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Russia’s New Nukes Check-Mate a War-Happy US, Make the World Safer

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Orlov is one of our favorite essayists on Russia and all sorts of other things. He moved to the US as a child, and lives in the Boston area.

He is one of the better-known thinkers The New Yorker has dubbed ‘The Dystopians’ in an excellent 2009 profile, along with James Howard Kunstler, another regular contributor to RI (archive). These theorists believe that modern society is headed for a jarring and painful crack-up.

He is best known for his 2011 book comparing Soviet and American collapse (he thinks America’s will be worse). He is a prolific author on a wide array of subjects, and you can see his work by searching him on Amazon.

He has a large following on the web, and on Patreon, and we urge you to support him there, as Russia Insider does.

His current project is organizing the production of affordable house boats for living on. He lives on a boat himself.

If you haven’t discovered his work yet, please take a look at his archive of articles on RI. They are a real treasure, full of invaluable insight into both the US and Russia and how they are related.


A lot of people seem to have lost the thread when it comes to nuclear weapons. They think that nuclear weapons are like other weapons, and are designed to be used in war. But this is pure mental inertia. According to all the evidence available, nuclear weapons are anti-weapons, designed to prevent weapons, nuclear or otherwise, from being used. In essence, if used correctly, nuclear weapons are war suppression devices. Of course, if used incorrectly, they pose a grave risk to all life on Earth. There are other risks to all life on Earth as well, such as runaway global warming from unconstrained burning of hydrocarbons; perhaps we need to invent a weapon or two to prevent that as well.

Some people feel that the mere existence of nuclear weapons guarantees that they will be used as various nuclear-armed countries find themselves financially, economically and politically in extremis. As “proof” of this, they trot out the dramaturgical principle of Chekhov’s Gun. Anton Chekhov wrote: “Если вы говорите в первой главе, что на стене висит ружье, во второй или третьей главе оно должно непременно выстрелить. А если не будет стрелять, не должно и висеть.»” [“If you say in Act I that there is a gun hanging on the wall, then it is a must that in Act II or III it be fired. And if it won’t be fired, it shouldn’t have been hung there in the first place.”]

And if you point out that we are talking about military strategy and geopolitics, not theater, they then quote Shakespeare’s “All the world’s a stage, And all the men and women merely players; They have their exits and their entrances…” and believe that it is QED. Now, I happen to agree wholeheartedly with Chekhov, when it comes to dramaturgy, and I agree with the Bard as well, provided we define “the world” as “the world of theater,” from which the worlds of geopolitics and nuclear physics are both dramatically different. 

Let me explain it in terms that a drama major would understand. If there is a nuclear bomb hanging on the wall in Act I, then, chances are, it will still be hanging on that wall during the final curtain call. In the meantime, no matter how many other weapons are present on stage during the play, you can be sure that none of them would be used. Or maybe they will be, but then the entire audience would be dead, in which case you should definitely ask for your money back because this was billed as a family-friendly show.

Back in the real world, it is hard to argue that nukes haven’t been useful as deterrents against both conventional and nuclear war. When the Americans dropped nuclear bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, they only did this because they could do so with complete impunity. Had Japan, or an ally of Japan, possessed nuclear weapons at the time, these attacks would not have taken place. There is a considerable body of opinion that the Americans didn’t nuke Japan in order to secure a victory (the Japanese would have surrendered regardless) but to send a message to Joseph Stalin. Stalin got the message, and Soviet scientists and engineers got cracking.

There was an uncomfortable period, before the USSR successfully tested their first atomic bomb, when the Americans were seriously planning to destroy all major Soviet cities using a nuclear strike, but they set these plans aside because they calculated that they didn’t have enough nukes at the time to keep the Red Army from conquering all of Western Europe in retaliation. But in August 29, 1949, when the USSR tested its first atomic bomb, these plans were set aside—not quite permanently, it would later turn out—because even a singular nuclear detonation as a result of a Soviet response to an American first strike, wiping out, say, New York or Washington, would have been too high a price to pay for destroying Russia.

Since then—continuously except for a period between 2002 and two days ago—the ability of nuclear weapons to deter military aggression has remained unquestioned. There were some challenges along the way, but they were dealt with. The Americans saw it fit to threaten the USSR by placing nuclear missiles in Turkey; in response, the USSR placed nuclear missiles in Cuba. The Americans didn’t think that was fair, and the result was the Cuban Missile Crisis. Eventually the Americans were prevailed upon to stand down in Turkey, and the Soviets stood down in Cuba. Another threat to the deterrent power of nuclear weapons was the development of anti-ballistic weapons that could shoot down nuclear-tipped missiles (just the ballistic ones; more on that later). But this was widely recognized to be a bad thing, and a major breakthrough came in 1972, when the USA and the USSR signed the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty.

Over this entire period, the principle that kept the peace was Mutual Assured Destruction: neither side would provoke the other to the point of launching a nuclear strike, because such a move was guaranteed to be suicidal. The two sides were reduced to fighting a series of proxy wars in various countries around the world, which were so much the worse for it, but there was no danger of these proxy conflicts erupting into a full-scale nuclear conflagration.

In the meantime, everybody tried to oppose nuclear proliferation, preventing more countries from obtaining access to nuclear weapons technology—with limited success. The cases where these efforts failed testify to the effective deterrent value of nuclear weapons. Saddam Hussein of Iraq didn’t have any “weapons of mass destruction” and ended up hung. Muammar Qaddafi of Libya voluntarily gave up his nuclear program, and ended up tortured to death.

But Pakistan managed to acquire nuclear weapons, and as a result its relations with its traditional nemesis India have become much more polite and cooperative, to the point that in June of 2017 both became full members of Shanghai Cooperation Organization, along with China, Russia and other Eurasian nations. And then North Korea has made some breakthroughs with regard to nuclear bombs and ballistic missiles, and as a result of that the US has been reduced to posturing and futile threats against it while South Korea has expressed some newfound respect for its northern neighbor and is now seeking rapprochement.

In 2002 the prospect of continued nuclear deterrence was set a major setback when the US pulled out of the ABM treaty. Russia protested this move, and promised an asymmetrical response. American officials ignored this protest, incorrectly thinking that Russia was finished as a nuclear power. Since then, the Americans spent prodigious amounts of money—well into the trillions of dollars—building a ballistic missile defense system. Their goal was simple: make it possible to launch a first strike on Russia, destroying much of its nuclear arsenal; then use the new American ABM systems to destroy whatever Russia does manage to launch in response. On February 2, 2018 the Americans decided that they were ready, and issued a Nuclear Posture Review in which they explicitly reserved the right to use nuclear weapons to prevent Russia from using its nuclear deterrent.

And then, two days ago, all of that came to a happy end when Vladimir Putin gave a speech in which he unveiled several new weapons systems that completely negate the value of US missile defense shield—among other things. That was the response the Russians promised to deliver when the US pulled out of the ABM treaty in 2002. Now, 16 years later, they are done. Russia has rearmed with new weapons that have rendered the ABM treaty entirely irrelevant.

The ABM treaty was about ballistic missiles—once that are propelled by rockets that boost the missile to close to escape velocity. After that the missile follows a ballistic trajectory—just like an artillery shell or a bullet. That makes its path easy to calculate and the missile easy to intercept. The US missile defense systems rely on the ability to see the missile on radar, calculate its position, direction and velocity, and to launch a missile in response in such a way that the two trajectories intersect. When they cross, the interceptor missile is detonated, knocking out the attacking missile.

None of the new Russian weapons follow ballistic trajectories. The new Sarmat is an ICBM minus the “B”—it maneuvers throughout its flight path and can fly through the atmosphere rather than popping up above it. It has a short boost phase, making it difficult to intercept after launch. It has the range to fly arbitrary paths around the planet—over the south pole, for instance—to reach any point on Earth. And it carries multiple maneuverable hypersonic nuclear-armed reentry vehicles which no existing or planned missile defense system can intercept.

Among other new weapons unveiled two days ago was a nuclear-powered cruise missile which has virtually unlimited range and goes faster than Mach 10, and a nuclear-powered drone submarine which can descend to much larger depths than any existing submarine and moves faster than any existing vessel. There was also a mobile laser cannon in the show, of which very little is known, but they are likely to come in handy when it comes to frying military satellites. All of these are based on physical principles that have never been used before. All of these have passed testing and are going into production; one of them is already being used on active combat duty in the Russian armed forces.

The Russians are now duly proud of their scientists, engineers and soldiers. Their country is safe again; Americans have been stopped in their tracks, their new Nuclear Posture now looking like a severe case of lordosis. This sort of pride is more important than it would seem. Advanced nuclear weapons systems are a bit like secondary sexual characteristics of animals: like the peacock’s tail or the deer’s antlers or the lion’s mane, they are indicative of the health and vigor of a specimen that has plenty of spare energy to expend on showy accessories.

In order to be able to field a hypersonic nuclear-powered cruise missile with unlimited range, a country has to have a healthy scientific community, lots of high-powered engineers, a highly trained professional military and a competent security establishment that can keep the whole thing secret, along with an industrial economy powerful and diverse enough to supply all of the necessary materials, processes and components with zero reliance on imports. Now that the arms race is over, this new confidence and competence can be turned to civilian purposes.

So far, the Western reaction to Putin’s speech has closely followed the illogic of dreams which Sigmund Freud explained using the following joke:

1. I never borrowed a kettle from you
2. I returned it to you unbroken
3. It was already broken when I borrowed it from you.

A more common example is a child’s excuse for not having done her homework: I lost it; my dog ate it; I didn’t know it was assigned.

In this case, Western commentators have offered us the following:

1. There are no such weapons; Putin is bluffing
2. These weapons exist but they don’t really work
3. These weapons work and this is the beginning of a new nuclear arms race

Taking these one at a time:

1. Putin is not known to bluff; he is known for doing exactly what he says he will do. He announced that Russia will deliver an asymmetric response to the US pulling out of the ABM treaty; and now it has.

2. These weapons are a continuation of developments that already existed in the USSR 30 years ago but had been mothballed until 2002. What has changed since then was the development of new materials, which make it possible to build vehicles that fly at above Mach 10, with their skin heating up to 2000ºC, and, of course, dramatic improvements in microelectronics, communications and artificial intelligence. Putin’s statement that the new weapons systems are going into production is an order: they are going into production.

3. Most of Putin’s speech wasn’t about military matters at all. It was about such things as pay increases, roads, hospitals and clinics, kindergartens, nurseries, boosting retirements, providing housing to young families, streamlining the regulation of small businesses, etc. That is the focus of the Russian government for the next six years: dramatically improving the standard of living of the population. The military problem has already been resolved, the arms race has been won, and Russia’s defense budget is being reduced, not increased.

Another line of thought in the West was that Putin unveiled these new weapons, which have been in development for 16 years at least, as part of his reelection campaign (the vote is on March 18). This is absurd. Putin is assured of victory because the vast majority of Russians approve of his leadership. The elections have been about jockeying for a second place position between the Liberal Democrats, led by the old war horse Vladimir Zhirinovsky, and the Communists, who have nominated a non-communist oligarch businessman Pavel Grudinin, who has promptly disqualified himself by failing to disclose foreign bank accounts and other improprieties and now appears to have gone into hiding. Thus, the Communists, who were previously slated for second place, have burned themselves down and Zhirinovsky will probably come in second. If Americans don’t like Putin, then they definitely wouldn’t like Zhirinovsky. Putin is practical and ambivalent about “our Western partners,” as he likes to call them. Zhirinovsky, on the other hand, is rather revenge-minded, and seems to want to inflict pain on them.

At the same time, there is now a committee, composed of very serious-looking men and women, who are charged with monitoring and thwarting American meddling in Russian politics. It seems unlikely that the CIA, the US State Department and the usual culprits will be able to get away with much in Russia. The age of color revolutions is over, and the regime change train has sailed… all the way back to Washington, where Trump stands a chance of getting dethroned Ukrainian-style.

Another way to look at the Western reaction to Russia’s new weapons is using Elizabeth Kübler-Ross’s stages of grief. We already saw denial (Putin is bluffing; weapons don’t work) and the start of anger (new arms race). We should expect a bit more anger before moving on to bargaining (you can have the Ukraine if you stop building Sarmat). Once the response comes back (“You broke the Ukraine; you pay to get it fixed”) we move on to depression (“The Russians just don’t love us any more!”) and, finally, acceptance. Once the stage of acceptance is reached, here is what the Americans can usefully do in response to Russia’s new weapons systems.

First of all, Americans can scrap their ABM systems because they are now useless. Russia’s Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu had this to say about it: «То, что сегодня создаётся в Польше и Румынии, создаётся на Аляске и предполагается к созданию в Южной Корее и Японии — этот “зонтик” противоракетной обороны, получается, “дырявый”. И не знаю, зачем за такие деньги теперь этот “зонтик” им приобретать.» [“What is being built in Poland and Romania, and in Alaska, and is planned in South Korea and Japan—this missile defense ‘umbrella’—turns out to be riddled with holes. I don’t know why they should now buy this ‘umbrella’ for so much money.”]

Secondly, Americans can scrap their aircraft carrier fleet. All it’s useful now for now is threatening defenseless nations, but there are much cheaper ways to threaten defenseless nations. If Americans are still planning to use them to dominate sea lanes and control world trade, then the existence of hypersonic cruise missiles with unlimited range and drone submarines that can lurk at great ocean depths for years make the world’s oceans off-limits for American navy’s battle groups in the event of any major (non-nuclear) escalation because now Russia can destroy them from an arbitrary distance without putting any of their assets or personnel at risk.

Lastly, Americans can pull out of NATO, which has now been shown to be completely useless, dismantle their thousand military bases around the world, and repatriate the troops stationed there. It’s not as if, in light of these new developments, American security guarantees are going to be worth much to anyone, and America’s “allies” will be quick to realize that. As far as Russian security guarantees, there is a lot on offer: unlike the US, which is increasingly seen as a rogue state—and an ineffectual and blundering one at that—Russia has been scrupulous in adhering to its international agreements and international law. In developing and deploying its new weapons systems, Russia has not violated any international agreements, treaties or laws. And Russia has no aggressive plans towards anyone except terrorists. As Putin put it during his speech, «Мы ни на кого не собираемся нападать и что-то отнимать. У нас у самих всё есть.» [“We are not planning to attack anyone or take over anywhere. We have everything we need.”]

I hope that the US doesn’t plan to attack anyone either, because, given its recent history, this won’t work. Threatening the whole planet and forcing it to use the US dollar in international trade (and destroying countries, such as Iraq and Libya, when they refuse); running huge trade deficits with virtually the entire world and forcing reserve banks around the world to buy up US government debt; leveraging that debt to run up colossal budget deficits (now around a trillion dollars a year); and robbing the entire planet by printing money and spending it on various corrupt schemes—that, my friends, has been America’s business plan since around the 1970s. And it is unraveling before our eyes.

I have the audacity to hope that the dismantling of the American Empire will proceed as copacetically as the dismantling of the Soviet Empire did. (This is not to say that it won’t be humiliating or impoverishing, or that it won’t be accompanied by a huge increase in morbidity and mortality.) One of my greatest fears over the past decade was that Russia wouldn’t take the US and NATO seriously enough and just try to wait them out. After all, what is there to really to fear from a nation that has over a 100 trillion dollars in unfunded entitlements, that’s full of opioid addicts, with 100 million working-age people permanently out of work, with decrepit infrastructure and poisoned national politics? And as far as NATO, there is, of course, Germany, which is busy rewriting “Deutschland, Deutschland, über alles” to be gender-neutral. What are they supposed to do next? March on Moscow under a rainbow banner and hope that the Russians die laughing? Oh, and there’s also NATO’s largest Eurasian asset, Turkey, which is currently busy slaughtering America’s Kurdish assets in Northern Syria.

But simply waiting them out would have been a gamble, because in its death throes the American Empire could have lashed out in unpredictable ways. I am glad that Russia chose not to gamble with its national security. Now that the US has been safely checkmated using the new Russian weapons systems, I feel that the world is in a much better place. If you like peace, then it seems like your best option is to also like nukes—the best ones possible, ones against which no deterrent exists, and wielded by peaceful, law-abiding nations that have no evil designs on the rest of the planet.

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Isabel Allende: ‘There is a real war against women’ | USA

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The world’s best-selling Spanish-language author talks feminism and love in later life as she unveils Violeta, a novel about the world between two pandemics.

Isabel Allende published her debut novel at the age of 40, finding global success with The House of the Spirits, about the tangled history of a Chilean family leading up to the years of the country’s dictatorship. This was followed by almost 30 books that have sold around 70 million copies in 42 languages. Now on the verge of turning 80, Isabel Allende lives a semi-reclusive life in San Francisco and will publish the English-language version of Violeta, her latest novel, next week. This new tale begins in the 1920s with the havoc wreaked by the so-called Spanish flu, and ends 100 years later in the midst of our own pandemic.

This perfect ellipsis is used to pay homage to her mother’s generation, though it never neglects her usual themes: domination, power, women’s aspirations to enter forbidden spaces, freedom, loyalty and love. Allende believes that Chile has a new chance with the election of the youthful left-winger Gabriel Boric, and is proud to have become a passionate old woman. She speaks openly of her marriages and relationships, of the death of her daughter Paula, and the fear of love she sees in her grandchildren’s generation.

What follows is an edited version of her interview with EL PAÍS.

 Isabel Allende in the garden of her home.
Isabel Allende in the garden of her home.Lori Barra

Question. Your new novel, Violeta, begins with the wrongly-named Spanish flu and ends in the times of Covid-19. What a good tool literature is for tracing historical ellipses, don’t you think?

Answer. It was almost natural that it came out that way. The idea was born when my mother died, a year before the pandemic. If she had lived another year, she would have been 100 years old. She was born in a pandemic, because the flu arrived in Chile in 1920, and she would have died in another one. When she died, many people told me to write her story. We had an extraordinary relationship. But she was always submissive, first to her father and then to her husband. There is no self-fulfillment for a woman if she cannot support herself. If you depend on someone else to pay your bills, you have to bow down. And that was my mother’s fate, even though she was a very creative woman. As I wrote, not knowing what Violeta would become, I think that deep down she is the woman I would have liked my mother to be.

Q. Your mother was an artist, she painted?

A. She painted and had an eye for business. If her father and husband had listened to her, they would have ended up rich. She knew instinctively where to invest.

Q. What sets your generation apart from your mother’s? In a short time a big gap was created.

A. My generation went out on the streets, and many went to college, although I didn’t. They looked for work and they earned a living. But this is within a specific social class. The humblest and hardest workers have always supported their families; I am talking about that class of girls who were educated to be wives and mothers.

Q. You have always been interested in inventing women with grit and determination.

A. I am surrounded by them! Extraordinary women. Often I find a human model to develop as a character, but I’m overwhelmed by reality because they achieve things I would never have dreamed of.

Q. Reality itself is often an exaggeration… should we suppress that in fiction?

A. Exactly. When I wrote The Infinite Plan, based on my second husband William Gordon, there were critics who argued that no one could have all that happen to them, yet I had to cut some things out to make it believable. Fiction must be believable, and at times life is not.

Q. What are your work’s obsessions? What questions are still present and what answers have you not found?

A. They are always the same: love and death. Violence, the need for justice, loyalty and courage. And a subject that haunts me: power with impunity, both in the family and in society.

Q. You fail to mention feminism. You say that the key to that movement is not what women have between their legs, but between their ears.

If Boric manages to do half of what he intends to, it will already be a step forward

A. Of course, that has marked my whole life! We live in a patriarchy. Morals, laws, everything is mostly done by men. We women have to find loopholes to let our voices be heard. More and more often we are succeeding. But we are not there yet. There is a real war against women.

Q. The problem in the West is that there is a far right wing that maintains that the patriarchy is in danger and that the loopholes to which you allude are already too numerous. What do we do?

A. Didn’t I tell you that we live under a patriarchy? By that logic, they don’t like any gains from the other side. But women have been tearing bits and pieces out of the situation little by little. And they will succeed, but I will not be alive to see it. Even so, I feel the rumbling underground energy of young people. Look at what just happened in Chile.

Q. I was thinking that too.

A. A young man like Gabriel Boric, 35 years old, has won [a presidential election]. Who voted for him? 63% of women and three out of four young people too. I feel that energy, and that is why I am very optimistic about the future. They are not going to stand idly by as these old fogeys run the world.

Q. What do you think these elections crystallized?

A. What has been going on for many years. Inequality, discontent, corruption and impunity produced an outburst in 2019. They did not really know what they were demanding. It was not just the price of a subway ticket, although that served as an excuse: it was privatization, the state of education, the scandalously miserable pensions, the complete corruption of the whole system. They demanded a new constitution. Democratic, and not imposed from above as has happened with all of them since the beginning. The pandemic sent everyone home and it all seemed to be frozen, but the election came along and it had not been forgotten, far from it. Things are happening there.

Q. Of course.

A. If Boric manages to do half of what he intends to, it will already be a step forward. His acceptance speech summarized in 17 minutes the great aspirations I have for Chile: inclusion, equality, women, diversity, democracy, respect for nature. If he succeeds, it will be a huge step forward. If the CIA doesn’t get involved, of course.

Isabel Allende in her home in Sausalito, in the San Francisco Bay Area, in December 2021.
Isabel Allende in her home in Sausalito, in the San Francisco Bay Area, in December 2021.Lori Barra

Q. How has that young woman who you once were, going into exile, been stirred up during the months of campaigning?

A. It’s been a long time. We live in another country, in another world. I notice a little wink from Boric to Allende. But I never think about that girl anymore.

Q. Is she someone you have definitely left behind?

A. Yes, deep down, when I go to Chile, I feel like a foreigner. The dictatorship changed it completely. It’s another country. I feel Chilean if I talk to people, but if I go there, I feel as foreign as in the United States, where I live.

Q. So you define yourself as a foreigner and you’re not at all nostalgic?

A. I am nostalgic for that time when I felt I belonged somewhere. But it is a sentimental, romantic and very unrealistic nostalgia.

Q. A kind of nostalgia, on the other hand, that is good for your work?

A. Yes, because that’s where my roots nourish me. This last book, for example, although I never mention it, I could not have written it if I did not come from Chile. I carry it here, in my heart.

Q. Violeta also carries things in her heart. For example, when one does the formula “wife plus mother equals boredom,” it’s mathematics. Isn’t it the same equation that you confess to having experienced in your first marriage?

A. Yes, it certainly draws on personal experiences. My first husband, Miguel Frías, was like Violeta’s first husband: respectable and a good person. Then came the passion I experienced in Venezuela with an Argentinean. He made me leave that first husband and my children, but it didn’t last, and I quickly became disillusioned. When I feel that affection, mutual respect and admiration is over, that’s it. Ciao!

I think it takes more courage to stay in a relationship that doesn’t work than to leave

Q. Even so, you got married again.

A. Yes, to a fascinating, adventurous man who at first you weren’t sure if he was a criminal or not, and that was Willie Gordon. But that too ended when I noticed that on his side the affection had stopped. I could have gone on, but as soon as I realized it, it was “Ciao!” again. I got divorced at 74 and people said, “What? You are going to be all alone.” Well, I think it takes more courage to stay in a relationship that doesn’t work than to leave.

Q. And then Roger came into your life. Your third partner.

A. Roger gives me what I need: a lot of love. The rest I can get on my own. But I can’t allow myself that unless I get it as a gift. And he gives it to me!

Q. Does this fulfill your aspiration to become what you were looking for, a passionate old woman?

A. I’ve been training all my life for that. Don’t you think that you can just get to old age and be passionate, you have to train for it.

Q. How?

A. By taking risks. By throwing yourself into adventures, participating in life with curiosity about others and the world, not settling in where you feel good. I see young people my grandchildren’s age who have cautious relationships, who don’t want to suffer. What are you going to do with your life if you don’t want to suffer?

Q. They are often overprotected by their parents. Is that good or unrealistic? Shouldn’t they suffer a little more?

A. That’s what I say, let them suffer a little. Gentle neglect works well for children. That’s how I raised Paula and Nicolás. I held down three jobs simultaneously when I was raising them, I didn’t have time to keep an eye on what they were doing. I suppose they took a lot of risks and did stupid things, but they also grew up without me monitoring everything.

Q. The happiest moments of your life, you say, were when you held them in your arms for the first time, and the saddest, when you held Paula, who was dying. Have you been able to turn that grief into something positive?

A. Yes, into action. Writing the book about my daughter, Paula, helped me to put it into words, to understand what had happened. Her year-long agony was a very dark night. Everything was a haze of pain and anguish. When I started organizing it, based on things I had written to my mother and the notes I took, I realized that my daughter’s only way out was death. I had to accept it, understand it, try to get rid of the rage I had built up from that neglect that gave her severe brain damage. Nobody tried to hurt her on purpose; it was a series of circumstances. I received thousands of letters, as there was no internet. And by answering them, all of them, I was developing a communication process with people. Everyone has suffered losses and pain. That was extraordinary. I feel Paula everywhere. I won’t say I’m seeing ghosts, but it’s a very strong feeling. And the proceeds from that book went to a foundation that is dedicated to doing what she would be doing if she were alive, defending the fundamental rights of women and children.

Q. Which is more painful and which is celebratory, writing about one’s parents or one’s children?

A. I don’t know. I make use of them all: parents, grandparents, children, cousins… When I published The Sum of Our Days, my son Nicolás told me: “Please, mom, don’t ever write about me again. I have a private life and I don’t want to expose my family.” And I didn’t. It’s been 15 years since that memoir and no more.

Q. After Paula, in Aphrodite you paid tribute to aphrodisiacs. Did it work for you?

A. I was lucky that book was published four months before Viagra appeared. Otherwise, not a single copy would have been sold.

Q. Thank goodness!

A. After Paula was published, I couldn’t write anything. Everything came out flat, gray, boring, impossible. I remembered that I was a journalist and I looked for a subject that was as far away from grief as possible: love, gluttony, sex. And the bridge between these are aphrodisiacs, so when I researched and tested the recipes with friends…

Q. Tell me which ones really work.

A. None, the only thing that works is imagination.

Q. The same in men as in women?

A. Especially with women, we romanticize everything, we get sentimental, we make up stories because we find that much more stimulating than anything else. Men are very visual. I don’t know if Playboy magazine still exists. They have tried to make those magazines for women and they don’t work. They’re bought by homosexuals. We don’t get turned on by seeing a half-naked man, we get turned on by having something whispered in our ear. The G-spot is in the ear, you don’t need to look for it elsewhere.

Q. Wise advice at almost 80 years old!

A. I’m almost there!

Q. Do you plan your books much?

A. Nooooo! Except if they deal with historical episodes. I’ve learned after 40 years of writing to relax, to not try to force either the story or the characters with what I previously thought it should be. If I let myself go by instinct and enjoyment, discovering what happens, it usually works much better. There is a very intuitive part to writing.

Q. Many consider you to be one of the very few female voices of the Latin American Boom, a very masculine movement.

A. Well, that’s what they said when House of the Spirits appeared, that I was the only woman in that movement. But then they quickly erased me, I don’t know why, and labeled me as post-Boom. And you know what? Nobody likes to be considered “post” anything.

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Former pope Benedict criticised in Munich church abuse report

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German investigators have said it was “overwhelmingly likely” that Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI was aware of a paedophile priest in his former Munich archdiocese and dismissed as “not credible” his claims he did not attend a key meeting where the cleric was discussed.

On Thursday, lawyers commissioned by the Catholic archdiocese of Munich and Freising presented a report identifying 497 cases of clerical sexual abuse and identified 235 perpetrators – with 42 cases now passed on to state prosecutors.

The report is based on examination of archdiocese files and identifies two cases in which prosecutors say the current archbishop of Munich, Cardinal Reinhard Marx, breached church rules and did not report abusers to the Holy See.

The report found that 40 of the perpetrator priests identified were known to their superiors at the time of their abuse yet allowed to continue their pastoral work, with many moved to new parishes unaware of their behaviour. Only a handful of priests were punished and laicised.

In the case of Benedict, who served as Archbishop Joseph Ratzinger from 1977 to 1982 in Bavaria, investigators uncovered four cases of abusing priests during that time but “no indication” the archbishop was interested in abuse victims.

In response to a catalogue of written questions, the retired pope provided an 82-page written response rejecting claims he knew of abusing priests during his time heading the archdiocese.

“We consider the information from Pope Benedict to be not credible,” said Dr Ulrich Wastl, one of the investigators at a press conference.

Presenting the four-volume report, he said it revealed a “shocking picture” of an institution that, for decades, ignored victims of clerical sexual abuse. Those who took note of survivors, he added, were usually seen “as a danger for the institution”.

Co-investigator Marion Westphal said they had uncovered a “terrible phenomenon of cover-up”. After this report, their second for the Munich archdiocese in a decade, she said the time of investigation had passed and the time of “individual guilt” had come.

The investigators declined to say what consequences, if any, the report should have for the 94-year-old former pontiff.

An entire volume of the report is devoted to one priest who was moved from the diocese of Essen to Munich-Freising in January 1980 for treatment for his paedophile tendencies.

More than two dozen men, in both dioceses, are on record as saying they were sexually abused as teenagers by the priest, identified only as Peter H, often after he gave them alcohol and showed them pornography.

When the case first came to light a decade ago, Munich and Rome moved quickly to insist Benedict, then still pope, had known nothing of the abuse during his time as archbishop.

Ahead of Thursday’s report, Archbishop Georg Gänswein, private secretary to the retired pope, insisted it was “incorrect to claim [Ratzinger] had knowledge of the previous history [claims of sexual assault] at the point of the decision to accept the priest H. He had no knowledge of this previous history.”

In his written response to investigators, the retired pope insists he did not attend a meeting on January 15th, 1980, at which the priest was accepted for therapy.

But a 2016 internal report, commissioned by the Munich archdiocese, disagrees, saying Ratzinger, “knowing the facts” about the priest accepted him and “ignored” a 1962 obligation to report the priest to Rome.

On Thursday, investigating lawyers presented details from the minutes of the January 1980 meeting at which the transfer of the priest was discussed, indicating that the archbishop attended.

The investigating lawyers said they “regretted deeply” that Cardinal Marx declined an invitation to attend Thursday’s presentation. He will make a statement in the afternoon and hold a press conference in a week’s time, after he has had time to read the 1,000-page report.

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Planned review of State agencies’ actions dropped in 2018

Voice Of EU

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A proposed inquiry into the sexual abuse and neglect of several children by family members in the Munster area, to examine the actions of State agencies in the case, was previously shelved.

The review, announced in 2018, was halted after a number of months due to concerns raised by those conducting the work and the government’s legal adviser over fears it could prejudice criminal investigations.

On Tuesday, five family members were sentenced and jailed over the abuse and neglect, after earlier being found guilty by a jury of a total of 77 counts against the children following a 10-week trial last summer.

The family members were the parents, aunt and uncles of the children, and cannot be named for legal reasons. They were all found guilty of sexually abusing the three eldest children between 2014 and 2016, while the parents were found guilty of wilfully neglecting five of the children, who ranged in age from one to nine during this period.

Following initial media reports in early 2018, then minister for children Katherine Zappone announced she was to commission an independent review into the serious case of abuse and neglect.


The review was to include an examination of the actions of An Garda Síochána and Tusla, and how they responded to the case.

The children came to the attention of the State’s social services in 2011, and there was extensive engagement between social workers and the family over several years, the trial heard.

Following years of severe neglect, the children were removed from the family home by Tusla in 2016, and placed in foster care. Later that year the eldest child made a disclosure about sexual abuse to his foster parents, which Tusla referred to gardaí, who later opened an investigation.

Criminal case

The proposed independent review of the case was to be led by Dr Geoffrey Shannon, child law expert and former special rapporteur on child protection. A three-person review panel would also include child welfare consultant Suzanne Phelan and retired Garda chief superintendent Pádraig Kennedy.

Internal Department of Children records show officials were in regular contact with Dr Shannon about the proposed review over several months in 2018, before it was halted.

It is understood those involved in the review raised concerns about the work impacting on the criminal case, which were shared by then attorney general Séamus Woulfe, and led to the review being dropped.

A 2019 briefing note from Fergal Lynch, department secretary general, said it “did not prove possible to frame terms of reference that successfully guarded against the dangers of pre-empting the criminal cases that were in process”.

“After a number of months it had to be postponed, because the Attorney General was very concerned about the potential effect on criminal cases pending,” he wrote in the note, released under the Freedom of Information Act.

In a statement on Wednesday, Tulsa said it would review the Munster abuse case “when appropriate to identify any learnings or insights that can be gained from our involvement in the lives of the children and their families”. The agency said its main focus continued to be to “support the children who were the victims in this case”.

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