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The custom was, on the face of it, indefensible. Before today, a Muslim man in India could divorce his wife simply by saying “divorce” three times, and there was nothing his wife could do about it. For her to get a divorce, she needed her husband’s consent.
On Tuesday, the Indian Supreme Court ruled that the practice, called “triple talaq,” is unconstitutional and un-Islamic. Islamic scholars agree that the custom has no basis in the Quran. Countries from Pakistan to Egypt have already banned it.
Wisely, India has long tread carefully around religious freedoms, and the board that governs Muslim policy in the country asked for the court not to intervene. The practice is wrong, but let us find our own solution, it said.
Muslim women answered: You’ve had long enough. “It is not a victory that has been achieved after one or two years,” one activist told The Washington Post. “Muslim women have been coming to courts and filing petitions and laying the groundwork for this for years.”
In a turbulent world, their victory of patience and steadfastness is a lesson that echoes far beyond India.
We all know how greatly the American president values winning. By reengaging in Afghanistan, his administration might help redefine what that means militarily in a post-9/11 world.
President Trump’s “new strategy for Afghanistan and South Asia” is expected to lead to a boost of about 4,000 US troops in Afghanistan. It’s a decision that suggests a skeptical president was convinced that the United States has more to lose in the war on terrorism by leaving Afghanistan than by staying. It’s also a decision that reopens the question of whether military means alone can win the Afghanistan War. “Trump has always had two contradictory impulses.… He wants to get out of expensive overseas engagements, but he also wants to get tough on terrorists and eradicate their threat,” says Stephen Tankel at the Center for a New American Security in Washington. For Trump, what makes his new strategy different is that it is based on what he calls “principled realism” – the US will no longer aim for “nation-building” but for means to preserve and enhance national interests, such as preventing terrorist attacks. Yet many experts say that objective can never be assured by military means alone and that political conditions and the population’s basic needs must be considered.
There is no arguing for the notion that the United States is winning the war in Afghanistan, what already years ago became its longest military engagement.
But by simply comparing the 16 years of a US-led war effort there with other military interventions since the 9/11 attacks – in Iraq or Libya, for example – the argument can also be made that the Afghanistan intervention has succeeded where others did not.
Afghanistan has been kept from becoming again a safe haven for Islamist terrorists, and no more attacks targeting the US and the West have been hatched and launched from its soil. Al Qaeda has been weakened, and recent efforts by the so-called Islamic State to secure a foothold in Afghanistan have been rebuffed, both by US troops and by Western-trained Afghan security forces acting under US guidance. At the same time, neither terrorist group has been vanquished in Afghanistan, while the Taliban have been chalking up victories and territorial gains in recent months.
This state of “not winning” – but also not failing in some critical goals – seems to explain why President Trump has decided not to pull the plug on a war that he long judged a lost proposition and a “waste” of American blood and treasure.
By announcing Monday night a “new strategy” that will mean a mini-surge of US troops into Afghanistan to reinforce the nearly 9,000 US troops he inherited there, Mr. Trump is making the longest war his own. It’s a decision that suggests a skeptical president was convinced by his generals and national security advisers that the US has more to lose by leaving Afghanistan than by staying and trying some new approaches to get better results.
It’s also a decision that reopens the question of whether military means alone can win the war, or whether, over time, US efforts will by necessity gravitate toward measures that enhance nation-building.
“Trump has always had two contradictory impulses in his assessment of missions like Afghanistan: He wants to get out of expensive overseas engagements, but he also wants to get tough on terrorists and eradicate their threat,” says Stephen Tankel, an adjunct senior fellow specializing in South Asia security issues at the Center for a New American Security in Washington.
“The fact he seems to have resolved this contradiction by going with the second priority,” he adds, “means he’d rather break the first promise than look weak on the second.”
Trump framed his decision in terms of the war on terrorism, saying he was dissuaded from his “instinct” to simply withdraw from Afghanistan by the prospect of facilitating a resurgence of terrorist groups focused on attacking the US and the West.
“A hasty withdrawal would create a vacuum that terrorists, including ISIS and Al Qaeda, would instantly fill, just as happened before Sept. 11,” the president said. He said he would not repeat the error made in Iraq, when the US “hastily and mistakenly” withdrew, paving the way for the Islamic State’s sweep into the country in 2014.
What Trump was announcing was a “new strategy for Afghanistan and South Asia,” he said, but the policy he laid out sounded in many ways more like a tweaking of what he inherited.
Instead of focusing on timetables for deployment and withdrawal, he said, the duration of the US commitment will be based on conditions on the ground and cooperation from the Afghan government and others in the region, including primarily Pakistan.
What may prove to be a more substantial shift in policy – one with potentially unforeseen consequences – is the president’s intention to put Pakistan on notice that its harboring of terrorist groups and policies that undermine Afghan stability will no longer be tolerated.
Although Trump did not give any figures, his plan is expected to mean a boost of about 4,000 US troops in Afghanistan, plus perhaps other additional troops from willing NATO countries.
The new US troops are expected to focus on training and advising more of the elite Afghan commando forces that have emerged as the bright spot in an otherwise spotty security forces training program. And Trump hinted that many of the restrictions that had been placed on US forces’ ability to engage in combat would be lifted.
For Trump, what makes his new strategy different is that it is based on what he calls “principled realism” – the US will no longer aim for “nation-building” but for means to preserve and enhance national interests, like preventing terrorist attacks.
Yet many experts say that while preventing another 9/11 has always been the motivation for the US engagement in Afghanistan, that objective can never be assured by military means alone. To reach that primary objective, they say, political conditions and the population’s basic needs must be made part of the equation.
According to this line of thinking, US national security has been enhanced as Afghanistan has stabilized in the wake of US intervention and as living conditions for Afghans have improved and as confidence in the government has grown, even if only modestly.
“If the objective of being in Afghanistan is that it not be a base for international terrorists and for projecting their activities, then it’s already been pretty successful. But if the objective is that it not be ever again a space where terrorists operate, then you have a different measure of success and the mission has to be broader” to include political and socio-economic factors, says Earl Anthony Wayne, a former deputy ambassador to Afghanistan who is now a global fellow at the Wilson Center in Washington.
“If you have a government that is viewed as legitimate and somewhat effective by its people,” he adds, “then presumably they are going to agree they shouldn’t have radical terrorist groups setting up shop in their communities and carrying out their violent activities in their country.”
Actual nation-building must be undertaken by the Afghans themselves, Ambassador Wayne says. But he says the US has a sustained role to play in assisting the Afghans to create the conditions allowing that development (which is also in the US interest) to take place.
Trump may have been convinced by his generals to stay the course, but many war-weary Americans are still likely to ask: Does the absence of an Afghanistan-originating attack make the 16-year-old war – one that has cost more than 2,400 US soldiers their lives and cost US taxpayers more than $1 trillion – worth it?
Some experts say no – that it is long past time to not just “not lose” in Afghanistan, as the Obama administration aimed for in the conflcict, but to get out.
War critics say the Afghan government remains hopelessly corrupt, that the US cannot hold the government’s hand in its fight against the Taliban forever – and that in any case the US could reserve the right to go back in with air strikes to obliterate any reconstituting terrorist havens.
But others say the “throw-in-the-towel” approach would not just open the door to terrorist safe havens but would also risk undoing the progress the US has helped foster and which has contributed to Afghan and regional stability.
“If we were to pull out I think we would face the risk of terrorist groups constructing a hub of chaos in Central and South Asia,” says Ronald Neumann, who served as US ambassador to Afghanistan from 2005-07 and who is now president of the American Academy of Diplomacy.
“But I also think there is a lot we have only half built as we have pretty much focused on getting out,” he adds. “If we’re now committed to staying, we have an opportunity to do right what we didn’t do right the first time.”
Ambassador Neumann, who just returned from Kabul, says that despite significant worrisome trends he was heartened by signs of progress – including a dogged anti-corruption campaign in the government of President Ashraf Ghani, military reforms that base officer promotions on merit, and the emergence of a generation of educated Afghans who are demanding cleaner and more effective government.
The “new strategy” Trump announced Monday appears to have elements of a broader approach. But it remains to be seen if his Afghanistan policy will in effect zero in on counterterrorism efforts that some say won’t on their own deliver the “victory” Trump promises.
“We need a comprehensive strategy to have a chance of success,” says Ambassador Wayne. “It’s not just about 4,000 extra troops, we have to realize that we can’t neglect the national politics, we can’t neglect social development, and we can’t neglect Pakistan in the equation.”
At times, President Trump's approach to race and the rule of law feels a lot like "America's toughest sheriff," Part 2. Tonight, at a racially charged moment, Mr. Trump is visiting Arizona, home to former Sheriff Joe Arpaio. What message will he send?
Joe Arpaio made a name for himself chasing unauthorized immigrants in Arizona's Maricopa County. But his tactics drew ire and lawsuits, and eventually defeat at the polls last year after 24 years in office. Now, the man who liked to be called “America’s toughest sheriff” awaits sentencing for a criminal contempt conviction, after he was found guilty in July of defying a court order to stop detaining people suspected of living in the country illegally. Mr. Arpaio calls his conviction a travesty of justice. While he won’t delve into the legal aspects of the case in a phone interview, he makes it clear he has no regrets about enforcing immigration law. “We were doing our job,” he says. Arpaio may get a reprieve for the misdemeanor charge if President Trump – whom he supports – pardons him, which some observers think could happen as early as tonight at Mr. Trump's rally in Phoenix. The outcome of such a pardon, some say, could lead others in law enforcement to take the same approach Arpaio did and fan the current flames of racism in the United States.
Chasing after undocumented immigrants made Joe Arpaio a household name, but in time, his crusade became a double-edged sword. Public criticism mounted, racial profiling lawsuits poured in, and last year residents of Maricopa County, Ariz., voted him out after serving 24 years as their sheriff.
Now, the man who liked to be called “America’s toughest sheriff” awaits sentencing for a criminal contempt conviction, after he was found guilty in July of defying a court order to stop detaining people suspected of living in the country illegally. Arpaio may get a reprieve for the misdemeanor charge if President Trump – whom he supports – pardons him, which some observers think could happen as early as Tuesday night's at Mr. Trump's rally in Phoenix.
Mr. Arpaio calls his conviction a travesty of justice. While he won’t delve into the legal aspects of the case in a phone interview – he referred most questions to his lawyer, who didn't respond to the Monitor's requests for comment – he makes it clear he has no regrets about enforcing immigration law.
“We were doing our job,” he says.
Although Arpaio is not scheduled to be sentenced until Oct. 5, the outcome of a pardon now, some say, could be to lead others in law enforcement to take the same approach Arpaio did and fan the current flames of racism in the United States.
“To pardon this kind of racist conduct now ... is more than a dog whistle,” says Paul Charlton, a lawyer who spent 10 years as a US attorney in Arizona. “It’s an affirmative pat on the back to those who wish to conduct the same kind of racially motivated law enforcement.”
The concern is for “places where sheriffs or police chiefs want to take up the invitation of the Trump administration to engage in Arpaio-style tactics,” says Cecillia Wang, a lawyer in a civil suit against Arpaio and deputy legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union. “We’re concerned about what the pattern is going to be.”
Trump indicated last week, in an interview with Fox News, that he is considering a pardon of Arpaio .
“He has done a lot in the fight against illegal immigration,” the president told Fox news anchor Gregg Jarrett. “He’s a great American patriot and I hate to see what has happened to him.”
Mr. Jarrett, who is also an attorney, said in a Fox broadcast that “there’s a better than 50 percent chance” that Trump could pardon Arpaio at the Tuesday rally. He also suggested that if Arpaio’s recent conviction had been put to a jury, he believes he more than likely would have been acquitted. A defendant is typically not entitled to a jury trial if the potential sentence is six months or less, however, other observers say.
In Phoenix, Mayor Greg Stanton and Democratic state lawmakers have called on the president to postpone the planned rally. Police are bracing for major protests.
“If President Trump is coming to Phoenix to announce a pardon for former Sheriff Joe Arpaio, then it will be clear that his true intent is to inflame emotions and further divide our nation,” Mr. Stanton said in a statement.
Arpaio, who is in his mid-80s and noticeably more reserved in the interview, says he’s humbled by the possibility of a pardon from a man whose politics he has long admired. As sheriff, he endorsed Trump early in his campaign and often spoke at rallies where both pushed for toughened immigration laws.
“I’ve always supported him and I always will,” Arpaio says of Trump.
Until his recent bench trial, Arpaio had largely been out of the spotlight he reveled in for much of his long tenure as the top lawman in Arizona’s most populous county.
After he was first elected in 1992, Arpaio developed a reputation for being tough on crime and big on theatrics. He forced inmates to live in outdoor tents during searing summers, made them wear pink undergarments, and resurrected chain gangs, all under the glaring lights of television. In the mid-2000s, buoyed by the raging debate over illegal immigration that gripped the nation, he turned his attention to those here unlawfully. The the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office (MCSO) stopped drivers, and raided workplaces, detaining people for months at a time. Several of these raids were in response to specific requests from constituents.
If you were detained in one of these raids, it was likely to be a traumatizing – potentially even life-changing – experience, says Francisca Porchas, organizing director of Puente Arizona, a grassroots migrant justice organization based in Phoenix that sued the MCSO in 2014.
“To have this man being pardoned is to say we don’t really care about all the harm he’s done, we don’t’ really care about your suffering, we’re ok with this level of racism,” says Ms. Porchas.
With his agency’s immigration sweeps in Latino neighborhoods came accusations of racial discrimination and legal challenges from detainees, advocacy groups, and the federal government. Arpaio’s misdemeanor conviction stems from a years-long racial profiling case that the MCSO lost, with investigators finding that the agency engaged in racial profiling, unlawful traffic stops, and discriminated against non-English speakers in its jails, among other violations.
US District Judge G. Murray Snow in December 2011 ordered the agency to stop arresting individuals suspected of no other crime than being in the country illegally. But Arpaio's deputies continued the practice – which the judge had ruled unconstitutional – for at least 18 months. All told, the MCSO detained at least 171 people in violation of the court's order, according to federal prosecutors.
Despite Arpaio’s legal defense that the court order was too ambiguous to be understood, Judge Snow – a George W. Bush appointee – found him guilty first of civil contempt and subsequently referred the case to the Department of Justice for criminal contempt charges. Last month, US District Judge Susan Bolton found him guilty of criminal contempt, saying he showed a "flagrant disregard" for Judge Snow's orders.
Arpaio faces up to six months in jail, but observers say it’s unlikely he will serve any time.
While the Constitution sets very few limits on the presidential power of pardon, Mr. Charlton, the former US attorney, says a pardon of Arpaio would break with a long tradition of how when power is used.
“Those are for wrongful convictions, sentences that may have been excessive. Neither of those events has occurred here,” he adds. “Joe Arpaio is not deserving of the mercy that underlies the pardon authority given to the president.”
Arpaio blames much of his legal woes on the Obama administration. In 2012, the Department of Justice sued Arpaio for discrimination against Latinos and abuse of power, later settling the case. And as the then-sheriff campaigned for a seventh term in 2016, federal prosecutors announced four weeks before the Nov. 8 election that they would pursue criminal contempt charges against him, a rare legal move.
But it was the words of Arpaio's own subordinates, and Arpaio himself, that Justice Department prosecutors leaned on to secure Arpaio's prosecution. One officer, Sergeant Brett Palmer, testified that Arapaio ordered him to continue enforcing federal immigration law, in violation of Judge Snow's order. Arpaio himself spoke frequently about defying the order, including one video clip shown during the trial where he tells an inmate at his jail that “Nobody is higher than me. I am the elected sheriff by the people. I don’t serve any governor or the president.” Judge Bolton quoted Arpaio directly more than 20 times in her opinion last month.
Bill Beamish, an Arpaio supporter who lives in the same suburb of Phoenix as the former sheriff, says the charges against the former sheriff were nothing less than a political witch hunt.
“He was trying to follow the letter of the law as best as he understood it,” Mr. Beamish says. “It’s a rigged system, I’m afraid, so it wouldn’t matter whether it was Joe trying to do his job or somebody else doing something else that maybe wasn’t in the current politically correct circles.”
Arpaio may no longer be in law enforcement, but that doesn’t mean he’s done talking about his exploits. He’s writing a book and is involved with a fledgling organization created in his name to advocate for conservative causes.
“I've got some irons in the fire," he says. "We’ll see what the future holds.”
Statues, ultimately, are just finely carved lumps of stone. It's what we bring to them that matters. And that appears to be changing.
Baltimore’s four big Confederate memorials are gone. Mayor Catherine Pugh ordered them whisked away last week in the middle of the night. Where they were, there are now empty bases – and in some cases celebratory bouquets. But there are at least 700 Confederate monuments scattered throughout the United States, in busy big cities and sleepy hamlets. What should we do with them? Many will probably stay – they’re in places that want them, or have forgotten about them. But cities that view them as symbols of white supremacy and slavery will probably follow Mayor Pugh’s lead and remove them. They could be shipped to locations that make more sense – Civil War cemeteries, perhaps, or actual battlefields. They could be gathered together in Civil War statuary museums. Or they could be put in a larger context, with plaques or other explanatory material explaining that many were erected at times when the South was fighting against political rights for black citizens. “One of the possible outcomes … is that there may be some communities that come up with very creative ways to engage the existing monuments,” says history professor W. Fitzhugh Brundage, an adviser to the Commemorative Landscapes of North Carolina project.
Clarissa Harriss hesitated at the spot where the statue of Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson used to stand.
In 1948, as a little girl, Ms. Harriss had worn a polka-dot dress and carried yellow roses and participated in the statue’s dedication. She’d laid her flowers at the base of the stone representation of the famous Confederate generals. The mayor spoke. There were bands.
Today Harriss had returned with her dog and a new bouquet. She wanted to praise current Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh for hauling the statue away in the dead of night. In a majority-minority city, monuments to generals who fought for the South in the Civil War are controversial, to put it mildly. Better to eliminate the potential flash point, Harriss thought.
But she didn’t want anyone to think she was memorializing the gone statue. It was the absence she wanted to acknowledge. So she waited a moment, walking around the now-empty plinth. She decided the mood of the small gathered crowd was celebratory. She lay down her small bunch of roses – pink this time.
“They’re from my garden,” she said. “At least they’ve got a yellow ribbon.”
All across America, inanimate Confederate statues and memorials have come to life as a political issue. Whom do they represent? What is their message? After violence erupted between white supremacists and counter-protesters in Charlottesville over the city’s plan to remove a statue of Robert E. Lee, the nation is again confronting the legacy of its most divisive war.
The immediate question is deceptively simple – should they stay or should they go? In Baltimore – a city already battered by violence – the mayor preempted the discussion, and whisked four Confederate monuments away, out of public view. The University of Texas did the same.
In Charlottesville, the City Council on Monday approved covering statues in black fabric to mourn Heather Heyer, the counter-protester killed on Aug. 12. In Richmond, which served as the capital of the Confederacy during the Civil War, removal of the famous Confederate statues on the city’s Monument Avenue suddenly seems a real possibility.
Not everyone celebrates these moves. According to polls, many Americans agree with President Trump, who last week said on Twitter that the “history and culture of our great country” is being “ripped apart with the removal of our beautiful statues and monuments.”
But history is not static, like words in a dusty textbook. Our collective memory is shaped by what we have forgotten as well as what we have remembered. The changing status of Confederate statues may not be so much an erasure of the past as a shift in the aspects of the past that we emphasize, say historians.
That doesn’t mean all the statues have to be removed. It may mean that those who live with them should have more influence over their future.
“One of the possible outcomes of this contemporary debate is that there may be some communities that come up with very creative ways to engage the existing monuments,” says W. Fitzhugh Brundage, a professor of history at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and an adviser to the Commemorative Landscapes of North Carolina project.
Today there are at least 700 Confederate monuments in the United States, though nobody really knows the exact number. Most – though not all – are in the South. Only a few have been taken down or become the subject of political controversy. The rest face an uncertain future.
The vast majority of the statues were not erected in the immediate aftermath of the Civil War. They date instead to the end of Reconstruction in the late 19th century or the period of the early 20th century when Southern political leaders were instituting segregationist Jim Crow laws.
Many weren’t funded by public money, or erected by process of public law. According to Prof. Brundage, typically private groups such as the United Daughters of the Confederacy paid for memorials, arranged for public space, and hosted dedications. The groups claimed to represent local opinion.
Baltimore’s Lee and Jackson statue was typical. J. Henry Ferguson, a wealthy local banker for whom Lee was a hero, largely funded its creation in the 1920s. It wasn’t dedicated until 1948 – after World War II, when the civil rights movement was beginning to stir.
As a piece of art, the statue is notable. It is one of the first double-equestrian statues in the United States, done by sculptor Laura Gardin Fraser. John Russell Pope, architect of the nearby Baltimore Museum of Art, designed its base.
Today the base is all that’s left. On the north side its inscription reads, referring to Lee and Jackson: “THEY WERE GREAT GENERALS AND CHRISTIAN SOLDIERS AND WAGED WAR LIKE GENTLEMEN.” This is a not a sentiment shared today by the predominantly liberal urban population of Baltimore, given that the pair were fighting to preserve slavery.
“White supremacy is really what these statues represent,” says Judith Giesberg, a professor of history at Villanova University in Pennsylvania and editor of the Journal of the Civil War Era.
Given the stories these statues tell today, the question is what to do with them.
Or rather the question is what to do with them, if anything. Recent national polling has supported Mr. Trump’s assertion that the statues are about Southern pride and history. A plurality of 48 percent of Americans disapproves of Charlottesville’s decision to eventually remove its Robert E. Lee memorial, according to a recent survey by The Economist and YouGov. Thirty percent said they approved the move.
The problem is where the memorials are. Many of the largest and most prominent are in cities, and even in red states, urban areas tend blue and liberal. That can produce political tension.
A number of states in the south, including North Carolina, Alabama, Virginia, and Mississippi, have passed laws banning cities from unilaterally moving memorials. In some places, aggrieved citizens have ignored these laws. Days after the Aug. 12 Charlottesville violence, protestors in Durham, N.C., toppled a large statue of a Confederate soldier outside a courthouse with ropes.
In Baltimore, Mayor Pugh was worried about similar vandalism, or demonstrations. That’s why she made the removal of the Lee/Jackson statue and three other monuments a surprise.
“I think these decisions have to be made at the local level. In majority-black cities these conversations have been going on for a long time,” says Dr. Giesberg.
Some cities have talked about adding context to Confederate memorials, such as plaques explaining their Jim Crow-related history. Richmond Mayor Levor Stoney has discussed this approach in the past.
The problem is that adding context is hard, says Brundage. There are only so many words you can cram on a plaque. Who will read it if they’re driving by? Meanwhile, the monument continues to occupy a privileged space.
“You’re going to have communities all over the South thinking, how do we do this?” he says.
The first step should be a repeal of state laws banning the movement of Confederate statues, according to Brundage. Then communities should have their own meetings and referendums. They could vote to move them, to take them down, or to keep them. Some places might take on more.
The small town of Brandenburg, Ky., last year accepted a tall Confederate memorial from Louisville, for instance. Town leaders said at the time that their area had a rich Civil War history and they thought the monument should be preserved.
If removed, monuments should be carefully documented, or perhaps even gathered in monument parks, say historians. Parts of the old Soviet Union have established museums of Soviet iconography, gathering statues of Lenin and Stalin into new groupings to try and reflect history instead of USSR propaganda.
In Baltimore, city officials have talked about donating the Lee and Jackson memorial to Chancellorsville, Va. The statue depicts the pair’s last meeting, before Lee won a decisive victory in the 1863 Battle of Chancellorsville and Jackson was killed by friendly fire.
Meanwhile, the empty base of the Lee statue in Baltimore has become a new memorial of sorts. Located at an intersection of a working-class neighborhood of row houses, Johns Hopkins University, and wealthy North Baltimore mansions, it has drawn a steady crowd of diverse onlookers. Some leave candles and other tokens. A local artist placed a colorful papier-mâché figure of a defiant and pregnant slave woman at its foot, as if facing off with the absent Confederates. There’s been graffiti vandalism as well.
“If anything constructive can come out of this moment, that seems precisely the effect you’d want to have in opening up these public spaces again to the people who live there,” says Giesberg of Villanova.
Farmers in Colombia are willingly ripping out coca plants that fuel the cocaine trade, hopeful that a new peace means a new start. But that trust needs to be reciprocated, presenting Colombia with a problem: How do you bring prosperity to the country's remotest corners?
Jesús Antonio Toro de Martínez is behind his stilted wooden ranch house in Putumayo, Colombia – past the duck coop, bamboo cattle pen, and murky tilapia pond – uprooting the last few coca bushes growing wild in his plantain and papaya orchard. Years ago, wearying of the region’s dirty war and the drug trade that funded it, he decided that coca “just wasn’t worth the trouble.” Now, after a historic peace deal between the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, the largest rebel group, tens of thousands of families are also swapping from coca to other crops, supported by government subsidies and assistance. Mr. Toro is, in many ways, a model for such programs. But his experience doing things “the right way” has left him as skeptical as he is hopeful. Successful substitution takes more than crops, locals say: It means building new infrastructure, providing basic services like education, and targeting the root causes of rural poverty, violence, and political exclusion that preceded the conflict. “There is great distrust, on both sides,” says one government representative in Putumayo. “We’re aware that that is a significant challenge that has to be overcome.”
By the time he made it to the final booth at the open-air community center in this small Amazonian town, Rafael Pardo, Colombia’s high commissioner for post-conflict, human rights, and security, was loaded up with more produce than he could carry.
Melon, yucca, sugar cane, black pepper, pineapple, cacao, ground corn, squishy white campesino (peasant farmer) cheese – a healthy sampling of the rich agrarian potential the government hopes to foster in the impoverished, war-torn countryside. For years, the economy in states like Putumayo, near the Ecuadorean border, revolved almost exclusively around a single crop: coca, used to make cocaine. But the government is trying to change that, capitalizing on recent peace accords to end decades of drug-fueled conflict.
“Here, there’s obviously no shortage of options going forward,” Mr. Pardo says at the event, which La Carmelita residents organized to mark the start of a local coca substitution program. It’s one of five national pilots launched as part of Colombia’s historic 2016 peace accord between the administration of Nobel peace laureate President Juan Manuel Santos and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).
But, Mr. Prado says, “It’s not what the soil can produce so much as what the producer can sell.”
For decades, the FARC used revenue from the booming Colombian coca trade to finance its fight with the government. Now the rebels, who completed their transition to a civilian political movement last week, are cooperating with state officials to establish an institutional presence in their former strongholds: police stations, hospitals, even banks. It’s an opportunity to heal a fragmented nation – and a high-stakes test of a government long characterized as ineffective and corrupt.
Since May, some 75,000 coca-farming families across Colombia have volunteered for a two-year crop substitution program outlined in the FARC peace deal. The program, which doles out food subsidies and technical assistance to participating campesinos, could expand to include as many as 100,000 additional families, according to the presidential task force.
Once it’s persuaded them leave the relatively lucrative crop behind, however, the government has to ensure the necessary conditions for viable alternatives. That means building new infrastructure, improving basic public services like education, and targeting the root causes of rural poverty, violence, and political exclusion that preceded Colombia’s half-century armed conflict with the FARC.
“The state has totally abandoned its responsibilities in Putumayo,” says Yuri Quintero, a departmental assemblywoman from La Carmelita. “And that negligence is not something that can be overcome in months or even years.”
Building infrastructure – from roads and bridges, to schools and hospitals – will be key to Colombia’s success in creating lasting peace, locals say.
“These are, for the most part, fertile lands,” says local farmer Jesús Antonio Toro de Martínez. “You can grow whatever you want. That’s not the problem.” The problem is what happens once you’ve harvested, he says.
Behind his stilted wooden ranch house, past the duck coop, bamboo cattle pen, and murky tilapia fish pond, Toro is uprooting the last few coca bushes growing wild amid his plantain and papaya orchard.
He thought he’d removed the last of the coca in 2002, when he first bought the 2.5-acre farm from a friend. Worn out by his youthful hedonism and weary of Putumayo’s escalating dirty war – in which guerrillas, right-wing paramilitaries, and public officials alike all drew from the drug trade – he decided that coca “just wasn’t worth the trouble.”
Ahead of a UN inspection in July, he gladly ripped up the patch of native, chest-high coca bushes that had survived at the back of his property.
Mr. Toro is, in many ways, a model for what coca substitution hopes to accomplish. A trained, if unlicensed, veterinarian who grew up around livestock and subsistence crops on his grandmother’s farm, he offers affordable medical services to ranchers and started a local agrarian association to encourage legal farming.
But his experience doing things “the right way” has left him as skeptical as he is hopeful.
How, he wonders, will farmers process value-added foodstuffs without equipment, technical training, and reliable electricity? How will they keep produce from spoiling in the sweltering Amazonian humidity? While government geographers are busy surveying future infrastructure projects, how are farmers supposed to get shipments to market over muddy jungle trails and unbridged rivers? And what happens, once they get them there, if there is no market to begin with?
“There’s not enough money nor demand in this region to sustain a productive economy,” says Toro. “Especially if, from one day to the next, everybody starts selling limes instead of coca.
“What worries me is that, in all those meetings [the government has] held, they’ve never talked about how we’re going to commercialize our goods,” Toro says. “Without commerce, we don’t have anything.”
One reason for caution is Plan Colombia, the US-backed counternarcotics and counterinsurgency offensive launched in 2000. Government officials made similar promises about coca replacement and social support then, allocating tens of millions of dollars for “alternative development” in Putumayo. But residents say the money never reached them, or that early substitution efforts were canceled out by aggressive chemical eradication campaigns that harmed their new crops. And, while coca production had dropped in recent years, it has shot back up recently, to levels last seen when Plan Colombia was getting off the ground.
“There is great distrust, on both sides,” says Miguel Ortega, the government’s representative for substitution programs in Putumayo. “We’re aware that that is a significant challenge that has to be overcome.”
Mr. Ortega insists that officials have learned the lessons of Plan Colombia, pointing to a the new program’s collaborative, community-led design and transparency.
FARC’s active participation is also seen as crucial to securing much-needed community buy-in.
“As a political movement, we are committed to ensuring that communities that have been obligated, due to their material conditions, to resort to criminalized means of survival [now] enjoy all the opportunities they deserve,” says a rebel commander who goes by the alias “Norbey,” previously in charge of FARC’s 48th Front.
A formidable fighting force, the Putumayo-based 48th Front was one of many units tasked with filling the rebels’ coffers with revenue from coca production “taxes” and semi-processed cocaine paste. Norbey says he has shared extensive intelligence with newly formed government teams assigned to pursuing right-wing criminal gangs aiming to take control of former FARC territories.
But the peaceful future of communities like La Carmelita will depend on even more than viable markets and sturdy bridges.
On a recent afternoon, 15-year-old Yeni Alejandra stands in the middle of La Carmelita’s lone highway, holding a homemade sign. After regularly being dismissed from school two-and-a-half hours early, she’s protesting alongside a few hundred other students, teachers, and parents, calling for schools to “give us more class.”
“My goals, my dreams, all depend on my studies,” says Yeni.
Putumayo is one of the poorest departments in Colombia, and has just one public institute of higher education, a vocational school. Students, who commute hours on foot, by donkey, and sometimes by speedboat, struggle to make it to the chronically underfunded grade schools.
Last year, activists and community leaders successfully lobbied the departmental and national government to adopt a 10-year development strategy for Putumayo. Like the coca substitution program, the plan includes a series of long-term investments in infrastructure, health care, and education.
But a global drop in oil prices has pushed Bogotá toward austerity. And mounting political pressure to reduce coca cultivation means that there’s more focus on short-term success eradicating coca plants at the expense of long-term investment, according to a recent report from the Ideas for Peace Foundation, a Colombian think tank.
“We have to acknowledge that coca provided a lot of basic needs that the government didn’t,” says Ms. Quintero, the local assemblywoman.
“If the government isn’t willing or ready to fulfill its obligations, then people are going to go back to what they feel is safe.”
It must be lonely in a town where you are the only resident. Except, for Elsie Eiler, it's not.
Elsie Eiler is used to people asking why she remains in the Nebraska town in which she is the sole resident. “Nobody is keeping me here,” she tells them. “I am here because I want to be here.” Every morning, Mrs. Eiler walks to the squat, white tavern she operates, every morning except Mondays – she’s given herself one day off. She takes care of the place she once ran with her late husband all by herself now. But, she says, “if I get busy, somebody will jump up and help.” Between lunch and dinner orders, she hand-washes the dishes or sits at a table to visit. There’s a steady stream of visitors. Some regulars drive 10 miles or more every day to check on her and swap stories – many grew up near Monowi, Neb., and did not stray far. Other people drop by because they have heard of the town or have read about it on Facebook, posted by other visitors. “How could anybody say I’m isolated,” says 80-something Eiler, “when I’ve had visitors from 47 states and 41 countries?”
As the mayor, only voter, and sole resident of this incorporated village, Elsie Eiler is pretty used to people asking why she remains here as population: 1.
“But this one fellow, he just kept at it. He kept saying, really, why do you stay?” recounts Mrs. Eiler. “I finally said, ‘There’s something you don’t understand. Nobody is keeping me here. I am here because I want to be here.’ He looked at me like I was crazy.”
Eiler is not crazy.
She’s not even that unusual in broad, sparse rural America. Out here, community is defined less by the people who live next to you and more by the people who would help you if you need it.
And in that, Eiler has a thriving community. Like Rocky Wilson. He strolls in the side door of the tavern operated by Eiler and her late husband since 1971, the only working building left other than the trailer she lives in behind the cafe. No need for salutations. Mr. Wilson heads to the cooler and helps himself to a bottle of pop.
He throws down a dollar, but Eiler ignores it and sizes him up sharply.
“You feeling strong today?” she asks.
“Watcha need,” Wilson shrugs.
Eiler had pulled her car up to the cafe last night after getting groceries in Spencer, 20 miles away. She just slightly bumped the motorcycle parked there by another regular, toppling it down. She giggles, embarrassed. Could he pull it upright?
“Sure,” says Wilson, ambling for the door. “I’ll be back to throw out those cardboard boxes.”
When Eiler grew up on a farm outside Monowi, it was a busy little cluster of farms and businesses, with a population of more than 100. She went to a schoolhouse with four grades in one room, then took a bus to the high school in Lynch seven miles down the road.
She met Rudy Eiler in school. When he graduated, he went to France in the Air Force. “All the boys went into the military then. There was nothing to keep them here,” she says. Eiler and a girlfriend headed off to adventure, too. They went to airline agent school in Kansas City, and then worked in Austin and Dallas.
“We went with the big idea we’d be stewardesses, but you had to be 21 to be a stewardess. We were only 19.” They stayed in city-life for a year, “but neither one of us cared much for it. We knew we wanted to come back.”
She did come back, and got married to Rudy. They farmed for a bit, but then Rudy, a reader and all-around friendly fellow, suggested fixing up the old café and bar in town to run it. “Fine by me,” Eiler recalls saying. “Baby pigs are cute, but there’s nothin’ cute about them when they get big.”
But by then, the restlessness that defined America’s character – the gold-prospecting, homesteading, land-hungry push westward that had left the countryside seeded with small farms and towns – had passed.
Rural America began slowly to empty out. Monowi’s three groceries closed. Small farmers sold to big, and left. The post office closed. The other tavern in town settled into the ground. The last funeral held at the wood frame Methodist church was for Eiler’s father in 1960, and a birch tree rose to wrap itself around the abandoned building.
Travelers emerging from the broad cornfields of eastern Nebraska to the folded terrain skirting the Missouri River on Highway 12 saw the green road sign announcing Monowi change from Population 11, to 3, and then to 2. When Rudy died of cancer in 2004, the sign changed again.
Rural towns all over are declared “dying.” It is a too-harsh diagnosis. They are certainly emptier – one can drive the long, straight roads of Nebraska at night, and only occasionally see a solitary light in a window twinkling in a sea of darkness. Seven of Nebraska’s counties had a population of less than one person per square mile in the 2010 census.
But they are not dying. People stay because here is more appealing than there – the there of a city, of a suburb, of a retirement home or a room in their daughter’s home. They do the work they know. They drive for a half-hour to visit friends they know. Some stay to raise kids. Some stay to harbor memories.
“When Rudy went, a lot of people thought I would be just close the door and leave,” says Eiler. “But why? All my friends are here.”
She has a daughter in Tucson, Ariz., and a son near Sioux City, Iowa. Her daughter flies in each November to help with the crush at the café during deer-hunting season, and Eiler often returns with her to Arizona for a few weeks.
“Oh, I’d be welcome to live with either one,” she says of her grown children. “And I could do it, if I have to. But then I’d have to make friends all over again.”
Instead, she walks down to the squat, white tavern, every morning except Mondays – she’s given herself one day off. The place is a bit worn. On the front of the plain building she has put a beer sign proclaiming the “World Famous Monowi Tavern.” She puts on a pot of coffee for some of the regulars who drop by, even though she doesn’t make breakfast. Come lunchtime and dinner time, though, she will whip up meals from the menu posted on the wall. Burgers $3.50, gizzards $4, steaks $14.75.
She does it all herself. But “if I get busy, somebody will jump up and help.” Between orders, she hand-washes the dishes or sits at the table to visit. There’s a steady stream of visitors. Some regulars drive 10 miles or more every day to check on her and swap stories—many grew up near Monowi and did not stray far. Gayle Heiser heaves down on a chair, and Eiler brings out a photo of them together in elementary school, posing over a Rodeo red wagon.
Other people drop by because they had heard of the town of population one, or had read about it on Facebook posted by other visitors – Eiler doesn’t have any use for computers or a cellphone. On a recent day, Denny and Judy Sloup drove 175 miles to say they had come here, and buy a T-shirt and cap that Eiler sells from a table in the tavern. Before they leave, the 80-something proprietress asks them to sign her guestbook – volume three in her collection.
“How could anybody say I’m isolated when I’ve had visitors from 47 states and 41 countries?” she demands. She does the annual paperwork to keep Monowi an incorporated village “just because I feel like I’d be letting the community down” she says, if she didn’t.
In the winter, she hosts a regular Sunday night came of Euchre, with up to two dozen buddies. She closes “whenever everybody decides to go home” – usually around 9 or 10 p.m. When they leave, Monowi’s population returns to one.
“Believe me,” she says with emphasis. “When I lock up and go home at night, I’m perfectly happy.”
The view from the barricades in Boston last weekend suggested that the “neutral zone” for free speech in America is becoming harder to defend. The space between the two sides at the event – which avoided the deadly violence seen in Charlottesville, Va. – was generally inhabited only by police. Organizers of the counterprotest urged activists to not engage in discussion with the other side but rather to shame them. And in the few moments when those with strong views had exchanges, the contact often appeared to be militant. Yet where there was actual conversation, it showed the basis of some small spark of understanding. “I honestly went there because I'm somewhat ignorant about what some of these groups think,” one attendee said, “and why they feel the way that they do.” That kind of thinking hints at a nation moving at least a small step away from the need of barricades.
Boston avoided violence at its “free speech” rally on Saturday by keeping right-wing organizers and counterdemonstrators strictly separate. Some 500 Massachusetts police officers lined up along barricades to enforce a large “neutral zone.”
The security plan largely worked. Boston saw no repeat of the deadly violence at a similar event in Charlottesville, Va., a week earlier.
But the view from those barricades suggested that the “neutral zone” for free speech in America is becoming harder to defend.
Supporters of the event saw it as an affirmation of the right to speak out on controversial issues. Counterprotesters saw it as an apology for white nationalism. The space between them was generally inhabited only by police.
Organizers of the counterprotest urged activists to not engage in discussion with the other side but rather to shame them.
“Shame works,” said activist Shel Raphen, on the barricades at Boston Common to support the counterprotest. “Research shows that if you feel bad about what you’re doing, you’ll stop doing it.”
When a protester activist tried to engage counterprotesters on the other side of the barricades, he was shouted down with chants of “don’t engage.”
In the few moments when those with strong views met and talked, the contact was often militant.
Retirees James and Susan Reilly held an American flag on ground occupied by the counterprotesters. Some who passed by jeered, and they were pushed down twice and spat on once, they said. But one young man in a mask stopped to listen. The conversation went something like this:
“The flag is our history. It’s how we became free,” said Mr. Reilly. “How do you feel about that?”
“The flag is a slave symbol,” said the masked activist.
“For you to say that the American flag is a sign of slavery – I don’t get that. We the people here right now had nothing to do with slavery,” Reilly said.
“I would expect them to think about history and think about all of the deaths, destruction that was caused [by slavery],” the activist said, and moved on.
Did that conversation matter?
Reilly’s response: “There is a lot of work to do.” What would help? “God. Having faith. Having a good debate.”
And the activist’s: “I have absolutely nothing in common with them. They fly the same flag they flied with slavery. They preach hate and violence.”
After the protesters wound down their event early, Boston Mayor Martin Walsh declared a victory over “bigotry and hate.” President Trump, widely criticized for blaming “both sides” for the violence in Charlottesville, tweeted his congratulations: “Our great country has been divided for decades,” he wrote. “Sometimes you need protest in order to heal, and we will heal, and be stronger than ever before.”
The absence of violence in Boston deserves praise. Maintaining the safety of protesters and counterprotesters will be essential in the days and months ahead. Yet the conversation between the Reillys and the activist was essential, too. As uncomfortable as it was, it was the basis of some small spark of understanding – and in that way, a small step away from a nation in need of barricades.
“I honestly went there because I'm somewhat ignorant about what some of these groups think and why they feel the way that they do,” Reilly said after the event. “If I don't talk about it and go where they are, I’ll stay ignorant about it.”
Each weekday, the Monitor includes one clearly labeled religious article offering spiritual insight on contemporary issues, including the news. The publication – in its various forms – is produced for anyone who cares about the progress of the human endeavor around the world and seeks news reported with compassion, intelligence, and an essentially constructive lens. For many, that caring has religious roots. For many, it does not. The Monitor has always embraced both audiences. The Monitor is owned by a church – The First Church of Christ, Scientist, in Boston – whose founder was concerned with both the state of the world and the quality of available news.
Increasing reports about the frequency of drug use for everything from helping to improve focus, to relieving anxiety, to relaxing are a growing concern on college campuses and beyond. But there’s another option – one that brings lasting healing. Prayerfully listening for inspiration from God, divine Mind, brings fresh ideas infused with hope and faith that uplift our thoughts and actions, and enable individuals to discern God’s infinite love for each one of us. God, who is all Love, all Truth, knows us to be spiritual, pure, joyful, and cared for. As we come to realize this more and more, we are comforted and inspired in ways that bring permanent peace and healing to our thoughts and lives.
While I was chatting with my college-aged children recently, they expressed concern about the frequency of drug use on campus. Fellow students are taking drugs for everything from helping them to focus on a test, to relieving anxiety, to relaxing. Increasing reports of this issue are a growing concern on college campuses and beyond.
Clearly it is right to seek to address sadness, anxiety, and other challenges that can arise, but does this really need to lead down a path of dependency on drugs in an attempt to find relief?
In my own experience, I have consistently found release from just such problems through the sweet spiritual lift that comes from prayerfully listening for inspiration from God, the ever-conscious divine Mind. As the Bible points out, “In the multitude of my anxieties within me, Your comforts delight my soul” (Psalms 94:19, New King James Version). Divine Mind communicates only goodness and peace to each of us, its own spiritual creation. Fresh, new ideas, infused with hope and faith, fill our thoughts when we turn to God for help. I’ve found that receptivity to God’s infinite love uplifts my thoughts and actions. This inspires calm; turns me toward healthier, holier pursuits; and brings healing.
There was a time several years ago when I was struggling with anxiety attacks during a very difficult period for my family. Many other challenges in my life – whether physical or emotional – had been permanently resolved through prayer, so it felt very natural to take that approach again. Every day seemed a struggle, and I asked a Christian Science practitioner – an individual in the full-time practice of healing through prayer – to pray for me, too.
It wasn’t always easy, but as I turned wholeheartedly to God and listened for the loving insights divine Mind communicates continuously, I found I had the strength and grace I needed every day. I felt a renewed sense of God as Life itself, and I began to feel truly safe and secure. The physical symptoms, such as chest pains and shortness of breath, started to abate and within a few months permanently left.
Not only have I remained completely free of any symptoms of anxiety attacks, but above all, this experience brought spiritual growth and a peace and confidence in God’s care that I had not known before. The family challenges were ultimately resolved harmoniously, and our family is on new, beautiful, and firm ground.
Following in the path Christ Jesus pointed out, Christian healer Mary Baker Eddy, the Monitor’s founder, demonstrated through years of experience that turning to God, divine Truth, is a most effective healing agent. She wrote: “The fact that Truth overcomes both disease and sin reassures depressed hope. It imparts a healthy stimulus to the body, and regulates the system. It increases or diminishes the action, as the case may require, better than any drug, alterative, or tonic” (“Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” p. 420).
God, who is all Love, all Truth, knows us to be spiritual, pure, joyful, and cared for. As we come to realize this more and more, we are comforted and inspired in ways that bring permanent peace and healing to our thoughts and lives.
Thanks for reading tonight. Come back tomorrow. One of the stories we’re working on: Leftists in Europe have long given Venezuela a pass, heralding the socialist government despite its populist and authoritarian tendencies. Now, events there are giving Europe’s left wing pause.