Archive for October, 2017


Life is all about imponderables. What was unthinkable a few years ago, can become the go to mantra of the present. This is all the more true of politics. Take Sabah, for example. Fourteen years ago, if anyone with some knowledge of Sabah’s ethos, its conundrum of frog-jumping politics and abysmal law and order situation in the east coast of Sabah where kidnapping-for-ransom works like a market, had suggested that the Sabah model of governance would one day be hailed for replication, he or she would have been considered loony. Ditto for somebody daring to compare the Sarawak model of development with that of Sabah, and deeming the latter a better standard.

But Sabah Chief Minister Tan Sri Musa Aman changed that. Over fourteen years since 2003, he successfully steered Sabah Barisan National government through the stormy waters of coalition politics in a State where Christian Bumiputras have a 27 per cent population, and managed to return to power with landslide victories on 21st March 2004 (GE11), 8th March 2008 (GE12) and 5th May 2013 (GE13).

He managed this laudatory feat for Umno Sabah by holding together a coalition of Sabah based political parties PBS (Party Bersatu Sabah), Upko (United Pasokmomogun Kadazandusun Murut Organisation), PBRS (Parti Bersatu Rakyat Sabah), LDP (Liberal Democratic Party), together with Malayan based MCA (Malaysian Chinese Association), MIC (Malaysian Indian Congress) and Party Gerakan (also known as a rainbow coalition), complete with Muslims, Christians, Buddhists, Hindus, Taoist, Animists and even Sikhs. And let me remind you that it was the women of Sabah, who voted for his return with a hitherto unseen gusto.

The improved law and order situation in Sabah after the formation of Esscom (Eastern Sabah Security Command) and Esszone (Eastern Sabah Security Zone), coupled with the deportation of 558,680 of illegals since 1990, and while still 6,226 illegals currently held in detention centres awaiting deportation, was responsible for enthusing Sabah voters. Esscom also had been able to thwart many kidnap attempts by cross-border criminals as a result of predictive intelligence and also the curfew imposed in seven districts in Esszone, all these have increased the support for the Sabah BN. Where law and order improves and the State functions in a better way, the best impact is felt by women and the minorities.

Both women and Muslim Bumiputras played a major role in the return of the Sabah BN over and over again. Across the board, there was patronage of Muslim voters for the coalition candidate, whether from Umno Sabah or the Sabah BN.

Increased aspirations and expectations, however, pose even more dilemmas to any dispensation, and the Umno-BN government in Sabah is no exception. Musa displayed the least exuberance at his election victories because he knew it came with massive responsibility. Spelling out the challenges before him, till now the development of Sabah has been central, in that hospitals, schools, power plants, dams, roads and bridges were built, electricity and clean drinking water and services improved. This benefited everybody. But now the Government has to bring in governance, which will be a challenge but Musa has done a fantastic job in this area over the last fourteen years.

The first hurdle was the long-pending land issue of land ownership and native customary right. Musa came up with the excellent idea of Communal grants to protect native rights to Native Customary Rights (NCR) land ownership. With the Communal Titles, land cannot be sold. There are plenty of cases where lands were quickly sold off, some even before approvals were granted, and for a mind-boggling small sum to outsiders. Communal Titles are not only a solution for the landless to own land, but a way of protecting rural folks from dubious people who entice them to part with their land for a measly amount.The only condition in Communal Tittle lands is that the land cannot be sold but passed down the family to develop on a long-term basis for sustained income that can lift the Natives out of poverty. So far 72 communal titles had been established involving 119,083 acres in 12 districts and have benefited 213 villages or 10,462 Sabah natives.

Next, Musa took on the role of just and fair enforcer by punishing civil servants guilty of corruption. Massive sums of money are being spent from Plan outlays … billions of Ringgit is being spent on various development schemes, there will be far greater opportunity to make money through corruption, and this will have to be checked and Musa is extremely hard on this and had even instructed The Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) to go all out on all those who are on the take, corrupt bureaucrats will be convicted, and their ill-gotten wealth and property confiscated.

Sabah’s Watergate Scandal is such an example. The Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission seized RM114 million worth of assets, RM53.7million in cold cash stashed in houses and offices from two senior Sabah Water Department officials on Oct 4 last year. The duo, a Director of the Water Department and his former deputy are being slapped with 34 money laundering charges.The sum seized was said to have been siphoned off from part of the RM7.5 billion allocated for rural projects in Sabah, channeled through the Federal Rural and Regional Development Ministry between 2009 and 2015, when Shafie Apdal was Minister.

Then again last week MACC Deputy Chief Commissioner, Dato Azam Baki claimed some RM1.5 billion of the allocated RM7.5 billion from the Federal Rural and Regional Development Ministry for basic infrastructure of road, water and energy for the interiors of Sabah and Sarawak for 2009 to 2015 was squandered. Some RM170 million in bank accounts and assets of the companies involved in the projects has been frozen by MACC.

A series of MACC seizures are the reason why administrative reforms should be put in place, especially with regard to Federal development funds. Musa Aman has been saying this all along year after year since he took office in 2003.

The rural infrastructure allocation system for Sabah needs to be streamlined by the federal government through the channeling of federal funds directly to the state government. This will enhance the effectiveness of project implementation, particularly rural development projects. The total allocation provided by the federal government to the state for rural development projects is more than RM6 billion for the period from 2010 to 2013, which is approximately RM2 billion per year, but where are the projects?

There is no justification for Federal to approve and implement projects in the State and not channel the funds to the State Government. The Federal Government should not be seen as usurping the authority of Sabah and creating a parallel government in the process, like what they did during PBS rule where contracts and payments were made direct by Federal Treasury to contractors in Sabah.

The funds for all Federal funded projects should be channelled to the Sabah State Government for implementation and monitoring. Sabah State government knows better the ground situation and has in-depth knowledge of local conditions and requirements. Definitely the State government can chart Sabah’s own development course to meet local needs and requirements.

Sabah’s model of development is a shining example of impeccable governance and indeed its anti-corruption measures should be replicated elsewhere in the country.

That naturally brings us to the possibility of Musa Aman emerging again as Sabah’s chief ministerial candidate in the next polls which will take place within the next six months. Clearly, his credentials, tough stance against corruption and clean public image have caught the nation’s fancy.


What a difference a year – an eternity in geopolitics – makes. No one could see this coming; the ideological matrix of all strands of Salafi-jihadi terror – which Russia fights no holds barred, from ISIS/Daesh to the Caucasus Emirate – beating a path to the Kremlin and about to embrace Russia as a strategic ally.

The House of Saud was horrified by Russia’s successful campaign to prevent regime change in Syria. Moscow was solidifying its alliance with Tehran. Hawks in the Obama administration were imposing on Saudi Arabia a strategy of keeping oil prices down to hurt the Russian economy.

Now, losing all its battles from Syria to Yemen, losing regional influence to both Iran and Turkey, indebted, vulnerable and paranoid, the House of Saud has also to confront the ghost of a possible coup in Riyadh against Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, a.k.a. MBS, as Asia Times reported. Under so much pressure, who’re you gonna call?

The ultimate ghost-buster; Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Interesting to see how Malaysia is getting closer to the US while the rest of the world enters Putin’s tent.

October 12, 2017

The House of Saud Bows to the House of Putin

Photo by thierry ehrmann | CC by 2.0

What a difference a year – an eternity in geopolitics – makes. No one could see this coming; the ideological matrix of all strands of Salafi-jihadi terror – which Russia fights no holds barred, from ISIS/Daesh to the Caucasus Emirate – beating a path to the Kremlin and about to embrace Russia as a strategic ally.

The House of Saud was horrified by Russia’s successful campaign to prevent regime change in Syria. Moscow was solidifying its alliance with Tehran. Hawks in the Obama administration were imposing on Saudi Arabia a strategy of keeping oil prices down to hurt the Russian economy.

Now, losing all its battles from Syria to Yemen, losing regional influence to both Iran and Turkey, indebted, vulnerable and paranoid, the House of Saud has also to confront the ghost of a possible coup in Riyadh against Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, a.k.a. MBS, as Asia Times reported. Under so much pressure, who’re you gonna call?

The ultimate ghostbuster; Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Essentially, the House of Saud is obsessed by three main vectors; low oil prices; Iran and Shi’ism; and what to make of US foreign policy under Trump. Let’s take them one by one.

I want my S-400s

As much as a Moscow-Washington reset remains doomed, even with the implosion of Russia-Gate, House of Saud advisers must have known that the Kremlin won’t ditch its strategic relationship with Iran – one of the key nodes of Eurasia integration.

Moscow will keep aligned with Iran across “Syraq”; that’s part of the “4+1” (Russia-Syria-Iran-Iraq, plus Hezbollah) alliance in the Levant/Mesopotamia, an incontrovertible (and winning) fact on the ground. And that does not preclude Russia’s increasingly cozy relationships across the Arab world – as with Egypt, Jordan, the UAE and Libya.

What concerns Moscow, deeply, is Saudi (formal or informal) financing of Salafi-jihadi outfits inside Russia. So a high-level line of communication between Moscow and Riyadh works towards dissipating any misunderstandings regarding, for instance, jihadism in Tatarstan and Chechnya.

Moscow does not buy the much-spun (in the West) Iranian “aggressive behavior” in the Middle East. As a key negotiator of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), Russia very well knows that Iran’s ballistic missile program is actually the key target of Trump’s imminent decertification of the Iran deal.

These missiles actually represent dissuasion against any possible US attack, “leading from behind” or not. The Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corp (IRGC) in Tehran has made it quite clear the ballistic missile program does not fall into the JCPOA, and will remain active.

Enter the memorandum of understanding (MOU) between the Saudis and Rosoboronexport (Russia’s state body for exporting military hardware) signed in Moscow for the purchase of the S-400 missile system; the Kornet-EM system; the TOS-1A; the AGS-30; and last but not least the new Kalashnikov AK-103.

The S-400 success story is unequivocal. Iran bought it. Turkey bought it. Now Saudi Arabia buys it – even after splurging a fortune in US weapons during Trump’s by now infamous “sword dance” visit to Riyadh.

So no wonder, after the S-400 news, the US State Department like clockwork approved the possible – that’s the operative word – $15 billion sale of 44 THAAD launchers and 360 missiles to Saudi Arabia, a very good business for Lockheed Martin and Raytheon.

The Pentagon’s defense security cooperation agency said, “this sale furthers US national security and foreign policy interests, and supports the long-term security of Saudi Arabia and the Gulf region in the face of Iranian and other regional threats.” Cynics already envisage a battle of Iranian S-400s and Saudi THAADs “moderated” by Saudi S-400s.

We are the new OPEC

King Salman may have boarded the Saudi Arabian Airlines flight, but the real architect of the pivot to Russia is MBS. Oil in Saudi Arabia accounts for 87% of budget revenues, 42% of GDP, and 90% of exports. MBS is betting all his cards on the Vision 2030 program to “modernize” the Saudi economy, and he knows very well it will be impossible to pull off if oil prices are low.

At the Russia Energy Week forum in Moscow, Saudi Arabia’s Energy Minister Khalid Al-Falih said the Aramco IPO – a key driver of funds to Vision 2030 – will happen in the second half of 2018, contradicting Saudi officials who earlier stated the IPO was once again postponed to 2019. And no one can tell whether it will take place in the NYSE or not.

Meanwhile, the priority remains the OPEC / non-OPEC deal (with Russia at the forefront) to “stabilize” oil prices, clinched in November 2016 to cut production. President Putin tentatively agreed the deal could be extended beyond March 2018, something to be discussed in detail at the next OPEC meeting in Vienna in late November.

The deal may certainly be seen as a purely strategic/economic measure to stabilize the oil market – with no geopolitical overtones. And yet OPEC is geared to become a brand new animal – with Russia and Saudi Arabia de facto deciding where the global oil markets go, and then telling the other OPEC players. It’s open to question what Iran, Algeria, Nigeria, Venezuela, among others, will have to say about this. The barely disguised aim is to bring oil prices up to a band of $60-75 a barrel by the middle of next year. Certainly a good deal for the Aramco IPO.

There were a rash of other deals clinched in Moscow – such as Aramco and the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF) $1 billion fund for oil-services projects in Russia, plus another $1 billion for a technology fund.

This synergy implies Saudi Arabia investing in top Russian energy assets and Russia, for instance, supplying gas to the Saudi petrochemical industry and reducing drilling/production costs. Certainly a good deal for Vision 2030.

The new sheriff in town

To say that the Saudi pivot to Russia is rattling nerves across the Beltway is an understatement. The CIA is not exactly fond of MBS. 9/11-related puzzles are bound to resurface.

What’s also clear is that the House of Saud has realized it cannot be left to watching camels as the great Eurasia integration caravan picks up speed. Russia has pipelines crisscrossing most of Eurasia. China is building rail lines connecting all of Eurasia. And we haven’t even touched specific Saudi-Chinese projects part of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

Those were the days of King Abdulaziz and FDR aboard the USS Quincy in the Suez Canal forging a strategic partnership; the days of Washington leading Saudi Arabia to increase oil production, drive down prices and weaken the USSR; the days of the Afghan jihad. Now there’s no US dependence on House of Saud oil anymore. And jihadist blowback is the name of the security game.

It may be too early to identify the Saudi pivot to Russia as the shift of the century. It is though a certified game-changer. Moscow is about to become the new sheriff in town, in virtually any town across Southwest Asia. And it’s getting there on its own terms, without resorting to a Colt dialectic. MBS wants energy/defense cooperation? He gets it. MBS wants less Russian cooperation with Iran? He doesn’t get it. OPEC aims at higher oil prices? Done. And what about the S-400s? Free – sort of – for all.

This piece first appeared in Asia Times.

More articles by:

Pepe Escobar is the author of Globalistan: How the Globalized World is Dissolving into Liquid War (Nimble Books, 2007), Red Zone Blues: a snapshot of Baghdad during the surge and Obama does Globalistan (Nimble Books, 2009).  His latest book is Empire of ChaosHe may be reached at pepeasia@yahoo.com.

Forever Che Guevara!

Posted: October 9, 2017 in Che Guevara, politics
Tags: ,

Monday marks a half-century since the execution of Guevara, the peripatetic Argentine doctor, named Ernesto at birth, who led guerrilla fighters from Cuba to Congo. He stymied the United States during the Bay of Pigs invasion, lectured at a United Nations lectern and preached a new world order dominated by those once marginalized by superpowers.

His towering life was overshadowed only by the myth that emerged with his death. The image of his scruffy beard and starred beret became the calling card of romantic revolutionaries around the world and across generations, seen everywhere from the jungle camps of militants to college dorm rooms.

I salute this hero of my college days!

This is from THE NEW YORK TIMES

Execution Still Haunts Village, 50 Years After Che Guevara’s Death

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A statue of Che Guevara in La Higueira, the Bolivian town where he was killed in 1967. Credit Nadia Shira Cohen for The New York Times

LA HIGUERA, Bolivia — Irma Rosales, tired after decades of tending her tiny store, sat back one morning with a box full of photos and remembered the stranger who was shot in the local schoolhouse 50 years ago.

His hair was long and greasy, she said; his clothes so dirty that they might have belonged to a mechanic. And he said nothing, she recalled, when she brought him a bowl of soup not long before the bullets rang out. Che Guevara was dead.

Monday marks a half-century since the execution of Guevara, the peripatetic Argentine doctor, named Ernesto at birth, who led guerrilla fighters from Cuba to Congo. He stymied the United States during the Bay of Pigs invasion, lectured at a United Nations lectern and preached a new world order dominated by those once marginalized by superpowers.

His towering life was overshadowed only by the myth that emerged with his death. The image of his scruffy beard and starred beret became the calling card of romantic revolutionaries around the world and across generations, seen everywhere from the jungle camps of militants to college dorm rooms.

Continue reading the main story

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Susanna Osinaga Roble, 85, was a nurse at the time of Che Guevara’s death and was ordered by her supervisor to wash his body. Credit Nadia Shira Cohen for The New York Times

Yet the villagers of La Higuera, Bolivia, who lived through that time, tell a story that is far less mythic, describing a short, bloody episode where a forgotten corner of this mountainous countryside briefly became a battleground of the Cold War.

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It was not long after Guevara and the other strangers with him first appeared in the area, promising equality, that the guerrillas were dragged away in pools of their own blood, recalled Ms. Rosales.

“It was torture for us,” she said. “For us, this was a time of suffering.”

As Latin America remembers Guevara’s death, the region also faces a larger reckoning with the same leftist movements that drew on him for inspiration.

The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, the region’s largest remaining guerrilla group, came out of the jungle and gave up its arms this year in a war where no one won but Colombia lost more than 220,000 people.

The Socialist-inspired movement of the late President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela led to gains in education and health care, but the country has sunk into hunger, unrest and dictatorship.

Even Cuba, which for years proudly lived under the revolutionary banner hung by Guevara, now faces an uncertain fate as a détente reached with the United States unravels under the Trump administration.

Bolivia is one of Latin America’s last democracies where leftists remain in control, and it is difficult for political movements to thrive in such a vacuum, one of the country’s leaders said. “You cannot prosper or sustain yourself over time if you do not have the victories and struggles in other places,” said Álvaro García Linera, the vice president of Bolivia.

Jon Lee Anderson, who wrote a biography of Guevara and was key to discovering his remains — they were hidden by soldiers until the 1990s — says both Guevara and the left hit such low points before.

“But Che remains kind of pure,” he said. “An ever-present beacon, the icon. Where will it go in the future? I have this notion that Che comes and goes.”

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The laundry room at the hospital where Che Guevara’s body was displayed to the world. It has been turned into a memorial. Credit Nadia Shira Cohen for The New York Times

A revolutionary vanishes

In the years before his death, Guevara’s whereabouts was a global mystery.

After having overseen the firing squads that followed the Communist victory he helped secure in Cuba, and after a stint running the country’s central bank, Mr. Guevara suddenly vanished in 1965, sent by Fidel Castro to organize revolutions abroad. He was dispatched on a failed mission to Congo, then bounced between safe houses in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, and Prague.

“Back then, people said he had been killed by Fidel, others that he had died in Santo Domingo, that he was in Vietnam,” said Juan Carlos Salazar, who, in 1967, was a 21-year-old Bolivian reporter about to begin chasing his first major story. “They placed him here, they placed him over there — but no one knew where he was.”

Loyola Guzmán, a Communist youth leader in La Paz, Bolivia’s capital, would be one of the first to learn. She received a message one day calling her to Camiri, a small town near the border of Paraguay. She said she had no idea what the meeting was for.

Ms. Guzmán is 75 now, but a photo in January 1967 shows her in the flush of youth, in fatigues and a field cap, sitting on a log at a sweltering jungle camp — and next to her is Guevara.

“He said he wanted to create ‘two or three Vietnams,’” said Ms. Guzmán, with Bolivia a base for a revolution not only there but in neighboring Argentina and Peru, as well. Ms. Guzmán agreed with the idea and was sent back to the capital to drum up support for the revolutionaries and manage their money.

In March 1967, the battle began.

Mr. Salazar, the journalist, learned later that month that fighting had broken out between the Bolivian army and an armed group, leaving seven soldiers dead. The reporter was dispatched to the area to investigate, but it remained unclear who the militants were — although it was known they were regularly delivering fatal blows to government forces.

Soon afterward, word began to leak out that the ringleader might be Guevara.

The army wanted to find and defeat him. Among journalists, “everyone wanted to interview him,” recalled Mr. Salazar.

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Fog rolling through the mountains on the road to La Higuera. Credit Nadia Shira Cohen for The New York Times

Villagers are wary

While Guevara was known around the world, his fame did little to endear him to Bolivia’s peasants.

And the country had already undergone a revolution the decade before, instituting universal suffrage, land reform and expanded education. During Guevara’s time fighting in Bolivia, not a single peasant was documented to have joined him.

“He didn’t think it through,” said Carlos Mesa, a former president of Bolivia and a historian who was 13 at the time that Mr. Guevara arrived. “He failed because he had to fail.”

Ms. Rosales, the storekeeper who gave Mr. Guevara the bowl of soup after his capture, recalled being stunned one day in La Higuera, shortly before Guevara was killed, when one of his guerrillas, Roberto Peredo, known as “Coco,” walked into the building where she was working and asked to use the phone.

None of the area’s villagers were hoping for such a visit, as the guerrillas did not have a good reputation. All the men of the town had already fled into the hills, fearing the guerrillas would try to draft them as fighters.

“They told us the guerrillas hit the men and raped their wives, took things, and for that reason, no one waited for them to come,” said Ms. Rosales.

The town’s mayor, Ms. Rosales recalled, informed the authorities that the guerrillas had come to town.

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Irma Rosales, a storekeeper, says she gave Mr. Guevara a bowl of soup after his capture. Credit Nadia Shira Cohen for The New York Times

Closing in after costly mistakes

With tips like the one from the mayor, the army started closing in on Guevara and his band of guerrillas.

Among those on the hunt was Gary Prado, then a young officer who had been pursuing Guevara all summer through the mountains.

From his study in the city of Santa Cruz, the retired general, now 78, admitted that the army had hardly been prepared for the start of a guerrilla war on its turf. But it was soon being aided by American training and the arrival of agents from the Central Intelligence Agency, which was eager to see Guevara dead.

Guevara had earned acclaim for his military tactics in Castro’s victory in Cuba, and he wrote a manual, “Guerrilla Warfare,” that is still used as a guide by insurgents around the world. But he was making mistakes in Bolivia, said Mr. Prado: setting up bases that couldn’t be defended, splitting up his forces and leaving behind photos that the soldiers were putting together as clues.

“He was a master of guerrilla war,” said Mr. Prado. “He got here and did everything to the contrary.”

In his last diary entry on Oct. 7, Guevara writes that he ran into an old goatherd, taking her hostage while they asked her about soldiers nearby. “They gave her 50 pesos with instructions not to say a word, but we have little hope she would keep to her promise,” he wrote.

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The schoolhouse where Mr. Guevara was killed is now a museum. Credit Nadia Shira Cohen for The New York Times

‘I am Che Guevara’

On Oct. 8, a firefight began between Bolivian soldiers and a group of fighters.

But this one would end differently than the others, recalled Mr. Prado. As one of the guerrillas surrendered, he called out, “I am Che Guevara, and I’m worth more to you alive than dead.”

Julia Cortés, now 69, remembers as a young woman hearing a firefight in the distance that day as she approached La Higuera, where she taught in the local school.

It was to this school that the army brought the captured Guevara, and the guerrilla fighter could barely speak when Ms. Cortés entered the schoolhouse the next day, Oct. 9. He was muttering a few words about the revolution, she said, the one he was losing.

“They say he was ugly then, but I think he was incredibly beautiful,” she recalled.

Ms. Cortés said she had just returned home when the shots rang out, killing him.

Later that day, Mr. Salazar, the reporter, was back in La Paz covering the trial of another guerrilla, when word reached him of the execution in La Higuera. He rushed back to the region to report on the death, regretting he had missed what he says now “would have been the interview of the century.”

Mr. García Linera, Bolivia’s vice president, was a child that day and remembers seeing Guevara’s image on the front page of Presencia, a Bolivian newspaper, on his grandfather’s bed. “I still can see that photo, his eyes looking up at the sky, all in black-and-white,” he said. “He looked at first just like a regular person, like a homeless man even.”

Ms. Guzmán, Guevara’s fellow guerrilla, had already been taken into custody by the time he was captured. She did not learn about his death until she found the copy of Presencia in a jail bathroom.

In La Higuera after the killing, Ms. Rosales said she remembers seeing Ms. Cortés approaching the schoolhouse to clean up the blood in the classroom.

“There haven’t been classes there since,” Ms. Rosales said of the site, which is now a small museum. “The children didn’t want to go there.”

Continue reading the main story

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The courtyard at the village’s new school is covered in Che Guevara murals. Credit Nadia Shira Cohen for The New York Times