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The World

Archive | The World

A Case for a United Nigeria

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The idea of Nigeria splitting into different sovereigns has gained traction over the last several weeks.

One of the 46 churches burned by mobs of Muslims during the inter-communal violence in Jos, Nigeria in 2009. Source: Human Rights Watch

A growing chorus of local leaders in Nigeria, looking to avoid what happened in Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia, and Sudan are urging the federal government to look at splitting the nation before there is too much bloodshed. Muammar Gaddafi notoriously said the OPEC nation should split into two distinct nations; although everyone knows his motives were not pure. Still, when one looks at what a divided Nigeria would look like, the character of the Nigerian people and the incendiary faction, along with recent political events; one finds a strong case for unity.

Religious strife has gripped Nigeria, Africa’s most populace country. As predicted, the terrorist group Boko Haram bombed churches near the capital of Abuja and another in Jos, on Christmas Sunday of last year, killing 27 worshippers. Just a couple of weeks later, the radical Islamists killed 20 more people at a town hall in Mubi, a town in northeastern Nigeria near the Cameroon border, then again in Yola, killing 12 worshippers. This is nothing new for the oil rich, West African nation. Boko Haram, whose name in the regional Hausa language means, “western education is sinful,” has been credited, and taken credit for, over 500 deaths in the past year alone.

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Sri Lanka’s Game of Diplomacy

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As promised, the Sri Lankan government made the final report of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) public last month.

Mahinda Samarasinghe, Minister for Disaster Management and Human Rights of Sri Lanka, addresses the Human Rights Council. Jean-Marc Ferré/UN

It has also recently released its “National Action Plan for the Protection and Promotion of Human Rights: 2011-2016.” The Action Plan was developed in accordance with a commitment the government had made in 2008, the last time Sri Lanka participated in the UN’s Universal Periodic Review. Both documents are part of the Sri Lankan government’s strategy to placate international observers and convince people that there is no need for any kind of international assistance because the country’s domestic institutions are working just fine.

Like the LLRC report, the National Action Plan contains some decent recommendations, but it is replete with missing and false information. For example, the section on the Prevention of Torture is laughable and worrisome. The Sri Lankan government claims that it “maintains a zero-tolerance policy on torture.” This sweeping assertion directly contradicts loads of evidence, including the recent findings of the UN’s Committee Against Torture (CAT). The fact that the Ministry of Defense has been denoted as the “Key Responsible Agency” for ensuring the prevention of torture is perhaps more disconcerting.

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Kazakhstan: National Elections and Regional Security

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For the past two decades, President Nursultan Nazarbayev sculpted Kazakhstan into a bastion of economic development in Central Asia; an image the autocrat valued to entice in foreign investment.

President George W. Bush welcomes Kazakhstan President Nursultan Nazarbayev to the Oval Office at the White House, Friday, Sept. 29, 2006. Eric Draper/White House

Focusing domestic policies on market reforms, rather than democratic advancement, afforded the nation the foundation necessary to become the region’s strongest economy and largest oil producer. Kazakhstan’s early parliamentary elections – scheduled for 15 January 2012 – have the potential to move the country into a multi-party state, as a new law would ensure that the Kazakh lower parliament could no longer be ruled by one party. Liberalizing the nation’s politics is necessary to ensure the country will be able to move beyond the current administration.

President Nazarbayev, a former Soviet apparatchik, has dominated Kazakhstan’s politics since the Soviet Unions dissolution and has failed to prepare a successor for when he leaves power. While the new law, on paper, aides in modernizing the country’s parliament, the election further reinforced the existing order with President Nazarbayev being elected to another 5 year term under criticism of ‘serious irregularities’ from international observers. The corruption that remains rampant throughout Kazakh politics – such as President Nazarbayev circumventing the nation’s constitution to allow him (and, in 2007, only him) to run for more then two consecutive terms – undermines the legitimacy of the multi-party parliamentary legislation; national leaders have repeatedly failed to adhere to their own laws.

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And the BRICS Go Marching On

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Among the few things we can be thankful for in the difficult years that have followed the 2008 financial crisis are that thus far at least, while American politics may have reached new heights of ridicule and ineffectiveness, they have managed to avoid further destabilizing the world.

Dmitry Medvedev with Sergei Lavrov in China for the BRICS summit. Source: Kremlin Press Office

This is no small feat, considering the last structural shock to the American psyche on 9/11 resulted in two ill conceived and poorly executed wars. While the financial crisis of 2008 did not threaten the American sense of safety in the same way, it has created an existential crisis in American minds over the viability of our economic system in relation to other competitive models, and elevated the question of whether we might have overlooked the possibility that China is a strategic threat to American ideas and interests.

Even to those who would ultimately come to regret letting a desire for revenge trump reason, responding with force in the days and months after 9/11 made a certain emotional and strategic sense. It is worth noting that American politics, for all of its many failings, has thus far managed to prevent letting the financial crisis of 2008 result in similar reactionary measures. But if the American economy continues to struggle with high unemployment and an anemic housing market, how much longer can policy makers and politicians prevent an emotional response that might up-end the globalized world we all take for granted?

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Placing CELAC in the Proper Latin American Context

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The creation of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC - Comunidad de Estados Latinoamericanos y Caribeños) has attracted a fair amount of international attention, both by the international media and by Latin Americanist researchers and academics.

Álvaro Colom, former president of Guatemala shaking hands with Hugo Chavez in Caracas, Venezuela for the CELAC conference. Photo: Luis Echeverría

For example, Mark Weisbrot, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, argued in a Center for Economic and Policy Research article that “CELAC will continue to advance…positive changes [such as recent successful financial policies], including regional economic integration, co-ordination around foreign policy, and conflict resolution.”

Meanwhile, my own organization, the Council on Hemispheric Affairs (COHA), recently took a more cautious stance on CELAC’s future, arguing that “if CELAC wants to productively implement policies to solve major regional issues and eventually be a major player in the making of Latin American and Caribbean policy, it must first work on its fundamental structure.”

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In Bolivia’s Quest to Regain the Pacific, Political Posturing is more Afterthought than Motivator

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Since taking office in 2006, Bolivian President Evo Morales has been on a mission to regain access to the Pacific by way of Chile.

Evo Morales, the president of Bolivia. Source: CNN

Now that it has become painfully obvious that Chile is unwilling to engage in meaningful negotiations—Chilean President Sebastián Piñera has called Bolivia’s vision “impossible” — Morales has announced his intent to bring the dispute before the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague. The cause is popular, and why shouldn’t it be? Landlocked Bolivia is the poorest country in South America. Surrounded by powerful neighbors Brazil, Argentina, and Chile, Bolivia has been bullied for centuries. For all that, though, it has a glorious past. Leaf through a history of colonial Latin America: After the gold of Mexico, the silver of Potosi was cherished above all else, building the surrounding area into one of the largest cities of the seventeenth century.

Pull out a map of South America from 1850: Bolivia was twice as big as it is today, stretching approximately 400 kilometers along the Pacific and deep into what is now Paraguayan territory. Fast-forward to the present: The silver is all but gone, and military defeats in the War of the Pacific (1879-1884) and Chaco War (1932-1935) have reduced Bolivia to a fraction of its former self. Regaining a bit of coastline wouldn’t undo the entire course of history, but in the eyes of many Bolivians it would be a step in the right direction.

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The Internal Debate over Israel’s Identity

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Protests between secular and ultra-Orthodox Israelis centered in the town of Beit Shemesh, Israel have shed light on a trend line.

Shimon Peres, the president of Israel. Peres urged Israelis to protest against religious extremism in Beit Shemesh. Source: GPO

According to the Israel Central Bureau of Statistics, and reported by The Jerusalem Post, the population of Israel, including the occupied territories is 7,836,000 million, of which, 5,901,000 are Jews. Protests earlier in the week ended with one police officer being wounded after several hundred ultra-Orthodox men objected when the police removed a sign that ordered women in Beit Shemesh to walk on the opposite side of the street from men. While a majority of Israeli Jews would define themselves as secular Jews, within Israel 10% of the population is ultra-Orthodox. Importantly, ultra-Orthodox Jews have a high birth rate, which translates into a clash of ideals between secularists and Orthodox Jews, like that unfolding in Beit Shemesh.

The protests between these two passionate groups began after reports by Israeli media of an eight year-old girl, Naama Margolese, who while walking home from school was harassed by Orthodox men in the town of Beit Shemesh. Although the girl and her family consider themselves Orthodox Jews, this fact has not appeased the Orthodox men of Beit Shemesh who are demanding that in all facets of life, Beit Shemesh must be segregated. This translates into men and women being separated along gender lines on public transportation and on sidewalks. This interpretation of religious law would also apply to attire that women wear in public. Ultra-Orthodox men in Beit Shemesh often complain that the women and girls of Beit Shemesh dress like prostitutes and need to practice “modesty” in public.

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Amnesty and Guatemala’s Civil War

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Guatemala’s civil war was, by far, Latin America’s bloodiest—leaving approximately 200,000 people dead.

Álvaro Colom, former president of Guatemala with the current president of Guatemala, Otto Pérez Molina, in Caracas, Venezuela for the CELAC conference. Photo: Luis Echeverría

A United Nations-supported truth commission found that more than 90 percent of the human rights violations were committed by the military, including over 600 massacres in primarily indigenous villages. Since the conclusion of the war in 1996, the pursuit of accountability has not gone well. This past August, a Guatemala City judge sentenced four former soldiers to over 6,000 years in prison, for having participated in a massacre in 1982. This was a good thing, but it is nowhere near enough.

Earlier this month, human rights activist Jennifer Harbury (who has been outspoken on questions of accountability in Guatemala for decades), has cited that some people within Guatemala suspect former army personnel will attempt to turn amnesty into official policy. Harbury has said that, “within the next few weeks it is very likely that the army officers facing war crimes charges will push through a de facto amnesty, either by removing Claudia Paz, the amazing attorney general, an illegal congressional amnesty (‘punto final’), or through a court ruling canceling international human rights law.”

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The Peace Corps and Violence in Central America

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In Central America, the Peace Corps is getting leaner.

President Barack Obama looks at a photograph of Kate Puzey as he greets her brother, David Puzey, and other guests in the Oval Office. Pete Souza/White House

The organization has recently announced that it will be pulling out of Honduras. The Peace Corps has also put a hold on sending new training groups to Guatemala and El Salvador. There is no question that these countries are dangerous. Honduras, for example, has a murder rate of nearly 82 people per 100,000 inhabitants, the highest in the world. The safety of Peace Corps volunteers has been an intensely debated topic on Capitol Hill recently. Earlier this year, the House and Senate unanimously passed the Kate Puzey Volunteer Protection Act of 2011.

This is an important bill for which Congress deserves praise, but, it does little to address volunteer safety and deals more with how the Peace Corps should respond after an incident has already occurred. Furthermore, total safety is an illusion; people need to understand that. According to ABC, “The bill requires the Peace Corps to improve the training of volunteers to reduce sexual assault risk, would protect whistleblowers, and would require the Peace Corps to hire victims’ advocates for each region the agency serves.”

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The ABC of Egypt and Western Hegemony

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Since the popular uprising of 25 January, 2011, protestors have not just challenged the figureheads of the old regime, but the very fundamental power structure upon which Hosni Mubarak’s dictatorship had been built.

A young protester, his face painted with the Egyptian flag, stands in Tahrir with a banner: “No to injustice…No to Corruption…No to the Field Marshal (Tantawi)…No to the Military Council”. Photo: Hossam el-Hamalawy

For thirty years, the army, bureaucrats and capitalists collectively formed an oppressive alliance against any kind of social justice, economic equality and political freedom for ordinary people. Alongside the military’s collaboration with the ruling classes at home, its strategic alliance and subservience to the US crucially facilitated the dictatorship with economic and political survival. Protestors and activists continuing to revolt against the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, (SCAF) are not just challenging the authority of the military junta. In reality, they are directly confronting the whole state apparatus - the army, the corrupt bureaucrats, the rule of capital and US hegemony alike. The underlying power structure still being used by the current regime to preserve both its own economic and political privileges and those of its neo-colonial masters is being violently shaken to the core.

The revolutionary voices being expressed in political discourses, informal forums, in slogans, on placards, banners and even in the graffiti sprawled across the cities clearly illustrates how protestor’s aims go beyond electoral reform and parliamentary democracy. People are also seeking social reform: improved healthcare and housing, better education, equal employment opportunities, labour rights, independent trade unions and a higher minimum wage which has not changed for twenty-seven years. People want judicial reform, constitutional changes, an end to military tribunals and the trial and conviction of those guilty of crimes both under the former dictatorship and the current regime. They are pushing for press freedom and an independent media. They want changes in foreign policy such as a renegotiation of the 1979 Peace Treaty with Israel.

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One Day in April of 1971

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I met with a friend, an expat from Bangladesh like me, at a bar in Arlington on the eve of Bangladesh’s Victory Day on December 16 for drinks.

East Pakistanis fleeing into India in 1971. Photo: Raymond Depardon

It was already December 16 in Bangladesh because of the 11-hour time difference. After a few beers, my friend, who is 10 years older than me, offered to tell me a story. It was April 1, 1971. I was six years old. The West Pakistan Army unleashed its attack on East Pakistan on the night of March 25. We stayed in Dhaka for a couple of days until my father told us to get ready to leave the city on March 28.

I fled Dhaka with my father, mother, sister, and grandmother to Jinjira, a city adjacent to Dhaka on the other side of the river Buriganga, just like many of ours neighbors did. All five of us piled up on a rickshaw, fit for only two passengers, and rushed to the bank of the river Buriganga and joined masses of people fleeing Dhaka. We arrived at a relative’s house in the afternoon of March 28. The next few days were relatively calm. But that changed on April 1. The dawn was just breaking on that April fool’s day. But I was not fooled. The sound of gun shots and screaming of people told me that the “army” – a reference to the West Pakistan Army – is here. I remembered how the gun shots sounded on the night of March 25.

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Russia and the WTO: The Politics of Economics

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After a nearly two-decade accession process completed, the World Trade Organization has welcomed Russia as a member, pending formal ratification from the Duma that is expected to be completed next June.

Russia officially becoming a member of the World Trade Organization

The Kremlin has been struggling to achieve membership in the WTO since 1993. The process was slowed as interest has been mixed over the past decade under the Putin administration, which desired the growth achieved by China but was reluctant to cede any power to the private sector or foreign interests. The Kremlin’s push to join the organization came as a response to the ailing domestic economy suffering from a lack in foreign investment and falling commodities prices. Coupled with growing discontent with the current administration, Russian leaders seem to understand that a fundamental change is necessary and, with the state of the contemporary global economy, can only be achieved with assistance from without.

As Russia moves forward to join the international community with membership in the WTO, its government leaders continue to rely on the strategies of the past decades to insure the retention of their political power. The protests against the overt fraud and corruption in Russia’s recent parliamentary elections, coupled with the heavy-handed response from the Kremlin and the censorship of social-media, led domestic political-analysts to state that “in Putin’s view, these [protest] leaders need to be frightened, or bought off, or destroyed, or discredited, or threatened with legal measures.” Modernizing Russia has been a long and arduous task that has pitted the government and private sector against each other, undermining the nation’s progress and stability.

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Sri Lanka’s ‘Truth’ Commission: A Brief Assessment of the LLRC Report

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Readers will find no big surprises after reading the final report of Sri Lanka’s Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC).

A Sri Lankan journalist reads the final report of Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission in Colombo, Sri Lanka, Friday, Dec 16, 2011. Gemunu Amarasinghe/AP Photo

It is very much what most people were expecting. A document that looks to the future, exonerates the military, does not touch on the question of accountability and includes some touchy-feely language about the country’s need to move forward, celebrate its diversity and be grateful for the defeat of terrorism. Essentially, all civilian casualties were the result of people caught in the crossfire or were the LTTE’s fault. “The protection of the civilian population was given the highest priority” by the Sri Lankan armed forces, the Commission has determined.

The report also claims that military operations moved at a “deliberately slow” pace because Sri Lanka’s military personnel were so careful and cognizant of the dangers to civilian life during the final phases of the conflict. While the LTTE deliberately targeted civilians, it appears that Sri Lanka’s military did not, according to the LLRC report. That assertion goes against what most people seem to think, including the report produced by the United Nation’s Panel of Experts. In order to determine “questions of State responsibility,” the LLRC report goes on to note that an “international tribunal” would be unhelpful because there just is not enough evidence about what actually happened during the final phase of the conflict.

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Gingrich, The Times and Doomsday

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In a recent New York Times article the newspaper’s senior science writer, William J. Broad, takes a dig at Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich’s obsession with the possibility of a “nightmarish of doomsday scenarios: a nuclear blast high above the United States that would instantly throw the United States in a dark age.”

Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich speaking at CPAC. Photo: Gage Skidmore

The phenomenon that Gingrich refers to is an electromagnetic pulse (EMP), one side effect of a nuclear explosion. EMPs can destroy or disrupt virtually anything electrical, from computers to power grids. As the Times points out, Gingrich has used this potential threat to advocate bombing Iran and North Korea. “I favor taking out the Iranian and North Korean missiles on their sites,” he told the American Israel Public Affairs Committee in 2009. Gingrich has also talked up the EMP “threat” on the campaign trail. Broad dismisses EMPs as “a poorly understood phenomenon of the nuclear age” and quotes Missile Defense Agency spokesman Richard Lehner poo-pooing the damage from an EMP attack as “pretty theoretical.”

While the Times is correct in dismissing any Iranian or North Korean threat—neither country has missiles capable of reaching the U.S., Iran doesn’t have nuclear weapons, and both have never demonstrated a desire to commit national suicide—what Broad does not mention is that the effects of EMP are hardly “poorly understood”: the U.S. has an “E-bomb” in its arsenal. More than that, the Pentagon considered using it during the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Asked directly if the U.S. was considering using an EMP weapon, then Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld answered, “You never know.”

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Democratic Speed Bumps in Latin America

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After a decade of growing popularity, democracy has hit a slump in Latin America.

Supporter of Manuel Zelaya being detained by police. Orlando Sierra/AFP

A recent Latinobarómetro poll cited by The Economist in late October underscores this point. In all but three Latin American countries, fewer people than last year believe that democracy is preferable to any other type of government. In the cases of Guatemala, Honduras, and Mexico, the drop in support for democracy is significant.

The 2009 removal of democratically elected Manuel Zelaya and the post-coup human rights abuses of the government of Porfirio Lobo are obvious indicators that Honduras is on the wrong track. Dozens of political murders have taken place in Honduras, and there has been little outrage from Washington. Additionally, November’s presidential elections in Nicaragua and Guatemala (and recent polling on Mexico’s 2012 election) reinforce the notion that many in the region have grown skeptical about democratic governance.

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