Guardian Piece on Sousa Mendes

Today my piece on visiting the Casa do Passal and the Legacy of Sousa Aristides de Sousa Mendes was published on the Guardian CiF. It looks at the failure to truly honor his memory as well as  how even today there are those with the power to decide to break a rule or a law to save lives.  Here’s an excerpt, please click the link to read the whole thing:

“So you’ve seen our shame, our disgrace?” Those were the first words from an older gentleman wearing a sash along the parade route. It is carnival in Cabanas de Viriato, the ancestral home of Portuguese second world war hero Aristides de Sousa Mendes, and I’m walking alongside Francisco Antonio Campos, director of the local philharmonic.

He sounds frustrated as he stares in any direction to avoid looking at theghastly abandoned mansion looming over us in the town square. More than 70 years since Sousa Mendes, a diplomat assigned to the consulate in Bordeaux, saved over 30,000 people from the concentration camps of Nazi Germany, his story remains largely unknown and his majestic home, Casa do Passal, is falling to pieces.

Abandoned Casa do Passal
Casa do Passal, What is left of it.

Note: For those in the NYC/Long Island area, there is a special event being put on by the Sousa Mendes Foundation on Saturday in Mineola. Full details here.

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Fiji Water Closed?

Photo of Fiji Military by Flickr Member JSA_NZMore than a year since the great investigative reporter Anna Lenzer published her article on the story behind Fiji water (also appearing as a guest on this podcast), the company announced this week it is closing its operation in Fiji.  After a long relationship with the ruling military junta, the company announced on their blog on Nov 29:

In Friday’s budget (11.26.10), the Fiji government announced that it will impose a 15-cent per liter tax on bottled water at locations where more than 3.5M liters per month are extracted.  FIJI Water, which currently pays 1/3 of a cent per liter, is the only bottled water producer in Fiji affected by the increased tax; bottlers who extract less than this monthly limit will continue to pay about 1/10 of a cent, or 10,000% less tax than FIJI Water.

This new tax is untenable and, as a consequence, FIJI Water is left with no choice but to close our facility in Fiji, effective Monday, Nov. 29, 2010. We are saddened that we have been forced to make a business decision that will result in hardship to hundreds of Fijians who will now be without work.

They went on to refer to the government of Fiji and the terrible state the country is in:

The country is increasingly unstable, and is becoming a very risky place in which to invest.

24 Hours later the company makes a new announcement explaining that after discussions with the government, its factory will reopen:

Through our discussions, we have also agreed to comply with Fiji’s new water tax law……Moving forward, FIJI Water is committed to working with the Fijian government,  and remains dedicated to helping the country’s economy and its people.

An odd turn of events, first that they decide yesterday, after more than a year of dealing with an undemocratic government with a questionable human rights record, that they had finally reached their breaking point. Then that after one day of discussions, the government is not as bad as they explained the day before, and that all is fine.  It actually impressive they didn’t delete the post from the 29th altogether, pretending it never happened. Perhaps the heavy amount of proof scattered around the internet would have been difficult to take back.

There is much to ask of both the Fiji government, the water company, and drinkers of Fiji water to understand what is going on here.  Unfortunately in what has long been an unsustainable operation, doing more harm then self-proclaimed good on this planet, it looks like business as usual.  Not that Fiji water drinkers ever really asked anything about the bottle they continue to hold in their hands.

More on this and hopefully some answers to these questions: soon.

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bmtv119 Room for Everyone

March from Waterloo SquareThe squatting community in Amsterdam is under siege, with the new law declaring squatting illegal, many who have lived in their homes for a decade or more are now considered criminals and subject to forceful eviction. ; But the community and its supporters have not given up hope and refuse to be made homeless by the authorities.

This brief video clip is from one of the many marches against the evictions, as squatters and supporters marched from Waterloo Square through the heart of Amsterdam.

More info at: squat.net or indymedia.nl

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ctrp355 Dissecting the Caucasus Triangle

Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan make up the Caucasus Triangle; a region that is not often mentioned in the mainstream news. Over the past year, Letizia Gambini has made it her business to learn all about this complex region and its many layers.

Her project, a documentary that will follow three young activists from the three South Caucasus countries, is the focus of this podcast. Together we also talk about her travels as delve into the world of culture, politics, history, conflicts and human rights in Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan.

For more information and to follow the progress of the Caucasus Triangle project, subscribe to Letizia’s blog.

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