Wednesday, August 16, 2017


Declaring the 'disappeared' — Chile, 2013. 


CHUQUISACA, BOLIVIA — As befits the times, I have been studying Nikolaus Wachsmann’s KL: A History of the Nazi Concentration Camps (‘concentration camps’translate as Konzentrationslager, hence ‘KL’) and re-reading Uprooted Minds: Surviving the Politics of Terror in the Americas, by Nancy Caro Hollander. As a resident of Bolivia, I’ve also had the chance to befriend Latin American activists who were jailed and tortured, or fled, during the dictatorships of the 1970s-80s — including one man who was among the very few to escape a massacre committed by the same battalion that years earlier had murdered Che Guevara (“Interview with a Revolutionary,” The Journal of Wild Culture, 27 Nov 2016), and another who fled, directly from being tortured, to the airport to escape to Sweden, his jaw broken and blood soaking his shirt.

Comparisons between Nazi Germany and Trump’s US-in-process abound these days. Naomi Wolfe has enlightened us with her recipe of actions cooked up by governments aiming for hegemonic control of populace, military, and institutions in her book, The End of America. Through the decades, US progressives have been regaled with grapevine rumors that camps, like those used to corral Japanese-Americans during World War II, are being outfitted to house ‘subversives’ and ‘terrorists.’ And as Ivan Krastev writes in The New York Times ('The Rise of the Paranoid Citizen,' 16 March 2017), “Yet the fundamental change in democratic politics is that when political identities are based on shared conspiracy theories, people are committed not to finding truth but to revealing secrets.” Read: consciously-constructed, interest-based inventions or well launched unconscious projections.

It’s true: we inhabit a topsy-turvy, post-truth world defined by the uncertainty produced by Trump’s emotional instabilities, postmodern media circus, and ideological maneuvers. So what’s a citizen who harbors a long-standing assumption of personal freedom and national democracy to do?

The transition from ‘today's more-or-less democracy’ to outright fascism is often imagined as an overnight event — as indeed it was on 11 September 1973 in Chile with the early-morning coup d’état that led to President Allende’s death and the demolition of the country’s democratic-socialist project. Historian Nancy Caro Hollander’s interviews with survivors of such transitions in Uruguay and Argentina reveal a slower, step-by-step process. Her interest is the evolution of theory and practice in the psychoanalytic community, before and through the dictatorships, and her interviewees tend to be analysts who favored the merging of human-rights politics with psychoanalysis and made their services available to poor and working-class communities and, as repression increased, to the tortured and families of the disappeared. Said interviewees describe not only the strain on their patients, but also their own inner tensions. As client loads became weighted toward those targeted by the military, analysts came to know too much for their own good. Decisions to stay or leave had to be made, often instantaneously, but living under a veil of not-knowing how far things would be taken, they themselves became subject to the tangled thinking induced by panic and the near-total erasure of logic that denial offers.
Three Mile Island accident (1978) . . . "life under the hair-trigger threat of the arms race."  

Such responses are endemic to life-and-death predicaments infused with ambiguity. Unless one’s name appears on a death-squad list for all to see, the psyche is vulnerable to any number of defenses. In the late-1970s, before the movie “The China Syndrome” and the near-meltdown of Three Mile Island reactor contributed to the detonation of anti-nuclear sentiment crystallizing as the Nuclear Freeze effort, psychiatrist Carol Wolman applied feminist consciousness-raising principles to life under the hair-trigger threat of the arms race. In discussion groups she uncovered a host of psychic mechanisms people had been using for decades to avoid thinking about nuclear
weapons: dissociation as in disconnecting one’s self from the problem, such as “We’ll be fine. Northern California is the only region that will escape the toxic cloud”; splitting, believing in two contradictory things at the same time, such as thinking that US weapons are beneficial while Soviet arms are evil incarnate; flat-out denial that an untoward event would ever occur; a sense of grandiosity, for instance, that one’s study group will stop the arms race; escapism into hedonism or a flurry of activity; displacement, segueing concern onto other social issues that seem more manageable, like donating to the school choir. Meanwhile, in his acclaimed study of Hiroshima and Nagasaki survivors, Death in Life, psychiatrist Robert Jay Lifton identified the response to the “unspeakable” — and unfeel-able — as psychic numbing.

Given that her interviewees were eager to talk about their experiences and vulnerabilities, Hollander uncovered similar defenses amid the muddle of truth and lies that arise as a society embarks on the road from relatively open to egregiously totalitarian. First off, as government repression morphed into out-and-out fascism, so psychological disorders mushroomed. Mental health professionals boasted packed schedules, and years later, when interviewed, they spoke of using the same unconscious defenses as their clients had.

Denial was extensive as patients and practitioners alike clung to fantasies of “normality” and attempted to live as they had before, sometimes the only bones thrown to admitting awareness of a change being clearing out their houses of subversive material. After the coup some Chileans sought relief by insisting that the US State Department and CIA (clearly unmanageable entities) could not have orchestrated it. Splitting was rampant. As an analyst in Uruguay explained: “I continued to believe in democracy when I was living in a country that was already totalitarian.” Dissociation abounded as well. A doctor who was treating a Tupamaro militant discounted his own vulnerability — until the day he himself was taken prisoner. An Argentine theater director with training in psychoanalysis said: “I employed an instrumental dissociation in order to go on. . . I told myself it would be all right, that I wasn’t a guerrilla, only a playwright whose theater dealt with the human condition.” The military came for him in 1978.
Pacifist Carl von Ossietzky: prisoner of the Nazis, winner of the Nobel Prize.

After regaling myself with research into the vagaries of the human psyche in jeopardy, to enhance my understanding of the process of escalation toward sadistic fascism I turned to Nazi Germany and its creation of the death camps. I mentioned my investigation to a friend, a Guatemalan anthropologist who grew up during the genocides and massacres of the 1970s-’80s. One might guess that, given his background, he would bitterly blurt out that the government absolutely knew from the get-go that its ultimate goal was to gas millions of criminals, social ‘deviants,’ and racially ‘unacceptables.’ Such a belief is exactly the kind of public misconception that Wachsmann corrects as he weaves together the subjective experience of the military, the police, the detainees inside the camps, and the populace outside them into a single, painstakingly researched narrative. In fact (and I use that word because Wachsmann is a thorough historian of Nazism with three books before KL under his belt), the devolution into death factories where dead bodies were produced as if candy bars on assembly lines was not imagined from the get-go. The journey to that end was a years-long, labyrinthine process fueled by the chaotic decentralization of the early camps: a seat-of-the-pants experimentation that led to constantly changing goals and techniques, political pressures that sometimes grew and sometimes waned, and the capture of absolute power by the supreme sadist Adolph Hitler. At one point, in 1933-35, state officials, legal authorities and even some SS commanders demanded and gained a downsizing of the camps by thousands of releases — and a popular push to shut the camps down entirely emerged. It was only scrapped due to the insistence and political pull of SS honcho/police commander Heinrich Himmler.

At first the camps were a hodge-podge of state prisons, existing workhouses, vacant hotels, and even pubs run by whoever was available among the Sturmabteilung (SA), the Schutzstaffel (SS), and the police. A potpourri of structures and rules existed, and treatment has been reported as relatively bearable, with inmates often released. The earliest targets were political resisters — communists, nationalists, and social democrats — as well as criminals, “beggars and vagabonds”, particularly as the 1934 Olympics in Berlin approached. But perhaps we could say that “the hand writing was on the wall.”

The first wave of violence — kicking and punching — erupted in 1933. The hands-on perpetrators, the guards, were often the poor and working-class men who felt wronged by society and whose anger had been fanned by instruction that inmates represented the very ‘scum,’‘swine,’ and ‘cancer’ that threatened Germany purity. Leaders were typically those humiliated by German defeat in World War I, then radicalized in paramilitary struggles against the reformist, social democratic Weimar Republic. Occasional outbursts of cruelty developed into institutional deployment of truncheons, whips, hoses, force-feedings, sexual abuse, perverse medical experiments, and sporadic individual and group killings. Devolution into outright obliteration was not far behind.

Surprisingly to me, the Nazis actually cared about public image — at least in the beginning. When prominent pacifist Carl von Ossietzky was imprisoned in 1933, held up as a trophy prisoner and openly abused, an international campaign to award him the Nobel Peace Prize was mounted. Feeling the pressure, in 1936 the government moved him out of prison into a hospital. He won the Nobel. 
A thousand people lay down on the sidewalk in Santiago, Chile during a commemorative action, 40 years after Pinochet took power. 

Yet, as Hitler solidified his grip within Germany, and as he steered war strategy toward brazen confrontations, conquering most of Europe by 1941, foreign opinion mattered less and less. All prisoner releases were banned and able inmates worked to death in the ‘Annihilation Work’ program. SS higher-ups and guards felt the license to unleash a pandemonium of sadism. Increasingly, Jews became the preferred scapegoat. That so many resisters of Nazism were Jews was seen as verification of a link between them and the ‘deviance’ of ‘Jewish Bolshevism.’ As Wachsmann puts it, “Radical anti-Semitism was part of the Camp SS code, a wild mix of traditional prejudice, racial mania, perverse fantasies, and political paranoia.” Upon arrival guards began to either send them directly from the train to the gas chambers or categorize them to accentuate inferior status by requiring the six-sided star badge. Anti-semitic ritual humiliation, maltreatment, and violence proliferated. 1941 was the year the KL stepped over the line, from killing the disabled and infirm because they were useless to slaughtering thousands of Soviet POWs. Calculated extermination of the Jewish population followed.

We might ask: how is such history relevant to this moment? Hollander and Wachsmann both highlight the prominence of ambiguity, uncertainty, and disorientation that reigns for victims and perpetrators as circumstances unfold. Given our current situation, we might do well to recall the old saw so popular during the anti-nuclear movement of the 1980s: if a frog is thrown into boiling water, it will jump out; but if the frog is placed in cold water that is brought gradually to a boil, it won’t notice and will be cooked unknowingly.

If we can apply lessons learned from similar or metaphoric predicaments of the past, we might just become driven less by the vicissitudes of disorientation and fear and more grounded in reality. Albeit, without a crystal ball, the most crucial question remains as unanswered as it did for people of the past. How much can President Trump and his accomplices achieve on this express flight to dismantling democratic balances, uninhibited industrialization, hyper-militarism, social-service demolition, economic austerity, and license to murder the planet? One of Hollander’s points is that when we break out of our numbing and reject our helplessness by actively mobilizing the Resistance, we become less fearful, more resilient to future difficulties, and more alive. ≈©

CHELLIS GLENDINNING is a writer and psychotherapist specializing in trauma recovery. She is the author of seven books, including the award-winning Off the Map: An Expedition Deep into Empire and the Global Economy and Chiva: A Village Takes on the Global Heroin Trade. A US citizen, she lives in Chuquisaca, Bolivia.


Algunos orígenes de algunos de nuestros males


Hace bastante tiempo que vengo pensando en algunas cosas capitales para mí. Por ejemplo, el giro que he tenido en mi visión y construcción del mundo desde hace al menos 8 años. O diría más bien el reencuentro con mi mirada original. En un principio cambios casi imperceptibles para otros, puesto que yo me dedicaba a enmascararlos, a entregarlos de a goteras, como cae esa gota desde el techo al suelo, la gotera que sino triza la casa, al menos la evidencia no tan segura, ni tan monolítica.

Hace unos días me encontré con un hombre que me conocía por mis textos políticos, se notaba que me había leído y que tenía sino una preocupación, al menos algo que decirme. Se trataba, según él, de mi copernicano giro político. Es decir de mi cambio desde que yo probablemente escribía en G80, hasta que comencé a hacerlo en este espacio, SITIOCERO. Más allá de encontrarle la razón en ello, pues es evidente, me llamó la atención que entre café y cigarros, él me pedía volver a un cierto redil, es decir a esa mirada de trinchera, crítica al sistema, que alguna vez tuve. El hombre si bien no lo pedía encarecidamente, si lo hacía convencido de que su mirada era “correcta” y que yo me había “desviado” de dicha mirada que también había sido la mía.

En una segunda reunión con otras personas, algunas muy queridas para mí y otras que no conocía, se planteaba la preeminencia de la política y lo político en el mundo social, tal cual a mi juicio se ha entendido desde la Grecia clásica, pasando por el Iluminismo y la Ilustración y por las Revoluciones Burguesas y Proletarias de finales del siglo XVIII, del siglo XIX y XX. En un ejercicio bastante cansador para mí, pues realmente hablar de eso me resulta agotador, y a su vez como me canso mucho, tiendo a ser un tanto impositivo en mis mensajes (con el consecuente efecto contrario al que quiero construir), planteé exactamente lo contrario de todos ellos, que la crisis actual de la sociedad, al menos en Latinoamérica y Chile, tenía que ver con que NO hemos salido de la concepción política Iluminista, Ilustrada y de la Vanguardia y que hay una Inflación de la política y de la ideología, que en realidad no tienen ni deberían tener la importancia que se les atribuye. Y que más aún, que dicha Inflación nos mostraba como sociedades subdesarrolladas culturalmente, refractarias a la diversidad de otras manifestaciones humanas, y a la vez, inestables.

Las personas con que hablaba eran un crisol de edades y formaciones, pertenecientes a distintos grupos sociales, desde capas medias universitarias a obreros del retail y comerciantes. Y ciertamente, si bien no hacían política activa, eran de izquierda. Y me llamó muchísimo la atención que todos ellos con la intención de denunciar lo injusto y coercitivo del sistema en el que vivimos, desarrollaban una mirada política desde una verdad inicial (no en el sentido por ejemplo de mi propio discurso enfático, insoportable a esas alturas), sino en el sentido más profundo del término, es decir de dar por sentado que para comenzar a conversar, debería haber un consenso inaugural: que efectivamente la política y lo político eran una síntesis de todas las manifestaciones humanas y que todas ellas: culturales, educativas, de género u otras, eran finalmente políticas o que en su ejercicio no político, también incidían políticamente, a pesar de ni siquiera planteárselo.

Por mi parte, y considerando tanto la conversación con el primer hombre, como con el grupo de personas, me dio la impresión de que afirmar que por una parte, no había camino correcto sino miradas distintas, y que por otra que yo no creyese para nada que toda manifestación de la vida fuese política o pudiese siempre mirarse desde la política, o que tuviese objetivos políticos, en el sentido de modificar consciente o inconscientemente el mundo de relaciones y el sistema, me hacían estar completamente fuera del sentido común. Sé que mi ejercicio era muy molesto para ellos. Y lo hice a propósito. Pues tomaba el camino de la deconstrucción de lo dominante entre los dominados. Lo que llama Bourdieu denunciar lo populista del pueblo. Trataba de desbaratar y salir de esa mirada, a mi juicio, germen de una voluntad hegemónica o decididamente totalitaria futura, en tanto se planteaba como correcta o más correcta y a la vez promovía la política, en el fondo, como la actividad rectora de todo lo humano. Pero más allá de lo conceptual, lo que me parecía complejo y angustiante, es que esas personas comunes y corrientes que no tienen poder político, estuviesen inoculadas en esta concepción, que como digo, es el origen de un cierta imposición cultural y un dominio político posterior de los mayoritarios sobre una minoría, o sobre una diversidad que no cree en la preeminencia de lo político y de la política.

Es que para mí la historia siempre ha sido, no sólo enfocarnos políticamente en la crítica profunda al sistema, y a aquel adversario que enarbola lo que no nos gusta y lo que nos hace sufrir, es decir tal cual plantea también Bourdieu denunciar lo elitista de la elite, sino en lo fundamental, el mirarnos a nosotros mismos, y ver cómo pensamos, qué hacemos y qué ofrecemos a cambio. Pues la pregunta permanente debería ser, si uno mismo junto a otros supuestamente propios, enarbolamos o no modos de relación humana cualitativamente superiores a lo que criticamos, donde entre otras muchas cosas, propendamos más a la convivencia que a la confrontación, al bien común y comunitario que a intereses particulares o corporativos. Y, junto a ello, ser capaces de diagnosticarnos, de que quizás podemos desde nuestra concepción supuestamente justa y pletórica de amor al semejante, llegar a construir aquello que en un futuro no le va a gustar a una mayoría, e inclusive a nosotros mismos.

Siempre recuerdo la frase de Goya, el sueño de la razón produce monstruos, y por lo mismo, cuando estaba más cerca de los socialismos reales que de cualquier modelo, leía a Kundera más que a Stalin, y me preocupaba mucho de ver películas realizadas en la propia Europa Oriental que siempre censuradas develaban lo que no funcionaba, lo triste, en suma las injusticias, más que de ver propaganda oficial de los regímenes. Nunca me gustó solazarme en mis certezas, pues podían construir injusticias inimaginables. Es cosa de ver la formidable película alemana La Vida de los Otros. En fin, ser una especie de Pepe Grillo de quienes están más cerca de uno, a veces es más complejo que mostrar desnuda nuestra mirada del mundo a quienes están en una posición diametralmente opuesta.

De SITIOCERO, 02/03/2016 

Cuervos inmisericordes


En las noches frías jugamos a leer comienzos de novelas. Lo hacemos de forma arbitraria, entre miles de obras, buscando la que nos agarre de las solapas, la que nos inquiete, la que nos cautive con su poesía inevitable. Así es como hemos llegado reiteradamente a Bashevis Singer, a Nabokov, a Richard Ford y a casi todos los japoneses. Kundera es un caramelo para una madrugada alcoholizada, Cormac MacCarthy un whisky barato para el crepúsculo, antes que la pesadilla se travista de insomnio. Chéjov es la mañana otoñal, el sol tibio, el celular sin registro de llamadas. Joseph Roth es la soledad abalanzándose como una pandilla de cuervos inmisericordes. 

De CUADERNOS DE LA IRA (blog del autor), 15/08/2017

Licencias literarias


Se anuncian chubascos para el atardecer. Una decoloración de azules y grises ensombrece las montañas. Diminutos jilgueros de pecho verde amarillo picotean las últimas manzanas. La comida libre de los pájaros empieza a escasear en julio. Pasan grandes aviones autografiando el cielo. Seguimos leyendo a Joseph Roth. Tras terminar Fuga sin fin y El triunfo de la belleza hemos buscado el resto de sus novelas. Ya nos falta poco para conseguirlas. Fue una vida breve e intensa. Errancia, miseria, honor y alcoholismo, como Franz Tunda o su santo bebedor. Un pájaro pintado que busca los cimientos de un imperio esfumado. Y entremedio, muletillas risueñas, carcajadas literarias, licencias recreativas que sólo se le perdonan a un gran novelista.

De CUADERNOS DE LA IRA (blog del autor), 15/08/2017

¿Quién nos protege de los sociópatas con uniforme?


El último fin de semana, la sociedad cochabambina fue estremecida por un espeluznante suceso que casi acabó con toda una familia. Un subteniente de la Fuerza Aérea disparó a quemarropa contra su exnovia de 21 años, al hermano de 19, a quienes hirió mortalmente en la cabeza; fulminado al padre, también militar, que había salido alertado por un vecino; además de herir gravemente a la hermana menor de 18 años, y disparar en la pierna al hombre que había acudido a ayudar; para posteriormente suicidarse en el mismo sitio. El homicida interceptó a su exenamorada que retornaba a casa acompañada de su hermano, el viernes cerca de la medianoche y, sin pensárselo dos veces, descargó su arma contra todos los presentes. La madre se salvó porque no estaba en el lugar en ese instante. 

La tragedia desnuda una vez más la falta de institucionalidad de nuestro país, demostrando una serie de falencias organizacionales y operativas en todos los niveles. Resulta patético que la comandancia de la división respectiva deslinde responsabilidad –en un comunicado oficial- con toda naturalidad, alegando que fue un hecho personal y que no involucraba a la institución. Y uno se pregunta, si es normal que sus miembros anden armados fuera de instalaciones militares y en cualquier horario, además. ¿Dónde quedan los mecanismos de control del Ejército sobre el uso y portación de armas reglamentarias? ¿Por qué no se hace nada por subsanar estas negligencias, como si no existieran lamentables precedentes?

En marzo pasado, otro efectivo militar burló los controles de ingreso al Batallón Logístico, armado de un fusil fue en busca de su expareja, que estaba de turno en el recinto ese día, y sin más le disparó varias veces hasta matarla para luego suicidarse a continuación. Al asesino no le importó que tuvieran una bebé de pocos meses y las investigaciones arrojaron que había un móvil pasional, una historia de violencia doméstica, detrás del crimen. Tal como sucedió en este reciente caso, el victimario planificó todo el ataque porque la joven había decidido cortar la relación meses atrás. Y si uno retrocede unos años en el tiempo, con toda seguridad que hallaríamos hechos similares donde efectivos, tanto de la Policía como del Ejército, estuvieron implicados.  A menudo he oído relatos de conocidos refiriéndose a que fueron testigos o afectados de incidentes en los que fueron amenazados por policías o militares.

Toda esta catarata de acontecimientos nos lleva a pensar que las instituciones armadas son refugio de gente frustrada, trastornada psicológicamente y con muy baja autoestima. Los padres de familia deberían aleccionar a sus hijas núbiles sobre los riesgos de involucrarse sentimentalmente con tales individuos, porque nunca se sabe cómo van a reaccionar llegado el momento y con un arma de por medio, la posibilidad de que alguien salga lastimado es muy real. Y si a eso le sumamos la fama de mentalidad machista y cerrada que acarrean los uniformados, el peligro está servido y es una bomba de tiempo. Suena hasta ocioso preguntarse si las academias o escuelas de ingreso respectivas cuentan con gabinetes de psicólogos y otros especialistas para evaluar el estado mental y emocional de los postulantes. 

Volviendo al horrendo drama, por si no fuera poco el dolor de los deudos, cabe detenerse en la torpe e inhumana actuación de los investigadores del IDIF, quienes se demoraron más de la cuenta en la entrega de los cuerpos para el velatorio correspondiente, habiéndose mostrado excesivamente puntillosos en efectuar la prueba del guantelete a las víctimas como si no hubiera un testigo directo de la matanza, según informó en una entrevista un abogado pariente de la familia. Y en el colmo de la humillación, primero entregaron el cadáver del homicida, adujo la misma fuente. No es de extrañar la poca profesionalidad e insensibilidad del personal forense y demás autoridades relacionadas. Ni hablar de las condiciones paupérrimas y vergonzosas en las que funciona la morgue. No se cuenta ni con bolsas apropiadas para el levantamiento legal de los fallecidos. Es frecuente ver a la vetusta camioneta de la División Homicidios circulando por las calles con cuerpos envueltos en frazadas, si eso. En una urbe que bordea el millón de habitantes. Terrible. 

De EL PERRO ROJO (blog del autor), 15/08/2017

Monday, August 14, 2017

Trump’s Business of Corruption


President Donald Trump’s attorney Jay Sekulow recently told me that the investigation being led by Robert Mueller, the special counsel appointed by the Justice Department, should focus on one question: whether there was “coördination between the Russian government and people on the Trump campaign.” Sekulow went on, “I want to be really specific. A real-estate deal would be outside the scope of legitimate inquiry.” If he senses “drift” in Mueller’s investigation, he said, he will warn the special counsel’s office that it is exceeding its mandate. The issue will first be raised “informally,” he noted. But if Mueller and his team persist, Sekulow said, he might lodge a formal objection with the Deputy Attorney General, Rod Rosenstein, who has the power to dismiss Mueller and end the inquiry. President Trump has been more blunt, hinting to the Times that he might fire Mueller if the investigation looks too closely at his business dealings.

Several news accounts have confirmed that Mueller has indeed begun to examine Trump’s real-estate deals and other business dealings, including some that have no obvious link to Russia. But this is hardly wayward. It would be impossible to gain a full understanding of the various points of contact between the Kremlin and the Trump campaign without scrutinizing many of the deals that Trump has made in the past decade. Trump-branded buildings in Toronto and the SoHo neighborhood of Manhattan were developed in association with people who have connections to the Kremlin. Other real-estate partners of the Trump Organization—in Brazil, India, Indonesia, and elsewhere—are now caught up in corruption probes, and, collectively, they suggest that the company had a pattern of working with partners who exploited their proximity to political power.

One foreign deal, a stalled 2011 plan to build a Trump Tower in Batumi, a city on the Black Sea in the Republic of Georgia, has not received much journalistic attention. But the deal, for which Trump was reportedly paid a million dollars, involved unorthodox financial practices that several experts described to me as “red flags” for bank fraud and money laundering; moreover, it intertwined his company with a Kazakh oligarch who has direct links to Russia’s President, Vladimir Putin. As a result, Putin and his security services have access to information that could put them in a position to blackmail Trump. (Sekulow said that “the Georgia real-estate deal is something we would consider out of scope,” adding, “Georgia is not Russia.”)

The waterfront lot where the Trump Tower Batumi was supposed to be built remains empty. A groundbreaking ceremony was held five years ago, but no foundation has been dug. Trump removed his name from the project shortly before assuming the Presidency; the Trump Organization called this “normal housekeeping.” When the tower was announced, in March, 2011, it was the centerpiece of a bold plan to transform Batumi from a seedy port into a glamorous city. But the planned high-rise—forty-seven stories containing lavish residences, a casino, and expensive shops—was oddly ambitious for a town that had almost no luxury housing.

Trump did very little to develop the Batumi property. The project was a licensing deal from which he made a quick profit. In exchange for the million-dollar payment, he granted the right to use his name, and he agreed to visit Georgia for an elaborate publicity campaign, which was designed to promote Georgia’s President at the time, Mikheil Saakashvili, as a business-oriented reformer who could attract Western financiers. The campaign was misleading: the Trump Tower Batumi was going to be funded not by Trump but by businesses with ties to Kazakh oligarchs, including Timur Kulibayev, the son-in-law of Kazakhstan’s autocratic ruler, Nursultan Nazarbayev, and a close ally of Putin. Kazakhstan has the largest economy in Central Asia, based on its vast reserves of oil and metals, among other natural resources. Kazakhstan is notoriously corrupt, and much of its wealth is in the hands of Nazarbayev’s extended family and his favored associates.

Trump visited Georgia in April, 2012, at a politically vulnerable time for Saakashvili. Nine years earlier, Saakashvili had led the Rose Revolution, which overturned the country’s autocratic post-Soviet leadership. After assuming power, he initially cracked down on widespread petty corruption and cleaned up the civil service, which had functioned largely on bribes. Then, in 2008, he led a disastrous war against Russia over control of the breakaway region of South Ossetia. By then, his fight against corruption had largely ceased, and Transparency International and other N.G.O.s were reporting that élite corruption—in which wealthy, politically connected people receive better treatment from courts, prosecutors, and government administrators—was rampant in Georgia. Under these conditions, few Western investors or brands were willing to put money into the country. Saakashvili himself was increasingly unpopular, and the Trump deal was meant to help salvage his reputation.

Saakashvili showed Trump around Tbilisi, the capital, and Batumi. Georgian television covered the events fawningly, promising viewers that Trump would soon build a second tower, in Tbilisi. One broadcaster proclaimed that Trump was the world’s top developer. At the groundbreaking ceremony in Batumi, Saakashvili said that the tower was “a big deal. . . that changes everything around here.” At another event, beneath a banner that proclaimed “trump invests in Georgia,” he thanked Trump for being part of the project—which, he said, had a budget of two hundred and fifty million dollars. He also awarded Trump the Georgian Order of Brilliance. Trump, in turn, praised Saakashvili. “Everybody in the world, they speak of Georgia and the great miracle that’s taking place,” he said.

Upon returning home, Trump appeared on “Fox and Friends.” Gretchen Carlson, the host at the time, asked him, “What are you going to be investing in?” He responded, “I’m doing a big development there—and it’s been amazing.” He said of Saakashvili, “He’s one of the great leaders of the world.

Virtually none of the things that Saakashvili and Trump said about the deal were true. The budget of the Trump Tower Batumi was not two hundred and fifty million dollars but a hundred and ten. Trump, meanwhile, could hardly have invested such a sum himself. He professed to be a billionaire, but a few months earlier an appeals court in New Jersey had shut down Trump’s legal campaign against Timothy O’Brien, the author of “TrumpNation,” which argued that Trump had wildly inflated his fortune, and was actually worth less than a quarter of a billion dollars. Julie George, a political scientist at Queens College who studies Georgia, told me that, by 2012, Saakashvili’s tenure could in no way be considered a “great miracle.” The country’s economy was floundering, and shortly after Trump’s visit it was revealed that the government had been torturing political opponents. (Saakashvili did not respond to requests for comment.)

The announcement of the Batumi tower was handled with cynical opportunism by both Trump and Saakashvili, but that was not the deal’s biggest problem. The developer that had paid Trump and invited him to Georgia—a holding company known as the Silk Road Group—had been funded by a bank that was enmeshed in a giant money-laundering scandal. And Trump, it seemed, had not asked many questions before taking the money.

Before the collapse of the Soviet Union, in 1991, Batumi had been a popular resort town, but by the early aughts it had fallen into disrepair. Its beachfront hotels housed refugees from the nearby Abkhazia region, which had broken away from Georgia in 1992. Batumi was the capital of the semiautonomous Adjara region, which was itself on the verge of declaring independence. Saakashvili saw the redevelopment of Batumi as critical for maintaining Georgian sovereignty there. Batumi residents promised to turn the city into the Monaco of the Black Sea.

But nobody seemed willing to put money into Batumi. Levan Varshalomidze, the governor of Adjara at the time, told me that Saakashvili and other Georgian officials sought financial backers, but they could not get anyone to invest in a run-down Georgian port.

Then, in 2005, something remarkable happened. Saakashvili and President Nazarbayev, of neighboring Kazakhstan, announced that B.T.A. Bank—the largest bank in Kazakhstan—was giving several hundred million dollars in loans to help develop Georgia. The loans would pay for the construction of hotels in Batumi, the expansion of the Georgian telecommunications industry, and the growth of a Georgian bank. Curiously, all the loans went to subsidiaries of one company: the Silk Road Group, which specialized not in real-estate development but in shipping crude- and refined-oil products, by rail, from Kazakhstan to other countries. Its senior executives had very little experience in telecommunications, banking, or hospitality. The Silk Road Group, which had annual revenues of roughly two hundred million dollars, was planning, in an instant, to venture into several new industries. Compounding the risk, this expansion involved taking on a debt one and a half times its annual revenue.

That wasn’t the only puzzling thing about the loans. At the time that B.T.A. was lending all this money to the Silk Road Group, the bank’s deputy chairman, Yerkin Tatishev, was apparently crossing an ethical line—positioning himself to exert improper influence over some of the very Silk Road Group subsidiaries that were benefitting from the loans. B.T.A. Bank had representatives on the boards of those subsidiaries, but one representative serving on two boards, Talgat Turumbayev, was simultaneously working for Tatishev’s company, the Kusto Group, supervising mergers and acquisitions. (Turumbayev told me that serving on the boards wasn’t a conflict of interest, because it didn’t take “a lot of time.”)

I spoke with people who had knowledge about the subsidiaries. They told me that the subsidiaries were co-owned by the Silk Road Group and secret partners. The source at one subsidiary told me he suspected that Tatishev—who repeatedly participated in company meetings—was a hidden owner.

Tatishev, who is estimated by Forbes to be worth half a billion dollars, left B.T.A. Bank in 2009. He insisted to me that, while he was there, he had no personal financial involvement in the Silk Road Group. But he acknowledged that he “developed a strong friendship” with George Ramishvili, the company’s C.E.O., and “offered to advise him.” He added, “It was the right thing to do, and this is my definition of friendship.” But is it true that Tatishev merely advised the Silk Road Group? The Web site of Tatishev’s company, the Kusto Group, declares that it has been “an outstanding partner for the Silk Road Group” since 2006, noting, “Together we have successfully invested in various sectors of the Georgian economy.” Whenever I pointed out such contradictions to Tatishev, he came up with new answers. In an e-mail, he said that the joint investments were simply “charity/heritage projects.” After he told me that he never served on the committee of B.T.A. Bank that oversees lending, I checked, and confirmed that this was false. He then insisted that he “did not recall” participating.

If, as the Web site suggests, Tatishev financially involved himself in businesses funded by the B.T.A. Bank loans, then he and the Silk Road Group may well have committed bank fraud. When bank executives have a personal financial stake in projects that their own bank is financing, it is known as “self-dealing,” and it is a crime in nearly every country, including Kazakhstan. I recently spoke with Sergei Gretsky, a professor at the Catholic University of America, who wrote his Ph.D. dissertation on the Kazakh banking sector. When I asked him if it would be illegal for the deputy chairman of a Kazakh bank to have personal investments in a project that his bank was funding and withhold that information from investors, he laughed and said, “Yes, of course.”

Richard Gordon, the director of the financial-integrity unit at Case Western Reserve University School of Law, explained that self-dealing represented a central cause of the 1997 global financial crisis. Banks in Indonesia, South Korea, Brazil, Russia, Pakistan, and Taiwan failed, in part, because bank executives and board members kept lending money to themselves and to their cronies. “This leads to defaults, bank bankruptcies, or government bailouts,” he said. Since then, nearly every nation has made efforts to prevent self-dealing. Gordon said that, at most banks today, the board members and senior staff don’t even have a credit card associated with the bank, in order to eliminate any appearance of a conflict of interest.

Lending to companies in which a senior bank executive has a personal stake is a crime because it violates the central trust that makes banking possible. The fundamental business of banking is to borrow money from one group and lend it to another. B.T.A., which had been heralded internationally as a fast-growing bank in a troubled part of the world, had raised money by selling bonds through J. P. Morgan, Credit Suisse, and many other top Western banks. If these Western banks had known that a senior B.T.A. official was heavily involved in the operations of a company that was receiving huge loans from B.T.A., they might have balked.

In the years before the Trump Tower Batumi deal, B.T.A. Bank became entangled in a spectacular crime. Mukhtar Ablyazov, the bank’s chairman, was a prominent figure in Kazakhstan, and not just because he was a billionaire. He was one of the leading sponsors of a political party opposed to President Nazarbayev. In 2009, when Nazarbayev signalled a desire to seize control of B.T.A. Bank, Ablyazov fled the country for London—taking billions of dollars in bank funds with him. He accomplished this with a diffuse scheme: dozens of offshore companies under his control received loans from B.T.A., and none of the loans were paid back.

In 2010, when a Trump Organization executive, Michael Cohen, began negotiating with the Silk Road Group about licensing Trump’s name for the Batumi tower, Ablyazov was facing eleven lawsuits in the U.K. The Kazakh government, which had indeed seized control of B.T.A. Bank, had sued him to reclaim ten billion dollars that he had allegedly siphoned out of the country. The Financial Times covered the case extensively, as did the Times, which described “a scheme by B.T.A.’s former chairman, Mukhtar Ablyazov, to direct between $8 billion and $12 billion worth of B.T.A. loans—about half of the bank’s loan book—to companies that he secretly controlled.” The article noted that Ablyazov was renting “a 15,000-square-foot mansion” in London.

It would have taken only a Google search for the Trump Organization to discover that the Silk Road Group had received much of its funding from B.T.A. Bank, which, at the time of the Batumi deal, was mired in one of the largest fraud cases in recent history. The Silk Road Group had even been business partners with the central figure in the scandal: Ablyazov and the Silk Road Group were two of the owners of a bank in Georgia. I asked Cohen, who visited Georgia with Trump, if he had been concerned about the Silk Road Group’s connection to B.T.A. Bank. “I didn’t even know that B.T.A. was involved in this entire scenario up until the moment you told me,” he said. He added that he was not aware of any information about how the tower would be funded—or even “if there was going to be any funding at all.” He went on, “We had not gotten to that stage of the process. Remember, this was a licensing deal. The financing of the project was the responsibility of the licensee”—the Silk Road Group.

I recently spoke with John Madinger, a retired U.S. Treasury official and I.R.S. special agent, who used to investigate financial crimes. He is the author of “Money Laundering: A Guide for Criminal Investigators.” When I told him what Cohen had said to me, he responded, “No, no, no! You’ve got to do your due diligence. You shouldn’t do a financial transaction with funds that appear to stem from unlawful activity. That’s like saying, ‘I don’t care if Pablo Escobar is my secret business partner.’ You have to care—otherwise, you’re at risk of violating laws against money laundering.”

A judge in the U.K. ruled repeatedly against Ablyazov, starting in 2009, and ordered him to hand over more than four billion dollars to B.T.A. (The Kazakh government insisted that six billion dollars more remained missing.) The judge, Sir Nigel John Martin Teare, said that Ablyazov’s use of offshore holding companies had facilitated “fraud on an epic scale.” Teare ruled that “there can be only one explanation for the fact that the very large sums of money which were advanced were immediately transferred to companies owned or controlled by Mr. Ablyazov, namely, that the original loans were part of a dishonest scheme whereby Mr. Ablyazov sought to misappropriate monies which belonged to the bank.” Ablyazov was eventually sentenced to twenty-two months in a U.K. prison, for contempt of court, because he had refused to reveal disputed assets. In February, 2012, when Trump was planning his trip to Georgia, Ablyazov fled to France. He is currently fighting extradition.

The Silk Road Group, which was established in Georgia shortly after the fall of the Soviet Union, does not have a conventional corporate structure. It is a holding company that controls dozens of corporate entities registered around the world. In total, B.T.A. loaned the Silk Road Group three hundred million dollars, and these funds were dispersed among its many subsidiaries, making the money trail hard to follow. For example, an eight-million-dollar loan was granted to Batumi Riviera Holding, B.V., which was registered in Holland. Batumi Riviera Holding has reported having a sole asset: a company called Vento, L.L.C., which is registered in Georgia. That registration indicates that its creditor is B.T.A., which made loans valued at seventy-five per cent of the initial investment in the company. Batumi Riviera Holding, in turn, is owned by Tbilisi Central Plaza, a company registered in Malta. Tbilisi Central Plaza is owned by Susalike Holding GmbH, which is registered, in Germany, to a Silk Road Group subsidiary.

Giorgi Rtskhiladze co-owns the Silk Road Transatlantic Alliance, a subsidiary that focusses on business deals involving the U.S. He brokered the Trump relationship. The Silk Road Group’s leadership in Georgia asked him to represent the company in interviews for this article. I recently met him at the St. Regis hotel in New York. When I asked why the Silk Road Group had such a bewildering structure, Rtskhiladze said, “There are tax reasons, and there are other reasons. To reduce liabilities, if we were sued or have to sue, certain courts are more efficient.” He pointed out that many companies legitimately use offshore jurisdictions to register their firms.

“That’s true,” Richard Gordon, the financial-integrity expert at Case Western, said. However, he added, “it is difficult to conceive of legitimate reasons for one shell company in an offshore jurisdiction to own a chain of companies established in a series of other offshore jurisdictions.” Such byzantine arrangements add expense, complexity, and uncertainty—the opposite of what businesses normally want—without providing any clear benefit, other than obfuscation. Moreover, by registering in so many different jurisdictions, the Silk Road Group has actually increased its legal risk, because a potential claimant can sue the company in all those jurisdictions. Gordon, who helped write the Republic of Georgia’s tax law, told me that he could think of no reason that this structure would help a Georgian company lawfully pay fewer taxes.

When I described to John Madinger, the retired Treasury official, the various entities and transactions involved in the funding of the Trump Tower Batumi, he said, “That is what you would expect to see in a money-laundering operation: multiple shell companies in multiple countries. It’s designed to make life hard for people trying to follow the transaction.”

It was difficult to pierce the veil of ownership, but I made some headway by collaborating on a reporting project with an investigations team at the Columbia University School of Journalism. Manuela Andreoni and Inti Pacheco, two recent graduates who are now investigative fellows, have spent months researching the Silk Road Group, Mukhtar Ablyazov, Yerkin Tatishev, and B.T.A. Bank. They have looked closely at relevant lawsuits, and they have obtained and translated property records and corporate registries from around the world.

Although Tatishev had repeatedly assured me that he was not involved in making decisions about Silk Road Group projects that had been funded by B.T.A. loans, I continued to accrue contradictory evidence. I recently received a cache of internal Silk Road Group e-mails, dating back to 2014, and they make clear that Tatishev has exerted detailed operational control over the company’s activities, including real-estate businesses that were funded by the B.T.A. loans. The e-mail cache shows that David Borger, a German financier who is a top executive at the company, regularly informed Tatishev about delicate internal financial matters and asked him for approval on a wide variety of decisions pertaining to Silk Road Group hotels, casinos, telecommunications infrastructure, and hydroelectric plants. Many of these projects had been initially funded by loans made while Tatishev was a senior official at B.T.A. Bank.

In one e-mail exchange, from earlier this year, Tatishev weighed in on a decision about which investment bank the Silk Road Group should use for a transaction. “We are cool guys,” Tatishev wrote. “And should always work with cool guys.” Borger responded, “Dear Yerkin, in this case can you please help us to get a cool deal with them?” He then asked Tatishev to describe how he wanted the deal to be structured.

In another recent e-mail discussion, which touched on crucial questions about the ownership and the financing of a major Silk Road Group project, Borger told Tatishev, “I need your ok.” In a subsequent e-mail, George Ramishvili, the C.E.O. of the Silk Road Group, added that Tatishev needed to give his approval. Tatishev did so. In a 2014 e-mail, a Silk Road Group consultant sent Tatishev and Ramishvili a summary of a plan they had devised to settle the outstanding debt owed to B.T.A. Bank.

Video from Trump’s visit to Georgia provides further evidence that Tatishev was a key part of the Silk Road Group—and suggests that Trump recognized his importance. During a speech that Trump gave in Tbilisi, Tatishev can be seen sitting in the audience next to Ramishvili. Trump says, “We have two great partners.” He points toward the seats where Tatishev and Ramishvili are sitting. “And they’re going to do a fantastic job.” (Giorgi Rtskhiladze, the Silk Road Transatlantic Alliance executive who met me in Manhattan, told me that Trump must have thought it was him, not Tatishev, sitting next to Ramishvili. But Rtskhiladze and Tatishev look nothing alike: Rtskhiladze is clean-shaven, with light-colored hair; Tatishev is nearly bald, with dark facial hair.) Tatishev accompanied Trump to meet Saakashvili at the Presidential Palace, in Tbilisi. When Michael Cohen, the Trump Organization executive, went to Georgia in 2010 to discuss building a tower with the Silk Road Group, he also met with Tatishev. A representative of the Silk Road Group said that Tatishev is a friend of Ramishvili and simply wanted to say hello to a big American tycoon. Inviting friends to important business meetings, the representative said, is common practice in the Caucasus region.
With minimal due diligence, Trump Organization executives would have noticed that the Silk Road Group exhibited many warning signs of financial fraud: its layered and often hidden ownership, its ornate use of shell companies, its close relationship with a bank that was embroiled in a financial scandal. Trump’s visit to Georgia occurred while his company was making a series of similar foreign deals. Until then, the Trump Organization had ventured abroad only occasionally: in 1999, a set of Korean buildings licensed the Trump name; in 2006, Trump bought a golf course in Scotland; the following year, construction began on a Trump-branded tower in Turkey. But by 2012 Trump was struggling in the U.S. market. His biggest investment, in American casinos, had proved ruinous, and he was now a minority owner of a near-bankrupt business. Trump had defaulted on loans multiple times, and nearly every bank in the U.S. refused to finance deals bearing his name. And so Trump turned to people in other countries who did not share this reluctance to give him money. In 2012 alone, the Trump Organization negotiated or finalized deals in Azerbaijan, Brazil, Canada, Georgia, India, the Philippines, the United Arab Emirates, and Uruguay.

At the time, the Trump Organization had only a handful of staff members involved in dealmaking. His children Ivanka Trump and Donald Trump, Jr., assumed a management role in many of these foreign projects. According to Rtskhiladze, Trump, Jr., helped oversee the Batumi deal. At one point, Rtskhiladze and Cohen held two days of meetings in New York to discuss the project. Trump, Jr., dropped by several times. According to former executives at the Trump Organization, the company lacked rigorous procedures for assessing foreign partners.

A month after Trump visited Georgia, he agreed to license his name to, and provide oversight of, a luxury hotel in Baku, Azerbaijan, a deal that I examined in an article in The New Yorker earlier this year. Trump received several million dollars from the brother and the son of an Azerbaijani billionaire who was then the Minister of Transportation—a man who, U.S. officials believe, may have been simultaneously laundering money for the Iranian Revolutionary Guard. In 2013, Trump met with the Azerbaijani-Russian billionaire Aras Agalarov and his son, Emin; that November, they partnered with Trump on the Miss Universe contest, in Moscow, and discussed building a Trump Tower in the Russian capital. In June, 2016, at Emin Agalarov’s request, Trump, Jr., met with Natalia Veselnitskaya, a lawyer who has represented Russian intelligence. Trump, Jr., was promised damaging information about Hillary Clinton. Veselnitskaya came to the meeting accompanied by business associates who have extensive ties to Georgia and Azerbaijan.

In December, 2012, not long after Trump signed the Batumi licensing deal, a company called Riviera, L.L.C., bought the fifteen-acre parcel of land on which the Trump Tower Batumi would supposedly be built. The price was twelve million dollars, and the seller was Vento, L.L.C., which was owned by a company that was owned by a company that was owned by a company that was owned by the Silk Road Group. Riviera, L.L.C., was also partly owned by the Silk Road Group. In other words, the Silk Road Group was selling property to itself.

The Financial Action Task Force, headquartered in Paris, is led by representatives from thirty-seven nations. In 2007, the task force issued a report about the use of real-estate projects for money laundering. The report makes note of several red flags. It warns of “complex loans” in which businesses “lend themselves money, creating the appearance that the funds are legitimate.” It also warns of the use of offshore shell companies and tangled corporate legal structures, especially those in which third parties are hired to administer a company and conceal its true ownership. These intertwined companies can then trade property among themselves, in order to create inflated valuations: “An often-used structure is, for example, the setting up of shell companies to buy real estate. Shortly after acquiring the properties, the companies are voluntarily wound up, and the criminals then repurchase the property at a price considerably above the original purchase price. This enables them to insert a sum of money into the financial system equal to the original purchase price plus the capital gain, thereby allowing them to conceal the origin of their funds.”

The report states that money launderers often find that “buying a hotel, a restaurant or other similar investment offers further advantages, as it brings with it a business activity in which there is extensive use of cash.” Casinos—like the one planned for the Trump Tower Batumi—are especially useful in this regard. The casino was to be owned by the Silk Road Group and its partners.

Alan Garten, the chief legal officer for the Trump Organization, declined to describe the due diligence behind the Batumi tower. When the deal was signed, the general counsel for the Trump Organization was Jason Greenblatt, who is now President Trump’s envoy to negotiate Middle East peace. (The White House declined to comment for this story, referring me instead to Sekulow, Trump’s lawyer, who also declined to discuss the specifics of the Batumi deal.)

A representative of the Silk Road Group told me that the company had been eager to assuage any ethical concerns the Trump Organization or other potential partners may have had, and so it had conducted due diligence—on itself. In May, 2012, the Silk Road Group commissioned K2 Intelligence, a firm founded by the investigator Jules Kroll, to produce a report. (This was fourteen months after the Trump Organization signed the Batumi deal.) I recently obtained a summary of the report, which explained that K2 was “asked to probe the background and integrity of S.R.G.’s principal shareholder, George Ramishvili, more deeply than a standard investigative or compliance report might.” However, the report seems to have addressed only one issue: a rumor, circulating in the Georgian media, that Ramishvili had once been a member of the Mkhedrioni, a right-wing militia. K2 concluded that the rumor was false. The summary did not address the Silk Road Group’s funding sources, its complex legal structure, or its relationship to the B.T.A. Bank scandal, which was unfolding in London courts at the time. Other due diligence may have been performed, but the Silk Road Group, K2, and the Trump Organization declined to share specific information.

Ross Delston, a prominent anti-money-laundering attorney in Washington, D.C., told me that, if one of his clients approached him with the possibility of entering a licensing relationship with the people involved in the Batumi deal, he “would tell him not to walk away but to run away—to run like hell.” He explained, “There are too many aspects of the deal that don’t make sense, and there’s no way, as an outsider, that you could conduct sufficient due diligence to figure out if it is criminal.”

So many partners of the Trump Organization have been fined, sued, or criminally investigated for financial crimes that it is hard to ascribe the pattern to coincidence, or even to shoddy due diligence. In criminal law, there is a crucial concept called “willful blindness”: a person can be convicted of a crime even if he was unaware of certain aspects of the crime in which he was engaged. In U.S. courts, judges routinely explain to juries that “no one can avoid responsibility for a crime by deliberately ignoring what is obvious.” (When the Trump Organization cancelled the Batumi deal, it noted that it held the Silk Road Group “in the highest regard.”)

John Madinger, the former Treasury official, said that, in any deal that might involve money laundering, there is one critical question: “Does the financial transaction make economic or business sense?” In recent years, a lot of residential housing has been built in Batumi, but most of it has consisted of what Colliers, the market-analysis firm, calls “low-segment”—down-market—apartments. The Trump Organization, with its extensive experience in the luxury real-estate market, could surely sense that it would not be easy to enlist hundreds of wealthy people to buy multimillion-dollar condominiums in Batumi. I asked several New York real-estate developers to assess the proposed tower. One laughed and said that the Batumi deal reminded him of “The Producers,” the Mel Brooks movie about two charlatans who create a horrible musical designed to fail. Another New York developer, who spent years making deals in the former Soviet Union, told me, “A forty-seven-story tower of luxury condominiums in Batumi is an insane idea. I wouldn’t have gone near a project like this.”

Giorgi Rtskhiladze, the Silk Road Transatlantic Alliance executive, confirmed that the luxury-housing market in Batumi was nonexistent in 2012, when he invited Donald Trump to visit Georgia, but said that the tower’s investors were nonetheless confident that a Trump-branded skyscraper would attract buyers. He insisted that the Silk Road Group had not taken part in anything illicit, and said that B.T.A. Bank’s 2005 decision to lend the Silk Road Group several hundred million dollars was hardly suspicious. The company had been working in Kazakhstan for years, transporting oil products, and had become close with the Tatishev family. When the bank that Tatishev helped run, B.T.A., decided to invest in redeveloping Batumi, the obvious partner was the Silk Road Group. “We were the partner they knew,” Rtskhiladze said. “We’re active in the region.”

Rtskhiladze acknowledged that it was quite a big loan for such a poor country. “Unbelievable,” he called it. And it was true that the Silk Road Group had little experience in hotels or construction or telecommunications when it suddenly entered those industries. But, he pointed out, Georgia was still emerging from the torpid days of the Soviet Union. “You’re talking about a country that had no experience,” he said. “Nobody else had experience.” In any case, he suggested, “real-estate development wasn’t that complicated. You hire third parties, who do feasibility studies. You look at the numbers. It wasn’t that difficult.” He added, “We like to do clean, transparent business.”

I asked Rtskhiladze why he had invited Trump, who has generally avoided travelling abroad, to Georgia. He told me a story from 1989, when he was a young soldier in the Soviet Army. “They told me, for target practice, to shoot Ronald Reagan’s face,” he recalled. “I refused.” The Army jailed him for several days. Soon after he was released, he said, he saw a magazine with Trump on the cover. He told himself, “One day, I will go to New York and meet this man.”

He argued that the fact that “there was no luxury in Batumi” was precisely why the idea of a Trump Tower was so smart. The skyscraper, with its “pool and gyms and conference rooms,” would single-handedly create “an entire universe of very New York-style luxury in a seaside town.” The luxury condominiums, he added, were “for international buyers—Saudis, Turks, Russians.” In his “strong opinion,” the Trump brand was “the only brand for them.” (David Borger, the Silk Road Group executive, told me that a study by a well-regarded Turkish firm had concluded that the tower was a good business idea, but he declined to share the name of the firm or the study.)

Melanie A. Bonvicino, who handles communications for the Silk Road Group, told me that the Trump Tower Batumi deal demonstrated an openhearted vision. “With the Batumi project, Trump was once again able to demonstrate his keen business sense,” she wrote in an e-mail. “Donald Trump in his role as futurist and visionary ordained the region as the next big thing. Mr. Trump had an immediate grasp over the geopolitical significance of the Republic of Georgia and its Black Sea region, acknowledging its vast potential by jointly transforming this hidden gem into the next Riviera. In the élite realm of global residential and commercial real-estate developers, the Trump moniker was and remains synonymous with Coca-Cola, Pepsi, and Michael Jackson.”

In 2009, when Ablyazov fled to London, the Kazakh government seized control of B.T.A. Bank. (Tatishev moved to Singapore in 2013.) A lawyer representing the bank, Roman Marchenko, informed the Silk Road Group that he had reason to believe that it had participated in Ablyazov’s loan scheme. The Silk Road Group denied any wrongdoing. A settlement was reached, for fifty million dollars—a bargain price, considering that the loans had totalled three hundred million. Marchenko believes that the Silk Road Group was deeply entwined with Ablyazov, but Kazakh government officials decided to stop investigating. They were pursuing Ablyazov’s stolen assets all over the world, and there was more money in other countries.

The Kazakh government placed B.T.A. Bank’s assets under the authority of its sovereign-wealth fund. Soon after, Timur Kulibayev—the powerful son-in-law of the country’s dictator, Nursultan Nazarbayev—became the director of the fund. Kulibayev and his staff had access to all the bank’s internal documents. Recently, Kulibayev became the majority owner of the bank, giving him total control over B.T.A.’s archives, as well as ownership of its assets. Kulibayev was surely familiar with the players involved in the Trump Tower Batumi project. In 2011, Giorgi Rtskhiladze and Michael Cohen, the Trump Organization executive, began promoting the idea of a Trump Tower in Astana, the capital of Kazakhstan. They visited Astana and met with Karim Masimov, the Prime Minister. Masimov is now the head of Kazakhstan’s national-security apparatus.

Keith Darden is a political scientist at American University who has written extensively on the use of compromising information—kompromat—by former Soviet regimes against people they want to control. He told me that Kazakh intelligence is believed to collect dossiers on every significant business transaction involving the country. This would be especially true if a famous American developer was part of the deal, even if it would not have occurred to them that he might one day become the U.S. President. “There is no question—they know everything about this deal,” Darden said.

Darden explained that Kazakh intelligence agents work closely with their Russian counterparts. Kulibayev himself has direct ties to Russia’s leadership. In 2011, he was named to the board of Gazprom, the Russian gas behemoth, which is widely considered to be a pillar of Putin’s fortune. In “The Return: Russia’s Journey from Gorbachev to Medvedev,” Daniel Treisman, a political scientist at U.C.L.A. who specializes in Russia, wrote, “For Putin, Gazprom was a personal obsession. He memorized the details of the company’s accounts, its pricing rules and pipeline routes. He personally approved all appointments down to the deputy level, sometimes forgetting to tell the company’s actual C.E.O., Aleksey Miller.” Kulibayev could not possibly be serving on Gazprom’s board without Putin’s assent.

Robert Mueller has assembled a team of sixteen lawyers. One of them is fluent in Russian, and five have extensive experience investigating and prosecuting cases of money laundering, foreign corruption, and complex financial conspiracies. The path from Trump to Putin, if one exists, might be found in one of his foreign real-estate deals.

When Mueller was appointed special counsel, his official writ was to investigate not just “any links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of President Donald Trump” but also “any matters that arose or may arise directly from the investigation.” Much hinges on the word “directly.” Sekulow, Trump’s lawyer, insists that Mueller’s mandate essentially stops at the Russian border. Pawneet Abramowski, a former F.B.I. intelligence analyst, told me that Sekulow’s assertion is nonsensical. “You must follow the clues,” she said. When investigating a businessperson like Trump, “you have to follow the money and go wherever it leads—you must follow the clues all the way to the end.” 

Manuela Andreoni, Inti Pacheco, and Giannina Segnini, of Columbia University, contributed reporting for this piece.

De THE NEW YORKER, 21/08/2017

El sahumerio tapa bocas


Se lo compré el sábado pasado, al paso, a una chiflera de la calle Santa Cruz de La Paz, a la que no hay año que no le compre alguna enormidad relacionada con el más allá y el tenebro.  Le estaba enseñando a mi sobrino Alex, que venía de Buenos Aires, esa La Paz termitero, comerciante y originaria, que mercadea hasta el delirio,  bajo un sol de fuego y un cielo azul y otro de chawiñas de colores, sobre todo rojos: pescados, flores, verduras, frutas, carnes, papas, ají, comidas y bebidas al paso.... Un sábado de mercado en la ciudad es algo muy especial. En el comercio de la chiflera estaba una vieja chola comprando material para una mesa de cementerio y otra contra la inbidia y no sé qué más cosas tenebrosas todas. Es mes de charlas y de mesas a la Pachamama.

Viene esto a cuento, si es que viene a algo, de esas molestias del trato humano que son la maledicencia dictada por la inbidia y los trabajos del escachafamas. Algo habitual entre poetas y no poetas. Nada como decirle a alguien que otro está hablando mal de él o lo está alanceado para recoger el aplauso del público y la oreja fácil del ofendido nunca se sabe si en falso o en verdadero. A todo lo que no te digan a la cara hay que hacer orejas de mercader, pero... siempre hay un pero, el de la vanidad y el orgullo heridos. Es posible que haya ensalmos, conjuros y sahumerios contra la maledicencia, pero contra la estupidez no lo creo.

De VIVIRDEBUENAGANA (blog del autor), 14/08/2017 

El Eroe maledetto Giovanni Passannante, el anarquista que intentó matar a Umberto I

“Nuestros cuerpos están atrapados en el tejido del mundo, pero el mundo está hecho de la tela de mi cuerpo”     - Maurice Merleau-Ponty -    

Érase una vez un pueblo de Basilicata que se llamaba Salvia di Lucania, un pueblo como muchos pueblos del sur de Italia, que parecen fielmente extraídos de Cristo se detuvo en Éboli, de Carlo Levi. Allí nació Giovanni Passannante, hijo de campesinos analfabetos y pobres. Para sobrevivir Giovanni se hizo cocinero, aprendiendo rápidamente el arte y el oficio en la hostería “Croce di Savoia”, muy pronto se trasladó en Nápoles, adonde vivía del día a día. En la ciudad partenopea vivió miseria, marginación y explotación madurando el convencimiento que solo a través de la ideología anarquista sería posible transformar aquel mundo injusto. Y el 17 de noviembre de 1878 propio en Nápoles, con una navaja intentó matar al rey Umberto I de Savoia. Condenado a muerte en primera instancia, la pena le fue convertida en ergástulo, mientras su madre y sus hermanos fueron internados en el manicomio de Aversa… y el pueblo natío fue rebautizado, a manera de disculpa al rey, en Savoia di Lucania. Giovanni Passannante, el «sguattero infame» (como la prensa de la época lo definió), fue encerrado en una torre en Portoferraio (Isla de Elba) adentro de un calabozo sin luz y bajo el nivel del mar, con una cadena de 18 kilos amarrada a un pie, allí empezó enfermándose de escorbuto y consumido por la salinidad, abandonado por diez años y sin comida tuvo que alimentarse de insectos y hasta de sus excrementos. Ya ciego fue trasladado al manicomio criminal de Montelupo Fiorentino, donde murió el 14 de febrero del 1910 a los 61 años de edad.                                 

Escalofriante la crueldad de la condena infligida al «mostro llegado del Sud», al «parricida», obligado a vivir (sobrevivir es mejor dicho) diez años en condición inhumanas. Pero hay que esperarse siempre lo peor porque una vez muerto, le cortaron la cabeza, y el cráneo con el cerebro, después de un riguroso estudio lombrosiano, fueron expuestos en el museo de criminología de Roma, donde por casi un siglo por la módica suma de 2 Euros podían ser admirados…                                                                                                                                                         
Gracias a una recolección de firmas y al espectáculo teatral de Ulderico Pesce, los restos fueron sepultados en Salvia di Lucania, hoy Savoia di Lucania, el 10 de mayo del 2007. Pero la mala suerte de los Héroes malditos nunca termina, la tarde del 7 de enero del 2012 algunos ignotos profanaron la tumba del cocinero anarquista en el cementerio de Savoia, martillando la lápida hasta dañarla irremediablemente, hecho gravísimo que ocurre mientras el Comité Pro Salvia logra organizar un referéndum para el cambio de nombre del desafortunado pueblo, devolverle el originario Salvia (por su perfumada hierba aromática abundante en el territorio) en lugar del infausto Savoia de monárquica memoria. Evidentemente un cambio que alguien no desea. A Giovanni Passannante otro Giovanni, el poeta Pascoli dedicó una oda, nunca más encontrada, “Eroe maledetto” (Héroe maldito), que le costó la cárcel al poeta; luego vino el espectáculo teatral “L’innaffiatore del cervello di Passannante” (El aspersor del cerebro de Passannante) de Ulderico Pesce y la película “Passannante” de Sergio Colabona, estrenada no sin polémicas en ocasión de los 150 años de la unidad de Italia.                                                                                                                                       
La tierra del Renacimiento, del Resurgimiento y de la Resistencia tiene aún muchas historias por escribir… muchas de ellas trágicas y aparentemente sin fin.
agosto 2017

Imagen: Giovanni Passannante

Saturday, August 12, 2017

El último hablante de chaná, una lengua que se creía extinguida desde hace un siglo


El argentino Blas Jaime atesora en su cabeza un idioma indígena que se consideró extinguido durante más de 100 años, el chaná. Se lo enseñó su madre, quien lo había aprendido de su abuela, que a su vez lo heredó de la bisabuela, en una cadena de transmisión oral secreta que se remonta a siglos atrás, cuando comenzaron a ser perseguidos por los colonizadores españoles y evangelizados a la fuerza, en las orillas del río Uruguay. "Los nombres aborígenes fueron prohibidos (...) Y a las niñas que hablaban chaná les cortaban la punta de la lengua", recuerda Jaime en el documental Lantéc chaná, filmado por la directora argentina Marina Zeising.

Este expredicador mormón de 71 años no enseñó el idioma a su hija y renegó de él durante décadas. Su vida cambió cuando en una conversación casual mencionó que hablaba chaná y la noticia llegó a oídos del investigador Pedro Viegas Barros. "Los chanás no existen", fue la primera respuesta de Viegas. Escéptico, se trasladó de Buenos Aires a Paraná para verle. Y allí comprobó que el vocabulario que Jaime había retenido durante noches de enseñanza materna correspondía con el único testimonio escrito de la lengua de su etnia, el Compendio del idioma de la nación chaná, escrito por Dámaso Larrañaga en 1823 a partir de entrevistas a ancianos de esta tribu, que durante siglos vivió de la pesca y de lo que le proveían los ríos.

"Timú" le dice el chaná al hijo. "Atá" es el agua, "ata má" es el río, y "vanatí ata ma" los hijos del río, los arroyos. "Beada" -la palabra favorita de Jaime- significa madre y "beada á", la Tierra. El árbol es el hijo de la Tierra, "vanatí beada", y sus ramas se denominan "palá".

Viegas escuchó esas palabras de Jaime por primera vez en 2005. Desde ese momento, ambos se embarcaron en una odisea para reconstruir la lengua y la cultura chaná e intentar que no desaparezca. En 2010 el idioma fue incluido en el Atlas de lenguas del mundo en peligro de la Unesco y en 2014 publicaron el primer Diccionario Chaná-Español Español-Chaná. La cinta de Zeising es un nuevo testimonio de la recuperación de la memoria de uno de los pueblos indígenas que habitaron el extremo sur del continente americano.

"El día que (mi hija) Evangelina se haga cargo de transmitir el chaná, yo preferiría volver a la Iglesia", dice Jaime a EL PAÍS tras la proyección del documental, recién estrenado en Argentina. Entrecierra sus ojos oscuros, se apoya en su bastón y en voz baja lamenta no haberle enseñado la lengua de niña. Cuando más tarde quiso hacerlo, su hija se negó. "Me dijo que no quería ser india, que la iban a maltratar e insultar", recuerda. El sentimiento es común en numerosos descendientes de indígenas en Argentina, un país que no reconoció los derechos de los pueblos originarios hasta 1994. Evangelina cambió de opinión al ser madre. Comenzó a estudiar chaná y ahora ayuda a su padre a dar clases a alumnos que quieren aprenderlo.

A Jaime le gustaría que además de conocer su lengua, los argentinos adoptasen algunos de los valores de sus antepasados. "El principal es el respeto a la mujer", subraya, al recordar que el pueblo chaná era un matriarcado, en el que eran las mujeres las responsables de impartir justicia y de transmitir la cultura de madres a hijas. "También el respeto a los niños y a la madre naturaleza. Los chanás creemos que es un ser vivo y que su sangre son los ríos y los arroyos", continúa. La difusión de un pedazo de la historia de Argentina le ha quitado soledad a los últimos años de su vida y le emociona hasta las lágrimas la esperanza de que su lengua le sobrevivirá.
Indios Timbúes y fuerte Buena Esperanza (1536)
"Viaje al Río de la Plata". Ulrico Schmidl. Traición de los timbú y asalto a Corpus Christi 

De EL PAÍS, Buenos Aires 09/08/2017

Fotografía: Blas Jaime, a orillas del río Uruguay

El etnofotógrafo aimara de los Andes


Damián Ayma Zepita nació en 1921 en el municipio de Toledo, a casi 50 kilómetros del departamento de Oruro, en Bolivia. Hasta sus 15 años no conoció palabra alguna del castellano, era aimara cerrado. Tuvo una vida laboral polifacética. Se desenvolvió como agricultor, ganadero, ayudante perforista en la mina y, en su etapa más destacada, como fotógrafo, etnógrafo, documentalista y retratista. Su hijo, Julio César Ayma, dice que su padre era “bastante inquieto”, siempre con la cámara colgada en el cuello. Asemeja a su progenitor a la figura del Quijote, el héroe cervantino, por sus ideales y atracción desinteresada por capturar con su lente la vida rural de la región andina de Bolivia durante casi 50 años.

Desde 1936, cuando agarró su primera cámara a los 16 años, hasta 1985, Ayma fue incansable. Su hijo recuerda que su padre, aún en sus últimos días, a sus 77 años, se mantuvo activo con su cámara de la marca Zenit en mano. El primer contacto del personal del Museo Nacional de Etnografía y Folklore (Musef) con el trabajo del fotógrafo aimara fue en 1989. El entonces director de la biblioteca de esa institución, Luis Oporto, se encontraba en Toledo para registrar la fiesta de San Agustín. No existían alojamientos en ese entonces, por lo que la autoridad del museo se alojó en la casa del retratista y se sorprendió por la calidad de las imágenes que tenía enfrente. Ese mismo año la institución compró a Ayma una parte de su colección.

Casi 28 años después, un equipo del Musef, a cargo de Milton Eyzaguirre, Yenny Espinoza, Ladislao Salazar y Fernando Miranda, se dio a la tarea de seguir los pasos de este fotógrafo empírico. La tarea los llevó a recorrer más de cinco departamentos de Bolivia para dar con la totalidad de su obra: cerca de 18.000 fotografías. Revisando cada imagen el personal del museo logró armar uno de los fondos fotográficos e historiográficos más importantes de la región andina y la cotidianeidad rural, que suma 5.172 unidades documentales en diferentes soportes y formatos visuales.

Otros fotógrafos de la época trabajaban en la comodidad de sus estudios, controlando la luz a voluntad, teniendo a disposición todos los materiales para el registro y revelado de las imágenes, explica Eyzaguirre. En cambio, Ayma estaba expuesto al sol intenso del altiplano, que durante su etapa más helada es “terriblemente luminoso”, al medioambiente y a los cambios drásticos de luz. Cargaba equipos que pesaban hasta 30 kilos, enfrentando largas horas de viaje e incluso días para llegar a su destino. “Esta destreza es lo que llamaríamos pasión, la cual es el combustible que mueve a los grandes fotógrafos por años, a menudo, por caminos hostiles y solitarios, transportando una profesión pocas veces comprendida. Para un indígena humilde llegar a acumular en esos años tal cantidad de archivos fotográficos es simplemente admirable”, opina sobre Ayma el fotoperiodista Marcelo Pérez en un artículo.

Trabajo comunitario
El material de Ayma está principalmente ligado a la captura del trabajo en las minas, los movimientos sociales y la agricultura con un énfasis “bastante interesante”, dice Eyzaguirre, en el tema de la fiesta y la ritualidad.

En una entrevista a quien fuera uno de los primeros fotógrafos de origen aimara, realizada en 1989 —que el museo aún conserva—, este cuenta la raíz de su interés en esos temas. Explica que la vida en el campo se basaba antes en el ayni, entendido en las comunidades indígenas como la ayuda recíproca en el trabajo comunitario, y la celebración cada vez que llegaba la cosecha. “Son tradiciones que han ido desapareciendo. Como soy campesino, me gusta mucho la música folclórica, no solo la de Bolivia, sino la de Argentina, Perú y de otras naciones, y por eso he sacado esas fotos, que van a servir en algo a la raza que nosotros pertenecemos: aimaras y quechuas”, agrega Ayma.

Son contados los fondos fotográficos que se preservan en la actualidad del contexto en el que vivían las comunidades aimaras y quechuas hace 50 años. Fruto de su pasión y amor por sus raíces, Ayma vio la importancia de enfocar su mirada a estos pueblos para asegurar su futuro. “Quizá una de las cosas que más llama la atención es la capacidad de innovar, que demostró no solo con las cámaras y las películas, sino con técnicas de movimiento y desenfoque —que incluso hoy en día no resultan del todo fáciles—, logrando escapar muchas veces de las restricciones de los formatos antiguos”, añade Pérez.

Es así que características muy propias de las vestimentas, de las tradiciones, del folclore y de la arquitectura permanecen en la memoria histórica gracias al lente de este fotógrafo. Ya sea un retrato —que data de 1949— de la representación de una ñusta, nombre en quechua para las reinas o princesas del imperio Inca, o una foto de una festividad o una infraestructura extinta, destacan su dedicación y capacidad como retratista a la hora de componer y prestar atención a los detalles. Para Eyzaguirre, este catálogo es un homenaje a Ayma, inspirado también en la obra del también indígena Martín Chambi, famoso fotógrafo peruano que nació en 1881. “Ambos documentaron lugares y momentos que describen su entorno social, ambos reponen una historia alternativa, la historia no oficial”, finaliza Eyzaguirre.

De EL PAÍS, 29/06/2017

1 Congreso en el socavón en la ciudad de Oruro, Bolivia, en 1938. DAMIÁN AYMA ZEPITA
2 Un boxeador, en una imagen captada a finales de los años cincuenta. D. A. Z.