Left Abroad #2: Getting Out and Coming Home with Alex Ugarte

This episode was a special one because it was actually Alex who inspired me to get a microphone and try podcasting after we met in Nicaragua around three years ago. We talked about his own podcast and film projects in Central America, returning back home to Australia, and what he’s planning during these strange times.

Eventually, I’ll get a proper intro and outro to these.

Thanks for listening.

Links

Second Lockdown for Lugo’s A Mariña

Spain had one of the strictest lockdowns in the world to combat against the coronavirus. After the worst of it had passed, the government instituted a deescalation period of various phases. It seemed hasty, but for a country that never really recovered from the 2008 financial crisis and depends on summer tourism, it was clear regions were looking to return to normal, even if we qualified with it the adjective ‘new’. Now it’s back.

Public health officials from the Xunta of Galicia have closed the coastal region of A Mariña in Lugo, at least until Friday. More than 100 people have tested positive in only a few days

Within the containment zone, people are still free to move around without extraordinary restrictions, but without a good cause, no one enters or leaves A Mariña. Around 70,000 people live in the 14 concellos, municipalities there with undoubtedly many more vacationing for summer.

We knew a second wave would come sooner or later. I haven’t read anything about patient zero for this outbreak. We knew the first in March came from Madrid, which isn’t surprising. Talking with friends and acquaintances here, some of us had wished for summer of Spanish residents remaining in there autonomous communities. These regions are big enough to allow city-dwellers to escape to the countryside (sorry to La Rioja, and the North African enclaves), promote local tourism closer to home, and reduce the points of contact and potential travel of the virus.

This would have angered a lot of people, definitely some of the 80,000 madrigallegos who live and work in the capital, and eagerly await the summer months when they can relax at their beach house or return to their home villages. Not to mention the sons and daughters Galician emigrants who left for Basqueland and Catalonia while they were rapidly industrializing and Galicia was still practically a pre-capitalist society.

But as the husband of a family friend said, “It’s one summer.” We’ll see what the rest of the months brings.

Phase 3 to la Nueva Normalidad in Galicia

The Xunta of Galicia, the autonomous community government, will allow inter-provincial travel as the region enters phrase 3 of the deescalation/transition starting Monday (along with 46% of the Spanish population in other communities). Phase 3 will be directed by the autonomous governments rather than the national government of Sanchez, and they will decide when they are ready to transition out of phase 3 to the “new normal”.

Galicia has long petitioned for inter-provincial travel during these phases. I’ve seen some interesting stories about people living next to provincial borders not being able to easily get groceries, as the market is in the other province. In fact O Bloque Nacionalista Galega, the left-wing Galician nationalist party that holds one seat in the Congress of Deputies, has abstained from Sanchez’s state of alarm renewals due to this unrequited request.

Galicia with a population of 2.7 million, currently has a total of 11,172 COVID-19 cases with 609 fatalities. The cases per million is 4,138 and the fatalities per million is 226. Of the 17 autonomous communities and the 2 autonomous Moroccan enclave cities, Galicia falls about in the middle of severity in cases and deaths.

Personally, this means we can cross the río Sil and explore Terra de Lemos, the heart of the Ribeira Sacra, in a few weeks on a first road real van trip of the year. The van life is excellent for maintaining social distance I might add. After that, we plan to head back to Rías Baixas on the coast for a few days of beach before all the madrileños are able to make their post-coronavirus summer holiday exodus from the capital.

While I still love our village and the adjacent town, I’m ready to move around responsibly, hike, take photos of something other than the monte, enjoy the spring and summer weather, and take advantage of all that Galicia has to offer.

An American State Organized on Fascist Principles

Fascism is capitalism in decay.
Maybe Lenin but probably R. Palme Dutt

There is in our future a TV or Internet populism, in which the emotional response of a selected group of citizens can be presented and accepted as the Voice of the People
Umberto Eco

The past week has laid bare all of America’s growing contradictions. The contradictions of mythical American exceptionalism, late-stage gig economy services capitalism with 40 million unemployed, a pandemic that disproportionately affects people of color with little-to-no federal response, an incoming climate crisis already visible but ignored, consolidated financial capital for the 1% while growing misery affects all of the working class. It is a country that cannot, or will not, provide a social safety net to working people nor appropriate equipment to medical personnel during a pandemic, yet will happily mobilize a militarized police to crush any legal right to voice discontent with widespread violence and impunity. Ironically, it will designate anti-fascism as a terrorist ideology.

While both conservative and liberal media hyperventilate about looting, no one has bothered questioning the heavy-handed actions of the police apparatus as perhaps initiating a response by people looting. In fact, many articles coming out in the Spanish press are praising police taking a knee with protestors. Which is absurd, because thirty minutes after these photo ops, they start tear-gassing again.

Adam Weinstein for The New Republic:

It is time to embrace the parallels, to be unafraid to speak a clear truth: Whether by design or lack of it, Donald Trump and the Republican Party operate an American state that they have increasingly organized on fascist principles. It is also time to consider what else the fascists may yet do, during an unprecedented pandemic, amid unprecedented unemployment, faced with unprecedented resistance ahead of an unprecedented election. The Republican Party wants to make “antifascist” a category of terrorist; whether or not it actually uses active-duty soldiers to round up this new class of undesirables in the “national emergency,” it has at its disposal every police officer who flies a Punisher or Blue Lives Matter flag above the U.S. flag, every armed vigilante and Oathkeeper and Proud Boy who craves the boogaloo.

America is in a deep crisis, and it has little to do with some people looting some stores. Far from the cries of police reform of more body cams, the people on the streets understand that any posturing by politicians with these ideas are totally insufficient. We have past that long ago. We are seeing this level of uprising precisely because the authorities have ignored this for decades.

We have no opposition party left in the Democratic Party, with its means-tested focus-grouped solutions. And the Republican Party has been wholly capture by Trump and his brand of vacuous machismo. These contradictions necessitate systemic change, and it starts with overthrowing capitalism. Vote for whoever you want in November, but regardless of who ascends to the highest office in the land, our crises go beyond the ballot box. Our decaying empire and its sprawling military will still be there if Joe Biden is president. We will still be left with structural racism and a trigger-happy, violent police force that believes themselves to be an occupying force in American cities, because they live in the suburbs. We will still have concentrated capital for a small group of oligarchs that offer shitty jobs with no medical or social protections. It is time to start understanding that reality and act accordingly.

Warmer and Freer

I can once finally go outside in the morning with shorts and sandals. The weather is still a little cool, but it’s a pleasant change from always being bundled up for most of the winter, even inside our house.

A few weeks ago, I woke up to a smoke-filled house and a malfunctioning pellet heater. That scared us enough to not turn it on again until someone came to look at it the other day. We think there was a small gap in the pipe leading out of the ceiling and the ashes. Unclear if he solved the problem, but luckily we’re getting to the season where we don’t need it.

On Monday, all four of Galicia’s provinces will be promoted to phase 1 of the deescalation plan. Notably, Madrid will stay in phase 0. But here, we’ll be able to:

  • gather in groups of up to ten people while maintaining social distancing. Luckily we have about four friends here plus their kids!
  • drive in the van together. For the whole quarantine, we have separately driven down to town to buy groceries or to the post office and back up. We’ve saved quite a bit on gas.
  • sit at a terrace restaurant of 50% of its normal occupancy. We’re both not desperate to do this, as we rarely ate out before the pandemic.
  • visit the countryside and beaches in limited groups within the same province. The last few weeks with the warming weather, I’ve daydreamed of taking the van out and camping in the middle of nowhere once again. It’s been so long.
  • use the gym, but not the changing rooms and by appointment. I finally developed a good routine of going to the gym before the virus came and I hope to be back soon, but I’ll be waiting much longer until things are calmer.

I expected to be in quarantine for much longer, but it seems we’ll make it out of this first wave and finish our different phases by late June. Other than possibly seeing a few friends from a distance here and my in-laws at the coast in July, I’ll be maintaining my social distant vigilance for quite awhile.