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The False Equivalency Of 'Extremists' On Left And Right

Bolivian president Evo Morales has been criticized for his supposed 'cult of personality.' But he is no Donald Trump.

Inside Evo Morales' museum
Inside Evo Morales' museum
Oscar Guardiola-Rivera


BOGOTÁ — It's become a cliché to say we live in a "society of spectacle." Today, the meaning of this term is very different from what it referred to when it was coined by artists in the last century. Now, people use it to describe a society where mass technologies have caused a crisis of legitimacy. Artists in the last century dared to dream and build intelligent machines that tore down conformism and proposed new possibilities. These artists did not invite centrist or moderate conservative positions.

This history is relevant today when we see the recent inauguration of the Democratic and Cultural Revolution Museum by Bolivian President Evo Morales. As expected, conservatives and centrists who can't accept the idea of an indigenous American at the helm of government have accused him of creating a cult of personality.

On the inauguration day — Photo: Evo Morales Ayma/Twitter

Another argument against it is even more facetious: that building an expensive museum where the poor live is a wasteful indulgence. This criticism assumes that the poor don't have a right to, or an interest in, high-brow culture. It does not consider that history has not yet been written from the perspective of the victims who are now boldly changing its course.

It's important to remember that the museum works as a manifestation of collective intelligence determined to relate to itself and others a particular history. One that speaks truthfully about the contradictions of our universal aspirations, which had been erased or revised by the powerful. It is another case of blowing up conformist attitudes and lighting the flame of utopian possibilities.

These arguments have become commonplace among analysts — and they are plenty — but repetition of these viewpoints do not make them correct. The tendency today is to declare fascists and their left-wing opponents as comparable extremists. Both are described as populist and equally dangerous. This opinion mixes historical revisionism with political confusion. It views 20th-century fascism as an excessive but understandable reaction to communism, and overlooks the problem of modern democracies. This perspective sees U.S. President Donald Trump and Hugo Chávez, Venezuela"s late socialist leader, as each other's equivalent. It sees Morales's cultural revolution as a personality cult.

In doing so, it deprives us of the means needed to forge alliances between the same progressive liberals and leftists who defeated the fascists in the 20th century. Without this collaboration, it will be impossible to stop the 21st-century fascism of the likes of Trump and Brazil's Michel Temer.

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In Northern Kenya, Where Climate Change Is Measured In Starving Children

The worst drought in 40 years, which has deepened from the effects of climate change, is hitting the young the hardest around the Horn of Africa. A close-up look at the victims, and attempts to save lives and limit lasting effects on an already fragile region in Kenya.

Photo of five mothers holding their malnourished children

At feeding time, nurses and aides encourage mothers to socialize their children and stimulate them to eat.

Georgina Gustin

KAKUMA — The words "Stabilization Ward" are painted in uneven black letters above the entrance, but everyone in this massive refugee camp in Kakuma, Kenya, calls it ya maziwa: The place of milk.

Rescue workers and doctors, mothers and fathers, have carried hundreds of starving children through the doors of this one-room hospital wing, which is sometimes so crowded that babies and toddlers have to share beds. A pediatric unit is only a few steps away, but malnourished children don’t go there. They need special care, and even that doesn’t always save them.

In an office of the International Rescue Committee nearby, Vincent Opinya sits behind a desk with figures on dry-erase boards and a map of the camp on the walls around him. “We’ve lost 45 children this year due to malnutrition,” he says, juggling emergencies, phone calls, and texts. “We’re seeing a significant increase in malnutrition cases as a result of the drought — the worst we’ve faced in 40 years.”

From January to June, the ward experienced an 800 percent rise in admissions of children under 5 who needed treatment for malnourishment — a surge that aid groups blame mostly on a climate change-fueled drought that has turned the region into a parched barren.

Opinya, the nutrition manager for the IRC here, has had to rattle off these statistics many times, but the reality of the numbers is starting to crack his professional armor. “It’s a very sad situation,” he says, wearily. And he believes it will only get worse. A third year of drought is likely on the way.

More children may die. But millions will survive malnutrition and hunger only to live through a compromised future, researchers say. The longer-term health effects of this drought — weakened immune systems, developmental problems — will persist for a generation or more, with consequences that will cascade into communities and societies for decades.

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