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Book of the week – The Devil and Mr Casement

The devil and mr casement
Jordan Goldman
Verso books


Previously i reviewed King Leopold’s ghost, a book loaned to me by a union activist. On return of that I was given a different but similar missive, the devil and mr casement. While King Leopold’s was about the Congo and the suffering imposed on its population the devil moves continent. To South America and Peru.

With one thread between the two, Roger casement. After all it is the centenary of the Easter Rising so why not celebrate one of Ireland’s heroic gun runners by reading of his exploits prior to dealing with the Germans during the First World War in an effort to get arms from them for this countries own war effort.

Casement is a colourful character, one out of kilter in an Ireland of stereotypes. Christened twice under two different religions and gay made him NOT the poster boy for the rebellion, that’s for sure, but through all the torment growing up he knew knew the difference between what he felt was right and wrong.

The devil in this book is the Peruvian Amazon company, listed in the British Stock Exchange, through it’s owner – Julio Cesar Arana, dealing with rubber and about to exploit anyone it can. Geography helped it get a stronghold in an area where few people travelled. An emerging market looking for rubber as car tires, bike tires and many other uses for rubber was being found. There are stories of brutality and torture as the British empire became aware of the plight of people in Peru.

We get used to the language of today and phrases like living wage as being of their time. I have been at many conferences when forced labour and it’s horrendous effects on human beings, prisoners in their own skin, have lights shine on them. It’s certainly not a 21st century phenomena and since slavery has been abolished in some areas over one and a half centuries ago it is something that has continually been part of the global radar. We like to think that the settled western world has no place for such things but we do. As my “no to human trafficking bookmark” constantly reminds me. However it was very much prevalent amongst “respectable” rubber producing companies, most notably the previously mentioned Peruvian Amazon company.

It’s also easy to forget that different times to today were lived under extremely different circumstances. Now I have the potential to communicate with over 50% of the worlds population instantaneously. I can pretty much see where any island is in the world. Many countries secret services can try and get cameras into any of the worlds nooks and crannies. They aren’t quite there yet but it’s getting closer. Whereas a century ago maps were being drawn and vast areas of countries were either unexplored or untraversable. Except for indigenous people and local gangs. Which is where much of the worlds rubber stock came from but always with some man (pretty much always a man) ready to exploit it for profit. And ready to do whatever it takes to hang on and increase it.

So it took a while for word to get around the world on events good or bad. The Peruvian Amazon Company were getting away with indiscretions in the name of business as their product was very much in demand and that demand was being met. However they had some forced labour issues and due to the expansion of the British empire it became the business of the British state when stories of its citizens (from Barbados) being tortured came to light. They set up a committee to investigate. And who better to lead the investigation? Future traitor and leading humanitarian Roger Casement.

Casements work in compiling his report for the foreign office made him almost like an investigative journalist. He hunted people down? Sourced interpreters and spoke to as many as he could whilst hearing tales of decapitation. Casement disgust was mixed with amazement when a domestic murder held so much more credence that this tales of inhumanity it helped shape his belief in justice for downtrodden and lp doubt played a part in his wish to assist Irish Rebels in their future fight against the British empire.

He published a paper on the situation that garnered huge press coverage. How could it not when it stated that the native Indian population nosedived from 50,000 to 11,000 in the years between 1908 and 1911.

This book tells the story in chronological order through extensive research of letter, newspaper article and published journals. I was struck when reading the details of a select committee set up by the House of Commons to investigate the company as it had British directors. Some of the transcripts are mind boggling in their evasiveness but that brought me a century ahead and this small island, formerly fully part of the British empire. We have had our share of select committees and tribunals investigating wrongdoing and corruption. Many answers to these were misleading and quite frankly bizarre. So what has really changed?

Slavery is abolished but we still have forced labour.
Labour laws are in place but we still have people being paid below minimum wage
Health and safety standards are published but we still have negligent workplaces.

We are forever evolving and still have a way to go but thanks to people like Roger Casement change came quicker to some countries.


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Verso Books end of year mayhem

Verso: The Year in Review
I received the following mail from Verso, now is your chance to read about the Village Against the World or how we can demand the Future.
You can still download the Verso 2015 Mixtape: a FREE ebook compilation of extracts from some of our best books this year! With contributions from Patrick Cockburn, John Berger, Juliet Jacques, Tariq Ali, Pablo Iglesias, and Teju Cole; covering the rise of Islamic State, post-capitalism, transgender politics, disaster capitalism, the Anthropocene, and lots more.

Plus, there’s still time to get our books at a brilliant discount, with 50% off ALL our books until the end of the year! See our Gift Guide for book suggestions. Don’t forget that we have FREE shipping (worldwide) and free bundled ebooks.  Also 90% of all e-books

[technically some 2016 news but] We are very excited to announce that we’ll be publishing Ta-Nehisi Coates’ memoir, The Beautiful Struggle in February!

The best (non-Verso) books of the year, picked by Verso staff in London and New York, featuring Elena Ferrante, Nawal El Saadawi, Ta-Nehisi Coates, James Meek, and more. We also have a round-up of the most-read pieces on the Verso Blog in 2015, from writers including Judith Butler, Alan Badou, Teju Cole, & Joanna Walsh. In our Verso End of Year Highlights we look back on our own great year of publishing.

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La Lucha – The Story of Lucha Castro and Human Rights In Mexico

la lucha

The Story Of Lucha Castro and Human Rights in Mexico Jon Sack Published by Front Line Defenders verso books http://www.versobooks.com Human Rights is such a well worn phrase. Like political correctness (what’s so wrong with being correct?) it is used in countless different ways but really it boils down to humans having basic rights, freedom of association being one of these. “We are in the middle of a war, which is a war but isn’t. We don’t know what the warzones are or who the enemy is…so in general there’s a feeling of insecurity and fear that has changed daily life for men and women in Chihuahua” Mexico is a strange country to write about. It is a democratic state, with respectable ties to Western States. it plays a perceived part in what is easily known as “The War on Drugs”. Much like the war on Terrorism the perception is that this war isn’t an easy one to win (are any?) However there is real fear for people, fear of the state, fear of drug cartels, fear of their world. This is a world where people disappear for no apparent reason, sometimes women vanish – their crime? being women! Being politically active is akin to putting an x on your home. Strike here.

This is a collection of stories, in animation form, of people. Ordinary people living extraordinary lives. It’s a tale of siblings being murdered and/or disappeared and of those left to pick up the pieces, left to crawl through the damaged shreds left behind and try and keep that candle lit. Of course the candle gets blown up but in Chihuahua there is always someone to pick up the pieces, regardless of the personal cost to their lives and family. These people give up their lives in this quest, their home, their families all get pushed to second place. Since 2006 when, then President Calderon (now lecturing in Harvard University) declared war on drugs 100,000 people have been killed, 20,000 people have disappeared and 200,000 people have fled their homes, including over 70% of the population of the Juarez Valley.

These are astonishing figures no matter what side you take. We can only appreciate what they do but it is hard to truly understand what they are experiencing. We can only hope their stories don’t go ignored, their pleas unheeded. Please buy this book and follow this inspirational yet truly tragic tale


la lucha2


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The Village Against the world by Dan Hancox

Village against the world
Dan Hancox

Back when I first started to listen to music, I mean really started to listen to music, the bands that made it my ears were very idealistic. ‘Meat Is Murder’, the Smiths Exclaimed! Elvis Costello sang about Olivers Army prior to that and even OMD were singing anti war songs to go with the (very) mighty Wah’s 7 minutes to midnight.

My musical tastes narowed as punk rock really kicked in and the anarcho rage of Crass, Flux and Conflict took over. ‘Another World Is Possible’ they told us as Giro’s in Belfast came into action. I started listening to a wder selection of sounds but if a band wasn’t publicly supporting the miners strike then I wasn’t gonna waste my time on them.

30 years later and whilst a lot has happened outside music that world of punk and change still clings very dear to my heart.

Another World is Possible rears its head time and time again as I ask my children to “Strive to survive causing least suffering possible”. It’s a simple mantra and we can be the change we want to be.

The world has changed since the mid 80’s, walls have come tumbling down but the veneer of democracy is still thin and money holds the balance of power. Nearly everywhere….

In the small town of Marinaleda in the Andalucian region of Southern Spain the near 3,000 inhabitants have decided to take the power. After years of struggle they got land and have created their own co-ops. This book is their story. It is based around the towns lord mayor, Sanchez Gordillo, and the people who have taken control. Whether that be by the farms they cultivate or the processing plants that makes goods grown form these farms, or the weekly assemblies that take place. I can only guesss someone like Paul Murphy takes great inspiration from a mayor like Gordillo. After the press hysteria in Ireland when Paul spoke about always having a megaphone in the car and his vilification from some in the Labour Party it seems that Mayor Gordillo goes nowhere without his megaphone, and has done so for a very long time.

Spain has 4 million vacant premises, it is estimated that 4000,000 people have been evicted from their homes – none in Marinaleda. Nobody profits from the sale of real estate, it is available to all for €15 per week.”People are considered merchandise. While they’re profitable they are used and when they’re no longer profitable they’re discarded. We have to change these cruel and inhuman values.” It is pretty straight forward really, but of course it is not that straight forward. Finance needs to be obtained and with austerity gripping Spain as unemployment nationally reaches 30% (Marinaleda has approx 5%) it is becoming more and more difficult to sustain. It has done so up to now and not without difficulty. This is not North Korea, wifi is freely available, elections are regular occurrences and whilst there is oppostion Gordillo keeps getting re-elected.

Weekly assemblies are a feature of life and through this “atmosphere of genuine democratic inclusion and participation” we could possibly learn something. Of course this is not new and the occupy movement have been advocates of this type of participation and places like Seomra Spraoi are organised in this way. The people in Marinaleda seem to have a genuine belief that they are in control of their own destiny. Indeed, we hear that “police and priests are superfluous and so are politicians” which is refreshing to hear considering our system here is based on entrusting those we vote in every 5 years.

This is an inspiring tale. It’s not rags to riches it’s a sharing of the community people live in. A tale that people can try and take control

Maybe another world is possible after all?


Get it here

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