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Introducing Lazo Letters.

Hello!! Cristina here. If you're receiving this, it's because you subscribed to my previous newsletter. Or you signed up for this recently. Either way, thank you!

I'm excited to announce the creation of Lazo Letters, a weekly newsletter about international affairs that will also serve as the official newsletter of Lazo Magazine, an experimental platform I plan to launch in 2022. You can follow us on Twitter and Instagram, but there's not much there yet. Most of this project is still TK.

Soon I'll start bringing you interviews and other  content directly through this newsletter. But for now, here's a quick dispatch from my first trip outside of the U.S. since the pandemic.

And yes, I am aware that I am currently doing the least European thing imaginable: launching a professional project in the middle of the summer.  

Somewhere en Lavapíes

This week I'm coming to you from Madrid, Spain, one of the places I consider home and the first place I flew after getting both doses of the Pfizer vaccine to protect me against this coronavirus thing that turned the world upside down over the last year and a half.

Madrid is inexplicably more hipster than it was in the year before the pandemic. Supermarkets are stocked with vegan food, and coffee shops sprouted like mushrooms in my absence, touting their Ethiopian and Guatemalan blends.

I can't help but wonder where the resources are coming from for this entrepreneurship, but instead of asking, I buy two IPAs (we have IPAs here now!) and a box of vegan ice cream sandwiches and head home.

I noticed I've missed the Spanish banter, the way everyone continuously ribs one another with love. The men selling vegetables at the market tease one another loudly over something as mundane as what they ate for lunch (lentils!).

A group of young men jokes about how poor they are, and they suggest they might have to start busking to pay for their drinks. But there's a levity to the comments. People don't appear to be filled with existential angst and anxiety. I see fewer people pleading for their survival than I do in America and fewer lying on the streets.

The streets here teem with life, and I notice I'm instantly more relaxed, suddenly aware that I don't have to worry every time I hear a loud noise if a gun has gone off nearby or if I'm about to witness a mass shooting.

It occurs to me that in America, I'm often scared in a way that's so subtle it's almost imperceptible.

I spent a night in Brooklyn, New York, before catching my flight to Madrid. The morning of my flight I was in a crowded coffee shop in BedStuy, eating breakfast with some friends, when a truck rolled past slowly, making a loud clanking noise.

Everyone on the crowded sidewalk froze to watch, and I thought I felt our shoulders tense collectively as if we were all preparing to duck and run for cover.
Only in the absence of wariness do I realize how much mental energy it takes to watch your back constantly.

As I write this, people in central D.C. are running from a popular restaurant after hearing gunshots. Every day we Americans venture out of our homes, betting that we'll be lucky enough not to be struck by a stray bullet.

In Madrid, I walk past the snail bar across from my old apartment on La Calle de Toledo in La Latina, and I'm satisfied to see it's still there, this hole in the wall that offers nothing but snails and cheap beer. Familiar landmarks – like that snail bar and a banner for the National Workers' Confederation (CNT) that's been hanging in the Plaza Tirso de Molina for at least the last 13 years – are comforting to spot amidst the gentrification.

I notice that I'm seeing these familiar streets with fresh eyes after over a year of confinement, and I'm suddenly noticing how spectacular they are.

Still, there are fewer Okupas in Madrid now than there were a few years ago. Social centers that offered free workshops are shut down amidst the rampant commercialization.

People in Spain are simultaneously more and less careful about Covid than people in America. When walking down the streets, they wear masks, something the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) told us we don't have to do. In the metro, there are signs advertising devices for opening doors without touching them.

But the bars and the clubs are packed with young people dancing maskless, many of whom are unvaccinated. That strikes me as very stupid, especially considering Spain's infection rate has grown sixfold in the last month. People are quite literally dying to sing and dance.

The right-wing Popular Party's candidate for President of the community of Madrid, Isabel Ayuso, won traditionally left-leaning neighborhoods in May elections by advocating to open the bars, people tell me.

I visit Vallecas, a working class neighborhood that voted for Ayuso but where no one I meet will admit that they did so. 'I didn't vote,' a young immigrant who recently obtained Spanish citizenship tells me. 'I voted Podemos,' an elderly woman says.

But the bars are open and no one inside is wearing a mask.

What I'm reading:

The Biden administration has agreed to drop the U.S. opposition to the controversial NordStream 2 pipeline, which will bring Russian natural gas to Germany under the Baltic Sea, in exchange for Germany supporting Ukrainian energy projects and diplomacy, an exclusive from the Wall Street Journal.

• The Foreign Ministers of Ukraine and Poland released a letter arguing that Biden's decision to drop opposition to NordStream 2 creates a “political, military and energy threat for Ukraine and Central Europe, while increasing Russia’s potential to destabilize the security situation in Europe.”

• The Biden administration appears to be giving up on efforts to establish a war crimes court for South Sudan, an exclusive from Foreign Policy.

• Nik Barkat, the former mayor of Jerusalem, is running around Washington D.C. arguing against re-opening consular services for Palestinians in Jerusalem, according to the Hill.

• Tom Barrack, the chairman of former President Donald Trump's inaugural committee, has been arrested and charged with acting as an agent of the United Arab Emirates (UAE). This is not a violation of the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA), but rather a statute typically used to charge individuals accused of working at the direction of officials of a foreign government.

• The Israeli firm the NSO Group has been selling a powerful spyware known as Pegasus to governments around the world, and those governments have been using it to, well, spy on people. Journalists, activists, politicians, businessmen, you name it!

•  Of course Hungary's Prime Minister Viktor Orbán used the spyware to investigate journalists, per the Guardian.

•Hungarian prosecutors have opened an investigation into the suspected unlawful surveillance following multiple complaints of the misuse of the Pegasus spyware, via Al Jazeera.

• Cyprus has appealed to the U.N. Security Council over plans by the Turkish Cypriot authorities to partially reopen the abandoned city of Varosha. The city has been a fenced off military zone since Greek Cypriots fled Turkish troops in August 1974. It was slated to be returned to Greek Cypriots in the event of a Cyprus peace settlement, per Reuters.

• Russia is supplying Myanmar with military hardware.

• Hundreds of migrants and refugees staged a months long hunger strike to gain permanent residency in Belgium, and it looks like they may have struck a deal with the government, per Politico.

• Estonia is starting to counter Chinese dominance in the rare-earth supply chain, according to Quartz.

• Russia declared the investigative news outlet ‘Proekt’ an undesirable organization and banned its activities on national security grounds.

•The European Commission told Poland it must comply with an EU Court of Justice ruling that found Warsaw’s disciplinary procedures for judges violate European law. Otherwise, Poland will have to pay.

• For those of you who read Russian: Novaya Gazeta published an investigation into the new dynasty of oligarchs in Ukraine's Russia-controlled Donbas region.

• Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babiš has published a new book and a website to promote it. Please check this out for the laughs.

As always, you can send corrections, complaints, suggestions, and all the rest to c.maza@protonmail.com Hasta pronto!