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Review: Gangster Warlords – Drug Dollars, Killing Fields and the New Politics of Latin America – by Ioan Grillo

gangster warlords

This is the second of Ioan Grillo’s books that I have read and I found this volume equally as good as my first encounter with this talented British journalist. Gangster Warlords focuses on 4 separate crime gangs across the Americas. For each group we identify leaders, politics, often brutal and horrendous crimes and a link to the out of control trade in Narcotics across Latin America and the Caribbean that gives rise to the conditions necessary for Gangster Warlords to thrive. The first part looks at the Comando Vermelho or Red Commando of Brazil, focussing on a biography of the ‘brain’ of the guerrilla / criminal gang, William da Silva Lima. From open bocas selling drugs on the streets of the Rio favelas, to political indoctrination in the fusion of leftwing political prisoners and armed robbers in Brasilian jails, this story is eyeopening and violently disturbing. The second part covers Jamaica’s Shower Posse with the rise and fall of its President, Christopher Michael Coke or ‘Dudus’. The impact one man’s crimes can have upon an entire political system that reaches deep into the depths of global cities with their yardie drug gangs highlights how uneasy a relationship is struck between warlords and governments. Third up we have coverage of the gangs of the Northern Triangle – Honduras and El Salvador with its imported from Los Angeles headlining crime group the Mara Salvatrucha. The brutal murder rate of these guys strikes fear into even the hardiest of Latin American gangs with the MS-13 being recruited by powerful Mexican cartels such as Sinaloa to do their dirty work. The global reaches of violent criminal empires is apparent. Lastly there is a focus on Nazario Moreno, El Chayo – El Más Looa – The Maddest One. and his Knights Templar. This NarcoSaint formed from the nucleus of the La Familia Michoacana a devoted following based around the medieval style religious teachings and devotion of the holy warrior monks of the Middle Ages. He faked his death at one stage until he was finally put into his grave by the fierce war with autodefensas who in vigilante justice were the only solution to his expansive Crystal Meth and Marijuana empire. The whole book encompasses many of the same themes. Recurrent violence, cocaine smuggling and distribution internationally, political unrest and inadequate government coping strategies. In his conclusions Grillo identifies possible solutions to the War on…

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Performing Trinidad in Butetown: Carnival, Community and Belonging – Dr Adeola Dewis – MLANG Guest Lecture 30.03.17

Dr Adeola Dewis is a Visual Artist and Researcher. Originally from Trinidad, Adeola completed PhD research at Cardiff University. Her current research is focussed on Trinidad Carnival performance and the translation of its self-empowering effects for art making and art presentation within the UK. This presentation engages her research into the Trinidad Carnival performance and its various crossings – including the crossing and translation of this performance in a Cardiff space. Having worked extensively with Trinidadian artists myself ( Tricia Lee Kelshall and Jointpop ) I am aware of  the critical importance of carnival to Trinidad. I always attend St Pauls Carnival in Bristol which is one of the biggest Afro-Caribbean events in the UK. I was keen to learn more about the Butetown Carnival and also felt that Adeola’s presentation would compliment my current focus on Haitian Kanaval in the ‘Imaging The Islands‘ Francophone Caribbean course that is part of my undergraduate Translation (BA) degree at Cardiff University. [Wez G]   Adeola began her talk by focussing on her native land. Trinidad has a world-renowned Carnival which is regarded highly as one of the best in the world. Her upbringing in this Carnival culture therefore places her as an ‘expert’. Trinidad was first colonised by the Spanish in 1498 yet it was the French planters that really brought Carnival to the island in 1783. The French never officially ruled Trinidad, although they were de-facto rulers, culturally and socially due to the large Francophone population there that governed the plantations and brought many of the enslaved Africans to work the cane-fields. There were Spanish laws and Trinidad was a Spanish colony for 300 years until handed over to Britain in 1797… Adeola brought forward the idea of a ‘collective individual body memory’, part of the essence of Carnival, and this dates back to the plantation culture. Performance undeniably has its roots in West Africa, and manifests in Carnival through Masquerade and Ritual. In Trinidad there was much difference between the different African languages, cultures and customs. This was added to the European values and cultural differences, later followed by the cultural input of Chinese and Indian indentured workers who migrated to the island, adding to the creolisation of Trinidadian culture. Mentioning some theoreticians of Theatre performance in the West Indies, Adeola spoke of how the Plantation, Maroons and Carnival were all inextricably linked. There is RECALL, RESISTANCE, REMAKING and RESTITUTION….

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Review: Kanaval – Vodou, Politics and Revolution on the Streets of Haïti – by Leah Gordon

Leah Gordon is a former punk artist from London. She is also a photographer and this book reflects upon her experiences of Kanaval on the streets of Jacmel in Haïti between 1995 and 2010. Haïti was the first black republic in the Western hemisphere, a black slave nation that overthrew the yolk of its French European masters. A core component of the revolution’s power was the African-inspired Vodou belief system and intertwined with politics the Kanaval (Creolisation of Carnival) traces its routes to the clandestine slave gatherings in the upland forests of the island. Gordon takes powerful black and white images of the key Kanaval characters and interviews these characters, capturing a series of oral histories from the poor local inhabitants who invest their energy effortlessly, creating characters, making costumes, designing props, organising dance routines and applying makeup, to create this pre-Lentern annual orgy of street theatre and fiesta. We meet the Lanse Kòd (The Rope Throwers), Jwif Eran (Wandering Jew), Papa Sida (Father of AIDS), Oungan (Vodou Priest), St Michel and also the Satanic Zel Maturin (The Wings of Maturin). These characters act out a fight of good versus evil, they challenge the audiences to raise small amounts of money and to reflect upon the political realities of Haïtian life. There is a series of critical essays throughout the book from key researchers of Haïti, that reflect upon the essence of Leah Gordon’s work. The book is enlightening and the images, that can be very disturbing, project an exoticism and spirituality that gives the reader a true taste of the Kanaval performers’ messages and allows the reader a glimpse of the post-colonial ‘Other’ that is the Caribbean.

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Review: Kanaval – Vodou, Politics and Revolution on the Streets of Haïti – by Leah Gordon

kanaval

Leah Gordon is a former punk artist from London. She is also a photographer and this book reflects upon her experiences of Kanaval on the streets of Jacmel in Haïti between 1995 and 2010. Haïti was the first black republic in the Western hemisphere, a black slave nation that overthrew the yolk of its French European masters. A core component of the revolution’s power was the African-inspired Vodou belief system and intertwined with politics the Kanaval (Creolisation of Carnival) traces its routes to the clandestine slave gatherings in the upland forests of the island. Gordon takes powerful black and white images of the key Kanaval characters and interviews these characters, capturing a series of oral histories from the poor local inhabitants who invest their energy effortlessly, creating characters, making costumes, designing props, organising dance routines and applying makeup, to create this pre-Lentern annual orgy of street theatre and fiesta. We meet the Lanse Kòd (The Rope Throwers), Jwif Eran (Wandering Jew), Papa Sida (Father of AIDS), Oungan (Vodou Priest), St Michel and also the Satanic Zel Maturin (The Wings of Maturin). These characters act out a fight of good versus evil, they challenge the audiences to raise small amounts of money and to reflect upon the political realities of Haïtian life. There is a series of critical essays throughout the book from key researchers of Haïti, that reflect upon the essence of Leah Gordon’s work. The book is enlightening and the images, that can be very disturbing, project an exoticism and spirituality that gives the reader a true taste of the Kanaval performers’ messages and allows the reader a glimpse of the post-colonial ‘Other’ that is the Caribbean.

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The Repeating Island – Representations of the Francophone Caribbean

With close reference to Benitez-Rojo’s notion of the ‘repeating island’, discuss how the Francophone Caribbean has been represented by writers, travellers and artists.   This essay shall focus on how various writers, travellers and artists have represented the Francophone Caribbean. The Islands of Martinique, Guadeloupe and Haiti shall serve as the focus as these are the locations in the Caribbean where a Francophone culture dominates. From the art of Agostino Brunias, to depictions of Haitian revolutionary hero, Toussaint Louverture. From Martinican poet, Aimé Césaire’s, Le Cahier du Retour au Pays Natale to how film director Euzhan Palcy depicts Plantation culture in Rue Case Nègres. Of course, Benitez-Rojo’s notion of the ‘repeating island’ shall never be far from our minds and in order to utilise his ideas to full effect it shall be essential to firstly summarise exactly what this Cuban author refers to in his conceptualisation of Caribbean culture. Antonio Benítez-Rojo sees in the Caribbean a meta-archipelago that is affected by elements of Chaos that repeat across the different islands, incorporating a polyrhythmic essence that reverberates across the multilingual cultures that comprise the Antilles. In the postmodern, post-colonialist environment, the remnants of slavery cannot be escaped in that Plantation culture remains embedded, a core component of cultural discourses, resistance and a division along racial lines, more so than in other geographical regions of the world which adapt more readily to the global environment as they haven’t the same inherent difficulties as having to constantly define history, the oft suppressed history of the Atlantic Slave Triangle, the undocumented creolization, an oral history of African traces or eradicated Carib races or of illiterate Maroon communities who struggled against their Béké masters. The repeating island is a polyrhythmic syncretic agglomeration of different cultures that unites Africa with Europe and Asia with the Americas. Agostino Brunias was a London-based Italian painter from Rome, whose travels to the West Indies have bequeathed us with a rich vein of material of a not only escapist, but also romantic nature. Agostino Brunias ‘The Linen Market Santo Domingo’, ca. 1775   Agostino Brunias ‘Mujer criolla y criadas’, Saint-Domingue (Haiti), painted between 1773-1796     Agostino Brunias ‘Dancing Scene in the West Indies’, 1764-1796  In the first of the three paintings Brunias depicts a market scene. There is a stark contrast in the painting between the use of black and white, with the women mainly wearing white clothes. The…

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Review: The Repeating Island – The Caribbean and the Postmodern Perspective – by Antonio Benítez-Rojo

the repeating island

The Cuban author offers a postmodern view of the Caribbean. It is a sociocultural study that encompasses aspects of history, economics, sociology, cultural anthropology, psychoanalysis, literary theory, and non-linear mathematics, incorporating chaos theory. The book’s aims and theories are laid out in a flowing introduction whereby Benítez-Rojo’s notion of the ‘repeating island’ is explored, through the lens of polyrhythms and meta-archipelagoes. Benítez-Rojo sees in all of the Caribbean a repetitive streaming of ideas, of resistance to slavery, of Plantation culture of postcolonialist discourse. The book focuses on a series of Caribbean authors and poets, from Gabriel García Márquez to the author’s poet of preference, the Cuban Guillén. Critical essays explore how a multitude of creative characters have interpreted their lives in the Antilles, and recurring themes of the cult of the Virgen de la Caridad del Cobre or of the sacrificed slave Mackandal, reverberate in the author’s dissections of West Indian culture. This book gives a valuable postmodernist insight into the supersyncretic culture that comprises the Caribbean.

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