AFGHANISTAN: WOMEN’S RIGHTS TRAMPLED DESPITE NEW LAW

from IRIN

As the world marks International Women’s Day, ambivalence, impunity, weak law enforcement and corruption continue to undermine women’s rights in Afghanistan, despite a July 2009 law banning violence against women, rights activists say.

A recent case of the public beating of a woman for alleged elopement—also shown on private TV stations in Kabul—highlights the issue.

In January domestic violence forced two young women to flee their homes in Oshaan village, Dolaina district, Ghor province, southwestern Afghanistan. A week later they were arrested in neighbouring Herat Province and sent back to Oshaan, according to the governor of Ghor, Mohammad Iqbal Munib.

“One woman was beaten in public for the elopement and the second was reportedly confined in a sack with a cat,” Munib told IRIN.

According to the governor, the illegal capture of the women was orchestrated by Fazul Ahad who leads an illegal armed militia group in Dolaina District. Locals say Ahad, a powerful figure who backed President Hamid Karzai in the August 2009 elections, has been running Oshaan as his personal fiefdom.

“When the roads reopen to Dolaina [closed by snow] we will send a team to investigate,” said the governor, adding that he was concerned that arresting Ahad could cause instability. “We have asked the authorities in Kabul for support and guidance.”

IRIN was unable to contact Fazul Ahad and verify the charges.

Self-immolation
“I poured fuel over my body and set myself ablaze because I was regularly beaten up and insulted by my husband and in-laws,” Zarmina, 28, told IRIN. She, along with over a dozen other women with self-inflicted burns, is in Herat’s burns hospital

Over 90 self-immolation cases have been registered at the hospital in the past 11 months; 55 women had died, doctors said.

“People call it the ‘hospital of cries’ as patients here cry out loudly in pain,” Arif Jalali, head of the hospital, told IRIN.

Beneath the cries lie cases of domestic violence and/or disappointment with the justice system.

“Self-immolation proves that the justice system for female victims is failing,” said Movidul-Haq Mowidi, a human rights activist in Herat.

Barriers to justice
Despite laws prohibiting gender violence and upholding women’s rights, widespread gender discrimination, fear of abuse, corruption and other challenges are undermining the judicial system, experts say.

“Women are denied their most fundamental human rights and risk further violence in the course of seeking justice for crimes perpetrated against them,” stated a report by the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan on the situation of Afghan women in July 2009.

Orzala Ashraf, a women’s rights activist in Kabul, blames the government: “Laws are clear about crimes but we see big criminals thriving and being nurtured by the state for illicit political gains,” she told IRIN, pointing to the government’s alleged failure to address human rights violations committed over the past three decades of conflict.

“Because no one is put on trial for his crimes, a criminal culture is being promoted: violators have no fear of the law, prosecution and a meaningful penalty,” said Ashraf.

Deep-seated ambivalence to women’s rights is evident from a law signed off by President Hamid Karzai in early 2009: The Shia Personal Status Law, dubbed a “rape legalizing law,” was amended after strong domestic and international pressure.

“The first version [of the law] was totally intolerable,” said Najia Zewari, a women’s rights expert with the UN Fund for Women (UNIFEM). “Despite positive changes in the final version, there are articles that still need to be discussed and reviewed further,” she said.

Another example of this ambivalence is the case of the men who threw acid in the faces of 15 female students in Kandahar city in November 2008: Karzai publicly vowed they would be “severely punished” but court officials in Kandahar and Kabul have said they are unaware of the case and do not know where the alleged perpetrators are.

“Judges say the men were wrongly accused and forced to confess,” Ranna Tarina, head of Kandahar women’s affairs department, told IRIN.

Violence database
Over the past two years more than 1,900 cases of violence against women in 26 of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces—from verbal abuse to physical violence—have been recorded in a database run by the Ministry of Women’s Affairs and UNIFEM.

One recorded case is the murder, by her in-laws in Parwan Province north of Kabul, of a young woman who had refused to live with her abusive husband. Another is the regular physical and mental torture meted out to a woman by her husband and mother in-law in Kabul.

“The database does not give a perfect picture but it helps to highlight some of the common miseries of Afghan women,” UNIFEM’s Najia Zewari told IRIN.

UNIFEM is keen to make the database publicly available on the internet.

“Violence against women is not a new phenomenon in Afghanistan but it is good to see crimes do not remain confined to a home and a village,” said activist Orzala Ashraf.

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This story first appeared March 8 on the Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN), a project of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

From our Daily Report:

Afghan women march against warlord impunity
World War 4 Report, Dec. 12, 2009

Afghanistan: Karzai “legalizes rape”
World War 4 Report, April 2, 2009

See also:

THE AFGHANISTAN WAR: A CALL FOR CLARITY
No to Fundamentalist Criminals, No to the U.S. Occupation
by Sonali Kolhatkar, Foreign Policy in Focus
World War4 Report, December 2009

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Reprinted by World War 4 Report, April 1, 2010
Reprinting permissible with attribution

Continue ReadingAFGHANISTAN: WOMEN’S RIGHTS TRAMPLED DESPITE NEW LAW 

THE TRAUMAS OF IMMIGRAITON LAW

by Kent Paterson, Frontera NorteSur

It began as an ordinary academic presentation. Backed by a power-point, sociologist Alison Newby showed a crowd at New Mexico State University (NMSU) in Las Cruces how more than 400 public and privately-contracted immigrant detention facilities imprison more than 440,000 people, at a cost surpassing $1.7 billion annually to the taxpayers.

“Not only are families potentially losing their breadwinners, it’s costing us to keep people in immigration detention,” Newby said, adding $95 per day on average is spent to detain an immigrant.

Newby’s talk hit home. In February, Texas-based Corplan Corrections went before the Las Cruces City Council with a plan to build what company representative Toby Michael was quoted as calling a “family residential center” for mainly women and child immigrants. In the view of critics, the envisioned facility is a buffed-up prison. Recently, Corplan made the same proposal to the city government in Benson, Arizona.

While ample attention has been placed on the dramatic increase in immigrant detention since the Bush administration, Newby traced the phenomenon to the 1996 Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act and the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, both of which passed in 1996.

According to the NMSU professor, the laws expanded the definition of “aggravated felony” to encompass minor crimes for which no jail time was served, thus making greater numbers of immigrants eligible for detention and deportation. Legal reforms virtually eliminated judicial discretion to take into account individual histories, family ties and even the nature of the crime, Newby said.

A fundamental contradiction of the current system, she argued, is that violations of civil immigration laws are treated as criminal offenses without the corresponding rights to a speedy trial, rules of disclosure, a court-appointed attorney and other bedrock legal guarantees of the US justice system.

“None of this matters. The judge’s hands are potentially tied as well,” Newby said.

Then Newby got personal. She recalled that morning a little more than one year ago, on February 28, 2009, when men came knocking on her door. Representing Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the federal agents spirited away Newby’s Cuban immigrant husband and charged him with an immigration law violation because of a prior drug conviction. Outside the couple’s home where their two children witnessed the arrest, several SUVs with armed men awaited, in a deployment Newby said “seemed like overkill.”

Incarcerated in a detention center in neighboring El Paso, Texas, Newby’s husband was housed with hundreds of other prisoners awaiting their fates. Navigating a legal maze, the detainee was afforded 15-minute contact visits with his children under the watchful eyes of guards. As a Cuban national, he could not be readily deported, because the Cuban government would not accept him back home. Instead, the detainee was hustled off to citizenship interviews where he sat shackled next to children getting vaccinations, according to Newby.

In the El Paso detention center, some work was available for inmates at the rate of one dollar per day. “I don’t know about the legality of the US government employing [immigrant detainees], and some of them may not have documents,” Newby quipped, sending chuckles rippling through the audience.

Newby said her husband was finally released after spending nearly one year in detention; he still awaits final disposition of his case. “This is an extremely horrific Kafkaesque system,” charged the sociologist. “It is ripping families apart… I don’t know if we are any safer.”

Sponsored by NMSU’s Center for Latin American and Border Studies and International Relations Institute, Newby’s talk resonated in other presentations at a conference on immigration and human rights held at the university’s main Las Cruces campus earlier this month. Many speakers examined the impact of toughened immigration law enforcement on children, families and communities in the New Mexico borderlands and beyond.

Nicholas Dagones, regional manager of protective services for the New Mexico Children, Youth and Families Department, touched on thorny situations in which his agency’s staff come into custody of minors whose immigrant parents are detained.

Since many families have citizen and undocumented parents, the mixed status of many immigrant households creates complications, Dagones said. Undocumented children who are in state custody could face deportation when they turn 18, according to the child advocate. To address individual cases, the state government of New Mexico works with the Mexican Consulate, he said.

Dr. Pat Sandau-Beckler of NMSU’s School of Social Work told the New Mexico conference researchers have detected Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome in many children whose immigrant parents have been arrested. According to Sandau-Beckler, three of every four such children experience eating and sleeping problems. Adolescents, she said, have been observed more withdrawn than even younger children.

“Families of mixed status along the US-Mexico border are living under siege,” contended Vicky Gaubeca, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Regional Center for Border Rights in Las Cruces. “The only part of the economy that seems to be growing is the law enforcement economy.”

Calling for family protection, Gaubeca and other presenters urged sweeping reforms to the immigration law system.

Together with other New Mexico immigrant rights activists, the ACLU participates in the Task Force for Immigration Advocacy and Services (TIAS), a two-year-old initiative of different service providers and advocates. The task force supports measures that will ensure family unity, increase possibilities for citizenship and residence, uphold equal rights for all workers, end local enforcement of federal immigration laws, reform detention standards, eliminate privatized immigrant prisons, and restore due process and constitutional rights to all regardless of immigration status.

Johnny Young, executive director of migration and refugee services for the US Conference of Catholic Bishops in Washington. DC, joined other speakers in Las Cruces in calling for reform. The ordeal of Newby’s family, Young said, is a “vivid example” of a “broken” immigration system.

A former US ambassador to Sierra Leone, Togo, Bahrain and Slovenia, Young said the Roman Catholic leadership organization has an 80-year history of involvement in immigration issues, and has helped settle about one million new immigrants to the US since 1975.

“This is part of our religion, the Judeo-Christian tradition, welcoming the stranger,” Young said.

Currently, the US Conference of Catholic Bishops is mounting a campaign to send three million postcards to Congress in support of immigration law reforms that include a pathway to legalization for undocumented residents, a new guest worker program and the elimination of detention centers. The bishops also support a March 21 pro-immigrant rally in Washington that will include calls to pass an immigration reform bill sponsored by Democratic Congressman Luis Gutierrez of Illinois.

Although Young voiced confidence that momentum was building on the side of reform advocates, opponents of legalizing undocumented residents are also gearing up for action. For instance, members of the Tea Party movement and their allies plan numerous rallies across the United States on April 15.

“Despite the fake polls, bought and paid for by the Open Borders Lobby groups, the truth remains that 80 percent of Americans oppose Amnesty for illegal aliens and turning millions of illegals into voters would have a catastrophic effect on America,” said William Green of Americans for Legal Immigration PAC in a statement this week.

“We will be sending tens of thousands of people out to support Tea Party events on April 15 to properly present public opposition to illegal immigration and Amnesty for illegals,” Green said. To help organize opposition to the Gutierrez bill and related proposals, the Tea Party
Against Amnesty has set up a website at AgainstAmnesty.com.

Broadening their reach, anti-amnesty groups are also utilizing Twitter and Facebook to mobilize.

The Gutierrez bill does not advocate blanket amnesty, but proposes a $500 fine as part of a package of steps leading to the legalization of undocumented residents.

Immigration law reform was at the center of a flurry of activity in Washington on Thursday, March 11, when President Obama met with two key senators, Republican Lindsay Graham and Democrat Charles Schumer, to discuss prospects for passing legislation. According to a dispatch from the Associated Press, Obama earlier met with the National Council of La Raza and other immigrant advocates, assuring the activists he was still committed to immigration reforms.

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This story was made possible in part by a grant from the McCune Charitable Foundation for Frontera NorteSur‘s special coverage of key issues in the southern New Mexico borderland.

Resources:

Corplan Corrections
http://www.corplancorrections.com/

AgainstAmnesty.com.
http://www.AgainstAmnesty.com

See also:

A NEW DEAL FOR IMMIGRANTS IN 2010?
by David L. Wilson, MR Zine
World War 4 Report, January 2010

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Reprinted by World War 4 Report, April 1, 2010
Reprinting permissible with attribution

Continue ReadingTHE TRAUMAS OF IMMIGRAITON LAW 

FALKLANDS DISPUTE: ARGENTINE SOVEREIGNY WON’T SOLVE THE PROBLEM

by Nikolas Kozloff, Huffington Post

With Britain now moving to explore for oil and gas in the Falkland Islands, Argentina has cried foul. Buenos Aires claims that the Falklands, or the Malvinas as Argentines refer to the islands, represent a “colonial enclave” in the south Atlantic. The islands have been a British possession since 1833, and the local inhabitants consider themselves thoroughly British. Yet, Argentina claims the Malvinas as the country inherited them from the Spanish crown in the early 1800s. In 1982 Argentina seized the islands but was later expelled by a British naval force. The war was short but bloody, costing 650 Argentine and 250 British lives.

Since then the Falklands issue has moved to the backburner, but now the two countries are again at loggerheads as a result of energy resources. That’s because recently, the Brits started to drill for oil and gas beneath the Falklands seabed. But ominously, just 150 miles west of the British drilling, Argentine-Spanish consortium Repsol YPF also wants to drill, thus raising the prospect of a hydrocarbon race in the area.

There’s a lot of oil and profits to be made here: geologists estimate that there are up to 60 billion barrels of oil near the Falklands. Britain is hardly the military superpower it once was, but would probably win another showdown. The Brits have an airfield on Port Stanley with four Typhoon jets and other air defenses. That’s not very much, but the Royal Navy has already dispatched a submarine and other vessels to the area.

Recently, ARA Drummond, an Argentine vessel, had an encounter on the high seas with HMS York, a British destroyer. Drummond withdrew, but Argentine nationalism has been ratcheted up with veterans of the 1982 war protesting London outside the presidential palace in Buenos Aires. Argentina says it has no desire for a military confrontation, but insists it has the right to seize international supply ships headed to the Falklands and argues that British ships need permission to head into the area. Britain rejects any such notion.

Argentina has brought its claims to the United Nations, where the South American nation might attract diplomatic support. However, the Argentines undermine their cause by emphasizing narrow-minded energy sovereignty and ongoing plans for oil and gas exploration. The South Atlantic needs less oil exploration, not more.

Patagonia, a rugged region stretching hundreds of miles into Tierra del Fuego, has been particularly hard hit by oil development. The plight of one emblematic local animal, the Magellanic penguin, highlights Argentine negligence and bodes ill for the South American nation’s Falklands bid.

Plight of the Penguin
White and grey Magellanic penguins are more than two feet tall and weigh 10 to 12 pounds. They do not live in Antarctic waters, preferring instead to spend their time in temperate areas of the Southern Hemisphere. As a result, the creatures come into more frequent contact with humans and pollution than the four other penguin species that breed in Antarctica.

Like Magellan, these penguins are consummate mariners and spend half the year at sea in and around the Falklands, Argentina and southern Chile. More than a million breeding pairs are thought to nest in rookeries off the southern tip of South America and the Falklands, a neighboring archipelago. Magellanic penguins typically live in burrows and feed on offshore fish.

For the sake of the marine environment and the Magellanic penguin, Britain and Argentina need to ratchet back oil development, not promote further exploration. In recent years, scientists have grown increasingly concerned about oil pollution and its effects on these captivating animals.

Researchers are particularly concerned with the Magellanic penguin breeding home and rookery located at Punta Tombo in Argentina. Between the late 1960s and early 1980s, scientists believe the penguin population at Punta Tombo may have peaked at about 400,000 breeding pairs. But by 1997 that number had gone down to some 250,000 pairs of penguins and some ten years later the population stood at 200,000 breeding pairs.

While scientists believe that over fishing and coastal development may account for this plummeting population, oil pollution also plays a role. As they ingest oil from preening their feathers, the penguins’ immune systems are put at risk and the animals become more prone to disease. What’s more, the oil gives rise to lesions in the penguins’ stomachs and as a result the animals have difficulty digesting food.

In addition, penguins which encounter oil on the high seas have problems staying warm in cold south Atlantic waters. The oiled penguins wind up seeking refuge on land, but many of the shivering creatures will perish. That’s because oil destroys the insulating quality of penguins’ feathers. Consequently, the oiled penguin dies of hypothermia. For years, penguins have been washing up on the Patagonian shore coated with oil. At Punta Tombo the scene has been pitiful: arriving penguins must pass over other dead penguins covered in oil.

One particularly horrifying episode occurred in 1991, when a mysterious oil spill in Patagonia enveloped tens of thousands of Magellanic penguins with crude as the animals were migrating south to Punta Tombo. At the time, scientists reported that at least 16,000 penguins, and possibly double that number, perished as a result of oil contamination.

Tracing down the criminals proved more difficult: sailors told scientists that local fishermen were dumping unneeded diesel fuel into the water so that their boats could hold more fish. It’s unlikely, however, that fishermen were the sole culprits: around the time of the spill a tanker carrying crude oil had a spill or discharged its oily ballast at precisely the same time as penguins were migrating south. At the time, few companies had tankers plying Patagonian waters, just Exxon, Shell and YPF (notably, the same Argentine-Spanish firm which currently seeks to explore for oil around the Falklands).

Dr. Dee Boersma is a professor of zoology and environmental studies at the University of Washington in Seattle and a leading penguin expert. After tagging penguins with tiny sensors and radio transmitters which were glued to the animals’ back feathers, Boersma followed the creatures through use of satellite technology. What she found alarmed her: the Magellanic penguins’ foraging range, once thought to be relatively close to shore, was getting larger.

Because of oil pollution resulting from spills and the dumping of oil-contaminated bilge close to shore, penguins were obliged to hunt so far from Argentine rookeries that chicks would starve to death waiting for food. Indeed, penguins would have to cover up to 324 miles, or 147 miles from the Punta Tombo rookery, to find sustenance. Back at the nest, the bird’s mate had no other choice but to let offspring die of hunger: to leave the nest would expose the chicks to predators.

Penguins in the Crossfire
The Falklands archipelago is an important part of the wildlife equation in the South Atlantic. South Jason, an island about four miles long, supports populations of black-browed albatross (also known as mollymawks), endangered rockhopper penguin, Magellanic penguin, and prions (a small white seabird similar to a petrel).

The longstanding territorial dispute between Britain and Argentina over the Falklands, now being exacerbated by oil rivalry, complicates matters further for local penguins. Indeed, as Boersma herself has noted, the political tension “does not make negotiation of conservation treaties easier, but somehow those penguins urgently need international protection.” Boersma’s words have the ring of truth: in recent years, penguins have suffered as a result of the longstanding military legacy in the Falklands.

During the 1982 Falklands war, the Argentines laid thousands of mines on the islands. One mined area is Kidney Cove, a beach lying across from Port Stanley which is home to gentoo, king, rockhopper and Magellanic penguins. In the best of times, such restricted areas proved a boon to penguins as they were no-go zones for people. But in 2001, British troops started a fire on Jason Island, a nature reserve owned by the Falklands government, which wreaked havoc on penguins. The soldiers lit the fire in an effort to remove unexploded ordinance from the 1982 Falklands war.

At the time, conservationists claimed that the blaze, which burned for five days, killed hundreds of rockhopper penguin and albatross chicks, in addition to some adult birds. When the fire got out of control, the British military dropped water from helicopters and called out local fire crews. Teams deployed from Port Stanley reported seeing burnt penguins pitifully crawling through the grass as they attempted to flee the blaze, fanned by gusty winds. By the time the conflagration had subsided, 90% of tussock grass housing the nesting colonies was destroyed.

Falklands Murder Mystery
The military rivalry between Britain and Argentina spells bad news for penguins, and the oil race to the bottom will surely make matters worse. However, perhaps even more seriously, all that oil development in the south Atlantic will add more carbon emissions to the atmosphere and this in turn will cause disturbances to the world’s oceans, thereby destabilizing the penguins’ environment yet further.

In light of the recent past, we can’t afford to go down that road: in June, 2002, rockhopper penguins in the Falklands suffered mass starvation. On Saunders Island, more than 2,000 of the adult animals died, which represented more than a quarter of the colony’s population. While scientists declared that the cause was unclear, they added that melting Antarctic ice had left deep waters near the Falklands colder than usual. The cold waters, researchers reported, could have disrupted plankton production and reduced food availability [the 2002 die off was not the first time, however, that rockhoppers had been decimated: a similar mass killing occurred in 1986, which resulted in a halving of the population].

As if things could become no worse, six months after the rockhoppers died off Magellanic and gentoo penguins in the Falklands got hit by a mysterious ailment. As penguins washed up dead, paralyzed and dying on island shores, researchers grew puzzled. Why had the animals failed to reach their breeding grounds? Scientists had no clear explanation, though one possible hypothesis was poisoning via “red tide.” Penguins affected by the phenomenon turn up with empty stomachs which look as if they have been washed with acid. Otherwise, however, the animals appear well fed and healthy.

Red tide has been linked to an explosive increase of a type of sea plant called dinoflagellates, microscopic red phytoplankton. Scientists say these algal blooms are increasing in frequency and intensity around the world, a trend which could be associated with climate change and alterations in surface water temperatures, amongst other causes. While melting glaciers may cool waters, red tide is thought to be associated with warmer temperatures. Problematically, larger animals feed on the tiny plants which concentrate toxins in tissues.

Penguin from Ipanema
Brazilian beaches are known for scanty bathing suits and tanning lotion, not penguins. Yet, in recent years pleasure seekers have been shocked to find an enormous number of these creatures washing up on shore. While ocean currents could be expected to propel some Magellanic penguins as far as Brazil, far from their homes in southern Argentina, 2008 was different.

In that year, more than 1,000 penguins floated ashore looking gaunt and exhausted. Some had lost three quarters of their body weight. On Copacabana Beach, lifeguards watched dumbfounded, brushed up on how to administer first aid to the animals, and set up triage stations for the birds. Drying the penguins with blankets and towels, the guards arranged for the animals’ transport to local zoos. Sometimes, guards would have to stop beachgoers from seeking to take care of the birds. Not knowing any better and thinking that the penguins would enjoy the cold, locals would place the creatures in buckets of ice.

In desperation, zoos built new storage spaces for the traumatized arrivals. Veterinarians attended penguins with broken flippers or open wounds, while injecting the animals with vitamins, glucose injections and antibiotics. Some penguins lay catatonic in plastic crates. In order to relieve the pressure on zoos and marine centers, some Brazilian animal lovers took in other survivors. In a surreal scene, people purchased plastic igloos for the penguins and attempted to feed the young with whole sardines. When that failed, caretakers prepared fish smoothies in the blender.

Scientists did not know what had caused the massive penguin exodus, though one possibility was that ocean currents had been disrupted. Normally, Magellanic penguins leave their colonies in southern Argentina and ride the cold and plankton-laden waters of the Falklands Current, looking for sardines. The Falklands Current flows north along the coast of South America and eddies from a second current, the Benguela, flow across the Atlantic towards Brazil. Normally, penguins would turn back after coming into contact with warmer Benguela waters, but in 2008 the current was exceptionally cold.

Today, scientists are only beginning to gather information on eddies moving across the Atlantic and seek to understand where and why the Falklands Current ends. Antonio Busalacchi, an oceanography and climate expert at the University of Maryland, declares “Clearly we’ve been seeing changes in the ocean circulation in the Southern Hemisphere. The question for the future, and we don’t have an answer yet, is how is that going to shift against the backdrop of climate change?”

Perhaps, human activity has thrown off penguins’ migratory cycle. “The penguin population is intimately linked to their supplies of food, so this suggests something is happening to the population of fish they eat,” remarks Marcelo Bertellotti, a biologist at the National Patagonic Centre in Puerto Madryn, Argentina. “It appears the penguins are not finding fish where they normally do, and one reason could be that warming waters and climate change have impacted the fish population,” he adds.

Falklands: Further Oil Development Must Be Halted
In light of these disturbing developments, what is urgently needed right now is more scientific study and international environmental cooperation in the south Atlantic, not saber rattling. Unfortunately, President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner seems to be whipping up nationalist fervor in order to divert public attention from her own political problems on the domestic front, much as the Argentine military junta calculated in 1982.

Perhaps, if Argentina wished to attract more sympathy for its claims on the Falklands, it would declare a moratorium on oil exploration in the archipelago. Were Kirchner to make such an argument and have credibility, however, she would have to come to grips with the pernicious environmental effects of oil development in her own country.

Kirchner knows all about it as she’s had longstanding ties to Patagonia. Her husband and Argentine president before her Néstor Kirchner was at one time a governor in the region. Cristina, meanwhile, held several positions in the local legislature. It might be said that the Kirchners are, in fact, true “penguins,” as inhabitants of Patagonia are known in Argentina.

Yet, President Kirchner is an unlikely environmental champion on the international stage as she has already heralded oil development in the Gulf of San Jorge in Patagonia. Reportedly, Venezuela’s state oil company PdVSA will contribute to oil exploration in the area, hardly a promising sign given the firm’s negative environmental track record at home.

Boersma, who has become a veritable Jane Goodall of penguins, recently published a paper in the journal Bioscience. In it, she warned that some penguin species might be headed for extinction because of catastrophic changes in oceans and coastlines. She wants a broad international group to check on the most substantial colonies of each penguin species at least once every five years to look after populations, determine the most severe threats to them, and interpret what any changes might signify for the well-being of the world’s oceans.

Boersma has made a succinct case for further action. Hopefully, Britain and Argentina are paying attention.

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This story first appeared March 15 on Huffington Post

Nikolas Kozloff is the author of No Rain in the Amazon: How South America’s Climate Change Affects the Entire Planet, to be released in a couple of weeks with Palgrave-Macmillan. Visit his website at http://www.nikolaskozloff.com

From our Daily Report:

Falklands war redux?
World War 4 Report, Feb. 21, 2010

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Reprinted by World War 4 Report, April 1, 2010
Reprinting permissible with attribution
 

Continue ReadingFALKLANDS DISPUTE: ARGENTINE SOVEREIGNY WON’T SOLVE THE PROBLEM 

“REBUILDING HAITI”—THE SWEATSHOP HOAX

by David Wilson, MRZine

Within days of a January 12 earthquake that devastated much of southern Haiti, the New York Times was using the disaster to promote a United Nations plan for drastically expanding the country’s garment assembly industry, which employs low-paid workers to stitch apparel for duty-free export, mainly to the US market. This, according to several opinion pieces in the Times, is the way to rebuild Haiti.

The outlines of the plan were drawn up a year earlier, in January 2009, by Oxford economist Paul Collier, but the leading proponents of development through sweatshops have been liberal Democrats in the United States.

Members of the Congressional Black Caucus pushed hard for HOPE and HOPE II, the 2006 Haitian Hemispheric Opportunity through Partnership Encouragement Act and its 2008 extension; these acts make the plan possible by giving preferential treatment to US imports of apparel assembled in Haiti.

UN Special Envoy for Haiti Bill Clinton, the former US president, has provided much of the PR for the plan; in the fall of 2009 he organized a special meeting to encourage foreign business investment in Haiti. Liberal US financier and philanthropist George Soros is helping build a new $45 million industrial park near Port-au-Prince’s impoverished Cité Soleil neighborhood as part of the plan’s implementation.

Adding to the project’s liberal credentials, in August 2009 Bill Clinton made Dr. Paul Farmer his deputy UN special envoy. Harvard professor Farmer is widely respected for his medical work in Haiti; he is a founder of Partners in Health/Zanmi Lasante and is on the board of directors of the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti (IJDH), a US-based left-liberal advocacy group.

The Fall of the Maquiladoras
The plan’s liberal supporters sometimes admit that assembly plant jobs may not be the very best type of employment. But Haitians need work, they say, and the new sweatshops will create jobs—as many as “several hundred thousand,” according to Prof. Collier’s description of the plan. What the liberals don’t explain is where they think the jobs will come from.

The garment export industry in the Caribbean Basin has been in a sharp decline for the past five years. The current round of jobs losses in the region’s apparel maquiladoras—the Spanish name for the assembly plants—started with the growth of competition from industrial powers like China and has intensified with the economic crisis in the United States, the main market for the industry’s products.

The Dominican Republic, Haiti’s closest neighbor, lost 73,000 garment jobs from 2005 through 2007, according to an informative article by Marion Weber and Jennifer Blair in the July/August 2009 NACLA Report on the Americas. The six countries that signed on to the 2005 Dominican Republic-Central America Free Trade Agreement (DR-CAFTA)—in addition to the Dominican Republic, the US-sponsored trade zone includes Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua—saw their combined exports fall from a 13.3% share of the US import market in 2004 to 9.8% in 2008.

The job situation continues to deteriorate. Garment jobs in the Dominican “free trade zones” (FTZs)—the special areas where the maquilas are clustered—fell another 15.05% in 2008, from 58,546 to 49,735. In Honduras, site of Latin America’s most recent coup d’état, textile and apparel production for the first six months of 2009 was down by 17.9% compared to the same period the year before. The Honduran maquiladora sector lost 15,000 jobs in 2008 and about 8,000 in the first eight months of 2009, leaving it with some 114,000 employees.

By September 2009 Guillermo Matamoros, a leader in the Honduran assembly industry, was giving up on apparel and pushing a new type of maquiladora: call centers and software centers in the north of the country, which he said could generate 25,000 to 40,000 new jobs because of the large number of Hondurans who are bilingual in English and Spanish.

Magical Thinking on Jobs
Of course, the US market for imported apparel is expected to grow back if the economic crisis recedes, but it’s hard to see how that by itself would produce several hundred thousand new jobs for Haiti.

People in the United States tend to think irrationally about things like job creation. Many of us believe that immigration reduces the number of jobs available for US citizens, while the same people often swallow the idea that building new industrial parks in Port-au-Prince will magically create jobs for Haitians.

The reality is exactly the opposite. If Haitian immigrants were stitching garments in New York or Los Angeles at jobs with standard wage rates, they and their dependents would be able to pay for decent housing and staples like food and clothing. This would stimulate job creation, and the new jobs would make up for the jobs the immigrants had taken—as in fact happened in the past when the United States produced its own apparel in union shops. But if the same Haitians work in assembly plants in Port-au-Prince or in the FTZ near the Dominican border in Ouanaminthe, they have to accept wages at about one-twentieth the rate they would get in the United States. These workers are barely able to scrape by; their spending can do little to stimulate job creation either in Haiti or in the region as a whole.

But the UN plan isn’t really about creating jobs; it’s about relocating them. The key, according to Prof. Collier, lies in Haiti’s “propitious fundamentals”—its “poverty and relatively unregulated labor market” and “labor costs that are fully competitive with China.” Add Haiti’s location near the United States: it’s “on the doorstep of its market.” Haiti is the “only low-wage economy in the region,” Collier writes, meaning that the maquilas in nearby countries just can’t compete with Haitian factories paying a minimum wage of around $3.05 a day, approximately half the minimum in the Dominican FTZs.

So when the professors and politicians say they will help Haitian workers by giving them jobs, what they really mean is that they plan to take the jobs away from Dominican, Mexican, and Central American workers—and pay the Haitians even less for doing the same work. It’s no wonder that the American Apparel and Footwear Association (AAFA), a US manufactures’ organization, hopes to “play a responsible and proactive role in Haiti’s overall recovery.”

Rerunning the Race to the Bottom
The jobs the Haitians will get are only temporary, in any case. Haitian workers have been through all this before.

Haiti pioneered export-based development plans in the 1970s under Jean-Claude Duvalier (“Baby Doc”). Once assembly plants started operating in Haiti, other parts of the region followed suit under the Reagan administration’s 1984 Caribbean Basin Initiative (CBI). The brief boom in the Caribbean apparel industry ended when jobs started going to Mexico because of the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Mexican workers became still more “competitive” after 1994, thanks to an economic crisis and a currency devaluation (a de facto wage cut). The Mexicans in turn lost jobs to lower-paid Chinese workers as the new millennium started. Dominican and Central American manufacturers responded with DR-CAFTA and, predictably, more wage cuts. And yet the job losses have continued.

Anti-sweatshop activists Barbara Briggs and Charlie Kernaghan used to warn back in the 1990s that this type of “economic development” would create a “race to the bottom” in which workers in different countries would have to compete by accepting lower and lower wages. And that’s exactly what happened.

Haitians have learned not to listen to people like Prof. Collier and Special Envoy Clinton. In August 2009 thousands of Haitian sweatshop workers went on strike to demand a higher minimum wage. They ignored arguments that they needed to keep their wages competitive—it took tear gas and UN troops to get them back into the factories. Grassroots organizations meeting in Port-au-Prince since the earthquake have been working on proposals for rebuilding Haiti through a sustainable development plan rooted in Haitian reality. “Not more of the same,” Camille Chalmers of the Haitian Platform to Advocate Alternative Development (PAPDA) said in late January, “but something really alternative and popular.”

Maybe it’s time to listen to the Haitians for a change.

—-

This story first appeared March 4 in Monthly Review’s online MRZine

David L. Wilson is co-author, with Jane Guskin, of The Politics of Immigration: Questions and Answers (Monthly Review Press, July 2007) and co-editor of Weekly News Update on the Americas. He was in Port-au-Prince to interview Haitian activists about the UN development plan when the earthquake struck on January 12.

Resources:

Some Frank Talk about Haiti
Nicholas D. Kristof, New York Times, January 20, 2010

Building Haiti’s Economy, One Mango at a Time
Paul Collier and Jean-Louis Warnholz, New York Times, January 28, 2010

Thinking About a New Haiti
editorial, New York Times, February 1, 2010

The “Shock Doctrine” for Haiti,
Ashley Smith, Socialist Worker, February 8, 2010

Food Wars
Walden Bello and Mara Baviera, Monthly Review, July-August 2009.

A Helping Hand for Haiti
Rep. Kendrick Meek, The Louisiana Weekly, June 20, 2008

Still Fragile, Haiti Makes Sales Pitch,” New York Times, October 5, 2009.
Marc Lacey, New York Times, October 5, 2009

Haiti-based WIN Group and Soros Economic Development Fund Announce a $45 Million Commercial Zone in Haiti
Business Wire, October 6, 2009, via Reuters

After Sweatshops? Apparel Politics in the Circum-Caribbean
Marion Werner and Jennifer Bair, NACLA Report on the Americas, July/August 2009

Textiles and Apparel Will Play Key Role in Haiti Recovery
Textile World, February 9, 2010

Raising Up Another Haiti
Beverly Bell, Common Dreams, February 23, 2010;

Camille Chalmers: “We Call for Solidarity Between the People”
Anarkismo.net, February 3, 2010

Haitian Platform to Advocate Alternative Development (PAPDA)
http://www.papda.org/

Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti
http://ijdh.org/

From our Daily Report:

Haiti: more strikes hit maquilas
World War 4 Report, Aug. 26, 2009

Haiti: maquila workers march for wage hike
World War 4 Report, Aug. 12, 2009

Honduras: will maquilas survive the coup?
World War 4 Report, Sept. 30, 2009

Honduras: economy could “quickly buckle”
World War 4 Report, Sept. 3, 2009

See also:

HELPING HAITI: OUR DOLLARS AREN’T ENOUGH
by David L. Wilson, World War 4 Report
World War 4 Report, February 2010

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Reprinted by World War 4 Report, April 1, 2010
Reprinting permissible with attribution

Continue Reading“REBUILDING HAITI”—THE SWEATSHOP HOAX 

AFRICOM AND THE USA’s HIDDEN BATTLE FOR AFRICA

by Ba Karang, The Hobgoblin

What is the current meaning of “War against Terror” for Africa? The true intention of America’s recent military interventions in the African continent (both covert and open) is nothing other than the expansion and consolidation of Western capital. It all started in 2001 when George W. Bush declared his “War on Terror” in the continent, but has developed in a manner that has gone beyond human imagination in the body counts on the streets of Somalia, in the jungles of Uganda and Congo, and deserts of Sudan. The chief of the US African Command, General E. Ward, explained this in language more clear than that of any US politician when he stated that an Africa in which “African populations are able to provide for themselves, contribute to global economic development and are allowed access to markets in free, fair, and competitive ways, is good for America and the world…”

AFRICOM (or USAFRICOM) is a Unified Combatant Command of the US Department of Defense, responsible for US military operations and military relations with 53 African nations (excepting Egypt). Africa Command was established October 1, 2007, and formally activated October 1, 2008 at a public ceremony at the Pentagon attended by representatives of African nations. It has become clear that the idea was not primarily to fight against the Islamic terror, which was said to be growing in influence, but to protect and help expand American military and economic (mainly energy) interests.

Pending legislation, “The Lord’s Resistance Army Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act 2009,” being pushed by Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA) would empower AFRICOM not only to give technical support but to physically go to war with the armed groups that both Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo Forces have not been able to dislodge. Royce said:

Africa’s emerging potential as a major oil producer and supplier to the United States, has been of interest to the Sub-Committee on Africa that I’ve chaired for some time. The sub-committee held a hearing to look at this topic in 2000. It’s clearly in our national interest to diversify our energy supply, especially given the turbulent political climate in key parts of the world today. The expansion of energy production in Africa matches to that interest…

This is big money talk rather than humanitarian outrage. On January 2, 2002, a Washington DC symposium held to discuss African oil came up with a document entitled “African Oil: A Priority for US National Security and African Development,” which paved the way for the rest to happen. It was attended by Washington’s Africa heavyweights: people like Barry Schutz, a Bush administration specialist on Africa; Lt-Col. Karen Kwiatkowski, a high-ranking Air Force officer, and Water Kansteiner, Bush’s under-secretary of State for African Affairs. The Christian Science Monitor reported on the Symposium thus:

In January last year [2002], the IASPS [Institute for Advanced Strategic and Political Studies] hosted a symposium in Houston, Texas, which was attended by government and oil industry representatives. An influential working group called the African Oil Policy Initiative Group (AOPIG) co-chaired by IASPS researchers Barry Schutz and Paul Michael Wihbey, which has been largely responsible for driving American governmental policy concerning west African oil, emerged from the symposium… The document urges Congress and the Bush administration to encourage greater extraction of oil across Africa, and to declare the Gulf of Guinea ‘a area of vital interest’ to the US.”

We have now definitely entered the aggressive birth of AFRICOM. The man who is put in charge of this task, Gen. William E. “Kip” Ward, is not new to the battlefields of Africa. He was in Somalia in 1993 when US forces were serious bitten by small insurgent groups, forcing the US to withdraw from that crisis.

Africom in Action
AFRICOM justifies its presence in Africa on its website as follows:

Africa is growing in military, strategic and economic importance in global affairs. However, many nations on the African continent continue to rely on the international community for assistance with security concerns. From the US perspective, it makes strategic sense to help build the capability for African partners, and organizations such as the African Standby Force, to take the lead in establishing a security environment. This security, will, in turn, set the groundwork for increased political stability and economic growth.

This helps explain why the AFRICOM budget rose from $50 million in the fiscal year of 2007 to $310 million in FY 2009 fiscal year—in running costs, not military aid to the member countries. It also shows the significance of this program for the US government. The command gave the US military the possibility of having a physical presence in numerous African countries and assigning Defense Department personnel to US embassies and diplomatic missions to coordinate Defense Department programs. The US Africa Command is now spending billions in training and arm supplies. It is expecting to spend nothing less than $20 billion in 2010, and this will benefit the armies of a very many repressive regimes.

Take the case of Sudan. Openly, Western governments, including the US, have never been more critical of the regime in Khartoum, even accusing it of committing genocide in Darfur. The fact that the head of Sudan’s intelligence agency, wanted by the International Criminal Court, was secretly jetted to the US by the CIA to discuss military interests in the Horn of Africa was one of the most disgusting acts of hypocrisy by the Bush administration.

The right-wing Republican lobbyists for AFRICOM never made their intentions secret. They have said time and again that America cannot rely on the unconquered Middle East for its oil supply; for them, Africa is the answer. But the aggressive nature of this thirst for African oil and other resources has no doubt also been fueled by the presence of China in key strategic areas.

Today, US Africa Command is involved in almost 38 African countries with the presumed agenda of training anti-terrorist forces. These include Chad, Kenya, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, Tanzania, and Sierra Leone. The expansion of the AFRICOM central command in Djibouti adds to the significance that the US government puts into this project. According to AFRICOM, “US Central Command maintains its traditional relationship with Egypt, but AFRICOM coordinates with Egypt on issues relating to Africa security.” In Egypt, the US state is spending billions of American tax payers’ money in military equipment and training to arm one of the most repressive military forces in the continent. All of this speaks for itself rather than the simple and cheap rhetoric of bringing stability to the continent in the name of the “war against terror.”

The 2006 invasion of Somalia by the Ethiopian forces was clearly a proxy war, with AFRICOM providing the logistics—allowing a criminal organization like al-Shabab to claim a legitimate reason for its war and brutal terror against the very people both sides claim to be freeing: the poor ordinary Somalis. It is significant that as debate was held on where the headquarters of AFRICOM should be located, the Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi declared that Ethiopia will be willing to work closely with the Command. According to a UN situation report of February 5, 2010, an estimated 3.2 million people in Somalia are in need of emergency food aid, one in six children are seriously malnourished, and the internally displaced population is in the millions and continues to rise.

The planned assault on Mogadishu has registered its first civilian casualties this March, forcing more civilians to flee the capital. The aim of this military operation is to retake control of the capital from the al-Shabab militants. The Obama administration has been planning this assault for a while now. Assistant secretary of state for Africa, Johnnie Carlson is said to have been very instrumental in the preparation. He nonetheless said: “This is not an American offensive… the US military is not on the ground in Somalia. Full stop.” In another press briefing Carlson held with the Ertharin Cousin, US ambassador to the UN Mission in Rome, he said: “We have provided limited military support to the Transitional Federal Government… We do so in the firm belief that the TFG seeks to end the violence in Somalia that is caused by al-Shabaab and other extremist organizations…”

True, there might not be any US troops on the ground—but it is an American war contracted to some Somalis, African Union forces, and Ethiopians. The US has been training intelligence forces, providing surveillance, logistic support and money to buy bullets and guns; and there are even speculations that American forces might provide aerial bombing of militant positions.

This is against the recent advice given to the Obama administration, which warns of a need for a change of approach from US support to the Transitional Federal Government headed by Sheik Ahmed Sharif. The Report, “Somali: A New Approach,” prepared by the Council on Foreign Relations, advised the administration to engage in “Constructive Disengagement” rather than spending so much on ineffective government that has very little support among the Somali population. Critics might be right to say that the Obama administration is playing into the hands of the Islamic extremists.

This was the case too with “Operation Lightning Thunder” in 2008, involving Uganda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the liberated Southern Sudan. It was clear to all sincere analysts that the Lord’s Resistance Army was cornered and pacified, and that operation “Lightning Thunder” was no more than the clearing of the oil fields. Dr. Jendayi Frazer, then an assistant secretary of state in the Bush government, was said to have been the main initiator of that operation. Riek Machar, vice president of Southern Sudan, said as much in a documentary aired by the AlJazeera TV. Ugandan military commanders have openly confirmed that they have received logistics support from the Americans, including satellite phones, GPS receivers, maps and US contributions to fuel costs of the military vehicles involved in the operation. The results: over 1,000 civilians dead and the internal displacement of an estimated half million people. All this followed the 2006 failed operation by a UN team of US-trained Guatemalan commando to assassinate Joseph Kone, leader of LRA—in which all members of the commando were killed by the LRA. Southern Sudan refused to actively take part, only closing their borders to avoid crossing of arm groups into their territory.

Conclusion
When the Chad-Cameroon pipeline project was put on the table in the prelude to AFRICOM’s unveiling, the oil companies made sure of IMF and World Bank support. This was not because of lack of capital. These two institutions are the most reliable and effective discipliners of the African nations involved should they at any time violate the contract against the interest of the big oil companies involved in the project. The arrangement was never designed for transparency, and when the initial funds of the project were embezzled in the member countries there was never a call to halt the project—even though the World Bank had put in a code of conduct as condition for the funding.

There is nothing new in armies conquering territories before the looting begins. For centuries states have been using their armies in foreign adventures in the interest of capital. The modern world has just surpassed the crude methods that were used in centuries past, and is now utilizing sophisticated techniques consciously designed to confuse the human mind. With the “moral high ground” of free market capitalism, the African bourgeoisie are content with being sub-contractors; the whole mathematics becomes easier, especially when it comes to the “ethical sharing” of the wealth from the looting. To say that Africans are benefitting from the project through employment and the creation of a middle class are fine words that defy the lawlessness and suffering on the continent.

But the fact of AFRICOM’s involvement in any battle ground in the continent strengthens the resolve of the African people to define their struggle on their own.

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This story first appeared in slightly longer form March 19 in the UK Marxist-Humanist journal The Hobgoblin

Resources:

Doubts grow on Somali offensive’s chances at peace
Associated Press, March 20, 2010

US Aiding Somalia in Its Plan to Retake Its Capital
New York Times, March 5, 2010

US Policy in Somalia — No Direct Support for Somali Government Military Operations
Combined Joint Task Force—Horn of Africa press briefing, March 12, 2010

Somalia: A New Approach
Council on Foreign Relations, March 2010

After Operation Lightning Thunder: Protecting communities and building peace
ReliefWeb, April 28, 2009

Hard Target: The hunt for Africa’s last warlord
Newsweek, May 16, 2009

See also:

AFRICOM: MAKING PEACE OR FUELING WAR?
by Daniel Volman and William Minter, Foreign Policy in Focus
World War 4 Report, May 2009

DARFUR: NOT A “CLASH OF CIVILIZATIONS”
Global Capital Connives with African Genocide
by Ba Karang, The Hobgoblin
World War 4 Report, November 2007

CHINA IN AFRICA: THE NEW DEBATE
by Walden Bello, Foreign Policy in Focus
World War 4 Report, May 2007

SOMALIA: THE NEW RESISTANCE
Successor Factions to the Islamic Courts Union
by Osman Yusuf, World War 4 Report
World War 4 Report, April 2007

DARFUR: NATO PREPARES INTERVENTION
Moral Imperative or “Regime Change” Strategy?
by Wynde Priddy, World War 4 Report
World War 4 Report, May 2005

——————-

Reprinted by World War 4 Report, April 1, 2010
Reprinting permissible with attribution

Continue ReadingAFRICOM AND THE USA’s HIDDEN BATTLE FOR AFRICA