Llamas help Andes peoples survive, but youths are leaving

Stormy winds, frosty nights and a scorching midday sun make life difficult on the Andean plateau, but the docile, tough-natured llama is one reason why indigenous people have been able to survive the harsh conditions for millennia.

With an estimated 3.1 million llamas and alpacas in Bolivia, the South American country counts more of the coarse-haired mammals than any other nation in the world, relying on it to haul goods up steep mountainsides, provide meat, wool and leather.

The llama, which is a relative of the camel, also holds a sacred place in Aymara and Quechua rituals for Pachamama, or Mother Earth. Throughout various regions of the country, herdsmen bury llama fetuses that have not survived birth, hoping to receive rain and good harvests in return. Many local priests also water the earth with llamas’ warm, sacrificial blood.

“You have to give (the gods) an offering,” said herdsman Francisco Tellez, who lives in the town of Curahuara de Carangas and says that he has a special connection with the animal. “The llama understands me. I whistle and he recognizes me.”

But he added: “My son does not like herding; he prefers to be a driver in the city.”

It is a sentiment that speaks to the plodding decline of a traditional way of life in Bolivia’s wetlands, where young people have left behind ancestral customs in favor of taking a chance in the cities.

“Now you just see elders and children herding the animals,” said Carla Rodas, an anthropologist at the Higher University of San Andres in Bolivia’s capital, noting that the llama was once so sacred it was almost considered to be a person.

Friendly and endearing, the llama has wandered across the Bolivian plains in scattered herds since it was domesticated in South America more than 4,000 years ago. The animal, which belongs to a family that includes the guanaco, alpaca and vicuna, has been partly credited with helping the Incan empire expand to parts of modern-day Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Chile and Argentina until the Spanish arrived in the 16th century.

As they adapted to living in the Andes mountain range at altitudes of up to 5,000 meters (16,400 feet), the animals also became a crutch for locals navigating steep, craggy terrain with loads of goods such as potatoes, salt, dried meat and quinoa.

On a recent morning, shepherd Genaro Arce left at 5 a.m. in sub-freezing temperatures to round up his eight llamas before taking the males and females to different pastures. Roughly 200 other animals and their young impatiently waited to graze.

His wife, Genoveva Usnayo, worried that foxes and stray dogs might attack their animals at night.

Once a year, she and her husband shear the llamas’ wool and sell the threads in markets to make winter clothing.

When she has time, Usnayo spins and weaves her own wear, but says it is nearly impossible to undercut the price of synthetic wool that saturates the market. The laborious, time-consuming process of making traditional clothes involves operating a spinning wheel and stretching fibers.

“It’s hard but you have to face it. Without getting your hands dirty you can’t live. Children do not think like that,” Arce said, noting that his youngest daughter, Maria Arce, is his only child who currently lives at home.

Her older five siblings migrated to cities to try their luck. Only a few decades ago, most Bolivians lived in the countryside. Now 75 percent live in cities.

For now, many elders still manage to eke out an income by relying on agricultural crops and their earnings from wool.

“The llama taught Andean people to adapt themselves to a cold and arid land, and still today, in spite of climatic and economic changes, it allows them to live,” Rodas said.

But Maria Wurzinger, a zoologist at the University of Vienna in Austria who studied camelids in Bolivia and Peru, worries that might not always be the case due to diminishing rainfall.

“There will come a time when there will be no more grass and you will not be able to breed llamas or alpacas,” she said, adding that Bolivia’s wetlands could eventually become a desert.

“With irrigation it is difficult to sustain grazing,” she said. “If climate predictions are right, many will stop breeding animals.”

US envoy optimistic about N. Korea despite latest friction

The Trump administration’s special envoy for North Korea on Friday expressed optimism about the diplomatic push to resolve the nuclear crisis, a day after the North issued a surprisingly blunt statement saying it will never disarm unless the U.S. removes what it calls a nuclear threat.

Stephen Biegun said ahead of a meeting with South Korean officials that the allies are committed to ending seven decades of hostility and creating a “new, brighter future for all of the Korean people.”

He did not directly address the North Korean statement, which jarred with Seoul’s rosier presentation of the North Korean position and could potentially rattle the fragile diplomacy between Washington, Seoul and Pyongyang to defuse a nuclear crisis that last year had many fearing war.

Biegun’s comments echoed those of U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who told a Kansas radio station that Washington and Pyongyang were still working through the execution of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s “commitment to denuclearize.”

“We are hopeful that in the new year President Trump and Chairman Kim will get together not too long after the first of the year and make even further progress on taking this threat to the United States away from us,” Pompeo said.

Upon his arrival in South Korean on Wednesday, Biegun said Washington was reviewing easing travel restrictions on North Korea to facilitate humanitarian shipments to help resolve the impasse in nuclear negotiations. The North has yet to respond to Biegun’s comments.

Thursday’s statement was the North’s latest display of displeasure over a deepening impasse in negotiations with the United States as they struggle over the sequencing of the denuclearization that Washington wants and the removal of international sanctions desired by Pyongyang. It also raises credibility problems for the liberal South Korean government, which has claimed that Kim is genuinely interested in negotiating away his nuclear weapons.

The comments may also be seen as proof of what outside skeptics have long said: that Kim will never voluntarily relinquish an arsenal he sees as a stronger guarantee of survival than whatever security assurances the United States might provide. The statement suggests North Korea will eventually demand the United States withdraw or significantly reduce the 28,500 American troops stationed in South Korea, a major sticking point in any disarmament deal.

Kim and Trump met June 12 in Singapore where they agreed on a vague goal for the “complete denuclearization” of the Korean Peninsula without describing when and how it would occur. The leaders are trying to arrange another meeting for early next year.

But North Korea for decades has been pushing a concept of denuclearization that bears no resemblance to the American definition, with Pyongyang vowing to pursue nuclear development until the United States removes its troops and the nuclear umbrella defending South Korea and Japan. In Thursday’s statement, the North made clear it’s sticking to its traditional stance on denuclearization. It accused Washington of twisting what had been agreed on in Singapore and driving post-summit talks into an impasse.

“The United States must now recognize the accurate meaning of the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, and especially, must study geography,” the statement said.

“When we talk about the Korean Peninsula, it includes the territory of our republic and also the entire region of (South Korea) where the United States has placed its invasive force, including nuclear weapons. When we talk about the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, it means the removal of all sources of nuclear threat, not only from the South and North but also from areas neighboring the Korean Peninsula,” the statement said.

The United States removed its tactical nuclear weapons from South Korea in the 1990s. Washington and Seoul have not responded to the North Korean statement.

North Korea’s reiteration of its long-standing position on denuclearization could prove to be a major setback for diplomacy, which was revived early this year following a series of provocative nuclear and missile tests that left Kim and Trump spending most of 2017 exchanging personal insults and war threats. The United States may have difficulty negotiating further if the North ties the future of its nukes to the U.S. military presence in the South, analysts say.

Are Americans Running Down the Roman Road to Ruin?

Eminent historian Tom Holland (no, not the actor who plays Spiderman) quotes a tweet written by Bill Kristol bemoaning the blinding speed at which the United States is careering down the road that led ancient Rome to ruin.

“The speed with which we’re recapitulating the decline and fall of Rome is impressive. What took Rome centuries we’re achieving in months,” Kristol tweeted, as reported by Holland in The Spectator.

But Holland somewhat dismisses the claim. “For a millennium and a half now, one of the great pleasures of being a commentator on current affairs has been comparing a political crisis to the fall of the Roman Empire. Nothing recently has quite so turbo-charged this perennial trend like the presidency of Donald Trump,” Holland writes. And he should know: Tom Holland is the author of several engaging books chronicling the rise, rule, and ruin of the Caesars, including Dynasty: The Rise and Fall of the House of Caesar and Rubicon: The Last Years of the Roman Republic.

Holland reminds readers worried that President Trump is a neo-Caligula or other such psychotic autocrat that similar comparisons have been made for decades, if not centuries by American media keen on demonstrating their erudition. “Back in 1919, in the wake of the Russian Revolution, it was the New York Times that was fretting about Huns and Vandals. ‘The Roman Empire and its civilization,’ it sternly warned then, ‘were destroyed by barbarian hordes,’” Holland writes.

Holland went on: “Nothing, perhaps, has been quite so enduringly American as the conviction that the country is on the verge of decline and fall.”

While Holland — again, an authority of ancient Rome nonpareil — muses that the comparisons may be “divorced from historical reality,” there is much to be learned from history, particularly the history of a once republican people (the Romans) whose exploits and excesses were known to the Founding Generation of America from their youngest days. And one thing to be learned is about how Roman society actually fell.

I’ve written thousands of words myself on this seemingly inexhaustible subject, but one particularly noteworthy recorder of Rome’s life and end was Algernon Sidney — a man who was admired by our Founding Fathers and whose own steadfast commitment to republican government cost him his life.

Briefly, Algernon Sidney (1623–1683) was the son of Robert Sidney, the 2nd Earl of Leicester. All extant evidence points toward Sidney’s early devotion to republican principles. So pure and deeply rooted was Sidney’s adherence to the principles of mixed government that he opposed the execution of English monarch Charles I for treason, and he distanced himself from former allies after becoming disillusioned with Oliver Cromwell, the 1st lord protector of the Commonwealth of England, for abandoning republican principles, including heavy-handedly side-stepping Parliament.

Sidney left England and was living in France when the English monarchy was restored in 1660. He spent the years of self-imposed exile trying to negotiate with the governments of Holland and France to back a republican invasion of England. Unsuccessful in his diplomatic efforts, Sidney returned to England in 1677 and immediately joined his fellow republicans in opposition to Charles II, who had ordered the dismissal of Parliament. Soon, Sidney was implicated on the flimsiest of evidence in the Rye House Plot, a scheme to assassinate Charles II and his brother, and was forthwith arrested. His arrest was chiefly a means to silence one known to be antithetical to despotism.

As the trial began, the king’s solicitors decried Sidney as a “false, seditious, and libelous traitor” whose writings fomented revolution by inciting the people to “rise up in arms against the King.”

While Sidney denied the charges of fomenting an uprising, he did not deny that he was an enemy of absolute monarchy. His study of history made it apparent that the best of all government was a mixed government wherein the royal prerogatives are limited and restrained, and are counterbalanced against the inviolable and natural right of a free people to be self-governing. A book of his beliefs, Discourses Concerning Government, was used against him by the prosecution.

Discourses Concerning Government was a response to Patriarcha, an apology of the divine right of absolute monarchy written by Robert Filmer. Filmer argued that the monarch was the father of the people and that as such he had a divine and unassailable right to rule as he saw fit. The people, as the children of the monarch, thrived best when they were obedient to the monarch’s sovereign rule, according to the philosophy of Filmer.

Sidney refuted Filmer, pointing out that monarchs are more apt to be despots than father figures. His work was a classic in political theory and a standard work in the canon of republicanism.

In fact, his work was lauded by some of the Founders. In their guidelines for students applying to study at the University of Virginia published n 1825, James Madison and Thomas Jefferson wrote that Sidney’s Discourses Concerning Government “may be considered as those generally approved by our fellow citizens of this, and of the US. and that on the distinctive principles of the gov[ern]m[en]t of our own state, and of that of the US. as understood and assented to when brought into union.” Higher praise from a more esteemed source seems nearly impossible.

Back to Rome and Sidney and the story of the decline and fall of the former as interpreted by the latter.

Sidney entitled Section 12 of Chapter Two of Discourses Concerning Government “The Glory, Virtue, and Power of the Romans began and ended with their Liberty.”

While the entire volume is recommended to all readers of The New American and all Americans with a sincere desire to understand better the minds of the Founding Fathers, this particular portion of Discourses Concerning Government speaks to the subject of Tom Holland’s article — is the current era reminiscent of a decadent and declining era in the history of Rome — and to the more general theme of the lessons to be learned by Americans from the history of Rome of the descent of her people and her princeps.