Inter Press Service » North America Turning the World Downside Up Sat, 30 May 2015 13:59:12 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Iran Sanctions Regime Could Unravel with Failed Nuclear Deal Tue, 26 May 2015 23:29:12 +0000 Jasmin Ramsey Representatives from Iran and the P5+1 pose for photos after talks concluded in Lausanne, Switzerland on April 2, 2015. Credit: US State Dept/public domain

Representatives from Iran and the P5+1 pose for photos after talks concluded in Lausanne, Switzerland on April 2, 2015. Credit: US State Dept/public domain

By Jasmin Ramsey
WASHINGTON, May 26 2015 (IPS)

Internationally supported sanctions against Iran could begin to crumble if talks over Iran’s nuclear programme fail to produce a final deal, according to Germany’s envoy to the United States.

“The alternatives to the diplomatic approach are not very attractive,” said Ambassador Peter Wittig Tuesday.“The alternatives to the diplomatic approach are not very attractive." -- German Ambassador Peter Wittig.

“If diplomacy fails, the sanctions regime might unravel…and we would probably see Iran enriching once again as it has done before the negotiations started,” said the diplomat during a panel discussion in Washington at the Atlantic Council.

The sanctions that have ravaged the Iranian economy face far less risk, however, if Tehran were seen as responsible for the failure, according to the United Kingdom’s envoy to the U.S.

“If there is not a deal because the Iranians simply will not live up to [their obligations] or [fail to] implement…then I think we carry on with the sanctions regime and in certain areas it may be right to try to raise the level of those sanctions,” said Ambassador Peter Westmacott.

But Westmacott agreed with his German counterpart that if Iran were not to blame, the sanctions regime could fall apart.

“At the same time, if we were to walk away or if the [U.S.] Congress was to make it impossible for the agreement to be implemented…then I think the international community would be pretty reluctant, frankly, to contemplate a ratcheting up further of the sanctions against Iran,” he said.

“A number of countries” already “don’t respect” sanctions and are buying Iranian oil, he added.

Looming Deadline

Ahead of the June 30 deadline for reaching a final deal, Iran will resume the negotiations with representatives from the P5+1 or E3+3 (the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany) Wednesday in the Austrian capital of Vienna.

Talks with Iran over its controversial nuclear program have been ongoing since 2003, when France, Germany and the United Kingdom (the E3) began to engage Iran in an attempt to limit its nuclear programme.

Iran contends its programme has always been peaceful. The United States intelligence community has assessed that Iran was previously working towards mastering the nuclear fuel cycle, but has not restarted a nuclear weapons program.

“It’s a political decision for them. Not that they don’t have the technical wherewithal, the technical competence, because they do,” said the U.S. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper March 2 on PBS’ “Charlie Rose” show.

Although Iran and its negotiating partners have made several historic diplomatic strides since an interim nuclear agreement was reached 2013 in Geneva—notably the ongoing high-level direct contact between previously hostile Tehran and Washington—the talks have yet to produce a final deal.

It’s unclear how much progress has actually been made in the complex private negotiations since a preliminary framework agreement was declared on April 2, but the parties are currently in the drafting phase.

The French ambassador to the United States, Gerard Araud, wasn’t optimistic here Tuesday.

“It’s very likely that we won’t have an agreement before the end of June or even (right) after,” he said.

“Even if we get the best deal … afterwards, you will have to translate it into the technical annexes, so it may be … we could have a sort of fuzzy end to the negotiation,” he added.

High Stakes

While domestic politics in the key capitals of Tehran and Washington could ultimately prove to be the greatest barriers to a final deal, all sides seem to be waiting until after the deadline to make more moves.

But patience is running thin among key Iranian and American lawmakers, who have made no secret of their opposition to the talks. If no deal is reached by Jun. 30, the door to a wave of domestic criticism in both capitals will once again be wide open.

Peter Jenkins, who previously served as the U.K.’s permanent representative to the International Atomic Energy Agency and the United Nations, told IPS that even if Iran were blamed for the breakdown of the talks, it wouldn’t end up totally isolated.

“I doubt the non-Western world will be ready to believe that the blame for a break-down lies solely with Iran,” said Jenkins.

“They will suspect that some of the blame should be ascribed to the U.S. and E.U. for making demands that go well beyond the requirements of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. So those of them that have been applying sanctions may break away,” he said.

“In the West, however, most countries will believe what the U.S. instructs them to believe and will continue to apply sanctions if required to do so by the U.S.,” he added.

As for an impending blame-game, Jenkins said the stakes are too high for everyone to submit to a complete breakdown at this point: “I think it much more likely that they will make a herculean effort to cobble together an agreement over the ensuing weeks.”

“Both sides have so much to gain from an agreement and so much to lose if they squander all that they have achieved to date,” he said.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

]]> 0
Opinion: The Crisis of the Left and the Decline of Europe and the United States Tue, 19 May 2015 11:07:04 +0000 Roberto Savio

In this column, Roberto Savio, founder and president emeritus of the Inter Press Service (IPS) news agency and publisher of Other News, writes that neoliberal thinking, which has failed to meet an adequate response from the left, and lack of political vision has led to the decline of Europe and the United States.

By Roberto Savio
ROME, May 19 2015 (IPS)

The victory of the Conservative Party and the debacle of the Labour Party in the recent British general elections is yet another sign of the crisis facing left-wing forces today, leaving aside the question of how, under the British electoral system, the Labour Party actually increased the number of votes it won but saw a reduction in the number of seats it now holds in Parliament (24 seats less than the previous 256).

Roberto Savio

Roberto Savio

If the proportional rather than uninominal system had been used, the Conservative Party with its 11 million votes would have won 256 and not 331 seats in Parliament (far short of the absolute majority of 326 needed to govern), while at the other extreme the United Kingdom Independence Party with nearly four million votes would have landed 83 and not just the one seat it ended up with – results that would be hard to imagine anywhere else and a good example of insularity.

To an extent, the recent British general elections mirrored the U.S. presidential elections in 2000 when Democratic candidate Al Gore won around half a million more popular votes than Republican candidate George W. Bush but failed to win the majority of electoral college votes on which the U.S. system is based. The outcome was eight years of George W.  Bush administration, the war in Iraq, the crisis of multilateralism, and all the paraphernalia of “America’s exceptional destiny”.

Let us venture now into an analysis that will have the politologues among us cringing.“The left has tried to mimic the winners, instead of trying to be an alternative to the process of neoliberal globalisation and, since the beginning of the world financial crisis in 2008 … it has had no real answer to the crisis”

It is now generally recognised that the end of the Soviet Union has given free way to a kind of capitalism without control, marked by an unprecedented supremacy of finance which, in terms of volume of investments, overwhelmingly exceeds the real or productive economy.

In its wake, neoliberal thinking has found the left totally unprepared, because part of its function had been to provide a democratic alternative to Communism, which was suddenly no longer a threat.

The left therefore has tried to mimic the winners, instead of trying to be an alternative to the process of neoliberal globalisation and, since the beginning of the world financial crisis in 2008 (with its bail-out cost so far of over four trillion dollars), it has had no real answer to the crisis.

Ever since the industrial revolution, the identity of the left had been to press for social justice, equality of opportunities and redistribution, while the right placed the emphasis on individual efforts, less role for the state and success as motivation.

Continuing with this brutal simplification, we have to add that the left, from Marx to Keynes, always studied how to create economic growth and redistribution – Marx by abolishing private property, social democrats through just taxation.

But it never studied the creation of a progressive agenda in the event case of an economic crisis such as the one we are now facing, with structural unemployment, young people obliged  to accept any kind of contract, new technologies which are making the concept of classes disappear, and rendering trade unions – erstwhile powerful actors for social justice – irrelevant.

It is unprecedented that the top 25 hedge fund managers received a reward in 2014 of 11.62 billion dollars, yet neither U.S. President Barack Obama nor Ed Miliband, then still leader of the Labour Party at the recent British general elections (until he resigned after election defeat), saw it fit to denounce this obscene level of greed.

Meanwhile, Europe as a political project is clearly in disarray, and now faces a “Grexit” on its southern flank and a “Brexit” on its northern flank.

In the case of a “Grexit” (the possible abandonment of the European Union by Greece), Greece faces the prospects of having to make substantial concessions to Europe, thus reneging on the promises of Alexis Tsipras who was voted in as prime minister in rebellion against years of dismantlement of public and social structures imposed in the name of austerity.

What is at stake here is the very neoliberal model itself and not only is ordoliberal Germany supported by allies like Austria, Finland and the Netherlands erecting a wall against any form of leniency, but countries which accepted painful cuts and where conservatives are now in power, like Spain, Portugal and Ireland, see leniency as giving in to the left.

A “Brexit” (the possible abandonment of the European Union by Britain) is a different affair. It is a game being played by British Prime Minister David Cameron to negotiate a more favourable agreement for Britain with the European Union.

A referendum will be held before the end of 2017 and the four million people who voted for the UKIP in the recent elections, plus the country’s “Euro-sceptics”, threaten to push Britain out of the European Union, especially if Cameron does not manage to obtain some substantial concessions from Brussels.

Meanwhile, if Europe is in disarray, the United States has a serious problem of governance. Analyst Moisés Naím, who served as editor-in-chief of Foreign Policy magazine from 1996 to 2010, has pinpointed a few examples of how this has translated into self-inflicted damage.

One concerns China which, after waiting five years trying to get the Republican-dominated Congress to authorise and increase in its stake in the International Monetary Fund (IMF) from a ridiculous 3.8 percent to 6 percent (compared with the 16.5 percent of the United States), got fed up and established an alternative fund, the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB).

Washington tried unsuccessfully to kill the initiative by putting pressure on its allies but first the United Kingdom, then Italy, Germany and France announced their participation in the new bank, which now has 50 member countries and the United States is not one of them.

Another example was the attempt by the Republican-dominated Congress to kill the Export-Import Bank of the United States (Ex-Im Bank) which has provided support for U.S exporters to the tune of 570 billion dollars since it was set up by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1934.  In just the last two years, China has provided 670 billion dollars in support for its exporters. Moral of the story: U.S. companies will be at a clear disadvantage.

As Larry Summers, a great proponent of U.S. hegemony, put it, “the US will not be in a position to shape the global economic system”.

The latest snub to the U.S. role of world leader came from four Arab heads of state who snubbed a U.S.-Gulf States summit at Camp David on May 14. The summit had been called by Obama to reassure the Gulf states that the ongoing negotiations with Iran over a nuclear agreement would not diminish their relevance, but the rulers of Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Oman and Bahrain deserted the summit.

However, there is no more striking example of mistake-making than the joint effort by the United States and Europe to push Russian President Vladimir against the wall over his engagement in Ukraine by imposing heavy sanctions.

There was no apparent reflection on the wisdom of encircling a paranoid and autocratic leader, albeit one with strong popular support, by progressively also bringing in all Eastern and Central European countries. The result of this encirclement of Russia is that China has now come to the rescue of Russia, by injecting money into the country’s asphyxiated economy.

China will invest around six billion dollars in the construction of a high speed railway between Moscow and Kazan, is financing a 2,700 kilometre pipeline for the supply of 30 billion cubic metres of Russian gas over a period of 30 years, plus several other projects, including the establishment of a two billion dollar common fund for investments and a loan of 860 million dollars to the Russian Sberbank bank.

So, the net result is that Russia has been pushed out of Europe and into the arms of China, and the two are now starting joint naval and military manoeuvres.  Is this in the interest of Europe?

At the end of the day, the decline of Europe and the United States perhaps comes down to a decline of political vision, with democracy being substituted by partocracy, and the statesman of yesteryear being substituted by very much more modest and self-referential political leaders.

This is all taking place amid a growing disaffection with politics, which is now aimed basically at administrative choices, making corruption easy. At least this is what around one-third of electors now appear to believe when they are asked if they think that they can make a difference at elections … and this is why a rapidly growing number of people are deserting the ballot box. (END/COLUMNIST SERVICE)

Edited by Phil Harris   

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, IPS – Inter Press Service. 

]]> 0
U.S. Hosts Arms Bazaar at White House Arab Summit Fri, 15 May 2015 18:24:13 +0000 Thalif Deen U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry chats with Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal of Saudi Arabia on Mar. 5, 2015, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, before the two and their counterparts attended a meeting of the regional Gulf Cooperation Council. Credit: U.S. State Department/public domain

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry chats with Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal of Saudi Arabia on Mar. 5, 2015, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, before the two and their counterparts attended a meeting of the regional Gulf Cooperation Council. Credit: U.S. State Department/public domain

By Thalif Deen

When the United States sells billions of dollars in sophisticated arms to Arab nations, they are conditioned on two key factors: no weapons with a qualitative military edge over Israel will ever be sold to the Arabs, nor will they receive any weapons that are not an integral part of the U.S. arsenal.

But against the backdrop of a White House summit meeting of Arab leaders at Camp David this week, the administration of President Barack Obama confessed it has dispensed with rule number two.“This raises some major questions about the seeming lack of arms control in the region and the potential risks of further one-sided procurement of advanced weapons by GCC states." -- Pieter Wezeman

According to Colin Kahl, national security advisor to Vice-President Joe Biden, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) flies the most advanced U.S.-made F-16 fighter planes in the world.

“They’re more advanced than the ones our Air Force flies,” he told reporters at a U.S. State Department briefing early this week, without going into specifics.

The six members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) – Bahrain, Oman, Kuwait, Qatar, UAE and Saudi Arabia – which participated in the summit were, not surprisingly, promised more weapons, increased military training and a pledge to defend them against missile strikes, maritime threats and cyberattacks from Iran.

An equally important reason for beefing up security in the region is to thwart any attacks on GCC countries by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

“I am reaffirming our ironclad commitment to the security of our Gulf partners,” President Obama told reporters at a news conference, following the summit Thursday.

But he left the GCC leaders disappointed primarily because the United States was not willing to sign any mutual defence treaties with the six Arab nations – modeled on the lines of similar treaties U.S. has signed with Japan and South Korea.

Still, Bahrain, Egypt, Israel, Jordan and Kuwait (along with Pakistan) are designated “major non-NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organisation) allies.”

Kahl told reporters: “This administration has worked extraordinarily closely with the Gulf states to make sure they had access to state-of-the-art armaments.”

He said that although the U.S. has not entertained requests for F-35s, described as the most advanced fighter plane with the U.S. Air Force, “but keep in mind under this administration we moved forward on a package for the Saudis that will provide them the most advanced F-15 aircraft in the region.”

Taken as a whole, Kahl said, the GCC last year spent nearly 135 billion dollars on their defence, and the Saudis alone spent more than 80 billion dollars.

In comparison, the Iranians spent something like 15 billion dollars on their defence, said Kahl, trying to allay the fears of GCC countries, which have expressed strong reservations about an impending nuclear deal the U.S. and other big powers are negotiating with Iran.

Still, arms suppliers such as France and Britain have been feverishly competing with the United States for a share of the rising arms market in the Middle East, with continued turmoil in Iraq, Syria, Libya and Yemen.

Pieter Wezeman, senior researcher, Arms and Military Expenditure Programme at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), told IPS that GCC countries have long procured weapons from both the U.S. and several European countries.

Qatar is probably the one country in the GCC where U.S. military equipment makes up a low share of its military equipment and instead it has been more dependent on French, British and other European arms, he pointed out.

Last year, Qatar ordered a large amount of new arms from suppliers in Europe, the U.S. and Turkey, in which U.S. equipment was significantly more important than it had been in the decades before in Qatari arms procurement.

“None of the GCC countries has been mainly dependent on a single arms supplier in the past four to five decades. The U.S., UK and France have long been the main suppliers to the GCC, competing against each other,” he added.

In an article last week on the GCC summit, William Hartung, director of the Arms and Security Project at the Center for International Policy and a senior advisor to the Security Assistance Monitor, described it as “an arms fair, not diplomacy.”

He said the Obama administration, in its first five years in office, entered into formal agreements to transfer over 64 billion dollars in arms and defence services to GCC member states, with about three-quarters of that total going to Saudi Arabia.

He said items on offer to GCC states have included fighter aircraft, attack helicopters, radar planes, refueling aircraft, air-to-air missiles, armored vehicles, artillery, small arms and ammunition, cluster bombs, and missile defence systems.

On any given day, Kahl said, the United States has about 35,000 U.S. forces in the Gulf region.

“As I speak, the USS Theodore Roosevelt Carrier Strike Group is there. The USS Normandy Guided Missile Cruiser, the USS Milius Aegis ballistic missile defense destroyer, and a number of other naval assets are in the region,” he said.

“And we have 10 Patriot batteries deployed to the Gulf region and Jordan, as well as AN/TPY-2 radar, which is an extraordinarily powerful radar to be able to track missiles fired basically from anywhere in the region.”

The mission of all of these forces, he said, ”is to defend our partners, to deter aggression, to maintain freedom of navigation, and to combat terrorism and weapons of mass destruction.”

Still, in the spreading Middle East arms market, it is business as usual both to the French and the British.

Wezeman told IPS Qatar has acquired the Rafale to replace its Mirage-2000 aircraft which France supplied about 20 years ago.

The UAE has been considering the purchase of Rafale to replace Mirage-2000 aircraft procured about 10 years ago from France.

Similarly Saudi Arabia has in the past decade ordered British Typhoon combat aircraft and U.S. F-15SAs, just like it ordered British Tornado combat aircraft and U.S. F-15Cs in the 1980s and 1990s.

Oman has recently ordered U.S. F-16s and British Typhoon aircraft to replace older U.S. F-16s and replace UK supplied Jaguar aircraft.

“The same arms acquisition patterns can be seen for land and naval military equipment. It would be a real change if the GCC countries would start large-scale procurement of arms from Russia and China. This has, however, not yet happened,” said Wezeman, who scrupulously tracks weapons sales to the Middle East.

He said access to certain technology has occasionally been one of several reasons for the GCC countries turning to Europe, as the United States tried to maintain a so-called ‘Qualitative Military Edge’ for Israel, in which it refused to supply certain military technology to Arab states which was considered particularly threatening to Israel.

He said for a while the U.S. was not willing to supply air launched cruise missiles with ranges of about 300 km to Arab states. Instead Saudi Arabia and the UAE turned to the UK and France for such weapons and the aircraft to integrate them on.

However, the U.S. has now become less restrictive in this regard and has agreed to supply certain types of cruise missiles to Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

Finally, what is particularly interesting is that U.S. officials once again emphasise the military imbalance in the Gulf region when mentioning that GCC states’ military spending is an estimated nine times higher than that of Iran (figures which are roughly confirmed by SIPRI data).

“This raises some major questions about the seeming lack of arms control in the region and the potential risks of further one-sided procurement of advanced weapons by GCC states,” he added.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at

]]> 0
U.S. Failings Exposed in U.N. Human Rights Review Tue, 12 May 2015 22:51:38 +0000 Gustavo Capdevila The human rights exam in Geneva complained that U.S. President Barack Obama has failed to keep his promise to close down the Guantánamo military base. Credit: Shane T. McCoy/U.S. Navy

The human rights exam in Geneva complained that U.S. President Barack Obama has failed to keep his promise to close down the Guantánamo military base. Credit: Shane T. McCoy/U.S. Navy

By Gustavo Capdevila
GENEVA, May 12 2015 (IPS)

Without the emperor’s clothes, like in the Hans Christian Andersen story, the United States was forced to submit its human rights record to the scrutiny of the other 192 members of the United Nations on Monday.

Washington attended the country’s second universal periodic review (UPR) in the Geneva-based U.N. Human Rights Council, which reviews each U.N. member country’s compliance with international human rights standards.
“So today was a demonstration of the no confidence vote that world opinion has made of the United States as a country that considers itself a human rights champion,” said Jamil Dakwar, director of the Human Rights Program (HRP) of the American Civil Liberties Union, a non-profit organisation that has worked to defend individual rights and liberties since 1920.

“I think that there was a clear message from today’s review that the United States needs to do much more to protect human rights and to bring its laws and policies in line with human rights standards,” he told IPS.

Although the UPR has come in for criticism because its conclusions are negotiated among governments, it is recognised for starkly revealing the abuses that states commit against their own citizens and those of other countries – and the Monday May 11 session was no exception.

One of the demands set forth by the 117 states taking part in the debate was for Washington to take measures to prevent acts of torture in areas outside the national territory under its effective control and prosecute perpetrators, and to ensure that victims of torture were afforded redress and assistance.

With respect to torture, among the positive achievements mentioned was the release of a report on abuses committed as part of the Central Intelligence Agency’s (CIA) interrogation practices.

The head of the 20-member U.S. delegation that flew over from Washington, acting legal adviser in the State Department Mary McLeod, gave an indication that the negotiations for the visit by Juan Méndez, U.N. special rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, to the U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay were not closed.

In March, Méndez, an Argentine lawyer who lives in the United States, complained that Washington did not intend to give him access during his visit to the more than 100 inmates in Guantanamo.

The country’s closest ally, the United Kingdom, congratulated the United States on its commitment to close Guantanamo, announced by President Barack Obama before his first term began in January 2009. But the British delegate said they would like to see it actually happen.

“The problem with Guantanamo is that it created a system of indefinite detention that we would like to see shut down with the facility,” Dakwar said. “It also created a flawed system of military commissions that provide a second system of justice. This system should also be shut down.”

Ejim Dike, executive director of the U.S. Human Rights Network, said the concerns brought to the attention of the U.S. delegation revolved around issues of poverty, criminalisation and violence.

“In the United States we have more money today than we ever had. We have the highest child poverty rate of any industrialised country. However, for the UPR no one from the government mentioned poverty,” Dike commented to IPS.

The Cuban delegates addressed the issue, urging the United States to guarantee the right of all residents to decent housing, food, healthcare and education, in order to reduce the poverty that affects 48 million of the country’s 319 million people.

A number of countries asked the United States to ratify the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, in effect since 1976 and considered one of the pillars of the U.N. human rights system.

They also pointed out that the United States has not ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Nor has it ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

Furthermore, it has not recognised the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families, or the International Labour Organisation’s (ILO) conventions on forced labour, minimum age for admission to employment, domestic workers, and discrimination in respect of employment and occupation.

McLeod also said that her country is not currently considering the ratification of the Rome Statute, which created the International Criminal Court.

Dakwar said the debate in the UPR highlighted “the issue of the lack of a fair criminal justice system that is being demonstrated through the stops and frisks, racial profiling, racial studies in the death penalty. You see it in the police violence and killing of unarmed African-Americans with no accountability.

“Its inhuman and unfair system of immigration needs to again be brought in line with human rights…That means…no detention of migrants, and ending migrants’ family detention,” he added.

Another of the main recommendations to the United States is that it desist from targeted killings through drones.

“The United States continues to violate human rights in the name of national security and it needs to roll back these policies and bring them in line with the U.S. constitution and international law,” Dakwar argued.

“Also in the domestic system we have surveillance of Muslim communities. There is a guidance by the Department of Justice that they allow the use of informants within communities, particularly Muslim and Middle Eastern communities,” he added.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

]]> 0
Press Freedom Groups Denounce NSA Spying on AJ Bureau Chief Tue, 12 May 2015 18:14:45 +0000 Kitty Stapp A slide dated June 2012 from a National Security Agency PowerPoint presentation bears Ahmad Muaffaq Zaidan’s photo, name, and a terror watch list identification number, and labels him a “member of Al-Qa’ida” as well as the Muslim Brotherhood. It also notes that he “works for Al Jazeera.” Courtesy of the Intercept

A slide dated June 2012 from a National Security Agency PowerPoint presentation bears Ahmad Muaffaq Zaidan’s photo, name, and a terror watch list identification number, and labels him a “member of Al-Qa’ida” as well as the Muslim Brotherhood. It also notes that he “works for Al Jazeera.” Courtesy of the Intercept

By Kitty Stapp
NEW YORK, May 12 2015 (IPS)

Ahmad Muaffaq Zaidan doesn’t deny that he’s had contact with terrorist groups. In fact, it would have been rather difficult to do his job otherwise.

But the fact that Zaidan is a respected investigative journalist and the Islamabad bureau chief for Al Jazeera didn’t seem to faze the U.S. National Security Agency, which not only spied on him, but went as far as to brand him a likely member of Al Qaeda and put him on a watch list.“This is the reality under which we live. Government agencies are relatively autonomous and attempts to control them are ludicrous." -- Bob Dietz of CPJ

The revelations emerged late last week as part of the thousands of classified documents leaked by former NSA employee Edward Snowden.

“Given that Pakistan has been consistently ranked as one of the most dangerous countries for journalists, the news of Zaidan’s surveillance further adds to the fear, restricting press freedom,” said Furhan Hussain, manager of the Digital Rights and Freedom of Expression programme at Bytes for All, a Pakistani human rights group.

“Equally alarming, in this case, is the fact that by compromising the information of respected journalists, such spying also weakens the safety of their sources and media networks,” he told IPS. “Zaidan’s communications intercept took place through the invasive gathering and analysis of his metadata, a technique which has been frequently responsible for drone-led non-transparent persecution of hundreds of people.

“While it is often claimed that the state of Pakistan has failed to effectively protest against these violations, it may also be important to raise questions about the possible role of the state in facilitating the NSA to access vast amounts of data of those residing within its borders, in the context of its third-party SIGINT partnership.”

Other press freedom groups said the case was just one more in a long-running pattern of civil liberties abuses.

“Given the flood of disclosures over the past two years about the NSA’s vast range of mass and intrusive surveillance techniques and targets, it is unsurprising, but nevertheless shocking, that the intelligence agency thought it appropriate to use its capabilities to spy on an eminent journalist,” Carly Nyst, Legal Director of Privacy International, told IPS.

“This case is illustrative of the grave dangers of allowing security services to exercise immense powers in the absence of proper scrutiny. By placing members of the media, who themselves play an essential accountability role, particularly in areas of conflict, under surveillance, the NSA has undermined the very values it is charged with promoting – security, democracy, and free flow of information.

“Without democratic accountability, spy agencies will continue to sacrifice civil liberties in the name of strategic gain, without sparing a thought to the critical journalistic freedom caught in the cross hairs,” she added.

It’s not the first time the NSA has targeted Al Jazeera. Based on leaked documents, the German magazine Der Spiegel reported in 2009 that it had hacked into the news agency’s internal communication system.

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, NSA whistleblower Russell Tice claimed in 2009 that in fact, the agency makes it a point to target journalists and news agencies.

Zaidan was targeted under the ominously titled SKYNET programme, which monitors bulk call records and searches the metadata for particular patterns.

“It’s this kind of big, sweeping data gathering that worries us the most,” Bob Dietz, Asia programme coordinator for the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists, told IPS.

“If someone were to track my behavior and all the people I’ve come into contact with over the last 20 years, I imagine I would come up on some sort of chart ranking very high,” he said wryly.

Dietz doesn’t expect the situation to change anytime soon, regardless of who occupies the White House.

“This is the reality under which we live. Government agencies are relatively autonomous and attempts to control them are ludicrous…whether or not there are laws protecting us,” he said.

Thomas Hughes, executive director of the London-based ARTICLE 19, said his group is deeply concerned by the Zaidan spying revelations.

“According to statements from Al Jazeera and colleagues from other networks, Zaidan is a journalist of longstanding professional reputation. Surveillance of journalists has a serious chilling effect on freedom of expression, impeding the crucial role journalists play in uncovering wrongdoing and holding governments to account for their actions,” he told IPS.

“Compromising the confidentially of sources also seriously undermines the ability of journalists to perform their work and potentially endangers the wellbeing and safety of those sources.”

Indeed, as noted by the Intercept, which broke the allegations, Zaidan’s reporting focused on the Taliban and Al Qaeda, including several high-profile interviews with senior Al Qaeda leaders.

In strenuously denying the allegations, he patiently explained, “For us to be able to inform the world, we have to be able to freely contact relevant figures in the public discourse, speak with people on the ground, and gather critical information.

“Any hint of government surveillance that hinders this process is a violation of press freedom and harms the public’s right to know,” he wrote in a response to the Intercept. “To assert that myself, or any journalist, has any affiliation with any group on account of their contact book, phone call logs, or sources is an absurd distortion of the truth and a complete violation of the profession of journalism.”

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

]]> 0
Analysis: Global Politics at a Turning Point – Part 2 Sun, 10 May 2015 11:35:42 +0000 Prem Shankar Jha

Prem Shankar Jha is an eminent Indian journalist based in New Delhi. He is also the author of numerous books, including The Twilight of the Nation State: Globalisation, Chaos, and War (2006). In this two-part analysis, he puts the April nuclear framework agreement reached between the United States and Iran in context.

By Prem Shankar Jha
NEW DELHI, May 10 2015 (IPS)

In the following months, reports of the use of chemical weapons by Syrian forces multiplied. The most serious was an allegation that the Syrian army had used sarin gas on Mar. 19, 2013 at Khan al Assal, north of Aleppo, and in a suburb of Damascus against its opponents. This was followed by two more allegations of small attacks in April.

Prem Shankar Jha

Seymour Hersh has reported that in May 2013, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Erdoğan visited Obama, accompanied by his intelligence chief, and pressed him to live up to his “red line” commitment to punish Syria if it used chemical weapons.

But by then U.S. intelligence knew, and had conveyed to Barack Obama,  that it was Turkey’s secret service, MIT, that had been working with the Nusra front to set up facilities to  manufacture sarin, and had obtained two kilograms of the deadly gas for it from Eastern Europe, with funds provided by Qatar. Obama therefore remained unmoved.

Israel’s role in the planned destruction of Syria was to feed false intelligence to the U.S. administration and lawmakers to persuade them that Syria deserved to be destroyed.

On May 13, 2013, Republican Senator John McCain paid a surprise visit to Idlib on the Syria-Turkey border to meet whom he believed were moderate leaders of the Free Syrian Army (FSA).

Photos and videos posted on the web after the visit and resurrected after the rise of the Islamic States (IS) showed that two of the five leaders whom he actually met were Mohammed Nour, the spokesman of ‘Northern Storm’ an offshoot of the brutal Jabhat Al Nusra, and Ammar al Dadhiki, aka Abu Ibrahim, a key member of the organisation. The third was Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, known as the ‘Caliph of the Islamic State’.“Israel’s role in the planned destruction of Syria was to feed false intelligence to the U.S. administration and lawmakers to persuade them that Syria deserved to be destroyed”

The visit had been organised by Salim Idris, self-styled Brigadier General of the FSA, and the Syrian Emergency Task Force (SETF), a U.S. not-for-profit organisation that is a passionate advocate for arming the ‘moderate’ FSA.

McCain probably did not know whom he was meeting , but the same could not be said of Idris and SETF, because when McCain met them, Nusra was already on the banned list  and Baghdadi was on the U.S. State Department’s list of Specially Designated Global Terrorists, with a reward of 10 million dollars on his head. What is more, by then he had been the Emir of IS for the previous six weeks.

As for the SETF, investigations of its connections by journalists after the McCain videos went viral on the internet showed a deep connection to AIPAC.  Until these exposure made it ‘correct’ its web page, one of its email addresses was “”.

The “” URL belongs to the Torah Academy of Boca Raton, Florida, whose academic goals notably include “inspiring a love and commitment to Eretz Yisroel [Land of Israel] .” SETF’s director was also closely associated with AIPC’s think tank, the Washington Institute of Near East Policy (WINEP).

When Obama ‘postponed’ the attack on Syria on the grounds that he had to obtain the approval of Congress first, Israel’s response was blind fury.

Obama had informed Netanyahu of his decision on Aug. 30, four hours before he referred it to Congress and bound him to secrecy. But Netanyahu’s housing minister, Uri Ariel, gave full vent to it the next morning in a radio interview, saying: “You don’t have to wait until tens of thousands more children die before intervening in Syria.”

Ariel went on to say; “When you throw gas at the population, it means you know you’re going to murder thousands of women, children indiscriminately. [Syrian President Bashar Assad] is a murderous coward. Take him out.”

Netanyahu reprimanded Ariel because he did not want Israel to be seen to be pushing the United States into war, but by then there was no room left for doubt that this is exactly what he and his government had been trying to do.

For, on Aug. 27, alongside U.S. foreign minister John Kerry’s denunciation of the Ghouta sarin gas attack, the right-wing daily, Tims of Israel, had published three stories quoting defence officials, titled ‘Israeli intelligence seen as central to US case against Syria’; IDF intercepted Syrian regime chatter on chemical attack’; and, significantly, For Israel US response on Syria may be a harbinger for Iran’.

The hard “information” that had tilted the balance was contained in the second story: a retired Mossad agent who refused to be named, told another German magazine, Focus, that a squad specialising in wire-tapping within the IDF’s elite ‘8200 intelliogence unit’ had intercepted a conversation between high-ranking officials discussing the sue of chemical agents at the time of the attack.

The similarity of method between this and the earlier leak to Der Spiegel makes it likely that it too was part of an Israeli disinformation campaign designed to trigger a fatal assault on Assad.

Obama gave his first hint that he intended to reverse the [George W.] Bush doctrine while talking to reporters on a tour of Asia in April 2014: “Why is it,” he observed, “that everybody is so eager to use military force after we’ve gone through a decade of war at enormous cost to our troops and our budget?”

He unveiled the change in a graduation day speech at West Point on May 28, 2014. “Here’s my bottom line”, he said. ”America must always lead on the world stage. If we don’t, no one else will. The military that you have joined is, and always will be, the backbone of that leadership.

“But U.S. military action cannot be the only – or even primary – component of our leadership in every instance. Just because we have the best hammer does not mean that every problem is a nail.

“And because the costs associated with military action are so high, you should expect every civilian leader – and especially your Commander-in-Chief – to be clear about how that awesome power should be used.”

Obama’s choice of venue was not accidental, because it was here that Bush had announced the United States’ first strike security doctrine 12 years earlier.

Obama’s repudiation of the Bush doctrine sent a ripple of shock running through the U.S. political establishment. Republicans denounced him for revealing America’s weakness and emboldening its enemies. But a far more virulent denunciation came from Hilary Clinton, the front runner for the Democratic Presidential nomination in 2016.

“Great nations need strong organising principles”, she said in an interview with The Atlantic, “’Don’t do stupid stuff’ (Obama’s favourite phrase) is not an organising principle.”

Netanyahu got the message: he may have lost the U.S. president, but Israel’s, more specifically the Israeli right’s, constituency in the United States remained undented. No matter which party came to power in the next election, he could continue his tirade against Iran and be guaranteed a sympathetic hearing.

Since then he has barely bothered to hide his contempt for Obama and spared no effort to turn him, prematurely, into a lame duck President.

Edited by Phil Harris   

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, IPS – Inter Press Service. 

* The first part of this two-part analysis can be accessed here.

]]> 0
Analysis: Global Politics at a Turning Point – Part 1 Sun, 10 May 2015 10:53:11 +0000 Prem Shankar Jha

Prem Shankar Jha is an eminent Indian journalist based in New Delhi. He is also the author of numerous books, including The Twilight of the Nation State: Globalisation, Chaos, and War (2006). In this two-part analysis, he puts the April nuclear framework agreement reached between the United States and Iran in context.

By Prem Shankar Jha
NEW DELHI, May 10 2015 (IPS)

President Barack Obama’s Nowroz greeting to the Iranian people earlier this year was the first clear indication to the world that the United States and Iran were very close to agreement on the contents of the nuclear agreement they had been working towards for the previous 16 months.

In contrast to two earlier messages which were barely veiled exhortations to Iranians to stand up to their obscurantist leaders, Obama urged “the peoples and the leaders of Iran” to avail themselves of “the best opportunity in decades to pursue a different relationship between our countries.”

Prem Shankar Jha

This moment, he warned, “may not come again soon (for) there are people in both our countries and beyond, who oppose a diplomatic solution.”

Barely a fortnight later that deal was done. Iran had agreed to a more than two-thirds reduction in the number of centrifuges it would keep, although a question mark still hung over the timing of the lifting of sanctions against it. The agreement came in the teeth of opposition from hardliners in both Iran and the United States.

Looking back at Obama’s unprecedented overtures to Iran, his direct phone call to President Hassan Rouhani – the first of its kind in 30 years – and his letter to Ayatollah Khamenei in November last year, it is clear in retrospect that they were products of  a rare meeting of minds between him and  Rouhani and their foreign ministers John Kerry and Muhammad Jawad Zarif that may have occurred as early as  their first meetings in September 2013.

The opposition to the deal within the United States proved a far harder obstacle for Obama to surmount. The reason is the dogged and increasingly naked opposition of Israel and the immense influence of the American Israeli Political Action Committee (AIPAC) on U.S. policymakers and public opinion.

Both of these were laid bare came when the Republican party created constitutional history by inviting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to address  a joint session of Congress  without informing the White House, listened raptly to his diatribe against Obama, and sent a deliberately insulting letter to Ayatollah Khamenei in a bid to scuttle the talks.

Obama has ploughed on in the teeth of this formidable, highly personalised, attack on him  because he has learnt from the bitter experience of the past four years what Harvard professors John Mearsheimer and Steven Walt had exposed in their path-breaking  book, ‘The Israel lobby and American Foreign Policy’ in 2006.“Quietly, and utterly alone, Obama decided to reverse the drift, return to diplomacy as the first weapon for increasing national security and returning force to where it had belonged in the previous three centuries, as a weapon of last resort”

This was the utter disregard for America’s national interest and security with which Israel had been manipulating American public opinion, the U.S. Congress and successive U.S. administrations, in pursuit of its own security, since the end of the Cold War.

By the end of 2012, two years into the so-called “Arab Spring”, Obama had also discovered how cynically Turkey and the Wahhabi-Sunni sheikhdoms had manipulated the United States into joining a sectarian vendetta against Syria, and created and armed a Jihadi army whose ultimate target was the West itself.

Nine months later, he found out how Israel had abused the trust the United States reposed in it, and come within a hairsbreadth of pushing it into an attack on Syria that was even less justifiable than then U.S. President George W. Bush’s 2003 invasion of Iraq.  And then the murderous eruption of the Islamic State (ISIS) showed him that the Jihadis were out of control.

Somewhere along this trail of betrayal and disillusionment, Obama experienced the political equivalent of an epiphany.

Twelve years of a U.S. national security strategy that relied on the pre-emptive use of force had  yielded war without end, a string of strategic defeats, a  mauled and traumatised army, mounting international debt and a collapsing hegemony reflected in the impunity with which the so-called friends of the United States were using it to serve their ends.

Quietly, and utterly alone, Obama decided to reverse the drift, return to diplomacy as the first weapon for increasing national security and returning force to where it had belonged in the previous three centuries, as a weapon of last resort. His meeting and discussions with Rouhani and Iranian foreign minister Zarif gave him the opportunity to begin this epic change of direction.

Obama faced his first moment of truth on Nov. 28, 2012 when a Jabhat al Nusra unit north of Aleppo brought down a Syrian army helicopter with a Russian man-portable surface-to-air missile (SAM).

The White House tried to  pretend that that the missile was from a captured Syrian air base, but by then U.S. intelligence agencies were fed up with its suppression and distortion of their intelligence and  leaked it to the Washington Post that 40 SAM missile batteries with launchers, along with hundreds of tonnes of other heavy weapons had been bought from Libya, paid for by Qatar, and transported to the rebels in Syria  by Turkey through a ‘rat line’ that the CIA had helped it to establish, to funnel arms and mercenaries into Syria.

A day that Obama had been dreading had finally arrived: heavy weapons that the United States and the European Union had expressly proscribed, because they could bring down civilian aircraft anywhere in the world, had finally reached Al Qaeda’s hands

But when Obama promptly banned the Jabhat Al Nusra, he got his second shock. At the next ‘Friends of Syria’ meeting in Marrakesh three weeks later, not only the   ‘moderate’ Syrian rebels that the United States had grouped under a newly-formed Syrian Military Council three months earlier, but all of its Sunni Muslim allies condemned the ban, while Britain and France remained silent.

Obama’s third, and worst, moment of truth came nine months later when a relentless campaign by  his closest ‘allies‘, Turkey and Israel, brought him to the verge of launching an all-out aerial attack  on Syria in September 2013 to punish it for “using gas on rebels and civilians in the Ghouta suburb of Damascus.”

Obama learned that Syria had done no such thing only two days before the attack was to commence, when the British informed him that soil samples collected from the site of the Ghouta attack and analysed at their CBW research laboratories at Porton Down, had shown that the sarin gas used in the attack could not possibly have been prepared by the Syrian army.

This was because the British had the complete list of suppliers from which Syria had received its precursor chemicals and these did not match the chemicals used in the sarin gas found in the Ghouta.

Had he gone through with the attack, it would have made Obama ten times worse than George Bush in history’s eyes.

Hindsight allows us to reconstruct how the conviction that Syria was using chemical weapons was implanted into policy-makers in the United States and the European Union.

On Sep. 17, 2012, the Israeli daily Haaretz reported that the highly-reputed German magazine Der Speigel, had learned, “quoting several eyewitnesses”, that Syria had tested delivery systems for chemical warheads   at a chemical weapons research centre near Aleppo in August, and that the tests had been overseen by Iranian experts.

Tanks and aircraft, Der Speigel reported, had fired “five or six empty shells capable of delivering poison gas.”

Since neither Der Speigel nor any other Western newspaper had, or still has, resident correspondents in Syria, it could only have obtained this report second or third-hand through a local stringer. This, and the wealth of detail in the report, suggests that the story of a test firing, while not necessarily untrue, was a plant by an intelligence agency. It therefore had to be taken with a large pinch of salt.

One person who not only chose to believe it instantly, but also to act on it was Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. On Dec. 3, 2012, Haaretz reported that he had sent emissaries to Amman twice, in October and November, to request Jordan’s permission to overfly its territory to bomb Syria’s chemical weapons facilities.

Edited by Phil Harris   

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, IPS – Inter Press Service.

* The second part of this two-part analysis can be accessed here.

]]> 0
Police Killings Challenge U.S. “Exceptionalism” Wed, 06 May 2015 16:42:10 +0000 Kitty Stapp Washington DC, the evening of April 29. 2015. Activists and supporters affiliated with the #DCFerguson movement gathered in Chinatown for a march in solidarity with the Baltimore protests of the cop killing of African-American youth Freddie Gray. The DC event involved over a thousand marchers by the time it wound up in front of the White House. Credit: Stephen Melkisethian/cc by 2.0

Washington DC, the evening of April 29. 2015. Activists and supporters affiliated with the #DCFerguson movement gathered in Chinatown for a march in solidarity with the Baltimore protests of the cop killing of African-American youth Freddie Gray. The DC event involved over a thousand marchers by the time it wound up in front of the White House. Credit: Stephen Melkisethian/cc by 2.0

By Kitty Stapp

Since being roundly chastised last fall by the U.N. Committee Against Torture for excessive use of force by its law enforcement agencies, the United States hasn’t exactly managed to repair its international reputation.

Fatal beatings and shootings of African American and Latino citizens, mainly men, by the police have continued seemingly unabated, with the latest being the widely publicised case of Freddie Gray in Baltimore, Maryland. Gray, 25, died Apr. 19 of spinal cord injuries in what has been ruled a homicide after being arrested for allegedly carrying an illegal pocket knife. Six officers have since been charged in his murder."As the U.S. claims a human rights mantle and criticises others for racism, it becomes the world’s greatest hypocrite." -- Michael Ratner

The wave of cases – many caught on camera and shared via social media – have sparked a nationwide protest campaign grouped under the hashtag #blacklivesmatter.

On Nov. 28, a year after the Committee’s damning report, the U.S. must provide information on what it has done to follow up on its recommendations, which included prompt investigation and prosecution of police brutality cases and providing effective remedies and rehabilitation to the victims.

“The best way to begin to bring this racism and particular police murders to an end is by what we are seeing today: massive and militant demonstrations everywhere and shutting cities down,” Michael Ratner, president emeritus of the New York-based Centre for Constitutional Rights, told IPS. “We are in a special moment that rarely occurs in this country; people are mobilised and in the streets. That is the key. Our cities cannot be governed without the consent of the governed.

“But of course there are other important elements as well. The platform the U.N. CAT offered for Blacks particularly to speak out was important, very important. It gave Michael Brown’s family an opportunity to be heard around the world as it did others. The conclusions of the committee were powerful and while the United States tried to ignore them, the world would not. The report gives international legitimacy to the protests we are seeing every day.”

Michael Brown was an unarmed Black teenager who was shot and killed by white police officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Missouri. A grand jury refused to indict in his Aug. 9, 2014 death.

Brown’s parents testified before the U.N. committee in Geneva last year, and U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein cited the case in condemning “institutionalised discrimination in the U.S.”

“The CAT report put pressure on the U.S. to do something and while its response was inadequate, the report’s findings can be seen as the beginning of the end for the belief both in the U.S. and abroad that the U.S. is a just society toward Blacks,” Ratner said.

“As the U.S. claims a human rights mantle and criticises others for racism, it becomes the world’s greatest hypocrite. Yes, the U.S. is the most powerful country and can ignore the U.N., but ultimately by doing so, it will be ignored.”

Ratner cited a previous instance that demonstrates how important the U.N. can be in this regard. In 1951, “We Charge Genocide: The Crime of Government Against the Negro People” was submitted to the U.N. by the Civil Rights Congress and detailed the horrendous situation faced by American Blacks.

“It received huge international press. The U.S. realized that it could not call itself a democracy and claim it was better than Communist countries if racism was so embedded in its society. Three years later the Supreme Court ended school desegregation.

“While the report was not the only reason for that change, the point is that the U.N. and particularly the recent CAT committee report has pointed to serious defects in U.S. democracy and human rights. It’s hard after this report, although surely the U.S. will try, to criticise other countries’ human rights and not simply be laughed at.”

Because the U.S. is a state party to the Convention against Torture, it is regularly examined by the CAT committee. Its next report is due in November 2018, after which the date for the next review will be set. In general, these reviews happen every four or five years.

Alba Morales, a researcher for the U.S. Programme at Human Rights Watch, agrees that advocates have been able to use the international attention brought by these reports to strengthen their local work.

“Take the John Burge torture cases in Chicago, for example,” she told IPS. “Burge was a Chicago police officer commander who oversaw the torture hundreds of arrestees in that city. Chicago advocates worked for decades to obtain accountability for those acts of torture by police, and appeared before the U.N. Committee Against Torture in 2006.

“It was only after the U.N. Committee called for accountability in that case that the U.S. government took action, eventually indicting and convicting Burge of obstruction of justice. While this was the result of many years of local advocacy, the spotlight that the U.N. report shone on these cases also contributed to the outcome.”

Morales said that the United Nations can continue to welcome the voices of those directly affected by human rights violations everywhere, including in the U.S.

“The families of Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis attended the last meeting of the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. Their testimony powerfully illustrated the racial discrimination that persists in the U.S. While none of these U.N. committees can enforce any judgements against the U.S. or any other country, having an international platform amplifies the voices of those who are working incredibly hard to improve the human rights situation in the U.S.”

Ratner noted that U.S. racial discrimination, backed by state violence, has a lengthy and deeply rooted history that dates back hundreds of years.

“Ending the police murders and brutal treatment of Black people in the United States is no easy task,” he said. “Many whites, particularly in law enforcement, are racist to the core. It is a racism that has a history since the early days of slavery and it is a racism that continues in many aspects of Black people’s lives.

“Once it was called slavery, then Jim Crow, then slavery by another name, then the new Jim Crow. Yet we all know this unequal and brutal treatment of Black people must end.”

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

]]> 0
Opinion: The West and Its Self-Assumed Right to Intervene Mon, 04 May 2015 16:31:34 +0000 Roberto Savio

In this column, Roberto Savio, founder and president emeritus of the Inter Press Service (IPS) news agency and publisher of Other News, argues that the West, led by the United States, has taken on itself the right to intervene in the affairs of others and, in the case of the Arab world, has created situations that justify subsequent military interventions which have had a high cost in both human and financial terms.

By Roberto Savio
ROME, May 4 2015 (IPS)

The ‘West’ is a concept that flourished during the Cold War. Then it was West against East in the form of the Soviet empire. The East was evil against which all democratic countries – read West – were called on to fight.

I recall meeting Elliot Abrams, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State during the Ronald Reagan administration, in 1982. He told me that at the point in history, the real West was the United States, with Europe a wavering ally, not really ready to go up to the point of entering into war with the  Soviet Union.

Roberto Savio

Roberto Savio

When I tried to explain to him that the East-West denomination dated back to Roman times, long before the United States even existed, he brushed this aside, saying that the contemporary concept was that of those standing against the Soviet Empire, and the United States was the only power willing to do so.

The Reagan presidency changed the course of history, because he was against multilateralism, the United Nations and anything that could oblige the United States to accept what was not primarily in the interests of Washington. The fact that United States had a manifest destiny and was therefore a spokesperson for humankind and the idea that God was American were the bases of his rhetoric.

In one famous declaration, he went so far as asserting that United States was the only democratic country in the world.

After the end of the Cold War, President George W. Bush took up the Reagan rhetoric again. He declared that he was president because of God, which justified his intervention in Iraq, albeit based on false data about weapons of mass destruction (Abrams was also by his side). Now it turns out that he has an indirect responsibility for the creation of the Islamic State (IS).“The [Ronald] Reagan presidency changed the course of history, because he was against multilateralism, the United Nations and anything that could oblige the United States to accept what was not primarily in the interests of Washington”

All this starts in Iraq.  The first governor at the end of the U.S. invasion was retired U.S. Army Lieutenant General Jay Garner who did not last very long because his ideas about how to reconstruct Iraq were considered too lenient. He was replaced by U.S. diplomat Paul Bremer.

Bremer took two fateful decisions: to eliminate the Iraqi army, and to purge all those who were members of the Baath party from the administration, because they were connected to Saddam Hussein. This left thousands of disgruntled officers and a very inefficient administration.

Now we have learned that the mind behind the creation of IS was a former Iraqi colonel from the secret services of the Iraqi Air Force, Samir Abed Al-Kliifawi. The details of how he planned the takeover over of a part of Iraq (and Syria), have been published by Der Spiegel, which came to have access to documents found after his death. They reveal an organisation which is externally fanatic but internally cold and calculating.

After the invasion of Iraq, he was imprisoned by the Americans, and there he connected with several other imprisoned Iraq officers, all of them Sunnis, and started planning the creation of the Islamic State, which now has a number of former Iraqi army officers in its ranks. Without Bremer’s fateful decision, Al-Kliifawi would probably have continued in the Iraqi army.

What we also have to remember here is that the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) was rendered useless by the Cold War, and many saw its demise. However, it was given the war against Serbia as a new reason for existence, and the concept of the West, embodied in a military alliance, was kept alive.

According to a report by scholars with the ‘Costs of War’ project at Brown University’s Watson Institute for International Studies, the terrible cost of the Iraqi invasion had been 2.2 trillion dollars by 2013, not to speak of 190,000 deaths. If we add Afghanistan, we reach the staggering amount of 4 trillion dollars – compared with the annual 6.4 trillion dollar total budget of all 28 members of the European Union – for “resolution” of the conflict.

One would have thought that after that experience, Europe would have desisted from invading Arab countries and aggravating its difficult internal financial balance sheet. Yet, Europe engaged in the destabilisation of Bashar al-Assad in Syria, leading to the explosion of Jihadists from there, 220,000 deaths and five million refugees.

In the case of Libya, under the prodding of France’s Nicolas Sarkozy and the United Kingdom’s David Cameron, both for electoral reasons, Europe entered with the aim of eliminating Mu’ammar Gheddafi, then leaving  the country to its destiny. Now thousands of migrants are using Libya in the attempt to reach the shores of Europe and Cameron has decided to ignore any joint European action.

For some reason, Europe always follows United States, without further thinking. The case of Ukraine is the last of those bouts of somnambulism. It has invited Ukraine to join the European Union and NATO, prodding a paranoiac Putin (with the nearly unanimous support of his people), to act to finally stop the ongoing encirclement of the former Soviet republic.

The problem is that Europeans are largely ignorant of the Arab world. A few days ago, Italian police dismantled a Jihadist ring in Bergamo, a town in northern Italy, arresting among others an imam, or preacher, No Italian media took the pain to ascertain which version of Islam he was preaching. All spoke of an Islamic threat, with attacks being planned on the Vatican.

If they had looked with more care, they would have found out that he preached the Wahhabi version of Islam, which is the official version of Islam in Saudi Arabia, and which consider all other Muslims as apostates and infidels. This is very similar to IS, which has adopted its Wahhabi version of Islam, but is a far cry from equating Wahhabism with terrorism – all terrorists may be Wahhabis but not all Wahhabis are terrorists.

Saudi Arabia has already spent 87 billion dollars in promoting Wahhabism, has paid for the creation of 1,500 mosques, all staffed with Wahhabi imams, and continues to spend around three billion dollars a year to finance Jihadist groups in Syria, along with the other Gulf countries. This has made Assad an obliged target for the West, and he has succeeded in his claim: better me than chaos, a chaos that he has been also fomenting.

Now the debate is what to do in Libya and NATO is considering several military options. The stroke of luck this time is that U.S. President Barack Obama does not want to intervene. However, with the 28 countries of the European Union increasingly reclaiming their national sovereignty and seldom agreeing on anything, a military intervention is still in the air.

Meanwhile, thousands of refugees try crossing the Mediterranean every day (with the known number of deaths standing at over 20,000 people) to reach Europe, thus strengthening support for Europe’s xenophobic parties which are exploiting popular fear and rejection.

It is a pity that, according to United Nations projections, Europe needs at least an additional 20 million people to continue to be competitive … but this is politically impossible. (END/COLUMNIST SERVICE)

Edited by Phil Harris   

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, IPS – Inter Press Service. 

]]> 3
Q&A: Comprehensive Ban on Nuclear Testing, a ‘Stepping Stone’ to a Nuke-Free World Wed, 29 Apr 2015 17:28:36 +0000 Kanya DAlmeida Gamma spectroscopy can detect traces of radioactivity from nuclear tests from the air. Credit: CTBTO Official Photostream/CC-BY-2.0

Gamma spectroscopy can detect traces of radioactivity from nuclear tests from the air. Credit: CTBTO Official Photostream/CC-BY-2.0

By Kanya D'Almeida

With the four-week-long review conference of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) underway at the United Nations, hopes and frustrations are running equally high, as a binding political agreement on the biggest threat to humanity hangs in the balance.

Caption: Dr. Lassina Zerbo, executive secretary of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organisation (CTBTO). Credit: CTBTO Official Photostream

Caption: Dr. Lassina Zerbo, executive secretary of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organisation (CTBTO). Credit: CTBTO Official Photostream

Behind the headlines that focus primarily on power struggles between the five major nuclear powers – the United States, Britain, France, Russia and China – scores of organisations refusing to be bogged down in geopolitical squabbles are going about the Herculean task of creating a safer world.

One of these bodies is the Vienna-based Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organisation (CTBTO), founded in 1996 alongside the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT), with the aim of independently monitoring compliance.

With 183 signatories and 164 ratifications, the treaty represents a milestone in international efforts to ban nuclear testing.

In order to be legally binding, however, the treaty needs the support of the 44 so-called ‘Annex 2 States’, eight of which have so far refused to ratify the agreement: China, Egypt, Iran, Israel, India, Pakistan, North Korea and the United States.

This holdout has severely crippled efforts to move towards even the most basic goal of the nuclear abolition process.

Still, the CTBTO has made tremendous strides in the past 20 years to set the stage for full ratification.

Its massive global network of seismic, hydroacoustic, infrasound and radionuclide detecting stations makes it nearly impossible for governments to violate the terms of the treaty, and the rich data generated from its many facilities is contributing to a range of scientific endeavors worldwide.

In an interview with IPS, CTBTO Executive Secretary Dr. Lassina Zerbo spoke about the organisation’s hopes for the review conference, and shared some insights on the primary hurdles standing in the way of a nuclear-free world.

Excerpts from the interview follow.

Q: What role will the CTBTO play in the conference?

"Right now 90 percent of the world is saying “no” to nuclear testing, yet we are held hostage by [a] handful of countries [...]." -- Dr. Lassina Zerbo, executive secretary of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organisation (CTBTO)
A: Our hope is that the next four weeks result in a positive outcome with regards to disarmament and non-proliferation, and we think the CTBT plays an important role there. The treaty was one of the key elements that led to indefinite extension of the NPT itself, and is the one thing that seems to be bringing all the state parties together. It’s a low-hanging fruit and we need to catch it, make it serve as a stepping-stone for whatever we want to achieve in this review conference.

For instance, we need to find a compromise between those who are of the view that we should move first on non-proliferation, and between those who say we should move equally, if not faster, on disarmament.

We also need to address the concerns of those who ask why nuclear weapons states are allowed to develop more modern weapons, while other states are prevented from developing even the basic technologies that could serve as nuclear weapons.

The CTBT represents something that all states can agree to; it serves as the basis for consensus on other, more difficult issues, and this is the message I am bringing to the conference.

Q: What have been some of the biggest achievement of the CTBTO? What are some of your most pressing concerns for the future?

A: The CTBTO bans all nuclear test explosions underwater, underground and in the air. We’ve built a network of nearly 300 stations for detecting nuclear tests, including tracking radioactive emissions.

Our international monitoring system has stopped horizontal proliferation (more countries acquiring nuclear weapons), as well as vertical proliferation (more advanced weapons systems).

That’s why some [states] are hesitant to consider ratification of the CTBT: because they are of the view that they still need testing to be able to maintain or modernise their stockpiles.

Any development of nuclear weapons happening today is based on testing that was done 20-25 years ago. No country, except for North Korea, has performed a single test in the 21st century.

Q: How do you deal with outliers like North Korea?

A: We haven’t had official contact with North Korea. I can only base my analysis on what world leaders are telling me. [Russian Foreign Minister Sergey] Lavrov has attempted to engage North Korea in discussions about the CTBT and asked if they would consider a moratorium on testing. Yesterday I met Yerzhan Ashikbayev, deputy foreign minister for Kazakhstan, which has bilateral relations with North Korea, and they have urgently called on North Korea to consider signature of the CTBT.

Those are the countries that can help us, those who have bilateral relations.

Having said this, if I’m invited to North Korea for a meeting that could serve as a basis for engaging in discussions, to help them understand more about the CTBT and the organizational framework and infrastructure that we’ve built: why not? I would be ready to do it.

We are also engaging states like Israel, who could take leadership in regions like the Middle East by signing onto the CTBT. I was just in Israel, where I asked the questions: Do you want to test? I don’t think so. Do you need it? I don’t think so. So why don’t you take leadership to open that framework that we need for confidence building in the region that could lead to more ratification and more consideration of a nuclear weapons-free zone or a WMD-free zone.

Israel now says that CTBT ratification is not an “if” but a “when” – I hope the “when” is not too far away.

Q: Despite scores of marches, thousands of petitions and millions of signatures calling for disarmament and abolition, the major nuclear weapons states are holding out. This can be extremely disheartening for those at the forefront of the movement. What would be your message to global civil society?

A: I would say, keep putting pressure on your political leaders. We need leadership to move on these issues. Right now 90 percent of the world is saying “no” to nuclear testing, yet we are held hostage by the handful of countries [that have not ratified the treaty].

Only civil society can play a role in telling governments, “You’ve got to move because the majority of the world is saying ‘no’ to what you still have, and what you are still holding onto.” The CTBT is a key element for that goal we want to achieve, hopefully in our lifetime: a world free of nuclear weapons.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

]]> 0
Shift to Renewables Seems Inevitable, But Is It Fast Enough? Tue, 21 Apr 2015 18:34:24 +0000 Kitty Stapp Canada’s Erie Shores Wind Farm includes 66 turbines with a total capacity of 99 MW. Credit: Denise Morazé/IPS

Canada’s Erie Shores Wind Farm includes 66 turbines with a total capacity of 99 MW. Credit: Denise Morazé/IPS

By Kitty Stapp
NEW YORK, Apr 21 2015 (IPS)

Climate change may be one of the most divisive issues in the U.S. Congress today, but despite the staunch denialism of Republicans, experts say the global transition from fossil fuels to renewables is already well underway.

A new book published by the Washington-based Earth Policy Institute finds that a steep decline in the price of solar photovoltaic (PV) panels (by three-fourths between 2009 and 2014, to less than 70 cents a watt) has helped the industry grow 50 percent per year."If they truly want to keep their own jobs, our elected leaders will soon see ties with coal, oil and gas as a serious political liability.” -- Kyle Ash of Greenpeace USA

Wind power capacity grew more than 20 percent a year for the last decade, now totalling 369,000 megawatts, enough to power more than 90 million U.S. homes.

In China, electricity generation from wind farms now exceeds that from nuclear plants, while coal use appears to be peaking.

“Wind farms and solar PV systems will likely continue to anchor the growth of renewables,” Matthew Roney, a co-author of “The Great Transition”, told IPS. “They’re already well established, with costs continuing to drop, and their ‘fuels’ are widespread and abundant.”

With international initiatives like the U.N. Secretary-General’s Sustainable Energy for All and new development goals in the offing, donors and policy-makers are looking to massively scale up these tried-and-true clean technologies.

“One of solar’s advantages is that not only is it increasingly competitive with the average cost of grid electricity around the world, it can make economic sense for many of the 1.3 billion people who do not yet have access to electricity,” Roney said.

The book also notes that 70 countries now have feed-in tariffs, a policy mechanism designed to accelerate investment in renewable energy technologies by offering long-term contracts to renewable energy producers. Another two dozen have renewable portfolio standards (RPS), 37 countries offer production or investment tax credits for renewables, and 40 countries are implementing or planning carbon pricing.

In the U.S., reliance on coal is dwindling – it fell 21 percent between 2007 and 2014 – and more than one-third of the nation’s coal plants have already closed or announced plans for future closure.

But according to Greenpeace and other civil society watchdog groups, the industry is trying to get a new lease on life by pushing so-called carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) – where waste carbon dioxide (CO2) is captured from large point sources, such as power plants, and transported to a storage site — what Greenpeace has dubbed a “Carbon Capture Scam.”

The Barack Obama administration advocates CCS as part of its “all of the above” energy strategy, the group says in a recent analysis, even though the government’s own projections show that it would cost almost 40 percent more per kilogramme of avoided carbon dioxide than solar photovoltaic, 125 percent more than wind and 260 percent more than geothermal.

“The most fair-weather politician, if honest, should agree that advocating for renewables is a winning campaign strategy,” Greenpeace USA legislative representative Kyle Ash told IPS.

“Do they really care about jobs? Do they really care about U.S. competitiveness and energy independence?” he asked. “The president and Congress have no shortage of reasons to acknowledge renewables are the only path forward when it comes to energy production. If they truly want to keep their own jobs, our elected leaders will soon see ties with coal, oil and gas as a serious political liability.”

The Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed carbon rule requires that new coal plants capture CO2, and emphasises the CO2 be used to augment oil extraction. Oil rigs then pump the carbon dioxide underground so the oil expands and more is forced up the well.

Greenpeace says that rather than actually storing carbon, it comes right back up the well with the oil. Every major power plant CCS project in the United States intends to sell the scrubbed carbon to the oil extraction industry.

“We don’t just have statistics, technology, and climate science on our side – we have a growing body politic that is opposing fracking, tar sands, coal exports, and other ways an archaic industry is trying to hold on,” Ash said.

“CCS is really the last gasp of the political pandering to coal, an industry widely known to have been horrible to workers and horrible for the environment. What we should soon see is more pandering to workers and the environment.”

The Obama administration has won kudos from environmental groups, including Greenpeace, for at least acknowledging the problem. In a videotaped statement for Earth Day this year, the U.S. president declared that “Today, there’s no greater threat to our planet than climate change.”

The million-dollar question, most scientists say, is whether the transition to renewables will be fast enough to restrict warming to the benchmark two-degree increase by 2020, beyond which the consequences could be catastrophic.

“Although the adoption of renewable energy worldwide is moving in the right direction, more quickly than virtually anyone predicted even five years ago, the race is definitely not over yet,” Roney said. “Cutting into oil use by electrifying the transport sector is key, but electric vehicle adoption is not yet moving quickly enough to have a big impact.”

He noted that batteries, a major part of the price tag for an EV, are set to come down by half by 2020, according to UBS, making EVs fully competitive with conventional cars.

“At that point, buying an EV over a car that runs on gasoline will be a no-brainer, with up to 2,400 dollars in anticipated annual savings on gas. More broadly, pricing carbon would likely be the most effective way to accelerate the shift fast enough to keep climate change from spiraling out of control,” Roney said.

“The good news is that some 40 countries now have implemented or plan to implement carbon pricing, through a cap and trade system or carbon tax, including China. When its anticipated national cap and trade system begins in 2016, roughly a quarter of global carbon emissions will be priced—not nearly enough, but a decent start.”

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

]]> 1
Foreign Fighter Recruits: Why the U.S. Fares Better than Others Fri, 17 Apr 2015 20:13:37 +0000 Jasmin Ramsey Islamic State fighters pictured here in a 2014 propaganda video shot in Iraq's Anbar province.

Islamic State fighters pictured here in a 2014 propaganda video shot in Iraq's Anbar province.

By Jasmin Ramsey
WASHINGTON, Apr 17 2015 (IPS)

More than 25,000 fighters seeking to wage “jihad” or an Islamic holy war have left home to join terrorist networks abroad.

The foreign fighters, mostly bound for Islamic extremist groups like the Syria-based al-Nusra Front and the self-titled Islamic State (also in Iraq), come from more than 100 countries worldwide, according to a United Nations report released earlier this month.“Here, for the most part, Muslims feel they are part of the system and part of the country…they don’t feel alienated." -- analyst Emile Nakhleh

While the highest numbers are from Middle Eastern and North African countries, Western countries have also seen foreign recruits.

Out of the top 15 source-Western countries listed in February by the International Center for the Study of Radicalization (I.C.S.R.), France, as well as Germany and the United Kingdom have had the highest numbers (1,200 and 500-600 respectively). Only 100 foreign fighters have come from the United States.

Why has the U.S. seen such a lower number of recruits compared to its Western European allies?

Integration vs. alienation

“In this country, the law enforcement authorities have worked much more closely with Muslim communities so that now, some elements within the Muslim community follow the phrase ‘see something, say something,’” Emile Nakhleh, who founded the Central Intelligence Program’s (C.I.A.) Political Islam Strategic Analysis Program, told IPS.

“Here, for the most part, Muslims feel they are part of the system and part of the country…they don’t feel alienated,” said Nakhleh, a scholar and expert on the Middle East who retired from the C.I.A. in 2006.

While the majority of Muslims worldwide reject violent extremism and are worried about increasing rates in their home countries, American Muslims—an estimated 2-6 million who are mostly middle class and educated—reject extremism by larger margins than most Muslim publics.

A 2011 Pew Survey of Muslim Americans, the most current of its kind, found more than eight-in-10 American Muslims saw suicide bombings and other forms of violence against civilian targets as never justified (81 per cent) or rarely justified (5 per cent) to defend Islam from its enemies. That’s compared to a median of 72 per cent of Muslims worldwide saying such attacks are never justified and 10 per cent saying they are rarely justified.

Unlike their European counterparts, Muslim Americans come from more than 77 home countries, in contrast with Western European countries where Muslims are mainly from two or three countries.

Muslims in America—who make up a smaller percentage relative to the population than their counterparts in France and the U.K.— are also not dominated by a particular sect or ethnicity.

A 2007 Pew Survey also found that Muslim Americans were more assimilated into American culture than their Western European counterparts.

A majority of Muslim Americans expressed a generally positive view of the larger society and said their communities are excellent or good places to live. Seventy-two percent of them agreed with the widespread American opinion that hard work can help you succeed.

Western European Muslims are conversely generally less well off and frustrated with the lack of economic opportunities.

Ripe for recruitment

An estimated 1,200 fighters have left France to become jihadists in Syria and Iraq, according to the U.K.-based I.C.S.R., which has been tracking fighters in the Iraqi-Syrian conflicts since 2012. More British men have joined Islamic extremist groups abroad than have entered the British armed forces.

Ideologically centered recruitment—particularly online and through social media—and discontent with perceived domestic and foreign policies affecting Muslims, are the primary causes of Islamic radicalisation in Western countries, especially where Muslim communities are isolated from others.

The sense of alienation, especially among the youth of Muslim immigrants, mixed with antipathy toward their country’s foreign policy makes some Muslims prime targets for foreign recruiters.

“Algerian French-Muslim immigrants or South Asian Muslims in the U.K. feel excluded and constantly watched and tracked by the authorities,” said Nakhleh.

While surveillance programmes targeting Muslims are also in effect in the U.S.—more than half of the Muslim Americans surveyed by Pew in 2011 said government anti-terrorism policies singled them out for increased surveillance and monitoring—Muslim Americans have not expressed the same level of discontent with their lives as those in Western European countries such as France and the United Kingdom.

Indeed, the Muslim Americans surveyed by Pew in 2011 who reported discrimination still expressed a high level of satisfaction with their lives in the United States.

Conversely, French Muslims in particular complain of religious intolerance in the generally secular society.

The French law banning Islamic face coverings and burqas, which cover the entire body, resulted in a series of angry protests and clashes with police. Muslim groups have also complained of increasing rates of violent attacks since the ban became law in 2010.

A nine-month pregnant woman was beaten last month in southern France by two men who tore off her veil, saying “none of that here.” Another Islamophobic attack in 2013 resulted in a French Muslim woman in Paris suffering a miscarriage.

Obama embraces U.S. Muslims

But the U.S. government has been working to prevent its Muslim communities from feeling discriminated against and isolated.

Throughout his two terms in office, U.S. President Barack Obama has repeatedly distinguished between Islamic extremism and Islam as a religion.

“We are not at war with Islam, we are at war with those who have perverted Islam,” said Obama Feb. 18 at the White House-hosted Summit to Counter Violent Extremism.

He has also encouraged religious tolerance while calling for Muslim community leaders to work more closely with the government in rooting out homegrown extremism.

“Here in America, Islam has been woven into the fabric of our country since its founding,” said Obama.

“If we’re going to solve these issues, then the people who are most targeted and potentially most affected — Muslim Americans — have to have a seat at the table where they can help shape and strengthen these partnerships so that we’re all working together to help communities stay safe and strong and resilient,” he said.

The Jan. 7 terrorist attack in Paris, where two gunmen executed 11 staffers at the Charlie Hebdo magazine for what they considered deeply offensive portrayals of Islam, have put Western countries on heightened alert for so-called “lone-wolf” attacks, where individuals perpetuate violence to prove a point or for a cause.

The U.S. has not seen a similar major terror attack since April 2013, when two Chechnyan-American brothers deployed pressure-cooker bombs at the Boston Marathon, killing three people and injuring hundreds of others.

But with sophisticated foreign-terrorist recruitment efforts on the rise, Washington has increased its counter-terrorism measures at home and worldwide.

While the Islamic State and similar groups could plan attacks on U.S. soil if they see the U.S. as directly involved in their battles, according to Nakhleh, their primary goal at the moment is to recruit foreigners as combatants.

“The more Western Jihadists they can recruit, the more global they can present themselves as they seek allegiances in Asian countries, and in North Africa,” he said.

“This is how they present themselves as a Muslim global caliphate.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

]]> 0
Opinion: Two Winners and One Loser at the Summit of the Americas Tue, 14 Apr 2015 10:58:35 +0000 Joaquin Roy

In this column Joaquín Roy, Jean Monnet Professor of European Integration and Director of the European Union Centre at the University of Miami, argues that U.S. President Barack Obama earned a place in history at the recent Summit of the Americas for taking the first steps towards overturning a policy that has lasted over half a century but has failed in its primary goal of ending the Castro regime in Cuba. The other winner, he says, is Cuban President Raúl Castro, who wisely accepted Obama’s challenge and rose to the occasion, while Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro failed in his attempt to have the summit condemn Obama.

By Joaquín Roy
MIAMI, Apr 14 2015 (IPS)

U.S. President Barack Obama has earned a place in history for taking the first steps towards rectifying a policy that has lasted over half a century without ever achieving its primary goal of ending the Castro regime in Cuba.

At the Seventh Summit of the Americas, held in Panama City Apr. 10-11, Obama set aside the tortuous negotiations with his Cuban counterpart Raúl Castro and the impossible pursuit of consensus with his domestic opponents. Going out on a limb, he made an unconditional offer. He knew, or he sensed, that Castro would have no option but to accept.

Joaquín Roy

Joaquín Roy

The Cuban economy is on the verge of collapse and the regime is receiving subtle pressure from a population that has already endured all manner of trials.

Signs of weakening in Venezuela, its protector, with which it exchanged social favours (in the fields of health and education) for subsidised oil, are gathering like hurricane storm clouds over the Raúl Castro regime

Instead of shaking the tree to knock the ripe fruit to the ground, Obama chose to do the unexpected: to prop it up and instead encourage its survival.

Obama is committing to stability in Cuba as the lesser evil, compared with sparking an internal explosion, with conflict between irreconcilable sectors and the imposition of a military solution more rigid than the current level of control. Washington knows that only the Cuban armed forces can guarantee order. The last thing the Pentagon aspires to is to take on that unenviable role.

Thus, between underpinning the Raúl Castro government and the doubtful prospect of attempting instantaneous transformation, the pragmatic option was to renew full diplomatic relations and, in the near future, lift the embargo.

Raúl Castro, for his part, yielded ground on the oft-repeated demand for an end to the embargo as a prior condition for any negotiations, and has responded wisely to the challenge. He contented himself with the consolation prize of reviewing the history (incidentally, an appalling one) of U.S. policy towards Cuba, in his nearly one-hour speech at the Summit.

“Obama is committing to stability in Cuba as the lesser evil, compared with sparking an internal explosion, with conflict between irreconcilable sectors and the imposition of a military solution more rigid than the current level of control”
To sugar the pill, however, he generously recognised that Obama, who was not even born at the time of the Cuban Revolution, shares no blame for the blockade. In this way, Castro contributed decisively to Obama’s triumph at the summit.

Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro has emerged from this inter-American gathering as the clear loser. The key to his failure was not having calculated his limitations and having undervalued the resources of his fellow presidents. Initially, Maduro logically exploited Obama’s mistake in decreeing that Venezuela is a “threat” and imposing sanctions on seven Venezuelan officials.

A large number of governments and analysts criticised the language used in the U.S. decree. In the run-up to the summit, Obama publicly recanted and admitted that Venezuela is no such threat to his country.

Maduro’s weak showing at the Summit was due to a combination of his own personality, the reactions of important external actors (significantly distant from the United States), the weak support of many of his traditional allies or sympathisers in Latin America, and the absence of unconditional support from Cuba.

It should be noted that the United States barely made its presence felt over this issue, although U.S. State Department counsellor Thomas Shannon made an effort to smooth over Maduro’s excesses and visited the Venezuelan president in Caracas ahead of the summit.

Maduro’s actions were already burdened by the imprisonment of a number of his opponents on questionable charges. As a result, protests spread worldwide, especially in Latin America, but also in Europe.

A score of former Latin American presidents signed a protest document which was presented at the summit.

Although these former presidents might be regarded as conservative and liberal, they were joined by former Spanish president José María Aznar (a notorious target of attacks by the late Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez and, afterwards, Maduro himself) and former Spanish socialist president Felipe González, who offered to act as defence lawyer for Antonio Ledezma, the mayor of Caracas, who is one of those imprisoned by the Venezuelan regime.

Maduro’s attempt to have a condemnation of the U.S. decree included in the summit’s final communiqué ended in another defeat. Although efforts were made to eliminate direct mention of the United States, the outcome was that the summit issued no final declaration because of lack of consensus.

In spite of the loquacity of its partners and protégés in the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA), Venezuela’s Latin American supporters showed caution and avoided direct confrontation with Washington.

The same was evidently true of the Caribbean countries; fearful of losing supplies of subsidised Venezuelan oil, they made their request to Obama for preferential treatment by the United States at the meeting of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) in Jamaica earlier in the month.

But Maduro’s main failure was not realising that Raúl Castro would have to choose between fear of diminished supplies of cheap Venezuelan crude and rapprochement with Washington. It remains unknown how Cuba will be able to continue supplying Cuban teachers and healthcare personnel to Venezuela, until now the jewel in the crown of the alliance between Havana and Caracas in the context of ALBA.

Translated by Valerie Dee/Edited by Phil Harris   

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, IPS – Inter Press Service. 

Joaquín Roy can be contacted at

]]> 0
Latin America Heralds New Era with United States Mon, 13 Apr 2015 21:51:43 +0000 Ivet Gonzalez Group photo at the Seventh Summit of the Americas, taken Apr. 11 in Panama City, the second day of the two-day gathering, which for the first time brought together all 35 countries in the hemisphere. Credit: Seventh Summit of the Americas

Group photo at the Seventh Summit of the Americas, taken Apr. 11 in Panama City, the second day of the two-day gathering, which for the first time brought together all 35 countries in the hemisphere. Credit: Seventh Summit of the Americas

By Ivet González
PANAMA CITY, Apr 13 2015 (IPS)

Latin America presented its own recipes for development in the new era of relations with the United States in the Seventh Summit of the Americas, where Cuba took part for the first time and the U.S. said it would close the chapter of “medd[ling] with impunity” in its neighbours to the south.

“We must understand that the Americas to the north and to the south of the Rio Grande are different. And we must converse as blocs,” Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa said Saturday Apr. 11 on the closing day of the summit, where the leaders of all 35 countries of the Western Hemisphere met for the first time.

With references to history, anti-imperialistic declarations, proposals for solutions and suggested development goals, the leaders who gathered in Panama City expressed a diversity of political positions and priorities, under the summit’s slogan: “Prosperity with Equity: The Challenge of Cooperation in the Americas”.

The two-day meeting was historic due to the presence of Cuba, suspended from the Organisation of American States (OAS) between 1962 and 2009. “It was time for me to speak here in the name of Cuba,” said President Raúl Castro in his speech during the summit’s plenary session.

Cuba’s participation was preceded by another historic development: the restoration of diplomatic ties announced Dec. 17 by Castro and U.S. President Barack Obama.

Without exception, the heads of state and government who addressed the plenary in the Atlapa Convention Centre celebrated the socialist island nation’s participation in the Americas-wide meeting, which many of them saw as representing the end of the Cold War and burying a period of ideological clashes between the left and right.

At the summit, Obama and Castro put 56 years of bitter conflict further behind them with a handshake and small talk during the opening ceremonies, points in common in their speeches, exchanges of praise and a bilateral meeting where they confirmed their earlier decision to normalise relations without renouncing their differences.

The region “no longer permits unilateral, isolationist policies,” Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff said in her address. “Today we have gathered together in a different context.”

Cuba’s full insertion and the advanced talks held since 2012 between the Colombian government and leftwing guerrillas to end the last armed conflict in the region, which has dragged on for over half a century, means Latin America can soon declare itself a region of peace, as sought by the 33 countries of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States.

In Rousseff’s view, “the consolidation of democracy and new political paradigms in each one of our countries led to a shift, and public polices now put a priority on sustainable development with social justice.”

Alcibíades Vásquez, Panama’s minister of social development, while being interviewed, surrounded by indigenous leaders who on Apr. 11 delivered to him the declaration “Defending our nations” in the name of 300 native representatives who participated in one of the alternative forums held parallel to the Seventh Summit of the Americas. Credit: Ivet González/IPS

Alcibíades Vásquez, Panama’s minister of social development, while being interviewed, surrounded by indigenous leaders who on Apr. 11 delivered to him the declaration “Defending our nations” in the name of 300 native representatives who participated in one of the alternative forums held parallel to the Seventh Summit of the Americas. Credit: Ivet González/IPS

The leader of Latin America’s powerhouse, who has a history of trade unionism and activism against Brazil’s 1964-1985 dictatorship, said “Latin America today has less poverty, hunger, illiteracy and infant and maternal mortality than in previous decades,” even though it remains the most unequal region in the world.

Rousseff called for sustained economic growth, unified development targets, the reduction of vulnerabilities in security, education, migration, climate change, guaranteed rights, cooperation, decent work and disaster prevention, as southeast Brazil is suffering the worst drought in 80 years.

After fielding criticism from Correa regarding human rights and respect for sovereignty, Obama said “The United States will not be imprisoned by the past — we’re looking to the future.”

He said he had fulfilled his earlier pledge “to build a new era of cooperation between our countries, as equal partners, based on mutual interest and mutual respect.”
“We are more deeply engaged across the region than we have been in decades,” he said. He added that “We still have work to do to harmonise regulations; encourage good governance and transparency that attracts investment; invest in infrastructure; address some of the challenges that we have with respect to energy.”

Castro, who was applauded at the start and end of the summit, discussed at length the history of relations between Cuba and the United States. He thanked Obama for trying to end the economic embargo in place against his country since 1962, which “affects the interests of all states” because of its extraterritorial reach.

He urged the hemisphere to strengthen cooperation in fighting climate change and improving education and healthcare, and cited the joint efforts by Latin America and North America in combating the ebola epidemic in West Africa, which has already claimed the lives of more than 10,000 people.

He said that currently 65,000 Cubans are working in 89 countries, as part of the country’s cooperation in the areas of education and health.

And he added that the hemisphere could do a great deal, because Cuba, “with very limited resources,” has helped trained 68,000 professionals and technical workers from 157 countries.

Argentine President Cristina Fernández invited more investment in the countries of Latin America to curb migration to the United States or Canada.

Meanwhile, Peru’s leader, Ollanta Humala, reiterated the need for the region to diversify production, which is based on commodities, and mentioned technology transfer.

The main point of friction at the summit was the Mar. 9 executive order signed by Obama, in which he called Venezuela a threat to U.S. national security. The prime minister of Trinidad and Tobago, Kamla Persad-Bissessar, said 33 of the 35 countries meeting in Panama City had called for the repeal of the decree.

Although there was no official confirmation, the issue was reportedly the main cause for the fact that for the third time since these summits began, in 1994, the highest-level inter-American meeting ended without a final declaration, which was to be titled “Mandates for Action”.

Alternative or parallel forums

But the participants in the Fifth Summit of Indigenous Peoples of Abya Yala (the Americas) did agree on a final statement, “Defending our nations”, which some 300 native leaders delivered to the convention centre where the presidential summit was taking place, decked out in traditional dress complete with feathers and other ceremonial adornments.

“If all voices are not represented, prosperity with equity is impossible,” Hokabeq Solano, a leader of the Kuna people of Panama, told IPS.

“There was very little representation of our communities in the summit and the parallel forums,” another representative of the hemisphere’s 55 million indigenous people complained.

The indigenous gathering was independent of the Fifth People’s Summit, where more than 3,000 representatives of social movements participated. Since 2005, this meeting has been the alternative conference to the official summits.

In their declaration, the indigenous leaders demanded constitutional reforms that include native peoples, protection of sacred sites, and a roadmap for the unification of indigenous peoples. They also rejected development projects that entail forced displacement of communities.

Some 800 participants in the Forum of Civil Society and Social Actors, another parallel meeting, also delivered to the president a document with proposals on health, education, security, energy, environment, citizen participation and democratic governance.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

]]> 0
Economic Slowdown Threatens Progress Towards Equality in Latin America Sat, 11 Apr 2015 16:22:59 +0000 Ivet Gonzalez Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff with her counterparts from Mexico (left), Panama and the United States, during a panel at the Second CEO Summit of the Americas, Friday Apr. 10 in Panama City. Credit: Courtesy of the IDB

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff with her counterparts from Mexico (left), Panama and the United States, during a panel at the Second CEO Summit of the Americas, Friday Apr. 10 in Panama City. Credit: Courtesy of the IDB

By Ivet González
PANAMA CITY, Apr 11 2015 (IPS)

Predictions of a sharp slowdown in Latin America’s economic growth this year make it even more necessary for the region’s leaders to make commitments to boost prosperity with equality during the Seventh Summit of the Americas, currently taking place in the Panamanian capital.

In several of the summit’s forums, the executive secretary of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), Alicia Bárcena, said the regional economy was expected to grow a mere one percent in 2015, after GDP growth amounted to just 1.1 percent in 2014.

The two-day inter-American summit that opened Friday Apr. 10 has once again brought together high-level representatives of the governments of the 35 countries of the Western Hemisphere, with the novel inclusion of Cuban President Raúl Castro making it a historic meeting.

The heads of state and government, and parallel civil society, academic, youth and business forums, are meeting in Panama City to debate the central theme “Prosperity with Equity: The Challenge of Cooperation in the Americas”.

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff put an emphasis on a key issue of the economic slowdown: the serious social impact it could have in the world’s most unequal region.

In a panel in the Second CEO Summit of the Americas, also attended by the U.S., Mexican and Panamanian presidents, Rousseff said the region should work hard to keep the large numbers of people pulled up into the middle class by social policies in recent years from falling back into poverty.

According to ECLAC, South America will show the worst economic performance – close to zero growth – compared to 3.2 percent growth in Central America and Mexico and 1.9 percent in the Caribbean.

The president of the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), Luis Alberto Moreno, also warned that the governments must take measures to prevent the economic stagnation from undoing the great achievement of the last decade, when poverty in the region dropped from around 50 percent 15 years ago to less than 30 percent today.

In the panel, U.S. President Barack Obama called on governments in the region to cooperate to create mechanisms towards lifelong education, in order for the hemisphere to continue to grow.

“We have to replace the dynamic of extractivism with a culture of sustainability,” Bárcena said in another panel. In her view, the drop in the rate of growth should drive new social pacts in the region, in order to keep up the efforts to curb inequality.

“Without equitable distribution of wealth, there will be neither growth nor development,” Erick Graell, secretary of Panama’s Central Nacional de Trabajadores trade union confederation, told IPS. He participated in the alternative People’s Summit.

Behind barriers at the University of Panama, 3,000 members of social and labour movements from the Americas are meeting Thursday Apr. 9 to Saturday Apr. 11 in the alternative meeting to the official summit organised by the Organisation of American States (OAS).

Representatives of indigenous communities from Latin America grab a bite to eat outside the People’s Summit, in the University of Panama assembly hall on Friday Apr. 10. The alternative gathering is taking place parallel to the Apr. 10-11 Seventh Summit of the Americas. Credit: Ivet González/IPS

Representatives of indigenous communities from Latin America grab a bite to eat outside the People’s Summit, in the University of Panama assembly hall on Friday Apr. 10. The alternative gathering is taking place parallel to the Apr. 10-11 Seventh Summit of the Americas. Credit: Ivet González/IPS

At the People’s Summit, women and men in colourful traditional indigenous dress walk around the university assembly hall, where social protest chants can be heard and the walls are festooned with posters and phrases of legendary Argentine-Cuban guerrilla leader Ernesto “Che” Guevara (1928-1967) and other historic leaders of Latin America’s left.

Participants from Canada and the United States mingle with the predominant racially and culturally diverse South American, Central American and Caribbean crowd at the People’s Summit, attended Friday by Bolivian President Evo Morales, and which expected the participation of Venezuela’s Nicolás Maduro, Ecuador’s Rafael Correa and Cuba’s Raúl Castro.

“It has become a tradition that every time the presidents get together in their elite summits, ignoring the country’s development, social movements hold this alternative meeting,” said Graell, with the People’s Summit organising committee.

“We are going to express our concerns about poverty and inequality in the recommendations we send the presidents,” the trade unionist said with respect to the citizen gathering whose first edition was held parallel to the Fourth Summit of the Americas in Mar del Plata, Argentina in 2005.

The alternative forum, whose slogan this year is “A homeland for all, with peace, solidarity, and social justice,” is discussing issues such as human, economic, social and cultural rights, democracy and sovereignty, trade union freedom, migration, indigenous communities, education, social security and pensions.

Investing more in education is key to leaving behind dependence on commodities and to strengthening the knowledge sector and technology, which would guarantee economic and social sustainability, said ECLAC’s Bárcena. At the same time, she said, it is a challenge for governments, given the economic slowdown.

Latin America and the Caribbean must close structural gaps in terms of production, education and income levels to advance towards inclusive and sustainable development, because inequality conspires against the stability of democracies, Bárcena said.

“There is a lack of coordination at the government level to reduce regional disparities,” said Jorge Valdivieso, executive secretary of the Central Obrera Boliviana trade union confederation. “One example of this is that there are borders between our countries and visa requirements. Latin America is one single country,” he told IPS at the People’s Summit.

Salvadoran nurse Idalia Reyes, who is taking part in the alternative summit in representation of the trade union of workers of El Salvador’s social security institute, told IPS that “cooperation can help improve the quality of life of local communities.”

She stressed that several countries, including Brazil, Cuba or Venezuela, have regional cooperation programmes in areas such as scientific research, productivity, post-disaster recovery, health and education, despite their internal limitations.

But she lamented that in the case of the United States, support for countries in the region “comes with so many conditions attached.”

“It has a lot to offer but it should stop always asking for something in exchange,” said the activist who lives in a region – Central America – marked by high levels of violent crime and migration to the United States.

In an attempt to reduce the exodus by bolstering economic growth and security, in November 2014 El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras presented the plan for the Alliance for Prosperity in the Northern Triangle, which the United States is supporting with one billion dollars. It will be added to efforts towards customs and trade integration.

The activist brought to the alternative summit the demand to avoid the privatisation of the pensions of the working class – a phenomenon she said was a growing problem in Central America. “We want mixed, secure pensions, to which the government and workers throughout their working years contribute,” she said.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

]]> 0
From Punta del Este to Panama, the End of Cuba’s Isolation Wed, 08 Apr 2015 20:46:54 +0000 Patricia Grogg Ernesto “Che” Guevara delivers his famous speech on Aug. 8, 1961 at the Inter-American Economic and Social Council in the Uruguayan city of Punta del Este. This was the last continental forum Cuba attended before being excluded until the Seventh Summit of the Americas, to be held Apr. 10-11 in Panama City. Credit: Public domain

Ernesto “Che” Guevara delivers his famous speech on Aug. 8, 1961 at the Inter-American Economic and Social Council in the Uruguayan city of Punta del Este. This was the last continental forum Cuba attended before being excluded until the Seventh Summit of the Americas, to be held Apr. 10-11 in Panama City. Credit: Public domain

By Patricia Grogg
HAVANA, Apr 8 2015 (IPS)

U.S. President Barack Obama was only four days old when Comandante Ernesto “Che” Guevara publicly castigated the United States’ policy of hostility toward Cuba at an inter-American summit, reiterated then Prime Minister Fidel Castro’s willingness to resolve differences through dialogue on an equal footing, and held secret conversations with a Washington envoy.

More than half a century later, the U.S. president accepted the challenge of pursuing rapprochement with the Caribbean island country, overcoming conflicts, mutual resentment and tensions, and initiating the still precarious process of normalising bilateral relations.

On Apr. 10 and 11 he will come face to face with Cuban President Raúl Castro at the Seventh Summit of the Americas in Panama City.

Guevara addressed the meeting of the Inter-American Economic and Social Council of the Organisation of American States (OAS) on Aug. 8, 1961, on behalf of the Cuban government of Fidel Castro, his leader and comrade-in-arms in the guerrilla revolt that deposed Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista on Jan. 1, 1959.

The summit meeting, held in the Uruguayan resort city of Punta del Este, was the last time Cuba participated in an inter-American forum, as the island nation was suspended from the OAS in January 1962, a measure that was officially lifted in June 2009.

Prosperity with equity

The central theme for the Seventh Summit will be “Prosperity with Equity: The Challenge of Cooperation in the Americas,” a goal which will require more than documents and formal statements for the region to achieve.

According to the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) Social Panorama report, the number of poor has risen for the first time in a decade. Between 2013 and 2014, three million Latin Americans fell into poverty, and it is feared that an additional 1.5 million people will be living below the poverty line by the end of 2015.

At the Punta del Este conference the United States formally established the Alliance for Progress, launched by U.S. President John Kennedy (1961-1963) months earlier to counteract the influence of the Cuban Revolution in the region, after his government’s frustrated attempt to invade the island in April 1961.

Behind the scenes of that conference the Argentine-born Guevara held a confidential meeting in Montevideo on Aug. 17 with Richard Goodwin, Kennedy’s special counsel for Latin American affairs, regarded by Cuban media as the first high level contact between authorities of both countries since bilateral relations had been broken off in January 1961.

Five days later the White House issued a statement describing the meeting as “a casual cocktail party conversation in which Goodwin restricted himself to listening.”

Since then there have been numerous unsuccessful attempts to secure closer ties, until after Fidel Castro’s retirement in 2006, his brother and successor Raúl together with Obama surprised the world on Dec. 17, 2014 with their announcement of the joint decision to restore diplomatic relations.

Hence a lot of attention in the run-up to the Seventh Summit of the Americas is being focused on the two heads of state. It will be Obama’s third attendance at a Summit of the Americas, while Cuba has been excluded until now. Cuba’s presence at this Summit is the result of a diplomatic strategy that led to unanimous support from countries of the region for its reinstatement, and that brought about the thaw with the United States.

Cuban political scientist and essayist Carlos Alzugaray regards the growing autonomy of the region as a factor in the process. “It could be said that the United States has lost the initiative and its room for manoeuvre” south of the Rio Bravo or Rio Grande, he told IPS.

After the first Summit of the Americas which took place in 1994 in the U.S. city of Miami, successive meetings revealed that Latin America was increasingly unwilling to accept U.S. dominance. This came to a head with the proposed Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA), a star concept at early summits but which fell out of favour in just over a decade.

It was at the Fourth Summit, in the Argentine city of Mar del Plata in 2005, that the host country and other South American nations rejected attempts by the United States and Canada to impose the FTAA. Leftwing or centre-left leaders had come to power in the south of the hemisphere, like Hugo Chávez of Venezuela (1999-2013), who called on the Mar del Plata meeting “to be the tomb of FTAA.”

As a regional counter-proposal, in December 2004 Chávez and Fidel Castro launched what is now known as the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA), made up of Venezuela, Cuba, Nicaragua, Bolivia, Ecuador, Dominica, Antigua and Barbuda, Saint Lucia, Grenada and Saint Kitts and Nevis.

Three years later, the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) was founded in order to encourage integration, social and human development, equity and inclusion in the region. Its members are Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Guyana, Paraguay, Peru, Suriname, Uruguay and Venezuela.

All the countries of the Americas except the United States and Canada came together in 2011 to form the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC). This forum reinstated Cuba as a full member of the regional concert of nations, in the absence of Canada and the United States.

While Cuba basks in this new international context, Alzugaray itemised internal changes put in motion by the government of Raúl Castro since 2008 to modernise the socialist development model, as well as “overall changes arising from the growing presence in the region of China, above all, and also of Russia.”

But the Panama Summit, convened formally to satisfy the region’s demand to end Cuba’s ostracism from the bloc of the 35 independent states in the Americas, and to take a significant step toward normalisation of relations between Havana and Washington, may need to shift its attention to the crisis between the United States and Venezuela.

Obama issued an executive order on Mar. 9 declaring that the situation in Venezuela, governed by socialist President Nicolás Maduro, is a “threat to the national security of the United States,” and he imposed several of the country’s senior officials. The measure met with the disapproval of the majority of Latin American countries.

“No country has the right to judge the conduct of another and even less to impose sanctions and penalties on their own,” said UNASUR Secretary General Ernesto Samper, a former president of Colombia. In his view, unilateralism will prevent Washington from maintaining good relations with Latin America.

“Under these circumstances, it will be very difficult for the United States to develop a strategy in the region that takes into account Latin American and Caribbean interests and allows for natural adaptation to change,” said Alzugaray.

In his opinion, Obama has made “a serious mistake” in the run-up to a meeting that was supposed to celebrate hemispheric reunion. “The region will overwhelmingly support Cuba and Venezuela,” Alzugaray predicted.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Valerie Dee

]]> 0
Child Labour on U.S. Tobacco Farms: A Stubborn Problem in a Billion-Dollar Industry Mon, 06 Apr 2015 21:36:49 +0000 Valentina Ieri Children who work on tobacco farms in the U.S. are vulnerable to nicotine poisoning, especially when handling wet tobacco leaves. Credit: MgAdDept/CC-BY-SA

Children who work on tobacco farms in the U.S. are vulnerable to nicotine poisoning, especially when handling wet tobacco leaves. Credit: MgAdDept/CC-BY-SA

By Valentina Ieri

For many young people, the summer is synonymous with free time, relaxation, or family vacations. For less fortunate kids the summer means labour, with scores of youths taking on part-time work to support their families.

In the U.S., not only is this work not optional, it is also unhealthy – especially for those unfortunate enough to seek employment on the country’s tobacco farms.

“The hardest of all the crops we’ve worked [with] is tobacco. You get tired. It takes energy out of you. You get sick, but then you have to go right back to the tobacco the next day.” -- Dario, a child labourer interviewed by Human Rights Watch (HRW)
A recent string of policies aimed at addressing child labour in this major industry signals a turning point – but activists say the uphill battle is not yet over.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) recently released a report detailing conditions of child labour in four of the country’s main tobacco-producing states – North Carolina, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Virginia – which together account for 90 percent of domestic tobacco production. In 2012, the total value of tobacco leaves produced in the U.S. touched 1.5 billion dollars.

According to the report, most of these children, sometimes as young as 12 years old, come from Hispanic immigrants families, and work on tobacco farms to help their families to pay rent and bills, and buy food and school supplies.

Margaret Wurth, co-author of the report and children’s rights researcher at HRW, told IPS that many children “chose to do this difficult job because there are no other job opportunities in the communities where they live […].”

Out of the 141 children interviewed by HRW, two-thirds suffered from acute nicotine poisoning, or Green Tobacco Sickness (GTS) while working on plantations. GTS happens when workers absorb nicotine through their skin while handling tobacco plants, especially when the leaves are wet.

Sixteen-year-old Dario, who has worked on farms in Kentucky, said in an interview with HRW, “The hardest of all the crops we’ve worked [with] is tobacco. You get tired. It takes energy out of you. You get sick, but then you have to go right back to the tobacco the next day.”

Typical symptoms include dizziness, vomiting, nausea, and headaches. Some children also reported that employers did not guarantee training courses or safety equipment. Some had to work barefoot; others wore only socks as they worked in fields thick with mud, according to HRW research.

Fabiana, 14, said to HRW, “I wore plastic bags because our clothes got wet in the morning. They put holes in the bag so our hands could go through them […]. Then the sun comes out and you feel suffocated in the bags. You want to take them off.”

A giant industry in need of reform

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2012 the U.S. produced nearly 800 million pounds of tobacco. The U.S. is the fourth leading tobacco producer in the world, after China, Brazil and India but unlike its competitors, the U.S. does not regulate the age of its employees on the tobacco fields, according to Alfonso Lopez, Democratic representative of the Virginia House of Delegates.

Recently, Virginia had the chance to become the first U.S. state to enact a law on child labour in tobacco plantations, in order to set a standard for all tobacco growers to protect children. But the proposed bill was defeated.

“My bill would prohibit hiring children under 18 to work in direct contact with tobacco leaves, or dried tobacco, with the exception of children who received parental consent to work in family farms,” Lopez explained to IPS.

Pressure from advocates, and studies like the one produced last year by HRW are slowly bearing fruit, with two large associations of tobacco farmers – the Tobacco Growers Association of North Carolina (TGANC) and the Council for Burley Tobacco in Kentucky – adopting new policies that prevent the hiring of children under the age of 16, and requiring parental consent for children aged 16-17.

This, in turn, led to two major U.S. tobacco companies – the Virginia-based Altria Group, parent company of Philip Morris USA, and the R. J. Reynolds Tobacco Company (RJRT) – adopting similar policies, for the safety of children working along the tobacco supply chain, Wurth said.

In 2014, three companies – Philip Morris USA, Reynolds American Inc., and Lorillard – accounted for 85 percent of U.S. cigarettes sales.

An Altria Group spokesperson, Jeff Caldwell, told IPS that in 2014, Altria signed the global pledge of commitment to eliminate any form of child labour in the tobacco supply chain worldwide, promoted by the Eliminating Child Labour in Tobacco Growing Foundation (ECLT).

In 2015, Altria started buy tobacco directly from growers, instead of buying it from third parties, in order to ensure that growers were not hiring children under 18, Caldwell added.

“We also have a very robust programme to train our growers and communicate to all of them the standardised U.S. tobacco good agricultural practices, to ensure that all of these growers are aware of, trained on, and in compliance with policies and laws that govern tobacco growing in order to protect children,” he added.

However, these measures only apply to farms that are part of large corporate supply chains, said Lopez.

“Most of the major buyers of U.S.-grown tobacco have adopted child labour standards more protective than U.S. law. But I think that without a stronger [federal] regulatory framework, dozens of children will inevitably be left out,” he remarked.

Last week the U.S. Department of Labour released a recommended practices bulletin, issued jointly by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.

A Department of Labour Spokesperson told IPS that the bulletin focuses on the hazards of working in unsafe and unhealthy working conditions. The guidelines are designed to educate tobacco companies, farmers, and workers on preventing the effects of GTS, through appropriate training and working equipment.

The guidelines recommend the use of gloves, long sleeve shirts, long pants and water-resistant clothing when handling tobacco leaves to prevent exposure to nicotine, while recognising that children may suffer worse consequences than adults if these regulations aren’t met, the spokesperson added.

However, the bulletin made no explicit mention of child labour, nor did it specify ways to tackle the problem through more concrete regulation.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida


]]> 0
Obama Prepares for Showdown with Congress Over Iran Deal Fri, 03 Apr 2015 20:45:58 +0000 Jasmin Ramsey President Barack Obama addresses a joint session of Congress at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., on Sep. 9, 2009. Credit: Official White House Photo by Pete Souza

President Barack Obama addresses a joint session of Congress at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., on Sep. 9, 2009. Credit: Official White House Photo by Pete Souza

By Jasmin Ramsey
WASHINGTON, Apr 3 2015 (IPS)

Two days after the deadline for reaching a deal over Iran’s nuclear programme had passed, negotiators looked like they would be going home empty handed. But a surprisingly detailed framework was announced Apr. 2 in Lausanne, Switzerland, as well as in Washington, and in the same breath, U.S. President Barack Obama acknowledged the battle he faces on Capitol Hill.

“The issues at stake here are bigger than politics,” said Obama on the White House lawn after announcing the “historic understanding with Iran,” which, “if fully implemented will prevent it from obtaining a nuclear weapon.”

“If Congress kills this deal [...] then it’s the United States that will be blamed for the failure of diplomacy." -- U.S. President Barack Obama
“If Congress kills this deal – not based on expert analysis, and without offering any reasonable alternative – then it’s the United States that will be blamed for the failure of diplomacy,” he said. “International unity will collapse, and the path to conflict will widen.”

Negotiators from Iran and the P5+1 countries (U.S., U.K., France, China, Russia plus Germany) have until Jun. 30 to produce a comprehensive final accord on Iran’s controversial nuclear programme. That gives Congress just under three months to embrace a “constructive oversight role”, as the president said he hoped it would.

“Congress has played a couple of roles in these negotiations,” Laicie Heeley, policy director at the Washington-based Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation, told IPS. “I think some folks would like to think they are playing a bad cop role, but I’m not sure how effective they’ve been…it’s a dangerous game to play.”

If negotiators had gone home empty handed, hawkish measures, like the Kirk-Menendez sponsored Iran Nuclear Weapon Free Act of 2013, which proposes additional sanctions and the dismantling of all of Iran’s enrichment capabilities – a non-starter for the Iranians – would have had a better chance of acquiring enough votes for a veto-proof majority.

Officials at the Iran talks in Lausanne, Switzerland. Credit: European External Action Service/CC-BY-NC-ND-2.0

Officials at the Iran talks in Lausanne, Switzerland. Credit: European External Action Service/CC-BY-NC-ND-2.0

But now that a final deal is on the horizon, Republicans will have a much harder time convincing enough Democrats to sign on to potentially deal-damaging bills.

Excerpts from Comprehensive Action Plan

According to the document ‘Parameters for a Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action Regarding the Islamic Republic of Iran's Nuclear Program’:

• Iran has agreed to reduce by approximately two-thirds its installed centrifuges. Iran will go from having about 19,000 installed today to 6,104 installed under the deal, with only 5,060 of these [for] enriching uranium for 10 years. All 6,104 centrifuges will be IR-1s, Iran’s first-generation centrifuge.

• Iran has agreed to not enrich uranium over 3.67 percent for at least 15 years.

• Iran has agreed to reduce its current stockpile of about 10,000 kg of low-enriched uranium (LEU) to 300 kg of 3.67 percent LEU for 15 years.

• All excess centrifuges and enrichment infrastructure will be placed in IAEA monitored storage and will be used only as replacements for operating centrifuges and equipment.

• Iran has agreed to not build any new facilities for the purpose of enriching uranium for 15 years.


• The IAEA will have regular access to all of Iran’s nuclear facilities, including to Iran’s enrichment facility at Natanz and its former enrichment facility at Fordow, and including the use of the most up-to-date, modern monitoring technologies.

• Inspectors will have access to the supply chain that supports Iran’s nuclear program. The new transparency and inspections mechanisms will closely monitor materials and/or components to prevent diversion to a secret program.


• Iran will receive sanctions relief, if it verifiably abides by its commitments.

• U.S. and E.U. nuclear-related sanctions will be suspended after the IAEA has verified that Iran has taken all of its key nuclear-related steps. If at any time Iran fails to fulfill its commitments, these sanctions will snap back into place.

• The architecture of U.S. nuclear-related sanctions on Iran will be retained for much of the duration of the deal and allow for snap-back of sanctions in the event of significant non-performance.
With the Kirk-Menendez bill out of the way, the most immediate threat Obama faces now comes from the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act of 2015 proposed by the Republican chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Senator Bob Corker.

The Corker bill gives the final say to a Republican-majority Congress – which has consistently criticised the president’s handling of the negotiations – granting it 60 days to vote on any comprehensive nuclear agreement with Iran immediately after it’s reached. During that period, the president would not be able to lift or suspend any Iran sanctions.

Corker said Thursday that the Senate Foreign Relations Committee would take up the bill on Apr. 14, when lawmakers return from a spring recess.

“If a final agreement is reached, the American people, through their elected representatives, must have the opportunity to weigh in to ensure the deal truly can eliminate the threat of Iran’s nuclear program and hold the regime accountable,” he said in a statement.

But administration officials reminded reporters yesterday that the president would oppose any bill that it considered harmful to the prospects of a final deal.

“The president has made clear he would veto new sanctions legislation during the negotiation, and he made clear he would veto the existing Corker legislation during negotiations,” said a senior administration official yesterday during a press call.

“What would not be constructive is legislative action that essentially undercuts our ability to get the deal done,” said the official.

The idea that Congress should have a say on any deal became especially popular after a preliminary accord was reached in Geneva two years ago, clearing the path for a host of congressional measures particularly from the right. But now that a final deal is in the works, hawks will have a harder time acquiring essential support from Democrats.

“Before yesterday Senator Corker was fairly certain he could get a veto-proof majority, but now that there’s a good deal on the table he’s going to have a lot of trouble getting votes from enough Democrats,” said Heeley, who closely monitors Capitol Hill.

Statements from key democrats yesterday retained what has become customary skepticism, but some are already hinting that they are gearing up to support the administration’s position.

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid called on his colleagues to “take a deep breath, examine the details and give this critically important process time to play out.”

“We must always remain vigilant about preventing Iran from getting a nuclear weapon but there is no question that a diplomatic solution is vastly preferable to the alternatives,” he said in a statement Thursday.

Obama has his work cut out for him, however, in the next two weeks as pro- and anti-deal groups press Congress to take up their positions.

“[W]e have concerns that the new framework announced today by the P5+1 could result in a final agreement that will leave Iran as a threshold nuclear state,” said the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), a leading Israel lobby group, in a statement.

The Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), a well-known hawkish think tank in D.C, also reiterated its stance against any deal that allows Iran to maintain its nuclear infrastructure.

“The parameters of the nuclear deal that have emerged look like we are headed toward a seriously flawed one,” wrote FDD’s Mark Dubowitz and Annie Fixler in an article on the Quartz website entitled ‘Obama’s Nuclear Deal With Iran Puts the World’s Safety at Risk’.

The Israeli prime minister, who received numerous standing ovations when he addressed Congress on Iran in March – even after the White House made its opposition to his visit crystal clear – meanwhile called the framework deal “a grave danger” that would “threaten the very survival” of Israel.

Both Israel, and to a lesser degree Saudi Arabia, have made their opposition to the negotiations with Iran clear, and are expected to voice their concerns loudly over the next few months.

But the Obama administration’s efforts can’t be solely devoted to convincing allies or fighting a home front battle—it must also nail down the details of the final deal, which is far from guaranteed at this point.

“A lot of thorny issues will have to be resolved in the next three months, chief among them the exact roadmap for lifting the sanctions, language that goes into the U.N. Security Council resolution, measures for resolving the PMD [possible military dimensions] issues, and the mechanism for determining violations,” Ali Vaez, the International Crisis Group’s senior Iran analyst, told IPS.

“Negotiations will not get easier in the next three months; in fact, they will get harder as the parties struggle to resolve the remaining thorny issues and defend the agreement,” said Vaez, who was in Lausanne when the agreement was announced.

“Success is not guaranteed, but this breakthrough has further increased the cost of breakdown,” he added.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

]]> 1
U.N.’s Next Stop: Humanitarian Summit to Resolve Exploding Refugee Crisis Thu, 02 Apr 2015 21:14:16 +0000 Thalif Deen Billions of dollars of humanitarian aid pledged last year have been used to provide food, medical relief and other life-saving support to millions of Syrian families. Credit: Beshr Abdulhadi/CC-BY-2.0

Billions of dollars of humanitarian aid pledged last year have been used to provide food, medical relief and other life-saving support to millions of Syrian families. Credit: Beshr Abdulhadi/CC-BY-2.0

By Thalif Deen
KUWAIT CITY, Apr 2 2015 (IPS)

As the world’s spreading humanitarian crisis threatens to spill beyond the borders of Syria and Iraq into Libya and Yemen, the United Nations is already setting its sights on the first World Humanitarian Summit scheduled to take place in Istanbul next year.

“Let us make the response to the Syria crisis a launching pad for a new, truly global partnership for humanitarian response,” says Antonio Guterres, the U.N. high commissioner for refugees.

That partnership could come in Istanbul in May next year – even as the refugee crisis may worsen in the next 12 months.

“Let us make the response to the Syria crisis a launching pad for a new, truly global partnership for humanitarian response." -- Antonio Guterres, the U.N. high commissioner for refugees
The flow of millions of refugees is having a devastating impact on the economies and societies in five countries: Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Turkey and Egypt.

Putting it in the context of the Western world, Guterres told the international pledging conference for humanitarian aid to Syria, “The number of Syrian refugees registered in Lebanon would be equivalent to 22.5 million refugees coming to Germany and 88 million arriving in the United States.”

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon pointedly said the Syrian people are “victims of the worst humanitarian crisis of our time” – with over 220,000 dead.

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power described the 8.4 billion-dollar target as “the largest in history, and 3.4 billion more than last year’s appeal.”

“Yet too many countries are giving the same amount, or even less than they have in the past,” she complained. “And as more people need help, we are reaching a smaller share of them.”

The three major donors at this year’s pledging conference were: the European Commission (EC) and its member states (with a contribution of nearly one billion dollars), the United States (507 million dollars) and Kuwait (500 million dollars).

Several international non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and charities, including the Turkish Humanitarian Relief Foundation, the Qatar Red Crescent Society and the Islamic Charity Organisation of Kuwait, jointly pledged about 500 million dollars.

Meanwhile, 48 hours after the donor conference pledged 3.8 billion dollars for humanitarian aid, the United Nations said it would continue to appeal for additional funds to meet its targeted 8.4 billion dollars by the end of 2015.

Amanda Pitt, chief, media relations and spokesperson for the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) told IPS the requirements for the Syria crisis are 8.4 billion dollars for the whole of 2015 and for the whole crisis (including inside Syria, and efforts in the region).

“The Kuwait pledging conference was one event in the year’s fundraising efforts – which saw a number of donors generously pledge 3.8 billion dollars,” she said.

But fundraising will continue throughout the year – as it does every year for all the humanitarian appeals, she added.

Responding to reports that the pledging conference had fallen short of its expectations, the United Nations said it didn’t expect the target of 8.4 billion dollars to be met at the conference in Kuwait on Tuesday.

Farhan Haq, U.N. deputy spokesperson, told reporters, “One of the things we said in advance, we didn’t have any particular targets for this meeting.”

He said, “This meeting is one step of the process, and in fact, it’s extremely impressive that we got as much as 3.8 billion dollars.”

“If you compare the figures for pledges this year compared to last, we’re actually doing really quite well,” he insisted.

“At the same time, of course, the needs have grown, and as the year progresses, we’re going to keep trying to get closer and closer to the 8.4 billion figure.”

So two things need to happen, he noted.

“First of all, we do need ultimately to go beyond the pledges that we receive today, so that we get to 8.4 billion, which is what we’ve estimated [are] the needs both within Syria and in the neighbouring countries.”

But second of all, he said, “We also have to, as always, make sure that these pledges are converted into actual cash and actual assistance on the ground, and we’ll start doing that right away.”

The rates of delivery of the last two pledging conferences in 2013 and 2014, both held in Kuwait, have been described as relatively good.

In January 2014, the second pledging conference in Kuwait raised 2.4 billion dollars.

Ninety per cent of those funds have since been disbursed to provide life-saving support for millions of families in Syria and the region, according to OCHA.

“Last year, some 8.9 million people received basic relief items, more than five million people received monthly food aid, two million children were helped to go to school and millions received medical treatment and had access to clean water thanks to these contributions,” OCHA said.

“People have experienced breathtaking levels of violence and savagery in Syria,” said U.N. Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Valerie Amos.

“While we cannot bring peace, this funding will help humanitarian organisations deliver life-saving food, water, shelter, health services and other relief to millions of people in urgent need,” she added.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

]]> 0
In Thrall to the Mall Crawl and Urban Sprawl Thu, 19 Mar 2015 13:02:02 +0000 Kitty Stapp A typical image of the kind of subdivisions that epitomise urban sprawl, Rio Rancho, New Mexico. Credit: "Rio Rancho Sprawl" by Riverrat303 - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons -

A typical image of the kind of subdivisions that epitomise urban sprawl, Rio Rancho, New Mexico. Credit: "Rio Rancho Sprawl" by Riverrat303 - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons -

By Kitty Stapp
NEW YORK, Mar 19 2015 (IPS)

There’s little argument about the basic facts: It’s ugly (think strip malls and big box stores). It’s not very convenient (hours spent behind the wheel to get to work). And it wreaks havoc on the natural environment (lost farmland and compromised watersheds).

So why is “urban sprawl”, the steady creep outward of cities to more rural areas and corresponding heavy reliance on cars to commute anywhere, just getting worse?"A growing portion of middle-income households want to live in more compact, multimodal communities - often called a 'walkable' or 'new urban' neighbourhood - instead of sprawl." -- Todd Litman

Experts like Todd Litman of the Victoria Transport Policy Institute in British Columbia say it’s a matter of what planners call smart growth – or lack thereof.

“Much of the motivation for middle-class households to move from cities to suburbs was to distance themselves from lower-income households that cannot afford single-family homes and automobile transportation,” he told IPS.

“Over time, anybody who could, left, resulting in economically-disadvantaged households concentrated in urban neighbourhoods.”

The list of woes this segregation created is not short, and includes reduced agricultural and ecological productivity, increased public infrastructure and service costs, increased transport costs, traffic congestion, accidents, pollution emissions, reduced accessibility for non-drivers, and reduced public fitness and health.

In fact, a new analysis released Thursday by the New Climate Economy, the Victoria Institute, and LSE Cities finds that sprawl imposes more than 400 billion dollars in external costs and 625 billion in internal costs annually in the U.S. alone.

Poor communities get even poorer, and research shows that this concentration of poverty increases social problems like crime and drug addiction, stacking the odds against inner city children from the very start.

By contrast, says Litman, the study’s lead author, “smart growth consists of compact neighbourhoods with diverse housing and transportation options which accommodate diverse types of households – young, old, rich, poor, people with disabilities – and residents can choose the most efficient mode for each trip: walking and cycling for local errands, high quality public transit when traveling on busy urban corridors, and automobiles when they are truly optimal overall, considering all impacts.

smart growth

“This type of development tends to reduce per capita land consumption, reduces per capita vehicle ownership and travel, and increases the portion of trips made by walking, cycling and public transport, which provides numerous savings and benefits compared with the same people living and working in sprawled locations,” he said.

Once considered primarily a blight of developed countries, the problem has now gone global, according to UN Habitat.

In Guadalajara, Mexico, between 1970 and 2000, the surface area of the city grew 1.5 times faster than the population. The same is true for cities in China; Antananarivo, the capital of Madagascar; Johannesburg, South Africa’s largest commercial hub; and the capitals of Egypt and Mexico, Cairo and Mexico City, respectively, the agency says.

In Latin America, sprawl has wreaked serious damage on environmentally sensitive areas. These include Panama City and its surrounding Canal Zone, Caracas and its adjacent coastline, San José de Costa Rica and its mountainous area, and São Paulo and its water basins.

“For more than half a century, most countries have experienced rapid urban growth and increased use of motor vehicles,” U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon noted in the Global Report on Human Settlements 2013. “This has led to urban sprawl and even higher demand for motorized travel with a range of environmental, social and economic consequences.

“Urban transport is a significant source of greenhouse gas emissions and a cause of ill-health due to air and noise pollution. The traffic congestion created by unsustainable transportation systems is responsible for significant economic and productivity costs for commuters and goods transporters.”

Reversing this trend now is critical, since projections show that between 1950 and 2050, the human population will quadruple and shift from 80 percent rural to nearly 80 percent urban.

Typical urban densities today range from 5-20 residents per hectare in North America, 20-100 residents per hectare in Europe, and more than 100 residents per hectare in many Asian cities.

One major challenge, Litman says, is the common perception that cities are inefficient and dangerous, when in fact “in many ways they are actually more efficient and safer than suburban communities, and they become more efficient and safer as more middle-class households move into urban neighbourhoods.”

In addition, zoning codes and development policies often discourage urban development and favour sprawl, and transportation policies excessively favour investments in car travel.

“For example, most jurisdictions devote far more road space and funding to automobile transportation than to walking, cycling and public transit, and impose minimum parking requirements on developers which result in massive subsidies for motorists, and it is difficult to shift those resources to alternative modes even if they are more cost effective overall. Resource efficient modes – walking, cycling and public transit – get little respect!”

The good news, he said, is that “a growing portion of middle-income households want to live in more compact, multimodal communities – often called a ‘walkable’ or ‘new urban’ neighbourhood – instead of sprawl. They are willing to accept a smaller house and they want to drive less and rely more on walking, cycling and pubic transit, but they can only do so if zoning codes and development policies change to support that.”

As a positive example, he said, many jurisdictions have ‘complete streets’ policies which recognise that public roads should be designed to service diverse users and uses, including walking, cycling, automobile, public transit, plus adjacent businesses and residents, so planning should account for the needs of pedestrians, cyclists and sidewalk café patron, not just motorists.

“Many cities are doing well on some [projects and policies] but not others. For example, Los Angeles is improving walking, cycling and public transit, but doing poorly in allowing compact infill development. Vancouver has great density near downtown but needs to allow more density in other areas. Portland and Seattle have great cycling facilities, but could have more bus lanes.

“Virtually no city is implementing all of the policy reforms that I think are justified based on economic efficiency and social equity principles,” Litman concluded.

“For example, even relatively progressive cities restrict development densities and require minimum parking for new development, few cities have programs to both increase affordable housing supply and improve livability – e.g., building more local parks – in accessible neighbourhoods, and only a few cities use efficient road tolls or parking fees to control congestion. There is more to be done!”

Edited by Roger Hamilton-Martin

]]> 0