Monday, July 10, 2006

The Long Journey Of Jorge Hernandez

Yesterday afternoon I saw the excellent film The Road to Guantánamo, directed by Michael Winterbottom. It tells the story of four friends from Britain who went to Pakistan for the wedding of one member of the group, and who made the mistake of crossing over into Afghanistan just before the US invasion that overthrew the Taliban. Caught up in the fighting and trying to leave the country, one of them disappeared and has not been heard of since; the other three were taken to the camp in Guantánamo where they were imprisoned for over two years before finally being released.

The film tells the story of one long journey with an Afghan connection, and events this weekend in the country have provided another. Jorge Arnaldo Hernández Seminario lost his life on Saturday in the explosion of a remote controlled mine near to the town of Farah. Serving with the Spanish contingent (numbering around 700) in the country, Jorge was actually of Peruvian origin and formed part of the increasingly large foreign contingent in the Spanish armed forces. Since they abolished compulsory military service a few years ago, the Spanish have not found it easy to recruit volunteers – and it is now estimated that there about 3000 foreigners serving in the forces.

The Spanish presence in Afghanistan has not usually been a very high profile issue here; it was agreed by the government as part of the attempts to get Washington to answer the phone again after Spanish troops were pulled out of Iraq. Stationed in what has been a relatively quiet region of the country, the Spanish contingent have not been involved before now in much of the fighting that has seen a sharp increase in the last few months. The chaos that was left behind in Afghanistan as the US turned its interest towards Iraq has become clearer, as several British soldiers have been killed in recent attacks. It seems that the fighting is spreading and if the trend continues there could easily be more Spanish casualties. This creates a dilemma for the Spanish government who need to be able to show that what they are doing in Afghanistan is completely different from the Spanish role in Iraq; what has been presented as a routine peacekeeping role is in danger of turning into something very different. Central Americans dying for the US government in Iraq, Peruvians losing their lives in Afghanistan on behalf of Spain, and Britons being flown by the US military to Cuba to be held as “dangerous” terrorists. Bush may not be doing too well on finding Bin Laden, but he has been very successful in globalising his “War on Terror”.

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