Issues & Analysis
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Organize a Screen & Discuss Event

Help us arrange screenings of the NIRV films!

We are looking for locations and hosts to arrange events to screen and discuss a selection of the New Immigrant and Refugee Visions films. Our goal is to use these events to inspire conversation and action among diverse audiences about the immigrant experience in America and the mainstream media’s approach to immigrant issues.

The films include stories about a Somali family struggling with inter-generational tensions around adapting to American culture; the experience of Indian immigrants whose daughter is campaigning to be elected as the first woman of color on the city council of Revere, Massachusetts; and an undocumented woman from the Dominican Republic, who faces deportation (if DACA legislation is not renewed) to a country she has not set foot in since she was four years old.

INSPIRE DIALOGUE AND ACTION: Events could include a CSFilm facilitated dialogue, a Q&A with filmmakers, a panel discussion and/or other activities aimed at enhancing understanding of the immigrant experience and motivating actions to advance social justice and conflict resolution. We welcome ideas for events and other engagement activities.

CONNECT US WITH PARTNERS ACROSS THE COUNTRY: We are also reaching out to potential regional and national partners who may be interested in collaborating on our Screen and Discuss campaign. If you have connections with organizations or individuals in other cities that might be good partners for screenings and dialogues on immigration, we look forward to working with you to expand the impact of the NIRV films.

CONTACT US: We are scheduling screenings to begin in early February 2018. Please contact Sarah Chapple-Sokol (sarah@csfilm.org), our Public Engagement Coordinator if you are interested in showing the films.


Congressional Briefing

CSFilm’s US Congressional Briefing with live link to Kabul and participation by American Friends Service Committee and 3P Human Security

FOLLOW THESE EASY STEPS TO HOST A SCREENING

Follow these easy steps to host a screening of any of CSFilm’s locally made films or a presentation about the work of CSFilm and the value of locally produced stories.)

1. PLAN YOUR EVENT.  Consider when and where you would like to host an event, who might be available for a panel, and who your audience will be.

2. PURCHASE A DVD* or REVIEW THE FILMS ONLINE

3. INVITE CSFILM.  If feasible we would love to attend your screening, give a presentation and participate in a discussion about the filmmaking process and the issues. (In cases where CSFilm’s attendance is requested, we ask that the venue try to cover travel expenses.)*

4. INVITE: Neighbors, friends, organizations – to maximize your attendance and publicity;

5. SEND: Invitations and announcements to your network and the local media;

6. DOWNLOAD PRINTABLE RESOURCES: Including introductions to CSFilms work and specific materials to print and handout at screenings and discussions.

7. CONSIDER USING YOUR EVENT TO RAISE FUNDS for Community Supported Film to enable the continued training of filmmakers in post-crisis countries to raise awareness about their perspectives on pressing social and economic development issues. We can provide you written materials and donation cards and envelopes to facilitate your fundraiser.

8. LINK TO OUR WORK on your website and social media.

9. SIGN UP for CSFilm updates

10. CONTACT CSFILM via our contact page or at 617-834-7206 to discuss your questions and needs.

* REGARDING COSTS: CSfilm’s primary mission is to get these films seen and discussed as widely as possible. We appreciate your understanding, however, that CSFilm’s work is underfunded. When collaborating with organizations or educational institutions that have a budget for film screenings and presentations, we ask for $250 for the DVDs.  If a presenter is requested (which we highly recommend!), we ask for a $300 – $500 stipend plus travel expenses.  In all cases, however, it is up to the venue to determine what they can afford.  One way to raise some or all of these costs is to ask your library to purchase the DVD for $250.  If money is an issue, please be in touch with us. We do not want the cost to be an impediment to these films being seen and discussed.


Asia Society, NYC, screening and discussion with CSFilm director Michael Sheridan and Rina Amiry, Afghanistan Office of the Special Representative

OTHER TOPICS AND FILMS AVAILABLE

We’ve heard back from audiences that film screenings have more meaning and impact when a CSFilm staff person is present to provide context and interesting details about the issues, countries, training, filmmakers and filmmaking process.

A. AFGHAN PERSPECTIVES IN FILM:  A selection of films from the collection The Fruit of Our Laborwith background on the war, Afghan social and economic issues, the training and insights into the way that Afghanistan is understood when presented by Afghans versus foreign correspondents.

B. HAITIAN PERSPECTIVES IN FILM: A selection of films from the collection Owning Our Future presented within the context of Haiti’s geo-political history, man-made and natural disasters, and what outsiders generally do not hear and see about Haitian economic and social development issues and outcomes.

C. TOPICS FOR SCREEN & DISCUSS EVENTS: The  Haitian and Afghan-made films are also useful for topic specific Screen & Discuss events.  Click here for a list of topics for consideration.

TEDs talk

Michael Sheridan, CSFilm Director, Tedx presentation “The Messenger is the Message-Transforming News and Views through Local Perspectives”

C. THE MESSENGER IS THE MESSAGE-Transforming News and Views through Local Perspectives: A selection of films from the Afghan and Haitian-made collections in comparison to reports on similar topics by foreign media. A detailed analysis of how information about the other is still predominantly produced by a top down, externally directed, self-interested, colonial news system.

Community Supported Film’s mission is to promote a paradigm shift in our news and information by strengthening local reporting capacity and sharing the results. CSFilm believes that social stability and economic development depend on a well-informed citizenry. Global citizens can not make responsible decisions about political and developmental interventions around the world if they only understand the situations from the outsider’s perspective.

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AFGHANISTAN NEWS AND VIEWS: Street art in Afghanistan targets corruption and hate

By , November 17, 2017, for PBS

Murals are popping up in and around Kabul, aimed at getting people to think about what’s possible.

ArtLords, based in the Afghan capital, grew from a small group of artists and volunteers who wanted to share — in vivid color — the community’s desire to move from war to peace.

It was 2014, and the band of friends noticed that the government and international community were making most of the decisions for Afghans, said Lima Ahmad, one of the original members.

“We wanted to give a voice to the people of Afghanistan who do not have much of a say in what is happening, but they are the most who are suffering — the young people,” she said. In a population of 34 million, about 63 percent are under the age of 25, according to the CIA Factbook.

“We have been in such a miserable situation now for more than 40 years. I was born in that kind of situation — war, corruption, civil conflict, ethnic conflict,” said Ahmad. “We have to have a say in how we run the country.”

Street art offered a way to express their concerns and advocate for change in a non-violent way.

The group, co-founded and run by Omaid Sharifi and Kabir Mokamel, embarked on an “I see you” anti-corruption campaign, said Ahmad, who is currently studying international security and conflict resolution at a graduate school in Boston.

The team arrives at a site at night and with the use of a projector, traces the design on a wall. During the day, they fill in the drawing with paint. As people walk by, the artists explain what they’re doing and answer questions about the subject matter.

“Kabul has a security wall around the city, and (the murals are) a way of converting it with colorful messages,” said Ahmad. “We are putting up messages that can make people think.”

In addition to anti-corruption, the murals depict themes of women’s rights and anti-terrorism. One painting honors those killed in a bomb blast that targeted a funeral procession on June 3.

Since 2001, after the Taliban fell, women began going to school and taking part in public activities. They also began reporting more street harassment, said Ahmad. “It has become now kind of a cultural thing, so this was one of the things we wanted to work on as an issue.”

In order to raise awareness and squash the harassment, the group targeted university campuses, where men and women both attended school, to paint their messages about gender equality. “They should be aware of how much it has become a part of our society. We have anti-harassment and women-protection laws, but I think it’s more of a behavior change,” she said.

In general, people accept the art, especially when they learn it’s not commissioned by the international community, said Ahmad. “We’re not bringing something from outside. It’s a local phenomenon, whether it’s corruption or terrorism. These are things that are present in their lives.”

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HAITI NEWS AND VIEWS: How Trump can be Haiti’s ‘champion’

 November 9, 2017, for The Washington Post

Children hold signs in support of renewing temporary protected status for immigrants from Central America and Haiti. (Lynne Sladky/AP)

AS A CANDIDATE for president last year, Donald Trump felt Haiti’s pain. Campaigning in Miami’s Little Haiti neighborhood, Mr. Trump recounted the ravages visited by the devastating 2010 earthquake on the hemisphere’s most destitute country and concluded , “Whether you vote for me or don’t vote for me, I really want to be your greatest champion, and I will be your champion.”

Now is the moment for Mr. Trump’s administration to make good on that promise. It faces a stark choice with enormous repercussions: whether to grant another extension for some 50,000 Haitians living legally in the United States, or to expel them, a decision that would be devastating not just for thousands of screened, law-abiding migrants and their 27,000 U.S.-born children but also for Haiti itself, whose economy is heavily dependent on the remittances they send home.

The Haitians in question, some of whom have lived in the United States since at least before the 2010 earthquake, and for 13 years on average, were granted permission to stay under a U.S. government humanitarian program known as temporary protected status. After several renewals under the Obama administration, hard-liners in the Trump administration are pressing to revoke TPS for the Haitians, having already done so for several other nations, including some who had lived in the United States even longer. Their current status expires in January; a decision from the Department of Homeland Security on granting them an extension is expected by Nov. 23.

Haiti is extraordinarily ill-equipped to absorb 50,000 people arriving on its shores, most of whom would need jobs, shelter and a variety of government services, including education and health care. No country in the Americas is as dependent on remittances as Haiti, and the losses it would sustain if TPS were revoked for the 50,000 Haitians in the United States would be a severe blow.

True, the word “temporary” in “temporary protected status” should mean something; no one is proposing granting the Haitians permanent legal residence, let alone citizenship. But as Mr. Trump seemed to grasp, Haiti is an especially needy case. And the idea of the hemisphere’s richest country intentionally imposing sudden and significant economic hardship on the poorest is not just anathema to the United States’ idea of itself as a great and compassionate nation. It’s also gratuitously cruel. Why would the United States, whose nominal per capita gross domestic product is more than $57,000, seek such suffering in Haiti, whose per capita GDP is $740?

It cannot be because Haitians represent a burden to the United States. Nearly all speak English; 80 percent are employed; nearly three-quarters have completed high school; and more than a third have studied in or completed college.

A great nation that wants to remain great, and to be seen as such, understands that its prestige and stature are diminished if it disregards the well-being of weak, dependent and friendly neighbors. Haiti is a test of the proposition that a great nation, as Mr. Trump seemed to understand, must sometimes be the “champion” of a weak one.

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AFGHANISTAN NEWS AND VIEWS: Top US general in Afghanistan: No change in Pakistan’s behavior

By Ryan Browne, November 9th, 2017, for CNN

The commander of the NATO-led coalition in Afghanistan, US Army Gen. John Nicholson, said Thursday that Pakistan had not changed its behavior since President Donald Trump announced his new policy for Afghanistan and the wider region, a policy that specifically called on Pakistan to do more.

“No, I haven’t seen any change yet in their behavior,” Nicholson told reporters following a meeting of the NATO defense ministers in Brussels when asked whether he had seen any increased cooperation from Pakistan with regards to eliminating Taliban sanctuaries.
“You’ve heard the public statements from President Trump, from (Defense Secretary James) Mattis, from (Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Joseph Dunford) from (Secretary of State Rex) Tillerson, so we are engaging at the very highest levels with the Pakistanis to work together with them against these terrorists that are undermining the stability of the entire region,” Nicholson added.
“Pakistan has fought hard and suffered heavily against those terrorists focused on its government and now we are asking them to focus on the terrorists that are attacking Afghanistan and attacking the coalition,”
“The United States has been very clear about the direction we want to go and we hope to see some change in the coming weeks and months.”
Mattis told reporters at the ministerial meeting Thursday that the Trump administration was enlisting the international community to help encourage Pakistan to crack down on the Afghan Taliban via a series of incentives and disincentives.
“Obviously, there are ways we can reward Pakistan and there are ways we can ensure they are held to account,” Mattis said.
“We are going to work with Pakistan and make this work,” he added.
Last month, Trump praised Pakistan for its role in helping recover US citizen Caitlan Coleman and her family who had been held by the Haqqani network, a branch of the Taliban.
“The Pakistani government’s cooperation is a sign that it is honoring America’s wishes for it to do more to provide security in the region,” Trump said following their recovery.
Earlier on Thursday, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said that 27 non-US members of the coalition in Afghanistan had committed to increase their troop numbers in Afghanistan to help train and advise the Afghan security services.
The plan is to increase the size of the NATO mission in Afghanistan from 13,000 to 16,000 Stoltenberg said, with the goal of having half of those forces come from countries other than the US.
These reinforcements will join the approximately 3,000 additional US troops that were ordered to Afghanistan as part of Trump’s new strategy. Those US troops will support both the NATO mission and a US counterterrorism mission. The US currently has about 14,000 troops in the country alongside approximately 6,000 from other nations.
But despite those additional allied contributions, US military commanders said this week that the coalition still needed more troops to help train and advise the Afghan security forces.
US commanders are specifically looking for allies to provide troops to help train Afghans in their officer academies and military specialization schools, freeing US troops to go out into the field and advise Afghan soldiers at the brigade and battalion levels, where the US advisers can provide support and call in airstrikes to assist Afghan forces on the front line.
“We need the allies to fill these billets and especially things like the schooling system so that Americans can do the things that only Americans can do,” Nicholson told reporters on Wednesday, referring to the new authorities and troops allowing US forces to advise closer to the fight.
But while US military officials acknowledge that pledges from allies fell short of the stated requirement they also said that efforts are ongoing to increase the number of allied commitments, expressing optimism that countries will provide more forces in the near future.
Some countries will require parliamentary approval for any troop increase, delaying a possible decision on additional military commitments.
“It’s not a done deal yet, we are still talking to nations,” Gen. Curtis Scaparotti, NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander-Europe, told a group of reporters on the sidelines of the ministerial meeting.
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ON THE MEDIA: Newsonomics: A call to arms (and wallets) in the new era of deregulation and bigger media

, November 16, 2017, for NeimanLab

 

First Sinclair and now the Kochs are back. In an age of media free-for-all and massive deregulation, will fact-based journalism become an endangered species?

Quibble, if you will, about the level of degeneracy now afoot in the heart of the Old and New Confederacy, as the Roy Moore saga provides yet more sick drama in the country.

That’s a sideshow. What’s quickly appearing on the main stage — if it’s still behind the curtain for now — is the beginning of a likely massive movement in news media ownership. You think you’ve seen a politicization of the press? The 2016 election may serve as just its preamble.

We’re on the brink — witness several actions this week alone — of a small number of right-leaning companies rapidly buying up, or buying into, the assets of journalism companies. In so doing, the alt-right “fake news” assault may move into a much more insidious phase, as long-trusted brands could take their marching orders from those who believe “fact” is fungible, in service of their political and business goals.

“Media madness,” former Federal Communications Commission member Michael Copps called it Wednesday, as 15 Democratic senators called for a new federal investigation of the FCC’s rush to deregulate broadcast media in America.

Their immediate target: Today’s FCC meeting, as current FCC chairman Ajit Pai speeds up his blitzkrieg assault on the decades-old regulatory rules aimed at maintaining a diverse, many-voiced, widely owned free press. Soon to be repealed: several regulations that have prohibited domination of broadcast news media by a few companies and one that has long forbid the joint ownership of a major newspaper and a major TV broadcaster in the same market. [Update: On Thursday afternoon, the FCC indeed voted to repeal the regulations preventing broadcasters from owning newspapers in the same market.]

While Pai and his confederates pose superficially plausible arguments about how digital media has changed everything, their goals are more prosaic. Sinclair Broadcasting figures to become the first big winner of the new era. Although it’s opposed by a good mix of critics — from the stalwart Free Press group to Newsmax’s Chris Ruddy to Glenn Beck to the Dish Network, Public Knowledge, and Common Cause — Sinclair stands a good chance of soon becoming the largest regional broadcaster. How big? If it is allowed to complete its acquisition of Tribune Media (which some will recall cashed out a good chunk of the newspaper industry–built digital classifieds business and then most of the real estate and buildings associated with the former Tribune, now Tronc, newspapers), Sinclair will own 233 TV stations across the country, including the 42 gained in the Tribune sale. That’s a reach into 72 percent of U.S. households. Before the in-progress de-regulation, companies were capped at 39 percent.

Look no further than the coverage of the Roy Moore story to get a glimpse of the future in detail. In “How Sinclair compromised the news on an Alabama station it owns to support Roy Moore,” Baltimore Sun media critic David Zurawik traced the chain of slanted reporting. It began with Sinclair-owned WBMA, which reported that all its sources (from three interviews) believed the good judge and not The Washington Post.

Then Breitbart picked up that report, giving its journalism even wider distribution and its own brand of certification. It’s hard to quickly assess how WBMA and other Sinclair owned stations have covered the Moore story. What we do know is that Sinclair, privately owned and led by chairman David D. Smith and CEO Christopher Ripley, makes no secret of its alt-right enthusiasms. It has mandated nationally produced must-carry editorials, some of them so fact-challenged as to provide ample satiric fodder for John Oliver. 6,356,541 people, as of this writing, had watched that 20-minute Oliver segment, but it’s unclear how much of a difference that makes. (On the other hand, let’s recognize the dogged work of Advance Publications’ Al.com tracking the real story of Roy Moore’s behavior in Gadsden in the 1970s and eighties.)

Sinclair’s approval appears to be in the final stages, though it’s unclear how the heightening opposition will affect that. It may be the first of ever-bigger deals done for political as well as business reasons. As former FCC commissioner Copps told Deadline.com Wednesday, “[It’s] the nadir of the FCC’s credibility as a protector of the public interest. We shouldn’t just be focused on one merger. There are going to be a lot more after that. It’s a flashing green light, greener than any before it.”

While broadcast takes center ring here, pay attention to the rest of the circus.

On Wednesday, the aspirational media mogul Koch Brothers blazed their way back into media ownership consciousness. As The New York Times reported, the brothers are backing a bid to buy Time Inc. With an injection of $500 million, magazine publisher Meredith looks as if it will finally be able to close its pursuit of Time Inc., perhaps putting that company out of its two-decades-old transition woes. The Kochs came close to beating Michael Ferro to the Tribune Publishing punch three years ago; only odd circumstance and pressure on one of Tribune’s then-major owners, Oaktree Capital Management, and on its co-chairman Bruce Karsh, prevented that deal.

In 2013, the Kochs came close to owning The Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Hartford Courant, Florida’s Sun Sentinel and Orlando Sentinel and Baltimore Sun. (Presumably, if they had made the acquisition, David Zurawik wouldn’t be writing his critical columns for the Sun, and then often taking his viewpoint to Brian Stelter’s Sunday morning Reliable Sources.)

As the Times’ Dealbook put it, “It is not clear how much influence — if any — the Kochs would have on a Meredith-owned Time Inc. if the deal were to go through.” The Kochs have never been shy about mixing business and politics, and they’ll be — with long-standing publisher Meredith a curious intermediary — close to such titles as Time Magazine, Fortune and Money.

How might they use that influence? How might Sinclair double down on its own advocacy after it wins the approvals it needs? Who else may come along — with enough money to freely mix business and politics? Inevitably, Rupert Murdoch’s name reappears. Just a week after it was reported that his 21st Century Fox was in talks to sell substantial film and TV cable assets to Disney, his name has popped up again as a would-be buyer.

Could it have been the never-say-die 86-year-old news magnate of our time who whispered AT&T sweet nothings in President Trump’s ear, moving him to both tweet concern about media consolidation and to see his recent pick for Department of Justice Antitrust chief reverse himself and object to AT&T’s buy of Time Warner, including, most significantly to our points, CNN? Yet it’s also been reported that Murdoch has been a would-be buyerof CNN? The regulatory apparatus, or the dismantling of one, only serves as another means to a business end for Murdoch. Yes, imagine it: Some kind of Fox/CNN tie-up of money, distribution and, of course, working the political angles of the day.

Who may be a first mover if Ajit Pai is successful in letting big broadcasters buy up as many of the country’s TV stations as they want and add big metro newspapers to their consolidated operations? Rupert Murdoch would have to be high on that list. And again, the L.A. Times, the center of so much intrigue throughout its ownership-challenged decade, plays a part. In 2012, Murdoch, too, wanted to buy the L.A. Times. But he was stymied by the cross-ownership rules that meant he’d had to sell highly profitable L.A. stations in order to buy the Times. Now, if the FCC changes stick, Murdoch may be a key player in the broadcast/press roll-up.

This brings up the inevitable question: where are the other names? Wasn’t George Soros supposed to be the master of progressive conspiracies? We’ve seen people like Jeff Bezos (Washington Post), John Henry (Boston), Glen Taylor (Minneapolis) and the Huntsmans (Salt Lake), among others, step forward and return degrees of reinvestment and stability to important metro dailies. Now, when it looks as if many more assets can be bought — and combined, with TV broadcast assets looking richer in a print-decimated world — who else will step forward?

It will take confidence, courage, and money, to confront the new reality. Free Press and others are likely to contest FCC changes in the courts, but that may only be a delaying action. It’s best, perhaps, to contest this war of free press in the marketplace as well. This week, I raised the question of who might buy CNN if the global TV news giant (and leader of the digital news audience pack) comes up for sale. Though, AT&TT CEO Randall Stephenson has proclaimed his willingness to litigate DOJ’s objection to the breadth of his Time Warner buy, time — and offers — may persuade him to sell off CNN.

The gravity of such a sale is clear. I’d argue that CNN has served as a fact-seeking bulwark against the alt-right, in the company of the Times and Post in aggressively covering and uncovering truths and lies. Imagine if it morphed into something else. (In fact, AT&T’s own standing has quickly morphed, given the crazy times: It has moved from being a perhaps poor steward of CNN to a politically aggrieved party in the mess. On Monday, L.A. Times columnist Michael Hiltzik laid out concerns about the AT&T/Time Warner deal.

On Tuesday, Axios’ Jim VandeHei linked the rise of Newt Gingrich’s weaponized politics to John McCain’s pick of Sarah Palin as VP to the “algorithm-ized rage” of Facebook. “Fox News, created in 1996, televised and monetized this hard-edged combat politics. This created the template for MSNBC to do the same on the left, giving both sides a place to fuel and fund rage 24/7. CNN soon went all politics, all day, making governance a show in need of drama,” he wrote. The Fox point is a good one, but underestimates Fox’s — and Murdoch’s influence — on our current politics.

Before Fox — the Americanized version of downmarket British tabloids that blur fact and fictions — such “journalism” was reserved for a place at the supermarket checkout. Most people knew that the category of Enquirers and Stars were not to be taken seriously. Fox News changed that by looking like TV news, its production values and Roger Ailes’ wiles revolutionizing reality. In 2017, we’re up to competing realities. What about 2027?

In the Trump administration’s ongoing teardown of regulation — from health to environment to education — incalculable damage grows. Its media deregulation could have a great deal of impact. I’ve written, here at the Lab, about the likely impacts of news deserts on the 2016 election. As we approach 2018, that desertification only grows. Print advertising losses of 15 percent or more will mean hundreds of fewer journalists working next year. The FCC’s cry for digital freedom is likely a smokescreen. The likely convergence in the TV/local newspaper property combos to come will likely be convergences of costs and less reporting. Cost savings are a top priority for companies eyeingsuch consolidations. But this deregulation could put more money into the pockets of those who already have a lot of it.

Last week, when I spoke with New York Times CEO Mark Thompson, he recalled his awakening to the value of journalism in a democratic society:

My story of becoming a journalist — I was born in 1957, so at the age of 14 or 15, I was completely engrossed by American politics and Watergate. In England, by the way, where I couldn’t see any American newspapers. But hearing at one or two removes about the work being done by The New York Times and The Washington Post in uncovering Pentagon Papers, Watergate, and so forth. It’s a matter of honest astonishment that 45 years, 46 years later, it’s the same brands.

It is an astonishment. About 2,000 journalists, in total, power those two institutions. Although their work this year will prove historic, it’s not enough. We need journalists working freely in the pursuit of fact all over the country, in whatever “print” and “TV” become.

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HAITI NEWS AND VIEWS: New Orleans and Haiti are linked by culture, food and history

By The World Staff, October 27, 2017, for WCAI

Women wear costumes as they take part in the Jacmel Carnaval February 3, 2013. Picture taken February 3, 2013. REUTERS/Swoan Parker

In 1809, when the Haitian Revolution ended and Haiti became indpendent, thousands of white, free black and enslaved people fled to New Orleans, doubling the city’s population in just a few months. Today, many New Orleanians, black and white, trace their ancestral roots to Haiti.

“If you look at a list of the top 10 cities in the United States with the highest Haitian population, [today] New Orleans wouldn’t even be on that list,” says journalist Laine Kaplan-Levenson, the host of WWNO’s history podcast Tripod: New Orleans at 300.

But you can still see that Haitian influence everywhere in the city, from the architecture to the music to the food, says Kaplan-Levenson.

“People who know anything about New Orleans food know that there’s red beans and rice, know that there’s jambalaya. A lot of these dishes come from Haiti,” she says.

While working on her history podcast about New Orleans, Kaplan-Levenson says she’d hear about this New Orleans-Haiti connection all the time. “So much of what I heard was all about Haiti and the Haitian influence.” It made her wonder if Haitians felt the same way about New Orleanians.

Soon, she was traveling to Haiti to find out.

Kaplan-Levenson produced an hour-long radio documentary about her journey and the complicated Haitian-New Orlinean relationship. It’s called “Haiti and New Orleans. Is the feeling mutual?”

Listen to the documentary.

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ON MIGRATION: White nationalists stage anti-refugee protests in Tennessee

By Bryan Woolston, October 28, 2017, for Rueters

People gesture while participating in a “White Lives Matter” rally in Shelbyville, TN, U.S., October 28, 2017. REUTERS/Stephanie Keith

About 300 white nationalists and neo-Nazis held back-to-back rallies in two small Tennessee cities on Saturday to protest refugee resettlement in the state, which sued the federal government over the issue earlier this year.

The “White Lives Matter” rallies in Shelbyville and Murfreesboro, organized by some of the same groups involved in a Virginia march that turned violent in August, drew an equal number of counter-demonstrators and a heavy police presence.

The protesters started in Shelbyville, then traveled about 35 miles north to Murfreesboro for a second rally. Both towns are near Nashville, center of a metropolitan area has become home to refugees from Somalia, Iraq and elsewhere.

“We don’t want the federal government to keep dumping all these refugees into middle Tennessee,” said Brad Griffin, a member of a group known as the League of the South who has written about his desire to create a white “ethnostate.”

Saturday’s rallies were organized by the Nationalist Front coalition, which embraces groups considered neo-Nazi or neo-Confederate by the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks hate groups.

To help keep the peace, Shelbyville police used temporary fencing to separate the white nationalists from counter-demonstrators. Anyone seeking to enter the area was searched. Guns, backpacks, sticks and other items that might double as weapons were banned.

The white nationalist demonstrators gathered behind a half dozen white shields emblazoned with red crosses. Counter-protesters carried signs with slogans including “Don’t Hate” and “Veterans for Peace.” Two lines of police, some in riot gear, stood between the two sides, who shouted at each other.

One man was arrested for disorderly conduct, but there were no injuries, local media said. The reports could not be immediately confirmed.

Later in Murfreesboro, where protesters were prohibited from carrying shields, or wearing masks or helmets, the rally remained peaceful, the city said on Twitter.

Local officials and faith leaders had denounced the gatherings, fearing they could inflame racial, ethnic and religious animosities in the state.

Over the last 15 years, about 18,000 refugees have been resettled in Tennessee, less than 1 percent of the state’s population, according to the Tennessean newspaper.

The state filed a lawsuit the federal government in March saying it had been unduly forced to pay for refugee resettlements. It was the first state to bring such a case on the basis of the 10th Amendment, which limits U.S. government powers to those provided by the Constitution. Other states have filed similar suits on different legal grounds.

“When they say refugees, what they really mean is Muslims,” said Ibrahim Hooper, a spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, referring to Saturday’s protesters.

He noted that a Murfreesboro mosque has been a source of controversy and vandalism for years.

“Tennessee is one of the states that has seen a rise in anti-Muslim bigotry in recent years, particularly since the election,” Hooper said.

President Donald Trump has sought to ban travel from six Muslim-majority countries since he took office and called during his 2016 election campaign for a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.”

(Additional reporting by Chris Kenning; Writing by Frank McGurty; Editing by Richard Chang and Tom Brown)

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AFGHANISTAN NEWS AND VIEWS: Violence is so bad in parts of Afghanistan that Red Cross clinics are shutting their doors

By Antonio Olivo, October 26, 2017, for The Washington Post

A smiling physiotherapist beams in a framed photo inside the Red Cross ­center here, hinting at the radiant personality that charmed her orthopedic patients before a man with polio took out a gun hidden in his wheelchair and killed her.

The slaying of Lorena Enebral Perez at a clinic in the northern city of Mazar-e Sharif followed the roadside killing of six Afghans working for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and three abductions in the past year, part of a spike in violence by smaller militias and by the Taliban that has led to more than 200 deaths in the past week.

That violence has prompted the international aid agency to shut down two of its offices in the northern part of the country and to scale down operations in Mazar-e Sharif — a decision that will affect hundreds of thousands of Afghans who receive aid from the organization in seven northern provinces.

“The places where you have war and insecurity are the places where your help is needed,” said Alberto Cairo, a doctor who during the early 1990s spearheaded the creation of the ICRC’s orthopedic program, which treats 160,000 people annually across the country. “At the same time, you cannot deliver it. If we cannot guarantee the security of our staff, how can we work?”

So far this year, there have been 107 attacks on health facilities, up from 41 last year, according to the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Fifteen aid workers have been killed in attacks, and an additional 43 have been abducted this year, down from 121 kidnappings the year before.

The orthopedic center’s roughly 8,500 patients who have lost legs to war or stray land mines, plus an additional 17,500 who have problems walking because of cerebral palsy, polio and other ailments, will still be able to receive treatment at the Mazar-e Sharif clinic. But the approximately 675,000 other Afghans who rely on the ICRC for food, water or medical aid in
the north will be left without options until the Afghan government or a different aid group fills the gap.

With U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson calling on Pakistan to help force the Taliban into peace negotiations amid a surge of 4,000 more U.S. troops, the militant group is fighting for a stronger presence outside its southern strongholds.

In that setting, more aid workers in areas once considered relatively safe have become targets for attacks or abductions. Meanwhile, more people need help.

In the past 12 months, 8,000 civilians have either died or been injured by military operations, down slightly from a peak of 8,500 in the previous year, according to the United Nations.

U.N. officials say humanitarian aid groups are trying to strike a balance by limiting their operations in some areas or prioritizing services to meet only the most urgent demands.

“We have to put the oxygen mask on ourselves before we can help others,” said Toby Lanzer, the U.N. humanitarian coordinator in Afghanistan. “I think, for the time being, you will see a reduction of aid in some of the areas where aid agencies have been hit.”

The erosion of security in the north has multiple causes, security analysts say.

In the hostile province of Kunduz, fighting between the Taliban and government forces has led to instability all around, making it harder for aid groups to know who is in charge. Elsewhere, smaller renegade groups — some of whom claim affiliation with the Islamic State — have taken hold in areas not under firm control of the government or the Taliban.

Those groups are behind many of the aid worker abductions and the attacks on medical facilities, said Obaid Ali, a director with the Afghan Analysts Network, who focuses on security issues in the north.

“They are small groups who work under their own flag, and in many cases, they refuse to obey Taliban rule and honor local culture,” Ali said. In the case of abductions, “it’s really hard, and it’s really dangerous to approach these people and discuss terms with them.”

The increased instability revealed itself to the ICRC in December when a Spanish member of the staff was abducted by a group of gunmen while traveling from Kunduz to Mazar-e Sharif. The man was held for a month before the ICRC negotiated his release.

In February, a group of armed men attacked an ICRC convoy in the northwestern province of Jowzjan, killing six Afghan staff members and abducting two others, holding them until September.

Lanzer said the U.N. humanitarian affairs office is working on how to fill the gap in services
left by the ICRC’s decision to close its offices in Kunduz and Maimana.

There, the organization assisted wounded fighters on both sides of the conflict, connected prisoners with their families, developed clean water and sanitation programs, and referred patients to the orthopedic center in Mazar-e Sharif, which was temporarily shut down after the shooting but will remain functioning at least through the end of 2018.

Lanzer said replacing the two other offices will be challenging if it isn’t clear who is in control.

“I think that with the Taliban, there is a conversation which is manageable ,” Lanzer said. Once services cease in those gray ­areas, “re-engagement becomes very difficult because you don’t know who to deal with.”

In Kunduz and Maimana, local officials lamented the closure of the ICRC offices.

“People will suffer a lot,” said Mohammad Hashim, a parliament member from Maimana. “We have discussed the problems people will face in the parliament and very much hope they will come back.”

Inside the ICRC orthopedic center in Kabul, therapists busily attended to dozens of patients without legs and those with walking disabilities.

In the mornings, as many as 500 people come to the center for treatment and therapy, said Cairo, the doctor.

One was Sayed Rohullah, 16.

He lost his right leg about a year ago after stepping on a land mine in his neighborhood in eastern Paktia province, near the Pakistan border, while walking to a local shop on an errand. After being fitted for a prosthetic limb four days earlier, he was still wobbly, Rohullah said.

But “it will change my life in a positive way because, without it, I will not be able to work,” he said.

Most patients are grateful for the aid. But Enebral’s murder revealed how vulnerable the ­organization can sometimes be while tending to people who bear grudges against other patients or staff members, Cairo said.

“We trust very much that our visibility, our acceptance, the fact that we are useful has always been our best defense,” he said, adding that the shooter was a 21-year-old man who had been receiving treatment since he
was 2.

“It’s like if your child suddenly kills you,” Cairo said. “It comes as quite a shock.”

Sayed Sahaluddin contributed to this report.

 

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HAITI NEWS AND VIEWS: Haitian Immigrants March for TPS Extension

As Seen on Air

Time is running out for Haitians living in the United States under temporary protected status. TPS is set to expire in January, unless the Trump Administration acts by next month.

Rain or shine, Haitian Immigrants said they want to stay in South Florida during a march Saturday.

“We are here in front of the immigration offices to ask the Trump Administration to renew temporary protected status for 18 months for citizens of Haiti, Honduras, Nicaragua and El Salvador,” said Marleine Bastien, the executive director of Haitian Women of Miami.

With each chant, Haitian Women of Miami, community leaders and supporters pushed forward, urging the Department of Homeland Security to renew TPS, focusing on Haitian immigrants living in the United States.

“I got a baby, four-years-old, she’s American born. Can I go back to my country with a baby when you have no hospital, nothing?” said Marcia Jean Philippe, a TPS recipient from Haiti.

Marica is one of many Haitian TPS recipients who have been living the U.S. for years, since the devastating earthquake in 2010. After major hurricanes like Matthew, many fear the Caribbean nation is not in any condition to accept deportees.

“My country is not ready to take me back with my kids,” said Philippe.

“They cannot absorb 58,000 in the case of Haiti, immigrants that have been working here for an average of eight to 20 years,” said Bastien.

The future of those families remains in limbo as the current TPS expiration date is January 2018. If it’s not renewed, marchers say it would come with a cost.

“There will be big financial cost to try to deport all these people,” said Bastien. “They contribute to our economy, they pay taxes, they pay social security, they really invest in our economy.

TPS supporters say an extension would also allow supporters to find a permanent solution with lawmakers in congress.

Ralliers are making sure that their voices do not fall on deaf ears. They are pushing for President Trump and Homeland Security to act now for the TPS recipients before it’s too late.

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AFGHANISTAN NEWS AND VIEWS: The Man Who Thought He Could Fix Afghanistan

To get something done in Afghanistan, you need to know Scott Guggenheim. But even the ultimate fixer isn’t sure anyone can solve the country’s problems.

By May Jeong, November/December 2017, for Politico

Illustration by Daniel Zalkus

On November 9, 2016, Scott Guggenheim, a longtime American adviser to Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, rose early with the sun, got into an armored vehicle and headed across Kabul’s fortified Green Zone to the U.S. Embassy. Afghanistan is 8½ hours ahead of the East Coast of the United States, and the American expatriates, Afghan elites and others who had managed to scare up invitations had gathered in the basement of the embassy—a city block-sized, blast-resistant compound as charmless as it is spotless—to watch the results of the American presidential election. The basement was dominated by State Department employees, who are officially barred from political activism while living abroad but tend to support Democrats; some, anticipating a Hillary Clinton victory, were even calling the occasion a party. On the wall hung a Donald Trump piñata.

By midmorning Kabul time, however, Trump had taken a commanding lead, and the mood in the embassy basement began to shift. Ties came undone, breakfast Danishes were anxiously devoured, and under the red, white and blue bunting, a stunned silence settled in. The cover band that had been playing earlier packed up its instruments. Some of the diplomats were typing furiously on their BlackBerrys. Others stepped outside to smoke, leaving behind a more Trump-friendly crowd of uniformed soldiers and veterans who had returned to Afghanistan as private contractors.

Guggenheim recalls thinking of the election outcome: “For Afghanistan, it’s not such a bad thing. But for the United States, it’s a disaster.” Depressed, he returned to bed. A few days later, he saw Ghani at the Gul Khanna, the presidential office. “Will you give me a passport?” Guggenheim asked him, jokingly. Ghani told him he would.

Guggenheim is not a household name, but anyone who knows anything about international development, or Ghani, or the makings of the modern Afghan state will have heard of him, or have worked with him, and might be a little surprised that he didn’t have an Afghan passport already. His title is modest—senior adviser—but his imprimatur is on many major government policies that have come out of the Gul Khanna. If Ghani, a former academic whose lifelong passion has been studying how to fix broken countries, is Afghanistan’s development expert in chief, then Guggenheim is his American alter ego—Ghani’s Ghani.

Guggenheim recalls thinking of the election outcome: “For Afghanistan, it’s not such a bad thing. But for the United States, it’s a disaster.”

Guggenheim has been serving the Afghan state off and on for as long as the United States has occupied it, so long that when he speaks of Afghanistan, he often slips into the collective possessive pronoun—our country, our people—and refers just as reflexively to “you Americans.” He has worked with Ghani since 2002, but the two men have actually known each other for 36 years, long enough that, even though Ghani now holds the highest office in Afghanistan, Guggenheim still refers to him by his first name.

Over that time, amid Afghan politics’ literal palace intrigue and Hobbesian infighting, Guggenheim has somehow become one of the most powerful people in the country. He often functions as a connector—between Kabul and Washington, between Washington and its many allies, and sometimes even among the various branches of the American and Afghan governments. Whatever the Trump administration decided to do on Afghanistan after the inauguration, Guggenheim would play a major role implementing the Afghan side of the bargain.

Illustration by Daniel Zalkus

A week after the election, Guggenheim, who is 62 years old, arrived for an interview in the garden of my house in the diplomatic quarter of Kabul. He was disheveled and shiny with sweat from the unseasonably warm autumn we were having, a fleece jacket pulled over a crumpled suit, the wardrobe a metaphor for a man who had spent most of his career as a globe-trotting anthropologist before landing, unexpectedly, at the beating heart of a political culture he had previously known nothing about. Born and raised in New York and also educated in Florida and Baltimore, Guggenheim worked in Mexico, where he picked up Spanish, and Indonesia, where he built his career and his personal life. (His wife is the Indonesian human rights activist Kamala Chandrakirana.)

He has been called “the brain of Dr. Ghani,” but in interviews in the months after the election, he was at constant pains to deflect attention. His business card contains just his name and a Gmail address. This is deliberate. “Ashraf likes having someone who has no political or economic ambition,” Guggenheim told me. He sees his role not as a consigliere but as a kind of a fixer for Ghani, the executor to the president’s blue-skied vision. “Ashraf has a pretty clear agenda. I always thought my job was to help him realize it,” Guggenheim said.

Now, for reasons of friendship, expertise and circumstance, this American liaison has become uniquely essential at this moment in Afghan history—even as he talks increasingly of leaving.

The Afghan state is as much an American experiment as anything else. The U.S. military leads efforts on the war, just as the U.S. government spearheads reconciliation efforts, and the entire venture wouldn’t be possible without foreign donors, who have funded around 70 percent of the Afghan government’s budget since the 2001 invasion. The promise of the early years, of Afghanistan as a modern society that would catch up to regional success stories like India or Iran, never progressed beyond the struggle for basic services such as access to justice and health. Ghani’s takeover from the paranoid and ineffectual Hamid Karzai in 2014 saw a difficult yet peaceful transition of power, the first in modern Afghan history. In the following years, Guggenheim soon observed, however, that the biggest barrier to this goal was not so much the Taliban, or Western apathy, but the vicious jockeying among Kabul elites that threatened to capsize whatever reform Ghani had set out to accomplish.

Into this tenuous situation came another potentially complicating variable: the Trump presidency.

Afghan elites watched the U.S. election keenly, trying to game out what fate awaited them. Since taking office, Trump has offered a reenergized, if still shapeless, American military agenda in Afghanistan, which Guggenheim believed would free up the Afghan government to focus on internal reforms. Theirs was a race against time, to see how long they could cling on before things ran out—money, goodwill, patience, interest. Guggenheim believed not all was lost, but the rising insecurity and political infighting around him gave him the occasional pause.

***

Two weeks after the garden meeting, on a morning in November, I rode with Guggenheim to the Arg-e-Shahi, Afghanistan’s presidential palace. It was 9:30 a.m., and Guggenheim had already been working for hours. “I think he goes from meeting to meeting and sends emails in between meetings,” his colleague, Tara Moayed, told me. His work style hasn’t changed since his days in Indonesia, where he built development projects that began from communities and grew into nationwide initiatives. Guggenheim has long been known in development circles for pioneering the kind of bottom-up approach that rejects the older, headquarters-oriented style of proffering aid. He was the guy you called when you needed a job done that few would say yes to because it was too complicated, too impossible-seeming, too whatever. “I doubt if there is a government office in Jakarta that doesn’t know Scott,” James Gilling, an Australian development official who worked with Guggenheim from 2012 to 2014, told me. “I mean, he is probably a genius, right?”

That morning, Guggenheim was returning from an appointment with ambassadors from four Nordic countries, with whom he had been discussing the mass deportation of Afghan refugees. More than 10,000 were set to be expelled from Europe, and Guggenheim had been tasked with “taking advantage of their moral principles” to delay the returns, as he wryly told me. Guggenheim had spent the first half of his career as an international development expert, advising countries on how best to run their governments. The essential service he provides to Ghani’s government was turning this experience on its head: He is, among other things, Afghanistan’s informal ambassador to the world of foreign donors who fund most of the country’s budget.

“Ghani was a serious young man, starting to organize his thoughts around an enduring obsession over state formation into a 1982 thesis, one that would later inspire a 2008 book called Fixing Failed States.”

Guggenheim first met Ghani in 1981, when Guggenheim, who was living in Brooklyn while working on an anthropology dissertation for Johns Hopkins, was urged by a former professor to seek out Ghani, who was working on his own thesis at Columbia. Ghani was a serious young man, starting to organize his thoughts around an enduring obsession over state formation into a 1982 thesis, one that would later inspire a 2008 bookcalled Fixing Failed States, which would again find new form as a campaign manifesto during the 2014 presidential election, and yet againas the Afghanistan National Peace and Development Framework, a document that outlined how Afghanistan was going to go from 70 percent dependence on foreign aid to between 40 and 50 percent. The two men ended up talking for two hours at the Hungarian Pastry Shop several blocks from campus before moving over to Ghani’s graduate student housing, where Guggenheim met his wife and children. “I was impressed,” Guggenheim told me. “Here was a guy who really understood big theory, someone who had read the original texts.” Later, when the anthropologist Sidney Mintz asked Guggenheim for recommendations for a teaching position, Guggenheim suggested Ghani. “He got the job in time to sit in on my Ph.D. exam,” Guggenheim said. “He asked all the hard questions.”

 

Illustration by Daniel Zalkus

Ghani and Guggenheim were both working at the World Bank when, in 2001, U.S.-led forces toppled the Taliban government in Afghanistan. Guggenheim was in Indonesia running a World Bank-funded community development project. That November, he was climbing a mountain in East Java when his mobile phone rang. “It’s me, Ashraf,” said the voice on the other end. The U.S.-led NATO coalition was setting up a new Afghan government in Kabul to replace the recently ousted Taliban. Ghani would be named finance minister. “I want you up here in January,” Ghani told Guggenheim.

Guggenheim said yes—partly out of personal loyalty and partly out of intellectual curiosity. As an academic, Ghani had obsessed over the question of how to get the state to better serve the public. Afghanistan, emerging from decades of civil war and misrule, offered a country-sized laboratory. As for Guggenheim, he had watched other countries work through seemingly intractable problems and wanted to try his hand at the most impossible-seeming of them all. After a lifetime spent far from the center of power, here was a chance to end his career at the top, where decisions that affected the poor he had set out to help were being made. For both men, Afghanistan was a chance to implement some of the theories they had discussed during countless conversations at weddings, backyard swims and garden parties across decades. The George W. Bush administration had gone to war in 2001 promising to improve the lives of Afghans but spent most of its tenure hunting down Al Qaeda and inciting further violence. That original promise had faded from the minds of many, but Guggenheim remained its most formidable proponent. “Remember, the goal is still poverty,” he told me.

“For both men, Afghanistan was a chance to implement some of the theories they had discussed during countless conversations at weddings, backyard swims and garden parties across decades.”

In January 2002, Guggenheim landed at the Kabul airport, its runway still cluttered with unexploded ordnance. “Welcome to Afghanistan,” said Ghani, meeting him on the pockmarked tarmac. The drive from the airport to the United Nations office, the only suitable lodging for visiting foreigners at the time, was a post-apocalyptic tableau of artillery shells and burned-out tanks. It reminded Guggenheim of Weekend, the Jean-Luc Godard film famous for its seven-minute shot of a traffic jam, replete with destroyed vehicles and dead bodies, the thin membrane of civility peeling off right before the viewer’s eyes. Guggenheim fell asleep that first night in a U.N. guest room heated by burning sawdust. For three months, he slept on a thick mat on the floor, read by the light of kerosene lamps, attended meetings in parkas and helped Ghani put up the scaffolding of a state.

Guggenheim had arrived in Afghanistan knowing little beyond what he had read in “The Man Who Would Be King,” the 1888 Rudyard Kipling story about two British adventurers who appoint themselves rulers of an Afghan province. His first job was to set up what would become the National Solidarity Program, which grants money to communities to build wells, roads or hospitals and is still cited as a rare success story in Afghanistan, a nation more often held up as a poster child for failed development projects.

Guggenheim spent 12 years flying in and out of the country while working for the World Bank, visiting to check up on his programs or to assist Ghani with whatever his old friend needed doing. Then, in June 2014, Afghanistan held a bitterly contested election—the first democratic transition of power in its history. The new president was Ashraf Ghani.

Ghani inherited not just a fast-fracturing state, but also a set of impending, and existentially imperiling, deadlines: 2014 was the year NATO troops were scheduled to pull out, and foreign donors began slashing funding. One of the first calls Ghani made after becoming president was to Guggenheim, who had since returned to Indonesia. Guggenheim—who generally insists on wearing colorful Indonesian shirts even in official meetings—got three suits made and arrived back in Kabul in October.

***

That November morning, Guggenheim’s car inched through Kabul traffic and arrived at the first of many checkpoints surrounding the Green Zone, a cordoned-off area of downtown Kabul that is home to NATO headquarters, embassies, news bureaus and other foreign outposts. The gated community had been carved out of the city without the city in mind, and the resulting interminable traffic is, for Afghans, a daily reminder of the second-class status they endure in their own country. While we waited to be let into the palace grounds, a convoy carrying the U.S. ambassador drove by, coming from the embassy a mile away—an imposing structure that Guggenheim derisively called “Fort America.”

The original Arg-e-Shahi was built by Abdur Rahman Khan, the “Iron Emir” of Afghanistan, in 1880, after the Second Anglo-Afghan War destroyed the previous royal residence. Each invading army added another building, and today, its catholic architectural styles reflect the sedimentary layers of outside influences that have shaped—or failed to shape—the country. Once inside the security perimeter, we headed for Kot-e Baghcha, “the house of the small garden,” the building where Guggenheim was then living. We passed through an archway adorned with floral discs that harkened back to the time of Alexander the Great. This, Guggenheim explained, was the Afghanistan he had fallen for—a country with a real presence of history. “Somewhere up here is where they strung up Najibullah,” he added. Afghanistan’s last Soviet-backed president, Mohammad Najibullah, was overthrown and spent four years in seclusion before being castrated and dragged to death behind a Taliban truck in 1996, his body put on display hanging from a noose of piano wire, with imported cigarettes and rolled-up dollar bills stuffed in his mouth.

For most of its existence, the palace compound has been the center of not just the country’s political life but its social life too. President Hamid Karzai, after taking up residence in the Arg, used the building similarly, hosting group dinners for as many as 700 supplicants and opening up the royal mosque to anyone who wanted to join him for Friday prayers. Ghani, whose solitary disposition is legendary, preferred to dine with his wife at home. The only people living on the 80-acre grounds when I visited, aside from Ghani and his wife, were Guggenheim and two of his colleagues.

Ghani, as president, keeps a small kitchen cabinet of perhaps two dozen people, with Guggenheim as its nucleus. (When Ghani was looking around to assemble his team in 2001, then-World Bank President James Wolfensohn told him, “What you need is $100 million and one Scott Guggenheim.”) The two old friends maintain a routine of regular email correspondence and hold frequent in-person meetings. Guggenheim’s portfolio, in White House terms, would be split between the president’s chief of staff and the national security adviser. Ghani is known for barking out orders that his staff does not understand, which Guggenheim then translates. When he is not doing that, Guggenheim makes rounds of embassies, persuading foreign governments to fund the Afghan state directly. The current model, he argues, creates parallel structures of power, which in turn undermines the overall project, which has always been legitimacy through autonomous rule. The very presence of donors, and their dollars, was the thing that Guggenheim had been hired to render unnecessary. Ghani gave him sweeping authority to do things like restructure the budget to reflect actual needs instead of interests; figure out how to collect taxes; or come up with strategies for fighting corruption. Making Afghanistan fend for itself was a generational endeavor; Guggenheim’s mission was to start a process that would outlive any of us.

Above all, though, Guggenheim saw his most essential duty as keeping Ghani accountable. Ghani, who often gives the impression that he is suffering fools, was not an easy man to approach, let alone steer. Guggenheim was among the few who could reliably access the president, and among the even fewer who actually advised, instead of capitulating.

When Ghani was looking around to assemble his team in 2001, then-World Bank President James Wolfensohn told him, “What you need is $100 million and one Scott Guggenheim.”

Guggenheim’s unparalleled access to the president has occasionally been a source of discord among Ghani’s other staff members. “He draws a lot of criticism because it is more like there is an individual who is doing things rather than the system doing things,” a finance ministry colleague told me. “They say, ‘Oh, there is this American guy who is running around the palace, there is a Scott that does things.’” Afghans who have never met Guggenheim but have heard the name Scott are sometimes surprised to learn that he is one man instead of an acronym for an entire office.

In a country rife with well-earned paranoia about foreign—and particularly American—influence, Guggenheim is easy fodder for conspiracy theories; during a protest in Kabul on June 2, posters appeared with his face and text in Dari that read Ghani ba ehsara-e en shakhs meraqsad: “Ghani dances on the order of this man.” If anything, Guggenheim’s sympathies run far closer to Afghanistan than the United States. He sees Afghanistan as a victim of modernizing struggles. “What the British achieved was turning one of the oldest civilizations into warring tribes,” he told me. “What the Americans did was empowering the mujahedeen without thinking through the consequences. In the second round, the Americans brought back warlords. How do you lose a popularity contest against the Taliban? They found a way.”

A decade and a half of American occupation, Guggenheim continued, produced “democratic institutions with the outward appearance of a democracy, but all about patronage,” he told me. “Is the Parliament of Afghanistan really representative of the country, or is it a bunch of warlords dividing up national rent? This is what American foreign policy in Afghanistan has created. The institutions they built up are deeply corrupt. They do have elections, but in terms of power structure, it is a deeply flawed version of democracy.” Meanwhile, Guggenheim said, the U.S. government’s ambitions for the country’s reconstruction had steadily diminished to a single narrow question: “What will take us to the end of the administration without a major blowout? It was never about how do we stabilize Afghanistan. It was about making it to the next election.”

Illustration by Daniel Zalkus

As the 2016 U.S. election approached, Afghanistan’s diplomats in Washington kept in touch with both the Republican and the Democratic parties, dispatching observers to both conventions. A Clinton presidency would mean “another four years of Holbrooke and his legacy,” Guggenheim told me last November, referring to the late Richard Holbrooke, the veteran diplomat who, until his death in 2010, was President Barack Obama’s special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan. Guggenheim did not care much for the former president’s policy in Afghanistan. “Obama didn’t have a clear policy,” he told me. “His policy was to get out.”

Trump, for Afghanistan, represented an unknown quantity. What little he had said about Afghanistan was unspecific and contradictory: He had called Afghanistan “a complete waste,” a nonsense war that America needed to leave so as to “rebuild the USA,” but he had also pledged that he would “bomb the hell out of ISIS,” an Arab creation that was nonetheless finding fertile ground in Afghanistan’s chaos. Clinton’s policies, which many Ghani supporters considered a failure, were regrettable, but also predictable; they offered something to plan around. So when Clinton lost, the future seemed a mystery.

***

Ghani first spoke with Trump on December 3, 2016. Their phone conversation was brief; Ghani sat in his usual chair and took his own notes. According to Guggenheim and others who spoke with Ghani afterward, Trump first brought up counterterrorism, and then Ghani raised the issue of mining. Trump wanted to know how the Afghan state could generate more income. He asked about its lithium reserve. He wanted to know why the mining sector hadn’t been developed, how American businesses could invest in Afghanistan, and why Afghanistan was giving away mining rights to Chinese companies when America had companies, too.

Beyond that, however, Trump’s interests in Afghanistan were as hard to fathom as they had ever been. So, in early December, a month and a half before Trump’s inauguration, Guggenheim visited Washington to figure out what was going on.

“It was surreal,” Guggenheim told me after the trip. He made the rounds of the usual Republican foreign policy stalwarts, but Trump and his inner circle did not have many contacts in that world, so the stalwarts did not know much. “I want you to know, Donald Trump and I are not friends,” Senator John McCain told Guggenheim when they met, and the Arizona Republican spent the rest of the conversation distractedly fielding phone calls about new nominations, Guggenheim told me. (McCain did not recall the comment, according to his spokeswoman, Julie Tarallo.)

Those officials who remained were in acting positions and were expected to leave once Trump was in power. The South Asia desk at the National Security Council, Guggenheim told me, referred him to an intelligence officer at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. He met Rob Williams of ODNI at Sette, an Italian restaurant on D.C.’s 14th Street. The intelligence community, which traditionally plays an active role during the transition, had been cut out of the process by a president who did not trust spies; Williams confessed to knowing little and asked Guggenheim questions instead. “They kept asking, ‘What do you think their views on Afghanistan are going to be?’” Guggenheim told me. “And I kept saying, ‘I traveled halfway around the world to find out! Isn’t this your job?’” After four days, Guggenheim left Washington thinking, “I don’t know anything, and they don’t know anything either.”

Clinton’s policies, which many Ghani supporters considered a failure, were regrettable, but also predictable; they offered something to plan around. So when Clinton lost, the future seemed a mystery.

Soon after the call between Trump and Ghani became public, the Afghan Embassy in Washington, D.C., began receiving the first of many inquiries from potential investors. They wanted to know how they might do business in Afghanistan. The embassy dug up decade-old maps by the U.S. Geological Survey marking mineral deposits across the country.

The State Department, the traditional bastion of Afghan policy, was soon to be gutted, and many of the relevant officials were already on their way out. By December, Guggenheim intuited that there was nobody there to talk with who had any real authority.

In the absence of civilian leadership, the generals stepped in. On February 9, three weeks after Trump’s inauguration, General John Nicholson, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, requested a troop increase. The Department of Defense and the National Security Council—which by late February were being led by retired General James Mattis and Lieutenant General H.R. McMaster, both of whom had served in Afghanistan—began putting together the new government’s Afghanistan policy.

In April, McMaster traveled to Kabul to meet with Ghani and his team. The night after McMaster flew out, Guggenheim stopped by the Gul Khanna, where he found Ghani in a good mood. McMaster, Ghani told Guggenheim, “asked all the right questions. We have a counterpart who really gets strategy.” He wanted to discuss long-term planning—an improvement, Ghani told Guggenheim, over Obama, who had campaigned on the promise of bringing troops home. In practice that meant “not fighting a 16-year war, but a one-year war 16 times over,” Guggenheim said.

McMaster was also good at calling out whoppers. “Our side would try some standard bullshit on how we have great plans to fix everything,” Guggenheim said, “and McMaster would say, ‘I heard all this in 2012. Tell me what’s new.’” 

For the Afghan government, McMaster’s arrival marked an inflection point in otherwise uncertain times. His 18-month tenure in Afghanistan put him well ahead of most American policymakers, who, even after the United States’ decade and a half in the country, did not know basics facts about Afghanistan—that the afghani is a unit of currency, not the people, or that the country’s official languages are Farsi and Pashto, not Arabic. His arrival also marked an unmistakable shift in who would be leading the Afghanistan portfolio. Under Obama, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had been deeply engaged, but with a seemingly uninterested Rex Tillerson leading the State Department, the generals took over almost completely. That was just fine with Ghani, who had been suspicious of the State Department ever since it facilitated an agreement in which he had to share power with his campaign rival, Abdullah Abdullah, who became the country’s first chief executive officer.

The security situation, however, was disintegrating at an alarming rate. Soon there might not even be a state to reform or build up or fight over. On May 31, a truck bomb at an entrance to the Green Zone in Kabul killed more than 150, the largest bombing since the beginning of the Afghanistan War in 2001 and the first ever to penetrate the Green Zone. The explosion left a 13-foot crater and shattered windows of the nearby Arg. Later that week, presidential guards shot at demonstrators who had gathered to protest the government’s inability to protect its citizens, killing as many as seven. At a funeral the next day, a suicide bomber blew himself up among the mourners, killing 20. The message from the insurgents was clear: By striking what had long been considered an impenetrable fortress of security, they were signaling that nowhere would be safe.

H.R. McMaster, Ghani told Guggenheim, “asked all the right questions. We have a counterpart who really gets strategy.”

This news alarmed McMaster, and also Mattis, who had personally assured Ghani in Dubai in mid-May that the United States was renewing its commitment to Afghanistan. Both generals wanted more troops, but Trump was skeptical, and privately fumed about his lack of options. Steve Bannon, Trump’s since departed chief strategist, pushed for his own solution, bringing in two businessmen—private security company Blackwater Worldwide founder Erik Prince and Steve Feinberg, who owns majority shares of the private contracting firm DynCorp, among others—who pitched Trump on their plans for privatizing the war. As his aides argued for months over Afghanistan, Trump reportedly threatened to fire Nicholson, whom he still hadn’t met, and whom he seemed to blame for not winning the war there.

Then on July 28, Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly, who lost a son to the war in Afghanistan, replaced Reince Priebus as White House chief of staff, and the Washington debate shifted decisively in favor of the generals. The final blow to the Bannon camp came on August 18, when Prince was barred from joining discussions at Camp David. Shortly after, Trump signed off on a strategy much like what the generals had been pushing for all along: more troops, no deadline for withdrawal, effective immediately.

The following Monday, August 21, in a nationally televised speech at Fort Myer in Arlington, Virginia, Trump announced his war plan. He did not mention the Taliban, the main reason for remaining at war, by name until halfway into the speech; referred to an Afghan “prime minister” who does not exist; and delivered what Afghanistan expert Barnett Rubin ripped as “an incoherent wish list unmoored in political reality or principle.” The president called the enemy in Afghanistan “nothing but thugs, and criminals, and predators, and—that’s right—losers,” and promised the American public that “in the end we will win” against every designated foreign terrorist organization active in Afghanistan and Pakistan. He did not explain in detail what winning might look like, sowing confusion among Washington’s foreign policy elites. “Is our goal to destroy all of them?” former State Department official John Dempsey asked. “How many are a direct threat to Americans? Are they Al Qaeda-like organizations trying to launch attacks in New York or just five guys and a donkey? How are we going to determine we’ve killed any terrorists? We will never know. And shouldn’t we be focusing on building up Afghan institutions to be able to handle this themselves anyway?”

But the speech was met with great praise by both Ghani’s and Abdullah’s factions of the Afghan government, which often blames Pakistan for most of its ills. “Of course, yes, we are happy. The main thing to be happy about is the pressure on Pakistan. We have been waiting for this,” Arg spokesperson Najibullah Azad told me. “It is what we needed,” echoed Abdullah’s spokesperson, Javed Faisel. “It will boost confidence as there is commitment for a long-term support of Afghanistan. It will boost morale of the ordinary Afghans and those soldiers fighting in front lines. And most importantly, there is a clear understanding of the problem now. In his speech, we found out that the problem was very well identified, which is the support of Pakistan for the Taliban.” After Trump’s speech, Abdullah and Ghani, whose animus toward each other is famous, were seen hugging, united in their relief at the prospect of continued American support.

Guggenheim thought the same, despite his usual skepticism. America’s extended presence, he said, would free Ghani’s team to carry out some of the long-term reform plans it had wanted to work on. “Since the Obama government prioritized the unity government, they always pushed for restraint on anything that would threaten that unity,” Guggenheim explained. After Trump came to power, and the generals took over, the Afghan military had proposed to double the size of its special forces, which would require thousands more American trainers. Guggenheim said this would not have been possible under Obama who was reluctant to be seen expanding the American presence in Afghanistan. “President Obama had publicly made a commitment to withdraw American forces. We had to gain his confidence literally a month at a time,” Ghani said in a statement.

After Trump’s speech, Abdullah and Ghani, whose animus toward each other is famous, were seen hugging, united in their relief at the prospect of continued American support.

There was also no denying the ancillary benefits of the new approach: Ghani could consolidate his power against a growing political opposition without being weighed down by the need to build consensus, as the now-neutered State Department has urged. Ghani planned to first go after the Interior Ministry, which is dominated by his political adversaries, to clean up corruption. It would also strengthen Ghani’s hand.

What was noticeably absent in Trump’s speech, however, was just what those additional troops would mean. “What he didn’t say was if you buy more ammunition, you also need to buy more body bags,” John Nagl, a retired Army officer and counterinsurgency expert, told me. Few who have studied or served in Afghanistan expect the new infusion of troops—only a few thousand—to turn the war’s downward trajectory around.

***

The Trump ramp-up was likely to benefit Ghani, but over the course of our conversations, Guggenheim’s longstanding doubts about the fate of the whole Afghan project seemed to be deepening. For some time now, he had been thinking hard about whether to stay or go. Many of the reforms he had been pushing for hadn’t materialized. Guggenheim had signed on to Ghani’s state-building project because he saw it as an opportunity to wrestle with big questions of democratic governance. But he spent the better part of the year complaining to me about a seemingly simple administrative issue—his attempts to get Ghani to hire a secretary who could manage the president’s schedule better. Guggenheim told me he considered this, and a few other asks, a goodwill gesture that would demonstrate to him how serious Ghani was about solving the bigger problems of his presidency—which were, in brief, delivering on the promise of a modern state he had run his campaign on. A vote for Ghani was meant to be a vote for progress, for reform, for equality, for human rights, and a sense of Afghanistan joining the rest of the world. Instead, Ghani’s tenure has been marred by rising insecurity, elite infighting and the constant threat of a coup from his political rivals.

In recent months, the worsening situation in the country was beginning to affect their decades-long friendship. Guggenheim expressed frustration that Ghani couldn’t even make small fixes, like hiring the secretary. (In a later conversation with Politico Magazine, he downplayed the importance of the issue.) Watching his otherwise no-nonsense friend give in to the undertow of Kabul politics, Guggenheim seemed to be asking himself whether democracy and reform were contradictory objectives. “There is tension between being authoritarian and being democratic,” Guggenheim told me. “There is chaos in government. It is deeply fragmented. The Kabuli elites are so polarized that getting the reform agenda through has been almost impossible. The temptation to be a strong authoritarian leader who says you cannot challenge authority is very strong. Why doesn’t he take that route?”

If that happened, Guggenheim speculated, the United States would keep funding this more authoritarian version of the Afghan state, just as it had done with autocratic regimes like those of Ferdinand Marcos, Augusto Pinochet and Arab dictators before the Arab Spring. Afghanistan had no tradition of a Western-style democracy; the Taliban’s Manichean rule was the closest any regime had ever come to realizing its ambitions in Afghanistan. The only way to carry out the reform agenda, it seemed, was through a similar use of force, which would negate the spirit of the reforms.

“What you are doing is doomed,” Guggenheim said. But isn’t that the story of life? And so, you do it anyway.”

His sardonic wit made it easy to miss, but Guggenheim had always struck me as an optimist as long as I had known him. In recent times, though, the very thing that had drawn Guggenheim to Afghanistan in the beginning—the impossibility of the project—was now thwarting him. He had good days and bad days, but overall, he seemed to be losing faith in his ideals and his ability to implement them. It wasn’t clear whether this was because the aid system was broken, which it was; or because Ghani had modeled his vision for Afghanistan after Western versions of capitalism and democracy, which were coming undone; or because of the simple fact that “he has never manned a big organization or a big project before.”

Around then, the death threats that had become a regular fixture of daily life in Kabul had increased in frequency and specificity, and the posters with Guggenheim’s face on them now loomed larger in his mind. “I don’t really like living in Kabul, because I live under a lock and key and with a death threat, so that is not my best place,” he told me. “But I am willing to do it as long as that agenda is there. It is a fucked-over country with people I sort of like. If it is just spinning wheels, I would rather go live in my little apartment down in Brooklyn.” When I reached him in July, Guggenheim sounded defeated by events. “It’s the hardest place I’ve ever worked in,” he said. “The chances of success are middling at best.” Back in November 2016, on one of the first occasions I spoke to him, I had asked Guggenheim why he bothered at all. “What I’d like to see is countries with deep historical legacies, that are struggling, pull it off,” he said then. “Some sense that they will finally get their act together and they are going to be democratic and there is going to be basic freedoms. Kids can go to a movie theater and not worry about being blown up, that sort of thing. I’m still a deep idealist on those scores.”

“What you are doing is doomed,” he said. “But isn’t that the story of life? And so, you do it anyway.”

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AFGHANISTAN NEWS AND VIEWS: Ex-Refugee Who Slept Rough in Rome Now Runs Several Businesses, Dreams of Rebuilding Afghanistan

By Nicole Valentini, 26 October 2017, for Global Voices

Asharaf Barati in Venice with his friend and colleague Yasin Tanin. Photo by Basir Ahang.

On an autumn night in 1994, the Taliban were getting ready to conquer Afghanistan. Only two years before, a terrible civil war had broken out among the different Mujahideen factions that had defeated the short-lived pro-Soviet government, turning the country into a wasteland of terror and despair.

Ghazni, Afghanistan. Photo by ISAF Headquarters Public Affairs Office. Members from Ghazni Provincial Reconstruction Team visited Old Ghazni City April 18, 2010, located in Ghazni Province, Afghanistan. (Joint Combat Camera Afghanistan; Photo by Tech. Sgt. James May). CC-2.0

At that time, in a small village in Ghazni province in central-eastern Afghanistan, Asharaf Barati, a 13-year-old boy from the Hazara ethnic group was having his final supper with his family. Even if his mother didn’t express it, she knew she would not see her son again for a long time—possibly ever. The boy’s departure was set for dawn. His uncle was to pick him up and take to the smugglers.

Abdul Ali Mazari, the leader of the Hazara-dominated Hezb-e-Wahdat political faction had just been assassinated by the Taliban, and many Hazaras felt suddenly vulnerable. The Taliban, renowned for their hatred of the Hazara, was closing in. Hazaras were leaving the country en masse, some for Pakistan, others for Iran.

Days after his escape, Asharaf found himself in Pakistan. For a few years he worked in a coal mine, a job that left him sick and exhausted. After that he took his meagre earnings and went to Iran, where he found himself once more in a foreign land among other refugees, carrying mortar sacks heavier than himself for a living. Then, as now, the plight of Afghan refugees in Iran was one of hardship and exploitation.

“It was a tough situation,” recalled Asharaf in an interview with Global Voices. “We (Afghan refugees) were living in the empty building site we were working on, there were no services and no heat, we put some nylon on the open windows to try not to die from cold during the night.”

After four years, Asharaf left his undocumented life in Iran behind and readied himself to travel to Europe. Following a perilous journey by sea, he found himself castaway on a tiny, uninhabited Greek island. In 2002, after being turned down for asylum by the Greek authorities, Asharaf finally reached Italy.

Asharaf wandered the streets of Rome for a while, homeless, sleeping in parks and having meals in a church that distributed food to the less fortunate twice a day. While it is true that Italy has become something of a second-chance destination for failed asylum seekers due to relatively high approval rates, it is also true that the conditions into which asylum seekers are received are dire. According to the NGO Civil Liberties Union for Europe, “the system suffers from a general lack of transparency. The huge majority of asylum seekers is hosted in the more than 3000 ‘extraordinary reception centers’, which are improvised structures in the hands of unqualified and unprepared staff.”

According to Italian law, asylum seekers can access accommodation centers only after they are formally registered, a process that can drag on for months after an asylum application is initiated. During this period, people who can’t afford to pay for accommodation must seek recourse to friends’ hospitality, or resort to sleeping rough.

This is the fate that befell Asharaf.

 

But his irrepressible spirit prevented him from being down and out for too long. After years working in

Asharaf Barati in front of”Casa Fiori”, one of the hostels he owns in Venice. Photo by Basir Ahang.

various jobs in the construction sector, Asharaf poured his savings into a establishing a hostel in Venice.  It was such a success that after a while he opened a second hostel and a takeaway restaurant.

Asharaf Barati’s story is now the subject of a documentary called “Behind Venice Luxury – a Hazara in Italy”, directed by Amin Wahidi. The film won the 24th Venice City Award in 2017.

In Italy, entrepreneurs, especially those who are not Italian nationals, face an uphill battle. Red tape, high taxes and access to credit are among the major obstacles.

According to an unofficial estimate, there are around 20,000 Afghans in Italy. For many the country is a stopgap option en route to other European destinations. But in recent years a number of Afghan-run businesses have sprung up, including tailoring establishments, travel agencies, hotels and restaurants. Some Afghan restaurants have won acclaim in the Italian press for their excellent cuisine.

In Venice there is the restaurant Orient Experience, the brainchild of Hamed Ahmadi, where the waiters and kitchen staff are mostly refugees from various parts of the world. They tell the story of their journey to Italy through Afghan, Iraqi, Turkish and Greek dishes on the restaurant’s menu. Afghan entrepreneur Ali Khan Qalandari has established a new restaurant in Padua called Peace&Spice, and Afghans are also behind the Kabulogna pizzeria in Bologna and a Sushi restaurant in Rome.

But Asharaf’s own ambitions stretch far beyond the Italian hospitality and retail sectors, back to the land he left under duress as teenager.

“Where there is risk there is opportunity,” Asharaf says with a smile. “I want to invest in Afghanistan, I have never forgotten my country and I can’t live happily knowing that my people are suffering. I am planning to start a project for the farmers of the poorest provinces of the country, especially women. They comprise half of society and must have the same opportunity as others.”

Asharaf also has plans to open a factory in Kabul where people can to learn packaging and conservation practices. “In this way,” he says, “they will be able to sell their surplus products to the market and improve their financial situation.”

The journey of the successful entrepreneur follows a path from insecurity and doubt to stability and prosperity. Having made that journey himself, Asharaf now wants to help Afghanistan make it too.

 

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AFGHANISTAN NEWS AND VIEWS: Pakistan Mocks US Military Mission in Afghanistan

By: Ayaz Gul, October 26, 2017, for VOA News

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is greeted by Gen. John Nicholson, right, commander of Resolute Support, with Special Charge d’Affaires Amb. Hugo Llorens, as he arrives, Monday, Oct. 23, 2017, at Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon, Pool)

 

America’s security “failures” in Afghanistan are evident from events of the week when visiting Secretary of State Rex Tillerson could not move out of a U.S. military base and invited Afghan leaders to his “bunker” for talks, neighboring Pakistan said Thursday.

“This situation tells the whole story of U.S. failures, despite fighting in the country for 16 years,” Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif said. He was briefing a parliamentary committee on foreign affairs in Islamabad.

Pakistan is seeking “transparent” relations on “equal terms” with the United States and is ready to offer its “full cooperation” in fighting terrorism, but “without compromising its sovereignty” and scapegoating Islamabad would not be acceptable, the minister said.

Tillerson visited Afghanistan on Monday for two hours. He held talks with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and top leaders of his unity government at the U.S.-run Bagram military base, about 60 kilometers north of the capital, Kabul. Officials cited security concerns for arranging the meeting at the base.

On Tuesday, Tillerson visited Pakistan and held detailed talks with Pakistani civilian and military leaders led by Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi.

Tillerson reiterated U.S. President Donald Trump’s message that Pakistan must increase efforts to eradicate militants and terrorists operating in Pakistan and sought Islamabad’s cooperation in promoting Afghan peace and reconciliation efforts.

FILE – Weapons and ammunition seized are presented to the media along with insurgents suspected of being from the Haqqani network at the National Directorate of Security (NDS) headquarters in Kabul, May 30, 2013.

Pakistan is accused of sheltering and maintaining secret ties to the Taliban and the Haqqani network. Both militant groups are waging a deadly insurgency in Afghanistan. Asif said Pakistan’s influence on the Afghan Taliban has lately diminished because it has moved its bases to the Afghan side of the border

​On Wednesday, Asif briefed the lower house parliament on talks with the U.S. delegation, describing them as “frank” and held in a “cordial” atmosphere without an exchange of allegations.

He said Pakistan told the U.S. delegation if Washington provides actionable intelligence, Islamabad will take action against any militant group on its soil, and again denied his country is harboring safe havens.

“However, if they want that we act as their proxies to fight their war … this is unacceptable,” said Asif. He added that Pakistan’s counterterrorism efforts have produced results and led to improved security around the country.

“We told them [the U.S. delegation] there are influential players in the region, which might not have good relations with America but have a stake in the Afghan dispute,” Asif said.

He was apparently referring to Russia and Iran. Both have acknowledged publicly they maintain ties with the Taliban.

The role of those countries has become indispensable as far as solving the Afghan conflict, he added.

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ON MIGRATION: A New Era in Cuban Migration

Pulitzer Center Projects

Grantees: JOSÉ ANTONIO IGLESIASMARIO J. PENTÓNLUIS TRELLES, and ROLANDO ARRIETA

Launched: September 26, 2017

The Obama administration’s decision to end the “wet foot, dry foot” policy has created a migration and humanitarian crisis in Central and South America and a new era in Cuban migration.

The Obama administration’s decision to end the “wet foot, dry foot” policy in January 2017 created a migration and humanitarian crisis in Central and South America. Over 2,000 Cubans found themselves “in-transit” to the United States. They were left in a quagmire. The migrants had no resources to return to Cuba–they sold all of their belonging to set out on their trip to the United States. With the change in U.S. policy, these migrants had no clear way of legally entering the country.

Aid organizations across the region have been strained for resources to support these migrants, governments of these countries have limited resources to process thousands of the deportations, human rights and religious organizations are calling for a resolution to the crisis, and Cuban-Americans in Miami are pressuring U.S. government leaders to help these migrants.

14ymedio, Cuba’s first independent digital news outlet, the Miami Herald/el Nuevo Herald, Miami’s most recognized newspaper, and Radio Ambulante, a Spanish-language podcast that tells stories of Latin America and of Latino communities in the United States and is distributed on NPR, have teamed up to produce a multimedia series to highlight the effect of the new U.S. policy on Cuban migration into the United States.

The team reports on stories directly from Cuba, South and Central America, and the United States. Unlike other stories published about the Cuban migrants in Central America, this series introduces two important differences: first it explains the effect of the new U.S. policy on the lives of the migrants and second it showcases how the change in policy impacts not only the life of the migrants, but also the lives of their families on both side of the Florida Straits.

Read “A new era in Cuban migration: Panama” online at the Miami Herald and at el Nuevo Herald.

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AFGHANISTAN NEWS AND VIEWS: How Taliban are evolving to compete in Afghanistan

By: Scott Peterson, October 26, 2017, for CSMonitor

A SHIFT IN THOUGHT  – The once mostly Pashtun insurgency is broadening its ranks, amending its tactics, and seeking political relevance, even as it advances its campaign of violence and intimidation against Afghanistan.

A Taliban insurgent is presented to the media after he was arrested with car explosive devices in Kabul, Afghanistan, October 15, 2017. (Omar Sobhani, Reuters)

The final Taliban threat was the most chilling, the culmination of months of pressure built against a single Afghan policeman – and it worked.

Introducing himself as “the scholar,” the Taliban operative warned that it would be the last phone call, the last threat to convince Ahmad, a veteran of frequent battles with the Taliban with calluses on his shooting hand, to leave the police force.

“He was younger, absolutely illiterate,” Ahmad says of the man who called him a few weeks ago. “He said: ‘If you don’t leave your job in the next two or three days, we will find you and behead you.’ ”

Within hours, the five-year veteran of the Afghan National Police – who asked that his real name not be used, for his own security – told his commander he was going on holiday, and left his base in Logar Province south of Kabul to find a new job in the Afghan capital.

Though the Taliban intimidation campaign was intense, in a region where Ahmad says insurgents are “becoming stronger day by day,” the fact that this Afghan policeman was not killed outright is but one illustration of how analysts say the Taliban have evolved in recent years from the uncompromising hard-liners who in the late 1990s ruled their self-declared “Islamic Emirate.”

Sixteen years after being toppled from power by US-led military forces – and that many years of insurgency later – the Taliban have been attempting to re-forge themselves into a more ethnically diverse and politically relevant national Islamist movement.

Taliban suicide bombers stand guard during a gathering of a breakaway Taliban faction, in the border area of Zabul Province, Afghanistan, in August 2016 (Mirwais Khan/AP)

Once a rural movement almost exclusively rooted among ethnic Pashtuns from the south, the Taliban today are religiously trained fighters, native to an area, who can understand and accommodate local politics and needs.

“This new generation is of course different from the Taliban of the 1990s,” says Obaid Ali, an insurgency expert with the Afghanistan Analysts Network (AAN) in Kabul.

“They are locals, they are more radical, they are more religious-educated young people,” says Mr. Ali. “These people, while they study in religious schools, at the same time receive military training in Pakistan, and from there return to their home town, not only as a mullah, but also as a military commander.”

Battlefield gains

While the evolution has presented challenges as well as opportunities, it has coincided with significant battlefield gains for the Taliban, especially in 2015 and 2016. Today they control as much territory as they have since 2001 and control or contest at least one-third of the country, some estimate far more – including Ahmad’s district in Logar, where he says even his neighbors served as spies, alerting the Taliban when he returned home after work.

Ahmad’s story is far from unique. The Afghan army and police are suffering “disastrously high attrition” rates and shrinking recruitment as a result of Taliban intimidation, infiltration, and attacks, notes one Western official in Kabul.

And even if one facet of the Taliban’s evolution is to spare the lives of captured soldiers and police, the usual Taliban methods of targeting security and government facilities have inflicted record casualties in 2017.

According to numbers tabulated by The New York Times in August, 31 Afghan soldiers and police officers have been killed each day this year on average.

A wave of suicide attacks claimed by the Taliban, carried out on two days last week in every corner of the country, left more than 120 Afghan soldiers and police dead.

“There are two types of people in Afghanistan now, those who will take those risks of joining the security forces, and those who won’t,” says Masood Karokhail, head of The Liaison Office (TLO), a Kabul-based group that facilitates peace and rebuilding efforts. “One reason urban centers are becoming congested is because having a government job and returning to your village is not that easy.”

The Taliban have nevertheless tried to strike a balance between attacking the government for ideological reasons while demonstrating they do not just destroy everything that comes their way, says Mr. Karokhail.

“When the Taliban don’t claim responsibility for mass casualty attacks, like the Islamic State does … they are trying to posture themselves for a political deal at the same time,” he says. “They want to be a relevant political force in this country, so their propaganda mechanism … even announces it will not attack development programs, and large-scale infrastructure like schools and roads.”

A more modern approach

When the Taliban were in power two decades ago, they banned education for girls and even photographs of people. Taliban checkpoints were festooned with billowing clouds of unspooled video and cassette tapes confiscated from drivers. Mosque prayers were compulsory, with beatings as punishment.

Today the new generation is familiar with high-tech means of propaganda, and uses smartphones with social media apps like Facebook, Instagram, Telegram, and WhatsApp.

Since 2008 the Taliban also began to portray themselves as multiethnic, and since 2014 began recruiting ethnic Tajiks, Uzbeks, Turkmen, and even Shiite Muslim Hazaras, says Ali from AAN. Large offensives were launched, even as US and NATO troops withdrew. And with opium smuggling and local taxation already locked down, attempts were made to control mineral and other self-sustaining resources.

Crucially, the Taliban also began “to be more flexible with locals, with local concerns,” notes Ali. That included mediation with elders that resulted in the safe release of captured policemen and soldiers, instead of “killing them straightaway, without mercy,” as had been policy until 2014, he says.

Yet undermining the government has also meant continuing well-honed tactics to intimidate and strong-arm police and army recruits, regardless of any newfound flexibility.

One method especially potent among Pashtuns is to make their target – and the target’s family – feel impure about working for the government or taking any security job, says Rahmatullah Amiri, a TLO researcher focusing on the Taliban and other Afghan militants.

Diversity brings challenges, too

While such mechanisms work among Pashtuns and others as a local tactic, strategically the Taliban’s increasing ethnic diversity has been a double-edged sword.

“They are not as united as they were before, and the more they grow the more they face internal problems,” says Mr. Amiri. “The more they capture areas, the more difficult it is for them to control.… They need more support; there are new people with new ideas.”

Challenges include the growth of the local branch of the so-called Islamic State in Afghanistan, and internal Taliban divisions have been more pronounced since their former leader, Mullah Akhtar Mohammed Mansour, was killed in Pakistan by an American drone strike in May 2016.

Lack of a regional coordinating body and increased reliance on local funding sources – as past channels of cash from Pakistan and Persian Gulf countries dry up, or become more diffuse – have added to Taliban command and control problems.

“The fact that the Taliban continue to take territory out in the districts means that individual Taliban commanders and the Taliban as a whole are richer, because they have more smuggling rings,” says the Western official in Kabul, who asked not to be identified further.

Opium, hashish, white marble, timber, and lapis lazuli can be smuggled out more easily, he says, just as weapons and material can also be brought in more easily.

“That makes it hard to get peace negotiations started, because as much as diplomats and military officials keep insisting that we are in a stalemate, if ordinary Taliban commanders see that last week they had [control of] two villages, and this week they have three, they don’t consider that to be a stalemate – so they don’t have a huge incentive to negotiate,” says the official.

Trump’s new policy

Another challenge to the Taliban, however, is the more aggressive US policy announced by President Trump in August, including the deployment of extra US troops and his declaration that he would not set a deadline for withdrawal before “victory” is attained.

The new US strategy “absolutely gives a window of opportunity to the government. But the government should do its homework, it should win locals’ trust [and] work better for the people,” says Ali, the AAN expert.

That homework is what is lacking in Logar, where ex-policeman Ahmad finally gave in after receiving Taliban threats on his phone each week for months, and where he found letters pasted at night to the front door of his house, warning his family that all would die if he kept his already dangerous job.

“The government was unable to control this area,” says Ahmad. “Now they [the Taliban] are very serious. Many of my friends left their jobs. The Taliban put checkpoints on the main roads; their intelligence is everywhere.”

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Thanks for Coming to Meet the Filmmakers, Meet your Neighbors

Thank you very much for attending last week’s Meet the Filmmakers, Meet your Neighbors event hosted and organized by Roxbury-Dorchester Power in Community.  It was great to have you there and to have so many new and familiar faces in attendance. We are especially grateful to Rev. Dee Littlepage, Rev. Evan Thayer, and their team, for all of their hard work initiating, organizing and hosting the event and for providing the food.

I am particularly thankful for your engaging questions and the thoughtful responses provided by the filmmaker/trainees. As you know, most of the filmmakers are in the production phase of their films about the immigrant experience and they were thrilled to have the opportunity to discuss their works-in-progress with you. We look forward to continuing to share their progress with you!

Please join us again, once their films are completed, for further discussion about their stories, the process and the pressing issues facing immigrant and refugee communities in the United States.  The films are scheduled to be completed in November.  We will most likely hold-off on screening them until after the busy holiday season.  Let us know if you have suggestions for screening venues

Many thanks to Jorgy Cruz and Pablo Minier for documenting the event and capturing the spirit of the filmmaker/trainees in their blog post:

The Idea of the Mission from Longwood Media on Vimeo.

We are working to raise $60,000 for the nationwide ‘screen and discuss’ tour that will target communities that have demonstrated a resistance to new immigrants.   Please support this work as generously as you can so that we can maximize the use of these films throughout the US.

 

From Left to Right: Abdirahman Abdi, Somalia; Wilson Thelimo Louis, Haiti; Mubarak Muwonge Nsamba, Uganda; Mohammad (Roman) Arifuzzuman, Bangladesh; Sayed Hashimi, Afghanistan; Qin Li, China; Rafael DeLeon, Dominican Republic; Katsy Rivera Kientz, Puerto Rico; Braulio Tellez Vilches, Cuba; Kebrewosen (Kiki) Densamo, Ethiopia.

 

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HAITI NEWS AND VIEWS: Tens of thousands of Haitian, Central American immigrants could lose protected status

By: Nick Miroff, October 20, 2017, for The Washington Post

People protest the possibility that the Trump administration may overturn the Temporary Protected Status for Haitians in front of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services office on May 13 in Miami. (Joe Raedle)

A form of legal immigration status will expire soon for 300,000 Haitians and Central Americans residing legally in the United States, some for nearly two decades, but the Trump administration has given little indication it plans to renew the benefit.

The immigrants have been allowed to live and work in the United States under a program called Temporary Protected Status (TPS) that shields some migrants from deportation if their nations are stricken by natural disasters, civil wars or other calamities.

Permission to stay must be periodically renewed by the Department of Homeland Security, and in the coming weeks, the agency will decide the fate of about 195,000 Salvadorans, 57,000 Hondurans, 50,000 Haitians and 2,550 Nicaraguans. Once the protections lapse, those immigrantswould be subject to deportation.

Their predicament is not as well known as the “Dreamers” who have been allowed to stay under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), the program that Trump is canceling. But an end to TPS protections could have wide-ranging consequences, especially in cities such as Los Angeles, Miami, Houston and Washington, where many of the beneficiaries and their U.S.-born children reside.

Democratic lawmakers and advocacy groups are urging the administration to extend the TPS protections, warning that the humanitarian and economic costs of expelling so many long-term U.S. residents would be steep.

Moreover, they say, the countries remain crippled by violence, disease and poverty, and the abrupt loss of the cash remittance payments the immigrants send from the United States would deal a heavy blow to those nations’ feeble economies.

DHS officials say the agency’s acting secretary, Elaine Duke, has yet to make a decision and continues to consult with the Department of State, which must provide DHS with specific country-by-country information about whether conditions in those nations have ameliorated.

But administration officials say the TPS program was never intended to be a way for migrants to remain indefinitely in the United States, and they view it as part of a broader culture of lax immigration enforcement they want to remedy.

“We are looking at the fact that temporary protected status means temporary, and it has not been temporary for many years, and we, the U.S. government, have created a situation where people have lived in this country a long time,” DHS spokesman David Lapan told reporters this week.

“Every time, we give an extension, and then give an extension, and soon we have people living here 20-plus years under what was supposed to be a temporary program,” Lapan said. “When do you stop that?”

DHS has until Nov. 6 to announce its plans for the roughly 60,000 Hondurans and Nicaraguans whose benefits will expire Jan. 5. They were allowed to stay after Hurricane Mitch killed 10,000 across Central America in 1998, so many have been in the United States for at least two decades.

Haitians received a similar reprieve after the 2010 earthquake that left at least 200,000 dead. But the roughly 50,000 Haitians who have TPS protections could be forced to return if DHS does not grant an extension in the coming weeks. The deadline for that announcement is Nov. 23, Thanksgiving Day.

In May then-DHS Secretary John Kelly renewed TPS protections for those Haitians for six months, far less than the 18-month waivers granted by the Obama administration. In a statement at the time, Kelly called it a “limited” extension whose purpose was to “allow Haitian TPS recipients living in the United States time to attain travel documents and make other necessary arrangements for their ultimate departure from the United States,” and “to provide the Haitian government with the time it needs to prepare for the future repatriation of all current TPS recipients.”

Immigration policy analysts say DHS could make a similar six-month, start-packing-your-bags extension for Central Americans, including the nearly 200,000 Salvadorans whose protections expire in March.

Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, which seeks to reduce immigration to the United States, said the Trump administration’s big test will be what DHS decides to do with the Haitians, given Kelly’s characterization of the previous extension as a “limited” one.

“That will determine whether it’s more than rhetoric,” Krikorian said. “That’s when we’ll get a sense of how committed the White House is to making sure the ‘temporary’ in Temporary Protected Status is really temporary.”

DHS officials would not say what instruction, if any, they have received from the White House, where officials referred questions to DHS.

Honduras and El Salvador have some of the highest homicide rates in the world, and tens of thousands of their citizens continue to attempt to come to the United States illegally each year.

Haiti, the Western Hemisphere’s poorest country, still suffers from cholera introduced by United Nations troops who were sent after the earthquake, in addition to food shortages and other damage from recent hurricanes.

This week 20 Democratic senators, led by Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin (Md.) and Sen. Tim Kaine (Va.) sent a letter to Duke and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson urging an extension of the TPS deadlines. There are about 30,000 TPS beneficiaries living in the Washington area with their families, according to immigrant advocates.

“These individuals are the most thoroughly vetted people in the country,” said Tom Jawetz, an immigration policy analyst at the left-leaning Center for American Progress.

He said TPS beneficiaries are the parents of 190,000 U.S.-citizen children, and the anxiety of not knowing what will happen to their parents is inflicting “devastating emotional, social and educational harm.”

But like the DACA debate, the TPS decision has become a proxy for a broader argument about immigration and the enforcement of U.S. laws. The Trump administration has been signaling it wants to break with its predecessors and appears to want to make a statement, said Doris Meissner, the top immigration official under the Clinton administration,

“The deeper point is they don’t want people here from other countries for humanitarian reasons,” said Meissner, now a senior fellow at the Migration Policy Institute in Washington. “They don’t see these various elements of immigration policy as particularly positive for the U.S., or as a broader expression of our values and image in the world.”

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Meet the Filmmakers, Meet your Neighbors

Immigrant filmmakers share stories with neighbors in South End, Roxbury, Dorchester

While Denzel Washington films scenes for his latest movie a few blocks away, ten immigrant filmmakers based in the South End/Roxbury are producing ten short documentary films about the immigrant experience in Boston. You may have seen them around the neighborhood, at Ramsey Park or at SoWa Market, working on their filming techniques and interviewing skills as part of the New Immigrant and Refugee Visions project of Community Supported Film, a local nonprofit organization. While Denzel Washington films scenes for his latest movie a few blocks away, ten immigrant filmmakers based in the South End/Roxbury are producing ten short documentary films about the immigrant experience in Boston. You may have seen them around the neighborhood, at Ramsey Park or at SoWa Market, working on their filming techniques and interviewing skills as part of the New Immigrant and Refugee Visions project of Community Supported Film, a local nonprofit organization.

 

New Immigrant and Refugee Visions Filmmakers Front: Abdirahman Abdi of Somalia, Braulio Tellez Vilches of Cuba, Kebrowsen (Kiki) Densamo of Ethiopia. Middle: Sayed Hashimi of Afghanistan, Katsyris Rivera Kientz of Puerto Rico, Qin Li of China, Assistant Trainer Samantha Corsini, Mubarak Muwonge Nsamba of Uganda. Back: Wilson Thelimo Louis of Haiti, Rafael DeLeon of the Dominican Republic, Trainer and CSFilm Founder Michael Sheridan, Mohammed Arifuzzuman of Bangladesh.

On Saturday, October 21st these filmmakers are teaming up with the Roxbury-Dorchester Power in Community coalition of Episcopal churches to host a “Meet the Filmmakers, Meet your Neighbors” reception from 4-6pm at the Church of St. Augustine and St. Martin, 31 Lenox Street (near Ramsey Park and Jim Rice Field, and home to Community Supported Film offices).

 

Each of the filmmakers will share briefly about their personal stories emigrating from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, China, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Ethiopia, Haiti, Puerto Rico, Somalia, and Uganda. They will also talk about the films they are making, which will show an insider’s perspective on the challenges immigrants face and the contributions they make to our neighborhoods and society.

As many of the filmmakers are new immigrants, they are looking forward to meeting their neighbors. They know they share similar immigrant stories with many families in the neighborhood and are eager to engage in conversation, in a variety of languages, over refreshments from around the world.

They are also looking forward to meeting the neighbors who have an interest in the arts, in filmmaking, and in social justice issues. All the filmmakers have a desire to advance social justice through the multi-media blend of journalism and art that is documentary film. They know that the South End/Roxbury area has a rich heritage of activism and cultural vitality and hope to meet many of those who have made this neighborhood what it is today – to learn first hand about the history and rich social fabric they are becoming a part of.

 

Roxbury-Dorchester Power in Community Leaders Front: The Rev. Edwin Johnson, The Rev. Dorothella Littlepage, The Rev. Evan Thayer, The Rev. Rospignac Ambrose. Back: The Rev. Christopher Whiteman

The Church of St. Augustine and St. Martin has sponsored the home office of Community Supported Film for a number of years, alongside the many other community-based organizations and youth programs it supports in conjunction with their partner parishes in Roxbury-Dorchester Power in Community: St. Cyprian’s, St. John St. James, St. Mary’s, and St. Mark’s. Roxbury-Dorchester Power in Community was founded by the Episcopal congregations of Roxbury and Dorchester, in partnership with the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts, to celebrate, connect, leverage, and enhance the abundant gifts of their neighborhoods by fostering deep relationships among the diverse populations.

Meet the Filmmakers, Meet your Neighbors

Saturday, October 21st, 2017 4-6p

Church of St. Augustine and St. Martin, 31 Lenox Street, Boston

Refreshments from around the world. Multi-cultural music.

All are welcome. RSVP is appreciated to Rev. Dee Littlepage at: ">rd_pic@icloud.com

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HAITI NEWS AND VIEWS: U.S. response in Puerto Rico pales next to actions after Haiti quake

After an earthquake shattered Haiti’s capital on Jan. 12, 2010, the U.S. military mobilized as if it were going to war.

Before dawn the next morning, an Army unit was airborne, on its way to seize control of the main airport in Port-au-Prince. Within two days, the Pentagon had 8,000 American troops en route. Within two weeks, 33 U.S. military ships and 22,000 troops had arrived. More than 300 military helicopters buzzed overhead, delivering millions of pounds of food and water.

No two disasters are alike. Each delivers customized violence that cannot be fully anticipated. But as criticism of the federal government’s initial response to the crisis in Puerto Rico continued to mount Thursday, the mission to Haiti — an island nation several hundred miles from the U.S. mainland — stands as an example of how quickly relief efforts can be mobilized.

By contrast, eight days after Hurricane Maria ripped across neighboring Puerto Rico, just 4,400 service members were participating in federal operations to assist the devastated island, an Army general told reporters Thursday. In addition, about 1,000 Coast Guard members were aiding the efforts. About 40 U.S. military helicopters were helping to deliver food and water to the 3.4 million residents of the U.S. territory, along with 10 Coast Guard helicopters.

Leaders of the humanitarian mission in Haiti said in interviews that they were dismayed by the relative lack of urgency and military muscle in the initial federal response to Puerto Rico’s catastrophe.

“I think it’s a fair ask why we’re not seeing a similar command and response,” said retired Lt. Gen. P.K. “Ken” Keen, the three-star general who commanded the U.S. military effort in Haiti, where 200,000 people died by some estimates. “The morning after, the president said we were going to respond in Port-au-Prince . . . robustly and immediately, and that gave the whole government clarity of purpose.”

Rajiv J. Shah, who led the U.S. Agency for International Development during the Haiti response, said he, too, was struggling to “understand the delays.”

“We were able to move more quickly in a foreign country, and with no warning because it was an earthquake, than a better-equipped agency was able to do in a domestic territory,” he said.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency has defended its efforts in Puerto Rico, saying it is coordinating a wide-ranging campaign to simultaneously deliver food, water and medicine and to restore power, clear pathways to hospitals and reopen mangled ports and airports.

It’s a monumental task, one that FEMA says has been complicated immensely by a near-complete collapse of cellphone service on the island, as well as years of neglect to power lines and other utility systems.

FEMA and Defense Department officials have taken steps to beef up the response, announcing Thursday that they would elevate the military command structure on the ground in Puerto Rico, sending in a three-star Army general, Lt. Gen. Jeffrey S. Buchanan.

Keen, who was named to lead the efforts in Haiti three days after the quake, pointed to a complicating factor: Puerto Rico is a U.S. territory, not a foreign nation, and that makes a huge difference in the rules of engagement when disaster strikes.

In Haiti, the United States was able to deploy active military combat brigades, quickly install a military commander and militarize the airspace at the invitation of Haitian officials.

In Puerto Rico and other U.S. territories, the nearly 140-year-old Posse Comitatus Act limits the role that active military personnel can play.

Also, Puerto Rico’s aid requests, made under a mutual-assistance compact among the states and U.S. territories, helped shape the response. In recent days, as criticism of the effort has grown, administration officials have repeatedly said they are delivering what Puerto Rico has asked for.

Maj. Gen. James C. Witham, director of domestic operations for the National Guard Bureau, said that immediately after Maria’s landfall, Puerto Rico requested only communications equipment and fewer than 200 military police officers. By comparison, 17,567 guardsmen from 24 states were on duty in Florida a day after Hurricane Irma made landfall.

More than 400 guardsmen from other states had been in Puerto Rico, assigned to help with cleanup from Irma, before Maria. Most evacuated in advance of Maria, and Puerto Rico has made no request for them to return, officials said.

All but about a few hundred of the 2,000 guardsmen now in Puerto Rico are members of the territory’s own Guard unit. The National Guard Bureau has drafted plans to send as many as 6,000 soldiers, but Puerto Rico has yet to request them, Witham said.

“Essentially, everything Puerto Rico has asked for up to and including today we’ve tried to align with and lean as far forward as we can,” Witham said.

What is clear is that, since Maria ravaged the island, there has been a disconnect between the level of aid requested or delivered and the needs of residents who are desperate for water, food and basic necessities of life.

At a hearing Wednesday, Sen. Margaret Wood Hassan (D-N.H.) read from an email in which a former Puerto Rico governor, Alejandro García Padilla, warned that “unless we see a dramatic increase in assistance and personnel reaching the island soon, many thousands could die.”

“We need the Army and the National Guard deployed throughout the island, now, today,” Hassan said, reading from the letter. “This cannot wait another day. Despite federal agencies coordinating in San Juan, there is very limited presence of military personnel assisting people in the streets and throughout our communities.”

Elaine Duke, the acting head of the Department of Homeland Security, responded: “The president, vice president and I talked with the governor yesterday. And that was about 1 o’clock. And we — he had no unmet needs at that point.”

John Rabin, a senior FEMA official in Puerto Rico, denied during a media teleconference Thursday that the federal government is waiting for requests from officials on the island.

“We are in lockstep with those guys, but we also recognize that this is a disaster and we have our priorities,” Rabin said. “We are not in a waiting mode for anything.”

Also Thursday, Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló defended his government’s response to the humanitarian crisis. He said the unprecedented destruction of the storm and logistical limitations have impeded the flow of resources to some of the island’s communities.

Rosselló walked into a daily briefing at the Puerto Rico convention center accompanied by a general or an admiral representing each branch of the U.S. military, displaying a united front a week after the hurricane walloped the island.

The governor emphasized that federal agencies are taking their direction from the territorial government.

“Let’s make this clear — this is an operation of the government of Puerto Rico,” Rosselló said. “We set the priorities. . . . We are taking action, and there are results.”

Rosselló said the island’s geographical challenges — everything must be brought in by boat or air — and the widespread communication failures have complicated relief efforts.

W. Craig Fugate, who was President Barack Obama’s FEMA director for all eight years of his presidency, said that in a worst-case scenario, such as a tsunami, the federal government had long contemplated that Puerto Rico could be completely isolated, with its ports destroyed and all food and water needing to be airlifted onto the island or shuttled by Marine units that could land on beaches.

Fugate said FEMA did not have to wait for a signal from Puerto Rican authorities before activating more military assets.

Two U.S. defense officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss the sensitive operation, said the inability to communicate readily with Puerto Rican officials immediately after the storm delayed the response. Another limiting factor, they said, was that FEMA officials did not have a full understanding of the devastation and the challenges until Director William “Brock” Long visited the island Monday. The next day, Long announced outside the White House that the military would deploy to Puerto Rico the 1,000-bed hospital ship USNS Comfort.

At least two other Navy ships, the USS Iwo Jima and the USS New York, responded to Hurricane Irma earlier in the month off the Florida Keys and could have been used to respond to Maria. Defense officials said they were instead sent back to Mayport, Fla., and remain in port there on ­prepare-to-deploy orders. They may yet be called upon to join the response.

On the day the quake rocked Haiti, one bit of happenstance may have sped the U.S. response. Keen happened to be on the island, at the residence of the U.S. ambassador. Keen watched dust rise across the countryside as buildings collapsed. A member of his staff was killed when the hotel where they were staying crumbled.

Keen relayed his firsthand account back to the head of the U.S. Southern Command, who was traveling in Washington. That night, Obama called USAID’s Shah and told him to spare no expense in responding. “He said it was a chance for America to demonstrate our moral character,” Shah recalled.

Air Force combat control teams were in the air the next morning. The airport, which became “the island’s lifeline,” Keen said, was secure and operational by nightfall. Troops began arriving every couple of hours.

Keen began organizing officers to conduct assessments and distribute food. Three days after the quake, his unofficial role became official — he was named Joint Task Force commander, with USAID taking the lead in coordinating the broader government response. Time magazine would later call Keen the de facto “king of Haiti.”

Keen said for the seemingly slow start, the U.S. government can still correct course.

“The real test of leadership,” he said, “is now what do we do about it now that it’s clear that Puerto Rico is going to need help for a long time.”

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NIRVana: Another way to resist hate

NIRV Highlights, Issue 3, September 9, 2017

PDF, 3mb | Project Details | Issues: Training BeginsEditing and SalsaNIRVana – Screening NIRV Films

For this issue of NIRV Highlights, Community Supported Film is delighted to share the story of one of our donors and volunteers, Christine Arveil, herself an immigrant from France. She has cooked delicious meals for our training sessions, served as training photographer, and provided support for our French-speaking trainee from Haiti. On the day of the protests against hate and white supremacy in Boston on August 19th, she contacted us to see if we could use her help. Below is her own story of that day.


By Christine Arveil, arveil.com

Human beings are dangerously obstinate in lashing at history with whips that none of us would like to feel on our skins. On the morning of the 19th of August, I was about to join peaceful marchers gathering in Boston to protest hatred and white supremacy when it came to my mind that I should rather make myself available to those who were at work on developing shared respect and appreciation.

Boston, August 19, 2017. Spanish sign: “We are all immigrants and we have no fear!”

 

Upon offering my time and energy, I was immediately invited to Community Supported Film (CSFilm) where ten recent immigrants to the United States, tracing roots to Africa, Latin America, and Asia, were completing their fourth week of documentary filmmaking training.

NIRV Trainees at SoWa Market

CSFilm provides free professional documentary film training, enabling local immigrants to tell untold stories relevant to their communities. CSFilm helps to express voices that are usually silent, stereotyped in mainstream media, or little noticed in the relentless flood of information on social media.

As I arrived at CSFilm, I could not help thinking how one same word can represent opposite perspectives. The day before, I was with twenty two hundred people enjoying the bliss of a magnificent concert on Tanglewood greens in Lenox, MA. But that Saturday, on Lenox Street in Roxbury, a lonely old man was painfully trying to simply get up from the narrow steps where he had found some rest, so I could climb up to the door of CSFilm.

I tiptoed to the back of the room, hoping not to disturb the class in process. Ten young men and women, half the world around the table and probably several religions, were attentively focused on their teacher’s words. Their command of English was impressive, especially for some who had been in America only a few months. Now and then, however, I noticed their cultural differences in little things like the titles they chose to respectfully address their instructor, Michael Sheridan. He was, in turn, “Professor,” “my Colleague,” “Mr.,” or “Mikey.”

I felt comfortable with them, with their positive, somehow elegant, energy. Myself an immigrant to America from Europe, I know how difficult it is to leave everything behind to integrate with a new land. Forever will I remember the worker who unloaded my small trunk with my few possessions and said: “Here’s your stuff, Ma’am. Welcome!” That day, I understood that my true belongings were my energy, my brain and my passion for creating things of beauty and value to society.

Abdirahman Abdi (Somalia), Mubarak Nsamba (Uganda), Kiki Densamo (Ethiopia), Rafael DeLeon (Dominican Republic)

Michael Sheridan leading class.

As Sheridan projects films onto a white board covered with diagrams and notes, I recognize both the professor from Mass Art and the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum documentary filmmaker I have observed before. He creates an atmosphere of comfort, ease, and respect. Everyone calmly engages in turn. He answers each question with precision and deep attention. The room seems to vanish as Sheridan focuses on each individual, his words somehow managing to address the person beyond the student. His hands enact the filming process, with fingers running as he explains how the camera should swiftly move, while his love of his chosen art animates everything. Sheridan becomes something more like a mountain guide: one of the tireless rock climbers who walk ahead of those who will claim new summits; a mountaineer who keeps walking when oxygen rarefies.

Today, the focus is on sound. A music lover, sound is Sheridan’s love as much as the moving images. He introduces the students to the manipulation of the microphone along with filming: “This is when this mighty fine device comes into use” (the boom microphone). He invites them to consider how sounds influence the narrative and affect the capture of images. The story will depend on intricate technicalities that the filmmaker shall master – but only through practice.

This Saturday, the afternoon assignment to practice new skills takes us to the SoWa Open Market just up the street. In teams of two, the trainees share a camera and assist each other in recording images and sound. My volunteer role is to document their process in still photographs.

Kiki of Ethiopia and Abdi of Somalia stop at a luxurious rug store, sit for a moment in leather armchairs, and joke that they feel like movie stars. But after a short while, it is “Let’s go back to work!”

Sayed of Afghanistan teams up with Qin of China and they relentlessly search for quieter environments. They retreat to the guts of a building where a designer weaves a Moroccan inspired coat. The space is small and packed. Sayed: “Qin, allow me to crawl where we need the camera.”

 

Mubarak of Uganda and Thelimo of Haiti set the camera in a flowers and butterflies booth. Intense discussions for the shot contrast sharply with the soft and playful setting. “Filming is serious business!”

 

Rafael of the Dominican Republic and Braulio of Cuba film an elegant coffee-making pushcart from a variety of angles. while Michael chats with the owner about the enjoyment of coffee, far from the fields where it grows.

Katsyris of Puerto Rico and Roman of Bangladesh: her solid calm balances his driving eagle eyes riveted to the viewfinder. They take turns handling the camera to shoot a giant game of Jenga that alternately rises and crashes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The shooting feels professional, especially considering that most haven’t used a video camera or microphone 4 weeks ago. It is fascinating for me to watch the perspective of the vendors and shoppers shift from indifference or slight annoyance toward the film crews to curious engagement when they discover that it is a group of new immigrants learning a new form of communication with infectious purpose, dedication and laughter! Smiles are never long to appear and patience is surprisingly everywhere. As I document their learning, the trainees talk with me about how remarkably different filming a story is from capturing amateur video. They also tell me how heavy the equipment feels by the end of the day, but the quality they get is worth the discomfort, they say.

Late afternoon, after a hard week working in their day jobs and a long day learning to film, everyone relaxes. Laughs, spirited snippets of stories and jokes, feet moving to a dance step, youth, and conviviality combine to vanquish the sordid reality of hate that had clouded the day elsewhere in the city and the country. It feels so natural to be together though we were born in a dozen different countries: why do we allow ourselves to be taught otherwise? Terror has no space where creativity and fresh perspectives bloom and when we listen to those who speak softly.

As we head back from SoWa, I ask around to see what the word “immigrant” means for them. The answers shouldn’t have surprised me: Hope, Peace, and Misunderstandings. (I have hope for the future here. No peace in my homeland. So many misunderstandings about immigrants here.)

CSFilm calls the program NIRV for “New Immigrant & Refugee Visions,” but here again, the same term has another meaning for me. My time spent supporting these dedicated and optimistic people was definitely a day of enlightenment – NIRVana!

Boston-based artist Christine Arveil has been integrating painting and writing in her creations for 35 years. Born in France in 1958, Christine Arveil became the first of her working-class family to enter university, graduating with a master’s degree in Classics and French literature and later an MBA in Art management. In 1997, Arveil permanently moved to the United States. She integrates her life and artistic experiences into semi-abstract expressionist images for which she devised a unique painting technique and medium based on violin varnish. She is married with master bow maker and MacArthur Fellow Benoît Rolland. She has two children and twin grand daughters. arveil.com

Photo Gallery Below

Subscribe to CSFilm email updates and follow us on:

Thank you to all the Friends of CSFilm, and to: Jeanne Steig, Teryl Euvremer, Viren and Amita Mehta, Patrica Davis and Wesley Callender, The Pathfinder Fund, The Marika Foundation for Social Action, and The McMillan Stewart Foundation.

Thanks to The Church of St Augustine and St Martin for donating the training space and to editor Peter Rhodes and trainer Pat Goudvis for donating their time and experience.

Thanks to those who have volunteered to feed our training team (contact us to help):
Christine Arveil, Kate Carpenter Bernier, Anu Desai, Sayed Hashimi, Qin Li & Fresh Food Generation

Protest photo by Stephanie Keith/Reuters. All other photos by Christine Arveil.

Community Supported Film strengthens the documentary storytelling capacity in communities where the dissemination of balanced and accurate information is essential for development and conflict resolution.

Christine captured “portraits” of our trainees that day. We thought you’d enjoy the results. (click on any image to view all in a slideshow)

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HAITI NEWS AND VIEWS: Hurricane Irma effects are one more reason to extend TPS for Haitians, lawmakers argue

By: Anthony Man, September 18, 2017, for the Sun Sentinel

The South Florida congressional delegation and both of the state’s U.S. senators issued a bipartisan plea to the Trump administration on Monday to extend temporary protected status for Haitian nationals in the U.S., partly because of the impact of Hurricane Irma.

Irma hit northern Haiti on Sept. 7. It caused flooding, destroyed crops and homes and further damaged infrastructure, cutting off rural villages from nearby cities, the lawmakers said in a letter to Trump’s Department of Homeland Security.

Not mentioned in their letter is a looming potential threat: Hispaniola, home to Haiti and the Dominican Republic, is in the cone of uncertainty for Hurricane Maria in coming days.

Last year, Haiti suffered severe damage from Hurricane Matthew, which devastated its main food-growing region. Earlier this year, the Trump administration said TPS, which was granted and has been renewed repeatedly since the devastating 2010 earthquake, would end early next year.

With population growth, Haitian community in South Florida sees more political clout

It prevents deportation but does not grant a path to permanent residence or citizenship. TPS has been repeatedly extended as the country recovered slowly, often with setbacks. Haiti has experienced an epidemic of cholera introduced to the country by United Nations forces brought in to help after the earthquake.

On May 24, then-Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly announced a six-month extension of TPS, until Jan 22, 2018, and advised Haitians in the U.S. to use the time to get their affairs in order. Kelly is now Trump’s chief of staff in the White House.

Kelly said Haiti has “made progress across several fronts.” He cited multiple signs of progress including the closing of the vast majority of camps for displaced residents, the plan to rebuild the Haitian president’s residence in Port-au-Prince and the withdrawal of the U.N. stabilization mission.

South Floridians with ties to Haiti and elected officials with lots of Haitian-American constituents said there hasn’t been much progress on recovery. And, they said, there is no way the country can absorb the return of 58,000 people who have protected status. An April report from the Immigrant Legal Resource Center said the largest concentration of Haitians with temporary protected status were in South Florida. The New York metropolitan area was second.

Haitians in US get slight reprieve but worry about future

The only representative from southeast Florida not on the list is U.S. Rep. Brian Mast, a Republican who represents northern Palm Beach, Martin and St. Lucie counties.

The lawmakers asked Duke to grant an additional 18 months starting Jan. 22.

Haitian community leaders press to continue protected status as deadline looms

They said TPS “is central to our country’s commitment in providing safe haven to individuals unable to securely return to their home country due to ongoing violence, environmental disasters, or other extraordinary conditions. Haiti continues to face such conditions.”

In their letter, the lawmakers also said that “some statistics may look encouraging at first glance, a closer look shows a country still struggling significantly to recover from the extraordinary conditions” caused by the earthquake and Hurricane Matthew.

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