13 Oct

News and Analyses, A Foreign Perspective


Singer-songwriter takes the award for ‘having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition’

Bob Dylan was named the surprise winner of the Nobel prize for literature in Stockholm today “for having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition”.

Speaking to reporters after the announcement, the permanent secretary of the Swedish Academy, Sara Danius, said she hoped the Academy would not be criticised for its choice.

“The times they are a’changing, perhaps,” she said, comparing the songs of the American songwriter, who had yet to be informed of his win, to the works of Homer and Sappho.

“Of course he [deserves] it – he’s just got it,” she said. “He’s a great poet in the English-speaking tradition. And he is a wonderful sampler, a very original sampler. He embodies the tradition and for 54 years now he has been at it, reinventing himself constantly, creating a new identity.”

Danius said the choice of Dylan may appear surprising, “but if you look far back, … you discover Homer and Sappho. They wrote poetic texts that were meant to be listened to, performed, often together with instruments, and it’s the same way for Bob Dylan. We still read Homer and Sappho, and we enjoy it. Same thing with Bob Dylan – he can be read and should be read. And he is a great poet in the grand English tradition.”

Born Robert Allen Zimmerman in Duluth, Minnesota in 1941, Dylan got his first guitar at the age of 14 and performed in rock and roll bands in high school. He adopted the name Dylan, after the poet Dylan Thomas, and, drawn to the music of Woody Guthrie, began to perform folk music. He moved to New York in 1961, performing in the clubs and cafés of Greenwich Village. His first album, Bob Dylan, was released in 1962, and he followed it up with a host of albums which are today seen as masterpieces, including Blonde On Blonde in 1966, and Blood On The Tracks in 1975. Today, he is seen as one of contemporary popular music’s most influential names.

According to the Nobel prize committee, his albums “revolv[e] around topics like the social conditions of man, religion, politics and love”. Perhaps looking to forestall criticism of the fact that Dylan is largely seen as a musician rather than an author, the committee added that his lyrics have “continuously been published in new editions”, and that “besides his large production of albums, Dylan has published experimental work like Tarantula (1971) and the collection Writings and Drawings (1973)”, as well as “the autobiography Chronicles (2004), which depicts memories from the early years in New York and which provides glimpses of his life at the centre of popular culture”.

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Central America’s rampant violence fuels an invisible refugee crisis

The numbers are staggering, and governments are doing little to protect people from warring gangs and corrupt security forces. Yet entire families who are now seeking asylum are being sent back and told to simply live elsewhere

by in Tapachula, Mexico

Until a few months ago, Carlos Hernández was a government health promoter in central El Salvador. His job was to visit poor families and ensure their children attended school and received health checks, in exchange for modest cash benefits.

One day in March, on his way to visit a family in a neighbourhood controlled by the Mara Salvatrucha (MS13) gang, Hernández witnessed a beating by gang members. Too scared to intervene, he hurried past, completed his visit and started his long walk home.

The four assailants were waiting for him.

“I pleaded with them to let me live. I said I had children, that I’d say nothing,” said Hernández, 31. “They agreed to spare my life but told me never to return.”

The victim was found dead three days later – one of 611 homicides in the tiny Central American nation that month.

Hernández was scared, but couldn’t find another job. So when he returned to visit the same family a month later, he took a different route and left his uniform at home in hope of going unnoticed.

But he was spotted by gang informants, and the same four youngsters confronted Hernández with baseball bats, accusing him of spying for a rival group.

“They took down my address from my identity card, and threatened to kill my whole family if they ever saw me again. We left El Salvador five days later,” said Hernández, now living with his wife and two children in a sparsely furnished room in Tapachula, in southern Mexico, where they are seeking asylum.

The Hernández family are part of an alarming exodus of entire families forced to flee widespread violence in Central America’s northern triangle, the world’s most dangerous region outside an official war zone.

As huge numbers of Syrian and African refugees risk their lives crossing the Mediterranean Sea to escape war-torn states, advocates say a parallel refugee crisis has unfolded on America’s doorstep amid an undeclared but increasingly brutal war between criminal groups and security forces.

An estimated 80,000 people from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, mostly families and unaccompanied children, are expected to apply for asylum overseas this year – a 658% increase since 2011, according to the UN refugee agency (UNHCR). Tens of thousands more will be forcibly displaced, but not seek international help.

During the 1980s, the three countries known as the northern triangle were blighted by vicious civil wars between US-backed military dictatorships and leftist guerrilla groups. But even after ceasefires were agreed, peace never came to the region as unresolved inequalities and amnesties which let war criminals escape justice fuelled a new wave of violence and corruption.

This toxic mix of warring gangs and corrupt security forces is driving one of the world’s least visible refugee crises, Amnesty International will say in a new report on Friday…………………..

Children eat at a shelter for migrants in Chauites, Oaxaca. Shelters for migrants have tripled in population since the Southern Border Plan started in 2014.

Children eat at a shelter for migrants in Chauites, Oaxaca. Shelters for migrants have tripled in population since the Southern Border Plan started in 2014. Photograph: Encarni Pindado for the Guardian

********The Republican presidential candidate, Donald Trump, has pledged to build a wall on the US-Mexican border to keep migrants out. But the proliferation of immigration checkpoints and bandits who prey on migrants has already created a formidable barrier, forcing people to risk clandestine new routes through even more isolated regions – or to stay in Mexico.

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