Uzbekistan, Mexico and the Sudans via The Damned

Soundtrack for this post: ‘Democracy’, ‘I Just Can’t be Happy Today, ‘Neat Neat Neat‘ and ‘Smash It Up (Parts 1 & 2)‘ by The Damned.

Inspired by Indonesia, I’m sticking with punk for this week’s wrap up of the good, the bad and the ugly in world politics.

Pioneering goth-punk band The Damned are generally not considered all that political compared to their peers, particularly The Clash.  That’s not because there isn’t politics in there, The Damned just don’t wear their politics on their sleeves quite like Strummer & co did.  As I alluded to in the preceding post, punk’s political message is in its mode anyway.  Content can be complimentary, or not, but either way it’s secondary.  With punk, style is substance.

The Damned do in fact do political content quite often as well.  The most overt example is ‘Democracy?‘ off 2001’s Grave Disorder.  But this is an older, disillusioned punk’s political statement: “revolution changes nothing, and voting changes even less”.

In good news for Uzbekistan’s authoritarian leadership, the United States announced this week that it is waiving military assistance sanctions, in place since 2003.  The waiver is partial and temporary: only non-lethal equipment can be provided, and only until September 2013 (the deadline is extendable).

The ban was in place due to the dire human rights record of President Islam Karimov’s regime.  Karimov has been in power since the country gained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991.  He is a straight-up dictator who violently quashes any potential sources of opposition and controls every aspect of Uzbek life, as in the Orwellian ‘I Just Can’t be Happy Today‘ (from 1979’s Machine Gun Etiquette):

A lot of you know there’s nowhere to smile
There’s no feeling fine without being fined
It’s a price on your head
No point being sad when justice is red

The waiver however has nothing to do with the human rights situation in Uzbekistan, which if anything slightly worsened in 2011 in reaction to the Arab Spring.  According to Human Rights Watch’s 2012 World Report,  torture in the criminal justice system is “endemic”, opposition figures and journalists are routinely targeted by authorities, the state sanctions child labour and even religious worship is strictly controlled by the state (Karimov is an avowed secularist).

The waiver instead reflects the importance of Uzbekistan geographically for US and NATO supply lines into Afghanistan.  The Uzbek route is the only land alternative to the Pakistani route, closed since NATO helicopter attacks killed 24 Pakistani soldiers on their own soil last November.  The move is likely also motivated by this week’s announcement that the US plans to withdraw troops from combat roles in Afghanistan by mid 2013.

There’s plenty of violence and anarchy in The Damned’s songs.  The first song off their first album ‘Neat Neat Neat‘ is dripping in the stuff.  Kind of like bad ol’ Mexico.  Apart from the violence in the music itself, lead singer Dave Vanian sings of cannons, guns, a lack of crime “if there ain’t no law” and “no cops left to mess you around”.

Mexico’s violence speaks for itself: the border town of Juarez has one of the highest murder rates in the world, violence has now spread throughout the country, including to formerly immune areas, and it seems barely a week goes by without another headline about a grizzly mass murder.

Mexico is also arguably a study in anarchy.  Anarchy can be taken to mean a society without a government or, more broadly, without authority.  There is authority in Mexico, but it doesn’t come from the elected government.  Every human manifestation of the state has felt the wrath of the drug lords who really control Mexico since President Felipe Calderon declared a war on drugs in December 2006.  A particularly striking instance of Mexican anarchy, or the state’s inability to fulfill state-like functions, is the fact that the state is now attempting to protect (by hiding in hotels) those whose very vocation is themselves to protect: the police.

Things are tenser than ever between South Sudan and Sudan.  Of course no one ever expected that carving out a new country after a civil war that cost around 2 million lives would be without its complications.  Straight after South Sudan’s birth last July there were disputes over border demarcation, particularly the contested region of Abyei.  Ethnic clashes in border states of Jonglei, Blue Nile and South Kordofan have been worsening.

Now arguably the most flammable issue of all has reared its ugly head: oil.  The majority of former Sudan’s oil lies within South Sudan.  The new, land-locked country can’t export the oil on its own and existing pipelines go through Sudan.  To use these pipelines South Sudan pays its northern neighbour fees which in some way compensate that country for its lost oil revenues.

The two sides disagree about what is an appropriate amount for those fees.  As a result the north has allegedly been skimming oil to make up for what it considers to be unpaid dues.  The south calls that oil stolen and has retaliated by halting all pumping; a drastic measure by any standard, downright reckless for a country who relies on the black stuff for 98 percent of its income.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon is worried the current stand-off could lead the Sudans back to war.  South Sudan says it won’t recommence pumping until its oil is returned and all other outstanding issues between the two countries are resolved.  ‘Smash It Up (Parts 1 & 2)‘ is the ultimate “fuck you all, let it all go to pieces” statement and so, I think, an appropriate adjunct to South Sudan’s approach to negotiation.  It’s also one of the best rock’n’roll songs ever written.

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