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March 29, 2003
By Lisa Garrigues
It's been just a little more than a week now since the
US invaded Iraq. I, like other people around the
world who have the privilege of being able to watch
the war safely on their television screens, have been
glued to mine.
Unlike some of my censored friends in the States, here
in Argentina I'm getting Iraq news and images from all
over the world. CNN definitely gets the top award
for special effects with its gee -whiz embedded
journalists, razzmatazz showtime music, light shows
and other displays of technical virtuosity. At any
moment I expect Superman or Darth Vadar to come flying
onto the screen.
BBC wins hands down for its music--somber, and
dignified, like the Brits. And somehow ominous. This
is after all, a war. A BBC anchor speaks of: "Images
of strange and terrible beauty as the superpower
throws down the gauntlet." With this kind of prose,
one thinks of King Arthur, spiffed up and modernized
for 21st century audiences.
The French station, TV5, has this weird electronic
heavy breathing going on all the time, which I find a
bit annoying, and well, so damned French. But for
reports that are human and intelligent without veering
into sensationalism, they are by far the best. Real
Iraquis on camera saying a variety of things, not
just what the US wants them to say. Like: "We don't
like Saddam but we don't want the US to run our
country either." Like: "When I saw what was happening
in my country I decided to leave Jordan and go back to
Iraq and fight for my country. I'm willing to give up
my life if necessary."
Like: "We don't hate the American people, we hate the
US government. But if things continue like this, we
may end up hating the American people."
Yesterday there was another market bombing. CNN had a
few seconds of the backs of peoples heads holding
something that appeared to be a coffin, but could have
been a large crate of oranges. BBC ran more
extensive coverage..a few shots of actual wounded
people, and some of their relatives crying. French
tv, not surprisingly, went all out, showing extensive
clips of the Al Jazeera footage: real mothers and
fathers and brothers and sisters wailing in anguish.
Argentine television tends to be heavy handed and
sensationalist, dramatically showing the blood and
gore. The newspapers are not squeamish about running
photos of decapacitated bodies and babies with blood
running down their faces. But the first person
published reports in the Buenos Aires newspapers have
been excellent. These journalists are neither
"embedded" nor are most of them given the star
treatment and better hotels of their First World
Here's a sample from Clarin's correpondent Gustavo
Sierra, on the first day of the bombing:
"Never before have I felt that death and destruction
were so close to me. It was an experience as intense
as when my children were born or when I had to take my
wife to the hospital in an ambulance. Hell had broken
out in front of my eyes and I felt it in my body. It
shook me all over. My stomach was flattened to my
back. The only thing I was able to do was grab my
testicles. It was a primitive action but the only one
I could think of to counter the magnificence of the
explosions of fire and the pounding sounds that shot
through my body....
Jorge, the cameraman from Televisa, yelled at us to
get away from the window, that it was going to shatter
any minute..."
In another article, Sierra reports on the spontaneous
abortions and stillbirths being caused by the terror
provoked in women by the bombing. The number of
children who are born dead has increased 100 percent
in the last week, he says.
What must it feel like, I wonder, to carry life
into this world of bloodied children, frantic crowds
clamoring for boxes of food, wailing mothers,
decapacitated bodies? Yes, I think, my womb would
probably also rebel at the thought of bringing a child
into such horror.
No matter how we try to digest the news, making it
dramatic and entertaining, or filling it up with
talking heads who seem to know what they're doing, the
body reacts.
The day the war started, an angry red blood blister
appeared on the the third finger of my hand, the
wedding ring finger.
I am wedded to this war, I thought. Like millions of
other people around the world. Whatever our reaction,
whether we choose to march, send emails, watch tv, we
can't ignore it. It is "our war."
In Argentina, like in many other places in the Third
World, many people feel as if they are being bombed
every time a bomb falls in Iraq. For them, these
bombs are not new bombs....they are the same old bombs
that the US has been dropping for years now.
Call the bombs CIA , IMF, trade sanctions, or
"military assistance" to corrupt governments, they are
nothing new.
Regime change? Latin America has seen it all before.
Democratically elected governments in Chile, Nicaragua
and Guatemala that the U.S. replaced with dictators
who torture, repress and censor their people. Few
people here are buying the idea of Uncle Sam as Great
It is not surprising that nine out of ten Argentines
oppose the war in Iraq. Nor is it surprising that only
three Latin American countries signed up to be on the
list of coalition "supporters" that the US was waving
around a few weeks ago. Nor is it surprising that
there have been massive demonstrations every few days,
complete with the usual burning of the stars and
stripes, or that one of them recently ended up as a
tear-gassing, water-hosing, rock throwing melee.
What most people feel here is fear, rage and
vulnerability. There are already Marines in Argentina
doing joint training exercizes with the Argentine
government. There are American led multinationals
buying up land and resources in Patagonia. " After
they've finished with the oil in Iraq, they'll come
for our water," said one caller on the radio recently.
We're not talking Marxists revolutionaries here. We're
talking average, middle class people.
Like the rest of the world, anti-American sentiment
here is on the rise. A young Swedish friend of mine
was mistaken for a Yankee at a recent demonstration by
an Argentine guy in his fifties who kept pointing to
him and shouting to the crowd, "Here's a yankee,
here's a yankee!" The Swedish guy insisted that he
wasn't, and the Argentine guy insisted that he was, as
if "Yankee" was now the ultimate insult. Most of the
marching crowd ignored them both.
Another friend of mine watched an Argentine at a
streetfair shouting at an American tourist: "Who the
hell do you think you are, coming here? You think
you can just go wherever you want! Why don't you go
back where you came from?"
I haven't personally experienced any of this. But
after I found myself at one demonstration in the
middle of a crowd shouting about how happy they were
that the yankee sons of bitches were all going to die,
I stopped going to demonstrations. Not because I felt
personally endangered...some of this crowd even came
up to me and assured me, "Of course we don't mean
you"... but because celebrating death at a
demonstration for peace is not something I want to do,
and besides, it is hardly ever the sons of bitches
who die in a war, it is usually everybody else.
But this gives you an idea of the level of
anti-American hate that has been sparked all over the
world by our government's latest endeavor.
Thank you, Mr. Bush.
On the day the bombing started, I found myself inside
a Middle Eastern Restaurant. It's a small
neighborhood place, a place I had been to before,
usually with groups of Argentines from the
neighborhood assembly. I haven't had MIddle Eastern
food since I left San Francisco, so I decided to order
the Middle Eastern plate, with grape leaves, humuus,
the works.
I was doing all this instinctively, I was hungry, I
wasn't thinking at all about the fact that I was
perhaps the only Yankee in this neighborhood and this
was perhaps the only Middle Eastern restaurant or
that the govt. of my country had, just today, begun
dropping bombs on people who might be related to the
owner of this restaurant who was sitting at her table
in front of me watching the war on television.
When it dawned on me what I had done, I felt
supremely awkward. The waitress brought my humous and
grape leaves. I smiled a frozen smile at her. I ate
my humous and grape leaves. I stared at the war on
television. The owner of the restaurant stared at the
war on television. Bombs fell.
Best not to say anything, I thought. She'll notice
my accent and then, who knows, maybe the
cook will poison me or something. He's probably a
member of Al Quedah.
I ate my humous and grape leaves. I got pissed off at
my own paranoia. You've already go enough paranoia
going, I thought, what with the FBI paying regular
visits to your website and the Argentine police
visiting the neighborhood assemblies and Argentine
banks stealing your money and your friends back home
putting duct tape on their windows in the middle of
multi-colored alerts. Don't take it out on this poor
"Where are you from?" I asked her.
"I was born here," she said. "But my relatives are in
" What are they saying to you?"
"They're scared," she said "They're angry at the
Americans. "
The woman herself looked angry and scared.
" It's just terrible, isn't it," she said, drawing me
in conspiratorially. "Those Americans. They're in
Patagonia, stealing our land. They're everywhere. "
"Yes, I said, "they're everywhere."
I finished my dinner. "Goodbye dearie," she said.
"Thank you," I said.
The only good thing about this war for Argentina is
that it has allowed people, momentarily, to shift
their attention from the war going on in Argentina.
For once, the pictures of hungry children and crowds
clamoring for food are not Argentine children, they
are not Argentine crowds. The people shouting in the
street are Iraqui citizens, not unemployed piqueteros
or angry middle class residents protesting the latest
IMF inspired utility rate hikes. . The men with guns
and uniforms hauling people out of buildings are
not the local police busting up a squatted building
or factory, they are soldiers halfway across the
world. One woman admitted to me that it was a relief
not to have to watch all the problems in Argentina for
a change.
We were all pleasantly surprised to see that the
usually pretty mediocre President Dualde had the balls
to stand up to Dubya and state his opposition to the
war. But that was last week. This week he has caved
into the US government's request to be silent about
his opposition, and the US has apparantly also asked
him to work on helping them to silence some of those
other Latin American dissident presidents, like Lula.
There is after all, that huge debt to the IMF to
The upcoming elections here are being greeted by
derisive neighborhood streetfairs filled with people
who seem more interested in mocking the politicians
than in voting for them. Meanwhile, Carlos Menem,
the same guy who sold off most of Argentina's assets
in the 90's to the multinationals, is climbing higher
and higher in the polls.
Somebody from the First World should come here and
show these Argentines how a real democracy works, they
just don't seem to get it. Maybe George Bush, who
seems to have done so well enhancing democratic
freedoms in his own country that he now wants to
export his improvements, like a chain of MacDonalds,
to other countries all over the world ("Come on boys,
we'll just bomb them into democracy!") Or Mssrs.
Blair and Aznar, who are doggedly following Mr. Bush
into war apparantly without caring that they have left
behind a majority of their democratically elected
constituencies. (" Oh them? They're just voters, they
don't matter much."
A year and a half ago, thousands of Argentines
spilled out onto the streets to protest a government
that wanted to impose a military state of siege. Then
four, count em, four presidents tumbled right after
the next, and the fifth one stayed, sort of. But it
was afterwards that something new really began to
happen. People began having meetings on the streets.
Members of the middle class stopped looking at the
unemployed and the homeless as enemies. People began
talking about alternative economics, alternative
political systems. New social networks began to
spread. People began calling each other "neighbor."
In the past several weeks, millions of people have
spilled out onto the streets, worldwide, pushed there
by their own bodies, by their reaction to this war,
our war.
All of them are protesting a government that appears
to have decided it has the right to impose its own
military might on anyone that won't do what it tells
them to. Some of them are challenging not just this
government, this particular empire, but the entire
paradigm that says that problems must always be solved
by war and power.
Maybe, with this many people all over the world,
speaking with their bodies in the street, something
new will begin to happen.
And babies inside the wombs of women will choose life

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