at a psychoanalytic institute where I was taking classes, which was about ‘lo extranjero‘, or estrangement, and it made me really angry. Because it was all of these Argentine analysts who said: “We have to start from the assumption of difference, not sameness.” And I had been spending the past few months saying “but I’m the same as you … even though I talk like a nine-year-old.” I went home and couldn’t sleep and I got fixated on this idea that nobody I knew in Buenos Aires had moved.

So the idea was that I was going to collect stories of moves that my friends had done, and then have them translated. Then I met Enrique [Lozano, the director] and he read the play and we started working, and he was like, “let’s try your family rather than going so far afield”, because the question of my semi-Argentine background was not really appearing in the script.

And the alien?

[Laughs] I had written the introduction, and I knew I would eventually get into stuff that was so close to my own life, and I thought, I can’t just invite people into a room and be like, “my life is so haaard”. So I needed to find some way to distance it, but at the same time nobody was going to not believe that it was me. I was standing in my kitchen and thinking about how I felt when I first got here. I felt like I was not human, like I was missing this huge swathe of things that I needed in order to interact the way that I normally interact with people. And I was washing dishes and I was like, “what if she’s an alien?” Obviously! And I started laughing out loud, thinking that’s a really terrible idea. But the more I thought about it, I realised, that’s what it is, it feels like I’m an alien.

What about the trend of documentary theatre, biodramas, and shows about real-life stories that have become so popular in Buenos Aires in the past decade. How did those plays enter into your thinking?

In the work that I’m really interested in, like the Tectonic Theatre Project and Anna Deavere Smith, something about the idea of truth on stage is really powerful, but at the same time there’s something about it that’s really off-putting.

How so?

When it’s not done right, I feel like somebody’s yelling at me “this is the truth!” and as an audience member I’m not allowed to decide whether it’s the truth or not. And that actually constrains what the theatre can do. I’d seen a work-in-progress piece by Cynthia Hopkins, who does these one-woman shows. And she does really interesting things. She uses recordings and has dialogues with herself through recorded sound. In that show she got abducted by aliens, so that may have been a contributing factor [to the appearance of an alien in 'Movimiento perpetuo'].

At the end of the show, she has this monologue where she says, “I was severely alcoholic and I woke up one day and had been brutally attacked and I had no idea where I was” and you realise all of a sudden when she says this that the abduction by aliens was about that. Whereas if she had just come out and said, “I was terribly alcoholic and I got brutally attacked,” you’d be like, “you poor person, I hope you get better!”

Like there would be no way into it as a spectator?

Yeah, I think watching someone try to communicate an emotion that is too big for the form is where we as spectators feel the most drawn in. It’s something that’s kind of the core of Enrique’s and my aesthetic, this tension between form and content.

Speaking of form, literally, you have spectators sit in a circle and there’s some engagement directly with the audience… why?

The idea of the circle was Enrique’s, and came about because we were talking about how the play could be like an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting but for people who move too much. And especially being an American in this culture I feel like I have moved an obscene amount of times. I ask the audience to help me make the show because I don’t like one-person shows. Making a one-person show about being lonely is … such a stupid idea [laughs].

I’m asking the audience to be what a cast would be, to take risks. I know a lot of people hate audience interaction, but I know there are some people that are like, “oh, can I read the thing, can I …” The idea was to give people the opportunity to do that. I don’t know that I necessarily emancipate the spectator, but in every show there’s something that happens. One time when I gave out the card that said “suena música tecno” (techno music plays), I handed it to someone and he was a beat-boxer and a rapper, and that’s his job, and I was like, “I have an amazing soundtrack!”

And any horror stories with spectator interaction gone wrong?

Yes, a show in Colombia, it was a small audience of eight people and they’d all shown up in pairs. And one of the couples was really drunk, it was Semana Santa [Easter week] and they’d been drinking forever, and there may have been other substances involved. I start the show and the girl runs into the bathroom which is like two metres from me and starts throwing up. She’s so out of it that she doesn’t fully close the door. And something just took over, I was like, “you gotta keep going!” And it was incredible, the audience just shrunk into each other. It was such a hard show, nobody wanted to do anything. There was this palpable tension. But at the end of the show, nobody left! Everybody stood around and it was so weird because when the show works, often we go out with the audience afterwards. Often there’s this really nice winding down of the evening. But even this show, which didn’t feel like it had worked, there was still this sense of, “ok, well the show works on some level… even when it doesn’t!” Or maybe it was so torturous that people forget that they can break out of it, I don’t know [laughs].

Anything else you wanted to mention?

We do “teatro-delivery” so if you have 10 or 15 friends and a living room, contact us and we’ll set up a special show. We’re developing an English version, too.

Movimiento perpetuo is on Tuesdays at 9pm at various venues. Entrance costs $80/$60 students. For reservations, contact movimientoperpetuoobra@gmail.com

Posted in The Arts, Theatre, TOP STORY0 Comments

Bolivia: Native ‘Golden Bat’ Classified as New Species

The Myotis midastactus, of 'golden' bat (photo: Dr. Marco Tschapka, Ulm University)

The Myotis midastactus, of ‘golden’ bat (photo: Dr. Marco Tschapka, Ulm University)

Scientists have formally classified a new species of bat found in Bolivia, noticeable for its golden-coloured fur.

After originally being considered part of the Myotis Simus bat species found in several South American countries, the bat was recently found to be a completely new species particular to Bolivia.

The new species is named Myotis Midastactus, a reference to King Midas and his golden touch. The bat is found in the tropical savanna region in northern Bolivia.

Driving the study to identify the new species was Ricardo Moratelli of the scientific foundation Oswaldo Cruz, based in Rio de Janeiro. Scientists used museum specimens to differentiate the bat from other species, as they were unable to find a living golden bat in two month of searches.

“Discovering new species is the most exciting part of my research, and in some cases describing a new species can be the first step to preserve others,” Moratelli told BBC News. “I can confidently say that many new species from different zoological groups are in museum cabinets around the world, awaiting recognition and formal description.”

This is the fifth new species of bat that Moratelli has identified in Latin America.

Posted in News From Latin America, Round Ups Latin America0 Comments

Argentina in Default: Government Announces Legal Actions

Alejandro Vanoli, president of CNV, announces investigation into alleged market manipulation by vulture funds (Photo: Paula Ribas/Télam)

Alejandro Vanoli, president of CNV, announces investigation into alleged market manipulation by vulture funds (Photo: Paula Ribas/Télam)

Days after the 30th July deadline to pay bondholders expired without an agreement that would lift the legal block on its payment, the Argentine government said it would take fresh action against vulture funds.

The National Securities Commission (CNV) confirmed that it would begin an investigation into potential market fraud and insider trading in Credit Default Swaps (CDS), which act as insurance against a sovereign default.

On Friday, the International Swaps and Derivatives Association (ISDA) declared that a ‘failure to pay’ credit event had occurred in Argentina, triggering an estimated US$1bn payment to holders of CDS.

The government says these holders could include the same vulture funds involved in the litigation against Argentina, thereby creating a conflict of interest – an accusation denied by the funds.

CNV president, Alejandro Vanoli, said that the organisation would present a formal request for information from the US Securities Exchange Commission (SEC). “This warrants an investigation because they are seeking a ‘false default’, with no financial or logical reason, to benefit in two ways: from an absurd and illegal court sentence and by acting arbitrarily to earn from the CDS,” said Vanoli.

Speaking earlier this morning, Cabinet Chief Jorge Capitanich said that the potential for market manipulation was even greater because Judge Thomas Griesa left the decision over whether to grant Argentina a stay in the hands of the vulture funds.

Paul Singer’s Elliot Management Corporation, which led the lawsuit against Argentina, was among the 15 banks and funds that voted unanimously in the ISDA that Argentina had entered default, triggering the CDS payments.

Pollack

Capitanich also confirmed this morning that the government would file a formal complaint against Daniel Pollack, the special mediator appointed by Judge Griesa, for his “manifest partiality and because he does not promote measures that contribute to a reasonable and impartial mediation.

“If the mediator is a spokesperson for the vulture funds, and only extorts with the funds’ unilateral proposals, then he is not a mediator,” added Capitanich.

However, at a hearing on Friday, Judge Griesa supported Pollack’s actions so far and his involvement in future negotiations, saying he was “completely impartial.”

Capitanich added that the government would analyse presenting an appeal to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) and request that the issue be debated in the UN. He also noted that bondholders who have not received money that is currently held up with the Bank of New York could begin legal proceedings against the bank.

Posted in News From Argentina, Round Ups Argentina3 Comments

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In the week that Estela de Carlotto, president of the Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo, found her grandson, ending a 36-year search, we revisit Vicky Gashe's 2010 article on the human rights organisation.

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