Leitura para o fim-de-semana: “Isto são más notícias”

Em meados de Outubro de 1963, o presidente dos EUA John F. Kennedy tinha enviado a Cuba, em segredo, o jornalista Jean Daniel. O objectivo era estabelecer um canal de diálogo com Fidel Castro. Ao fim de algumas semanas, o repórter acabou por ser recebido. E estava com El Comandante quando chegaram as notícias: Kennedy tinha morrido. Este artigo foi publicado pela primeira vez a 7 de Dezembro de 1963 e foi agora recordado no 100º aniversário da The New Republic.

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It was around 1:30 in the afternoon, Cuban time. We were having lunch in the living room of the modest summer residence which Fidel Castro owns on magnificent Varadero Beach, 120 kilometers from Havana. For at least the tenth time, I was questioning the Cuban leader on details of the negotiations with Russia before the missile installations last year. The telephone rang, a secretary in guerrilla garb announced that Mr. Dorticós, President of the Cuban Republic, had an urgent communication for the Prime Minister. Fidel picked up the phone and I heard him say: “Como? Un atentado?” (“What’s that? An attempted assassination?”) He then turned to us to say that Kennedy had just been struck down in Dallas. Then he went back to the telephone and exclaimed in a loud voice “Herido? Muy gravemente?” (“Wounded? Very seriously?”)

He came back, sat down, and repeated three times the words: “Es una mala noticia.” (“This is bad news.”) He remained silent for a moment, awaiting another call with further news. He remarked while we waited that there was an alarmingly sizable lunatic fringe in American society and that this deed could equally well have been the work of a madman or of a terrorist. Perhaps a Vietnamese? Or a member of the Ku Klux Klan? The second call came through: it was hoped they would be able to announce that the United States President was still alive, that there was hope of saving him. Fidel Castro’s immediate reaction was: “If they can, he is already re-elected.” He pronounced these words with satisfaction.

This sentence was a sequel to a conversation we had held on a previous evening and which had turned into an all-night session. To be precise, it lasted from 10 in the evening until 4 in the morning. A good part of the talk revolved about the impressions I recounted to him of an interview which President Kennedy granted me this last October 24, and about Fidel Castro’s reactions to these impressions. During this nocturnal discussion, Castro had delivered himself of a relentless indictment of U.S. policy, adding that in the recent past Washington had had ample opportunity to normalize its relations with Cuba, but that instead it had tolerated a CIA program of training, equipping and organizing a counter-revolution. He had told me that he wasn’t in the least fearful of his life, since danger was his natural milieu, and if he were to become a victim of the United States this would simply enhance his radius of influence in Latin America as well as throughout the socialist world. He was speaking, he said, from the viewpoint of the interests of peace in both the American continents. To achieve this goal, a leader would have to arise in the United States capable of understanding the explosive realities of Latin America and of meeting them halfway. Then, suddenly, he had taken a less hostile tack: “Kennedy could still be this man. He still has the possibility of becoming, in the eyes of history, the greatest President of the United States, the leader who may at last understand that there can be coexistence between capitalists and socialists, even in the Americas. He would then be an even greater President than Lincoln. I know, for example, that for Khrushchev, Kennedy is a man you can talk with. I have gotten this impression from all my conversations with Khrushchev. Other leaders have assured me that to attain this goal, we must first await his re-election. Personally, I consider him responsible for everything, but I will say this: he has come to understand many things over the past few months; and then too, in the last analysis, I’m convinced that anyone else would be worse.” Then Fidel had added with a broad and boyish grin: “If you see him again, you can tell him that I’m willing to declare Goldwater my friend if that will guarantee Kennedy’s re-election!”

This conversation was held on November 19.

Now it was nearly 2 o’clock and we got up from the table and settled ourselves in front of a radio. Commandant Vallero, his physician, aide-de-camp, and intimate friend, was easily able to get the broadcasts from the NBC network in Miami. As the news came in, Vallero would translate it for Fidel: Kennedy wounded in the head; pursuit of the assassin; murder of a policeman; finally the fatal announcement: President Kennedy is dead. Then Fidel stood up and said to me: “Everything is changed. Everything is going to change. The United States occupies such a position in world affairs that the death of a President of that country affects millions of people in every corner of the globe. The cold war, relations with Russia, Latin America, Cuba, the Negro question… all will have to be rethought. I’ll tell you one thing: at least Kennedy was an enemy to whom we had become accustomed. This is a serious matter, an extremely serious matter.”

After the quarter-hour of silence observed by all the American radio stations, we once more tuned in on Miami; the silence had only been broken by a re-broadcasting of the American national anthem. Strange indeed was the impression made, on hearing this hymn ring out in the house of Fidel Castro, in the midst of a circle of worried faces. “Now,” Fidel said, “they will have to find the assassin quickly, but very quickly, otherwise, you watch and see, I know them, they will try to put the blame on us for this thing. But tell me, how many Presidents have been assassinated? Four? This is most disturbing! In Cuba, only one has been assassinated. You know, when we were hiding out in the Sierra there were some (not in my group, in another) who wanted to kill Batista. They thought they could do away with a regime by decapitating it. I have always been violently opposed to such methods. First of all from the viewpoint of political self-interest, because so far as Cuba is concerned, if Batista had been killed he would have been replaced by some military figure who would have tried to make the revolutionists pay for the martyrdom of the dictator. But I was also opposed to it on personal grounds; assassination is repellent to me.”

The broadcasts were now resumed. One reporter felt he should mention the difficulty Mrs. Kennedy was having in getting rid of her bloodstained stockings. Fidel exploded: “What sort of a mind is this!” He repeated the remark several times: “What sort of a mind is this? There is a difference in our civilizations after all. Are you like this in Europe? For us Latin Americans, death is a sacred matter; not only does it mark the close of hostilities, but it also imposes decency, dignity, respect. There are even street urchins who behave like kings in the face of death. Incidentally, this reminds me of something else: if you write all those things I told you yesterday against Kennedy’s policy, don’t use his name now; speak instead of the policy of the United States government.”

Toward 5 o’clock, Fidel Castro declared that since there was nothing we could do to alter the tragedy, we must try to put our time to good use in spite of it. He wanted to accompany me in person on a visit to a granja de pueblo (state farm), where he had been engaging in some experiments. His present obsession is agriculture. He reads nothing but agronomical studies and reports. He dwells lyrically on the soil, fertilizers, and the possibilities which will give Cuba enough sugar cane by 1970 to achieve economic independence.”

Anúncios

Leitura para o fim-de-semana:

Em 1998 a revista The New Republic quase foi ferida de morte: descobriu-se que um dos seus principais jornalistas – aquele que trazia as melhores e mais incríveis histórias – tinha inventado grande parte dos seus exclusivos. Foi um golpe duro na reputação da revista, mas também uma traição de Stephen Glass aos seus camaradas. Agora, 16 anos depois, uma das suas melhores amigas na época falou com ele pela primeira vez.

Foto:  Ian Allen

Foto: Ian Allen

Hello, My Name Is Stephen Glass, and I’m Sorry

He nearly destroyed this magazine. Sixteen years later, his former best friend finally confronts him.

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The last time I talked to Stephen Glass, he was pleading with me on the phone to protect him from Charles Lane. Chuck, as we called him, was the editor of The New Republic and Steve was my colleague and very good friend, maybe something like a little brother, though we are only two years apart in age. Steve had a way of inspiring loyalty, not jealousy, in his fellow young writers, which was remarkable given how spectacularly successful he’d been in such a short time. While the rest of us were still scratching our way out of the intern pit, he was becoming a franchise, turning out bizarre and amazing stories week after week for The New Republic, Harper’s, and Rolling Stoneeach one a home run.

I didn’t know when he called me that he’d made up nearly all of the bizarre and amazing stories, that he was the perpetrator of probably the most elaborate fraud in journalistic history, that he would soon become famous on a whole new scale. I didn’t even know he had a dark side. It was the spring of 1998 and he was still just my hapless friend Steve, who padded into my office ten times a day in white socks and was more interested in alphabetizing beer than drinking it. When he called, I was in New York and I said I would come back to D.C. right away. I probably said something about Chuck like: “Fuck him. He can’t fire you. He can’t possibly think you woulddo that.”

I was wrong, and Chuck, ever-resistant to Steve’s charms, was as right as he’d been in his life. The story was front-page news all over the world. The staff (me included) spent several weeks re-reporting all of Steve’s articles. It turned out that Steve had been making up characters, scenes, events, whole stories from first word to last. He made up some funny stuffa convention of Monica Lewinsky memorabiliaand also some really awful stuff: racist cab drivers, sexist Republicans, desperate poor people calling in to a psychic hotline, career-damaging quotes about politicians. In fact, we eventually figured out that very few of his stories were completely true. Not only that, but he went to extreme lengths to hide his fabrications, filling notebooks with fake interview notes and creating fake business cards and fake voicemails. (Remember, this was before most people used Google. Plus, Steve had been the head of The New Republic’s fact-checking department.)

Once we knew what he’d done, I tried to call Steve, but he never called back. He just went missing, like the kids on the milk cartons. It was weird. People often ask me if I felt “betrayed,” but really I was deeply unsettled, like I’d woken up in the wrong room. I wondered whether Steve had lied to me about personal things, too. I wondered how, even after he’d been caught, he could bring himself to recruit me to defend him, knowing I’d be risking my job to do so. I wondered how I could spend more time with a person during the week than I spent with my husband and not suspect a thing. (And I didn’t. It came as a total surprise). And I wondered what else I didn’t know about people. Could my brother be a drug addict? Did my best friend actually hate me? Jon Chait, now a political writer for New York and back then the smart young wonk in our trio, was in Paris when the scandal broke. Overnight, Steve went from “being one of my best friends to someone I read about in The International Herald Tribune,” Chait recalled. The transition was so abrupt that, for months, Jon dreamed that he’d run into him or that Steve wanted to talk to him.

Then, after a while, the dreams stopped. The Monica Lewinsky scandal petered out, George W. Bush became president, we all got cell phones, laptops, spouses, children. Over the years, Steve Glass got mixed up in our minds with the fictionalized Stephen Glass from his own 2003 roman à clef,The Fabulist, or Steve Glass as played by Hayden Christensen in the 2003 movie Shattered Glass. It was the book that finally provoked my anger. The plot follows a thinly fictionalized Steve in the aftermath of the affair. It portrays him as humble, contrite, and “a few shades hipper than the original,” I wrote in a review for Slate. The rest of us came off as shallow jerks barely worth apologizing to. Steve sent about 100 handwritten letters of apology that year to people he’d injured, all several pages long and very abject: “I’m genuinely sorry that I lied to you and betrayed you.” But he was also hawking his book, so we saw the letters as an effort to neutralize us. Reading the novel pretty much killed off my curiosity. For years afterward, if I thought about Steve at allusually when I got an e-mail from a journalism student who had seen the movie in an ethics classhe was the notorious Stephen Glass, still living in the Clinton era.

Then, in 2010, I got a call from a lawyer in California. Steve had filed an application for something called “moral character determination” with the California state bar. He wanted to be a lawyer and the guild apparently did not think he had reformed enough to practice law. Did I want to provide an account of Steve’s wrongdoing? the lawyer asked. Chuck Lane was going to, and Steve had lined up several witnesses to speak in his favor. I said I would think about it and I did. For a few days, I tried to call up the anger again. But after all those years I could only find faint traces of it.

In fact, the prospect of appearing in court revived some of the old protective instincts. I hadn’t seen Steve in twelve years. I couldn’t say he deserved to be a lawyer, but I couldn’t say he definitively didn’t, either. (Since when did lawyers become the measure of purity anyway?) At stake for the lawyers was the sanctity of their guild. But for me, a larger question loomed: Agreeing that Steve could never practice law felt a little too close to agreeing that no one who had done something wrongeven monstrously wrongin their youth could ever move beyond it. “I don’t wish him ill,” I’d written in my review of TheFabulist. “But I’m not convinced he’s changed all that much.” When the lawyer reminded me that the real Stephen Glass lived on the other coast, that he had professional aspirations, that he had friends who would stick up for him in court, that, in short, he was still making his way through time, it suddenly occurred to me: How could I possibly know if he’d changed or if he hadn’t?

Steve Glass now lives in Venice Beach with his longtime girlfriend, Julie Hilden, a dog, two cats, and a rotating cast of foster pets. (The couple are also vegans.) He works as director of special projects at Carpenter, Zuckerman, Rowley, a personal-injury law firm in Beverly Hills. For anyone who knew him back in the day, this is a comical juxtaposition. Steve is a Jewish boy from the posh Chicago suburb of Highland Park with pushy Jewish parents who insisted on the usual (doctor, lawyer). When they urged him to go to law school, they probably had Supreme Court appearances in mind, not, as the firm boasts, a $2.1 million settlement for a homeless man hit by a garbage truck. But Paul Zuckerman, the partner who hired Steve and has become his mentor, considers this development to be a sign of grace. “You were on track to be an asshole,” he told Steve when I was there. “The best thing that ever happened to you in your life is that you fell flat on your face.”

I’d e-mailed Steve this summer to see if he would talk to me. The New Republic was approaching its one-hundredth anniversary and the magazine wanted to revisit this dark chapter in its history. Other than publicizing his book, Steve hadn’t done any interviews since then, and certainly not with people from that era. But he readily agreed to talk to me, for reasons that became clear to me during the course of our conversations.

We decided to meet at a café near his office, and I ran into him on the street when we were both heading over. We said hello, reflexively hugged. I flashed back to the many times I’d run into him on the corner outside CF Folks, a lunch place near the old New Republic office in D.C. It was like encountering a cousin I hadn’t seen in some time. He had the same sandy curls and glasses, the same bouncy walk, and the pallor of someone who spends all day in an office. He still had the air of a nice boy who was about to theatrically help his grandma cross the street. Only something was a little different. He was more grounded? Or maybe masculine? For some reason it popped into my head that Steve had once wanted to write a story about how everyone thought he was gay but he wasn’t. He was floaty back then, undetermined, as if he could levitate in those white socks. But now he had lost that quality.

The first question he asked was whether I had any kids, which gave me a good idea of how far he’d strayed from his old world of journalist friends. (I have three, according to Wikipedia, and the many articles I’ve written mentioning them). I asked if he’d kept in touch with anyone from back then, and he said he hadn’t been able to. In the early days after the scandal, Steve told me, when he would see one of us on the street in D.C., he would become terrified, to the point of feeling “physically ill, like my stomach was falling out of me,” and turn and run in the other direction. He didn’t read any news about himself for a long timeit took him a year to read theVanity Fair story about the scandalbecause it was “extremely painful,” he said. Eventually that meant he fell out of the habit of reading much news at all, outside The New York Times and legal papers for work. I realized that for Steve, we too were frozen in the Clinton era. “It’s not realistic,” he explained, “but after a period of time, I was still convinced my old world of friends were having conversations amongst themselves, … that you and Jon were still hanging out every day and I didn’t know what was going on. I didn’t get over the idea that it was one big club and I was no longer a part of it.”

On the plane to California, I’d imagined myself in the same role as the lawyer who’d asked me to appear at the bar hearing. I was going into intellectual combat, and I had to be well prepared. I dressed in an overly formal way, and I read Crime and Punishment on the plane to acquaint myself with the tricks of a guilty mind. I was wary of getting played again, and so I decided I would not spare Steve any question, no matter how uncomfortable. That phone call when he asked me to defend him to Chuck, for example. What was he thinking? “I was clearly putting you at risk to back up my lies,” he said, adding that he had asked multiple people to defend him. “What I did was horrible and then asking people to defend me was horrible.” His words were heavy but his tone stayed friendly. He was relaxedin fact, much more so than I was. And his directness surprised me. He’d clearly thought through these answers, but they didn’t feel canned or rehearsed.

Leitura para o fim-de-semana: a senhora da guerra afegã

Começou a combater contra os soviéticos. Lutou ao lado de Ahmar Shah Massoud. Agora enfrenta os Talibã. Os homens começaram a chamar-lhe “Comandante Pombo” – pela forma como se movia e a elegância com que matava os inimigos. A jornalista Jen Percy passou uma noite no seu acampamento – e conta a história na The New Republic.

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Foto: Lorenzo Tugnoli

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’d been living in Afghanistan three weeks when my guide, a young Afghan named Sharif Sahak, showed me a photograph of the country’s only known female warlord, Bibi Ayisha, nom de guerre: Commander Pigeon. It was late 2013, the Americans were preparing to leave, and Sharif had heard that the commander was training a new militia of female jihadists to fight the Taliban. In the photograph, she looked to be about 200 pounds and 60 years old. A large woman with black eyes made small by folds of skin. A beaked nose protruded from a wide flat face. She held her machine gun against her bosom like a bouquet of roses. A few girls dressed in bright loose tunics holding AK-47s stood at her side, with ammo wound like gold pythons about their necks. “Hot chicks with AKs,” Sharif remarked.

Everybody in Kabul knew about Commander Pigeon, but no one agreed on a narrative. The Afghans accused her of robbery and murder. A few suspected she worked with Taliban commander Mullah Dad-e Khuda, who escaped from Bagram prison in 2008, and a local warlord called the Green Imam. Together they supposedly controlled all the drug-trafficking routes in the north. One person told me, “She has many houses in Kabul but prefers to live in the mountains among the animals.” She didn’t have any of the usual warlord stories. No acid throwing or biting off chicken heads, or leaving prisoners in vats to die. She was not like Commander Zardad who kept a human dog on a chain to maul and sometimes eat people. She was a woman and she killed menwhile wearing a flowery dress.

According to locals, Commander Pigeon was born in the village of Gawi, and her father was named Haji Dawlat and he had seven wives, and his second wife had ten children, and of these children, Commander Pigeon was the most loved. She carried a gun at age 14, the same year she married Shad Muhammad, a businessman whose reputation was said to suffer because he allowed Commander Pigeon to wear pants. He died of a mysterious illness. Then, in 1979, the Soviets swarmed her mountain and murdered her son. She turned to jihad. She killed the commando, organized a militia of 150 men to fight the Soviets, and rode alongside Ahmad Shah Massoud, leader of the Northern Alliance. They called her Commander Pigeon because she moved and killed with the elegance of a bird.

When the Americans arrived in 2001, the northeast was a mess of insurgent groups governed by warlords like Commander Pigeon. The United Nations started a program called the Disbandment of Illegal Armed Groups (DIAG), and by 2006, DIAG disarmed about 60,000 militants. Then the government faced a second problem: unemployed combatants. The United Nations invested in more programs, including business courses for ex-combatants, focused on job skills. But most of the warriors, like Commander Pigeon, didn’t want to disarm. Once the Americans left, factional fighting would start up again. They needed their weapons. Commander Pigeon already regretted giving up her vintage World War II British .303 Lee-Enfield rifle.

This year, an Australian security consulting firm conducted a survey on inspirational Afghan women, and their research led them to Commander Pigeon. On her public Facebook page, one fan wrote: “She has proven to the world that women of Afghanistan are not victims; she’s more stronger then any women in the world today.” She certainly sounded very different from any of the Afghan women I had met or heard about. I’d been talking to women in shelters, victims of domestic violence, or kidnapped girls working as sex slaves for commanders. One of them, a teenage girl, said Commander Pigeon was a hero. After all, since 2001, Americans have invested in infrastructure allowing women to attend school or gain positions of power. But the month I arrived, Afghans shipped 30-year-old Setara to Turkey to get her lips and nose sewn back on after her husband cut them off with a kitchen knife. A pregnant schoolteacher named Malalai was hanged and her body dumped near a foreign base. No one could save Negar, the top female police officer in Helmand, after she was shot in the neck by men on motorbikes. And yet no one has managed to kill Commander Pigeon. For 34 years, she has commanded a group of armed fighters from her stronghold 250 miles north of Kabul in Baghlan Province, the same region where the British said Afghans sliced the stomachs of Russian soldiers and left them to die so that their organs might bake in the sun.

Sharif, a clean-shaven 28-year old, was friends with the newly appointed police chief of Baghlan Province, a man named General Amarakhail, and he said he could help arrange a visit.

“I think she’ll like you,” Sharif said.

ome Afghans believe cannibalistic females haunt the Hindu Kush. They are simian and boar-tusked and have long, floating hair. They eat corpses. Commander Pigeon lived on the other side of the Hindu Kush, over a pass called the Khotal-e Salang. According to the Afghan Analysts Network, Baghlan Province has between 2,500 and 3,000 Taliban, inhabiting an area about the size of Connecticut.

On a Sunday morning, Sharif and I, along with a driver and a photographer named Lorenzo, packed into a small Toyota Corolla with a prayer rug and headed north out of Kabul on Highway 1. We left just as the first winter snows were falling, and Sharif told us about the avalanches of 2010 that killed hundreds of people on the pass. “There are more ways to die in Afghanistan,” Sharif said, “than anywhere else in the world.” The Salang pass, at its highest, skims 12,723 feet. It’s a tight, twisting section of potholed road, clogged with Pakistani jingle trucks, scattered with memorials. A Soviet-built tunnel cuts almost two miles through the heart of the mountains.

Snow fell and the roads darkened to mud. The men put on chains and I put on a burka. Sharif said it looked strange. He explained: Don’t talk. Don’t smack gum. Don’t lean your elbow against the window like you keep doing. Cover your legs. Don’t get out of the car. Be a good girl. Most importantly, cover the hair. Hide your passport. We are a Tajik rock band and you are the singer going to sing for Commander Pigeon.

 

Leitura para o fim-de-semana: uma viagem ao inferno da República Centro Africana

Enquanto o mundo está distraído com a crise económica, o campeonato do mundo de futebol ou a instabilidade na Ucrânia, há dois locais no planeta onde a população está a ser massacrada. Um é a Síria. O outro é a República Centro Africana, um pequeno país que começou a ter problemas no final de 2011 e que desde então já perdeu a conta aos milhares de mortos provocados por uma guerra civil que escalou para tensões entre muçulmanos e cristãos. Esta reportagem da The New Republic mostra um pouco do que por lá se passa.

Fotografia: Michael Christopher Brown

Fotografia: Michael Christopher Brown

Hell Is an Understatement

A report from the bloody, crumbling Central African Republic

BY GRAEME WOOD

Bangui, the capital of the Central African Republic (CAR), has never been known for the reliability of its public utilities. Most trash is picked through by scavengers, and the remaining mango pits, scraps of plastic, and rusty bottlecaps pile up on dirt roads or get blown into fetid open sewers. But since December, along a desolate stretch of the Avenue de France, the Red Cross has operated an on-demand, white-gloved sanitation service that, within an hour of being called, will show up to collect human bodies, whether chopped up or left intact.

The Avenue de France marks a divide between two neighborhoods, and the human remains belong to those who have, for one reason or another, strayed too far in the wrong direction. The road itself is devoid of foot traffica no-man’s-land where both sides can deposit their victims, so they don’t have to bury them or let them rot within smelling distance in the African sun. North of the line is the Fifth Arrondissement, a neighborhood inhabited almost exclusively by Christians now that its Muslim residents have either been killed or forced into exile. The Muslims who haven’t fled the country live primarily in the Third Arrondissement, just south of the Avenue de France. There, being a Christian is a condition nearly as fatal as being a Muslim is to the north, south, east, or west.

About 15 percent of Central Africans are Muslims, and for much of the country’s 54-year history, they lived in relative harmony with the Christian majority. But in the last year, CAR has collapsedfirst in a spasm of political violence and now in a grisly carnival of factional and religious slaughter that has left it one of the very worst places on Earth. It is a country the size of Texas, with as many people as Boston, and an economy less than a tenth the size of Chattanooga’s. Reliable data doesn’t exist for the number dead, but from December until March, street lynchings became so common that they ceased to be news. The danger is unequaled anywhere in present-day Africa except, perhaps, Nigeria on a bad day. Bangui competes with Damascus for the title of world’s grimmest capital city.

After a visit last month, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told the BBC that “desperate is an understatement.” And Samantha Power, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, made a special stop in Bangui in early April, as part of her effort to deploy blue-helmet peacekeepers as quickly as possible (which, given the lightning reflexes of the United Nations, means no earlier than September). Power’s interest in CAR dates to the beginning of the crisis, and one presumes it has to do with her wish to avoid adding a self-indicting chapter to a revised edition of her 2002 Pulitzer Prize–winning A Problem from Hell, about U.S. inaction in the face of genocide.

Anyone who walks the streets of Bangui for a day knows why she might be alarmed. The last year of fighting has traumatized the population, and now nearly everyone is nursing a lethal grudge. It is a city of overlapping vendettas. Roadblocks are staffed by gun-toting, battle-hardened children, and even an interaction as simple as complaining about a broken cell phone can turn into a spray of indiscriminate machine-gun fire on a crowded city street. During my week there, I learned to stand silently, hands cupped behind my ears, to discern the direction of distant gunfire and figure out where to go, and where not to.

And if you go in search of trouble, Bangui will rapidly oblige. On March 24, my photographer and I took a car to Boy Rabe, a neighborhood known as a stronghold of the Anti-Balaka, the Christian militia that is currently the most feared group in Bangui. It takes its name from its young fighters’ ritual initiations, which supposedly confer resistance to AK-47 rounds (in French, balles-AK, or “ah-kah”) and machetes (balaka in Sango, the national language of CAR). The Anti-Balaka arose from self-defense forces in the countryside and from Christian populations in Bangui, and now that they have the advantage over the Muslims, they are demanding payment and spoils from frightened civilians of all races and creeds.

To meet the Anti-Balaka on their own turf is to throw oneself at the mercy of well-armed adolescents, often drunk, with delusions of invulnerability. Our taxi driver slowed to a walking pace as we came close to Boy Rabe, saying roadblocks might be concealed ahead. We searched for signs that the Anti-Balaka might emerge from behind buildings to rob us, or worse. As we drove on, the road grew quiet, and the commotion of shared taxis and wobbly motorbikes gave way to pedestrians, and finally to the ominous emptiness of no one at all.

Then we hit a roadblock. The half-dozen children who surrounded us when we exited the car all wore threadbare, dirty clothes, and around their necks they strapped anti-sorcery charms, mostly amulets and leather pouches of herbs. Their weapons were dirty and battered, as if used in harsh conditions. The youngest was about ten, the oldest no more than 16. In their hands, I counted three AK-47s, two pistols, two swords, and a crooked, blunt scythe, before I realized I should stop counting and start figuring out a way to leave as soon as possible.

They must have scared our driver, because by the time we took stock of the situation, his vehicle had disappeared back down the road. To each other the children spoke Sango, but when I whipped out my notebook and started asking questions in halting French, they snapped to attention and at least for the moment looked receptive. “We’re journalists,” I said. “We want to know the story of the people of Boy Rabe and talk to the boss here.” The boys just blinked at us, until one said, “There’s no boss.” Those words relieved me slightly: As long as they were talking, they probably hadn’t decided to kill us. But while I spoke, the one with the scythe was scampering up the street with a look of excitement. The photographer, Michael Christopher Brown, shrewdly refrained from taking pictures and said, in his dopiest American English, “I’m American! I live in New York City!”in hopes of showing that we were harmless, and not spies.

About 20 yards uphill, a grown-up emerged from behind a fence. He looked like he was in his thirties, and he wore a clean navy t-shirt over a beefy torso. He was clearly in charge: the boss the boys claimed not to have. As soon as he appeared, he screamed, and the kids reacted like a string of lit firecrackers, yelling and raising their weapons. The first words I could make out from the man were “Get out of here,” and Michael and I both raised our hands to show we carried nothing more dangerous than the tools of journalism. I blurted out some words about wanting an interview, and he yelled, “No interview,” then, “Get out of here,” again. He stormed close enough to shove Michael and take away his camera while shooing us down the road at full scream.

We didn’t dare run or look back, in case he or his soldiers would interpret a glance over the shoulder or a panicked sprint as a sign of aggression or guilt. By then anything might have provoked them. With each slow step I wondered whether Kalashnikov rounds might shred my back or legs. In my imagination, I felt a phantom finger pressing firmly on the base of my skull, where one of the kids might take me out with one lucky shot.

The dirt path to the main boulevard stretched out for another 200 yards but felt much longer, and when I noticed the total absence of traffic thereand therefore the total absence of witnessesit occurred to me that, if the man decided it was safest to kill us, no one would see what happened, and our corpses would appear that afternoon, the palest stack of limbs on Avenue de France.”

O artigo completo está aqui. 

O louco do ano

Em vez de eleger a personalidade do ano 2013, a revista The New Republic preferiu escolher o louco do ano. A distinção coube ao presidente sírio Bashar Al Assad. O título do artigo que acompanha a capa é claro: Profile of Syria’s Mass Murderer.

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