Labor unrest on Everest is older than you might think

The thin air and vertiginous slopes that exist at 20,000-plus feet above sea level on Mount Everest may not make for the ideal battleground -- but they certainly make for a captivating one. So on April 27, when a fight erupted between three mountaineers and a group of Sherpa guides who had been tasked with fixing ropes along the mountain's steep and exposed Lhotse Face, news outlets around the world were quick to report the tale of the "highest brawl in history," as the Nepali Times put it.

While the two sides have since settled their differences, it's worth noting -- particularly on International Workers' Day (an official holiday in Nepal) -- that tension between Sherpas and climbers has existed for decades in the Himalayas, interspersed with many inspiring instances of cooperation.

In their book Fallen Giants: The History of Himalayan Mountaineering from the Age of Empire to the Age of Extremes, Maurice Isserman and Stewart Weaver delve into the colonial roots of mountaineering in Asia. The book provides accounts of Sherpa dissidence as early as 1930, when, during Paul Bauer's attempt to climb Kanchenjunga, the world's third-highest mountain, Sherpas went on strike for feeling "ill used and underpaid." Hidden in the footnotes is another telling account of the British Himalayan Committee meeting in London in 1953 to find a way to "control the increasingly exorbitant terms which Sherpas were demanding in return for their services with Himalayan Expeditions."

Anthropologist Sherry Ortner -- who did years of fieldwork with Mount Everest's Sherpas -- notes a pattern to these strikes. Surveying the history of Sherpa dissidence in her book Life and Death on Mount Everest, she observes that "there were many reasons to go on strike or otherwise refuse to cooperate on expeditions, but one pattern in particular stood out: resistance emerged when the Sherpas felt that they were being treated as inferiors." For this reason, "most of the major expeditions of the fifties and sixties had serious strikes."

As the Guardian reports, Jon Griffith, one of the climbers involved in the altercation over the weekend, identified "an underlying feeling among the Sherpas that they've been treated quite badly by westerners and that clients don't have any respect for them." Yesterday, he echoed this sentiment in an interview with NPR, telling host Audie Cornish, "it's basically a bit of a breakdown of not of trust but of respect that the sherpas feel has happened in the last decade towards them." In fact, it's a sentiment that stretches back much further than a decade.

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Wait, the U.S. is making Mexican security officials take polygraph tests?

Fraying cooperation in the drug war will surely be top of mind as President Obama meets with his counterpart Enrique Peña Nieto in Mexico this week. And perhaps nothing encapsulates Mexico's growing impatience with America's heavy-handed approach to combating drug trafficking than this nugget from a New York Times report on Tuesday. Apparently, the United States has been subjecting Mexican security officials to regular polygraph tests in an effort to identify rotten apples. But that could soon change:

Shortly after Mexico's new president, Enrique Peña Nieto, took office in December, American agents got a clear message that the dynamics, with Washington holding the clear upper hand, were about to change.

"So do we get to polygraph you?" one incoming Mexican official asked his American counterparts, alarming United States security officials who consider the vetting of the Mexicans central to tracking down drug kingpins. The Mexican government briefly stopped its vetted officials from cooperating in sensitive investigations. The Americans are waiting to see if Mexico allows polygraphs when assigning new members to units, a senior Obama administration official said.

While the practice is not widely publicized, it has been an element of the two countries' security relationship for some time. In a 1997 article on U.S.-Mexican plans to join hands in the drug war, the Associated Press noted that Mexican counternarcotics agents would undergo the "kind of extensive background, financial, and polygraph tests required of U.S. drug agents." The plans came after the arrest of Mexico's drug czar, Gen. Jesús Gutiérrez Rebollo, for taking bribes from drug traffickers.

What's more, the United States hasn't just applied this policy to Mexico. In 2012, the Los Angeles Times reported that Washington has given elite Colombian counternarcotics agents polygraph tests as well. 

The bad blood over polygraph tests isn't the only sign that U.S.-Mexican cooperation on the drug war is deteriorating. In an interview with the Spanish news agency EFE on his new book, the Mexican journalist Jesús Esquivel claimed that the Mexican military recently waved off a U.S. offer to capture famed drug lord Joaquín "El Chapo" Gúzman. The United States had the Sinaloa cartel chief's location and said the operation would take only 15 minutes. So why the hang-up? Mexican military officials reportedly didn't want the American military to lead the operation.