Month: October 2016

nicaraguaJuly 19, 1979- Nicaraguan dictator Anastasio Somoza Debayle is overthrown in a coup headed by the Sandinista National Liberation Front.  His removal brings an end to a thirty year reign of tyranny and oppression from the Somoza family, supported by the United States.  Somoza joins a long list of puppet dictators enabled and sustained by U.S. foreign policy guided by financial interests.  Today, Nicaragua is the second poorest nation in the Americas behind Haiti. In some areas, residents are forced to live on as little as $1 per day. And on September 21, 2016, Congress passed the Nicaraguan Investment Conditionality Act which mandates that any loans to Nicaragua are to be withheld unless there are signs of fair elections and the implementation of democratic processes.  The Act is eerily similar to the actions in the early 1900s when the U.S. tried to seize control of the Banco Nacional, the country’s main bank.  The recent law by Congress highlights the long and tragic relationship between Washington and the fascinating Latin American nation.

Let us for a minute examine Latin America under U.S. foreign policy.   El Salvador. Guatemala. Panama. Cuba.  The aforementioned nations are just some the examples of the failures of U.S. foreign policy and its disastrous and in some cases, deadly effects.  Coup d’etat was the primary weapon on choice and many rising stars would fall victim to it.   Nicaragua joins this list and the history which we learn in the is exceptional account by Michael Gobat is the key to understanding modern-day Nicaragua. Today, the name William Walker is unknown to most Americans, but there was a time when his name was one of infamy, following his attempt with the of the filibuster, to take control of Nicaragua which had been determined to be the best passage for international shipping.  The Panama canal later claimed the title, but that did not suspend of terminate the interest of Washington in Nicaraguan society.  Although Walker failed in his attempts, Washington would be provided with several more opportunities to enforce its will as the overseer of the Americas. And as Gobat shows us, the repercussions for Nicaragua were catastrophic.

Civil wars and the occupation by the United States Marine Corps., created an unusual paradox that defied logic on many levels. The structure of Nicaragua society which at the time was modeled after the U.S., and the rising anti-imperialism movement, formed a contradictory relationship between the conservative elites and the man who threatened to changed Nicaragua forever, Augusto Sandino (1895-1934).  His tragic fate and the assumption of power by Anastasio Somoza Garcia,  plunged Nicaragua into decades of conflict in which thousands lost their lives and the horrific policies of the United States came to light.

Central America is a stronghold of civil unrest, poverty and skyrocketing murder rates. Political instability and corruption continue to plague the region and the future is uncertain for many of them. Honduras currently has one of the highest murder rates in the world and the story of El Salvador has been told many times over. What they all have in common is that they are all the victims of imperialistic intervention.   The United Fruit Company and other U.S. companies operating in the Caribbean and Latin America, helped turned the region into a group of “Banana Republics”.  Today, we have all but forgotten Nicaragua.  It is rarely mentioned and the majority of Americans remain ignorant of our dark relationship with our Central American neighbor. The truth that we should acknowledge is that Nicaraguan history is American history for our actions and policies towards the small nation exemplify our misguided attempts to enforce democracy and exploit the defenseless.  This investigation report by Gobat is the truth about a time we would rather forget.  But his words and the research he has done, show us what happened and why.

Che Guevara once called the United States the enemy of humanity.   His words may sound extreme, but we are required to recall that he was present in Guatemala in 1954 when the government of Jacobo Arbenz was overthrown in a CIA backed coup.  His witnessing to the aggression by the United States and the destitute conditions forced upon Latin America helped shaped his revolutionary ideology which he carried with him all the way to the jungles of Bolivia.   His sentiments have been echoed by millions of people throughout the Americas disillusioned with the false promises and nefarious acts utilized by Washington. But if we are to understand Nicaragua and its tragic history, then we must begin with books such as this.  And then we will learn the true story of the forgotten republic.

ISBN-10: 0822336472
ISBN-13: 978-0822336471

Investigative Report

giovanni's roomThe late James Baldwin (1924-1987), remains one of America’s most gifted authors.  He is also remembered as an icon of the civil rights movement who was fiercely outspoken against the injustices committed against African-Americans.  Similar to Bayard Rustin,  his homosexuality resulted in a life long inner turmoil in a quest to find true love and happiness.  When he died in France in December, 1987, he left this world as a bachelor and without children.  It could be argued that his children are the writings he left behind that examined society, human nature and emotions. One of these stories is Giovanni’s Room, Baldwin’s masterpiece about the complexities of the human heart and the burden of living with repressed sexuality.

The story begins with David, an American citizen living in France.  In America remain his father who is a widower.  He is a native of San Francisco but has made Paris his new home. His girlfriend Hella, is away on vacation in Spain to reevaluate her feelings toward him and contemplate their future together.  David is free to spend his nights on the streets of Paris and often is accompanied by his closest friend Jacques.  They frequent a local bar owned by a character named Guillaume.  It is on one of their visits to the bar that David meets the young man who becomes the focal point of the story, Giovanni, a recent immigrant from Italy who is now employed as a bartender. A brief conversation between the two blossoms and before long the dynamics of their relationship change revealing the alternative lifestyle of all of the male characters at the bar. But what transpires between David, Giovanni and Hella, highlights the dangerous and infinitely complex nature of love.

Baldwin confronts the concept of sexuality examining it under a microscope which forces the reader to look in the mirror as we see the lives of David and Giovanni change profoundly throughout the novel.  And Giovanni’s fate at the end of the novel shows the ability of love, hate and rage to possess a person equally at the same time. David’s predicament will seem incredulous to some and his actions deplorable. But as Hella and Giovanni both wonder about him, does he truly love anyone or even himself? And even as the book closes, we still don’t know for sure. But what we do know is that love has the ability to create lives, sustain them and ultimately tear them apart. It has often been said that it is better to have loved than to have never loved at all. Would Giovanni or Hella agree?   Or would they say a life without love is more satisfactory?  Baldwin leaves it up to the reader to debate.

The novel is set in 1956, a time in which homosexual relationships were not only highly taboo and also criminal in many countries.  David struggles with himself and his role in the lives of Hella and Giovanni and his battle within is one that is waged by men and women throughout the world unsure of their own sexuality.   His actions and the effects of his omissions upon those closest to him, bring the issue  of truth to the surface.  The truth often hurts regardless of how it is told. For David, Giovanni and Hella, it is beyond sobering.   And as a result of the truth, none of their lives are ever the same again.  And herein lies one of the most powerful effects of the feeling of true love.

The book is short, roughly around 168 pages, but contained within it, is a fascinating story revolving around everyday struggles of people from all walks of life.  And the novel shows the seemingly never ending ingenious of Baldwin as a writer.  And although the story is set in France (Baldwin’s favorite European destination), it could have easily taken place in other major cities across the world.  The characters could be of any ethnicity but the feelings on display by the characters in the book are exemplified in all cultures.  And once you have finished the book, you will see the importance of Giovanni’s room.

ISBN-10: 0345806565
ISBN-13: 978-0345806567

fiction

woliOn August 16, 2003, Idi Amin Dada, the third President of Uganda from 1971-1979, died in Jedda, Saudi Arabia.  The official cause of death is multiple organ failure. Amin ruled Uganda with an iron fist and is considered to be one of the worst dictators the world has ever seen.  His policies and thirst for blood caused the people of the east African nation to live in daily fear of torture, murder and other atrocities.  His reign is constantly used as an example of the unrestrained abuse of power that is typical of a malevolent tyrant.  Amin’s life was adapted for the silver screen in the 2008 film, ‘The Last King of Scotland’ starring Forest Whitaker.

Wole Soyinka, winner of the 1986 Nobel Prize for Literature, is one of Nigeria’s greatest writers and has written two books and multiple plays reflecting African culture. In 1984, he composed this masterpiece, a fictional play that looks into the psychology of  homidical dictators and the surrealism that encompasses the world in which they live.  The play is set at the fictional Bugaran Embassy opposite the United Nations in New York City.   Life President Kamini, the main character, is a composite of the late Amin.  He is surrounded by Benefacio Gunema (based on Macias Nguema), Emperor Kasco (based on Jean Baptiste-Bokassa) and General Barra Tuboum (based on Mobutu Sese Seko, formerly Joseph Mobutu), who serve as the African heads of state.  The are supported by Gudrun, a Scandinavian journalist who soothes the ego of Kamini by re-enforcing his beliefs and statements.  The additional supporting cast consists of the Chairman of the Bugara Central Bank, Bugaran Ambassador, Mayor of Hyacombe, Profesor Batey, a sculptor, Russian delegates, American, delegates, guards, task forces and the Secretary-General of the United Nations.

Kamini is at the United Nations with his delegation for financial assistance and global recognition as a world leader.  He has instructed his chairman to approach the World Bank for a loan and even hired a sculptor by way of London to create a life-sized bust of himself to remain in New York.  The loan is denied sending Kamini into a rage. The denial is the first in a series of events that leads to the destabilization of Kamini’s mind and regime. The genius in the play is the dialogue between the characters that is interspersed with references to authentic historical figures and the relationships between the Third-World nations and world superpowers.  Gunema, Kasco and Tuboum are all tyrants and share the same ideology as Kamini. However, each is known to be evil in his own way and offers Kamini suggestions on how to deal with his problems. But what is tragic is that none are able to see the clearer picture, even as the Russian and American delegates enter after the news breaks of a coup in Bugara. The tyrants remain committed to their rule and Kamini, unable to grasp the severity of the situation as it develops.  The play’s ending, while abrupt, showcases their naiveté and lust for blood that is typical of the worst dictators we have seen.

While the play was written in 1984, the characters and the events that take place are relevant even today.  New dictators assume power in countries ravaged by imperialism after seizing control in the vacuum of instability created by political and military changes. We are reminded of how they come to power and the seduction of the throne that turns them into the monsters they become. They are never alone in their beliefs and actions and often rely on partnerships with other extremists to enforce their will and domination. Kamini and his associates are fictional characters, but they are based off real life individuals who brought their countries to the brink of ruin.  Famine, corruption, poverty and violence became staples of their regimes fracturing society into many pieces.  Some nations, have never fully recovered.

This masterpiece is an example to be used in discussions about dictators from any nation. Kamini could have easily been Rafael Trujillo, Josef Stalin or even Papa Doc Duvalier.  The names and places are interchangeable.  All dictators have common traits that are easily spotted and exploited.  And when the time comes for the reign to end, the fallout is often dramatic and rapid resulting in the dictator resorting to extreme measures to retain power as we see through Kamini.  Their lust for power serves to blind them from the reality of their environment and it is no wonder why they are often deposed of in the same manner in which they previously dispatched thousand and sometimes millions of people. Soyinka’s work is a timeless classic and after you have finished, you will see why it is a play of giants.

ISBN-13: 978-0413552907
ISBN-10: 041355290X

 

 

fiction

mating birdsThis gem for which I have written a review came as a recommendation by a close intimate in Argentina.  And although short in its duration, the book contains powerful messages about our concepts of love, sex, race, class and justice.  The story is of Ndi Sibiya, a young man from a town called Mzimba in the continent of Africa, who is condemned to death after being convicted of the rape of an English woman in the “whites only” section at the local beach. At the beginning, Sibiya informs that he is to die but at first we do not know the exact crime he has been charged with.  As the pieces of the puzzle come together, we learn that each day for the past several weeks, he has had a wordless encounter with an English woman who sun bathes naked on the beach. She initially caught him watching her but did not report him and according to Sibiya, continues to show him her body.  One day the tension proves to be too much and the two engage each other intimately.  Sibiya is arrested and charged with violation of the Immorality Act and rape, both of which carry the death penalty.

The details of the encounters with the girl who is known as Veronica Slater, are relayed by Sibiya to his assigned therapist, Dr. Emile Dufre, originally from Switzerland. The doctor probes at Sibiya repeatedly asking questions about his childhood and any experiences that might have led to him being unable to control his sexual urges.   The doctor is supported in his endeavor by the commander of the jail, C. Van Rooyen who sees the natives as nothing more than “savages”.  Sibiya is represented by max Siegfried Muller, whose efforts in his client’s defense serve as one of the few logical parts of the subsequent trial.  In the book, Sibiya remarks that the end often lies in the beginning.  He began by telling us that he’s condemned to death and there is no last minute appeal to speak of.  His conviction and sentence to death combine with the actions of the court, Rooyne and Dufre to reveal the barbaric nature of the system of Apartheid in South Africa and the irrational fear of “miscegenation” and defilement of white women.  The English colonizers and their presence is eerily similar to the Belgium occupation of the Congo which resulted in the tragic death of Patrice Lumumba in 1961. The system of oppression reinforced by a belief of racial superiority, established a society in which the impossibility of reason becomes a domineering factor forming what could be for some, a hell on earth.

The novel makes an even bigger statement regarding the tragic history of the continent of Africa, the land ravaged by colonization.  The beliefs, customs and traditions of the native populations were often ridiculed and in some case forbidden breeding a climate of mistrust by the local residents against their Anglo rulers.  Suppression of pride, strength and in this case physical attraction, became facets of daily life and hallmarks of a system based on nefarious ideology.

White Veronica Slater is a fictional character, her actions in the novel have been played out over time repeatedly.  Her actions and the rage the reader feels are the disastrous effects of a society constructed on racial division. Sibiya points out that there are no winners in the book, he accepts his fate and acknowledges his actions.  His background and uncanny stoicism in the faith of death directly refute the perverse notion of unrestrained sexual aggression and violence by black males, myths that have been used to instill fear and suspicion.  The judge, spectators and prosecution form a bloodthirsty commission encompassing the widespread rage at the very idea that such indignation could occur. Similar to lynchings of Black Americans in the southeastern United States, the quest for vengeance nearly erupts in the courtroom.  The unfounded and perpetuated myths formed a nexus of a mob mentality determined to get their pound of flesh at all costs, even at the expense of a young man who is most likely innocent of his crime. These ideas are still being refuted today, almost thirty years since Nkosi wrote this masterpiece.

The system of apartheid is now gone but the remnants remain and still affect South African society.  Africa continues to go through a rejuvenation, transforming itself from the continent populated by third-world nations to a land of economical and technical development. Sadly, the issues we examine in the book are still believed by many today. But if we are to continue to break down the walls that divide us and refute the myths that continue desecrate our values, then it necessary that we embrace stories such as Sibiya’s so that we can truly move forward, living in harmony and embracing each other like mating birds.

ISBN-10: 0060970855
ISBN-13: 978-0060970857

fiction Society

polka dot fileEach time I drive across the Robert F. Kennedy memorial bridge as I pass from Queens to the Bronx and sometimes Manhattan, I think about his importance to the State of New York and the United States.  The former attorney general, senator and presidential candidate was one of the most polarizing figures of his time.  His murder on June 5, 1968, shocked the world leaving millions of people speechless about what they had just learned. A young Jordanian immigrant named Sirhan Sirhan was later tried and convicted for the murder and the case is considered solved in Los Angeles County.  Similar to the murder of John F. Kennedy 5 years earlier in Dallas, Texas, upon closer examination, many disturbing facts emerge that cast a chilling doubt over the official story.

Fernando Faura worked for the Hollywood Citizens News at the time of the murder, and subsequently began his own investigation into one aspect of the crime that has never been solved; the identity and role of the woman in the polka dot dress seen exiting the Ambassador Hotel while declaring “we shot him”.   To this day she remains a mystery.   What we do know is that several witnesses all confirmed that not only was she there but that she did in fact make the declaration of Kennedy having been shot.  Unsatisfied with the LAPD’s official story, Faura began his own research into the crime and his incredible journey to find the truth is documented in this excellent account that he calls the polka dot file.

Some researchers into the murder of John F. Kennedy have said that the murder of Dallas Police Officer J.D. Tippitt is the Rosetta Stone of the crime. Like Dallas, the woman in the polka-dot dress is the Rosetta Stone of this crime and as we see through Faura’s notes, finding her was similar to looking for a needle in a haystack.  The crime occurred in the jurisdiction of the Los Angeles Police Department, but as Faura points out, more than 400 FBI agents worked the case.  The FBI’s investigation contradicted some of the LAPD’s findings and remain disputed.  Witnesses to the crime were badgered and coerced into changing their stories by the LAPD and photographs of the crime taken as it happened by a 15-year-old fan of Kennedy, disappeared while in police custody. The originals have never been found.  The LAPD made a mockery of the investigation, ignoring many clues and witnesses and in the process, allowed Sirhan to be convicted while the other conspirators escaped.

But just why is the woman in the polka dot dress so important?  It is alleged that three prior to the murder, she was seen in Sirhan’s company and even on the night of the murder. Further, it is also alleged that she was seen in the company of Anne Chennault, the wife of the late Claire Chennault, founder of the Flying Tigers.  Chennault has long been suspected of helping Richard Nixon with getting the South Vietnamese government to refuse to attend the Paris Peace Talks to the chagrin of President Johnson.  At this point in his life, Kennedy was fiercely against the war and the possibility that his assassin was in the company of a woman linked to Chennault, friend of Nixon and acquaintance of many in the South Vietnamese government, would have added a mind-blowing and treasonous element to the investigation.  The results would have been far-reaching, possibly all the way to the White House.

Faura’s pursuit of the woman resulted in several important interviews that shed light on the events of that night.  It should be noted that the witnesses stuck to their stories and one of them, John Fahey, even took a polygraph examination, passing on all but two questions asked of him. Sandra Serrano, castigated by the LAPD, is vindicated here and her testimony is corroborated by others.  Sadly, Serrano and many other witnesses were either discounted or ignored by investigators.  The chance to learn exactly who the woman in the polka dot dress was, had been lost to history.  We can only speculate as to who she might have been or what her motives were or if she’s still alive.  She was seen in the company of at least one male companion. His identity is also unknown.  Faura was on the right path in his investigation.  The refusal of the LAPD to be more cooperative and their efforts to sabotage his investigation are regrettable and disheartening for the truth about Kennedy’s murder might never be known in full.  If things had gone different, perhaps history would be telling a different story surrounding the murder of Robert Francis Kennedy.

 

ISBN-10: 1634240596
ISBN-13: 978-1634240598

Assassinations Investigative Report Uncategorized

DutchmanOctober 23, 1935- Arthur Flegenheimer, better known as Dutch Schultz, is gunned down with two of his associates at the Palace Chop House in Newark, New Jersey. Schultz was mortally wounded as he stood in front of a urinal in the men’s restroom.  He survived for another day before dying on October 24, 1935 at the age of thirty-three.  Today, the Palace Chop House is gone, having been demolished to make way for additional parking spots.  Already a legend in the making, Schultz’s murder catapulted him to the top of the list of legendary crime figures during the era of prohibition.In the thirty-three years that he spent on earth, he gained fame, infamy and a legacy that remains in place to this day.  But who was the real Dutch Schultz and why was it necessary to have him murdered?

Paul Sann (1914-1986), a former editor for the New York Post,  examines the Dutchman’s life in this investigative report that is the definitive account of the death of Arthur Flegenheimer.  Schultz never wrote an autobiography or kept a personal journal like the majority of crime figures from his era.  His story is put together by court records, testimony of those who either knew Schultz or dealt with him [personally and various other sources of information.   And the image that we come to see is of a life nothing short of complex and tragic.  Known on the streets and in the media as the Beer Baron of the Bronx, he gained infamy as a suspect in the murder of several people, most notably Vincent “Mad Dog” Coll, a former partner turned mortal enemy.  The two waged an intense turf battle that ended with Coll being shot at least fifteen times inside a phone booth in front of 312 West 23rd Street on February 8, 1932.  Although Coll was retired effective immediately, Schultz had another enemy, one that would bring his downfall and unknowingly play a part in his murder, former Governor of New York, Thomas E. Dewey. Dewey, then former U.S. Attorney for the Southern District, gained notoriety for his efforts at fighting organized crime and the conviction of Charles “Lucky” Luciano in 1936.  The no-nonsense attorney became the Dutchman’s biggest obstacle and threatened to end his career permanently.  The events that unfolded as these two titans clashed is stuff of underworld lore and critical to understanding Schultz’s tragic end in Newark.

In the aftermath of his murder, law enforcement had no positive identification of his murderer and it would be many years before the identity of his killer became known as Sann shows us.  As we learn the true story of his murder, we also see the many enemies that surrounded Schultz with a vested interest in his elimination.  The Dutchman was close friends with Lucky Luciano, Meyer Lansky and other top members of what was called “The Syndicate”.  And like many of those mobsters and other outlaws of the era such as John Dillinger and George “Babyface” Nelson, he found himself on J. Edgar Hoover’s most wanted list.  When he muscled in on the Harlem number rackets he earned a lifelong nemesis in Stephanie St. Clair, the top female and African-American crime boss in New York City at the time.  Never known to be afraid of violence, stories of the Dutchman’s short temper and eagerness to use a firearm helped to cement his legacy as one of the toughest Jewish gangsters in New York City history.

Today it’s hard to picture the lawlessness that once existed on the streets of New York City.  But at a time not more than 100 years ago, the streets of New York ran red with blood as gangsters traded lead cutting each other down and waged gun battles with cops. Organized crime ran hundreds of rackets and corruption was rampant throughout the city. Mobsters, police and elected officials worked in tandem as everyone received their share of the proceeds.  Crusaders such as Thomas E. Dewey, Fiorello La Guardia and Lewis J. Valentine, the former Police Commissioner, are a few of the colorful figures who joined in the effort to restore prestige to the City of New York and in the process bringing and end to the careers of those such as the Schultz.  If you’re a fan of the old stories of the prohibition era gangsters, follow Sann as he steps back in time into the underworld full of characters such as Al Capone, Frankie Yale, Johnny Torrio, Salvatore Maranzano and the late Schultz.  The book is an engaging account of a pivotal moment in the criminal underworld of New York City.

ISBN-10: 098843010X
ISBN-13: 978-0988430105

Investigative Report