March 25, 2013
Rise in Sexual Assaults in Egypt Sets Off Clash Over Blame
By MAYY EL SHEIKH and DAVID D. KIRKPATRICK
CAIRO — The sheer number of women sexually abused and gang raped in a single public square had become too big to ignore. Conservative Islamists in Egypt’s new political elite were outraged — at the women.
“Sometimes,” said Adel Abdel Maqsoud Afifi, a police general, lawmaker and ultraconservative Islamist, “a girl contributes 100 percent to her own raping when she puts herself in these conditions.”
The increase in sexual assaults over the last two years has set off a new battle over who is to blame, and the debate has become a stark and painful illustration of the convulsions racking Egypt as it tries to reinvent itself.
Under President Hosni Mubarak, the omnipresent police kept sexual assault out of the public squares and the public eye. But since Mr. Mubarak’s exit in 2011, the withdrawal of the security forces has allowed sexual assault to explode into the open, terrorizing Egyptian women.
Women, though, have also taken advantage of another aspect of the breakdown in authority — by speaking out through the newly aggressive news media, defying social taboos to demand attention for a problem the old government often denied. At the same time, some Islamist elected officials have used their new positions to vent some of the most patriarchal impulses in Egypt’s traditional culture and a deep hostility to women’s participation in politics.
The female victims, these officials declared, had invited the attacks by participating in public protests. “How do they ask the Ministry of Interior to protect a woman when she stands among men?” Reda Saleh Al al-Hefnawi, a lawmaker from the Muslim Brotherhood’s political party, asked at a parliamentary meeting on the issue.
The revolution initially promised to reopen public space to women. Men and women demonstrated together in Tahrir Square peacefully during the heady 18 days and nights that led to the ouster of Mr. Mubarak. But within minutes of his departure the threat re-emerged in a group attack on the CBS News correspondent Lara Logan. There are no official statistics on women attacked — partly because few women report offenses — but all acknowledge that the attacks have grown bolder and more violent.
By the second anniversary of the revolution, on Jan. 25, the symbolic core of the revolution — Tahrir Square — had become a no-go zone for women, especially after dark.
During a demonstration that day against the new Islamist-led government, an extraordinary wave of sexual assaults — at least 18 confirmed by human rights groups, and more, according to Egypt’s semiofficial National Council of Women — shocked the country, drawing public attention from President Mohamed Morsi and Western diplomats.
Hania Moheeb, 42, a journalist, was one of the first victims to speak out about her experience that day. In a television interview, she recounted how a group of men had surrounded her, stripped off her clothes and violated her for three quarters of an hour. The men all shouted that they were trying to rescue her, Ms. Moheeb recalled, and by the time an ambulance arrived she could no longer differentiate her assailants from defenders.
To alleviate the social stigma usually attached to sexual assault victims in Egypt’s conservative culture, her husband, Dr. Sherif Al Kerdani, appeared alongside her.
“My wife did nothing wrong,” Dr. Kerdani said.
In the 18 confirmed attacks that day, six women were hospitalized, according to interviews conducted by human rights groups. One woman was stabbed in her genitals, and another required a hysterectomy.
In the aftermath, victims of other sexual assaults around Tahrir Square over the last two years have come forward as well. “When I see Mohamed Mahmoud Street on television from home, my hand automatically grabs my pants,” Yasmine Al Baramawy said in a television interview, recalling her own attack last November.
She and a friend were each surrounded by two separate rings of attackers, she said. Some claimed to be protecting her from others but joined in the attack. They used knives to cut most of the clothes off her body and then pinned her half-naked to the hood of a car. And they continued to torment her on a slow, hourlong drive to a nearby neighborhood, where, she said, residents finally interceded to rescue her.
“They told people I had a bomb on my abdomen to stop anybody from rescuing me,” Ms. Baramawy said.
The attacks have underscored the failure of the Morsi government, with its links to the Muslim Brotherhood’s political arm, to restore social order. The comments by the president’s Islamist allies blaming the women have proved embarrassing.
Pakinam el-Sharkawy, the president’s political adviser and the highest-ranking woman in his administration, called such statements “completely unacceptable.”
She attributed the attacks to the general breakdown in security but also to the refusal of the protesters to allow the police into the square since the revolt against Mr. Mubarak. “The protesters insist on keeping security out of the square, even to regulate traffic,” she said.
On Sunday, the Morsi government convened a meeting of women to discuss plans for their advancement. So far, though, its most tangible measure to address the problem is draft legislation to criminalize sexual harassment.
But women’s rights advocates say the bill would do nothing to protect women from social attitudes and scorn that assault victims face in hospitals and police stations — not to mention in the Parliament — if they try to bring legal complaints.
Ms. Moheeb said in an interview that after she was attacked, nurses told her to keep silent in order to protect her reputation.
With police protection negligible, some women are taking their security into their own hands. At a recent march to call attention to the sexual attacks, several women held knives above their heads. “Don’t worry about me,” said Abeer Haridi, 40, a lawyer. “I’m armed.”
Members of the political elite, meanwhile, have appeared more concerned with blaming one another. The Muslim Brotherhood “plotted the sexual harassment in Tahrir Square” to intimidate the demonstrators, asserted Mohamed Abu Al Ghar, the president of the Egyptian Social Democratic Party.
The Muslim Brotherhood said opposition leaders “ignored the brutal party of harassment and rape” in the square, according to a column on the Brotherhood Web site. The rapes are “a disgrace on their foreheads,” the column declared.
Other Brotherhood lawmakers faulted protest organizers for failing to segregate the demonstrators by gender as the Islamists usually do.
Some ultraconservative Islamists, now a political power alongside the Brotherhood, condemned the women for speaking out at all.
“You see those women speaking like ogres, without shame, politeness, fear or even femininity,” declared a television preacher, Ahmed Abdullah, known as Sheik Abu Islam.
Such a woman is “like a demon,” he said, wondering why anyone should sympathize with those “naked” women who “went there to get raped.”
Ms. Moheeb called such remarks “scandalous” and accused Islamist lawmakers of being complicit.
“When ordinary people say such things, ignorance might be an excuse,” Ms. Moheeb said, “but when somebody in the legislature makes such comments, they’re encouraging the assailants.”
Angelina Jolie, British foreign minister visit Rwanda, DRC to learn how to better protect women
By Agence France-Presse
Angelina Jolie joined British Foreign Secretary William Hague to visit Rwanda on Monday in a bid to encourage world powers to do more on tackling rape and sexual assault in war zones.
Britain’s Foreign Office released a picture of the US film star and Hague getting off a British-flagged jet in the central African country.
They are also to visit the neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo this week in a trip aimed at forcing the Group of Eight world powers to address the issue more seriously.
Hague said he would be making it his priority when he hosts the annual meeting of G8 foreign ministers next month in London.
“This visit is about hearing first hand from people who have endured rape and sexual violence during the conflict in the eastern DRC,” Jolie said.
“We want to learn the lessons that their experience holds for how the world can protect thousands of women, men and children at risk of rape in many other conflict zones.
“And we want to persuade governments around the world to give this issue the attention it deserves.
“Unless the world acts, we will always be reacting to atrocities, treating survivors rather than preventing rape in the first place.”
Jolie and Hague are calling on the G8 to agree that rape and sexual violence constitute breaches of the Geneva Conventions governing warfare.
They also want a new international protocol on the documentation and investigation of the issue.
Hague said: “More often than not the international community looks away, the perpetrators of these brutal crimes walk free and the cycle of injustice and conflict is repeated. We have to shatter this culture of impunity.
“It is time for real, meaningful action by the governments of the world to say that the use of rape as a weapon of war is unacceptable, to bring perpetrators to justice and to lift the stigma from survivors.
“This is my personal priority for the meeting of G8 foreign ministers.”
The campaign will also be taken to the United Nations Security Council in June and the UN General Assembly in September.
Somali women's rights reporter shot dead in Mogadishu
Colleagues and friends mourn death of Rahma Abdulkadir, who is the third journalist killed in the country this year
Abdalle Ahmed in Mogadishu
guardian.co.uk, Monday 25 March 2013 18.55 GMT
A 21-year-old woman has become the latest victim of a series of deadly attacks against journalists in Somalia.
Rahma Abdulkadir, whose work focused on women's rights, was murdered on Sunday night as she was travelling to her home in the Yaaqshiid neighbourhood of the capital, Mogadishu, colleagues and friends confirmed.
Abdulkadir was shot by two men after she and a fellow journalist, Munira Ibrahim, left an internet cafe at about 9.30pm.
"Two men armed with pistols approached us and started shooting Ms Abdulkadir," Ibrahim said. "Within seconds I saw her falling on the ground with a lot of blood coming from her head. They shot her in the head three times and in the neck two times. There were no police and I had to escape from the scene."
Ibrahim had worked with Abdulkadir at Radio Caabudwaaq in the Galgaduud region of central Somalia. The station's director, Abdukarim Bulhan, described Abdulkadir as an active young journalist who had been working with him since 2010. In January last year she moved to Mogadishu, where she was also intending to join a local university.
Bulhan said: "She was an active and young female journalist with the aspiration to be a role model. Her main focus was human rights in Somalia, particularly women's rights."
No group immediately claimed responsibility for the attack. Abdulkadir is the third journalist killed in Somalia this year.
The National Union of Somali Journalists has demanded that the work of a taskforce established by the Somali government to probe media assassinations be sped up. Last year 18 media workers were killed, mostly in targeted murders, but no arrests have been made.
Mohamed Ibrahim, secretary-general of the union, said: "We condemn this unacceptable killing. We want to call on the government to open investigations into all the journalists assassinated in Somalia."
Augustine Mahiga, the UN secretary-general's special representative for Somalia, also expressed shock. "I condemn this hideous attack in the strongest terms and send my deepest condolences to the family and friends of Rahma Abdulkadir," he said.
March 25, 2013
A Tour Puts a City in Reach and at Arm’s Length
By JODI RUDOREN
RAMALLAH, West Bank — A man from Haifa recalled taking his children here in the 1970s, to buy products not yet available in Israel: Ovaltine, licorice, 7-Up, Wrigley’s gum. A woman who lives in a Jerusalem suburb said she used to come in the 1980s, for political demonstrations.
Maya Bar-Hillel, a psychology professor at Hebrew University of Jerusalem, last visited in August 2004, accompanying a journalist for a rare audience with the head of the Palestine Liberation Organization, Yasir Arafat, on what turned out to be his final birthday. Noam Rumack, 26, went even more recently, in 2006 — but “as a soldier,” he said. “Inside a tank.”
These four Israelis were among about four dozen who made an unusual recent pilgrimage to Ramallah, one of several Palestinian cities that have been officially off-limits to most Israeli citizens for more than a decade. To make the trip, organized by the Israel Palestine Center for Research and Information, they needed special permits from both the Palestinian Authority and the Israel Defense Forces.
The outing occurred before President Obama’s visit to the region, but it could almost have been a response to one of the memorable lines in his Jerusalem speech: “Put yourself in their shoes,” Mr. Obama urged his Israeli audience, referring to the Palestinians. “Look at the world through their eyes.”
Doing so has become more difficult. With the peace process at a standstill and Israel’s separation barrier and network of checkpoints long a fixture of the landscape, contacts between the two peoples have dwindled. Fewer Palestinians work inside Israel. Dialogue groups have broken up. Camps connecting children are harder to find. The communities increasingly function as if in alternate universes.
Outside army service, Israelis who do visit the West Bank generally stick to the Jewish settlements; ominous red signs posted outside cities like Ramallah since 2004 warn that, for Israelis, entering is not only illegal but dangerous. Typical Tel Aviv residents grow wide-eyed at a mention of a visitor’s going shopping in Jenin or driving through Hebron. Did you feel safe? is a common refrain. What is it like?
But when the Israel Palestine Center announced this year that it would take Israelis on Saturday tours of Ramallah, the current center of Palestinian government and cultural life, 150 people signed up in 24 hours. “Israelis crave to meet Palestinians and to go to the West Bank,” said Goldie Orlan, who is managing the project, which also takes Israelis to Jericho and Bethlehem. “They just want to walk the streets and talk to normal people about their daily lives.”
But they had to settle for walking through a sales center at Rawabi, a city-to-be of high-rises and homeowners’ associations being erected in the empty hills. As for talking, it was mostly to their guide, Husam Jubran, whose liberal mix of opinion with fact led some to describe it as a “propaganda tour.”
Many who made the trip were retired: academics and lawyers, a real estate broker and an actress of some renown. Some were veteran political activists; others were students like Mr. Rumack, just off their army service and whose worldview has been shaped by the violence of the second intifada, or uprising.
Some said they joined the tour to test their politics. “We need to see, we need to learn — not lying on the sofa and saying, ‘I’m leftist,’ ” said Suzy Ben Dori, who lives in Tel Aviv and works in tourism. Sammy Berls, an Australian-Israeli and the one who brought his children for treats in the 1970s, saw it as a way to see how accurate Israel’s “rampant stereotypes” are.
For most, it was a matter of simple curiosity.
“Just to see them,” said Eran Lador, 26, who is studying economics in Beersheba. “It’s like 20 minutes away from my home, but it’s another land, another country, another way of living.”
For $50 each, the visitors got the sales pitch at Rawabi; a photo op at Mr. Arafat’s tomb; time in a new museum honoring the poet Mahmoud Darwish; lunch at a local hummuseria; a stop at a troubled neighborhood surrounded by the separation barrier; and a bus ride through bustling Manara Square, led and followed by Palestinian security vehicles.
“I used to drive into these places at five o’clock in the morning, when it was pitch black,” said Mr. Rumack, the former soldier, who is now training to be a tour guide. “It’s nice to see it alive.”
What they did not get is to meet Palestinians. At Samer Restaurant, the group was shuttled upstairs to waiting plates of falafel, pickles and spreads. The regulars stayed downstairs, and the men bringing refills and pouring thimbles of coffee did not engage them. When David Groman, 75, asked if he might go into some nearby shops — “I just wanted to look at the goods. I wanted to see the price levels, see how people live,” he said later — he was told no way.
At Mr. Arafat’s tomb, the rifle-bearing soldiers were stone-faced. “I talked Hebrew, and I thought, ‘O.K., they can kill me at any given moment,’ ” said Roy Dayan, 25, a biology and humanities major at Hebrew University.
At the Darwish museum, Smadar Tsaban, 59, thought it “a pity” that the Hebrew translations of the poet’s work were not among the eight languages on display.
“But I understand why it’s too much for them,” said Ms. Tsaban, the woman who frequented Ramallah for demonstrations decades ago. “We are, here, the bad guys, no matter what we think about the conflict.”
Ms. Orlan of the Israel Palestine Center acknowledged the limitations of viewing a society mainly through bus windows. But, she said, it is better than not going at all.
Throughout the six-hour journey, the Israelis rushed to snap pictures through those windows: at sheep grazing in medians, at fast-food restaurants like KFC and Pizza Hut, at any sign in Arabic. They asked Mr. Jubran basic questions: What’s the currency? (The Israeli shekel.) Do you have your own stamps? (Yes.) What does “Ramallah” mean in Arabic? (“High place of God.”) What is its altitude? (About 2,500 feet above sea level, just like Jerusalem.)
The Oslo Accords, signed by the Israelis and the Palestinians in the 1990s, divided the West Bank into Areas A, B and C. Most Palestinians live in Area A, where Israelis have not been allowed to go since October 2000, after the mob killing of two reserve soldiers at a Ramallah police station. It comprises 13 percent of the West Bank and is under full Palestinian control.
At one point, Mr. Jubran asked the driver to pull off the road for a closer view of one of the red signs marking the city’s borders. “The entrance for Israeli citizens is forbidden,” it said. “Dangerous to your lives. And is against the Israeli law.”
The guide objected to the wording. “They’re saying it’s like a zoo inside there,” he told the group. “Animals are living there, so it’s dangerous for you. It just gives the very, very bad image about the Palestinians.”
Most Israelis just see the signs as they drive past. This group, at least, went in, even if it was mostly left to look out the windows.
March 25, 2013
Leader of Central African Republic Fled to Cameroon, Official Says
By LYDIA POLGREEN
JOHANNESBURG — A day after being ousted by rebel forces, President François Bozizé of the Central African Republic surfaced in Cameroon on Monday, according to a statement read on state radio by a senior Cameroonian official. He will remain there until he finds a more permanent refuge, said the official, Ferdinand Ngoh Ngoh.
The rebel coalition, known as Seleka, the word for alliance in the Sango language, solidified its grip on the capital, Bangui, and pledged to stick to the terms of an earlier transition plan negotiated in neighboring Gabon that was to lay the groundwork for new elections in two or three years, Reuters reported.
Under that agreement, the rebels, the civilian opposition and Mr. Bozizé’s allies were to share power, but the Seleka rebellion claimed that Mr. Bozizé, who himself came to power in a military coup in 2003, was not respecting its terms. The rebels withdrew from the power-sharing deal and returned to the battlefield.
The African Union on Monday froze the assets and imposed a travel ban on the seven leaders of the rebel coalition, according to news reports. There were also indications of disagreement within the rebel ranks over who was in charge, with one leader, Michel Djotodia, declaring himself the new head of state and The Associated Press quoting another rebel leader, Nelson N’Djadder, as disputing Mr. Djotodia’s assertion.
South Africa, meanwhile, announced that 13 of its soldiers had been killed while fighting the rebels near Bangui. President Jacob Zuma of South Africa said 200 soldiers had battled more than 1,000 rebels, whom he referred to as “bandits.”
“They fought a high-tempo battle for nine hours defending the South African military base, until the bandits raised a white flag and asked for a cease-fire,” he said at a news conference in Pretoria. “Our soldiers inflicted heavy casualties among the attacking bandit forces.”
South Africa had sent 200 of a planned deployment of 400 troops to the Central African Republic as part of an agreement with Mr. Bozizé’s government to bolster and train the country’s ragtag army.
The high death toll shocked South Africans, many of whom did not know that the country had sent soldiers there and who questioned South Africa’s involvement in helping to prop up Mr. Bozizé.
South Africa’s main opposition party, the Democratic Alliance, called the deployment of troops there “highly questionable” and declared the mission “a complete disaster from the beginning.”
The Central African Republic is one of the most fragile and impoverished nations in the world. It has a long history of military coups and harsh dictatorship, and of meddling by the troubled nations on its borders. Mr. Bozizé came to power with the assistance of Chad, to the north.
The Central African Republic also borders Sudan, South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo, all of which have been at the center of major regional conflagrations.
March 26, 2013
Congo Warlord Denies Guilt in First Appearance at Hague Court
THE HAGUE (Reuters) - Bosco Ntaganda, a Congolese warlord known as "the Terminator" who evaded arrest on war crimes charges for seven years, denied guilt when he appeared for the first time at the International Criminal Court on Tuesday.
Ntaganda unexpectedly gave himself up to diplomats at the U.S. Embassy in Rwanda last week, walking in off the street and demanding to be handed over the ICC. Within days he was put on a plane to The Hague.
He is accused of murder, rape and other crimes over a 15-year-period of fighting in Rwandan-backed rebellions in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.
His appearance almost seven years after the court first issued a warrant for his arrest is a much-needed success for the ICC following the collapse of several cases.
Dressed in an ill-fitting dark blue suit, blue shirt, and stripy tie - attire most likely provided by the court - a stooped and bowed Ntaganda appeared ill at ease in the courtroom on Tuesday, leaning forward and looking down as the hearing began.
He confirmed his name, gave his age as 39, and told the court he was not guilty of the charges, but a judge interrupted and said this was not the occasion for discussing his guilt.
Asked whether he was aware of the charges against him, Ntaganda said: "I was informed of these crimes, but I plead not guilty."
Ekaterina Trendafilova, who was presiding alone over the hearing, stopped him.
"I wouldn't like to interrupt you, because you should feel at ease," she said. "But the purpose of this initial hearing is ... to know whether you have been informed about the crimes ... your rights, and we are not discussing now anything related to your guilt or innocence."
"I was born in Rwanda but I grew up in Congo. I am a Congolese citizen," Ntaganda told the court, speaking in Kinyarwanda through interpreters. "I was a soldier in the Congo."
Ntaganda is accused of recruiting child soldiers, murder, ethnic persecution, sexual slavery and rape during a 2002-2003 conflict in northeastern Congo's mineral-rich Ituri district.
Most recently, he was a commander in the M23 rebel movement, but his whereabouts had been unknown after he had fled to Rwanda with hundreds of his followers, and his decision to turn himself in to the U.S. Embassy in the capital Kigali caught diplomats there by surprise.
Analysts said he may have felt that his life would be safer in an ICC detention cell than in an increasingly hostile Rwanda.
A date of September 23 was set for the next hearing at which judges will decide whether the evidence against Ntaganda is strong enough to warrant a trial - by no means a foregone conclusion.
Recently, prosecutors withdrew their case against Kenyan civil servant Francis Muthaura after a witness retracted his testimony, prompting lawyers for his co-accused Uhuru Kenyatta, Kenya's president-elect, to charges also be dropped against him.
With many of the court's suspects, including Ugandan warlord Joseph Kony and Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, at large and beyond its reach, Ntaganda's arrival is especially welcome to prosecutors and activists.
"Ntaganda's appearance at the ICC after years as a fugitive offers victims of horrific crimes a real hope of seeing justice," said Geraldine Mattioli-Zeltner of Human Rights Watch.
"Ntaganda's detention in The Hague shows that no one is above the law."
(Editing by Sara Webb and Robin Pomeroy)
The Christian Science Monitor
Studies suggest ‘speed of light’ in a vacuum is not a fixed universal constant
Scientists examine nothing, find something
Two studies of vacuums suggest that the speed of light in a vacuum might fluctuate, pointing the way to a quantum mechanical explanation for why the speed of light and other so-called constants are what they are.
By Eoin O'Carroll, Staff / March 25, 2013 at 6:33 pm EDT
Where did the speed of light in a vacuum come from? Why is it 299,792,458 meters per second and not some other figure?
The simple answer is that, since 1983, science has defined a meter by the speed of light: one meter equals the distance light travels in one 299,792,458th of a second. But that doesn't really answer our question. It's just the physics equivalent of saying, "Because I said so."
Unfortunately, the deeper answer has been equally unsatisfying: The speed of light in a vacuum, according to physics textbooks, just is. It's a constant, one of those numbers that defines the universe. That's the physics equivalent of saying, "Because the cosmos said so."
Or did it? A pair of studies suggest that this universal constant might not be so constant after all. In the first study, Marcel Urban from the University of Paris-Sud and his team found that the speed of light in a vacuum varies ever so slightly.
This happens because what we think of as nothing isn't really nothing. Even if you were to create a perfect vacuum, at the quantum level it would still be populated with pairs of tiny "virtual" particles that flash in and out of existence and whose energy values fluctuate. As a consequence of these fluctuations, the speed of a photon passing through a vacuum varies, about 50 quintillionths of a second per square meter.
That may not sound like much, but it's enough to point the way toward a new underlying physics.
Before 1905, when Albert Einstein formulated his special theory of relativity, scientists regarded space and time as composing the backdrop of the universe, the immovable stage upon which motion takes place. The only problem with this model is that light seems to move at the same speed regardless of the speed of the source, creating an apparent paradox. Einstein's theory resolved this paradox by replacing Newton's absolutes of time and space with a single absolute, the speed of light.
But if even that can vary, what's left for us to hang our hat on? Nothing, it turns out.
But, as we just noted, nothing is something. Urban's paper suggests that the speed of light and other constants "are not fundamental constants but observable parameters of the quantum vacuum." In other words, the speed of light emerges from the properties of particles in the vacuum.
In the other paper, physicists Gerd Leuchs and Luis L. Sánchez-Soto, from the Max Planck Institute for the Physics of Light in Erlangen, Germany, hypothesize how this emergence occurs. They suggest that the impedance of a vacuum – another electromagnetic 'constant' whose value depends on the speed of light – itself depends only on the electric charge of the particles in the vacuum, and not their masses.
If their hypothesis is correct, it answers our question of where the speed of light comes from: It emerges from the total number of charged particles in the universe.
Time will tell if this hypothesis is correct. And of course, by "time," we mean "space and time," by which we mean "the speed of light," by which we mean "nothing," by which we mean "the properties of the quantum vacuum." But in the meantime – or whatever – you can thank us for informing you that, as the speed of light in a vacuum continues to fluctuate, so too does the length of the meter. Think nothing of it.
In the USA...
Journalist claims Washington Post killed article on Iraq war media failures
By Roy Greenslade, The Guardian
Monday, March 25, 2013 20:42 EDT
The Washington Post has been accused by a journalist of spiking a piece he was commissioned to write about the US media’s failures in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq.
Greg Mitchell, a veteran journalist and author (see here), claims his assigned piece for the Post was killed and replaced by an article that defended the media’s coverage.
Headlined “On Iraq, journalists didn’t fail. They just didn’t succeed”, it was written by Paul Farhi.
If Mitchell is right, then the Post is guilty of censorship because his own submission attacked the media coverage. That should not have been too surprising to the Post’s editors given that Mitchell’s latest book, So wrong for so long, is a detailed critique of the failures of US press, including the Washington Post, over Iraq. So what did the Post expect?
Mitchell tears into Farhi’s article as a “misleading, cherry-picking” piece “claiming the media did NOT fail.” He writes:
“I love the line about the Post in March 2003 carrying some sceptical pieces just days before the war started: ‘Perhaps it was too late by then. But this doesn’t sound like failure.’”
You’ll find Mitchell’s original on his own blog here and also on The Nation website here.
Amazon reviews of Mitchell’s book – which has a preface by Bruce Springsteen – are full of praise. “Read this book. Twice”, writes former White House press secretary and TV commentator Bill Moyers. “Read it and weep; read it and get enraged; read it and make sure it doesn’t happen again,” says Arianna Huffington.
Sources: Greg Mitchell/Washington Post/The Nation/Wikipedia
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media 2013
Here is the article that the corporate media repressed .....
Sunday, March 24, 2013
That Piece Killed by the 'Post'
Due to "popular demand," based on my post last night, I'm publishing below the assigned Outlook piece that I submitted to the Washington Post on Thursday. I see that the Post is now defending killing the piece because it didn't offer sufficient "broader analytical points or insights." I'll let you decide if that's true and why they might have rejected it.
The original appeared almost word-for-word at The Nation this weekend (there I added a reference to Bob Woodward and to Bob Simon). I had absolutely no plans to even mention that the piece was killed until late last night when I saw that Paul Farhi of the Post had written for Outlook a piece claiming that the media "didn't fail" in the run-up to the Iraq war. That inspired me to write the post last night which has proved quite popular.
Here's the original piece as submitted. For much more, see my new e-book.
For awhile, back in 2003, Iraq meant never having to say you’re sorry. The spring offensive had produced a victory in less than three weeks, with a relatively low American and Iraqi civilian death toll. Saddam fled and George W. Bush and his team drew overwhelming praise, at least here at home.
But wait. Where were the crowds greeting us as “liberators”? Why were the Iraqis now shooting at each other--and blowing up our soldiers? And where were those WMDs, bio-chem labs, and nuclear materials? Most Americans still backed the invasion, so it still too early for mea culpas--it was more “my sad” than “my bad.”
By 2004 it was clear that Saddam’s WMDs would never be found, but with another election season at hand, sorry was still the hardest word. But a few very limited glimmers of accountability began to appear. So let’s begin our catalog of the art of mea culpa and Iraq here.
PLAUSIBLE DENIABILITY President Bush and many others--including scores of Democrats--who once claimed “slam dunk” evidence on Iraq’s WMDs now admitted that this intelligence was more below-average than Mensa. But don’t blame them! They simply had been misled. Judith Miller of The New York Times, perhaps the prime fabulist in the run-up to war, explained that she was only as good as her sources--her sources having names like “Curveball” and “Red Cap Guy.”
But the news media, which for the most part had swallowed whole the WMD claims, was not facing re-election, so some self-criticism, at least of the “mistakes-were-made” variety came easier.
THE MINI-CULPA This phrase was coined by Jack Shafer of Slate after The New York Times published an “editors’ note” in May 2004, admitting it had publishing a few “problematic articles” (it didn’t mention any authors) on Iraqi WMDs, but pointing out it was “taken in” like most in the Bush administration. Unlike the Times, Washington Post editors three months later did not produce their own explanation but allowed chief media reporter Howard Kurtz to write a lengthy critique. Editors and reporters admitted they had often performed poorly but offered one excuse after another, with phrases such as "always easy in hindsight," "editing difficulties," "communication problems" and "there is limited space on Page 1." One top reporter said, “We are inevitably the mouthpiece for whatever administration is in power. “
STONEWALLING As years passed, the carnage in Iraq intensified but accepting blame for this in America was still pretty much AWOL. President Bush and Vice President Cheney said that even if the WMD threat was bogus, they’d still do it again. Reason: They’d deposed a “dictator”--and would you rather have Saddam still in power?
Now let’s flash forward to this past two weeks, when Iraq (remember Iraq?) re-emerged in the news and opinion sections. But anyone who expected that hair shirts would come into fashion must have been sadly disappointed. The “mea culpas” would not be “maxima.” First, those who accepted some blame.
LIMITED HANGOUT STRATEGY David Frum, the former Bush speechwriter, wrote well over a thousand words at the Daily Beast describing multiple reasons for promoting the war before very briefly concluding, “Those of us who were involved—in whatever way—bear the responsibility.” While adding: “I could have set myself on fire in protest on the White House lawn and the war would have proceeded without me.” Jonathan Chait at New York offered regrets for backing the war but defended believing in Saddam’s WMD and recalled that “supporting the war was cool and a sign of seriousness.” And: “The people demanding apologies today will find themselves being asked to supply apologies of their own tomorrow.”
YOUNG AND DUMBER Ezra Klein apologized in a Bloomberg column, at great length, for supporting the war--when he was eighteen, and “young and dumb.” Charles P. Pierce at Esquire replied, “It is encouraging that he no longer believes in fairy tales.”
MEA (AND A LOT OF OTHERS) CULPA Stephen Hadley, Bush’s national security adviser, wrote at Foreign Policy: “It never occurred to me or anyone else I was working with, and no one from the intelligence community or anyplace else ever came in and said, ‘What if Saddam is doing all this deception because he actually got rid of the WMD and he doesn’t want the Iranians to know?’ Now, somebody should have asked that question. I should have asked that question. Nobody did.”
SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK Thomas Friedman, famous author and New York Times columnist, admitted that the U.S. had “paid too high a price” for the 2003 invasion (which he supported, but did not now mention) but, hey, there was still a decent chance that good would come from it--if only those ungrateful Iraqis would stop blowing each other up and form a stable democracy. David Ignatius at the Washington Post offered his regrets but observed that at least “the surge” worked and saved lives (although Rajiv Chandraskaran at the Post calls this a “myth”).
Now for those who accepted little or no blame:
WHO, MEA? Paul Wolfowitz, the former deputy Pentagon chief, in an interview fiercely denied he was the architect of the disaster. Afterall, “I didn’t meet with him [Bush] very often.” The New York Times in an editorial pointed fingers at the bad actors who helped get us into the war but somehow did not recognize any “me” in “mess.” (The Washington Post got around this by not publishing an editorial on the subject at all.) Peter Beinart at The Daily Beast blamed the war on American “hubris” but did not reveal that he (hubristically?) backed the war himself.
THAT’S MY STORY AND I’M STICKING TO IT Dick Cheney in a new Showtime documentary said he’d do it all again. “I feel very good about it. If I had to do it over again, I’d do it in a minute.” Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair concurred. Donald Rumsfeld tweeted (yes) about “liberating” 25 million Iraqis. He failed to recall when he said the war would last at most six months. Richard Perle, former chairman of the Pentagon’s Defense Policy Board, said that asking if the war was worth it was “not a reasonable question. What we did at the time was done in the belief that it was necessary to protect this nation.”
IF WE’D ONLY KNOWN! George Will on ABC: “If in 2003 we’d known what we know now — the absence of weapons of mass destruction, the difficulty of governing and occupying a society in which, once you lop off the regime, you’re going to have a civil war in a sectarian tribal society — the answer I think is obviously no.”
BLAME IT ON THE HANDLERS Kenneth Pollack of Brookings, one of the most influential proponents of the war, now says that he had a different war in mind and the occupation was handled incompetently, asserting, “it didn't have to be this bad.”
Greg Mitchell’s “So Wrong for So Long: How the Press, the Pundits--and the President--Failed on Iraq” has just been published in an updated e-book edition. He is the former editor of Editor & Publisher.
Blinded By Arrogance and Tea, Ted Cruz Is The New Sarah Palin
By: Sarah Jones
Mar. 25th, 2013
Wow. In an interview with the Dallas News, Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) was asked repeatedly what he’s learned. He danced around the question like his feet were on fire, but reporter Todd J. Gillman stuck to it. Finally, Cruz admitted that he was teaching those veteran Republicans a thing or two.
Sure, he’s only been there for ten weeks, and while he may have picked the wrong battles and there may be very few left who will support legislation he wants to advance (should he ever actually do what he’s actually being paid to do, that is), chances are slim that he’ll get the backers. He’s already left scorched earth behind him and based on this interview, he hasn’t learned a thing yet.
After Cruz repeatedly ignored the reporter’s question about how he was going to get anything done after burning so many bridges, the Dallas News reporter asked him if he’d learned anything yet, to which Cruz responded that he has learned how defeatist Republicans are (handy that he has learned nothing about his own behavior, but plenty about others):
Q. This defeatism is among incumbent senators?
A. Yes. I’m referring to those who have been here a long time and have suffered some difficult election results and who I think were discouraged about being able to get anything done.
Q. So it sounds like you’ve been teaching them a few lessons. Is there anything that you’ve learned on the job yet?
A. What I think all of us have learned together is the power of leaders standing for principle. You asked what I learned. I can tell you the most inspirational moment since I’ve been here has been Rand Paul’s filibuster.
Yada, yada. Cruz droned on about Rand’s filibuster over his inability to understand the White Papers which had already answered Rand’s question. Cruz finds this kind of ignorance super inspiring, yada yada… But nothing more about what he’s learned.
After being asked ‘How do you get things done?’ after you’ve burned so many bridges, Cruz took refuge in “I can’t control what they do” answers and then pivoted. Pivot, pivot, pivot.
He deflected so much that he forced the reporter to ask the same question over and over again (kudos to Gillman for persistence and refusal to get thrown off course with talking points). At one point, Gillman rebutted, “That’s not what I’m asking. I’m asking how you’re positioning yourself to be effective not only on things like stopping the assault weapons ban but on things you can’t foresee, that might require building a coalition.”
When there was still no comprehension by Ted, Gillman repeated, “What I’m trying to get at is your role.”
Gillman’s point was lost in the dense matter wherein Cruz keeps his McCarthyism. Nothing is about him. He can do and say anything, no matter how inflammatory. But if anyone responds, well, gosh, he has no control over that. He is basically ineffective and impotent as an alleged legislator, by his own admission. But that doesn’t stop him from stepping up to the tea plate.
Ted’s role is to teach Republicans how to do things in DC! Don’t you get it? It’s not him, with his ten weeks of experience, who needs to stop and learn anything! There is nothing to learn. Give Cruz a scalpel next and let him run into the nearest operating room. He needs no lessons. He “doesn’t surrender” (never mind that our government was designed by our founders to disempower extremists who won’t compromise). All he needs to do his job is to know how to cut into others while escaping the knife himself.
Cruz later claimed he had asked for advice from other Senators, but refused to share what they said to him. He was very excited about repeating the Palin doctrine: How he is being persecuted by the liberal media because he is a conservative (not because throwing McCarthy bombs is dangerous and inappropriate) and this means he is successful. Ted Cruz’s pugnacious, indefatigably yapping ego has officially outgrown Texas.
Veteran Republicans must want to wipe the smug hubris off of Ted Cruz’ face, but they can’t. This is the type of guy who brought their party to the dance. He’s the only reason they’re still in even remote power. And he’s also the reason they can’t get the White House again.
The saddest thing is that Ted Cruz will never learn just how wrong he is, because he will never actually try to get something done for the American people. He’s not there to build a consensus or cross a bridge. He’s there to throw Republican flames until all decent legislation goes up in smoke. So far, hell of a job Brownie.
If Cruz were smart, he’d check out how his pal-in-demagoguery is doing up in Minnesota, but the Republican Party’s shills are carefully cultivated to include only those whose egos are big enough to drown out any common sense. Cruz is yet another Palin, sacrificing any chance of a national career in order to serve as the GOP’s mascot of dirty bombs.
The Tea Party loves him, but the Tea Party is the only breathing segment of the Republican Party and both are dead on arrival for national office.
Ted Cruz: Joe McCarthy comparisons mean ‘we’re doing something right’
By David Edwards
Monday, March 25, 2013 12:06 EDT
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) says that he must be “doing something right” when critics compare him to Sen. Joe McCarthy, a Republican politician who was officially censured in the 1950s for using false accusations of communism to smear opponents.
In a February report, The New York Times noted that Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) had compared Cruz’ tactics to McCarthyism after he made the baseless suggestion that then-Secretary of Defense nominee Chuck Hagel was being paid by North Korea.
“It was really reminiscent of a different time and place, when you said, ‘I have here in my pocket a speech you made on such and such a date,’ and, of course, nothing was in the pocket,” Boxer said. “It was reminiscent of some bad times.”
But in an interview published on Sunday, Cruz told The Dallas Morning News that he took the comparison to McCarthy as a badge of honor.
“It often seems in Washington [that] the ferocity of the attacks leveled at an individual, from Democrats or from the media, is directly related to the effectiveness of that person in standing for conservative principles,” he explained. “In the short time that I’ve been serving in office, The New York Times has already spilled barrels of ink attacking the conservative principles I’m fighting to defend. It seems to me if The New York Times is this hysterical already, it may be a sign that perhaps we’re doing something right.”
“Is McCarthy someone you admire?” reporter Todd J. Gillman wondered.
“I’m not going to engage in the back and forth and the attacks,” Cruz replied, declining to distance himself from McCarthy. “Several Democrats have demonstrated a willingness to attack me by name. I’m not going to engage in that argument. I’m going to stay focused on what I think Texans want me to stay focused on, which is the substance of the job.”
Now that Michele Bachmann is Washed Up, The GOP Throws Her to the Wolves
By: Sarah Jones
Mar. 25th, 2013
Who isn’t investigating Michele Bachmann right now? That list would be shorter than the list of who is investigating the consistently fact-challenged Republican.
While Bachmann’s ethics have long been an “issue”, her Presidential try really shone a spotlight on her sense of entitlement. In addition to the lawsuits Bachmann faces and the Iowa Senate Ethics Committee’s investigation into allegations that her campaign paid a staffer under the table, the Iowa police are investigating her campaign’s alleged theft of the homeschoolers list. And now, the Office of Congressional Ethics is probing into her alleged misdeeds. The Daily Beast reported:
(S)he is embroiled in a litany of legal proceedings related to her rolling disaster of a presidential campaign—including a Office of Congressional Ethics investigation into campaign improprieties that has not previously been reported.
The Daily Beast has learned that federal investigators are now interviewing former Bachmann campaign staffers nationwide about alleged intentional campaign-finance violations. The investigators are working on behalf of the Office of Congressional Ethics, which probes reported improprieties by House members and their staffs and then can refer cases to the House Ethics Committee.
The interesting question is why this is all coming to light now, and why the House OCE (Office of Congressional Ethics) is taking up arms against the once rising star. It’s not as if she’s lonely in the world of grifters and shady operators, especially among the current Republican Party.
When even the Republican-led House takes up the mantle and allows an investigation by the OCE that might result in the Ethics Committee taking the case, we have to ask what’s going on.
It looks as if the Republican Party is trying to get rid of a problem like Michele. Indeed, the New York Times just addressed the very issue of the problem Bachmann poses for the GOP’s attempt to rebrand themselves. Last week, our own Jason Easley wrote that Bachmann’s CPAC crash and burn was taking the GOP down with it:
By claiming that Obamacare would literally kill people, and then calling Medicaid a ghetto, Michele Bachmann is destroying herself and the Republican Party…
When Michele Bachmann uncorks a rant about Obamacare, Medicaid, or Benghazi she confirms the widely held belief that the Republican Party is completely out of step with the rest of the country. Bachmann comments will get all the headlines, and she makes all Republicans look crazy.
Bachmann has become an embarrassment to the party; synonymous with all that’s wrong with their current image. Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly went so far as to side with Obama against Bachmann after her CPAC disaster. Right now, she’s Sarah Palin with a job. After she proved that she can’t go national and she barely hung onto her gerrymandered seat in Minnesota, she’s not much use to the GOP. They’ve shut her out of leadership positions and tried to distance the party from her as much as possible.
The cold hard fact of the matter is that the Republican Party would be better served if Bachmann resigned and they could get another Republican in her seat via a special election before she runs in 2014. The Republicans can’t afford to lose any seats that they have a chance of winning, and so a problem like Michele can’t be allowed to take down the party.
Charges that the Congresswoman has problems with the truth and with rules are nothing new. The only difference now is that her presidential campaign drew national attention to those “issues” and she is no longer a rising star; she is now a problem. As such, I doubt she’ll get the usual protection from her party, because they stand to gain from her political demise.
The Republican Party’s game is to use and abuse extremists like Michele Bachmann in order to plant fear and misinformation into policy debates. Once that person is no longer of any use to them, they claim “one bad apple” and run in the other direction. In truth, the party is full of radical extremists with a challenged relationship to facts and ethics. Who else would be so easy and so cheap to use?
Ecuador auctions off Amazon to Chinese oil firms
Indigenous groups claim they have not consented to oil projects, as politicians visit Beijing to publicise bidding process
Jonathan Kaiman in Beijing
The Guardian, Tuesday 26 March 2013 17.16 GMT
Ecuador plans to auction off more than three million hectares of pristine Amazonian rainforest to Chinese oil companies, angering indigenous groups and underlining the global environmental toll of China's insatiable thirst for energy.
On Monday morning a group of Ecuadorean politicians pitched bidding contracts to representatives of Chinese oil companies at a Hilton hotel in central Beijing, on the fourth leg of a roadshow to publicise the bidding process. Previous meetings in Ecuador's capital, Quito, and in Houston and Paris were each confronted with protests by indigenous groups.
Attending the roadshow were black-suited representatives from oil companies including China Petrochemical and China National Offshore Oil. "Ecuador is willing to establish a relationship of mutual benefit – a win-win relationship," said Ecuador's ambassador to China in opening remarks.
According to the California-based NGO Amazon Watch, seven indigenous groups who inhabit the land claim that they have not consented to oil projects, which would devastate the area's environment and threaten their traditional way of life.
"We demand that public and private oil companies across the world not participate in the bidding process that systematically violates the rights of seven indigenous nationalities by imposing oil projects in their ancestral territories," a group of Ecuadorean organised indigenous associations wrote in an open letter last autumn.
In an interview, Ecuador's secretary of hydrocarbons, Andrés Donoso Fabara, accused indigenous leaders of misrepresenting their communities to achieve political goals. "These guys with a political agenda, they are not thinking about development or about fighting against poverty," he said.
Fabara said the government had decided not to open certain blocks of land to bidding because it lacked support from local communities. "We are entitled by law, if we wanted, to go in by force and do some activities even if they are against them," he said. "But that's not our policy."
Amazon Watch said the deal would violate China's own new investment guidelines, issued jointly by the ministries of commerce and environmental protection last month. The third clause of the guidelines says Chinese enterprises should "promote harmonious development of local economy, environment and community" while operating abroad.
Fabara said he was not aware of the guidelines. "We're looking for global investors, not just investors from China," he said. "But of course Chinese companies are really aggressive. In a bidding process, they might present the winning bids."
Critics say national debt may be a large part of the Ecuadorean government's calculations. Ecuador owed China more than £4.6bn ($7bn) as of last summer, more than a tenth of its GDP. China began loaning billions of dollars to Ecuador in 2009 in exchange for oil shipments. More recently China helped fund two of its biggest hydroelectric infrastructure projects. Ecuador may soon build a $12.5bn oil refinery with Chinese financing.
"My understanding is that this is more of a debt issue – it's because the Ecuadoreans are so dependent on the Chinese to finance their development that they're willing to compromise in other areas such as social and environmental regulations," said Adam Zuckerman, environmental and human rights campaigner at Amazon Watch. "The message that they're trying to send to international investors is not in line with reality."
Last July the inter-American court on human rights ruled to prohibit oil developments in the Sarayaku, a tropical rainforest territory in southern Ecuador that is accessible only by plane and canoe, in order to preserve its rich cultural heritage and biodiversity. The court also mandated that governments obtain "free, prior and informed consent" from native groups before approving oil activities on their indigenous land.
A TV news report broadcast by the US Spanish-language network Telemundo showed members of Ecuadorean native groups – some wearing traditional facepaint and headdresses – waving protest banners and scuffling with security guards outside the Ecuadorean government's roadshow stop in Houston.
"What the government's been saying as they have been offering up our territory is not true; they have not consulted us, and we're here to tell the big investors that they don't have our permission to exploit our land," Narcisa Mashienta, a women's leader of Ecuador's Shuar people, said in the report.
Peru declares environmental state of emergency in its rainforest
Government reports high levels of barium, lead, chrome and petroleum-related compounds in region that is home to oil field
Dan Collyns in Lima
guardian.co.uk, Tuesday 26 March 2013 18.42 GMT
Peru has declared an environmental state of emergency in a remote part of its northern Amazon rainforest, home for decades to one of the country's biggest oil fields, currently operated by the Argentinian company Pluspetrol.
Achuar and Kichwa indigenous people living in the Pastaza river basin near Peru's border with Ecuador have complained for decades about the pollution, while successive governments have failed to deal with it. Officials indicate that for years the state lacked the required environmental quality standards.
A new law published on Monday that sets out, for the first time, environmental quality standards setting acceptable limits for contaminants in soil, may be a key advance, say officials.
Peru's environment ministry has given Pluspetrol 90 days to clean up the affected areas and reduce the risk of contamination to the local population.
In declaring the state of emergency, Peru's environment ministry said tests in February and March found high levels of barium, lead, chrome and petroleum-related compounds at different points in the Pastaza valley.
Pluspetrol, the biggest oil and natural gas producer in Peru, has operated the oil fields since 2001. It took over from Occidental Petroleum, which began drilling in 1971, and, according to the government, had not cleaned up contamination either.
Several multimillion dollar fines have been levied against Pluspetrol in recent years. The company has appealed against all of the fines in the Peruvian courts, including an $11m (£7m) fine levelled in January for failing to complete an environmental clean-up of an oil block located inside Peru's largest national park, Pacaya Samiria, in the Loreto region.
"We know that there has been bad environmental behaviour by the company in the past because there were no regulations but also in the present because it's not acting responsibly and it's not giving the correct information about what's happening in the zone," Peru's environment minister Manuel Pulgar-Vidal said of Pluspetrol to local media.
In a statement, his ministry said the government began administrative actions against Pluspetrol in March 2012 over contamination at block 1AB, Peru's biggest crude oil field in the adjacent Corrientes river basin. The ministry says further environmental checks will be carried out on the upper Marañón, Tigre and Corrientes river basins where Pluspetrol also operates.
"Serious attention to the environmental disaster in the northern Peruvian Amazon is long overdue. The Peruvian health ministry registered unacceptable levels of lead and cadmium in the blood of Achuar children almost seven years ago," Andrew Miller, lead Peru campaigner for Amazon Watch told the Guardian.
"Yet only following years of community-based environmental monitoring, pressure from indigenous federations, and the recent visit of Peruvian members of congress has the political will been created for the government to take appropriate action."
The Peruvian government plans to auction a further 29 new oil and gas concessions this year.
A spokesman for Pluspetrol said the company was "evaluating the situation" but refused to comment further.
China's exploitation of Latin American natural resources raises concern
Economic benefits countered by environmental damage and fears over lopsided nature of trade relations with Beijing
guardian.co.uk, Tuesday 26 March 2013 19.55 GMT
Amazonian forest cleared in Ecuador, a mountain levelled in Peru, the Cerrado savannah converted to soy fields in Brazil and oil fields under development in Venezuela's Orinoco belt.
These recent reports of environmental degradation in Latin America may be thousands of miles apart in different countries and for different products, but they have a common cause: growing Chinese demand for regional commodities.
The world's most populous nation has joined the ranks of wealthy countries in Europe, North America and east Asia that have long consumed and polluted unsustainably. This has led to what author Michael T Klare calls "a race for what's left" and its impact is particularly evident in the continent with much of the untapped, unspoiled natural resources.
Even more than Africa, Latin America has become a major focus of Beijing's drive for commodities. A study last year by Enrique Dussel Peters, a professor at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, found that the region has been the leading destination for Chinese foreign direct investment – mostly for raw materials and by big government-run companies such as Chinalco and CNOOC.
Since the 2008 financial crisis, China has also become the main lender to the region. In 2010, it provided $37bn (£24bn) in loans – more than the World Bank, Inter-American Bank and the US Import-Export Bank combined. Most of this has gone to four primary exporters – Venezuela, Brazil, Argentina and Ecuador – for mining or transport infrastructure.
The economic benefits have been enormous. Trade between China and Latin America was just $10bn in 2000. In 2011, it had surged to $241bn. While the distribution has varied enormously from country to country, this helped Latin America avoid the worst of the financial and economic crises that gripped much of the developed world and provided extra revenue for poverty alleviation programmes that have eased the region's notorious inequality. It also played a major part in bolstering left-leaning governments that are seeking an alternative to neo-liberal prescriptions from Washington and Wall Street.
Venezuela and Ecuador, which have been unable to access international capital markets since defaulting, have received hefty loans from China. Argentina is seeking similar treatment.
But giving up one kind of dependency can lead to another. Repayments to China are guaranteed by long-term commodity sales, which means a commitment to push ahead with resource exploitation – often with dire consequences for the environment and indigenous communities.
"China is shopping worldwide for natural resources. We're in the midst of a process of commodity accumulation by them. In that context, they lend money to Ecuador and the government pays with oil through anticipated sales. We have committed sales to them up until 2019," said Alberto Acosta, who served as energy minister but has since challenged the government of President Rafael Correa. He estimates his country's debts to China at $17bn.
The lopsided nature of China-Latin America trade is also questioned because while it is good in terms of GDP quantity, it has not been so beneficial in developmental quality. Commodity suppliers are delighted at the Chinese demand for their exports, but manufacturers complain of a flood of cheap Chinese imports that undermine their competitiveness.
The Brazilian president, Dilma Rousseff, wants to change the nature of her country's relationship with China by putting more emphasis on science, technological and educational co-operation as well as soy, iron and oil. This follows signs that Brazil's recent economic growth masks a de-industrialising trend as primary producers account for a rising share of GDP.
Mexico, which has fewer commodities to sell but a big domestic market, has made some of the sharpest criticisms of the trend, albeit in private.
"We do not want to be China's next Africa," Neil Dávila, head of ProMéxico, a foreign trade and investment promotion agency, was quoted as saying in a diplomatic cable released by WikiLeaks. "We need to be owners of our own development."
Pollution and heavy resource extraction are not new to Latin America, which has been carved up and exploited since the arrival of Christopher Columbus and Vasco de Gama. Nor are the Chinese state firms necessarily any worse than private western companies (Chevron faces a $19bn lawsuit for its pollution of the Ecuadorean Amazon), but they are an additional source of pressure on a region that already looks strained by the environmental weight of the world.
Peru’s engineers ‘make’ their own drinkable water in response to shortages outside of Lima
By Agence France-Presse
Wednesday, March 27, 2013 5:46 EDT
The message emblazoned on a billboard outside the Peruvian capital sounds almost too good to be true: drinkable water for anyone who wants some in this arid village.
Even more intriguingly, the fresh, pure water on offer along a busy road in this dusty town some 90 kilometers (55 miles) south of Lima, has been extracted, as if by magic, from the humid air.
Within the enormous, raised, double-paneled billboard inviting all takers is concealed a tube, wires and mechanical equipment that draws the water from the air and purifies it.
Inhabitants from far and wide who flock here toting liter bottles and buckets say this purified water is a wonderful alternative to the stagnant well water that used to be the only water source for many in this town.
“The water that we get in our houses very often is dirty. By contrast, here we have good water that we can use and drink without having to worry,” Francisco Quilca, 52 told AFP.
His wife Wilma Flores says that it gives her peace of mind, “knowing that the water is disinfected. We can drink it and we can use it to wash our vegetables in,” she said.
The United Nations on Friday marked its World Water Day initiative which aims to cut water-borne diseases like cholera, dysentery and diarrhea around the world.
It is a perennial problem in Lima and the surrounding area, where about one million of the more than eight million people lack reliably clean water.
Faced with the ongoing water shortage, some innovators at Peru’s University for Engineering and Technology hit upon the novel idea.
“If the problem is water, we’ll make some,” said Alejandro Aponte, one of the people who worked on the project, which was both an engineering feat and a marketing challenge.
Enough water is sucked from the air by this huge contraption located on the edge of a busy highway in Peru to fill a 100-liter tank each day.
The system required a location where the humidity was at least 30 percent — not a problem in Lima, where the dewpoint sometimes hits an unbearably sticky 98 percent, despite the barren landscape where there is very little evident vegetation and not very much actual rainfall.
The interdisciplinary effort required figuring out not only how to draw moisture from the air on a large enough scale, but how to let people know that the water was available for their consumption.
Engineers on the project have installed five generators to suck moisture out of the air and convert it into liquid. The purification structure is sandwiched between two huge billboards which advertise the availability of the water.
Once they had worked out the mechanics of extracting the moisture from the air, “the university asked us to think up this panel,” said Aponte, who is creative director of the Mayo Draft ad agency.
He said the project — part water generator, part advertising billboard — has filled a real need here, as “there are many people who have no access to clean water,” he told AFP.
“We have seen that this has a huge potential if you get to use it in other areas of Lima, or even other countries that have many water problems,” said Aponte, who said he has received overseas queries about the project.
Carlos Cardenas, who works as a driver and travels regularly by the Pan-American Highway that runs along Peru’s coast, stops alongside the sign, taking several glasses of water before moving on.
“I often stop here to get water because it is quite good, and not nearly as polluted as it seems to be in other places,” he told AFP.
March 26, 2013
Petrobras, Once Symbol of Brazil’s Oil Hopes, Strives to Regain Lost Swagger
By SIMON ROMERO
RIO DE JANEIRO — Brazil’s oil production is falling, casting doubt on what was supposed to be an oil bonanza. Imports of gasoline are rising rapidly, exposing the country to the whims of global energy markets. Even the nation’s ethanol industry, once envied as a model of renewable energy, has had to import ethanol from the United States.
Half a decade has passed since Brazilians celebrated the discovery of huge amounts of oil in deep-sea fields by the national oil company, Petrobras, triumphantly positioning the country to surge into the top ranks of global producers. But now another kind of energy shock is unfolding: the colossal company, long known for its might, is losing the race to keep up with the nation’s growing energy demands.
Saddled with a nationalist mandate to buy ships, oil platforms and other equipment from lethargic Brazilian companies, the oil giant is now facing soaring debt, major projects mired in delays and older fields, once prodigious, that are yielding less oil. The undersea bounty in its grasp also remains devilishly complex to exploit.
Now, instead of symbolizing Brazil’s rise as a global powerhouse, Petrobras embodies the sluggishness of the nation’s economy itself, which, after racing ahead at 7.5 percent in 2010, slowed to less than 1 percent last year, eclipsed by growth in other Latin American nations like Mexico and Peru.
Until recently, Petrobras was second in value only to ExxonMobil among publicly traded energy companies. But its fortunes have tumbled to the point that it is now worth less than Colombia’s national oil company. That fall has accentuated an increasingly bitter debate here over President Dilma Rousseff’s attempts to use Petrobras to shield the Brazilian population from the nation’s economic slowdown.
“Petrobras was once thought indestructible, but that is no longer the case,” said Adriano Pires, a prominent Brazilian energy consultant. “Petrobras is now a tool of short-term economic policy, used to protect domestic industry from competition and fight inflation. This disastrous process will intensify if it is not reversed.”
Ms. Rousseff, like her predecessor and political mentor, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, has relied heavily on state companies like Petrobras to create jobs and spur the economy. As a result, the president and her top advisers argue, unemployment remains near historic lows, an approach in economic management that contrasts sharply with Europe and the United States.
In a recent speech, Ms. Rousseff explained that her government’s priority was lifting millions of Brazilians out of poverty.
“Those betting against us,” she warned, “will suffer serious financial and political losses.”
To bolster Ms. Rousseff’s approval ratings going into a presidential election in 2014, Petrobras is building new refineries, pursuing offshore oil and buying most of its equipment from Brazilian companies, all of which have created tens of thousands of jobs and delivered some tangible political benefits.
“My life is better,” said Adinael Soares Silva, 38, a welder at a Petrobras refinery under construction in Itaboraí, a city near Rio de Janeiro. He said he was pleased with his salary of about $800 a month. “Where I was, I didn’t have enough to have a savings account,” he said. “Now I do.”
But while Petrobras has helped keep Brazil’s unemployment low, around 5.4 percent, a growing chorus of critics points to the obvious problems at the company, including its backlog of projects and an inability to satisfy the country’s thirst for oil, forcing it to import foreign gasoline and sell it at a loss.
After Brazil made its deep-sea oil discoveries in 2007, the government pushed to put Petrobras firmly in control of the new areas, a move that critics say could strain the company even further. It was a marked departure from the 1990s, when authorities ended Petrobras’s monopoly as part of a radical restructuring of the economy. Petrobras remained under state control but was exposed to market forces, emerging as a hybrid nimbly competing with foreign oil companies.
Today, Petrobras seems far less nimble. In 2012, its production fell 2 percent, the first such decline in years.
The international energy industry is also changing, especially in the United States, as momentum shifts toward extracting oil and natural gas from onshore shale formations. Brazil is thought to have large shale reserves itself, but the government remains focused on its costly deep-sea megaprojects.
“The United States is redrawing the global petroleum map, while in Brazil euphoria has given way to inertia,” Folha de São Paulo, one of Brazil’s most influential newspapers, said in a recent editorial.
Compounding matters, Brazil’s demand for gasoline surged about 20 percent in 2012, reflecting a car-manufacturing industry that has boomed partly as a result of government efforts to lift production.
Petrobras still lacks enough refineries able to process crude oil, forcing it to buy increasing amounts of gasoline from abroad. And it is still losing money on gasoline imports as the government keeps domestic fuel prices relatively low, to keep inflation from accelerating in a slow-growing economy.
Energy analysts contend that the government is using Petrobras to further its own political objectives. Ms. Rousseff’s administration, for instance, has hewed to measures aimed at reviving the country’s shipbuilding industry, by requiring Petrobras to buy many of its ships and oil platforms from Brazilian shipyards.
But these ventures have struggled with large cost overruns of their own, sometimes delivering vessels late or not at all, cutting into Petrobras’s hopes of meeting ambitious production targets.
Then there are the delays at oil refineries under construction. One such complex, in Pernambuco State, was conceived in 2005 as a way for Brazil to forge closer political ties with oil-rich Venezuela. Eight years later, Venezuela has yet to invest in the project, which has faced various delays as Petrobras shoulders the entire cost of building it.
Describing the accumulation of problems at Petrobras, Exame, Brazil’s top business magazine, bluntly accused the government of “destroying Brazil’s largest company,” accompanying the claim with an illustration of a fuel dispenser from a filling station in the shape of a noose.
The sense of dismay reflects, at least in part, Petrobras’s stature. Founded in 1953, it wields clout from its Brutalist-style headquarters here in spheres well beyond the energy industry, sponsoring everything from literary festivals to the Carnival celebration in Salvador, a city in northeast Brazil.
Despite the challenges it faces, Petrobras remains profitable and much less constrained by political ideology than some other large national oil companies. In Mexico, for instance, Pemex has long retained its monopoly status despite production declines, and now the government is considering opening it to greater private investment.
Petrobras is also far more transparent than Petróleos de Venezuela, the national oil company that President Hugo Chávez, who died this month, transformed into an extremely politicized pillar of his government, purging it of thousands of employees after a bitter strike and forcing it to focus on new tasks like food distribution.
Maria das Graças Foster, the chief executive of Petrobras, has been exceptionally frank about the company’s problems. In recent conference calls with analysts, she said that oil production should remain steady this year or perhaps even decline slightly again. But she also responded sharply to critics, claiming that output from the new deep-sea fields had reached 300,000 barrels a day. By 2020, the company expects to double overall production to 4.2 million barrels a day.
Other executives at the company have similarly sought to temper expectations that Brazil will enter a robust phase of energy independence.
José Carlos Cosenza, a Petrobras executive, has warned that Brazil may need to import large amounts of fuel for almost another decade. Moreover, gasoline demand is expected to climb even higher as Brazilians buy more cars.
Taylor Barnes contributed reporting.
March 26, 2013
Group of Emerging Nations Plans to Form Development Bank
By LYDIA POLGREEN
JOHANNESBURG — A group of five emerging world economic powers met in Africa for the first time Tuesday, gathering in South Africa for a summit meeting at which they plan to announce the creation of a new development bank, a direct challenge to the dominance of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.
The leaders of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, all members of the so-called BRICS Group of developing nations, have agreed to create the bank to focus on infrastructure and development in emerging markets. The countries are also planning to discuss pooling their foreign reserves as a bulwark against currency crises, part of a growing effort by emerging economic powers to build institutions and forums that are alternatives to Western-dominated ones.
“Up until now, it has been a loose arrangement of five countries meeting once a year,” said Abdullah Verachia, director of the Frontier Advisory Group, which focuses on emerging markets. “It is going to be the first real institution we have seen.”
But the alliance faces serious questions about whether the member countries have enough in common and enough shared goals to function effectively as a counterweight to the West.
“Despite the political rhetoric around partnerships, there is a huge amount of competition between the countries,” Mr. Verachia said.
For all the talk of solidarity among emerging giants, the group’s concrete achievements have been few since its first full meeting, in Russia in 2009. This is partly because its members are deeply divided on some basic issues and are in many ways rivals, not allies, in the global economy.
They have widely divergent economies, disparate foreign policy aims and different forms of government. India, Brazil and South Africa have strong democratic traditions, while Russia and China are autocratic.
The bloc even struggles to agree on overhauling international institutions. India, Brazil and South Africa want permanent seats on the United Nations Security Council, for example, but China, which already has one, has shown little interest in shaking up the status quo.
The developing countries in the bloc hardly invest in one another, preferring their neighbors and the developed world’s major economies, according to a report released Monday by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development.
Just 2.5 percent of foreign investment by BRICS countries goes to other countries in the group, the report said, while more than 40 percent of their foreign investment goes to the developed world’s largest economies, the European Union, the United States and Japan.
Africa, home to several of the world’s fastest-growing economies, drew less than 5 percent of total investment from BRICS nations, the report said. France and the United States still have the highest rate of foreign investment in Africa. Despite China’s reputation for heavy investment in Africa, Malaysia has actually invested $2 billion more in Africa than China has.
Still, 15 African heads of state were invited to the summit meeting in South Africa as observers, a sign of the continent’s increasing importance as an investment destination for all of the BRICS countries.
China is in many ways a major competitor of its fellow BRICS member, South Africa. South African manufacturers, retail chains, cellphone service providers, mining operations and tourism companies have bet heavily on African economic growth and in some ways go head-to-head against Chinese companies on the continent.
South Africa is playing host for the first time since becoming the newest member of what had been known previously as BRIC. Many analysts have questioned South Africa’s inclusion in the group because its economy is tiny compared with the other members, ranking 28th in the world, and its growth rates in recent years have been anemic.
In an interview last year with a South African newspaper, Jim O’Neill, the Goldman Sachs executive who coined the term BRIC, said South Africa did not belong in the group.
“South Africa has too small an economy,” Mr. O’Neill told the newspaper, The Mail & Guardian. “There are not many similarities with the other four countries in terms of the numbers. In fact, South Africa’s inclusion has somewhat weakened the group’s power.”
But South Africa’s sluggish growth has become the rule, not the exception, among the onetime powerhouse nations. India’s hopes of reaching double-digit growth have ebbed. Brazil’s surging economy, credited with pulling millions out of poverty, has cooled drastically. Even China’s growth has slowed.
And once welcome, Chinese investment in Africa is viewed with increasing suspicion.
On a visit to Beijing last year, President Jacob Zuma of South Africa warned that Chinese trade ties in Africa were following a troubling pattern.
“Africa’s commitment to China’s development has been demonstrated by supply of raw materials, other products and technology transfer,” Mr. Zuma said. “This trade pattern is unsustainable in the long term. Africa’s past economic experience with Europe dictates a need to be cautious when entering into partnerships with other economies.”
Mr. Zuma appeared to have a change of heart before the summit meeting, saying Monday that China does not approach Africa with a colonial attitude.
But other African leaders are not so sure. Lamido Sanusi, governor of Nigeria’s central bank, wrote in an opinion article published in The Financial Times this month that China’s approach to Africa is in many ways as exploitative as the West’s has been.
“China is no longer a fellow underdeveloped economy — it is the world’s second-biggest, capable of the same forms of exploitation as the West,” he wrote. “It is a significant contributor to Africa’s deindustrialization and underdevelopment.”
BRICS group of emerging powers scales back plans to challenge Western supremacy
By Agence France-Presse
Wednesday, March 27, 2013 5:06 EDT
Leaders from the BRICS group of emerging powers on Wednesday were to unveil a scaled-back plan to challenge Western supremacy at global institutions like the World Bank.
Leaders from Brazil, Russia, India, China and hosts South Africa were set to hammer out deals designed to counter the impact of Europe’s dragging economic crisis and gain more influence on the world stage.
Topping the agenda on the final day of the BRICS summit is an agreement to establish an infrastructure bank designed to rival the US and European-led World Bank that has dominated development finance for several decades.
“The BRICS-led bank is intended to mobilise domestic savings and to co-fund infrastructure in developing regions,” host and South African President Jacob Zuma told the gathering in the port city of Durban.
Together the BRICS economies account for 25 percent of global output and 40 percent of the world’s population.
But members say global institutions such as the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the United Nations Security Council are not changing fast enough reflect their new-found clout.
Echoing the BRICS’ new-found confidence, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff said the summit came “at a point in time that is marked by deep economic changes, sweeping changes, which have made our BRICS nations key stakeholders and players.”
The disparate BRICS grouping has, however, struggled to turn that ideological belief into concrete progress toward their goals.
BRICS negotiators had been under pressure to come up with a deal on the bank to prove it is more than a talking shop, but a wide-ranging agreement appears to be beyond reach.
A push for the bank to have a substantial $50 billion starting balance is likely to be significantly scaled back and there is little agreement on the bank’s mandate.
The details were “being hammered out”, South Africa’s Trade Minister Rob Davies admitted.
“There’ll obviously be a process to put in place the remainder of the details,” he told AFP.
The bank is not likely to be up and running for years.
The key sticking points were defining the scope of the bank, how projects would be distributed and where it would be based.
The World Bank said Tuesday it was ready to support the new development bank.
But “establishing a development bank is a significant undertaking”, it warned.
“We await the details related to the new bank’s financing, governance, and location and stand ready to assist this newest player in global development any way we can,” it said.
Chinese President Xi Jinping, who underscored the growing importance his country attached to the group by making Durban his first summit destination in his new role as head of state, admitted the BRICS countries had a long road ahead.
“The potential of BRICS development is infinite,” he said, but “the real potential of BRICS cooperation is yet to be realised.”
Many emerging nations both inside and outside the BRICS grouping hope the bank will be a way to tap China’s vast financial resources, not least it’s massive $3.31 trillion foreign reserves, the world’s largest.
Addressing concerns that trade with China was seen as too much of a one-way street, Xi insisted China was “committed to making our economy more open.”
In a bid to harness China’s clout, BRICS leaders are expected to agree to establish a currency swap line worth around $100 billion.
Members would be able to draw on the funds during a liquidity crunch or other crises.
Zuma said the group would also agree to build a high-capacity 28,400 kilometre (17,600 mile) fibre-optic cable between the BRICS countries to “remove dependency on developed countries as interconnection points.”
BRICS leaders will also consider an appeal from Syria’s embattled President Bashar al-Assad to mediate in the conflict there.
Assad’s senior advisor Bouthaina Shaaban said the president had appealed to the summit’s leaders to intervene “to stop the violence in his country and encourage the opening of a dialogue, which he wishes to start”.
Speaking ahead of the summit, Russian President Vladimir Putin said the group would try to act in concert.
“We will coordinate our activities to find a peaceful solution for the Syrian crisis,” he said.
Russia and China have repeatedly blocked moves at the UN Security Council to impose sanctions against the Assad regime.
Congo receives £180m boost to health system to tackle warzone rape
Issue of rape as a weapon of to be put at heart of G8 agenda as William Hague announces new funding during visit
Julian Borger in Goma
The Guardian, Tuesday 26 March 2013 18.51 GMT
When Beatrice was raped, by a gang of soldiers who sauntered by her home and saw her alone, she thought it was the end of world. She could not have imagined then that rape was only the start of a terrible downward spiral that would often seem to have no end.
"My husband came and said what happened? You can't be telling me the truth. He no longer wanted to be with me and he left. I was alone with five children."
Beatrice, not her real name, now has a sixth child, the result of the rape. The infant is strapped to her back, and sleeps while she sobs at the memories that stalk her, in a dark room in a hospital in Goma, in the violent south-eastern corner of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
"My husband's parents totally rejected my child. The village did. Everyone who sees me, curses me. They say I am a soldier's mistress."
Beatrice's ever deepening tragedy is also a national nightmare. By the United Nations' very conservative estimate, 200,000 women have been through a similar ordeal since 1998.
On a trip to Goma, William Hague, the British foreign secretary, launched the UK's plan to help tackle the crisis, announcing £180m in new funding for the DRC health system, some of which will go to training medical staff to give proper care for rape victims.
Jonathan Lusi, a surgeon at the Goma hospital, both tends to the very serious injuries which accompany rape, and oversees his patients' psychological recovery, training to give them independent livelihoods.
"We are in a war. It's a legal vacuum. There is no government, no authority and no values. Rape is a warning sign something has gone very wrong."
The DRC, after decades of conflict and turmoil is just one of the world's battlefields where the routine sexual abuse of women and girls is a weapon of war. No one has any idea how many have been raped in Syria, for example. It is hard enough to count the bodies. It is a crime against humanity that often goes unmentioned because of the squeamishness of public officials and the many challenges to collecting evidence. Corpses are easier to count than rapes, while the victims of rape live in societies that enforce silence.
The tens of thousands of rapes during the Bosnian war, for example, have only led to 30 convictions.
The British government will attempt to break the official silence over the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war by taking the unusual step of using its presidency of the G8 this year to put it at the heart of the agenda of the rich nations' club that has in recent years been preoccupied with economic woes.
"It's time for the governments of the world to do something about this," said Hague in an interview with the Guardian during a visit to Goma. "I will argue it has been taboo or ignored and taken for granted for too long … We can move the dial on something like this. We are big enough in the world to do something about this."
As well as the money pledged to support the DRC health system, Hague also announced £850,000 in support for an advocacy group called Women's Initiatives for Gender Justice to help it document cases in eastern DRC and push the international criminal court (ICC) to take heed of sexual crimes in its deliberations. Other funding will go to Physicians for Human Rights, another NGO, for evidence collection equipment such as locked evidence cabinets for eventual prosecutions.
Such prosecutions are not necessarily a distant aspiration. One of the leaders of the rebel M23 militia, Bosco Ntaganda, handed himself in at the US embassy in Kigali, the capital of neighbouring Rwanda, last week and was flown to face war crimes charges at the ICC in the Netherlands, where he denied charges including murder, rape, pillaging and using child soldiers in his first appearance on Tuesday.
Hague was accompanied in Goma by Angelina Jolie, with whom he has forged an unorthodox partnership to campaign on the issue. He credits Jolie's film last year about Bosnian rape camps, In the Land of Blood and Honey, with helping to inspire the British initiative.
"The hope and the dream is that next time this happens, it is known that if you abuse women, if you rape the women, you will be accountable for your actions," Jolie told the Guardian. "This will be a crime of war and you won't just get away with it."
Hague and Jolie visited a camp on the shores on Lake Kivu which has sprung up as a result of an upsurge in fighting when the M23 advanced into Goma last November.
Set against a breathtaking backdrop of lake and volcanoes, the camp of 10,000 people is a huddle of meagre straw shelters half covered with tarpaulin.
The women here are forced to venture out of the camp to collect firewood or water. Both make them vulnerable to rape and many of the women and girls have been assaulted. All the International Rescue Committee, which runs the camp, can offer to mitigate the threat are "dignity kits" that contain efficient stoves that require less firewood and extra clothes so the women have to look for washing water less often.
"It's a sad fact that when you ask how to reduce sexual violence the answer is to help them not have to go out," Jolie said.
On the way out of the camp a woman who had earlier given Hague and Jolie a reserved factual account of her experiences ran up to them on a last minute impulse: "Please help us. We are being raped like animals." Hague said: "The memory of meeting her will always stay with me."