The Shining Path, Turkmenistan and Tuareg Rebels via Townes Van Zandt

Soundtrack for this post: ‘Pancho & Lefty’, ‘I’ll Be Here in the Morning’ and ‘Brand New Companion’ by Townes Van Zandt.

I’m going country for this week’s good, bad, ugly post to make up for bagging the genre (or a subsection of it) a bit in my last post.

Townes Van Zandt was a master singer-songwriter, active from the mid sixties until his death in 1997 at the age of 52.  He was not an innovator, but rather a master craftsman who took country and folk music to brilliant heights (aesthetically) and depths (in terms of heart achingly depressing content).

During the 1980s, radical Communist group Shining Path was a force to be reckoned with.  Its war with the Peruvian state resulted in around 70,000 deaths.  Inspired by Maoism, the Shining Path hoped to instigate a cultural revolution in Peru, eventually leading to a perfect Communist state.  At the height of its powers it controlled many parts of rural Peru.

Things calmed down after leader – and former philosophy lecturer – Abimael Guzman was captured in 1992.  In the mid 1990s many cadres surrendered, and although it continued to launch sporadic attacks in the 2000s, Shining Path is no longer the existential threat to the Peruvian state it once was.  Remaining Shining Path members are said to have more or less quit ideology for the more lucrative coca trade.

Made famous by Willie Nelson, ‘Pancho & Lefty‘ is a beautiful lament for two washed-up rebel bandits.  Pancho’s dead, and Lefty (who happens to have the right political persuasion) is scraping by in a cheap hotel in Cleveland, Ohio.  The Federales say they could “have him any day.”

There was a further nail in the Shining Path coffin this week with news of the arrest of Jose Eleuterio Flores Hala (alias Comrade Artemio) on Sunday.  Artemio reportedly said last year that the Shining Path had been defeated and wanted to negotiate laying down arms in exchange for prisoner releases.

Incumbent Kurbanguly Berdymukhamedov was re-elected to Turkmenistan’s Presidency on Sunday with an unbelievable (literally) 97 per cent of the vote.  Voter turnout was reported to be just below 99 per cent in the gas-rich former Soviet state.  Berdymukhamedov has steadily been building his own personality cult in the five years he has been in power (in the vein of his predecessor Saparmurat Niyazov).

Van Zandt’s ‘I’ll Be Here in the Morning‘ is a promise (in time broken) from the troubadour to his lover that he’ll choose her over the road.  The chorus in isolation could be given a more sinister interpretation.  Picture a dictator, crooning a lullaby:

Close your eyes, I’ll be here in the morning

Close your eyes, I’ll be here for awhile

Berdymukhamedov’s seven opponents frequently praised him during their campaigns, suggesting their hearts may not have been totally in it.  Turkmenistan is a one party state, so all eight candidates were from the brilliantly named Democratic Party of Turkmenistan.

The point of carrying out such a manifestly bogus display of democracy is not clear.  It has been suggested it may be to give western countries something to point to to justify their doing business with the country.  Central Asia expert Joshua Foust points out that by furnishing journalists with easy copy in the form of outlandish landslide victories and wacky personality cults, Turkmenistan manages to distract the world from the very serious, and very dry abuses, it inflicts on its people.


One of the ways Muammar Qaddafi secured his position for so long was to lend moral and material support to a number of African insurgent movements.  Indebted rebel armies would then lend reciprocal mercenary support to their northern patron (to drastically simplify these complicated relationships).  Now that Qaddafi’s gone, those fighters are streaming back to their origins, along with his weapons.

Nowhere has this been more visible than in Mali.  Over the last few weeks Mali’s arid north has seen the return of hundreds of Tuareg rebels.  The Tuareg rebels’ stated goal is secessionist.  They seek to create a new state called Azawad.  The rebels, armed like they never have been before with heavy weapons such as anti-tank and anti-aircraft arms, have caught the Malian army off guard.

The lyrics of ‘Brand New Companion‘ jar, sort of, with its style, which is blues.  The narrator has found a new woman, so why the blues?  It seems any joy is tempered by regret and/or pessimism: he swears he’ll “do right this time”.

His way of describing his new companion is also unusual.  Focusing as it does on unromantic physical detail, it leads the audience to question the sentience of the object of his affection.  He could be talking about a car, a fishing rod.  He could be talking about a gun.

She fits just like my guitar

Man she’s near as tall as me

She got arms just like two rattle snakes

Legs just like a willow in a breeze

I’m gonna track her with my body

And I wanna trace her with my mind

Back in Mali, so far there have been dozens of casualties on both sides and at least 55,000 people have been forced to flee their homes, many crossing into neighbours Burkina Faso, Niger and Mauritania.  Violent demonstrations, protesting the inefficacy of the government’s response, have broken out in the country’s south.

To compound matters, northern Mali is part of the greater Sahel region (between the Sahara and Sudanian Savannas) which is facing the immediate prospect of a severe food shortage due mainly to drought.

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  1. Thkans for taking the time to post. It’s lifted the level of debate

  1. Fortnightly(ish) Review: Hip-hop in Mali, Nepal, Springsteen and Uzbek Elite Pop « World Politics Blues

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