“History is full of peaceful people meeting violent ends. They were killed in the end, but I don’t think any of their messages died with them. If anything, they gained strength, and reached a wider audience as logic eventually tends to win over time.”
Introduction by Adria Leeper-Sullivan
Interview by Theo Constantinou
Photograph provided by KC Ortiz
KC Ortiz’s photography captures the under-appreciated world citizens who have to fight every second of the day. From the major conflicts of Iraq, to other well-known epidemics to the mass media, KC uses his expertise to track down disease and conflict hidden from the general public. He feels it is his job to help people, and be a voice for those without representation from small towns in Vietnam to Burma. Being known and recognized is the first step to saving lives, as well as forming an educated population. Passionate about staying on top of current affairs, this photojournalist, like many others, hopes for a future that can function without conflict, but understands the complexities of reality. He uses his medium to expose his version of the truth to try and dissipate the contentious issues that plague our times.
Here is a quote by Leonard Peltier, “The United States government can indict you on something, and now you’ve got to prove your innocence and that’s not the Constitution of the United States.” Peltier was a Native American activist, member of AIM and now, a political prisoner. Additionally, I have pulled a portion for you to read of bills that have been passed over the last decade from the Patriot Act to the NDAA:
The most controversial provisions to receive wide attention are contained in Title X, Subtitle D, entitled “Counter-Terrorism.” In particular, sub-sections 1021 and 1022, which deal with detention of persons the government suspects of involvement in terrorism, have generated controversy as to their legal meaning and their potential implications for abuse of Presidential authority. Although the White House  and Senate sponsors maintain that the Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) already grants presidential authority for indefinite detention, the Act states that Congress “affirms” this authority and makes specific provisions as to the exercise of that authority. The detention provisions of the Act have received critical attention by, among others, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the Bill of Rights Defense Committee, and some media sources which are concerned about the scope of the President’s authority, including contentions that those whom they claim may be held indefinitely could include U.S. citizens arrested on American soil, including arrests by members of the Armed Forces.
Your pictures document the truth, and speak out against U.S. ‘imperialism’ to expose conflicts that are happening all over the world that have involved or currently involve the United States in some way. Do you fear our government will ever take away your rights and imprison you for your freedoms? More so, from Peltier to Mumia to Wizana, do you feel that these men who used violence are the true revolutionaries?
I also read that Saw Wizana said, “We want to use a peaceful way like Martin Luther King, like Gandhi, but the military regime doesn’t accept it. That’s why we have to pick up arms.” He said, “Of course we want peace. Everyone wants peace. But it doesn’t work. That’s why we need weapons. We only use them to defend ourselves…Use weapons for defense and religion to keep us courageous.”
Do you think that revolutions can be peaceful? I mean, history has never proven this to be true: MLK (assassinated), Ghandhi (assassinated). How do you start to change, or gain freedom without some type of violence? Our own country was founded on a revolution that claimed the lives of thousands.
Personally? No, I don’t think they would take away my rights or imprison me unless I did something that was against the law. I’m not saying dirty tricks haven’t happened, or couldn’t happen, but I do think it’s pretty bad press to fuck with the press in that way.
If you are asking about society, that’s a different answer. I think the law can be, and is, manipulated to get rid of perceived threats with all kinds of tactics used to directly change laws, favor one over the other, or create specific legislation.
I wouldn’t say my pictures document the “truth”. My photos capture a very small slice of a specific time manipulated by me, the photographer (the act of photographing is a manipulation of reality to begin with, one chooses where to position themselves and makes a conscious, maybe subconscious, decision in how they will capture and present that moment in the way they adjust their settings). That’s the true guts of it all, but I would say I try my hardest to do so in an honest way. I try to present the viewer with the most realistic depiction of the true situation in front of me. I do it with an “artistic eye” because that is the only way I know how. There is a lot of me reflected in the photos I take, and that is another influence on the truth. I’m giving you the truth as I see it, but I can only give you the truth of what is directly in front of me. Even then, what’s to say my eyes didn’t lie to me? I give you what I think, deep inside of me is the truth and nothing else.
I don’t have any authority to say who is a real revolutionary and who isn’t. I believe that is known within the heart, or mind of the person in question. I don’t think violence is necessary, but I think that in our current world it tends to help move things forward. I would hope that one day we are an intelligent enough species where revolution could spread like fire through logic, but we are not there yet. In the meantime, I think that the results tend to show armed resistance helps move things forward. Violence tends to get people’s attention much quicker. It is what those in power use to respond against any threats—perceived or real—to them. Sometimes you just have to speak the same language before people start to listen. It should be noted that there have been successful revolutions that were considered non-violent, such as the Iranian Revolution (3000 dead protesters however), which should not be overlooked. Taking up arms is often a last resort. No one who cares about their people or cause wants to send their people to death without exhausting other options. However, there do appear to be some disturbed and greedy individuals who have no problem sending others to their deaths. I would guess that any revolution, or rule with those tactics is sure to fail. Fear can only rule for so long.
You bring up the assassinations of MLK, Gandhi, and other peaceful revolutionaries, interesting. History is full of peaceful people meeting violent ends. They were killed in the end, but I don’t think any of their messages died with them. If anything, they gained strength, and reached a wider audience as logic eventually tends to win over time. Whose ideas prevail today? Gandhi’s I think have gained more steam than his assassin’s. That’s the great thing about thinkers, you may be able to physically do away with them, but their thoughts and ideas can live forever. A powerful thought, concept, or message can last forever. That’s real power, and it can’t be taken away.
“Rambo”, a famous monk within in the Karen community makes a speech on Martyr’s Day.
For those Paradigm readers who don’t know about Wizana, here is a brief bio:
Myanmar monk Saw Wizana, 67, nicknamed “monk Rambo,” supports the Karen armed struggle against the Myanmar regime because he says it saves lives. He lives in an encampment in eastern Myanmar controlled by the Karen, the largest ethnic group in Burma, who have been fighting the government for 60 years in what has become the world’s longest running civil war.
Here is a poem by Allen Ginsberg that I love called ‘Hadda Be Playin on the Jukebox.’ I saw your photography, and thought if Ginsberg saw your photographs this would have been the poem he wrote. Here is one portion that sticks out to me:
It had to be in Kissinger’s brain
It had to be in Rockefeller’s mouth
It had to be Central Intelligence
The Family “Our Thing” the Agency Mafia Organized Crime FBI Dope Cops & Multinational Corporations
one big set of Criminal gangs working together in Cahoots
Hit Men murderers everywhere outraged, on the make
Do you think that is the only reason for politicians and corporate CEO’s, sheer greed and monetary gain? I mean, you’ve seen the outcome of post-US imperialism and it seems fucked up. How do you think guys like Rockefeller, Kissinger and Robert McNamara were able to sleep? Have they, or anyone, through the centuries, had any remorse for their actions in the mass killings of hard working class men along with innocent women and children? Do you think that it is just about power and money to them?
Clearly some part of a politician or CEO’s drive is money driven by greed. Money and power are one in the same today, no? And excess in anything is greed, and there is no shortage of excess among those groups. At least the CEO’s are somewhat open. The politicians are a different story, more criminal in my opinion. If even a corporation can be held liable, and be punished for lying about their product in a commercial to consumers, it baffles my mind how a politician is not held to the same standard. Half of what comes out of their mouths are lies. All you have to do is hit Google to see the truth in most cases. I wouldn’t be against a law that is applied to politicians lying about things that can be verified as distortion of the truth, from the campaign trail to the time they are out of office it should be applied. Let’s call it what it is: fraud. Politicians are playing a higher stakes game where people’s lives are affected, and society as a whole is affected and basic logic would dictate that should come with some responsibility. They are sworn to serve for the people while their interest is really in getting reelected and party politics, which are like gangs nowadays, and that means they need the money, which on that scale comes from corporations. Logic and morals are set to the side in the name of your team. It seems Eisenhower’s famous—and prophetic—warning about the Industrial Military Complex has come to fruit and this new form of power is the one controlling the politicians. The last thing on the whole lot’s agenda is what’s best for the country they are in charge of, much less society as a whole. And that goes across political lines. It all seems to come down to profit, and a system has been created where war is the ultimate profit driving force. Whether it’s the war on terror, war on drugs, war in Iraq, and most likely, war in Iran next, it’s been said that when war becomes profitable, you are going to see more of it.
Nguyen Tri Hang, 17, has her hands tied behind her back by her mother. Her parents must restrain her for if she were to gain freedom of movement with her arms, she will hurt herself. She is both mentally and physically disabled, which her parents blame on her father’s exposure to Agent Orange. Although the father did not serve during the war with America, but against the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia. He claims that his time in the jungle bordering Cambodia exposed him to Agent Orange, which was heavily sprayed in the area he served. This particular case highlights the difficulty of pin-pointing Agent Orange’s effects. Many veterans in Vietnam believe that if they have sick children, Agent Orange is to blame, whether or not they were directly in contact with the herbicide. Dioxin will remain for about 25 years, so while direct exposure may not happen, poisoning may still happen from other forms of later exposure. Conclusive answers cannot be found without direct testing of individuals, which is rarely ever done.
Look at this current election cycle for the job of president of the USA: we have one candidate that is basically just a talking NASCAR with all his corporate messages, and backers. Actually, I wish that was true. Wouldn’t it be a great thing if politicians had to wear the patches of their sponsors on their suit like a racecar driver? So everyone knows what agendas they are really working for. Not that either party is doing anything different, they both answer to the same people, one just words things nicer. I think there are more than a few things that are pretty significant, and that have completely fallen out of the national conversation during this election: the environment, education, and the arts. When was the last time either party brought up the environment? It’s been sold out again to industry. The arts? The arts receive hardly any funding and that little bit is being taken away. We all know the state of the American public education system. How is there always enough money for guns but not education? How absolutely ridiculous is that? Why are we shutting down schools? What kind of citizens are we trying to produce, and have we already produced? The kind that are taught to not question that America is number one, no matter what the evidence says otherwise. We need education, and the arts. America’s real strength, above the money, the industry, and the products is its peoples’ creativity. That’s what pushes society forward, and keeps us evolving. We don’t need another person that knows how to do the math to build a bridge, what we really need is the guy, or girl, who figures out how to rebuild a bridge in a whole new way. A creative mind that thinks of something altogether new and builds a bridge that we haven’t seen before, improving on current bridges, or creating a whole new way we haven’t thought of to get things from one side of an obstacle to the other. Those are the type of minds that keep a nation moving forward.
I don’t imagine that Kissinger or others have problems sleeping. I’m sure they’ve sold so much of the kool-aid they started drinking it. They may really believe everything they’ve done is right having justified it all to themselves as human beings tend to do with their actions. Maybe they’ve come to a point in their lives where they are feeble and they realize they ended up in the same place everyone else fortunate does, unable to even wipe their own ass. The money, and power, can’t matter much in the end except for the truly insecure. I have my own feelings on the lust for power and money, and it comes down to insecurity in most instances. Wealth should not be counted in how many paper notes issued by private banks are accumulated to purchase a number of unnecessary goods with, but by the use of time. Don’t get me wrong, I understand that we all need money to survive in modern society, but I would think that time is the most valuable thing we have. You can’t buy time, you have it now, you don’t know when it ends, so make the most out of it. All the money in the world can’t get more time, a second will always be a second, you can’t get two at once though I understand that Quantum physics may prove otherwise. And while you are at it, why not make life good for others if you can? If for no other reason but selfish ones, as it will make your life better as well.
I was in DC a few weeks ago and went to the Newseum; it was a powerful experience. I wrote down this quote by Hiram Johnson from 1917, “The first casualty when war comes is truth.” Why is it so important for you to expose the truth? What was it in you as a photographer that is fed up with the bullshit of the mass media to go to these remote places and truthfully tell the outcomes, tragedies and truths of war?
That’s a great quote, pretty right on. What drives me is actually outside of looking for the truth, but more in sharing the stories of people throughout the world and trying to shine some light on the “little guy”. I wouldn’t be comfortable heading out searching for the “truth” as that’s such a heady concept; I report on what I see as true and factual, but I think my drives are more personal. I think there are a lot of people who need help, and that help is very possible to give them with the position I’m in. If we don’t know about them, then we don’t know they need help. I, personally, focus on the stories that I think are under reported for reasons from my personal interest in people that are fighting the odds to absolute humanitarian angles, it varies by story and situation. I know there are more stories out there that I would like to tell than I can. There is only so much time, and these days in the current environment, only so much money, so I have to choose what I do on a number of factors. I am attracted to a lot of mainstream stories, but I think it would be a waste of my resources as there are people out there already covering it, and doing amazing work. I don’t think I can contribute anything more to the Afghanistan discourse than what the people who are covering it have. Additionally, if someone is in Afghanistan that means they aren’t in West Papua and no one is hearing what’s happening there, so that’s where I go.
I heard Ron Haviv speak one time, and something he said really hit me in an immediate way, which was along the lines of, “Media is in the business of selling ads, not telling the news.” I don’t know why that simple line summed up a lot of things for me, but it’s a true and raw statement. The media is not there to inform you of the world, they are there as an avenue for advertisers in which their goal is to earn as high of a profit from it as possible. There is a nice concept about the media industry being a kind of a 4th estate, which is absolutely as it should be, but I don’t know if that is how it plays out in real life. Who is behind the media? The corporations, they own it, so who really is the 4th estate?
Cha Her, 46, a veteran of the CIA’s secret war in Laos holds up his American issued M-70 grenade launcher. “Those of us who were soldiers of the CIA had to flee to defend ourselves in the jungle. As for myself, I didn’t want to die so the only way to survive was to head into the jungle. I took along with me this American weapon, M-79, issued to me.”
On your site you have a quote from, Cha Her, veteran of the CIA’s secret war in Laos. He said, “They are hunting us like animals. When they kill one of us the Lao communist government and troops are satisfied that they’ve killed one of America’s soldiers. Animals around the world are being protected so they can survive. Why aren’t we? We are human beings, why does the world lend a deaf ear and blind eye on us?”
Why do you think that the US, and UN have turned a ‘deaf ear & blind eye’ on the Hmong rebels? To continue that along the same line, Cha Her also said, “I am a veteran. My military identification is 292973. I was a CIA soldier of America during the Vietnam War. America recruited us to fight the war in Laos. We fought the war for America for 15 years…In 1975 they started eliminating us. We are 100% soldiers of the CIA. They continue killing us to this day. All died to pay the price of America.” Do you think if you showed a US soldier your pictures of Cha Her and the Hmong rebels they would sympathize with him as one of their own, a true veteran who fought for America?
Cha Her’s words are ones I don’t think I’ll ever forget with quite a valid point. I think that the world has changed and moved on, and agendas have changed. The west is not fighting communists there anymore. They are working with them and robbing them, but not fighting. They don’t need the Hmong anymore. The current relationship with Laos is more important than one small ethnic tribe, I suppose. The west’s interest will always be economic and not humanitarian. Everyone and everything else in the way is fully disposable.
I think that a soldier would feel sympathy for Cha Her, as a soldier can appreciate his situation better than most. If you told an American soldier his story, they would be very sympathetic. You have to remember that our soldiers are not the policy makers or leaders; they feel helpless often and get screwed over by the powers that be, probably more so even, than those of us in civilian life. I’ve never risked my life for the government, a soldier has. You would think there would be some gratitude for that fact. The reality is many soldiers sign up as there aren’t many other options for them, education is too expensive or not realistic and there isn’t a job to be had so it’s the only option. I don’t think that many really sign up for patriotic ideals, or if they do, I think that opinion changes when they are getting shot at and they don’t understand how they are protecting American citizens by fighting a local guerilla resistance group in the mountains of Afghanistan, or invading Iraq.
Upon our arrival to the hidden Hmong camp the group pleads and begs for help from the outside world in helping them leave the jungle. On the run in the jungle for over 30 years after the American pull out, they have been left to suffer on their own. “They are hunting us like animals. When they kill one of us the Lao communist government and troops are satisfied that they’ve killed one of America’s soldiers. Animals around the world are being protected so they can survive. Why aren’t we? We are human beings, why does the world tend a deaf ear and blind eye on us?” – Cha Her, veteran of the CIA’s secret war in Laos.
KC, when I read the quote from one of the Hmong rebels it made me emotional because I related it to my own life struggle. It made me realize how truly blessed I am in my struggle. He said, “If I surrender, I will die, so I would rather live here knowing I will continue to struggle to hold onto my life…I want to live and don’t want to die. I want to have a life where we could have real food to eat and medicines to cure our illnesses. I want to live a life like the world too.” Would you rather surrender/die or live for life knowing that potentially one day you could live like ‘the world’ as well?
Having never been in that position, I can only say what I would like to think I would do. I would like to think that I would continue to fight for my survival, with the potential of better days or not. As far as I can tell, living is better than being dead.
In your experience with the Cambodian Tuberculosis and Operation Asha, do you think that they are one of the most effective groups in preventing not only tuberculosis but helping to stop epidemics in the world? And can other organizations learn a few lessons from their way of doing things and if so what do you think those would be? Also, for those people out there who are not photojournalists, humanitarians or peace-workers: What do you think people can be doing to help bring awareness to these peoples’ struggles and how can they help?
I think what Operation Asha does is groundbreaking and the most effective way to fight TB. They are an Indian-run NGO founded by two doctors from Delhi, Dr. Shelly Batra and Dr. Sandeep Ahuja, who recognized that the main cause to the TB spread was that no one could get access to the meds. Your average slum dweller does not have the means to make it across town to get meds, even if they are free. Something like that could take someone a day for the round trip journey with no money. A day of work missed is simply not an option for many in the slums, every cent counts. So, Op Asha decided to bring the meds directly to the slums. They have trained counselors that set up in local candy shops, general stores, and other community locations where they distribute the meds to the infected in that area. After they hand out their drugs for the day they then go deliver the meds to those who cannot make it to the local distribution center, as they also make rounds door to door searching for new potential cases of TB. The counselors themselves are from the slum areas, which gives some jobs and ensures an understanding of the very confusing and difficult lay of the land of each slum. These are places most outsiders don’t even know exist. It’s as grass roots as you can get really. And they do it for an extremely low cost, where something like $25 provides enough medicine to save a life. Their model should be replicated; it can be applied across the board to healthcare, homelessness, education, emergency response, and so on. I think that is the future of NGOs, local people putting together their own programs, especially as middle classes rise in developing nations.
If anyone wants to check out their work I’d suggest going to http://www.opasha.org and if they can, donate a couple bucks.
A TB patient at Cambodia’s National Center for Tuberculosis and Leprosy Control. Camboida remains one of the world’s most effected countries by tuberculosis, with one of every 65,000 people being infected by the disease, the third highest rate in the world.
The Free Burma Rangers remind me a bit of a modern day Robin Hood. There is a quote from that recent film with Russell Crowe where he says, “Rise and rise again, until lambs become lions.” Do you think that is the objective of these Rangers, to eventually try and free the villagers from their oppressors and more so do you ever think the conflict among the Burmese will ever stop?
That’s an interesting comparison, but I see where you are coming from. They are on a humanitarian mission to bring medicine, and assist in basic needs for the people living among the war zones in Burma. They are a dedicated group of individuals who literally risk their lives every day in order to help people. While they are illegal inside of Burma, and operate clandestinely, and a bit more openly among rebel-controlled areas, they are not robbing anyone like Robin Hood. In fact, I know that if they came across a Burma Army soldier injured they would help him, and protect him as well. I know that the Rangers would like to see the locals free, and able to live in peace. The reality on the ground is that they operate in rebel areas, and so are naturally in close contact with them, and will train them in first aid, communicate about movements, and stuff like that. The KNLA and other rebel groups have been trying, and fighting for sixty years to get rid of their oppressors, and the FBR I believe has confidence still that the ethnic political, and armed groups are the ones best suited to liberate their people. Again, the FBR is a humanitarian driven mission.
I am sure that one day the Burmese situation will iron itself out, one way or another over time. I cannot say that I see that day in sight, but eventually things will calm down there. Things are changing, although I have my own opinions on what that means for the Burmese, and ethnic groups and who will actually gain from the new deal there.
A Free Burma Ranger (FBR) pulls a tooth from a local villager at a temporary medical clinic set up by the group. The FBR brings medical and humanitarian aid to the frontlines of Burma’s neediest in the 60 year conflict between ethnic rebels and the central government’s military junta.
I pulled this statement below from Amnesty International:
“The Rohingyas’ freedom of movement is severely restricted and the vast majority of them have effectively been denied Burma citizenship. They are also subjected to various forms of extortion and arbitrary taxation; land confiscation; forced eviction and house destruction; and financial restrictions on marriage. Rohingyas continue to be used as forced laborers on roads and at military camps, although the amount of forced labor in northern Rakhine State has decreased over the last decade. In 1978, over 200,000 Rohingyas fled to Bangladesh, following the ‘Nagamin’ (‘Dragon King’) operation of the Myanmar army. Officially, this campaign aimed at “scrutinizing each individual living in the state, designating citizens and foreigners in accordance with the law and taking actions against foreigners who have filtered into the country illegally.” This military campaign directly targeted civilians, and resulted in widespread killings, rape and destruction of mosques and further religious persecution. During 1991-92, a new wave of over a quarter of a million Rohingyas fled to Bangladesh. They reported widespread forced labor, as well as summary executions, torture, and rape. Rohingyas were forced to work without pay by the Burmese army on infrastructure and economic projects, often under harsh conditions. Many other human rights violations occurred in the context of forced labor of Rohingya civilians by the security forces.”
And with the recent Rakhine State riots and the declaration of a State of Emergency, it’s like no one anywhere, except in those regions, gives a shit. I know for sure that news doesn’t make top headlines on USA Today. Why do you think people’s attention spans are so short and why is news that oppressed and for there to be any truth to the story there has to be guys like you willing to risk their lives to tell the greater story of the world, without truly exploiting their subject?
I don’t know why people’s attention spans are so short these days, but I think a lot of the ideas for why seem to ring true. We are so plugged-in that we demand everything to be instant, and easily digestible. We forget, too, it’s almost like we are brainwashed from the time we are born with consumerism that leads to shorter attention spans. That’s what is pushed on us: buy this, buy that, this product validates your life, that product lets others know that you appear to have status.
We are taught to make money so we can spend money; buy the TV to watch the game, forget about everything around you. It’s like a giant carrot on the stick-trap that a nation has fallen into. Who the fuck needs most this stuff? It breaks, and we have to replace it, our entire society has become disposable, as has our intellect. It’s all quick, and disposable. Everything tends to be about immediate gratification for us, and our goals, and thoughts tend to be shorter in focus. It may just be how we are evolving to all the new stimulation we now have in our lives, or it could be that we are taught value is in things other than knowledge, or happiness, or whatever so our priorities shift, and a short attention span fits best with the new priorities. I will say that I do not feel like short attention spans are a world wide phenomena. I believe it’s more localized to the west, at least in my observations from travel and experience.
A Rohingya child takes shelter from the rain in a Kutapalong refugee camp under a traditional longyi. The rainy season produces dangerous living conditions as sewage mixes with trash and flows throughout the camp.