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‘Prostitution is seen as a leisure activity here’: tackling Spain’s sex traffickers | Annie Kelly

Its staggeringly big business in Spain, where demand is being met by traffickers. Can a groundbreaking team turn the tide?

On a sunny morning in Madrid, two young women duck down a side street, into a residential block and up to an apartment front door. Then they start knocking. Marcella and Maria spend a lot of time banging on doors and yelling through letterboxes all over the city. Most of the time, these doors never open. When they do, the two women could find themselves in trouble. Their job on the frontline of Spains fight against sex trafficking is a dangerous one; both have been assaulted and threatened. Yet they keep on knocking, because they have been on the other side of those doors, forced to sell their bodies for a handful of euros, dozens of times a day, seven days a week.

To say that prostitution is big business in Spain would be a gross understatement. The country has become known as the brothel of Europe, after a 2011 United Nations report cited Spain as the third biggest capital of prostitution in the world, behind Thailand and Puerto Rico. Although the Spanish Socialist party, which two weeks ago won another term in government, has promised to make it illegal to pay for sex, prostitution has boomed since it was decriminalised here in 1995. Recent estimates put revenue from Spains domestic sex trade at $26.5bn a year, with hundreds of licensed brothels and an estimated workforce of 300,000.

Supporters of decriminalisation claim it has brought benefits to those working in the trade, including making life safer for women. Yet this vastly profitable and largely unregulated market has also become infested with criminality, turning Spain into a global hub for human trafficking and sexual slavery.

Prostitution becomes sex trafficking when one person moves, detains or transports someone else for the purpose of profiting from their prostitution using fraud, force or coercion. In the UK, thousands of women are thought to be trapped in sexual servitude, but the scale of the problem in Spain is staggering. Until 2010, the law didnt even recognise human trafficking as a crime. Now the Spanish government estimates that up to 90% of women working in prostitution could be victims of trafficking or under the control of a third party such as a pimp who is profiting from them. Between 2012-2016, security forces in Spain rescued 5,695 people from slavery but acknowledge that thousands more remain under the control of criminals.

Since it passed its first anti-trafficking laws in 2010, the government has been scrambling to get on top of this crisis, spending millions of euros on an emergency plan to target the individuals and gangs operating with impunity. In 2015, it went further and created formal alliances between security forces, prosecutors, judges and NGOs, to rescue victims and prosecute the perpetrators. Survivors such as Maria and Marcella now find themselves playing a crucial part in bringing the battle to the criminals who once sold and exploited them. But can Spains new alliance of defenders really turn the tide against the traffickers?

***

I meet Maria and Marcella, both in their mid-20s, in the offices of Apramp, an organisation set up to protect, reintegrate and assist women in prostitution. Apramp helped them escape their traffickers, and they are now among its outreach workers. Their day job is to identify potential trafficking victims and try to offer them a way out. They find women they think might need help on the streets, in hostess clubs, and in some of the 400 residences they say are operating as informal brothels in Madrid.

Maria,
Maria, a trafficking survivor who helps others forced into prostitution. You dont have time to realise what has happened to you. Photograph: Ofelia de Pablo & Javier Zurita/The Guardian

Both shrug off the suggestion that they are brave. When Im wearing the Apramp vest at those apartments or on the streets, I dont feel scared, Marcella says. We know from our own experience theyre doing much worse things to the girls and women inside. So it only makes us more determined.

The two poised and eloquent young women, dressed like students in jeans and trainers, have lived through terrible things. Maria, petite and softly spoken, her brown hair pulled back in a ponytail, was brought to Spain from Romania by someone she trusted: she thought she was going on holiday with her new boyfriend. Instead, he drove her over the border using their EU residency cards and within 24 hours she was on the streets.

It just happens so fast, she says. Its difficult to describe how much you can be broken in such a short time. The shock and the trauma makes you go into survival mode. You dont have time to realise what has happened to you. She spent eight months being prostituted on street corners, in brothels and in strange apartments. Youre alive but youre not really existing, she says. Not one of the men who paid to sleep with me asked me if I was there out of choice, or whether I wanted to be doing this. They didnt care either way.

She was told by her pimp that she would have to pay off a debt of 20,000 before she could go home. With Romanian women, the traffickers threaten to kill your mother or your sister or your children if you dont pay off your debt, she says. People always ask, Why didnt you just run away or go to the police? but they dont know what theyre talking about. You cant just stop a random person on the street and ask for help, because someone you love could get killed. The police in Romania are often corrupt. You think, why should it be different here?

The promise of freedom in return for paying off the debt almost always turns out to be a lie. Maria says that, throughout her time under the control of the traffickers, she was hit with hundreds of tiny charges: shed have to pay for clothes, rent for the corner she worked, for condoms and sanitary towels. If she didnt bring back enough money, she wouldnt eat or shed be beaten.

Debt is invisible, Maria says. Its not a physical chain but it works the same way. She says some traffickers force women to get breast implants and even though the operation costs around 3,000, tell them they have to pay back 10,000. Marcella nods in agreement. She was trafficked from her native Brazil after applying to do a masters in Spain, a university course that turned out to be bogus. She was forced into prostitution immediately after she was collected from the airport. If Apramp hadnt found me, I think Id be dead by now, she says.

The fact that she not only survived but is now able to help others in the same situation has been an essential part of her recovery. The mafia take you and destroy your whole identity. Even now, youre recovering but you can never forget your past, she says. Doing this work really helps.

From
From left: Jos Nieto, Spains leading anti-trafficking law enforcement officer, Roco Mora, director of Apramp, which helps trafficked women, and prosecutor Beatriz Snchez.

Between them, Maria and Marcella have helped dozens of women and girls escape their traffickers. Its a process that takes months, sometimes years. Afterwards, Apramp finds the women somewhere safe to live, offers counselling and legal support, and helps them find work. We have to show them that their lives are worth living again, Marcella says.

Roco Mora, Apramps co-founder and director, sweeps into the room and embraces Maria and Marcella, who are about to start their afternoon shift. The only ones who really understand what we are facing are the survivors, she says. Tall and immaculately groomed, Mora is one of Spains best-known anti-trafficking advocates; her rage at what she sees happening on the streets is raw and visceral. What Spain is facing, she says, is a huge violation of the fundamental rights of women and girls; anyone labouring under the impression that the majority of women working in prostitution in Spain are doing so by choice is deluding themselves. The sex industry profits from the sale of women who are being controlled and exploited through debt, violence or psychological manipulation, she says. Our mobile unit has contact with 280 women a day and almost 100% are victims of exploitation and trafficking.

There are many reasons why Spain has become a hotspot, but for Mora, the biggest single factor is cultural. Spains sex trafficking epidemic is, she says, just the most extreme manifestation of the countrys problematic attitudes to women and sex. There is huge demand for prostitution here. Its become so normalised that its just seen like any other leisure activity.

One survey in 2008 found that 78% of Spanish people consider prostitution an inevitability in modern society. And demand is huge: another survey, conducted in 2006, found that nearly 40% of Spanish men over the age of 18 had paid for sex at least once in their life. Mora has recently seen a radical change in the kind of men buying sex. Before, it was largely older men sneaking away from their families. Now, both the women on the streets and the sex buyers themselves are getting younger. The social stigma isnt the same as it was when I started out, she says. We have a generation of young men growing up believing they have the right to do anything to a womans body if they have paid for it, and they dont have to worry about the consequences.

As a young girl, Mora watched her mother (also called Roco) start Apramp from their kitchen table. At 18, Mora was studying by day and driving a mobile health unit through Madrids red-light district by night.

A
A club in a high-end neighbourhood of Madrid.

When my mother started this work, it was mainly getting health services to Spanish women who were engaged in prostitution to feed their families or a drug addiction, she says. Two decades ago, criminal gangs started to take hold. And it really was a radical change. There was suddenly a lot of violence and coercion men on the streets watching the women and taking their money.

Now, she says, most women in prostitution in Spain are foreigners: Apramp works with women of 53 different nationalities. And the gangs are more sophisticated and more ruthless. They no longer need men on the street, because they are controlling the women through debt, fear and psychological control. This is what makes it much harder to fight, because many dont see that they have a way out.

***

On Calle Montera, one of Madrids busiest shopping streets, eastern European or South American women stand alone or in small groups. Maria and Marcella point out that many of the women they help dont look like trafficking victims: it is easy for people to walk past them and not realise. Maria says many are also acting as human signposts, indicating that there are houses filled with other women nearby. When we get back to our car that evening, flyers have been stuck under our windscreen wipers offering a two-for-one deal on women for the special price of 30.

A short walk from Calle Montera is the HQ of the Centre of Intelligence and Risk Analysis, run by Spains national police. Jos Nieto is its chief inspector and Spains leading anti-trafficking law enforcement officer. As with Mora, anti-trafficking work has become Nietos vocation. He has spent more than 20 years trying to develop an effective police response to a human rights catastrophe that, until 2010, wasnt even included in Spains criminal code.

When I started in 1997, I was part of the brigade that believed all prostitutes did this work because they wanted to, he says. But its like an illness: at first you feel that something is wrong but you havent got a diagnosis. But as soon as you put a name to it, everything changes. You see it for what it really is.

He explains the myriad reasons why Spain has become such a magnet for sex trafficking networks; a perfect storm, he calls it. First, we are fighting a crime that is socially acceptable, because prostitution is accepted and embraced by many people here. Second there is geography: We are at the centre of all major migratory routes. The main victims we are seeing trafficked and forced into prostitution are Romanian, West African and South American. You can cross from Romania to Spain with an ID card. Africa is just 15km from us. We have a historic and a linguistic connection to South America.

As in many countries, a prosecution is almost impossible without a victim willing to disclose their situation and testify against their exploiters. There is great fear among victims that if they tell the police, they will be sent back to their countries with their debts unpaid, Nieto says. It makes policing very difficult; if the women dont ask for help, there is a limit to what you can do. Here in Spain, prostitution itself isnt illegal, running a brothel isnt illegal, so you have to prove that what is going on is more than meets the eye.

A
A sex worker takes a break in Colonia Marconi. There is huge demand for prostitution here. Its become so normalised.

That evening, Nieto, the Guardian photographers and I join an undercover police unit conducting inspections of private clubs in Barrio de Salamanca, one of Madrids most high-end neighbourhoods. Although the police have all undertaken anti-trafficking training, their main job tonight seems to be restricted to checking ID and carting any woman found to be working illegally off to the police station.

At our first location there is a short period of confusion as our two unmarked cars drive up and down the street trying to find a parking space. By the time we enter, the music is already off and the club deserted other than four women sitting silently on bar stools clutching their ID cards and a manager conspicuously cleaning glasses behind the bar. None of them is Spanish. The women all appear to be here on student visas, and shake their heads when the police chief asks them if they need help. There is no evidence that these women are victims of trafficking, but it seems ludicrous to expect anyone to disclose anything in this environment.

At other clubs, a few women who dont have the right ID are loaded into a van. In one, three very young Chinese women sit silent and apparently terrified in their underwear on a cracked fake leather banquette, while police check the damp and dirty premises. A lone punter, a sweaty Spanish man in his 20s, is ejected from a bedroom at the back; outside another, a sexy nurse uniform hangs on a hook. The women keep their eyes fixed on the thickset Chinese man behind the bar as he chats easily to the police and shows them his licence. As we leave, the heavy metal door slams shut with a thud, leaving the women inside. One of the officers runs a hand over his face and exhales. Dios mo, he says. My God.

Yet Nieto believes there is hope and says the new strategy of creating formal alliances between police, prosecutors and frontline services is putting more pressure on criminal gangs. In particular, he cites coordination with Apramps Mora: With her help, were making connections with survivors, were following the money and sending people away. Were making the traffickers understand that the Spanish police are something to fear.

Uniforms
Uniforms in a Chinese brothel. In Spain, prostitution isnt illegal.

Nieto has been working with prosecutor Beatriz Snchez for the past decade. Since 2010 the formidable Spanish lawyer has overseen more than 100 trafficking cases; in 2012, she succeeded in sending Ioan Clamparu, the capo of the biggest prostitution trafficking ring in Europe, to prison for 30 years. She is upbeat, funny and warm, but steely in her determination. Weve made huge advances in prosecuting and convicting human traffickers, she says. But many cases get dismissed or dont go to trial. Snchez says only one-tenth of the trafficking cases she takes on make it to court because the burden of proof is high, requiring witness statements and months of police work. Often cases are organised and transnational, involving the movement of huge amounts of money. They are complex crimes that are difficult to dismantle. Under Spanish laws, you need proof of the use of extreme violence and intimidation to prosecute cases of pimping and coercion. All forms of pimping need to be criminally punishable, she says. Only then can we effectively stop human trafficking.

Snchez says her natural optimism can be blunted by the uphill struggle to get cases to trial. It would be hard if I was doing this alone, but the good thing is I have Roco and Jos were a team, she says. So when you are down and feel like things are hopeless, you have a reason to carry on. The others can pick you up and say: Come on! We must keep going! Snchez keeps in touch with all the women she represents. Seeing them rebuild their lives is as satisfying as seeing their abusers go to prison, she says.

***

We visit one of Snchezs former clients, Helena, at the offices of Proyecto Esperanza (Project Hope), the NGO that has supported her through her court case. Her family is from Ecuador but she was living on the outskirts of Madrid, with a Spanish passport, when she was forced into prostitution in her own neighbourhood five years ago, after falling victim to fraudsters who lent her money. They threatened to kill her small children if she didnt work as a prostitute to pay it back. When I was in that situation I didnt see a way out, and the longer I did it, the more I died inside, she says.

It took years, but in the end her traffickers were sent to prison and Helena was awarded landmark compensation of 100,000 by the state, 92,000 of which was estimated to be what her traffickers had earned from the sale of her body. She is yet to see any of this money, and her debts to family and neighbours remain unpaid. I still owe 12,000 to friends and family from that time in my life, and I have no idea how to pay it, she says. But for now she is surviving. Proyecto Esperanza is helping her find a job and providing counselling. She has a home and is rebuilding her relationship with her children. Despite her experiences, she is trying to teach them that the world can be a good place.

Helena praises Snchez for giving her the courage to do this. Beatriz was always so positive and strong at a time when I didnt believe in myself at all, she says softly. Now I am trying to learn to love myself again. And thats what I want to teach my kids that no matter what other people do to you, it is important to love yourself and to look ahead. That in every terrible situation there can be a light at the end of the tunnel a way out of the darkness.

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Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2019/may/11/prostitution-tackling-spain-sex-traffickers

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Baked cod, miso and bok choy: unpacking Japan’s healthy school lunches

Japans state-run kyushoku system combines flavour with fresh ingredients and high nutritional value at low cost

The list of dishes reads like a health-conscious menu at an upmarket cafe: mackerel cooked in miso, a light salad of daikon radish and sour plum, thinly sliced pickled vegetables and a selection of fresh fruit. But the restaurant is actually a classroom at Konan primary school in central Japan, where the pupils need only the gentlest encouragement to eat their greens.

When the Guardian visited the school in the Pacific coastal city of Fukuroi, the classroom, momentarily transformed into a lunchtime cafeteria, reverberated to a chorus of Itadakimasu a polite Japanese term for lets eat.

On the menu today is baked cod, sauted sweet corn and bok choy, minestrone soup, a small carton of milk and, as a Friday treat, a slightly less wholesome combination of white bread with a soy-based chocolate cream a challenge to spread evenly on the bread with chopsticks.

The portions are modest, but then so is the total calorie count 667 kcal for a meal that will sustain the 11-year-old children until they get home.

Something different every day

Konan is not the only school in Japan producing a range of lunches or kyushoku that combine flavour with fresh ingredients and contain levels of iron, calcium and fibre stipulated by a government-run programme for children attending kindergarten through to the end of junior high school.

The kyushoku system was introduced in the 1950s to ensure that children did not have experience the dietary privations of the immediate postwar years. More than seven decades on, the programme is credited with contributing to Japans impressive life expectancy, and child and adult obesity levels that are among the lowest in the OECD group of nations.

Lunch
Lunch served to 11-year-olds at Konan primary school: bok choy and sauted sweet corn, baked cod, minestrone soup, milk, white bread and soy-based chocolate spread. Photograph: Justin McCurry/The Guardian

Local officials refer to their school meals as the healthiest in a country with one of the healthiest cuisines in the world. It is no empty boast: last year Fukuroi won a World Health Organization best practice award for promoting healthy dietary habits among schoolchildren, with the help of local producers.

The citys school lunch centres prepare and send out more than 10,000 lunches to kindergartens, primary and junior high schools every day. Most of the meals are inspired by Japanese cuisine, with the occasional inclusion of Chinese, Korean and European dishes. Parents pay 250 (1.70) a meal, about half of what they cost to make, with the local government contributing the rest.

We devise the monthly menu so that there is something different every day, says Koji Ishizuka, the manager of the school lunch division at the citys board of education. And each month differs depending on whats in season.

In 2005, the government took its school lunch programme a step further by requiring school boards to educate children about the provenance and composition of their lunches.

As the children at Konan tuck into lunch, Mihoko Kobayashi, one of two nutrition educators in Fukuroi, tells them where the bok choy they are eating was grown and why, despite clear reservations among some pupils, they should eat every last morsel.

Please remember that a lot of people were involved in preparing your lunch, she says. Especially when you come across a vegetable you think you wont like.

The joy of no choice

The bok choy converts have Toshiyuki Suzuki to thank for a portion of their lunch. The local farmer sends 4 tonnes of the leafy vegetable to Fukuroi schools every year. Freshness is absolutely essential, he says. The vegetables I sell commercially have to go through a distribution system, but I sell directly to schools, so the vegetables the kids are eating are the freshest around.

Working closely with the citys board of education, Suzuki and other farmers in the area have helped push the proportion of locally grown vegetables in school meals from just over 13 % in 2012 to almost 32% last year.

Children generally acquire their long-term eating habits by the time theyre 10, so thats why we think school lunches are so important, says Ishizuka. The results of regular health checks on the children are generally good, and we believe school lunches have something to do with that.

Since its inception, the kyushoku programme has been taken up by almost all primary schools and about 80% of junior high schools, according to education officials.

Ingredients
Ingredients in school meals are locally grown Photograph: Brown/EPA/REX/Shutterstock

Dr Atsushi Miyawaki, a health policy specialist at Tokyo Universitys graduate school of medicine, says removing choice from the menu and banning packed lunches are the most remarkable features of the programme.

It offers a uniform menu to all children in each school five days a week, unlike the cafeteria-style school lunches often found in the US and UK, Miyawaki says. That means the children have no choice regarding menu items, or whether to eat school lunch or bring it from home.

That helps avoid an imbalance in nutritional intakes. And the lack of choice can help hide disparities in the childrens socioeconomic background that may be evident in packed lunches.

The lunch break is coming to an end for year 5, class 3. There is not a single leftover vegetable or cod flake to be seen, supporting staff claims that the children eat 95% of the food theyre given. A quick survey of the Guardians dining companions reveals, unsurprisingly, that the bread with chocolate spread is a big hit.

The lunch monitors load trays of empty plates on to trolleys and wheel them to the kitchen while their classmates file out to complete the final task of their days food education: brushing their teeth.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/mar/01/baked-cod-miso-and-bok-choy-worlds-healthiest-school-lunches-japan-kyushoku

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Anthony Bourdain’s last interview: Trump, Weinstein and travel

The chef and TV presenter talked about revolution, parenting, abuse and Trump voters in what is believed to be the last interview before his death

Anthony Bordains final interview has shed light on the chefs thoughts on travel, culture and politics. The piece, which surfaced on independent publication Popula on Sunday, includes Bourdains takes on Bill Clintons behaviour in office, Obamas performance as US president and his own daydreams about the demise of Harvey Weinstein (Bourdains partner, Asia Argento, was one of the first to accuse the former movie mogul of rape).

But Bourdain also spoke about other things, such as the joy that comes from friendship, and how to think about parenting. Here are some of the highlights:

On travel

I much prefer people who just showed up in Paris and found their own way without any particular itinerary, who left themselves open to things happening. To mistakes because thats the most important part of travel.

On talking to strangers

You go to a place like Beirut and you find yourself talking to a Muslim woman. If youre a journalist tasked with an agenda, you know, youre there to report a story, and you come right out with it. Youre going right into some very difficult areas. Whereas I have the luxury, Im there to eat! Presumably. Im there to eat, and Im asking very simple questions.

What makes you happy? What do you like to eat, where do you like to go to get a few drinks; you know? What do you miss about the place when you go away? And I find, again and again, just by spending the time, by asking very simple questions, people have said the most astonishing things to me. Often things that would be very uncomfortable for them outside of that casual context.

On property

I know very much what wont make me happy. The perfect car will not make me happy. The perfect house will probably make me sad, and terrified

Im a renter by nature. I like the freedom to change my mind about where I want to be in six months, or a year. Because Ive also found you might have to make that decision you cant always make that decision for yourself.

On luxury

My happiest moments on the road are always off-camera, generally with my crew, coming back from shooting a scene and finding ourselves in this sort of absurdly beautiful moment, you know, laying on a flatbed on those things that go on the railroad track, with a putt-putt motor, goin across like, the rice paddies in Cambodia with headphones on this is luxury, because I could never have imagined having the freedom or the ability to find myself in such a place, looking at such things.

To sit alone or with a few friends, half-drunk under a full moon, you just understand how lucky you are; its a story you cant tell. Its a story you almost by definition, cant share. Ive learned in real time to look at those things and realise: I just had a really good moment.

On cycles of abuse

You know a lot of the chefs, all of the really bastard chefs, most the really oppressive ones, the old school ones, were abused children, were abused by their parents, were abused and neglected, physically, mentally, in every possible way, and then became just like their abuser, and would perpetuate the system.

A lot of chefs never really understood, or understood only really belatedly; theyd been powerless for much of their careers. I dont know. For most of my career, chefs were creatures without power. To talk about power imbalance, is in retrospect, there was one. But I think we all saw ourselves at outcasts, as weak, except in our little bubble in the kitchen.

On Trump voters

The contempt and the ridicule which has been heaped on places like West Virginia, which is the heart, demographically, of enemy territory, as far as New York liberals like us are concerned This is something we fucked up in the sixties. We were fighting against cops and construction workers cops and construction workers were exactly who we fucking needed! They were the first to die, in Vietnam. We werent gonna!

On Trump

Somebody at the White House press briefing has to sacrifice their job and say: You utter piece of shit! Do you really expect us to swallow that steaming load of horseshit? How do you live with yourself? You should be ashamed. Give me one guy to throw themselves on a fire like that, lose access, lose the gig at the White House, for that infinitely repeatable meme. Give me that. Just give me that. Someone to stand up.

On not being an artist

From the very beginning Ive always and only made the television I wanted to make, and as soon as I could I told whoever was involved to go fuck themselves, and somehow landed on my feet someplace else, with somebody who was willing to indulge me in even grander fashion. So I havent had to deal with the grim reality of well, you either do the Best Burgers in America show, or you have no work at all! I havent had to live with that. I havent had to be particularly nice to people I dont like. Ever.

On revolution

We cannot choose the leaders of our revolutions, theyre all deeply flawed and they will all all revolutions will be corrupted

The minute everybody in the room agrees with you, youre in a bad place, so Im a big believer in change just for its own sake, just to show that you can change, to move forward incrementally, but aint nobody gonna make everything better. Whoever has the intestinal fortitude or the megalomaniac instincts sufficient to lead any kind of a revolution will inevitably disappoint horribly.

The best revolutionaries of course are martyrs who died before they could turn into disgusting, self-serving, corrupt pieces of shit. As they all do.

On parenting

Asia [Argento] said this to me: children create themselves independently of us. All you can do is show, like in my case, my daughter feels loved. She knows shes loved. She has good self-esteem. Very important. And good martial arts skills. So she knows she can take any boy in her age group. Thats all I can do as a father I cant pick her music, her boyfriends, whatever, however shes going to turn out. I can give her these basic things.

On the imagined death of Harvey Weinstein

My theory of how he goes is uh, hes brushing his teeth in a bathroom, hes naked in his famous bathrobe, which is flapping open, hes holding his cell phone in one hand because you never know who on the Weinstein board has betrayed him recently, and hes brushing his teeth he suddenly gets a massive fucking stroke he stumbles backwards into the bathtub, where he finds himself um, with his robe open feet sticking out of the tub, and in his last moments of consciousness as he scrolls through his contacts list trying to figure out who he can call, who will actually answer the phone.

And he dies that way, knowing that no one will help him and that he is not looking his finest at time of death.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2018/jul/18/anthony-bourdains-last-interview-trump-weinstein-and-travel

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10 of the best words in the world (that don’t translate into English)

As millions head abroad, our correspondents pick out the words that for them speak volumes about the countries they love and live in

One of the many great things about languages worldwide is the sizeable number of words for which there is no real English translation. Often they tell us about concepts and ideas that we are missing out on in the anglophone world.

As the northern hemisphere heads abroad in the coming holiday season, here are a few to be looking out for:

Salud
Salud! Photograph: Molly Aaker/Getty Images


SPAIN: sobremesa

You may have witnessed the ritual, knowingly or not, while on the hunt for a coffee or a cold beer towards the end of another long Spanish afternoon.

Sitting clumped around tables inside restaurants or spilling out on to their terrazas, are friends, families and colleagues, preserved in the post-prandial moment like replete insects in amber.

Lunch and it is more usually lunch than dinner will long since have yielded to the important act of the sobremesa, that languid time when food gives way to hours of talking, drinking and joking. Coffee and digestivoswill have been taken, or perhaps the large gin and tonic that follows a meal rather than precedes it here.

The sobremesais a digestive period that allows for the slow settling of food, gossip, ideas and conversations. It is also a sybaritic time; a recognition that there is more to life than working long hours and that few pleasures are greater than sharing a table and then chatting nonsense for a hefty portion of what remains of the day.

The world may not have been put completely to rights by the end of the sobremesa, but it will seem a calmer, more benign place.

Ask Mariano Rajoy. At the end of May, as it became clear that he was going to be turfed out of office in a no-confidence vote, the then-prime minister did something very Spanish: he and his close circle retreated to a private room in a smart Madrid restaurant. Lunch was followed by a seven-hour sobremesa, and, reportedly, a couple of bottles of whisky.

After all, what does the loss of a premiership matter after a fine meal, a good cigar and some booze-soaked reminiscing? Salud! Sam Jones in Madrid

PORTUGAL: esperto/esperta

Carmen
Esperta (Carmen Miranda) and esperto (Jose Mourinho) Composite: REX/Shutterstock and Getty Images

It feels almost counterintuitive to have to explain what esperto/esperta means, a Portuguese word without true parallel in the English dictionary.

There are words that come close, that encapsulate something of the spirit of this word and the word itself is spirited. On the ball, quick-witted, with-it, canny, having common sense, intuitive, someone who gets things done: these all help shade in the space occupied by esperto.

I grew up in Portugal and have always felt an undercurrent of admiration, almost affection, for the espertas.

A Brazilian friend, Tatiana, though, warns of a negative sense. Someone esperto can, she says, use his or her instincts to take advantage of others; to trap or fool them into trouble.

Sometimes its easier to understand something by what it is not. Esperta is definitely not slow, dim, unimaginative. If these characteristics were on a spectrum, esperto would be at one end, with plodding at the other.

If you understand it, you probably are. Juliette Jowit

ITALY: bella figura

Good
Good figures in Sicily. Photograph: Alamy

Before celebrating a confirmation in Sicily last year, my aunt breathed a sigh of relief when she saw that her British niece was dressed appropriately enough so as not to make a bad impression in front of the extended family.

I was also relieved, as it meant I had not inflicted the curse of the brutta figura, which literally translates as bad figure, on my family.

In pretty much all areas of life, whether it be in the way people dress, how they behave, how well their homes are kept or how impeccably a cake is presented and a gift wrapped, Italians strive to achieve the bella figura, or beautiful figure.

Such importance is placed on keeping up appearances and the finer detail that for unwitting foreigners theres a sense of being sized up in everything you do, even going as far as to what you eat and drink and at what time of the day you indulge in such activities.

What matters is not what you do but how you appear, said an Italian friend, likening it to posting the perfect photograph on social media. Its a tactic that enables people to get promoted at work and politicians to win over admirers while giving the impression that they are achieving something.

I call it selfie and spot, the friend said. For example, the politician takes a selfie against a beautiful backdrop, posts it on Facebook with a promise to do something, but then doesnt follow it through. With a good selfie and a good spot, you can survive an entire career without doing anything. Angela Giuffrida in Rome

GERMANY: Feierabend

Knocking
Knocking off time in Hamburg. Photograph: Alamy

One of the most misleading, but also most enduring, myths about German culture is that it values hard work over a good siesta. Northern Europeans, the legend goes, have a Protestant work ethic that means they get the job done even if it means staying in the office late into the night, while the southern Europeans wave it off with a maana, maana.

Anyone who sincerely believes that to be the case has never tried to call a German office at one minute past five. When German workers say Ich mach Feierabend(I am calling it a day), it rarely carries an apologetic undertone but usually comes with the confidence of someone claiming an ancient right.

Dating back to the 16th century, the term Feierabend, or celebration evening, used to denote the evening before a public holiday, but has come to refer to the free time between leaving the office and bedtime on any working day.

The key to understanding Feierabendis that it isnt time for going to the cinema or gym, but time for doing nothing. In 1880, the cultural historian Wilhelm Heinrich Riehl described the conceptas an atmosphere of carefree wellbeing, of deep inner reconciliation, of the pure and clear quiet of the evening.

Germanys adherence to the Feierabendrulebook can frustrate when you are trying to make a work call on a Friday afternoon or buy an aspirin from a pharmacy on a Sunday (Sundays being a 24-hour celebration evening).

But as a philosophy, it underpins the proudest achievements of the German labour movement and may just explain why the country has some of the highest productivity levels in Europe: to truly cherish the evening, you make sure you get the job done before five oclock. Philip Oltermann in Berlin

FINLAND: sisu

Finnish
Duty calls: Finnish troops in the second world war. Photograph: Hulton Deutsch/Getty Images

Sisu is an untranslatable Finnish term that blends resilience, tenacity, persistence, determination, perseverance and sustained, rather than momentary, courage: the psychological strength to ensure that regardless of the cost or the consequences, what has to be done will be done.

It originates from the word sisus, meaning intestines or guts; Daniel Juslenius, author of the first Finnish-language dictionary in 1745, defined sisucunda as the place in the body where strong emotions live. In a harsh environment and with powerful neighbours, it was what a young nation needed.

Sisu is what, in 1939-40, allowed an army of 350,000 Finns to twice fight off Soviet forces three times their number, inflicting losses five times heavier than those they sustained.

More prosaically, it has helped Finns get through a lot of long, lonely, dark and freezing winters, building in the process one of the wealthiest, safest, most stable and best-governed countries in the world. It is not all good, of course. Sisu can lead to stubbornness, a refusal to take advice, an inability to admit weakness, a lack of compassion.

It has become a bit of clich in Finland a brand name for trucks and strongly-flavoured sweets. Research shows it holds little appeal to the young. But ask a Finn to define the national character, and its the word most still reach for. Jon Henley

IRAN: Taarof

No,
No, I insist Photograph: Carol Guzy/Getty Images

Taarofis a Persian word that has no English equivalent, referring to the art of etiquette ubiquitous in everyday Iranian life.

You go first, says Mr A as he meets Mr B at the doorstep, as they try to enter a building. No, its not possible, you go first, Mr B insists in response. Taarof dictates a ritual that may see them both waiting for a couple of unnecessary minutes before one steps forward to enter.

It is an etiquette that is seen almost in all aspects of Iranian life, from hosts insisting on guests taking more food from the table, to the exchanges in the bazaar. How much is this carpet? asks Ms A after choosing her favourite in the shop. Its worthless, you can just take it, responds the seller, quite disingenuously.

Although Ms A in reality cannot take the carpet out of the shop without paying for it, the seller might insist up to three times that she should just do that, until the amount of the price is finally mentioned.

The awkward exchanges may have originated out of politeness; ultimately, they may work to the sellers favour, as the buyer feels a certain obligation to respond to such deference with a purchase, even if the final price is more than she expected.

Another example: you are walking with a friend and you end up doing Taarof, asking him to come to yours for lunch, even though you dont have anything prepared and you dont really want him to accept.

The friend insists out of Taarof that he wouldnt come because he knows youre tired and doesnt want to be a burden, even though deep down he really wants to have lunch at your place.

Oh, dont Taarof, you say in a Taarof asking your friend not to Taarof. He ends up accepting your reluctant Taarof. Youre a bit irked, but youll have to be all smiles. Not all Taarofs are insincere; some are, some arent. Youd Taarof even if you badly want something, saying you dont want it; youd Taarof if you really hate something, pretending you want it. Saeed Kamali Dehghan

RUSSIA: (toska)

Storm,
Storm, Rain. Isaak Levitan Photograph: Fine Art Images/Alamy

Leave it to Russia to serve up the melancholy: toska translates as yearning or ennui. Except it doesnt, because no English word can accurately reflect all the shades of the word, to paraphrase Vladimir Nabokov.

What can toska (pronounced tahs-kah) mean? Spiritual anguish, a deep pining, perhaps the product of nostalgia or love-sickness, toskais depression plus longing, an unbearable feeling that you need to escape but lack the hope or energy to do so.

Visually to me, toska conjures up an endless field of birch on the edge of St Petersburg, in the dead of winter when the clouds never part, and its only light for five hours a day anyway.

Toska is the stuff of great literature. Evgeny Onegin, the foundational Russian novel-in-verse about superfluous men, unrequited love and duels? Loads of toska.

Anton Chekhov wrote an entire short story called Toska about a cabman who recently lost his son and searches for someone to talk to about his grief. He ends up talking to his horse. All that broodiness in the great (and not-so-great) Russian novels? You get the picture.

So why choose toska for this list of positivity? Because if the Russian soul s the place where great emotions reside, then toska pays the rent. Without toska there cannot be delirious happiness, endless heartfelt conversations at 4am at the kitchen table, boundless generosity at obvious personal expense.

Toska is a sign that your emotions go beyond logic and that you are really, truly living your emotions. Perhaps youve felt toska and you didnt realise it, but its a good thing: it means youve got a little bit of the Russian soul in you. Andrew Roth in Moscow

JAPAN: shoganai

Were
Were coming home (but were tidying up first). Photograph: Darko Vojinovic/AP

As inhabitants of an archipelago that is regularly struck by earthquakes and tsunamis, and as recent events have tragically demonstrated floods and landslides, it is little wonder that the Japanese have a well-developed sense of fatalism. Any verbal reflection on humans powerlessness to control natures most destructive forces often elicit the phrase shoganai.

The expression, meaning, it cant be helped, is Japans catchall response to any situation, large or small, over which people believe they have no influence. A more voguish translation might be it is what it is. A French person would immediately recognise it as a version of cest la vie.

It could be heard, delivered with deep reflection, amid the rubble of the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami and, in resigned tones, after Japans agonising exit from the World Cup in Russia.

Shoganai, and its synonymshikata ga nai, are verbal coping mechanisms that apply equally to unwelcome developments in everyday life, from getting struck in a traffic jam to having to spend Friday evening at the office.

With its roots in the Zen Buddhist belief that suffering is a natural part of life, it could perhaps be described as Japans version of the serenity prayer a personal and communal recognition that, on occasion, passive acceptance of an unfortunate truth is far easier than trying to deny it.

But resigning oneself to ones fate with a muttered shoganai has its drawbacks. Some observers of Japanese culture note that it is too often applied in situations in which humans have more influence than they think.

For much of the seven decades since the end of the second world war, there has been a general acceptance of the dominance of the conservative Liberal Democratic party, even among liberal voters. Some have pointed to its role in allowing the rise of Japanese militarism in the first half of the 20th century.

Shikata ga nai is, then, partly to blame for weaknesses at the heart of Japans democracy, allowing one party to dominate even, as is the case today, when it is mired in scandal.

In a country with few energy resources of its own, nuclear power was for decades the beneficiary of the shoganai mindset, one that accepted the construction of dozens of nuclear reactors along the coastline as a necessary evil.

It took Fukushima to prove that Japans lauded sense of fatalism can sometimes be downright dangerous. Justin McCurry in Tokyo

NETHERLANDS: polderen

Inside the fearful Bedouin village that could decide fate of Palestinian state

Only a court order stands between Khan al-Ahmar and the bulldozers. And if it goes, the West Bank will be split in two

Commuters speeding along the four-lane highway that connects Jerusalem to Jericho might not notice this tiny Bedouin village of fewer than 200 people tucked in the dip of two hills. Tents hoisted with chipped scrap-wood and sand-covered corrugated-iron shacks are home to once-nomadic families who settled after the Israeli army expelled them from the southern desert seven decades ago. Some residents work in nearby factories owned by Israeli settlers. Others herd sheep and goats on the scorching rocky terrain.

But Khan al-Ahmars modest appearance belies its significance to many Palestinians as the keystone of their struggle for statehood a community whose location is so strategic that, if they were removed, it might crumble hopes for a future country.

After years of resistance against Israeli demolition orders that say the makeshift village in the occupied West Bank is illegally built, last week brought what appeared to be final preparations for its destruction.

Security forces declared the area a closed military zone and blocked journalists and diplomats from entering. Bulldozers with military escorts rumbled in and began levelling the ground.

In the upper part of the village, Tahreer Abu Dahouk, a mother of four children all under 10, stood in her kitchen. A large blue plastic barrel held water, charred pots and pans hung on wooden hangers, and the roof was blackened by the soot from a fire pit. We sleep afraid; we wake up afraid. They are serious, she said as border police in grey uniforms patrolled outside.

On Wednesday, when Israeli forces first entered, they wounded 35 Palestinians and arrested others, according to the United Nations. One Israeli soldier was also reported injured. It was war here, said Abu Dahouk, who married into the village 14 years ago.

The
The Bedouin villagers say they are afraid. Photograph: Mohamad Torokman/Reuters

Outside her home is a small garden in the desert hills, a lone pomegranate tree bearing light pink fruit. We are settled now, she said. We refuse to leave. Leave us alone. This is the best place for us.

Khan al-Ahmar is one of several communities in the West Bank under threat. Since its people arrived decades ago as refugees, Israeli settlements built on occupied land supported with water and electricity have sprung up on the surrounding hilltops.

In contrast, the Jahalin tribe who live in Khan al-Ahmar are restricted on where they can roam with their livestock and Israeli authorities have not hooked up their homes to running water, electricity or a sewerage system. They have portable toilets, although opening their doors shows they are merely a closed box with a hole in the floor.

Homes have been ripped down in the past because their construction has been declared illegal while building permits are nearly impossible for Palestinians to obtain there.

Around 2km to the north is the Israeli settlement of Kfar Adumim, which has plans to extend closer to Khan al-Ahmar. On Thursday, settlers brought Israeli flags to a hilltop overlooking the village in a show of support for the demolition.

Others, a small group of people from Kfar Adumim, have gone against their neighbours and lobbied to allow the Bedouin to stay, saying the communities can coexist.

But the fight is bigger than that of two communities. The Palestinian government warns that removing the village is part of a broader push to annex the West Bank.

One of the few remaining Palestinian sites east of Jerusalem, its demise would contribute to the encircling of the holy city by Jewish settlements on one side, effectively blocking it off entirely from the West Bank. The move would isolate East Jerusalem, which Palestinians claim as their future capital.

Further Israeli settlement construction in the area, along a road leading to the Dead Sea, would divide the occupied Palestinian Territories in two, cutting the north from the south.

Palestinian
Palestinian demonstrators try to prevent an Israeli tractor from entering Khan al-Ahmar. Photograph: Abir Sultan/EPA

There would be no continuous Palestinian land on which to build a state, already profoundly fragmented by military rule as well as Israeli-built walls, roads and settlements.

If this community disappears, the north will disappear from the south, said one resident, Faisal Abu Dahouk, 43. To him, the timing of the demolition is no coincidence. Israels prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has been bolstered by the Trump administration, which has already declared Jerusalem Israels capital and cut aid to Palestinians. Trumps ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, is a hardline pro-settler lawyer.

They gave them an OK, Abu Dahouk said of Trump and Israel. During the past few days, there has been a wave of demolitions across the West Bank, displacing dozens of Palestinians.

The Israeli authorities say they have offered villagers in Khan al-Ahmar a relocation site, although it is just a few hundred metres from a rubbish dump, and in an urban setting with little room for sheep.

The Palestinian government says a forcible transfer of people from their homes by an occupying power is a war crime. And foreign governments warn that Khan al-Ahmars location makes it vital to the moribund two-state solution.

khan al ahmar

Britains minister of state for the Middle East, Alistair Burt, told the Commons last week that the demolition was fundamentally wrong. But in nearly an hour of questioning from MPs, the minister was told that repeated condemnations were not enough and further action, such as economic sanctions on settlements or measures to support Palestinian statehood, was needed.

Before the actions of the Netanyahu government render a two-state solution a geographical impossibility this is the time for the United Kingdom to lead the major nations of the world in recognising the Palestinian state, and to do so immediately while there is still a state left to recognise, said Emily Thornberry, the shadow foreign secretary.

It is not clear if international pressure has worked. Late on Thursday, Israels high court granted a temporary injunction on the demolition until Wednesday.

The reprieve followed a petition by the villages residents, the latest of hundreds of attempts over the years to help the community. In 2009, a school was built with EU funding out of rubber tyres and mud as a way to circumvent Israeli rules preventing building with cement. But the authorities still ordered it be shut down.

At the school last week, young children played in the astroturf garden and swung from tree branches. Some gathered at the fence and peered through at the large yellow bulldozer flattening the road outside.

Abu Dahouk sat nearby. They suffocated us, he said.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/jul/07/khan-al-ahmar-west-bank-bedouin-village-facing-destruction

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The week that took Windrush from low-profile investigation to national scandal

Britains reputation has been shattered by the cruelty of the governments immigration policy

For the past six months, the Guardian has highlighted case after case of Home Office brutality towards the Windrush generation, describing how retirement-age citizens who have lived and paid taxes in the UK for decades have been detained, made homeless, sacked or denied benefits and NHS treatment because they have struggled to prove they are British. Seven days ago, the government had barely acknowledged the scandal.

Everything changed this week. In the space of five days, the prime minister was forced to apologise twice for the hurt caused to victims, while the home secretary said she was sorry for the appalling actions of her own department and issued a strong rebuke to her staff. Amber Rudd said she was concerned that the Home Office has become too concerned with policy and strategy and sometimes loses sight of the individual.

What happened to prompt this sudden admission of culpability? How was it possible for the government to ignore for so long the Guardians detailed reports of the tragic problems unleashed on passport-less Windrush-era citizens by Theresa Mays flagship immigration policy, the hostile environment for illegal migration, that she launched in 2013 as home secretary?

A series of articles were published in the Guardian, prompting shock from our readers and indifference from the government. We documented the cases of people such as Paulette Wilson, 61 (former kitchen worker at the House of Commons, made homeless, detained and threatened with removal to Jamaica, after 50 years in the UK), Michael Braithwaite, 66 (sacked as a special needs teaching assistant after 56 years in the UK), Hubert Howard, 61 (sacked and unable to visit his dying mother after 49 years in UK), and Albert Thompson (not his real name, denied NHS cancer treatment and told it would cost him 54,000 after four decades paying taxes).

Top
Top row, left to right: Elwaldo Romeo, Paulette Wilson, Renford McIntyre. Bottom row: Michael Braithwaite, Sarah OConnor and Anthony Bryan. Composite: Martin Godwin/Fabio de Paulo/David Sillitoe/Alicia Canter for the Guardian

These were people who had contributed for decades and whose lives had been destroyed by Home Office harassment over their immigration status. All of them are here legally, but none of them have the documentation to prove it. Mays tightened immigration rules mean officials have begun demanding to see papers, often targeting those who they suspect (judging by accents and skin colour) may not have them.

When the Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, raised Thompsons case with May in parliament last month, she said she was not aware of it. Obviously the prime minister is busy, and maybe doesnt read the Guardian much, but it is curious that no one in her office thought this issue serious enough to brief her on it.

It reveals something about Britain that these cases did not attract noisy universal condemnation sooner. Several victims speculated on whether this would have happened to them if their skin were a different colour. The fact that some of these cases go back two or three years and never made the headlines, and were not highlighted by MPs, also says something uncomfortable about racism in this country.

Q&A

What is the Windrush deportation crisis?

Who are the Windrush generation?

They are people who arrived in the UK after the second world war from Caribbean countries at the invitation of the British government. The first group arrived on the ship MV Empire Windrush in June 1948.

What is happening to them?

An estimated 50,000 people face the risk of deportation if they never formalised their residency status and do not have the required documentation to prove it.

Why is this happening now?

It stems from a policy, set out by Theresa May when she was home secretary,to make the UK ‘a really hostile environment for illegal immigrants‘. It requires employers, NHS staff, private landlords and other bodies to demand evidence of peoples citizenship or immigration status.

Why do they not have the correct paperwork and status?

Some children, often travelling on their parents passports, were never formally naturalised and many moved to the UK before the countries in which they were born became independent, so they assumed they were British. In some cases, they did not apply for passports. The Home Office did not keep a record of people entering the country and granted leave to remain, which was conferred on anyone living continuously in the country since before 1 January 1973.

What is the government doing to resolve the problem?

On Monday, the home secretary Amber Ruddannounced the creation of a new Home Office teamdedicated to ensuring that Commonwealth-born long-term UK residents would no longer find themselves classified as being in the UK illegally.

Photograph: Douglas Miller/Hulton Archive

When she was filled in on Thompsons case, Mays response was tough. Thompson needed to evidence his settled status in the UK, she said, apparently unaware that this was precisely what he was unable to do: the Home Office demands copious evidence, records have been destroyed and officials did not accept (as you would expect) his decades of tax payments. In response to every case the Guardian raised, Home Office staff issued statements saying the affected people needed to get legal advice and submit the correct applications. They were apparently unaware that legal aid cuts made that impossible, and that Home Office fees were prohibitively expensive for people who were borderline destitute after losing their jobs and being denied benefits.

Things changed after the Barbados high commissioner, Guy Hewitt, revealed that Downing Street had rejected a formal request from 12 Caribbean heads of government to discuss the problem with May at the Commonwealth heads of government meeting, which opened in London on Monday. On Sunday, Hewitt said it was regrettable. Within 24 hours, Labours David Lammy had gathered 140 MPs from all parties to sign a letter calling on the prime minister to act, and Rudd apologised in the Commons and set up a dedicated Windrush hotline.

This did little to stem the spiralling crisis. The Guardians revelation on Tuesday that thousands of Windrush-era landing slips were destroyed in October 2010 caused fresh embarrassment for the government. An ex-Home Office whistleblower said employees in his department told their managers that it was a bad idea to destroy the documents, because they were often the last remaining record that could be checked, in the event of uncertainty over an individuals arrival date in the UK. The cards could offer crucial evidence of a pre-1973 arrival, which holds the key to securing a British passport.

Play Video
1:55

‘National day of shame’: David Lammy criticises treatment of Windrush generation video

Both Downing Street and the Home Office did their best to play down the significance of the revelation, offering various and shifting bits of information about what had happened, and stating that it would be misleading and inaccurate to suggest that registration slips would have any bearing on Commonwealth immigration cases. However, further whistleblowers immediately contacted the Guardian to say Home Office staff had routinely used landing card information as part of their decision-making process, and to detail the emergence of a gotcha attitude among some staff, who enjoyed catching applicants out.

Throughout the week there were political spats about whether or not any Windrush-era citizens had actually been deported; this was largely a red herring, because deportation is just one of many ways that people are affected. There was a squabble between Corbyn and May over when the decision to destroy the cards was made, and who knew, but this was also a red herring. The key point was that the documents were destroyed under Mays watch, and she went on to introduce rules just two years afterwards that had the effect of requiring people to gather documentary evidence of their arrival in the UK.

The spiralling scandal completely overshadowed the Commonwealth heads of government meeting, just when the government had hoped to confirm post-Brexit ties with old allies. On the night before a rapidly scheduled meeting with Caribbean leaders (an embarrassing Downing Street U-turn), the mother of Dexter Bristol, who died last month after being sacked for having no papers, told the Guardian she believed the stress caused by his immigration problems was responsible for his death. Bristol had been in the UK for 49 years, arriving here when he was eight. Calling on May to resign, his mother, Sentina, said her son was the victim of the governments racist policies.

Its worth watching footage of Mays awkward apology to Caribbean leaders. She admits quite casually that she was responsible for the whole catastrophe, stating that the issue had come to light because of measures that we introduced recently and suggesting it was merely a bureaucratic concern for those people who now needed to evidence their immigration status. She made no mention of the pain caused to thousands.

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2:15

Theresa May apologises for treatment of Windrush generation video

Meanwhile, Thompson was upset that although May had told the Commons he would get the treatment he needs, no one had bothered to get in touch to explain whether or when he would receive the radiotherapy that was supposed to start in November. He is still waiting for an explanation, and would like an apology.

Dozens of Windrush victims have contacted the Guardian and accounts of 19 ruined lives have been published. Each one is devastating. People have told of parents who left the Caribbean to seek better lives in the UK, often saving up for years before they could afford to bring their children to join them; of working hard in vital, low-paid public service jobs and often being too poor to contemplate holidays, so never applying for passports. More stories are coming.

The link between the prime ministers policies and this tragedy is clear. It will be impossible for her to reconcile her central role in the Windrush scandal with her earlier pledge to shake off the Conservative nasty party tag and her words on the steps of Downing Street when she became prime minister in July 2016. She promised to fight injustice and make Britain a country that works for everyone . In the same speech, she noted that if youre black, youre treated more harshly by the criminal justice system than if youre white. The same could be said for her Home Office.

None of the Windrush victims interviewed by the Guardian over the past six months are happy today. This is a scandal that has caused untold damage to Britains reputation.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2018/apr/20/the-week-that-took-windrush-from-low-profile-investigation-to-national-scandal

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Why Silicon Valley billionaires are prepping for the apocalypse in New Zealand

The long read: How an extreme libertarian tract predicting the collapse of liberal democracies written by Jacob Rees-Moggs father inspired the likes of Peter Thiel to buy up property across the Pacific

If youre interested in the end of the world, youre interested in New Zealand. If youre interested in how our current cultural anxieties climate catastrophe, decline of transatlantic political orders, resurgent nuclear terror manifest themselves in apocalyptic visions, youre interested in the place occupied by this distant archipelago of apparent peace and stability against the roiling unease of the day.

If youre interested in the end of the world, you would have been interested, soon after Donald Trumps election as US president, to read a New York Times headline stating that Peter Thiel, the billionaire venture capitalist who co-founded PayPal and was an early investor in Facebook, considered New Zealand to be the Future. Because if you are in any serious way concerned about the future, youre also concerned about Thiel, a canary in capitalisms coal mine who also happens to have profited lavishly from his stake in the mining concern itself.

Thiel is in one sense a caricature of outsized villainy: he was the only major Silicon Valley figure to put his weight behind the Trump presidential campaign; he vengefully bankrupted a website because he didnt like how they wrote about him; he is known for his public musings about the incompatibility of freedom and democracy, and for expressing interest as though enthusiastically pursuing the clunkiest possible metaphor for capitalism at its most vampiric in a therapy involving transfusions of blood from young people as a potential means of reversing the ageing process. But in another, deeper sense, he is pure symbol: less a person than a shell company for a diversified portfolio of anxieties about the future, a human emblem of the moral vortex at the centre of the market.

It was in 2011 that Thiel declared hed found no other country that aligns more with my view of the future than New Zealand. The claim was made as part of an application for citizenship; the application was swiftly granted, though it remained a secret for a further six years. In 2016, Sam Altman, one of Silicon Valleys most influential entrepreneurs, revealed to the New Yorker that he had an arrangement with Thiel whereby in the eventuality of some kind of systemic collapse scenario synthetic virus breakout, rampaging AI, resource war between nuclear-armed states, so forth they both get on a private jet and fly to a property Thiel owns in New Zealand. (The plan from this point, youd have to assume, was to sit out the collapse of civilisation before re-emerging to provide seed-funding for, say, the insect-based protein sludge market.)

In the immediate wake of that Altman revelation, Matt Nippert, a reporter for the New Zealand Herald, began looking into the question of how exactly Thiel had come into possession of this apocalypse retreat, a 477-acre former sheep station in the South Island the larger, more sparsely populated of the countrys two major landmasses. Foreigners looking to purchase significant amounts of New Zealand land typically have to pass through a stringent government vetting process. In Thiels case, Nippert learned, no such process had been necessary, because he was already a citizen of New Zealand, despite having spent no more than 12 days in the country up to that point, and having not been seen in the place since. He didnt even need to travel to New Zealand to have his citizenship conferred, it turned out: the deal was sealed in a private ceremony at a consulate handily located in Santa Monica.

Peter
Less a person than a shell company for a diversified portfolio of anxieties about the future Peter Thiel. Photograph: VCG/Getty

When Nippert broke the story, there was a major public scandal over the question of whether a foreign billionaire should be able to effectively purchase citizenship. As part of his application, Thiel had agreed to invest in New Zealand tech startups, and had implied that he would use his new status as a naturalised Kiwi to promote the countrys business interests abroad. But the focus internationally was on why Thiel might have wanted to own a chunk of New Zealand roughly the size of lower Manhattan in the first place. And the overwhelming suspicion was that he was looking for a rampart to which he could retreat in the event of outright civilisational collapse.

Because this is the role that New Zealand now plays in our unfurling cultural fever dream: an island haven amid a rising tide of apocalyptic unease. According to the countrys Department of Internal Affairs, in the two days following the 2016 election the number of Americans who visited its website to enquire about the process of gaining New Zealand citizenship increased by a factor of 14 compared to the same days in the previous month. In particular, New Zealand has come to be seen as a bolthole of choice for Silicon Valleys tech elite.

In the immediate aftermath of Trumps election, the theme of American plutocrats preparing for the apocalypse was impossible to avoid. The week after the inauguration, the New Yorker ran another piece about the super-rich who were making preparations for a grand civilisational crackup; speaking of New Zealand as a favored refuge in the event of a cataclysm, billionaire LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman, a former colleague of Thiels at PayPal, claimed that saying youre buying a house in New Zealand is kind of a wink, wink, say no more.

Everyone is always saying these days that its easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism. Everyone is always saying it, in my view, because its obviously true. The perception, paranoid or otherwise, that billionaires are preparing for a coming civilisational collapse seems a literal manifestation of this axiom. Those who are saved, in the end, will be those who can afford the premium of salvation. And New Zealand, the furthest place from anywhere, is in this narrative a kind of new Ararat: a place of shelter from the coming flood.


Early last summer, just as my interests in the topics of civilisational collapse and Peter Thiel were beginning to converge into a single obsession, I received out of the blue an email from a New Zealand art critic named Anthony Byrt. If I wanted to understand the extreme ideology that underpinned Thiels attraction to New Zealand, he insisted, I needed to understand an obscure libertarian manifesto called The Sovereign Individual: How to Survive and Thrive During the Collapse of the Welfare State. It was published in 1997, and in recent years something of a minor cult has grown up around it in the tech world, largely as a result of Thiels citing it as the book he is most influenced by. (Other prominent boosters include Netscape founder and venture capitalist Marc Andreessen, and Balaji Srinivasan, the entrepreneur best known for advocating Silicon Valleys complete secession from the US to form its own corporate city-state.)

The Sovereign Individuals co-authors are James Dale Davidson, a private investor who specialises in advising the rich on how to profit from economic catastrophe, and the late William Rees-Mogg, long-serving editor of the Times. (One other notable aspect of Lord Rees-Moggs varied legacy is his own son, the Conservative MP Jacob Rees-Mogg a hastily sketched caricature of an Old Etonian, who is as beloved of Britains ultra-reactionary pro-Brexit right as he is loathed by the left.)

The

I was intrigued by Byrts description of the book as a kind of master key to the relationship between New Zealand and the techno-libertarians of Silicon Valley. Reluctant to enrich Davidson or the Rees-Mogg estate any further, I bought a used edition online, the musty pages of which were here and there smeared with the desiccated snot of whatever nose-picking libertarian preceded me.

It presents a bleak vista of a post-democratic future. Amid a thicket of analogies to the medieval collapse of feudal power structures, the book also managed, a decade before the invention of bitcoin, to make some impressively accurate predictions about the advent of online economies and cryptocurrencies.

The books 400-odd pages of near-hysterical orotundity can roughly be broken down into the following sequence of propositions:

1) The democratic nation-state basically operates like a criminal cartel, forcing honest citizens to surrender large portions of their wealth to pay for stuff like roads and hospitals and schools.

2) The rise of the internet, and the advent of cryptocurrencies, will make it impossible for governments to intervene in private transactions and to tax incomes, thereby liberating individuals from the political protection racket of democracy.

3) The state will consequently become obsolete as a political entity.

4) Out of this wreckage will emerge a new global dispensation, in which a cognitive elite will rise to power and influence, as a class of sovereign individuals commanding vastly greater resources who will no longer be subject to the power of nation-states and will redesign governments to suit their ends.

The Sovereign Individual is, in the most literal of senses, an apocalyptic text. Davidson and Rees-Mogg present an explicitly millenarian vision of the near future: the collapse of old orders, the rising of a new world. Liberal democracies will die out, and be replaced by loose confederations of corporate city-states. Western civilisation in its current form, they insist, will end with the millennium. The new Sovereign Individual, they write, will operate like the gods of myth in the same physical environment as the ordinary, subject citizen, but in a separate realm politically. Its impossible to overstate the darkness and extremity of the books predictions of capitalisms future; to read it is to be continually reminded that the dystopia of your darkest insomniac imaginings is almost always someone elses dream of a new utopian dawn.

Davidson and Rees-Mogg identified New Zealand as an ideal location for this new class of sovereign individuals, as a domicile of choice for wealth creation in the Information Age. Byrt, who drew my attention to these passages, had even turned up evidence of a property deal in the mid-1990s in which a giant sheep station at the southern tip of the North Island was purchased by a conglomerate whose major shareholders included Davidson and Rees-Mogg. Also in on the deal was one Roger Douglas, the former Labour finance minister who had presided over a radical restructuring of New Zealand economy along neoliberal lines in the 1980s. (This period of so-called Rogernomics, Byrt told me the selling off of state assets, slashing of welfare, deregulation of financial markets created the political conditions that had made the country such an attractive prospect for wealthy Americans.)

Thiels interest in New Zealand was certainly fuelled by his JRR Tolkien obsession: this was a man who had named at least five of his companies in reference to The Lord of the Rings, and fantasised as a teenager about playing chess against a robot that could discuss the books. It was a matter, too, of the countrys abundance of clean water and the convenience of overnight flights from California. But it was also inseparable from a particular strand of apocalyptic techno-capitalism. To read The Sovereign Individual was to see this ideology laid bare: these people, the self-appointed cognitive elite, were content to see the unravelling of the world as long as they could carry on creating wealth in the end times.

New
New Zealand as Middle-earth in The Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring. Photograph: Everett/Rex

I was struck by how strange and disquieting it must have been for a New Zealander to see their own country refracted through this strange apocalyptic lens. There was certainly an ambient awareness that the tech world elite had developed an odd interest in the country as an ideal end-times bolthole; it would have been difficult, at any rate, to ignore the recent cascade of articles about Thiel acquiring citizenship, and the apocalyptic implications of same. But there seemed to have been basically zero discussion of the frankly alarming ideological dimension of it all.

It was just this ideological dimension, as it happened, that was the focus of a project Byrt himself had recently got involved in, a new exhibition by the artist Simon Denny. Denny, a significant figure in the international art scene, was originally from Auckland, but has lived for some years in Berlin. Byrt described him as both kind of a genius and the poster-boy for post-internet art, whatever that is; he characterised his own role in the project with Denny as an amalgamation of researcher, journalist and investigative philosopher, following the trail of ideas and ideologies.

The exhibition was called The Founders Paradox, a name that came from the title of one of the chapters in Thiels 2014 book, Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future. Together with the long and intricately detailed catalogue essay Byrt was writing to accompany it, the show was a reckoning with the future that Silicon Valley techno-libertarians like Thiel wanted to build, and with New Zealands place in that future.

These were questions I too was eager to reckon with. Which is to say that I myself was interested helplessly, morbidly in the end of the world, and that I was therefore interested in New Zealand. And so I decided to go there, to see for myself the land that Thiel had apparently set aside for the collapse of civilisation: a place that would become for me a kind of labyrinth, and whose owner I was already beginning to mythologise as the monster at its centre.


Within about an hour of arriving in Auckland, I was as close to catatonic from fatigue as made no difference, and staring into the maw of a volcano. I was standing next to Byrt, whod picked me up from the airport and, in a gesture I would come to understand as quintessentially Kiwi, dragged me directly up the side of a volcano. This particular volcano, Mount Eden, was a fairly domesticated specimen, around which was spread one of the more affluent suburbs of Auckland the only city in the world, I learned, built on a technically still-active volcanic field.

I was a little out of breath from the climb and, having just emerged in the southern hemisphere from a Dublin November, sweating liberally in the relative heat of the early summer morning. I was also experiencing near-psychotropic levels of jetlag. I must have looked a bit off, because Byrt a bearded, hoodied and baseball-capped man in his late 30s offered a cheerful apology for playing the volcano card so early in the proceedings.

I probably should have eased you into it, mate he chuckled. But I thought itd be good to get a view of the city before breakfast.

The view of Auckland and its surrounding islands was indeed ravishing though in retrospect, it was no more ravishing than any of the countless other views I would wind up getting ravished by over the next 10 days. That, famously, is the whole point of New Zealand: if you dont like getting ravished by views, you have no business in the place; to travel there is to give implicit consent to being hustled left, right and centre into states of aesthetic rapture.

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A view of Auckland from Mount Eden. Photograph: Alamy

Plus Ive been in the country mere minutes, I said, and Ive already got a perfect visual metaphor for the fragility of civilisation in the bag.

I was referring here to the pleasingly surreal spectacle of a volcanic crater overlaid with a surface of neatly manicured grass. (I jotted this observation down in my notebook, feeling as I did so a smug infusion of virtue about getting some literary non-fiction squared away before even dropping my bags off at the hotel. Volcano with lawn over it, I scrawled. Visual manifestation of thematic motif: Civ as thin membrane stretched over chaos.)

I remarked on the strangeness of all these Silicon Valley geniuses supposedly apocalypse-proofing themselves by buying up land down here right on the Pacific Ring of Fire, the horseshoe curve of geological fault lines that stretches upward from the western flank of the Americas, back down along the eastern coasts of Russia and Japan and on into the South Pacific.

Yeah, said Byrt, but some of them are buying farms and sheep stations pretty far inland. Tsunamis arent going to be a big issue there. And what theyre after is space, and clean water. Two things weve got a lot of down here.

The following day, I went to the gallery in downtown Auckland to take a look at The Founders Paradox. Denny, a neat and droll man in his mid-30s, talked me through the conceptual framework. It was structured around games in theory playable, but in practice encountered as sculptures representing two different kinds of political vision for New Zealands future. The bright and airy ground floor space was filled with tactile, bodily game-sculptures, riffs on Jenga and Operation and Twister. These works, incorporating collaborative and spontaneous ideas of play, were informed by a recent book called The New Zealand Project by a young leftwing thinker named Max Harris, which explored a humane, collectivist politics influenced by Mori beliefs about society.

Down in the low-ceilinged, dungeon-like basement was a set of sculptures based around an entirely different understanding of play, more rule-bound and cerebral. These were based on the kind of strategy-based role-playing games particularly beloved of Silicon Valley tech types, and representing a Thielian vision of the countrys future. The psychological effect of this spatial dimension of the show was immediate: upstairs, you could breathe, you could see things clearly, whereas to walk downstairs was to feel oppressed by low ceilings, by an absence of natural light, by the darkness of the geek-apocalypticism captured in Dennys elaborate sculptures.

This was a world Denny himself knew intimately. And what was strangest and most unnerving about his art was the sense that he was allowing us to see this world not from the outside in, but from the inside out. Over beers in Byrts kitchen the previous night, Denny had told me about a dinner party he had been to in San Francisco earlier that year, at the home of a techie acquaintance, where he had been seated next to Curtis Yarvin, founder of the Thiel-funded computing platform Urbit. As anyone who takes an unhealthy interest in the weirder recesses of the online far-right is aware, Yarvin is more widely known as the blogger Mencius Moldbug, the intellectual progenitor of Neoreaction, an antidemocratic movement that advocates for a kind of white-nationalist oligarchic neofeudalism rule by and for a self-proclaimed cognitive elite and which has found a small but influential constituency in Silicon Valley. It was clear that Denny was deeply unsettled by Yarvins brand of nerd autocracy, but equally clear that breaking bread with him was in itself no great discomfort.

The
A Thielian vision of the countrys future The Founders Paradox, a board game by artist Simon Denny. Photograph: Simon Denny/Michael Lett Gallery

Beneath all the intricacy and detail of its world-building, The Founders Paradox was clearly animated by an uneasy fascination with the utopian future imagined by the techno-libertarians of Silicon Valley, and with New Zealands role in that future. The exhibitions centrepiece was a tabletop strategy game called Founders, which drew heavily on the aesthetic as well as the explicitly colonialist language and objectives of Settlers of Catan, a cult multiplayer strategy board game. The aim of Founders, clarified by the accompanying text and by the pieces lurid illustrations, was not simply to evade the apocalypse, but to prosper from it. First you acquired land in New Zealand, with its rich resources and clean air, away from the chaos and ecological devastation gripping the rest of the world. Next you moved on to seasteading, the libertarian ideal of constructing manmade islands in international waters; on these floating utopian micro-states, wealthy tech innovators would be free to go about their business without interference from democratic governments. (Thiel was an early investor in, and advocate of, the seasteading movement, though his interest has waned in recent years.) Then you mined the moon for its ore and other resources, before moving on to colonise Mars. This last level of the game reflected the current preferred futurist fantasy, most famously advanced by Thiels former PayPal colleague Elon Musk, with his dream of fleeing a dying planet Earth for privately owned colonies on Mars.

The influence of the Sovereign Individual, and of Byrts obsession with it, was all over the show. It was a detailed mapping of a possible future, in all its highly sophisticated barbarism. It was a utopian dream that appeared, in all its garish detail and specificity, as the nightmare vision of a world to come.


Thiel himself had spoken publicly of New Zealand as a utopia, during the period in 2011 when he was manoeuvring for citizenship, investing in various local startups under a venture capital fund called Valar Ventures. (I hardly need to tell you that Valar is another Tolkien reference.) This was a man with a particular understanding of what a utopia might look like, who did not believe, after all, in the compatibility of freedom and democracy. In a Vanity Fair article about his role as adviser to Trumps campaign, a friend was quoted as saying that Thiel has said to me directly and repeatedly that he wanted to have his own country, adding that he had even gone so far as to price up the prospect at somewhere around $100bn.

The Kiwis I spoke with were uncomfortably aware of what Thiels interest in their country represented, of how it seemed to figure more generally in the frontier fantasies of American libertarians. Max Harris the author of The New Zealand Project, the book that informed the game-sculptures on the upper level of The Founders Paradox pointed out that, for much of its history, the country tended to be viewed as a kind of political Petri dish (it was, for instance, the first nation to recognise womens right to vote), and that this perhaps makes Silicon Valley types think its a kind of blank canvas to splash ideas on.

Donald
Donald Trump and Peter Thiel at Trump Tower in December 2016. Photograph: Bloomberg/Getty

When we met in her office at the Auckland University of Technology, the legal scholar Khylee Quince insisted that any invocation of New Zealand as a utopia was a giant red flag, particularly to Mori like herself. That is the language of emptiness and isolation that was always used about New Zealand during colonial times, she said. And it was always, she stressed, a narrative that erased the presence of those who were already here: her own Mori ancestors. The first major colonial encounter for Mori in the 19th century was not with representatives of the British crown, she pointed out, but with private enterprise. The New Zealand Company was a private firm founded by a convicted English child kidnapper named Edward Gibbon Wakefield, with the aim of attracting wealthy investors with an abundant supply of inexpensive labour migrant workers who could not themselves afford to buy land in the new colony, but who would travel there in the hope of eventually saving enough wages to buy in. The company embarked on a series of expeditions in the 1820s and 30s; it was only when the firm started drawing up plans to formally colonise New Zealand, and to set up a government of its own devising, that the British colonial office advised the crown to take steps to establish a formal colony. In the utopian fantasies of techno-libertarians like Thiel, Quince saw an echo of that period of her countrys history. Business, she said, got here first.

Given her Mori heritage, Quince was particularly attuned to the colonial resonances of the more recent language around New Zealand as both an apocalyptic retreat and a utopian space for American wealth and ingenuity.

I find it incredibly offensive, she said. Thiel got citizenship after spending 12 days in this country, and I dont know if hes even aware that Mori exist. We as indigenous people have a very strong sense of intergenerational identity and collectivity. Whereas these people, who are sort of the contemporary iteration of the coloniser, are coming from an ideology of rampant individualism, rampant capitalism.

Quinces view was by no means the norm. New Zealanders tend to be more flattered than troubled by the interest of Silicon Valley tech gurus in their country. Its received by and large as a signal that the tyranny of distance the extreme antipodean remoteness that has shaped the countrys sense of itself since colonial times has finally been toppled by the liberating forces of technology and economic globalisation.

Its very appealing, the political scientist Peter Skilling told me, these entrepreneurs saying nice things about us. Were like a cat having its tummy rubbed. If Silicon Valley types are welcomed here, its not because were particularly susceptible to libertarian ideas; its because we are complacent and naive.

Among the leftwing Kiwis I spoke with, there had been a kindling of cautious optimism, sparked by the recent surprise election of a new Labour-led coalition government, under the leadership of the 37-year-old Jacinda Ardern, whose youth and apparent idealism suggested a move away from neoliberal orthodoxy. During the election, foreign ownership of land had been a major talking point, though it focused less on the wealthy apocalypse-preppers of Silicon Valley than the perception that overseas property speculators were driving up the cost of houses in Auckland. The incoming government had committed to tightening regulations around land purchases by foreign investors. This was largely the doing of Winston Peters, a nationalist of Mori descent whose New Zealand First party held the balance of power, and was strongly in favour of tightening regulations of foreign ownership. When I read that Ardern had named Peters as her deputy prime minister, I was surprised to recognise the name from, of all places, The Sovereign Individual, where Davidson and Rees-Mogg had singled him out for weirdly personal abuse as an arch-enemy of the rising cognitive elite, referring to him as a reactionary loser and demagogue who would gladly thwart the prospects for long-term prosperity just to prevent individuals from declaring their independence of politics.

Jacinda
Jacinda Ardern, prime minister of New Zealand. Photograph: Phil Walter/Getty Images

During my time in New Zealand, Ardern was everywhere: in the papers, on television, in every other conversation. On our way to Queenstown in the South Island, to see for ourselves the site of Thiels apocalyptic bolthole, Byrt and I were in the security line at Auckland airport when a woman of about our age, smartly dressed and accompanied by a cluster of serious-looking men, glanced in our direction as she was conveyed quickly along the express lane. She was talking on her phone, but looked towards us and waved at Byrt, smiling broadly in happy recognition.

Who was that? I asked.

Jacinda, he said.

You know her?

We know quite a lot of the same people. We met for a drink a couple of times back when she was Labours arts spokesperson.

Really?

Well yeah, he laughed, theres only so many of us.


The endgame for Thiel is essentially The Sovereign Individual, said Byrt. He was driving the rental car, allowing me to fully devote my resources to the ongoing cultivation of aesthetic rapture (mountains, lakes, so forth). And the bottom line for me, he said, is that I dont want my son to grow up in that future.

We were on our way to see for ourselves the part of New Zealand, on the shore of Lake Wanaka in the South Island, that Thiel had bought for purposes of post-collapse survival. We talked about the trip as though it were a gesture of protest, but it felt like a kind of perverse pilgrimage. The term psychogeography was cautiously invoked, and with only the lightest of ironic inflections.

The thing about Thiel is hes the monster at the heart of the labyrinth, said Byrt.

Hes the white whale, I suggested, getting into the literary spirit of the enterprise.

Byrts obsession with Thiel occupied a kind of Melvillean register, yearned toward a mythic scale. It coloured his perception of reality. He admitted, for instance, to a strange aesthetic pathology whereby he encountered, in the alpine grandeur of the South Island, not the sublime beauty of his own home country, but rather what he imagined Thiel seeing in the place: Middle-earth. Thiels Tolkien fixation was itself a fixation for Byrt: together with the extreme libertarianism of The Sovereign Individual, he was convinced that it lay beneath Thiels continued interest in New Zealand.

Matt Nippert, the New Zealand Herald journalist who had broken the citizenship story earlier that year, told me he was certain that Thiel had bought the property for apocalypse-contingency purposes. In his citizenship application, he had pledged his commitment to devote a significant amount of time and resources to the people and businesses of New Zealand. But none of this had amounted to much, Nippert said, and he was convinced it had only ever been a feint to get him in the door as a citizen.

In a cafe in Queenstown, about an hours drive from Thiels estate, Byrt and I met a man to whom a wealthy acquaintance of Byrts had introduced us. A well known and well connected professional in Queenstown, he agreed to speak anonymously for fear of making himself unpopular among local business leaders and friends in the tourism trade. He had been concerned for a while now about the effects on the area of wealthy foreigners buying up huge tracts of land. (Once you start pissing in the hand basin, where are you gonna wash your face?

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/news/2018/feb/15/why-silicon-valley-billionaires-are-prepping-for-the-apocalypse-in-new-zealand

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Yes, bacon really is killing us

The long read: Decades worth of research proves that chemicals used to make bacon do cause cancer. So how did the meat industry convince us it was safe?

There was a little cafe I used to go to that did the best bacon sandwiches. They came in a soft and pillowy white bap. The bacon, thick-cut from a local butcher, was midway between crispy and chewy. Ketchup and HP sauce were served in miniature jars with the sandwich, so you could dab on the exact amount you liked. That was all there was to it: just bread and bacon and sauce. Eating one of these sandwiches, as I did every few weeks, with a cup of strong coffee, felt like an uncomplicated pleasure.

And then, all of a sudden, the bacon sandwich stopped being quite so comforting. For a few weeks in October 2015, half the people I knew were talking about the news that eating bacon was now a proven cause of cancer. You couldnt miss the story: it was splashed large in every newspaper and all over the web. As one journalist wrote in Wired, Perhaps no two words together are more likely to set the internet aflame than BACON and CANCER. The BBC website announced, matter-of-factly, that Processed meats do cause cancer, while the Sun went with Banger out of Order and Killer in the Kitchen.

The source of the story was an announcement from the World Health Organization that processed meats were now classified as a group 1 carcinogen, meaning scientists were certain that there was sufficient evidence that they caused cancer, particularly colon cancer. The warning applied not just to British bacon but to Italian salami, Spanish chorizo, German bratwurst and myriad other foods.

Health scares are ten-a-penny, but this one was very hard to ignore. The WHO announcement came on advice from 22 cancer experts from 10 countries, who reviewed more than 400 studies on processed meat covering epidemiological data from hundreds of thousands of people. It was now possible to say that eat less processed meat, much like eat more vegetables, had become one of the very few absolutely incontrovertible pieces of evidence-based diet advice not simply another high-profile nutrition fad. As every news report highlighted, processed meat was now in a group of 120 proven carcinogens, alongside alcohol, asbestos and tobacco leading to a great many headlines blaring that bacon was as deadly as smoking.

The WHO advised that consuming 50g of processed meat a day equivalent to just a couple of rashers of bacon or one hotdog would raise the risk of getting bowel cancer by 18% over a lifetime. (Eating larger amounts raises your risk more.) Learning that your own risk of cancer has increased from something like 5% to something like 6% may not be frightening enough to put you off bacon sandwiches for ever. But learning that consumption of processed meat causes an additional 34,000 worldwide cancer deaths a year is much more chilling. According to Cancer Research UK, if no one ate processed or red meat in Britain, there would be 8,800 fewer cases of cancer. (That is four times the number of people killed annually on Britains roads.)

The news felt especially shocking because both ham and bacon are quintessentially British foods. Nearly a quarter of the adult population in Britain eats a ham sandwich for lunch on any given day, according to data from 2012 gathered by researchers Luke Yates and Alan Warde. To many consumers, bacon is not just a food; it is a repository of childhood memories, a totem of home. Surveys indicate that the smell of frying bacon is one of our favourite scents in the UK, along with cut grass and fresh bread. To be told that bacon had given millions of people cancer was a bit like finding out your granny had been secretly sprinkling arsenic on your morning toast.

Vegetarians might point out that the bacon sandwich should never have been seen as comforting. It is certainly no comfort for the pigs, most of whom are kept in squalid, cramped conditions. But for the rest of us, it was alarming to be told that these beloved foods might be contributing to thousands of needless human deaths. In the weeks following news of the WHO report, sales of bacon and sausages fell dramatically. British supermarkets reported a 3m drop in sales in just a fortnight. (It was very detrimental, said Kirsty Adams, the product developer for meat at Marks and Spencer.)

But just when it looked as if this may be #Bacongeddon (one of many agonised bacon-related hashtags trending in October 2015), a second wave of stories flooded in. Their message was: panic over. For one thing, the analogy between bacon and smoking was misleading. Smoking tobacco and eating processed meat are both dangerous, but not on the same scale. To put it in context, around 86% of lung cancers are linked to smoking, whereas it seems that just 21% of bowel cancers can be attributed to eating processed or red meat. A few weeks after publishing the report, the WHO issued a clarification insisting it was not telling consumers to stop eating processed meat.

Meanwhile, the meat industry was busily insisting that there was nothing to see here. The North American Meat Institute, an industry lobby group, called the report dramatic and alarmist overreach. A whole tranche of articles insisted in a commonsense tone that it would be premature and foolish to ditch our meaty fry-ups just because of a little cancer scare.

Nearly three years on, it feels like business as usual for processed meats. Many of us seem to have got over our initial sense of alarm. Sales of bacon in the UK are buoyant, having risen 5% in the two years up to mid-2016. When I interviewed a product developer for Sainsburys supermarket last year, she said that one of the quickest ways to get British consumers to try a new product now was to add chorizo to it.

And yet the evidence linking bacon to cancer is stronger than ever. In January, a new large-scale study using data from 262,195 British women suggested that consuming just 9g of bacon a day less than a rasher could significantly raise the risk of developing breast cancer later in life. The studys lead author, Jill Pell from the Institute of Health and Wellbeing at Glasgow University, told me that while it can be counterproductive to push for total abstinence, the scientific evidence suggests it would be misleading for health authorities to set any safe dose for processed meat other than zero.

The real scandal of bacon, however, is that it didnt have to be anything like so damaging to our health. The part of the story we havent been told including by the WHO is that there were always other ways to manufacture these products that would make them significantly less carcinogenic. The fact that this is so little known is tribute to the power of the meat industry, which has for the past 40 years been engaged in a campaign of cover-ups and misdirection to rival the dirty tricks of Big Tobacco.


How do you choose a pack of bacon in a shop, assuming you are a meat eater? First, you opt for either the crispy fat of streaky or the leanness of back. Then you decide between smoked or unsmoked each version has its passionate defenders (I am of the unsmoked persuasion). Maybe you seek out a packet made from free-range or organic meat, or maybe your budget is squeezed and you search for any bacon on special offer. Either way, before you put the pack in your basket, you have one last look, to check if the meat is pink enough.

Since we eat with our eyes, the main way we judge the quality of cured meats is pinkness. Yet it is this very colour that we should be suspicious of, as the French journalist Guillaume Coudray explains in a book published in France last year called Cochonneries, a word that means both piggeries and rubbish or junk food. The subtitle is How Charcuterie Became a Poison. Cochonneries reads like a crime novel, in which the processed meat industry is the perpetrator and ordinary consumers are the victims.

The pinkness of bacon or cooked ham, or salami is a sign that it has been treated with chemicals, more specifically with nitrates and nitrites. It is the use of these chemicals that is widely believed to be the reason why processed meat is much more carcinogenic than unprocessed meat. Coudray argues that we should speak not of processed meat but nitro-meat.

Parma
Prosciutto di Parma has been produced without nitrates since 1993. Photograph: Stefano Rellandini/Reuters

Pure insane crazy madness is how Coudray described the continuing use of nitrates and nitrites in processed meats, in an email to me. The madness, in his view, is that it is possible to make bacon and ham in ways that would be less carcinogenic. The most basic way to cure any meat is to salt it either with a dry salt rub or a wet brine and to wait for time to do the rest. Coudray notes that ham and bacon manufacturers claim this old-fashioned way of curing isnt safe. But the real reason they reject it is cost: it takes much longer for processed meats to develop their flavour this way, which cuts into profits.

There is much confusion about what processed meat actually means, a confusion encouraged by the bacon industry, which benefits from us thinking there is no difference between a freshly minced lamb kofta and a pizza smothered in nitrate-cured pepperoni. Technically, processed meat means pork or beef that has been salted and cured, with or without smoking. A fresh pound of beef mince isnt processed. A hard stick of cured salami is.

The health risk of bacon is largely to do with two food additives: potassium nitrate (also known as saltpetre) and sodium nitrite. It is these that give salamis, bacons and cooked hams their alluring pink colour. Saltpetre sometimes called sal prunella has been used in some recipes for salted meats since ancient times. As Jane Grigson explains in Charcuterie and French Pork Cookery, saltpetre was traditionally used when brining hams to give them an attractive rosy appearance when otherwise it would be a murky greyish brown.

In earlier centuries, bacon-makers who used saltpetre did not understand that it converts to nitrite as the meat cures. It is this nitrite that allows the bacteria responsible for cured flavour to emerge quicker, by inhibiting the growth of other bacteria. But in the early 20th century, the meat industry found that the production of cured meats could be streamlined by adding sodium nitrite to the pork in pure form. In trade journals of the 1960s, the firms who sold nitrite powders to ham-makers spoke quite openly about how the main advantage was to increase profit margins by speeding up production. One French brand of sodium nitrite from the 60s was called Vitorose or quick-pink.

Nitro-chemicals have been less of a boon to consumers. In and of themselves, these chemicals are not carcinogenic. After all, nitrate is naturally present in many green vegetables, including celery and spinach, something that bacon manufacturers often jubilantly point out. As one British bacon-maker told me, Theres nitrate in lettuce and no one is telling us not to eat that!

But something different happens when nitrates are used in meat processing. When nitrates interact with certain components in red meat (haem iron, amines and amides), they form N-nitroso compounds, which cause cancer. The best known of these compounds is nitrosamine. This, as Guillaume Coudray explained to me in an email, is known to be carcinogenic even at a very low dose. Any time someone eats bacon, ham or other processed meat, their gut receives a dose of nitrosamines, which damage the cells in the lining of the bowel, and can lead to cancer.

You would not know it from the way bacon is sold, but scientists have known nitrosamines are carcinogenic for a very long time. More than 60 years ago, in 1956, two British researchers called Peter Magee and John Barnes found that when rats were fed dimethyl nitrosamine, they developed malignant liver tumours. By the 1970s, animal studies showed that small, repeated doses of nitrosamines and nitrosamides exactly the kind of regular dose a person might have when eating a daily breakfast of bacon were found to cause tumours in many organs including the liver, stomach, oesophagus, intestines, bladder, brain, lungs and kidneys.

Just because something is a carcinogen in rats and other mammals does not mean it will cause cancer in humans, but as far back as 1976, cancer scientist William Lijinsky argued that we must assume that these N-nitroso compounds found in meats such as bacon were also carcinogens for man. In the years since, researchers have gathered a massive body of evidence to lend weight to that assumption. In 1994, to take just one paper among hundreds on nitrosamines and cancer, two American epidemiologists found that eating hotdogs one or more times a week was associated with higher rates of childhood brain cancer, particularly for children who also had few vitamins in their diets.

In 1993, Parma ham producers in Italy made a collective decision to remove nitrates from their products and revert to using only salt, as in the old days. For the past 25 years, no nitrates or nitrites have been used in any Prosciutto di Parma. Even without nitrate or nitrite, the Parma ham stays a deep rosy-pink colour. We now know that the colour in Parma ham is totally harmless, a result of the enzyme reactions during the hams 18-month ageing process.

Slow-cured, nitrate-free, artisan hams are one thing, but what about mass-market meats? Eighteen months would be a long time to wait on hotdogs, as the food science expert Harold McGee comments. But there have always been recipes for nitrate-free bacon using nothing but salt and herbs. John Gower of Quiet Waters Farm, a pork producer who advises many British manufacturers of cured meats, confirms that nitrate is not a necessary ingredient in bacon: Its generally accepted that solid muscle products, as opposed to chopped meat products like salami, dont require the addition of nitrate for safety reasons.

Bacon is proof, if it were needed, that we cling to old comforts long after they have been proven harmful. The attachment of producers to nitrates in bacon is mostly cultural, says Gower. Bacon cured by traditional methods without nitrates and nitrites will lack what Gower calls that hard-to-define tang, that delicious almost metallic taste that makes bacon taste of bacon to British consumers. Bacon without nitrates, says Gower, is nothing but salt pork.

Given the harm of nitro-meat has been known for so long, the obvious question is why more has not been done to protect us from it. Corinna Hawkes, a professor of Food Policy at City University in London, has been predicting for years that processed meats will be the next sugar a food so harmful that there will be demands for government agencies to step in and protect us. Some day soon, Hawkes believes, consumers will finally wake up to the clear links between cancer and processed meat and say Why didnt someone tell me about this?


The most amazing thing about the bacon panic of 2015 was that it took so long for official public health advice to turn against processed meat. It could have happened 40 years earlier. The only time that the processed meat industry has looked seriously vulnerable was during the 1970s, a decade that saw the so-called war on nitrates in the US. In an era of Ralph Nader-style consumer activism, there was a gathering mood in favour of protecting shoppers against bacon which one prominent public health scientist called the most dangerous food in the supermarket. In 1973, Leo Freedman, the chief toxicologist of the US Food and Drug Administration, confirmed to the New York Times that nitrosamines are a carcinogen for humans although he also mentioned that he liked bacon as well as anybody.

The US meat industry realised it had to act fast to protect bacon against the cancer charge. The first attempts to fight back were simply to ridicule the scientists for over-reacting. In a 1975 article titled Factual look at bacon scare, Farmers Weekly insisted that a medium-weight man would have to consume more than 11 tonnes of bacon every single day to run the faintest risk of cancer. This was an outrageous fabrication.

But soon the meat lobby came up with a cleverer form of diversion. The AMI the American Meat Institute started to make the argument that the nitrate was only there for the consumers own safety, to ward off botulism a potentially fatal toxin sometimes produced by poorly preserved foods. The scientific director of the AMI argued that a single cup of botulism would be enough to wipe out every human on the planet. So, far from harming lives, bacon was actually saving them.

In 1977, the FDA and the US Department of Agriculture gave the meat industry three months to prove that nitrate and nitrite in bacon caused no harm. Without a satisfactory response, Coudray writes, these additives would have to be replaced 36 months later with non-carcinogenic methods. The meat industry could not prove that nitrosamines were not carcinogenic because it was already known that they were. Instead, the argument was made that nitrates and nitrites were utterly essential for the making of bacon, because without them bacon would cause thousands of deaths from botulism. In 1978, in response to the FDAs challenge, Richard Lyng, director of the AMI, argued that nitrites are to processed meat as yeast is to bread.

The meat industrys tactics in defending bacon have been right out of the tobacco industrys playbook, according to Marion Nestle, professor of nutrition and food studies at New York University. The first move is: attack the science. By the 1980s, the AMI was financing a group of scientists based at the University of Wisconsin. These meat researchers published a stream of articles casting doubt on the harmfulness of nitrates and exaggerating the risk from botulism of non-nitrated hams.

Does making ham without nitrite lead to botulism? If so, it is a little strange that in the 25 years that Parma ham has been made without nitrites, there has not been a single case of botulism associated with it. Almost all the cases of botulism from preserved food which are extremely rare have been the result of imperfectly preserved vegetables, such as bottled green beans, peas and mushrooms. The botulism argument was a smokescreen. The more that consumers could be made to feel that the harmfulness of nitrate and nitrite in bacon and ham was still a matter of debate, the more they could be encouraged to calm down and keep buying bacon.

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A bacon sandwich at a diner in Michigan. Photograph: Molly Riley/Reuters

The botulism pretext was very effective. The AMI managed to get the FDA to keep delaying its three-month ultimatum on nitrites until a new FDA commissioner was appointed in 1980 one more sympathetic to hotdogs. The nitrite ban was shelved. The only concession the industry had made was to limit the percentage of nitrites added to processed meat and to agree to add vitamin C, which would supposedly mitigate the formation of nitrosamines, although it does nothing to prevent the formation of another known carcinogen, nitrosyl-haem.

Over the years, the messages challenging the dangers of bacon have become ever more outlandish. An explainer article by the Meat Science and Muscle Biology lab at the University of Wisconsin argues that sodium nitrite is in fact critical for maintaining human health by controlling blood pressure, preventing memory loss, and accelerating wound healing. A French meat industry website, info-nitrites.fr, argues that the use of the right dose of nitrites in ham guarantees healthy and safe products, and insists that ham is an excellent food for children.

The bacon lobby has also found surprising allies among the natural foods brigade. Type nitrate cancer bacon into Google, and you will find a number of healthy eating articles, some of them written by advocates of the Paleo diet, arguing that bacon is actually a much-maligned health food. The writers often mention that vegetables are the primary source of nitrates, and that human saliva is high in nitrite. One widely shared article claims that giving up bacon would be as absurd as attempting to stop swallowing. Out of the mass of stuff on the internet defending the healthiness of bacon, it can be hard to tell which writers have fallen under the sway of the meat lobby, and which are simply clueless nutrition experts who dont know any better.

Either way, this misinformation has the potential to make thousands of people unwell. The mystifying part is why the rest of us have been so willing to accept the cover-up.


Our deepening knowledge of its harm has done very little to damage the comforting cultural associations of bacon. While I was researching this article, I felt a rising disgust at the repeated dishonesty of the processed meat industry. I thought about hospital wards and the horrible pain and indignity of bowel cancer. But then I remembered being in the kitchen with my father as a child on a Sunday morning, watching him fry bacon. When all the bacon was cooked, he would take a few squares of bread and fry them in the meaty fat until they had soaked up all its goodness.

In theory, our habit of eating salted and cured meats should have died out as soon as home refrigerators became widespread in the mid-20th century. But tastes in food are seldom rational, and millions of us are still hooked on the salty, smoky, umami savour of sizzling bacon.

We are sentimental about bacon in a way we never were with cigarettes, and this stops us from thinking straight. The widespread willingness to forgive pink, nitrated bacon for causing cancer illustrates how torn we feel when something beloved in our culture is proven to be detrimental to health. Our brains cant cope with the horrid feeling that bacon is not what we thought it was, and so we turn our anger outwards to the health gurus warning us of its hazards. The reaction of many consumers to the WHO report of 2015 was: hands off my bacon!

In 2010, the EU considered banning the use of nitrates in organic meats. Perhaps surprisingly, the British organic bacon industry vigorously opposed the proposed nitrates ban. Richard Jacobs, the late chief executive of Organic Farmers & Growers, an industry body, said that prohibiting nitrate and nitrite would have meant the collapse of a growing market for organic bacon.

Organic bacon produced with nitrates sounds like a contradiction in terms, given that most consumers of organic food buy it out of concerns for food safety. Having gone to the trouble of rearing pigs using free-range methods and giving them only organic feed, why would you then cure the meat in ways that make it carcinogenic? In Denmark, all organic bacon is nitrate-free. But the UK organic industry insisted that British shoppers would be unlikely to accept bacon that was greyish.

Then again, the slowness of consumers to lose our faith in pink bacon may partly be a response to the confusing way that the health message has been communicated to us. When it comes to processed meat, we have been misled not just by wild exaggerations of the food industry but by the caution of science.

On the WHO website, the harmfulness of nitrite-treated meats is explained so opaquely you could miss it altogether. In the middle of a paragraph on what makes red meat and processed meat increase the risk of cancer, it says: For instance, carcinogenic chemicals that form during meat processing include N-nitroso compounds. What this means, in plain English, is that nitrites make bacon more carcinogenic. But instead of spelling this out, the WHO moves swiftly on to the question of how both red and processed meats might cause cancer, after adding that it is not yet fully understood how cancer risk is increased.

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The typical British sausage does not fall into the processed meat category. Photograph: Julian Smith/AAP

This caution has kept us as consumers unnecessarily in the dark. Consider sausages. For years, I believed that the unhealthiest part in a cooked English breakfast was the sausage, rather than the bacon. Before I started to research this article, Id have sworn that sausages fell squarely into the processed meat category. They are wrongly listed as such on the NHS website.

But the average British sausage as opposed to a hard sausage like a French saucisson is not cured, being made of nothing but fresh meat, breadcrumbs, herbs, salt and E223, a preservative that is non-carcinogenic. After much questioning, two expert spokespeople for the US National Cancer Institute confirmed to me that one might consider fresh sausages to be red meat and not processed meat, and thus only a probable carcinogen. (To me, the fact that most sausages are not processed meat was deeply cheering, and set me dancing around the kitchen with glee thinking about toad in the hole.)

In general, if you ask a cancer scientist to distinguish between the risks of eating different types of meat, they become understandably cagey. The two experts at the National Cancer Institute told me that meats containing nitrites and nitrates have consistently been associated with increased risk of colon cancer in human studies. But they added that it is difficult to separate nitrosamines from other possible carcinogens that may be present in processed meats like bacon. These other suspects include haem iron a substance that is abundant in all red meat, processed or not and heterocyclic amines: chemicals that form in meat during cooking. A piece of crispy, overcooked bacon will contain multiple carcinogens, and not all are due to the nitrates.

The problem with this reasoning, as I see it, is that it cant account for why processed meat is so much more closely linked to cancer than cooked red meat. For that, there remains no plausible explanation except for nitrates and nitrites. But looking for clear confirmation of this in the data is tricky, given that humans do not eat in labs under clinical observation.

Most of what we know about processed meat and cancer in humans comes from epidemiology the study of disease across whole populations. But epidemiologists do not ask the kind of detailed questions about food that the people who eat that food may like answers to. The epidemiological data based on surveys of what people eat is now devastatingly clear that diets high in processed meats lead to a higher incidence of cancer. But it cant tell us how or why or which meats are the best or worst. As Corinna Hawkes of City University comments, The researchers dont ask you if you are eating artisanal charcuterie from the local Italian deli or the cheapest hotdogs on the planet.

I would love to see data comparing the cancer risk of eating nitrate-free Parma ham with that of traditional bacon, but no epidemiologist has yet done such a study. The closest anyone has come was a French study from 2015, which found that consumption of nitrosylated haem iron as found in processed meats had a more direct association with colon cancer than the haem iron that is present in fresh red meat.

It may be possible that epidemiologists have not asked people more detailed questions about what kind of processed meats they eat because they assume there is no mass-market alternative to bacon made without nitrates or nitrites. But this is about to change.


The technology now exists to make the pink meats we love in a less damaging form, which raises the question of why the old kind is still so freely sold. Ever since the war on nitrates of the 1970s, US consumers have been more savvy about nitrates than those in Europe, and there is a lot of nitrate-free bacon on the market. The trouble, as Jill Pell remarks, is that most of the bacon labelled as nitrate-free in the US isnt nitrate-free. Its made with nitrates taken from celery extract, which may be natural, but produces exactly the same N-nitroso compounds in the meat. Under EU regulation, this bacon would not be allowed to be labelled nitrate-free.

Its the worst con Ive ever seen in my entire life, says Denis Lynn, the chair of Finnebrogue Artisan, a Northern Irish company that makes sausages for many UK supermarkets, including Marks & Spencer. For years, Lynn had been hoping to diversify into bacon and ham but, he says, I wasnt going to do it until we found a way to do it without nitrates.

When Lynn heard about a new process, developed in Spain, for making perfectly pink, nitrate-free bacon, he assumed it was another blind alley. In 2009, Juan de Dios Hernandez Canovas, a food scientist and the head of the food tech company Prosur, found that if he added certain fruit extracts to fresh pork, it stayed pink for a surprisingly long time.

In January 2018, Finnebrogue used this technology to launch genuinely nitrate-free bacon and ham in the UK. It is sold in Sainsburys and Waitrose as Naked Bacon and Naked Ham, and in M&S as made without nitrites. Kirsty Adams, who oversaw its launch at M&S, explains that its not really cured. Its more like a fresh salted pork injected with a fruit and vegetable extract, and is more perishable than an old-fashioned flitch of bacon but that doesnt matter, given that it is kept in a fridge. Because it is quick to produce, this is much more economically viable to make than some of the other nitrate-free options, such as slow-cured Parma ham. The bacon currently sells in Waitrose for 3 a pack, which is not the cheapest, but not prohibitive either.

I tried some of the Finnebrogue bacon from M&S. The back bacon tasted pleasant and mild, with a slight fruitiness. It didnt have the toothsome texture or smoky depth of a rasher of butchers dry-cured bacon, but Id happily buy it again as an alternative to nitro-meat. None of my family noticed the difference in a spaghetti amatriciana.

Nitrite-free bacon still sounds a bit fancy and niche, but there shouldnt be anything niche about the desire to eat food that doesnt raise your risk of cancer. Lynn says that when he first approached Prosur about the fruit extract, he asked how much they had sold to the other big bacon manufacturers during the two years they had been offering it in the UK. The answer was none. None of the big guys wanted to take it, claims Lynn. They said: It will make our other processed meats look dodgy.

But it also remains to be seen how much consumer demand there will be for nitrite- or nitrate-free bacon. For all the noise about bacon and cancer, it isnt easy to disentangle at a personal level just what kind of risk we are at when we eat a bacon sandwich. OK, so 34,000 people may die each year because of processed meat in their diet, but the odds are that it wont be you. I asked a series of cancer scientists whether they personally ate processed meat, and they all gave slightly different answers. Jill Pell said she was mostly vegetarian and ate processed meats very rarely. But when I asked Fabrice Pierre, a French expert on colon cancer and meat, if he eats ham, he replied: Yes, of course. But with vegetables at the same meal. (Pierres research at the Toxalim lab has shown him that some of the carcinogenic effects of ham can be offset by eating vegetables.)

Our endless doubt and confusion about what we should be eating have been a gift to the bacon industry. The cover-up about the harm of meat cured with nitrates and nitrites has been helped along by the scepticism many of us feel about all diet advice. At the height of the great bacon scare of 2015, lots of intelligent voices were saying that it was safe to ignore the new classification of processed meats as carcinogenic, because you cant trust anything these nutritionists say. Meanwhile, millions of consumers of ham and bacon, many of them children, are left unprotected. Perhaps the most extraordinary thing about this controversy is how little public outrage it has generated. Despite everything, most of us still treat bacon as a dear old friend.

In an ideal world, we would all be eating diets lower in meat, processed or otherwise, for the sake of sustainability and animal welfare as much as health. But in the world we actually live in, processed meats are still a normal, staple protein for millions of people who cant afford to swap a value pack of frying bacon for a few slivers of Prosciutto di Parma. Around half of all meat eaten in developed countries is now processed, according to researcher John Kearney, making it a far more universal habit than smoking.

The real victims in all this are not people like me who enjoy the occasional bacon-on-sourdough in a hipster cafe. The people who will be worst affected are those many on low incomes for whom the cancer risk from bacon is compounded by other risk factors such as eating low-fibre diets with few vegetables or wholegrains. In his book, Coudray points out that in coming years, millions more poor consumers will be affected by preventable colon cancer, as westernised processed meats conquer the developing world.

Last month, Michele Rivasi, a French MEP, launched a campaign in collaboration with Coudray demanding a ban of nitrites from all meat products across Europe. Given how vigorously the bacon industry has fought its corner thus far, a total ban on nitrites looks unlikely.

But there are other things that could be done about the risk of nitrites and nitrates in bacon, short of an absolute veto. Better information would be a start. As Corinna Hawkes points out, it is surprising that there hasnt been more of an effort from government to inform people about the risks of eating ham and bacon, perhaps through warning labels on processed meats. But where is the British politician brave enough to cast doubt on bacon?

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Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/news/2018/mar/01/bacon-cancer-processed-meats-nitrates-nitrites-sausages

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Migrants are more profitable than drugs: how the mafia infiltrated Italys asylum system

The long read: Crime families have cashed in on the refugee industry

Joy, a young Nigerian woman, was standing in the street outside the sprawling, overcrowded Cara di Mineo reception centre for asylum seekers in central Sicily, waiting for someone to pick her up when I met her. It was late summer 2016, and the weather was still hot. She said she was 18, but looked much younger. She was wearing a faded denim jacket over a crisp white T-shirt and tight jeans, and six or seven strings of colourful beads were wrapped around her neck. A gold chain hung from her left wrist, a gift from her mother.

As we spoke, a dark car came into view and she took a couple of steps away from me to make sure whoever was driving saw her, and saw that she was alone. There were a handful of other migrants loitering along the road. The approaching car didnt slow down, so Joy came back over to me and carried on our conversation.

The oldest of six children, Joy (not her real name) told me she had left her family in a small village in Edo state in Nigeria at the age of 15, and gone to work for a wealthy woman who owned a beauty salon in Benin City. She had since come to suspect that her parents had sold her to raise money for their younger children. They probably had no choice, she said as she looked down the road toward the thick citrus groves that hid the coming traffic.

There were six other girls who worked for the woman, whom Joy said they called their maman, meaning mother. When Joy turned 16, she went through a ceremony that bound her to the mamanby a curse: if she disobeyed the maman, her family would die. A few weeks later, she was told she was moving to Italy, where she would work for her mamans sister. She believed she would be working in a hair salon. She was given 45 (40) and a phone number to call once she got to Italy but no name, no address, and no documents.

Joys new life would turn out to be nothing like what she had expected. Instead of working for a hairdresser, she fell into the trap set by traffickers who lure women into slavery and prostitution. More than 80% of women brought to Europe from Nigeria are unknowingly sponsored by sex traffickers who have paid for their journey, according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM). The rest will have paid the smugglers to get them to Europe, but once they get there, will be unlikely to escape the sex-trafficking rings.

After an appalling journey, via Tripoli, which took nearly three weeks, Joy arrived at the port of Augusta on Sicilys east coast. She had no papers or passport. All she had was an Italian phone number, which her maman had stitched into the sleeve of her jacket. When the migrants got off the boat, an armed military policeman in a bulletproof vest stood guard as another patted them down and took knives from some of the men. Those with documents were taken to a large tent lined with army cots. One woman handed out shoes and flip-flops, and another gave them bruised yellow apples from a large metal tub. An officer used a black marker pen to write a number on the migrants left hands. Joy was number 323.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/news/2018/feb/01/migrants-more-profitable-than-drugs-how-mafia-infiltrated-italy-asylum-system

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The Texas boys were beaten, abused, raped. Now all they want is an apology

The youngsters at Cal Farleys Ranch in Texas were subjected to years of abuse. But the institutions feeble response has been a slap in the face to survivors

Steve Smith was just eight when his mother left him in the care of Cal Farleys Boys Ranch, a Texas institution for at-risk children. From the moment he got there in 1959, the place didnt sit right with him.

I cried probably more than any boy that I know that came out [of] there, just homesick, and I didnt take it very well.

Almost immediately upon his arrival, Steve was subject to the first of many beatings. For the following decade, he endured regular and arbitrary violence at the hands of staff. He also had to watch helplessly as his younger brother, Rick, was beaten by adults until he couldnt stand.

Along with the physical punishment, Steves pets were killed, and his friends were worked to the bone in atrocious conditions. Some boys, including Rick Smith, were also sexually abused while under the care of the ranch.

The ordeal has permanently damaged their lives.

At the kitchen table in his immaculate home in the Amarillo suburbs, Steve, now almost 70, goes through all of the details of what happened to him without showing much pain. Hes a tough man he served in the Vietnam war and was wounded in the line of duty and his piercing blue eyes only sprout tears twice.

The first time is when he describes how a succession of dogs he owned, all called Boots, were killed by staff members. The other is when he talks about what happened to his younger brother Rick, and how powerless he was to help him.

Rick, Steve, and six other men the Guardian spoke to named staff members responsible for the abuse, which lasted from the 1950s until at least the early 1990s. They say the abuse went beyond them, and was systemic, affecting hundreds of others who went through the ranch.

They say Lamont Waldrip, a long-serving superintendent, was one of the worst abusers. Last month, at the behest of a wealthy donor who wrote a cheque for $1m to build a new dormitory, the ranch named the new building Waldrip House.

The ranchs current CEO, Dan Adams, acknowledged the weight of the accusations against Waldrip, who died in 2013, but he said that other boys had had very different experiences with him and admired and liked him.

For the survivors who want to make the ranch accountable for the abuse and have been encouraged to break their silence after Steve Smith brought them together in a Facebook group this is an unbearable affront.

A very wealthy ranch and a revolt

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A postcard of Cal Farleys ranch that Steve Smith has kept. Photograph: Jason Wilson for the Guardian

Cal Farleys Boys Ranch is accustomed to the generosity of well-heeled donors, but is less used to having its reputation called into question. Almost since its foundation, the Christ-centered but nondenominational institution has been a byword in Texas for juvenile reform and a can-do spirit. There is no suggestion that there is abuse at Cal Farleys now indeed, there is broad acknowledgment, even from advocates for the men, that current practices at the ranch are in line with the best in the sector.

With 100 direct employees and 526 across its subsidiaries, it is no small fish, and notable individuals from the ranching and oil industries queue up to serve on its board. Cheques like the one that funded Waldrip House are not unusual: the most recent publicly available tax filings show an annual income for the ranch just north of $56.8m. About $43m of that came from contributions and grants. The ranch also owns parcels of land as far away as California.

The ranchs founder, Cal Farley, was a professional wrestler and Amarillo businessman. He had been a prominent college athlete before he moved to Amarillo, where he gained prominence as the owner of a tire shop. Throughout the 1930s, he ran a sporting club, The Mavericks, which tried to channel the energies of troubled and abandoned boys in the panhandle. Eventually he was gifted land in Tascosa, a ghost town, by a local rancher, so he could set up a more permanent home for the boys.

But for all their organizational success, Farley and his staff had no special training to deal with wayward children. In 1950, the superintendent was overpowered and thrown in the river by a group of boys who staged an effective revolt, and for a brief moment they were running things to suit themselves.

In an otherwise laudatory biography of Farley published in 1959, A Shirttail to Hang To, this moment is presented as a major crisis for the ranch. The situation demanded immediate attention. One revolution or mass runaway would mean that Cal would never again win public support for his project.

Faced with a risk to the ranchs prestige, Farley replaced his superintendent with a professional wrestler named Dorrance Funk, who turned to violence as a solution to the discipline problem at the ranch.

In A Shirttail to Hang To, author Beth Day writes that in the wake of the revolt, Funks immediate problem was to command their respect and obedience. He would invite the big boys to work out with him on the wrestling mat Funk illustrated wrestling holds and techniques, and also managed to get over to each boy the suggestion of potential power After a round apiece with Funk on the mat, not one of the leaders of the embryo revolution suggested they might throw *him* in the river.

By the time Rick and Steve Smith arrived in 1959, there were about 250 residents, and Texas courts had taken to diverting young offenders out of the juvenile justice system and into the ranch. Those boys were thrown together in dorms with others who had never committed a crime, but whose parents could not take care of them.

They made me run in front of horses

Ed Cargill lives in New Mexico now, after a stint in the US army and some years of riding motorcycles all over the south-west. His time in Cal Farleys overlapped with Rick Smiths.

After years of living in what he calls a paradise for adult abusers, he made repeated escape attempts. Each time he was caught, and punished. On one occasion, he says, Lamont Waldrip delivered a punishment straight out of the Old West.

I ran away on foot and got about halfway to Amarillo when they caught me, using a helicopter. Lamont Waldrip and another staff member then took me 10 miles away from the ranch, and made me run in front of these horses all the way back. Anytime I floundered, theyd hit me with coiled-up rope or run over me with the damn horse.

Several of the men say that another escapee was dragged for miles behind two horses back to the ranch. Again, one of the horses was ridden by Waldrip. The man in question talked about the incident in a private survivors group on Facebook, which was set up by Steve. His comments were seen by the Guardian.

Cruel punishment wasnt the only ordeal students had to endure. Sexual abuse also happened, and Rick Smith says he was raped by another boy while under the care of the ranch.

The way Steve tells it, his brother has been nervous all his life, like he was hiding something. Just in the last year he told me that when he moved into Maynard [his dorm], one of the bigger boys said hed beat the hell out of him if he didnt sleep with him that night. Hes had it bottled up in him all that time.

Cargill says that the wife of a staff member was having sex with him and three other boys in effect, statutory rape. Its only in retrospect he has come to realize how damaging this was. I didnt realize how bad it was fucking me up. And, she was committing a fucking felony, he says.

As for Steve Smith, he recalls seeing a dorm parent make a boy take his penis out and hit it with a ruler.

He was screaming and begging and I couldnt do anything

For decades, the men say, a culture of abuse prevailed at Cal Farleys.

Martin (not his real name) was sent to the ranch in the early 1980s aged five after being brutally abused and mutilated by his father. Of that time, he says, if you wanna know what its like to die over and over again and watch yourself die in the mirror I know that.

On his first night at the ranch, an older male student dragged me out of the bed, and I went into the bathroom and he basically stuck his dick in my mouth.

Steve
Steve Smiths standard release form from Cal Farleys. Photograph: Steve Smith

When he committed a minor infraction not long after, Martins female dorm parent ordered him to jump in a trash can and scrub it in freezing weather.

When you put a little kid whos been tortured inside a trash can, upside down, and make it like a little prison cell and have him scrub You know, you got these tiny little holes at the top just to let a little light in, youre scared, youre freezing, you know?

Cargill says that his dorm parent would also encourage other boys to administer physical punishment. I saw him hit two boys with his fist and then tell the rest of the dorm, You better finish what I started or its all gonna happen to you.

So I watched as they literally beat these two guys half to death, and me and another guy tried to intervene. We didnt get beat up as bad, but we got beat up.

Cargill says their only crime is they were gay. Which, thats not my place to judge, or my place to punish.

Steve Smith remembers his helplessness while his brother was beaten mercilessly. A staff member did it. I heard Rick screaming at the top of his lungs so I ran down there. I looked into his room and the guy was beating the hell out of him with a belt. My brother didnt even have clothes on, just his underwear. He was screaming and begging and I couldnt do anything.

Afterwards, Ricks nervousness at being at the ranch led to a pattern of behavior that only led to more beatings.

I pissed the bed till I was probably 10, and for that they beat the hell out of me till I bled, he says.

Bill Varnado, who was there at the same time as Steve Smith, says you really didnt have to get in trouble for them to beat the hell out of you. Normally, he says, they used a belt, but as you got older they used their fists on boys.

Joe Stroud, who was there in the 1980s, says the ethos of punishment at Cal Farleys went all the way from how people treated themselves, down to how people treated animals, to how people treat anything. It was a culture of violence.

Its not that I dont believe it, its just that its past

Janet Heimlich, a former journalist, now runs a nonprofit in Austin called the Child-Friendly Faith Project. Through her work and in a book, she has worked to expose religious groups that abuse children. I am always in search of faith-based organizations that are really great, she says.

When she first wrote about Cal Farleys, she used it as an example of best practices in youth care. She still maintains that currently Cal Farleys appears to be in keeping with modern and humane standards of childcare, and says they run a flagship program for cutting-edge child therapy.

In 2015, after she published a laudatory post about Carl Farleys on her blog, Steve Smith left comments. He wrote about the constant abuse, and the beating meted out to Rick. Alarmed by what she was reading, Heimlich got in touch with Adams, the ranch CEO.

I asked Dan, Is what this guy is saying true? He said, Yes. But were evolved.

Heimlich decided to help Steve talk it out with Adams.

Their first conversation was a two-and-a-half-hour meeting on 23 March this year, which Heimlich attended as an observer via Skype. She observed that Adamss attitude to Smith was sympathetic. We were both blown away with what Steve was telling us. Every so often Dan would reach out and touch Steves shoulder.

On 7 and 8 April, the three of them met in Amarillo, first at a coffee shop, and then the next morning for breakfast. At this point, she started to become concerned about how the ranch was going to deal with Smiths allegations.

I thought that meeting was his opportunity to say, Heres what were going to do, but I was getting nothing from him.

At breakfast, she presented a draft letter suggesting the approach Cal Farleys could take. These included investigating allegations of abuse, setting up a fund for survivors medical needs, and ensuring that information on their website and in their marketing material was truthful and not misleading.

Adams, she says, was uncomfortable. Most of all, he was resistant to the idea of going public with any it. He thought that involving the media would not bring the men the healing they were looking for, she says.

At the same meeting, Adams told Heimlich that the ranch was planning to name a new dorm after Lamont Waldrip.

For survivors, she says, it was a slap in the face.

In conversation with the Guardian, Adams acknowledged that abuses had occurred in the past, but also reaffirmed his stance.

I cant deny Steve or anybody else their experience, he said. When asked if the behavior of staff at the time sounded like abuse, he responded, absolutely, no doubt about it. But he stressed that practices had changed, including the phasing out of corporal punishment since he took over in 1996.

I knew Lamont. And there are guys today that had very different experiences with Lamont and admired and liked him. In his early days, I think he probably was way over his head in terms of knowing how to deal with all those kids any time you have a system thats scantily staffed, and not trained, abuse happens.

Adams has no plans to change the dedication of the new building.

I do think when it comes to honoring founders or former employees, thats a collective thing, thats bigger than me, its not arbitrary. I think [a public apology] can be disruptive, because Ive got 260 kids out there that were working very well with, and we have a lot of younger people whose experience has been good at Boys Ranch, and a lot of families that count on us.

I dont say its hearsay and I dont deny it. Its not that I dont believe it, its just that its past.

I want somebody to stand up and say, Hey, Im frickin sorry

The men the Guardian spoke to say they have carried the scars of this experience for decades, as well as a sense that their lives have been misshapen by their time there. Many talked about extensive substance abuse, suicide attempts,
and incarceration among alumni.

Bill Varnado wants to be very clear that theyre not looking for any monetary deal out of this. What we would like is an apology from those people for treating us the way they treated us.

Martin asks: What did Boys Ranch take from me? I dont know. My sense of security, my sense of self, my sense of being comfortable in my own skin.

Arnold Wells says hes still not sure hes an adapted person in adulthood. It got ingrained into me for a period of five years that violence fixes everything, he says.

Ed Cargill says: I want somebody to grow a pair of balls, stand up and say, Hey, Im frickin sorry.

For all the abuse Rick Smith endured, he is more concerned to talk about his brother, and the years it took him to live down what happened to him, and to get past his drinking and anger.

Let me tell you, hes just so proud he didnt let it get him down. Because it was for a while, and he overcame a lot. He was headed for the wrong, wrong place.

Hes skeptical that they will ever receive an apology. Its not gonna happen. Because they are committed to the hundreds of millions of dollars in the bank. Theyre committed to that.

And because of this lack of closure, he also doubts he and his brother will ever get over it.

Steve and I will die. Well go to our grave and Ill guarantee you itll be one of the things we think about when we take that last breath: how they got away with it.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/dec/20/texas-cal-farleys-boys-ranch-stories

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Portugals radical drugs policy is working. Why hasnt the world copied it?

The long read: Since it decriminalised all drugs in 2001, Portugal has seen dramatic drops in overdoses, HIV infection and drug-related crime

When the drugs came, they hit all at once. It was the 80s, and by the time one in 10 people had slipped into the depths of heroin use bankers, university students, carpenters, socialites, miners Portugal was in a state of panic.

lvaro Pereira was working as a family doctor in Olho in southern Portugal. People were injecting themselves in the street, in public squares, in gardens, he told me. At that time, not a day passed when there wasnt a robbery at a local business, or a mugging.

The crisis began in the south. The 80s were a prosperous time in Olho, a fishing town 31 miles west of the Spanish border. Coastal waters filled fishermens nets from the Gulf of Cdiz to Morocco, tourism was growing, and currency flowed throughout the southern Algarve region. But by the end of the decade, heroin began washing up on Olhos shores. Overnight, Pereiras beloved slice of the Algarve coast became one of the drug capitals of Europe: one in every 100 Portuguese was battling a problematic heroin addiction at that time, but the number was even higher in the south. Headlines in the local press raised the alarm about overdose deaths and rising crime. The rate of HIV infection in Portugal became the highest in the European Union. Pereira recalled desperate patients and families beating a path to his door, terrified, bewildered, begging for help. I got involved, he said, only because I was ignorant.

In truth, there was a lot of ignorance back then. Forty years of authoritarian rule under the regime established by Antnio Salazar in 1933 had suppressed education, weakened institutions and lowered the school-leaving age, in a strategy intended to keep the population docile. The country was closed to the outside world; people missed out on the experimentation and mind-expanding culture of the 1960s. When the regime ended abruptly in a military coup in 1974, Portugal was suddenly opened to new markets and influences. Under the old regime, Coca-Cola was banned and owning a cigarette lighter required a licence. When marijuana and then heroin began flooding in, the country was utterly unprepared.

Pereira tackled the growing wave of addiction the only way he knew how: one patient at a time. A student in her 20s who still lived with her parents might have her family involved in her recovery; a middle-aged man, estranged from his wife and living on the street, faced different risks and needed a different kind of support. Pereira improvised, calling on institutions and individuals in the community to lend a hand.

In 2001, nearly two decades into Pereiras accidental specialisation in addiction, Portugal became the first country to decriminalise the possession and consumption of all illicit substances. Rather than being arrested, those caught with a personal supply might be given a warning, a small fine, or told to appear before a local commission a doctor, a lawyer and a social worker about treatment, harm reduction, and the support services that were available to them.

The opioid crisis soon stabilised, and the ensuing years saw dramatic drops in problematic drug use, HIV and hepatitis infection rates, overdose deaths, drug-related crime and incarceration rates. HIV infection plummeted from an all-time high in 2000 of 104.2 new cases per million to 4.2 cases per million in 2015. The data behind these changes has been studied and cited as evidence by harm-reduction movements around the globe. Its misleading, however, to credit these positive results entirely to a change in law.

Portugals remarkable recovery, and the fact that it has held steady through several changes in government including conservative leaders who would have preferred to return to the US-style war on drugs could not have happened without an enormous cultural shift, and a change in how the country viewed drugs, addiction and itself. In many ways, the law was merely a reflection of transformations that were already happening in clinics, in pharmacies and around kitchen tables across the country. The official policy of decriminalisation made it far easier for a broad range of services (health, psychiatry, employment, housing etc) that had been struggling to pool their resources and expertise, to work together more effectively to serve their communities.

The language began to shift, too. Those who had been referred to sneeringly as drogados (junkies) became known more broadly, more sympathetically, and more accurately, as people who use drugs or people with addiction disorders. This, too, was crucial.

It is important to note that Portugal stabilised its opioid crisis, but it didnt make it disappear. While drug-related death, incarceration and infection rates plummeted, the country still had to deal with the health complications of long-term problematic drug use. Diseases including hepatitis C, cirrhosis and liver cancer are a burden on a health system that is still struggling to recover from recession and cutbacks. In this way, Portugals story serves as a warning of challenges yet to come.

Despite enthusiastic international reactions to Portugals success, local harm-reduction advocates have been frustrated by what they see as stagnation and inaction since decriminalisation came into effect. They criticise the state for dragging its feet on establishing supervised injection sites and drug consumption facilities; for failing to make the anti-overdose medication naloxone more readily available; for not implementing needle-exchange programmes in prisons. Where, they ask, is the courageous spirit and bold leadership that pushed the country to decriminalise drugs in the first place?


In the early days of Portugals panic, when Pereiras beloved Olho began falling apart in front of him, the states first instinct was to attack. Drugs were denounced as evil, drug users were demonised, and proximity to either was criminally and spiritually punishable. The Portuguese government launched a series of national anti-drug campaigns that were less Just Say No and more Drugs Are Satan.

Informal treatment approaches and experiments were rushed into use throughout the country, as doctors, psychiatrists, and pharmacists worked independently to deal with the flood of drug-dependency disorders at their doors, sometimes risking ostracism or arrest to do what they believed was best for their patients.

In 1977, in the north of the country, psychiatrist Eduno Lopes pioneered a methadone programme at the Centro da Boavista in Porto. Lopes was the first doctor in continental Europe to experiment with substitution therapy, flying in methadone powder from Boston, under the auspices of the Ministry of Justice, rather than the Ministry of Health. His efforts met with a vicious public backlash and the disapproval of his peers, who considered methadone therapy nothing more than state-sponsored drug addiction.

In Lisbon, Odette Ferreira, an experienced pharmacist and pioneering HIV researcher, started an unofficial needle-exchange programme to address the growing Aids crisis. She received death threats from drug dealers, and legal threats from politicians. Ferreira who is now in her 90s, and still has enough swagger to carry off long fake eyelashes and red leather at a midday meeting started giving away clean syringes in the middle of Europes biggest open-air drug market, in the Casal Ventoso neighbourhood of Lisbon. She collected donations of clothing, soap, razors, condoms, fruit and sandwiches, and distributed them to users. When dealers reacted with hostility, she snapped back: Dont mess with me. You do your job, and Ill do mine. She then bullied the Portuguese Association of Pharmacies into running the countrys and indeed the worlds first national needle-exchange programme.

A flurry of expensive private clinics and free, faith-based facilities emerged, promising detoxes and miracle cures, but the first public drug-treatment centre run by the Ministry of Health the Centro das Taipas in Lisbon did not begin operating until 1987. Strapped for resources in Olho, Pereira sent a few patients for treatment, although he did not agree with the abstinence-based approach used at Taipas. First you take away the drug, and then, with psychotherapy, you plug up the crack, said Pereira. There was no scientific evidence to show that this would work and it didnt.

He also sent patients to Lopess methadone programme in Porto, and found that some responded well. But Porto was at the other end of the country. He wanted to try methadone for his patients, but the Ministry of Health hadnt yet approved it for use. To get around that, Pereira sometimes asked a nurse to sneak methadone to him in the boot of his car.

Pereiras work treating patients for addiction eventually caught the attention of the Ministry of Health. They heard there was a crazy man in the Algarve who was working on his own, he said, with a slow smile. Now 68, he is sprightly and charming, with an athletic build, thick and wavy white hair that bounces when he walks, a gravelly drawl and a bottomless reserve of warmth. They came down to find me at the clinic and proposed that I open a treatment centre, he said. He invited a colleague from at a family practice in the next town over to join him a young local doctor named Joo Goulo.

Goulo was a 20-year-old medical student when he was offered his first hit of heroin. He declined because he didnt know what it was. By the time he finished school, got his licence and began practising medicine at a health centre in the southern city of Faro, it was everywhere. Like Pereira, he accidentally ended up specialising in treating drug addiction.

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A nurse hands out methadone to addicts in Lisbon. Photograph: Horacio Villalobos/Corbis via Getty Images

The two young colleagues joined forces to open southern Portugals first CAT in 1988. (These kinds of centres have used different names and acronyms over the years, but are still commonly referred to as Centros de Atendimento a Toxicodependentes, or CATs.) Local residents were vehemently opposed, and the doctors were improvising treatments as they went along. The following month, Pereira and Goulo opened a second CAT in Olho, and other family doctors opened more in the north and central regions, forming a loose network. It had become clear to a growing number of practitioners that the most effective response to addiction had to be personal, and rooted in communities. Treatment was still small-scale, local and largely ad hoc.

The first official call to change Portugals drug laws came from Rui Pereira, a former constitutional court judge who undertook an overhaul of the penal code in 1996. He found the practice of jailing people for taking drugs to be counterproductive and unethical. My thought right off the bat was that it wasnt legitimate for the state to punish users, he told me in his office at the University of Lisbons school of law. At that time, about half of the people in prison were there for drug-related reasons, and the epidemic, he said, was thought to be an irresolvable problem. He recommended that drug use be discouraged without imposing penalties, or further alienating users. His proposals werent immediately adopted, but they did not go unnoticed.

In 1997, after 10 years of running the CAT in Faro, Goulo was invited to help design and lead a national drug strategy. He assembled a team of experts to study potential solutions to Portugals drug problem. The resulting recommendations, including the full decriminalisation of drug use, were presented in 1999, approved by the council of ministers in 2000, and a new national plan of action came into effect in 2001.

Today, Goulo is Portugals drug czar. He has been the lodestar throughout eight alternating conservative and progressive administrations; through heated standoffs with lawmakers and lobbyists; through shifts in scientific understanding of addiction and in cultural tolerance for drug use; through austerity cuts, and through a global policy climate that only very recently became slightly less hostile. Goulo is also decriminalisations busiest global ambassador. He travels almost non-stop, invited again and again to present the successes of Portugals harm-reduction experiment to authorities around the world, from Norway to Brazil, which are dealing with desperate situations in their own countries.

These social movements take time, Goulo told me. The fact that this happened across the board in a conservative society such as ours had some impact. If the heroin epidemic had affected only Portugals lower classes or racialised minorities, and not the middle or upper classes, he doubts the conversation around drugs, addiction and harm reduction would have taken shape in the same way. There was a point whenyou could not find a single Portuguese family that wasnt affected. Every family had their addict, or addicts. This was universal in a way that the society felt: We have to do something.

Portugals policy rests on three pillars: one, that theres no such thing as a soft or hard drug, only healthy and unhealthy relationships with drugs; two, that an individuals unhealthy relationship with drugs often conceals frayed relationships with loved ones, with the world around them, and with themselves; and three, that the eradication of all drugs is an impossible goal.

The national policy is to treat each individual differently, Goulo told me. The secret is for us to be present.


A drop-in centre called IN-Mouraria sits unobtrusively in a lively, rapidly gentrifying neighbourhood of Lisbon, a longtime enclave of marginalised communities. From 2pm to 4pm, the centre provides services to undocumented migrants and refugees; from 5pm to 8pm, they open their doors to drug users. A staff of psychologists, doctors and peer support workers (themselves former drug users) offer clean needles, pre-cut squares of foil, crack kits, sandwiches, coffee, clean clothing, toiletries, rapid HIV testing, and consultations all free and anonymous.

On the day I visited, young people stood around waiting for HIV test results while others played cards, complained about police harassment, tried on outfits, traded advice on living situations, watched movies and gave pep talks to one another. They varied in age, religion, ethnicity and gender identity, and came from all over the country and all over the world. When a slender, older man emerged from the bathroom, unrecognisable after having shaved his beard off, an energetic young man who had been flipping through magazines threw up his arms and cheered. He then turned to a quiet man sitting on my other side, his beard lush and dark hair curling from under his cap, and said: What about you? Why dont you go shave off that beard? You cant give up on yourself, man. Thats when its all over. The bearded man cracked a smile.

During my visits over the course of a month, I got to know some of the peer support workers, including Joo, a compact man with blue eyes who was rigorous in going over the details and nuances of what I was learning. Joo wanted to be sure I understood their role at the drop-in centre was not to force anyone to stop using, but to help minimise the risks users were exposed to.

Our objective is not to steer people to treatment they have to want it, he told me. But even when they do want to stop using, he continued, having support workers accompany them to appointments and treatment facilities can feel like a burden on the user and if the treatment doesnt go well, there is the risk that that person will feel too ashamed to return to the drop-in centre. Then we lose them, and thats not what we want to do, Joo said. I want them to come back when they relapse. Failure was part of the treatment process, he told me. And he would know.

Joo is a marijuana-legalisation activist, open about being HIV-positive, and after being absent for part of his sons youth, he is delighting in his new role as a grandfather. He had stopped doing speedballs (mixtures of cocaine and opiates) after several painful, failed treatment attempts, each more destructive than the last. He long used cannabis as a form of therapy methadone did not work for him, nor did any of the inpatient treatment programmes he tried but the cruel hypocrisy of decriminalisation meant that although smoking weed was not a criminal offence, purchasing it was. His last and worst relapse came when he went to buy marijuana from his usual dealer and was told: I dont have that right now, but I do have some good cocaine. Joo said no thanks and drove away, but soon found himself heading to a cash machine, and then back to the dealer. After this relapse, he embarked on a new relationship, and started his own business. At one point he had more than 30 employees. Then the financial crisis hit. Clients werent paying, and creditors started knocking on my door, he told me. Within six months I had burned through everything I had built up over four or five years.

Addicts
Addicts waiting for methadone at a drug treatment project in Lisbon. Photograph: Horacio Villalobos/Corbis via Getty Images

In the mornings, I followed the centres street teams out to the fringes of Lisbon. I met Raquel and Sareia their slim forms swimming in the large hi-vis vests they wear on their shifts who worked with Crescer na Maior, a harm-reduction NGO. Six times a week, they loaded up a large white van with drinking water, wet wipes, gloves, boxes of tinfoil and piles of state-issued drug kits: green plastic pouches with single-use servings of filtered water, citric acid, a small metal tray for cooking, gauze, filter and a clean syringe. Portugal does not yet have any supervised injection sites (although there is legislation to allow them, several attempts to open one have come to nothing), so, Raquel and Sareia told me, they go out to the open-air sites where they know people go to buy and use. Both are trained psychologists, but out in the streets they are known simply as the needle girls.

Good afternoon! Raquel called out cheerily, as we walked across a seemingly abandoned lot in an area called Cruz Vermelha. Street team! People materialised from their hiding places like some strange version of whack-a-mole, poking their heads out from the holes in the wall where they had gone to smoke or shoot up. My needle girls, one woman cooed to them tenderly. How are you, my loves? Most made polite conversation, updating the workers on their health struggles, love lives, immigration woes or housing needs. One woman told them she would be going back to Angola to deal with her mothers estate, that she was looking forward to the change of scenery. Another man told them he had managed to get his online girlfriends visa approved for a visit. Does she know youre still using? Sareia asked. The man looked sheepish.

I start methadone tomorrow, another man said proudly. He was accompanied by his beaming girlfriend, and waved a warm goodbye to the girls as they handed him a square of foil.

In the foggy northern city of Porto, peer support workers from Caso an association run by and for drug users and former users, the only one of its kind in Portugal meet every week at a noisy cafe. They come here every Tuesday morning to down espressos, fresh pastries and toasted sandwiches, and to talk out the challenges, debate drug policy (which, a decade and a half after the law came into effect, was still confusing for many) and argue, with the warm rowdiness that is characteristic of people in the northern region. When I asked them what they thought of Portugals move to treat drug users as sick people in need of help, rather than as criminals, they scoffed. Sick? We dont say sick up here. Were not sick.

I was told this again and again in the north: thinking of drug addiction simply in terms of health and disease was too reductive. Some people are able to use drugs for years without any major disruption to their personal or professional relationships. It only became a problem, they told me, when it became a problem.

Caso was supported by Apdes, a development NGO with a focus on harm reduction and empowerment, including programmes geared toward recreational users. Their award-winning Check!n project has for years set up shop at festivals, bars and parties to test substances for dangers. I was told more than once that if drugs were legalised, not just decriminalised, then these substances would be held to the same rigorous quality and safety standards as food, drink and medication.


In spite of Portugals tangible results, other countries have been reluctant to follow. The Portuguese began seriously considering decriminalisation in 1998, immediately following the first UN General Assembly Special Session on the Global Drug Problem (UNgass). High-level UNgass meetings are convened every 10 years to set drug policy for all member states, addressing trends in addiction, infection, money laundering, trafficking and cartel violence. At the first session for which the slogan was A drug-free world: we can do it Latin American member states pressed for a radical rethinking of the war on drugs, but every effort to examine alternative models (such as decriminalisation) was blocked. By the time of the next session, in 2008, worldwide drug use and violence related to the drug trade had vastly increased. An extraordinary session was held last year, but it was largely a disappointment the outcome document didnt mention harm reduction once.

Despite that letdown, 2016 produced a number of promising other developments: Chile and Australia opened their first medical cannabis clubs; following the lead of several others, four more US states introduced medical cannabis, and four more legalised recreational cannabis; Denmark opened the worlds largest drug consumption facility, and France opened its first; South Africa proposed legalising medical cannabis; Canada outlined a plan to legalise recreational cannabis nationally and to open more supervised injection sites; and Ghana announced it would decriminalise all personal drug use.

The biggest change in global attitudes and policy has been the momentum behind cannabis legalisation. Local activists have pressed Goulo to take a stance on regulating cannabis and legalising its sale in Portugal; for years, he has responded that the time wasnt right. Legalising a single substance would call into question the foundation of Portugals drug and harm-reduction philosophy. If the drugs arent the problem, if the problem is the relationship with drugs, if theres no such thing as a hard or a soft drug, and if all illicit substances are to be treated equally, he argued, then shouldnt all drugs be legalised and regulated?

Massive international cultural shifts in thinking about drugs and addiction are needed to make way for decriminalisation and legalisation globally. In the US, the White House has remained reluctant to address what drug policy reform advocates have termed an addiction to punishment. But if conservative, isolationist, Catholic Portugal could transform into a country where same-sex marriage and abortion are legal, and where drug use is decriminalised, a broader shift in attitudes seems possible elsewhere. But, as the harm-reduction adage goes: one has to want the change in order to make it.


When Pereira first opened the CAT in Olho, he faced vociferous opposition from residents; they worried that with more drogados would come more crime. But the opposite happened. Months later, one neighbour came to ask Pereiras forgiveness. She hadnt realised it at the time, but there had been three drug dealers on her street; when their local clientele stopped buying, they packed up and left.

The CAT building itself is a drab, brown two-storey block, with offices upstairs and an open waiting area, bathrooms, storage and clinics down below. The doors open at 8.30am, seven days a week, 365 days a year. Patients wander in throughout the day for appointments, to chat, to kill time, to wash, or to pick up their weekly supply of methadone doses. They tried to close the CAT for Christmas Day one year, but patients asked that it stay open. For some, estranged from loved ones and adrift from any version of home, this is the closest thing theyve got to community and normality.

Its not just about administering methadone, Pereira told me. You have to maintain a relationship.

In a back room, rows of little canisters with banana-flavoured methadone doses were lined up, each labelled with a patients name and information. The Olho CAT regularly services about 400 people, but that number can double during the summer months, when seasonal workers and tourists come to town. Anyone receiving treatment elsewhere in the country, or even outside Portugal, can have their prescription sent over to the CAT, making the Algarve an ideal harm-reduction holiday destination.

After lunch at a restaurant owned by a former CAT employee, the doctor took me to visit another of his projects a particular favourite. His decades of working with addiction disorders had taught him some lessons, and he poured his accumulated knowledge into designing a special treatment facility on the outskirts of Olho: the Unidade de Desabituao, or Dishabituation Centre. Several such UDs, as they are known, have opened in other regions of the country, but this centre was developed to cater to the particular circumstances and needs of the south.

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A man receives clean syringes after being given methadone at a clinic in Lisbon. Photograph: Horacio Villalobos/Corbis via Getty Images

Pereira stepped down as director some years ago, but his replacement asked him to stay on to help with day-to-day operations. Pereira should be retired by now indeed, he tried to but Portugal is suffering from an overall shortage of health professionals in the public system, and not enough young doctors are stepping into this specialisation. As his colleagues elsewhere in the country grow closer to their own retirements, theres a growing sense of dread that there is no one to replace them.

Those of us from the Algarve always had a bit of a different attitude from our colleagues up north, Pereira told me. I dont treat patients. They treat themselves. My function is to help them to make the changes they need to make.

And thank goodness there is only one change to make, he deadpanned as we pulled into the centres parking lot: You need to change almost everything. He cackled at his own joke and stepped out of his car.

The glass doors at the entrance slid open to a facility that was bright and clean without feeling overwhelmingly institutional. Doctors and administrators offices were up a sweeping staircase ahead. Women at the front desk nodded their hellos, and Pereira greeted them warmly: Good afternoon, my darlings.

The Olho centre was built for just under 3m (2.6m), publicly funded, and opened to its first patients nine years ago. This facility, like the others, is connected to a web of health and social rehabilitation services. It can house up to 14 people at once: treatments are free, available on referral from a doctor or therapist, and normally last between eight and 14 days. When people first arrive, they put all of their personal belongings photos, mobile phones, everything into storage, retrievable on departure.

We believe in the old maxim: No news is good news, explained Pereira. We dont do this to punish them but to protect them. Memories can be triggering, and sometimes families, friends and toxic relationships can be enabling.

To the left there were intake rooms and a padded isolation room, with clunky security cameras propped up in every corner. Patients each had their own suites simple, comfortable and private. To the right, there was a colour room, with a pottery wheel, recycled plastic bottles, paints, egg cartons, glitter and other craft supplies. In another room, coloured pencils and easels for drawing. A kiln, and next to it a collection of excellent handmade ashtrays. Many patients remained heavy smokers.

Patients were always occupied, always using their hands or their bodies or their senses, doing exercise or making art, always filling their time with something. Wed often hear our patients use the expression me and my body, Pereira said. As though there was a dissociation between the me and my flesh.

To help bring the body back, there was a small gym, exercise classes, physiotherapy and a jacuzzi. And after so much destructive behaviour messing up their bodies, their relationships, their lives and communities learning that they could create good and beautiful things was sometimes transformational.

You know those lines on a running track? Pereira asked me. He believed that everyone however imperfect was capable of finding their own way, given the right support. Our love is like those lines.

He was firm, he said, but never punished or judged his patients for their relapses or failures. Patients were free to leave at any time, and they were welcome to return if they needed, even if it was more than a dozen times.

He offered no magic wand or one-size-fits-all solution, just this daily search for balance: getting up, having breakfast, making art, taking meds, doing exercise, going to work, going to school, going into the world, going forward. Being alive, he said to me more than once, can be very complicated.

My darling, he told me, its like I always say: I may be a doctor, but nobodys perfect.

A longer version of this piece appears on thecommononline.org. Research and travel for this piece were made possible by the Matthew Power Literary Reporting Award

Follow the Long Read on Twitter at @gdnlongread, or sign up to the long read weekly email here.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/news/2017/dec/05/portugals-radical-drugs-policy-is-working-why-hasnt-the-world-copied-it

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The situation is desperate: murdered Maltese journalists final written words

It seems that Daphne Caruana Galizias enemies finally decided that her courageous journalism needed to be silenced

In her last blogpost, published the day she died, Daphne Caruana Galizia signed off with a sentence that seems particularly chilling now.

There are crooks everywhere you look. The situation is desperate.

Caruana Galizia, 53, felt she had good reason to feel pessimistic about Malta, and her enemies had good reason to fear her. Someone, it seems, was worried enough to want her silenced.

In that last post, which appeared just before a bomb blew up the car she was driving, Caruana Galizia had taken aim, and not for the first time, at Maltese politicians. But they were far from the only people in the firing line.

She believed, in essence, that malign and criminal interests had captured Malta and turned it into an island mafia state; she reported on a political system rife with corruption, businesses seemingly used to launder money or pay bribes, and a criminal justice system that seemed incapable, or unwilling, to take on the controlling minds behind it all.

Proof of her fears included the 15 mafia-style assassinations and car bombings that have taken place on the island in the last 10 years and, ultimately, perhaps, her own murder too.

Though there will be many on Malta who will not trust the police to properly investigate her death, including her son, Matthew, detectives will be urged to look at what she has written in recent months, and what she had been looking at just before her death to see what clues, if any, they provide.

Had this fiercely independent journalist finally got too close to something or was she proving too much of an irritant to someone?

Caruana Galizia was certainly used to stirring up trouble.

Those about whom she has written in the past year range from government ministers to the newly elected leader of the opposition; the characters in her stories included a convicted drug smuggler and a local millionaire who complained after she alleged that he had built a private zoo without planning permission.

Her style was fearless, witty and sardonic. Her posts there were lots of them made uncomfortable reading for those in power. She became the islands most celebrated reporter and teller of plain truths.

Probably her greatest achievement over the past year was to spark, more or less singlehandedly, an extraordinary political scandal that has embroiled the islands prime minister, his closest political allies, and the ruling family of Azerbaijan.

It led to Maltas prime minister, Joseph Muscat, calling a general election in June.

The tale is complex; it involves a whistleblower from inside a secretive private bank, alleged kickbacks to senior politicians and a plethora of offshore companies that caused chaos for Muscat, the leader of the ruling Labour party.

There is nothing to suggest any of this is linked to her murder but the episode highlights the courageous way she tackled those in authority, and her doggedness in the face of legal threats.

Caruana Galizias investigation was built on documents uncovered in the Panama Papers, published in April last year. Among the many names of government officials were two Maltese politicians: Keith Schembri, chief of staff to Muscat, and Konrad Mizzi, the countrys energy minister.

Both had set up similar structures, involving Panamanian companies owned by New Zealand trusts.

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A woman reads a letter to investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia during a silent candlelight vigil to protest against her murder, in St Julians, Malta. Photograph: Darrin Zammit Lupi/Reuters

The allegation: the trusts were used to receive kickbacks from rich Russians who bought Maltese passports. The publication led to street protests and caused disquiet in Brussels.

Mizzi and Schembri denied any wrongdoing. Mizzi said the accounts had been set up to receive income from a property in London, while Schembri implied that the offshore entities were related to his business activities before entering politics. Both men kept their jobs.

Earlier this year Caruana Galizia followed up the story with new detail. She alleged the Panama Papers scheme was also connected to Azerbaijan, the oil-rich dictatorship ruled as a personal fiefdom by the Aliyev family.

The same month that Mizzi and Schembri began setting up the offshore structures, they visited Azerbaijan, along with the prime minister and his spokesman.

The purpose of the visit was to agree a deal on fuel supplies. Unusually, civil servants, diplomats and journalists were not invited.

Although the reports prompted a national protest against corruption, the second in Malta that year, Muscats Labour government narrowly defeated a vote of no confidence presented by the opposition Nationalist party.

Over the coming months, while the initial scandal continued to make headlines, Caruana Galizias investigation continued.

Her focus was a mysterious third company, Egrant. In April 2017, just over a year after the Panama Papers were first published, Caruana Galizia reported that Egrants owner was one Michelle Muscat the wife of Maltas prime minister.

Furthermore, she alleged that a $1m (760,000) payment received by the company originated from Leyla Aliyeva, the daughter of Azerbaijans president.

Muscats spokesman has described this as an outright lie.

Caruana Galizias report was sourced to a Russian whistleblower from inside a private bank in Malta called Pilatus.

The woman, later named as Maria Efimova, told Caruana Galizia that documents referring to the company were held in a safe, which had recently been removed from her bosss office and moved into the staff kitchen, where there was no CCTV.

After Efimova complained that she had not been paid, Pilatus filed a complaint against her for fraud and misappropriation. Police seized her passport and charged her.

Efimova later fled the country after complaining to the prime minister that Russian private detectives had approached her father.

On the eve of the election, the story took a further twist. Leaked documents seen by the Guardian revealed that a Maltese intelligence agency, the Financial Investigation and Analysis Unit (FIAU), had in May 2016 concluded there was reasonable suspicion of money laundering involving Schembri, and it recommended police investigate further.

Schembri did not deny the transactions had taken place, but said the money was simply the repayment of a loan he made to a friend. The case is being investigated by a magistrate.

A second report by the FIAU into the Pilatus Bank alleged it had shown a glaring, possibly deliberate disregard for money-laundering controls. Pilatus said it fully adheres to all laws and regulations.

The gaming industry was another prime source of concern for Caruana Galizia. Over last decade, Malta has become a global hub for the online betting and gaming industries. The business employs more than 8,000 people on the island and its contribution to the economy is huge.

Recent estimates suggest the sector is worth 1.2bn, 12% of the islands GDP.

Yet despite the islands claim to be a world class jurisdiction for online gaming, there have been persistent reports of Italian mafia infiltration in June, regulators suspended one operation over such fears.

In a post from May this year, Caruana Galizia noted: I dont know why we should be surprised that organised crime has insinuated its tentacles into the highest echelons of government in Malta, using democracy for the purpose while undermining it thoroughly. If it happened in Italy and eastern Europe, it can happen here, where the institutions of state are so much weaker.

This article was amended on 18 October 2017. An earlier version converted $1m to 760m. This has been corrected to 760,000.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/oct/17/the-situation-is-desperate-murdered-maltese-journalists-daphne-caruana-galizia-final-words

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