Today’s Question by Aart Hilal

You hail from Brazil, one of the most beautiful countries in the world. Where do you like traveling in your own country? What other destinations are your favorite travel destinations? Any dream destination you’ve always been yearning to visit but still haven’t gotten round to?

There are many wonderful places in my country, but I must say that my hometown, Rio de Janeiro, always mesmerizes me.

Two angels in Brazil

By Paulo Coelho

According to an old, well-know legend, whose origins are uncertain, a week before Christmas, Michael the Archangel asked his angels to visit Earth; he wanted to know whether everything was ready for the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ. He sent them out in pairs, always one older angel and one younger one, so that he might obtain a broader picture of what was going on in Christendom.

One of these pairs was allotted Brazil, where they arrived late at night. Since they had nowhere to sleep, the took shelter in one of the great mansions which are to be found in certain parts of Rio de Janeiro.

The owner of the house, a nobleman on the verge of bankruptcy (something which happens to many people in that city, by the way), was a devout Catholic, and quickly recognized the celestial envoys, with their golden halos above their heads. But he was very busy making preparations for a great feast to celebrate Christmas, and didn’t want to disturb the decorations, which were almost all in place, so he asked them to sleep in the cellar.

Although the cards celebrating Christmas always carry illustrations with falling snow, in Brazil the date falls in the middle of summer; so the place where the angels were sent was scorching hot, and the air – which was very humid – was practically unbreathable. They lay down on the hard ground, but before starting their prayers, the older angel noticed a crack in the wall. He stood up and fixed it using divine powers, and returned to his evening prayers. The heat was so great, it was as if they spent the night in hell itself.

They slept terribly, but had to fulfill the mission which had been entrusted to them by God. The following day, they walked about the great city – with its 12 million inhabitants, its beaches and mountains, its contrasts, its beautiful landscapes and miserable neighborhoods. They wrote their reports, and when night began to fall again, they journeyed into the countryside. Still confused by the time difference, they again found themselves with nowhere to sleep.

They knocked on the door of a humble house, and the door was opened by a couple. Since they had never had access to the medieval engravings portraying God’s messengers, they didn’t recognize the two pilgrims – but seeing that they needed shelter, the house was put at their entire disposal. The couple made dinner, introduced the angels to their newborn child, and offered them their own bedroom, apologizing that they were poor, that it was so hot but they hadn’t the money to buy an air conditioning unit.

When they awoke the following day, they found the couple in floods of tears. Their only possession, a cow which gave the family milk, cheese and sustenance, had been found dead in the field. They bid the pilgrims farewell, ashamed that they were unable to offer them breakfast.

As they wandered along the dirt track, the younger angel was filled with rage:

– I cannot understand such behavior! The first man had everything he needed, and nevertheless you helped him. But this poor couple who received us so well, you did nothing to relieve their suffering!

– Things are not what they seem – said the older angel. – When we were in that awful cellar, I noticed there was much gold hidden in the wall of the mansion, left there by a previous owner. The crack was exposing part of the treasure, and I resolved to hide it again, because the owner of the house did not know how to help those in need.

“Yesterday, as we slept in the bed the couple had provided for us, I noticed a third guest had arrived: the angel of death. He had been sent to take the child, but since I have known him for many years, I was able to convince him to take the life of the cow instead.”

“Remember the day which is about the be celebrated: since people value appearances so greatly, no one wanted to take Mary in. But the shepherds protected her, and because of this, they were rewarded and were the first to contemplate the smile of the Savior of the World.”

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Remember Andijan?

I read this article yesterday in Herald Tribune. Today, while walking with a friend of mine, I was thinking: shall I post it in my blog? Being a former prisioner of conscience (see the photo above), being arrested three times, and brutally tortured, I cannot – and I will never – close my eyes to the abuses we see every day, everywhere – from Guantanamo to Burma.

The article speaks by itself – I decided to edit it for the blog, but you can find it, for free, in International Herald Tribune website. During the military dictatorship in Brazil, the same thing happened; economical interests were more important than human lives.

I knot that there is little we can do, but this little makes the difference.

Remember Andijan
By Galima Bukharbayeva

On May 13, 2005, Uzbek security services opened fire on a peaceful rally staged by thousands of people in the eastern city of Andijan, killing about a thousand people, including women and children.

I saw the raw violence firsthand and watched as my own country’s Interior Ministry troops rode into the town square on armored personnel carriers and mowed down people indiscriminately, using both light and heavy machine guns.

Uzbekistan had always had an appalling human rights record, but after that day, President Islam Karimov’s repression against his own people reached new levels. Witnesses and their families were harassed and tortured to produce forced confessions portraying the Andijan events as a jihadi insurgency. Many, like me, had to flee the country or risk the worst imaginable consequences.

I recall the words of one of Karimov’s ideologues, who forecast soon after the massacre that there was no need to worry because whatever protests Western countries were making, they would all court the ruler once again and “even beg him on their knees” for renewed ties.

How sadly right he was. In the weeks and months after the massacre, the United States condemned the extreme use of force against civilians. In response, Karimov kicked the Americans off their military base at Karshi-Khanabad in southern Uzbekistan.

The European Union went a step further, implementing a series of targeted sanctions against the regime, including an arms embargo and visa bans on 12 Uzbek officials involved in the massacre. But right from the start, Europe didn’t take its sanctions too seriously: The day they took effect in November 2005, one of the people on the visa ban list, Interior Minister Zokirjon Almatov, was actually enjoying medical care at a clinic in Hanover, Germany.

By 2006, the visa ban list was reduced from 12 to eight. In 2007, the sanctions were suspended for six months. In April of this year, they were suspended again, and they now look set to expire completely in October.

As one of the few journalists who covered the massacre, I remember how residents of Andijan helped me and my colleagues and how they agreed to drive us around even though they knew they could be killed or tortured for helping us. They took the risk so the world would know the truth. They believed the West shared their belief that human life is priceless and that such crimes by the state should not go unpunished.

What can I now tell those people now? That no Western politician even utters “Andijan” any more?

Galima Bukharbayeva, who covered the massacre in Andijan, now lives in Duesseldorf, Germany, and is editor-in-chief of the online news service

Today’s Question by Aart Hilal

In your novels, events and backgrounds are “historical – mythical – cultural …” and related to far removed from Latin American reality. Did you try to escape the dominance of fantastic realism?

In my work, I try to see the world with the eyes of a Brazilian, but I do not create limits for my imagination. Therefore, as the human conflicts take place in human hearts – regardless the cultural background – I write about them, but free in time and space.

Which biofuel?

Today, I read this interesting article of opinion in the International Herald Tribune:

Bring on the right biofuels
by Roger Cohen International Herald Tribune
Wednesday, April 23, 2008


Where fuel distilled from plant matter was once hailed as an answer to everything from global warming to the geostrategic power shift favoring repressive one-pipeline oil states, it’s now a “scam” and “part of the problem,” according to Time Magazine. Ethanol has turned awful. The supposed crimes of biofuels are manifold. They’re behind soaring global commodity prices, the destruction of the Amazon rain forest, increased rather than diminished greenhouse gases, food riots in Haiti, Indonesian deforestation and, no doubt, your mother-in-law’s toothache. Most of this, to borrow a farm image, is hogwash and bilge.


Much larger trends are at work that dwarf the still tiny biofuel industry (roughly a $40 billion annual business, or the equivalent of Exxon Mobil’s $40.6 billion profits in 2007). I refer to the rise of more than one third of humanity in China and India, the disintegrating dollar and soaring oil prices.


The danger in all this anti-biofuel hysteria is that we’re going to throw out the baby with the bath water. (…) Right now, the biofuel market is being grossly distorted by subsidies and trade barriers in the United States and the European Union. These make it rewarding to produce ethanol from corn or grains that are far less productive than sugarcane ethanol, divert land from food production (unlike sugarcane), and have environmental credentials that are dubious.


The real scam lies in developed world protectionism and skewed subsidies, not the biofuel idea.