17 June 2008

Refuge from the Global Economy

Yesterday I was listening to Victor Jara's beautiful songs, which made the tedium of an unavoidable car journey a pleasure. For those who don't know, Victor Jara was a Chilean folk-singer and national hero during the left-wing movement that led to the election of the world's first Communist President, Salvador Allende, in 1970. (The novelist Isabel Allende is his niece.)

This was a time of hope, which was captured by Jara along with his love ballads (try this example of his most famous song, which combines both themes). But the hope was short-lived. The forces of fascism, defending global capital against a viable, democratic and just alternative, moved in for the kill. The Chilean coup - the reason I remember September 11th, for that was the day it happened in 1973 - was sudden, violent and bloody. And supported by US corporations including ITT. (See Aled's new blog for some reflections on how '9/11' is being used to enhance their global power, including by reducing our legal rights.)

Along with thousands of other 'enemies of the state', Victor Jara was arrested and violently murdered. Another of those arrested was somebody I later came across in Oxford. His name was Jaime Baez - hence his Latin American friends always called him Joan. He had been put in jail because he was the only person in his village to own a typewriter - an obvious indication that he was a dangerous revolutionary.

These thoughts come back to me now this Labour government is creating laws to allow arbitrary detention without legal justification, which was the origin of the horrors of the Latin American guerras sucias, while simultaneously making life harder for the refugees that this sort of illegality creates.

After knowing Jaime I worked at the Refugee Studies Programme in Oxford - an organisation that attempted to provide some kind of advocacy for their growing numbers. The common factor amongst the refugees I met was sadness - a deep sadness and nostalgia which nothing could shift. They played with other people's children and joined family parties with a longing which they could not hide.

The refugees' choice had not been between wealth here or poverty in Afghanistan, or Uganda, or wherever their lives still belonged. Their choice had been between life here or death there. To treat them with anything less than the utmost compassion and care is a gross violation of humanity.

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